WHEN I FIRST learned about the undemoralizing methods, I assumed I would never actually sit down and argue with my thoughts on paper, or memorize any list of thought mistakes. Are you thinking the same thing? Do you think it's too much work or you’ll never get around to it, or you don't have enough self-discipline to follow through and actually do the exercise?
If so, you may be mistaken about yourself. Even though I was not genetically endowed with an iron will or taught self-discipline as a child, I was surprised to find I did take the time to undemoralize myself, and I still do. I think you will too. Do you know why? Because it works so well. It makes you feel so much better so quickly.
Feeling defeated or any other negative emotion is unpleasant, and when you have that feeling of sadness or worry or frustration, you will be motivated to feel better as soon as possible because negative emotions are so unpleasant.
After trying the undemoralizing process a few times and finding out how well it works, you won’t have to force yourself to write out your thoughts. You’ll want to.
And when you change the way you explain your setbacks, making fewer mistakes in your explanations, you will be highly resistant to feelings of defeat. You will be practically immune to giving up on a legitimate goal.
That kind of confidence in yourself and personal strength feels good. It feels so good, it motivates you to keep your mind as free of unnecessary negative emotions as you can, and you now have the know-how you need to actually and truly accomplish that.
A few months ago, I was talking to a psychiatrist just before he gave a talk about depression to a group of MDs. He was a successful psychiatrist, invited to speak to the doctors because he was an expert. He’d been a psychiatrist for twenty years.
“Do you use cognitive therapy?” I asked him. Cognitive therapy uses the undemoralizing exercise as its primary therapeutic method.
“No I don’t,” he replied, “even though it has shown itself the most effective treatment and has been the most researched form of therapy available.”
“Then why don’t you use it?” I asked. I wasn’t challenging him; I was curious.
“To tell you the truth,” he said, “it’s because people just don’t do the homework.”
I think he underestimated people, or he isn't very good at motivating his patients. The “homework” — which is mostly simply taking the time to argue with your negative thoughts on paper — is not difficult or painful. It takes a little time, but people will do it if they are sufficiently motivated. I’m not an unusually disciplined person, and I have used the method fairly regularly for over 12 years. Why? Because it so easy and effective. I get a lot of gain per minute spent. It’s a good deal.
What "method" am I talking about? It is checking each of your negative statements against the thought-mistakes on a list. Does your statement contain any overgeneralizations? How about all-or-nothing thinking? Just go through the list.
Let’s say you look at the list and see overgeneralization is next on the list. Look at your statement. Does it include the words always or never or everybody or nobody? Or does it imply those? Most likely those are false statements.
And you can even do the exercise without a list if you’ve got good common sense. Just look at your negative thoughts and see if you can find something genuinely wrong with them.
Mistakes in your explanations not only feel bad, and not only hinder you from succeeding, but they are also bad for your health. The negative feelings actually harm you. Feeling demoralized is bad for your health. Improving your thinking is good for your health.
This is not positive thinking. You can have all the negative thoughts you want — as long as they are true (not distorted). And as long as they don’t stop you unnecessarily or make you feel bad unnecessarily.
In the book, The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom, the group had already walked 4000 miles, and were nearing the end of their journey. They'd already climbed over innumerable peaks of the Himalyas but they knew that when they got over all the peaks, they would be in India, and they would be free.
But the last few peaks they had to hike over were the worst; the biggest they’d ever seen. Up until now they'd all tried to bolster each other so as not to lose hope, to keep their attention on the future, but now they talked openly about the real possibility they might die, of all times, right before they made it to freedom.
They weren’t being pessimistic. They were facing the real facts of their situation. They didn’t have good equipment, the mountains are enormous, and they had already pushed themselves to the limits of human endurance.
But although they talked about the facts of the situation, and that their chances were slim, they were still determined, still pushing on, and still trying to make it.
And they made it.
You don’t need to be positive all the time. It’s not even a good idea. Face your real situations with honesty, but also learn to reduce the amount of time you feel bad when it isn’t necessary or helpful or healthy. In other words, be honest about reality, both good and bad.
Mistakes in your explanations often make you feel defeated when it is inappropriate. They make you feel demoralized unnecessarily. Correct those mistakes and often your fighting spirit will return, making you want to try again. This is the secret to tenacity and persistence, demonstrated in so many inspiring stories (like Rocky).
Think about this. Once a has-been or a long-shot has succeeded, one way to think about it is, "It was a miracle." Another (and more valid) way to think about it is that the original pessimistic prediction was wrong. The assumptions upon which it was based were mistaken.
If the pessimistic assumptions were believed in the beginning, no success would have followed. But it wasn't a matter of "faith." It was a matter of not believing a mistaken assumption.
There is no need (or desire) to try to believe something you don’t actually believe. You will feel demoralized sometimes. But how soon can you assimilate the setback and get back on your feet with fire in your eyes? That's the question. And only you can answer it for yourself.
You know how to undemoralize yourself. You have the tool you need. Will you do it?