Do you enjoy making mistakes?
How do you feel about experience?
I remember reading a cliché many years ago on the back of a matchbox of all places. The simple sentence read like this:
“Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want”
The implication was that the word ‘experience’ represented something negative but actually few things could be further from the truth. On the contrary experience, especially the experiences we didn’t expect or plan for are the lessons that help us to grow. The things we cannot control are the things that broaden our horizons. Ellis’ tenth belief is the idea that:
We need to have certain and perfect control over things.
Even if this actually were possible it wouldn’t be a good thing. To have perfect control is to have no surprises. To put it another way we could never experience anything we didn’t already know about. We could never have any new experiences and never know the wonder of life. Perfect control impoverishes our quality of life.
There is, of course, a need for balance here and it would be very wrong to suggest that control is never helpful but complete and perfect control is not only impossible it would also be very limiting. Even when the experience we have appears to be negative it can have some positive aspect. To quote another cliché:
“Whatever doesn’t kill me helps me grow”
Sometimes of course the positive aspect is difficult to find and sometimes the disadvantages can certainly outweigh the advantages but since complete control is impossible Ellis’ tenth rational belief seems much more reasonable:
The world is full of probability and chance
but we can still enjoy life in spite of and often because of this.
The tenth pair of beliefs go together very well with Ellis’ twelfth couple. Both relate to the idea of control and together they begin to define the boundary between what we can control and what we can merely influence.
In training people to deal with ‘challenging behaviours’ one of the fundamental principles we begin with is the fact that we can never really control another person’s behaviour unless we work in maximum security establishments. Even then their emotional life is beyond our control. All we can do is take control of our own behaviours and in doing so with thought and planning make it more likely that the other person will respond in predictable and appropriate ways.
In order to control our own behaviours we must first learn to control our own emotional life. This is what we see in police officers, paramedics, prison officers, athletes, actors and top flight salesmen every day. These people are living proof that Ellis’ twelfth irrational belief is false:
We have virtually no control over our emotions
and cannot help feeling certain things
If we really were unable to control our emotions it would be impossible for battlefield soldiers to maintain discipline. It would also make training in issues such as anxiety or anger management useless and yet the evidence is that such training can be extremely effective.
Ellis’ twelfth rational belief is:
We have real control over our destructive emotions if we choose to work at changing the ‘musturbatory’ hypotheses which we often employ to create them.
When we compare these two sets of beliefs we begin to understand the limits of control and the meaning of ‘influence’. By taking control of our emotions and behaviours we can influence others and the world around us. An understanding of our situation and the reality of ‘cause and effect’ as discussed in an earlier post can help us to make certain outcomes more likely but all we can really control are our own thoughts, feelings and behaviours.
The ‘Emotional Management’ blog series first appeared during 2010 on Stuart’s personal blog. It is reproduced here as part of an ongoing process of ‘rationalisation’ to compress the contents of 5 blogs into just 2. You can download a PDF of the entire series (along with much more free stuff) from www.stuartsorensen.wordpress.com