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It's Never Too Late for Rational Thinking


It's Never Too Late for Rational Thinking - How Negativity Can Impact Our Lives

by Don Drake, Connelly Law Offices, Ltd.


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Attorney RJ Connelly III

"One of the most powerful tools that we as humans possess is the ability to think," stated professional fiduciary and certified elder law Attorney RJ Connelly III. "However, thoughts can sometimes harm our lives and interfere with what we can accomplish. Therefore, it is important to learn and identify irrational thoughts, what causes them, and how to overcome them to live a healthy and meaningful life, regardless of age."


"Unrealistic patterns of thinking can be unproductive for individuals at any age, including seniors, and perhaps, especially seniors," stated Attorney Connelly. "Although we all experience irrational thoughts when under stress, some people live with them daily, which can be disheartening and even dangerous. A rational thought pattern is always desirable, as it allows us to draw realistic and justifiable conclusions from the data, rules, and logic presented to us."


"In today's world, people tend to rely on medications to deal with their problems, even when a change of behavior could address the issue," continued Attorney Connelly. "Similarly, allowing irrational thoughts to guide our choices and then medicating the consequences is not the best approach. While pharmaceuticals can help to address the anxiety and depression caused by our choices, it makes more sense to work on changing behaviors as well. Learning a new skill can be enjoyable, particularly when it has a real payoff."


Rational and Irrational Thoughts

Our ability to think rationally is crucial for making sound decisions in life, but it requires a range of skills that must be adapted to different situations. For instance, a lawyer working on estate planning at Connelly Law will use logic different from that of a carpenter building a front porch. However, the human brain did not evolve to always think logically; some reasoning abilities are beyond our cognitive reach. As a result, we often rely on emotions to make decisions, which can lead to immediate gratification but may have long-term consequences.


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Not all brown dogs are scary

"For instance, imagine a child who was chased and bitten by a brown dog, which can be a traumatizing experience," said Attorney Connelly. "As the child grows, she may develop an irrational fear of brown dogs, which can generalize to all dogs. Even though rational thought tells us that not all dogs will bite, and not all brown dogs will bite, the woman's experience as a child leaves her with irrational beliefs about dogs that can cause significant anxiety and stress."


Irrational thoughts and beliefs can be compelling and create chaos in our lives. They can become so deeply entrenched that they are challenging to overcome. In the case of the brown dog, the activating event -- (A) is the chase and bite from the animal, while the belief (B) is that all brown dogs, and maybe all dogs in general, will chase and bite. The emotional consequence (C) is anxiety and fear resulting from irrational beliefs. Understanding the role of irrational beliefs and how they affect our decision-making is essential to making better choices and improving our overall well-being.

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Beliefs We Live By

Our beliefs significantly impact how we perceive and react to the events of our lives. Ingrained in our psyche, these beliefs act as filters to interpret our experiences. As a result, we develop beliefs that govern our lives. While some beliefs are rational and based on reality, others are irrational and self-defeating. These beliefs mostly reside in our subconscious mind and shape our reactions to incidents that occur in our lives.


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Our beliefs effect our perceptions

"When we encounter a situation, our subconscious beliefs come into play, and we react accordingly," said Attorney Connelly. "For instance, if we hold the belief that 'To be worthwhile, I must succeed at everything I do,' and we fail in an exam, make a bad cake, or have a fight with someone close to us, we might conclude that we are not worthwhile."


These underlying beliefs are general and apply to many situations. For example, if we believe that "I can’t stand discomfort and pain and must avoid them at all costs," we might apply it to the dentist, work, relationships, and life. Consequently, we try to avoid anything that can create discomfort for us. However, if we want to grow and progress in life, we must experience discomfort occasionally. Thus, avoiding discomfort will only lead to stagnation.


A Cause for Concern

Beliefs play an essential role in shaping our lives. Most of our beliefs are beneficial and enable us to live a fulfilling life. However, some beliefs can be self-defeating and lead to a chain of events, resulting in false conclusions and poor decisions. For instance, believing that "you must succeed at everything you do, or you are not worthwhile" can prevent you from pursuing opportunities you truly desire. This belief can also make you vulnerable to being taken advantage of by others, leading to feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, depression, and addiction. And for seniors, it sets the stage for abuse and exploitation.


