Stop irrational thoughts in 6 steps

Based on ‘Refuting irrational ideas’, from ‘The relaxation and stress reduction workbook’ (referenced below)

Irrational thoughts are those thoughts that do not have a logical (or rational) basis in them. They don't make sense overall. They are coming from 'nowhere' and they lead to the wrong conclusions and mistakes.

by Elia Strange


Why is it important that we learn to stop irrational thoughts whenever we can? Because in the long run, they can make you worried, frustrated, angry, and unhappy.

Irrational thoughts may be the cause of your relationship problems (at home or at work), the cause of the arguments with your loved ones, the cause of your lowered self-esteem and self-confidence.

So how to stop irrational thoughts?

Usually, you would realise that your thoughts didn't have any rational basis after a negative event or upsetting situation had occured in your life. Think of such a situation and read the recommendations on 'how to stop irrational thoughts' below.

1. Write down the facts of the event as they occurred at the time you were upset. Be sure to include only the objective facts, not your subjective impressions, or value judgements.

2. Write down your thoughts about the event. State all your subjective value judgements, assumptions, beliefs, predictions, and worries. Note which self-statements have been previously described as common irrational beliefs.

3. Focus on your emotional response. Make a clear one- or two-word label such as ‘angry’, ‘depressed’, ‘felt worthless’, ‘afraid’, and so on.

4. Dispute and change the irrational self-talk identified in step 2. Here is how it's done:

a) Select the irrational idea that you wish to dispute.

b) Is there any rational support for this idea? Since everything is as it should be, given the long chains of cause and effect, then the answer is ‘no’.

The problem must be endured and dealt with because it happened. It happened because all the conditions necessary to make it happen existed.

c) What evidence exists for the falseness of this idea?

- There are no laws of the universe that say I should not have pain or problems. I can experience any problem for which the necessary conditions exist.

- Life is not fair. Life is just a sequence of events, some of which bring pleasure and some of which are inconvenient and painful.

5. What is the worst thing that can happen to me if what I want to happen doesn’t, or what I don’t want to happen does?

- I could be deprived of various pleasures whilst I deal with the problem

- I might have to accept the consequences of failure

- I might feel more stress and tension

6. What good things might occur if what I want to happen doesn’t, or what I don’t want to happen does?

- I might learn to tolerate frustration better

- I might improve my coping skills

- I might become more responsible

This is how you come to the conclusions about your irrational thoughts and beliefs. What appeared to be 'unfair' or even 'stupid', now you can make it 'rational', 'makes sense', and 'something to learn from'.

As you can also probably see from this article, dealing with irrational thinking is all about self-talk. This you can do either by talking to yourself (in your head or out loud) or by writing it all down. I personally prefer to sit somewhere quiet and talk myself through it (sometimes out loud).

And if the situation was more difficult, then I’d take a pen and paper and start writing it all down, similarly to the above process.

Other articles you might be interested in:

Common irrational beliefs

7 Reasons for our unhappiness

Reduce stress instantly

Depression Test: Are you depressed?

How well do you know yourself? (Fun Quiz)

How optimistic are you (Fun Quiz)

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Davis, M., Eshelman, E.R., & McKay, M. (2008). The relaxation and stress reduction workbook. 6th ed. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

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