Principles and Applications to Achieve Greater Happiness and Success

John R. Fishbein Ph.D. is the ideal counselor for help with issues of stress, relationships, self-esteem, and more. As you can see below, he’s defined how to go about achieving happiness in San Jose and beyond by following 8 simple principles. You’re encouraged to look over the details of each and ask Dr. Fishbein any questions during a session. He’s here to help you with achieving success in all aspects of life.

  1. Understanding Your Feelings
  2. Manage Your Thoughts
  3. Distinguish Your Feelings from Your Thoughts
  4. Focus on What You Can vs. Can’t Control
  5. Recognize Your Inherent Worth
  6. Build a Foundation for Your Personal Security
  7. Set Your Minimum Standards
  8. Establish and Maintain Good Physical Health

1. Understanding Your Feelings*

*Emotions (also referred to as “feelings”) are internal sensations that provide important information about yourself, others, and your environment. Acknowledge them, but make decisions with your head. Every thought that goes through your mind, conscious or unconscious, sends an important message to the body, triggering a wave of internal motion like increased heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and muscle intensity. These are commonly referred to as “emotions.” Emotions are like a stream flowing in us 24 hours a day. Sometimes the flow is calm and tranquil; other times, it is rapid and turbulent. Regardless of the nature of your stream, you—not it—decide what to think and how to act. Although it may not always seem like it, your behavior is controlled by the decisions you make, not by how you are feeling.

When you are upset, the agitation you feel is the result of your mind triggering the release of chemicals, such as adrenaline, into your system. On the other hand, when you think rational and happy thoughts, chemicals like endorphins are released, causing you to feel good. Unreasonable thinking pollutes the stream, causing unpleasant feelings. Those feelings, like toxic chemicals dumped in water, eventually pass. How long that takes depends on how long you continue to think unreasonably.

If you’re wondering, “How can a person control or get rid of undesirable feelings?”Ask yourself: “If you were camping by a stream and accidentally spilled gasoline into the water, what would you do?” You would probably acknowledge you made a mistake, take precautions to avoid similar mistakes in the future, and perhaps warn the campers downstream to avoid swimming in the water until the spill passes. Rather than ignoring or fighting feelings, acknowledge that they exist. Then look at yourself and the situation and decide what action to take.

Differences Between Emotional Behavior and Emotion

It is easy to confuse emotional behavior with emotion itself. Emotion, for the most part, is the body’s internal reaction to what is going on in the mind. It occurs internally as opposed to behavior, which is external. There is a difference between controlling emotional behavior (what you say or do when you feel angry) and the counterproductive attempt to control emotion (ignoring or fighting the anger). Keeping the emotion in check may seem natural, but it is healthier to focus on thoughts and actions.

Many people make a common mistake when they’re upset. They futilely attempt to control, fight, or eliminate emotion. This creates a dam that blocks the natural flow of emotion, causing unpleasant feelings to grow in magnitude and intensity. Rather than simply acknowledging whatever you are experiencing and finding a way to manage yourself or your circumstances better, you end up with compounded feelings on top of the initial anger.

The Stream of Emotion

Your unconscious mind has everything you have learned or experienced. It is like a library with vast quantities of information—some brain researchers suggest as many as 50 billion pieces of information. Of course, not all of it is readily available for recall, but each is nevertheless recorded.

Situations, emotions, and conscious thoughts can trigger unconscious tapes or patterns of thinking. When you are driving, for example, and the highway situation changes, a tape containing everything previously learned about driving is triggered in your mind. This tape allows you to speed up, slow down, or do whatever is necessary to meet the situation. This most likely occurs instantaneously, without any conscious effort. Your conscious mind could even be involved with something different, like listening to the radio or daydreaming.

Your mind has many tapes like the one for driving, each containing valuable resources. Sometimes, however, these tapes and their solutions seem to be forgotten and remain untapped. Other tapes contain outdated information, useful in the past. but no longer applicable. Yet, in some cases, these tapes are silently interfering with current success and happiness. Still other tapes contain incomplete or irrational information causing unpleasant feelings and undesirable behavior. Some tapes are so powerful they can negatively interfere with your life, sometimes without you even being aware of the tape or of what it contains.

