Book Freak #50: Tips for Lifting Your Spirits


Short pieces of advice from books

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David D. Burns, M.D., a clinical psychiatrist, is a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the Stanford University School of Medicine and is certified by the National Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. Here are four pieces of advice from his book, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy.

Break your addiction to praise
“The price you pay for your addiction to praise will be an extreme vulnerability to the opinions of others. Like any addict, you will find you must continue to feed your habit with approval in order to avoid withdrawal pangs. The moment someone who is important to you expresses disapproval, you will crash painfully, just like the junkie who can no longer get his ‘stuff.’ Others will be able to use this vulnerability to manipulate you. You will have to give in to their demands more often than you want to because you fear they might reject or look down on you. You set yourself up for emotional blackmail.”
Don’t demand perfection
“There is no perfection. It’s really the world’s greatest con game; it promises riches and delivers misery. The harder you strive for perfection, the worse your disappointment will become because it’s only an abstraction, a concept that doesn’t fit reality. Everything can be improved if you look at it closely and critically enough — every person, every idea, every work of art, every experience, everything. So if you are a perfectionist, you are guaranteed to be a loser in whatever you do.”
See everything in shades of gray
“Absolutes do not exist in this universe. If you try to force your experiences into absolute categories, you will be constantly depressed because your perceptions will not conform to reality. You will set yourself up for discrediting yourself endlessly because whatever you do will never measure up to your exaggerated expectations. The technical name for this type of perceptual error is “dichotomous thinking.” You see everything as black or white — shades of gray do not exist.”
Have a strategy for dealing with angry people in your life
“Dr. Beck proposed I try out an unusual strategy for interacting with Hank when he was in an angry mood. The essence of this method was: (1) Don’t turn Hank off by defending yourself. Instead, do the opposite — urge him to say all the worst things he can say about you. (2) Try to find a grain of truth in all his criticisms and then agree with him. (3) After this, point out any areas of disagreement in a straightforward, tactful, nonargumentative manner. (4) Emphasize the importance of sticking together, in spite of these occasional disagreements… I applied this strategy the next time Hank started storming around the office screaming at me. Just as I had planned, I urged Hank to keep it up and say all the worst things he could think of about me. The result was immediate and dramatic. Within a few moments, all the wind went out of his sails — all his vengeance seemed to melt away. He began communicating sensibly and calmly and sat down. In fact, when I agreed with some of his criticisms, he suddenly began to defend me and say some nice things about me! I was so impressed with this result that I began using the same approach with other angry, explosive individuals, and I actually did begin to enjoy his hostile outbursts because I had an effective way to handle them.”

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