"Identifying self-defeating beliefs is crucial as they can have detrimental effects on our lives," stated Attorney Connelly. "Holding onto these beliefs can lead to distorted perceptions of reality, misinterpretation of events, and failure to achieve our goals and purposes. Self-defeating beliefs can cause extreme emotions that lead to distress and a "frozen state" in which we accomplish nothing and may even regress. As a result, we may develop behaviors that harm us, others, and our quality of life. Therefore, it is essential to recognize and replace self-defeating beliefs with more positive and empowering ones."


A Stark Contrast

Regarding cognitive processes, rational and irrational thinking are two distinct approaches that lead to vastly different outcomes. Rational thinking is a cognitive process that helps individuals better understand and navigate reality. It involves seeing things as they truly are without letting emotions or beliefs cloud judgment.


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Rational thoughts lead to healthier outcomes

By acknowledging both the positive and negative aspects of reality, rational thinking allows individuals to keep things in perspective and make informed decisions. It also enables individuals to set purposeful goals and work towards achieving them.


Further, rational thinking helps individuals keep their emotions in check, allowing them to respond appropriately to different situations. This is particularly important in situations where emotions might lead to irrational decision-making.


Finally, rational thinking fosters the development of behaviors that lead to healthier outcomes. By basing decisions on an objective assessment of reality, individuals are more likely to make choices that benefit their overall well-being.


Rational Thinking versus Positive Thinking

It's important to understand the difference between rational and positive thinking, especially when dealing with stress and finding solutions to problems. While positive thinking may sound like a good idea, it can sometimes lead to unfulfilled outcomes and be counterproductive.


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Wishful thinking could be magical thinking

Positive thinking often involves wishful thinking, in which one hopes for the best without concrete plans or goals. This type of thinking can be compared to a type of "magical" thinking, where one hopes for things to happen without any effort or action taken to make them happen.


On the other hand, rational thinking is goal-oriented and realistic, with specific plans and achievable goals in place. A rational thinker will not rely on luck or chance to solve their problems but will instead take concrete steps towards achieving their goals. For example, while a positive thinker may buy a lottery ticket and hope to win the jackpot to pay the rent, a rational thinker will focus on finding a job or other long-term solutions to meet their financial needs.


By choosing rational thinking over positive thinking, we can approach our problems with a clear and realistic mindset and take proactive steps toward achieving our goals.


A Rational Life

Using rational thought does not guarantee a life free from unpleasant experiences or negative feelings. Humans are inherently imperfect, meaning we occasionally experience irrational thoughts and emotions. However, rational thinking aims to minimize the frequency, duration, and intensity of these irrational beliefs that lead us to make poor choices and experience negative outcomes.


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Anger interferes with rational thoughts

In order to achieve this goal, it is essential to develop three fundamental insights that will help us manage our thoughts and emotions more effectively. Firstly, it is important to recognize that we do not become upset due to external circumstances but rather because of our inflexibility in our beliefs. Secondly, once we become upset, we tend to prolong this feeling by holding on to our irrational beliefs, even when proven false or unhelpful. Finally, the only way to improve our thought patterns is to work hard at changing our beliefs through consistent practice and effort.


Therefore, while rational thinking may not eliminate all negative experiences and emotions, it can help us to manage them more constructively and proactively. By recognizing the power of our own beliefs and working to change them, we can cultivate greater resilience, emotional awareness, and personal growth over time.


Top Twelve Irrational Beliefs

As humans, we have a tendency to develop patterns of behavior and beliefs over time that may not always be beneficial for us. These ways of thinking can often be irrational and control us in ways we may not even realize. Studies have shown that there are twelve common beliefs that most of us develop throughout our lives that can prevent us from achieving a calm and peaceful state of mind. A negative outlook often characterizes these irrational beliefs and can lead to feelings of anxiety and stress.


In contrast, the replacement belief, represented by purple, is a more positive and rational way of thinking to help us overcome these negative thoughts and emotions. By identifying and acknowledging these irrational beliefs, we can replace them with healthier and more productive ways of thinking, ultimately leading to a more fulfilling and contented life. So, take a moment to reflect on these beliefs and consider which ones might be holding you back from achieving a sense of inner peace and tranquility.