How can you unlock the door to the vast library of learning in your mind? There is a key. Since every thought triggers a physical/chemical sensation, those emotions provide valuable feedback to what is going on in your mind. By learning to observe and use emotional information, you discover better ways of managing yourself.

Purpose of Emotion

The primary purpose of emotion is to provide valuable information about what is going on in your mind. If you feel peaceful, for instance, there is a good chance your thoughts are rational and productive. However, if you are feeling agitated, something in your mind probably needs attention. Emotions provide important information about your behavior and clues about your health. If you are getting enough rest, proper nutrition, and regular exercise, you tend to feel well. Otherwise, your body may be telling you to take better care of yourself.

By paying attention to and understanding the messages your body provides through emotion, you gain greater self-mastery and happiness. When looked at in this manner, pain has a purpose and can be viewed as “growing pain” rather than as an enemy.

To Benefit from Your Emotions, A.C. T.

Rather than ignoring, dwelling on, or fighting your emotions, A.C.T.:

Acknowledge the feelings you are experiencing (“I am feeling upset right now”).
Consider the available choices (“What are my choices now? What shall I do?”).
Take constructive action.

Success Story: Ed and Jan

Those who knew Ed at work or church found him to be an intelligent and kind man, generally patient and tolerant of others’ shortcomings. At home, however, so many things—especially little things—seemed to upset him. When his wife did not express herself well, for example, he became irritated. When his children repeatedly asked questions, he became impatient.

His wife, Jan, came to see Dr. Fishbein because she saw their family deteriorating. She thought maybe she was doing something to upset Ed, though she did not think so. She insulated him from as many of the family stresses as possible. Despite her efforts, he was often upset.

Dr. Fishbein explained to her the nature of emotion, how emotion is the body’s chemical-physical reaction to what is occurring in the mind. He pointed out that she and the children were responsible for their actions, not for Ed’s reactions. That was somewhat hard for her to accept since Ed frequently said she and the children were responsible for upsetting him. Dr. Fishbein reassured her that although Ed may sincerely believe other people and events cause his upsets, he was mistaken. He, not others, was responsible for how he felt.

At the next meeting, Jan reported that an unusual thing had happened—Ed was feeling worse, and she was feeling better. Dr. Fishbein asked her what she was doing differently. She explained the difference was her understanding that he was responsible for his upsets, not her. She felt relieved. Nevertheless, she continued to be kind and considerate, although she did stop taking extraordinary measures to “protect” him from.

When he noticed he was feeling worse, while she was feeling better, he began thinking. “Perhaps,” he wondered, “she is not the problem after all.” He then came in to see Dr. Fishbein. He was not as receptive, but Dr. Fishbein gave him a question to ask himself whenever he felt upset: “Did the Situation Upset Me?”Or “Did I Upset Myself?”

Ed was not sure he liked the question; though head a hint of a smile as he explained what happened. One evening, while he and Jan were talking, the children burst into the living room arguing about something. He characteristically started to feel upset when he noticed Jan dealing with the children calmly and reasonably. He then bravely asked himself, “Did the situation upset me, or did I upset myself?”

As he pondered the question, he thought about how he deals with employee problems at work. As a manager, it was not unusual for him to help angry employees solve conflicts with one another. It occurred to him that he rarely felt upset around employees who were thinking or acting unreasonably. “How can it be that I act so rationally at work and so irrationally at home?” he wondered. Then like a lightning bolt out of the sky, it hit him, “I am responsible for how I react to events around me.”

Rather than looking for ways to change those around him at home, Ed began to look for ways to manage him better. After the children left the room, he thoughtfully looked at Jan. He then asked her to help him understand what she does to act as rationally at home as he does at work. Neither Jan nor Ed could believe the changes that were taking place. Rather than blaming her for his upsets, he sought her advice. He began to be more reasonable and patient with the stresses of family life. He even called a family council and taught them about the nature of emotion and what causes it, including the question.

That turned out to be a blessing and a curse. When Ed was angry and arguing with his teenage daughter, he mistakenly told her she was making him mad. She wittily responded, “Dad, am I upsetting you, or are you upsetting yourself?”


