Irrational versus rational thinking
The main difference between irrational and rational thinking is that rational thinking is based up logic and reasoning and irrational thoughts on feelings and emotions. Irrational thinking therefore answers to your emotions and means you might act or behave subject to the way you are feeling. By contrast rational thinking still has feelings and emotion underlying it, but the thinking is stated and clarified with logic and facts. Let me give a concrete example. I am driving my car and another driver acts in a way I consider discourteous. I don’t like this, as it impinges on my expectation that people will treat me with respect. The problem lies with the fact that I have an expectation in my irrational thinking they must or have to treat me with respect or else I can’t stand it. This kind of thinking we can label as irrational because of course rationally I would really like people to treat me with respect (but they might not) and I do not like it when they don’t treat me with respect (but I can, in fact, stand it). My rational thinking might run through several questions such as: what will happen if I hit the horn and chase them down and gesticulate wildly showing my extreme displeasure? If this has happened to me before I’ll have a clear answer to how I will feel after I have attempted to get my revenge etc. if this is negative I.e., shame and guilt, then I may choose not to take that action.
So, in essence irrational thinking goes with the immediate emotion, rational thinking takes some time to think. What happens, however, when it is not a physical occurrence like road rage but rather a feeling or a sensation? For example, stress or worry about how life is going. Perhaps I am thinking: ‘oh no this is not good I should have more money, be more successful’ followed through with: ‘I am a failure and people think nothing of me’ and sure enough negative life experiences will promote this kind of horrible, self-defeating thinking. Yet, we can take a rational view of this scenario too. My rational version of this thought could be: ‘I have been struggling of late and this is affecting my mood, some things are going well and some not so much’ and ‘some people may think nothing of me, but then again I can’t help that and certainly some people will not think nothing of me’.
What are your own irrational thoughts? When you consider this at length you will find messages within your thinking that often say: ‘I absolutely cannot stand… I must never… I should never… and I really hate it if…’ and rational thinking is not saying you should deny or never have negative feelings, it is simply saying that we can have the feelings and thoughts but process them differently. We are all, at least on occasion, irrational thinkers yet this does not mean we are not also at the same time capable of being rational thinkers…
Here are some common irrational thoughts and their more rational counterparts:
“I must deliver my presentation without nerves, or I am incompetent.”
“I must give a great presentation, or I am a bad student/employee.”
“I must always be a model worker, or I am worthless”
“It’s okay to be nervous, lots of people are, I don’t like ti but I can put up with it.”
“Even if I mess up a presentation, I am still generally a good employee/student.”
“Just because I make a mistake it doesn’t mean I’m worthless.”