I must be competent in everything, or I will never succeed. 

It's important to understand that you don't necessarily need expertise in every field to succeed. Placing such unrealistic expectations on yourself may lead to disappointment and shortcomings. Remember, it's perfectly fine not to be an expert in everything.

Your strength lies in what you know, not what you don't.


My emotions are outside of my control. 

If you often feel like your emotions are out of control, it may be helpful to consider educating yourself about them. By learning about the root causes of your emotions and how they manifest, you can better understand how to manage them effectively. Rather than feeling powerless in the face of your emotions, education can give you the tools to take control and live a more fulfilling life.

It's possible to learn to manage your feelings--and in the meantime, however you feel, you can always control how you act and respond to them.


I can never make a mistake or be seen as a failure. 

Remember that making mistakes is a natural part of being human. Despite our best efforts, we are bound to slip up occasionally. However, it's crucial to remember that mistakes are not the end of the world. They can be opportunities for growth and self-improvement. Every mistake teaches us something new about ourselves and the world and can help us become better versions of ourselves.

So, instead of thinking you can never afford to make a mistake, know that mistakes are valuable and necessary for growth and learning.


I must please others to feel good about myself. 

The belief that you can always please everyone is a recipe for failure. It's simply impossible to meet everyone's expectations and demands. The only person whose expectations you should focus on meeting is yourself. By prioritizing your happiness and confidence, you'll find that everything in your life will fall into place.

Having other people like you is nice, but it shouldn't be at the top of your list.


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Are others picking on me?

If someone criticizes me, there must be something wrong with me. 

When someone criticizes you, it's important to step back and ask yourself, "Is this criticism truly about me and my actions, or is it more a reflection of the person speaking?" Criticism can often stem from differences in perspective, beliefs, or values, and it's important to recognize that just because someone is criticizing you doesn't necessarily mean you are in the wrong. By asking yourself this simple question, you can gain clarity on the situation and better understand the motivations behind the criticism, which can help you respond more productively and constructively.

The secret is not to take it personally and allow it to be what it is - just someone's opinion.


I will never measure up to others, so I should give up trying to. 

It's common to experience feelings of inadequacy occasionally, but it's important to remember that these feelings don't always reflect reality. Our perception of ourselves can be clouded by negative self-talk or unrealistic expectations, leading to feelings of not measuring up. However, it's important to recognize that these feelings are just that - feelings - and don't necessarily reflect the truth of who we are or what we're capable of. Instead of getting caught up in self-doubt, it can be helpful to focus on our strengths and accomplishments and to remind ourselves that we are worthy and capable individuals.

We sometimes struggle with insecurities because we fear being judged, but if you spend time focusing on your strengths and building your confidence, you'll be better able to hold your own.


If I do things for myself, I'll be considered selfish. 

If you tend to put others' needs before your own and prioritize helping, enabling, or fixing those around you, you may feel like you're deviating from your moral code or neglecting your duties when you take the time and effort to focus on yourself. This can lead to guilt, self-doubt, and even a sense of selfishness, even though taking care of your well-being is crucial for your overall health and ability to help others.

Sometimes you need to focus on yourself to be selfless, because if you lose yourself, you will only become a reflection of what everyone else wants you to be.


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Some risks do pay off, others are teaching tools

I must never take risks to make sure I don't fail. 

Remember that avoiding risks does not necessarily guarantee your safety. The greatest risk you can take is never to take any risks. This is especially true in the fast-paced world of business and leadership, where the only way to succeed is by taking calculated risks. With everything constantly changing, the only strategy that leads to success embraces risk-taking.

You don't have to risk everything, but you do have to risk. If you win, you'll be happy, and if you lose, you'll be wise.


If everything is going right, something will go wrong. 

In times of abundance and prosperity, we commonly feel a sense of unease or anticipation for something to go wrong. Life is never completely black or white; there's always a balance between the positive and negative. Like the ocean's tides, life's ups and downs are constant and inevitable.