2. Manage Your Thoughts

All actions and feelings are preceded by thoughts. Success and happiness, therefore, depend first and foremost on what you think. The mind is much more powerful and complex than the most sophisticated car. It can rapidly speed down any of billions of available highways, shifting from one to another in a fraction of a second.

With the mind, as with a car, it is easy to believe you are correctly headed toward your destination, even when you are not. Because of the billions of roads or neural pathways in the mind and the computer-like speed with which thoughts travel and change directions, it is extremely easy to think you are headed toward success and happiness when, in fact, you are drifting away. To help keep your mind on a course headed toward success and happiness, adhere to the 3 rules for successful thinking:

Think Constructively
Think Kindly
Think Objectively

All 3 are essential for successful and happy living. When you think kindly, you feel better regardless of how others are acting or feeling. When you think objectively, you deal with facts in any given situation, even if they are not pleasant, which provides the freedom to consider the best available choices. When you think constructively, you focus on the things that are congruent with your goals and values.

To think objectively about your present situation without a clear idea of what you want to accomplish and how you plan to do it is not constructive. Likewise, to think objectively and constructively without thinking kindly toward others erodes the very essence of life—joy and love. Adherence to all 3 provides a safe and fertile environment to live successfully and happily.

Thinking Kindly

To act in an unkind, disrespectful, or lustful way toward a person is inappropriate and non-productive. Thinking such thoughts wastes valuable mental and emotional energy and also weakens the effectiveness of your mind. Your happiness and the quality of your relationships with others are increased or decreased, among other things, by how kindly you think.

Unkind: Randy is selfish, inconsiderate, and no good.

Kind: Sometimes, Randy is not as thoughtful as he could be.

Unkind: What an idiot I am; I've forgotten her name again.

Kind: I have a reasonably good memory, so I must not have been paying attention when we were introduced, or I would remember her name.

Thinking Objectively
As you think about any situation, your mind does 2 important things. First, it acts like a camera, recording the facts of the event. Then it works like a news commentator analyzing and commenting on the recorded facts. As long as these occur separately and in that order, your thinking is apt to be objective. Confusing your opinions and feelings about an event with the objective “camera” facts interferes with your ability to think objectively. You end up with incomplete, inaccurate, or exaggerated information.

Incorrect: My wife is always telling me what to do.

Objective: When my wife wants me to fix something around the house, she usually asks politely. After the first 5 requests, however, she tends to get frustrated.

Incorrect: Unless I do what he wants, he gets angry at me.

Objective Thinking: Sometimes, when I don’t do what he wants, he gets angry, period.

Although you could think, “He is mad at me,” that tends to cause you to interpret his feelings as a personal attack rather than as an expression of his thoughts, which probably have more to do with him than with you.

The Problem with “Should”

A common barrier to thinking objectively is often created by how you use the “S” word: Should. If should means to you that what is must not or cannot be—rather than meaning you prefer reality to be different—frequent use of the “S” word will upset you. For example:

I shouldn’t have dropped the ball.
Better: Unfortunately, I dropped the ball.

I should be as organized as Sue.
Better: Sue is more organized, but I can improve if I am willing to work at it.

Life shouldn’t be so hard.
Better: At times, life is hard, so what can I do to make my life better?

By thinking about life the way it is right now, you are in the ideal position to make your best choice.

Thinking Constructively

Regardless of what you are doing, you are striving toward some goal because the mind is goal-oriented. Right now, for example, as you read this, you have a reason for doing so. You may want to learn something, to solve a problem, are curious. Likewise, when you talk to a friend or business associate, you have a purpose in mind. Even when you stare at the ceiling or out the window, you have your reasons. You may be pondering the solution to a difficult problem, trying to relax for a moment, or trying to avoid thinking about a problem or responsibility.

You can control the goals you think about and the plans you develop to accomplish them. When you focus your mental energy on the goal you consider most important and your thoughts and activity on a reasonable plan to achieve it, your mind is working at its best.

Incorrect: Why is my boss so impatient? I just can’t seem to figure him out.

Constructive: How can I do a better job and make my boss’s job easier?

Incorrect: I cannot stand people driving slowly in the fast lane. I wish I had a Sherman tank.