It's finding the balance to know that everything will be all right, but that doesn't mean perfect, and it doesn't mean that things will always be the same.


I don't deserve success. 

Recognize that believing you are unworthy is an irrational and self-defeating thought. You are worthy of success, and it's crucial to acknowledge this fact, irrespective of your past actions or inactions. Embrace the truth that you deserve the fruits of your labor and let go of the limiting beliefs that hold you back from achieving your goals. Remember that you are capable, talented, and deserving of the best life offers.

Learn to accept yourself and allow yourself to feel deserving.


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Problems must be confronted

It's easier to avoid problems than to deal with them. 

When we face problems, it's natural to feel overwhelmed and want to escape them. However, ignoring or denying them isn't a solution. The more we try to avoid them, the more they persist and haunt us. It's better to confront the issues head-on and find ways to deal with them rather than escaping or evading them.

Remember, a problem is a chance to do better the second time around.


My past controls my future. 

The past can be a valuable teacher, providing us with valuable lessons that we can apply to shape our future. However, it's important to remember that the past should not hold us hostage. We should learn from it, not let it define or limit our potential. We can take control of our lives and create a better future by building on the lessons we have learned from the past.

Learn to let go so you can move on to the next chapter of your life - no matter your age.


Accepting Reality

A person's emotional well-being must start by acknowledging the reality around them, even when it is difficult, uncomfortable, or sorrowful. If you want to develop a healthy mindset, it would be beneficial to comprehend the three types of acceptance: (a) unconditional self-acceptance (USA), (b) unconditional other acceptance (UOA), and (c) unconditional life acceptance (ULA). These types of acceptance are based on three fundamental beliefs that can help you foster emotional resilience.


  1. USA - The concept of Unconditional Self-Acceptance (USA) recognizes that every human being is fallible and possesses both positive and negative traits. Secondly, USA acknowledges that flaws are a natural part of being human and should not be a source of shame or self-doubt. Finally, it emphasizes that every individual, regardless of their flaws or strengths, is of equal worth and deserves respect and acceptance. This philosophy promotes self-love and compassion, helping individuals to build a positive self-image and overcome negative self-talk.

  2. UOA - The concept of Unconditional Other Acceptance, or UOA, suggests that regardless of how well we perform or conduct ourselves, there will inevitably be instances where we are treated unfairly by others. This principle implies that there is no inherent obligation for people to treat us fairly; those who treat us unfairly are not inherently inferior or less deserving of respect than any other person.

  3. ULA - The concept of Unconditional Life Acceptance, also known as ULA, emphasizes the acceptance of life as it is, regardless of how it turns out. It acknowledges that life doesn't always meet our expectations and that there's no guarantee that it will unfold how we want it to. ULA also recognizes that life can be challenging and uncomfortable sometimes, yet it never becomes unbearable. Despite its ups and downs, life is still worth living and can be a source of joy and fulfillment if we learn to accept it in its entirety.


A Final Word

"Whenever something goes wrong, it is essential to take a moment to examine our choices," stated Attorney Connelly. "Were those choices made rationally and thoughtfully or impulsively due to an emotional reaction? It's crucial to move towards a more rational thought process and eliminate the excessive and unnecessary stress caused by irrational thinking. By doing so, we can develop an emotional reservoir that will help us deal with everyday stress. It's important to remember that even if we become the best at this, there will still be some stress in our lives. However, making thoughtful and rational choices can eliminate unnecessary stress and build a solid foundation to cope with daily challenges."


If you would be interested in worksheets designed to improve your skills at developing a more realistic way of thinking, email me at ddrake@connellylaw.com.


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Please note that the information provided in this blog is not intended to and should not be construed as legal, financial, or medical advice. The content, materials, and information presented in this blog are solely for general informational purposes and may not be the most up-to-date information available regarding legal, financial, or medical matters. This blog may also contain links to other third-party websites that are included for the convenience of the reader or user. Please note that Connelly Law Offices, Ltd. does not necessarily recommend or endorse the contents of such third-party sites. If you have any particular legal matters, financial concerns, or medical issues, we strongly advise you to consult your attorney, professional fiduciary advisor, or medical provider.

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