Constructive: Although I do not like slow drivers in the fast lane, my goal is to get home safely. Taking an extra 5 minutes to get there really doesn’t matter.

Learning to Adhere to the 3 Rules

You cannot always drive or think perfectly, even though you give it your best effort. When you do drift, admit it. You cannot afford to waste precious seconds criticizing yourself, questioning why, or disbelieving the fact. And you certainly cannot afford to ignore the situation just because it is unpleasant. Instead, simply act to get back in bounds, then think about and learn from your mistake.

Steps for Applying the Principle

Consider the benefits of adhering to the 3rules for successful thinking. Ask yourself: “How will I benefit from learning to think this way?” Then consider whether the benefits are worth the effort. If so, decide to learn to live by the 3 rules—not because you have to or should, but because you want to. Establish your guidelines for successful thinking. You may adopt the 3 rules if you wish, or develop your own specific rules.

Evaluate your thoughts as desirable or undesirable according to the rules you established. Make sure your line between them is crystal clear. Additional steps for managing unwelcome thoughts are best understood by dividing them into 3 sections: before, during, and after the thoughts occur.

What to Do Before

Set a thinking goal you can immediately begin to succeed in accomplishing, such as “I will learn to keep my thoughts within the guidelines I set.” Involve yourself in a well-balanced variety of constructive activities (family, religion, work, social, school, music, etc.). If your life is out of balance, you will have difficulty making any lasting improvements in controlling your thoughts.

Make a list of “innocent” thoughts that tend to precede or trigger undesirable ones. Then when you notice yourself thinking them, strive to divert your attention to more constructive activity. It is much easier to redirect your thinking when a potentially undesirable thought is in its infancy, and still appears innocent.

Evaluate the relationships, media, and activities you participate in. Do they encourage or discourage you from keeping your thoughts within your guidelines? Make a list of situations or activities that tempt or push you to violate your rules for successful thinking. Begin decreasing, and if possible, eliminate your participation in them. Develop a healthy mental diet, just as you do a physical diet. Feed your mind constructive, uplifting food.

What to Do During

Think of unwanted thoughts like inappropriate requests or comments an attorney makes in court. The judge can instruct the jury to disregard them. You, like the judge, can overrule any thought or resulting feeling by telling your mind to overlook it. Although you cannot entirely erase the memory, you do not have to take it seriously or act on it. When you think an undesirable thought—and we all do sometimes—acknowledge it. Then immediately redirect your thinking to something kind, objective, and constructive.

Sometimes a set of thoughts, beliefs, or memories are so powerful and pervasive that they keep reoccurring like a chronic illness. They tend to haunt the mind with flashbacks. Although such toxic thoughts may not be eliminated, with a great deal of effort and vigilance, they can be decreased, desensitized, and put into remission where they no longer interfere with your life. When you think an undesirable thought, take 2 key steps:

Step 1: Immediately note the fact that your thoughts are out-of-bounds.

Step 2: Redirect your attention and activity on something constructive despite any powerful, lingering feelings that may occur. Do not attempt to fight or stop the thought itself. Emotionally charged thoughts, like a powerful freight train, cannot be stopped dead in their tracks. You can, however, change the destination of a train—or a train of thought—by switching the tracks. After you get your thoughts back in bounds, be patient with your emotions. Do not go back out-of-bounds in a misguided attempt to fight or analyze them.

Practice these steps until you can consistently do both within 2-3 seconds. That may be difficult at first, but by practicing—hundreds of times if necessary—you succeed.

What to Do After

Even after you have your thoughts back in bounds, be patient with the way you feel. The length of time it takes your body to calm down after having unwanted sexual, anxious, angry, or depressing thoughts is about 10 times as long as the thoughts themselves. After the first 2-3 seconds, every additional second causes your body to be flooded with powerful chemicals that increasingly arouse and intensify emotion. Even after ceasing to throw pebbles into a pond, it takes time for the ripples to subside.

Although ideally, you would like never to have an undesirable thought again, you’re immediate and achievable goal is to learn to manage them better, not eliminate them. Reassure yourself that you can learn from your mistakes as long as you resist the temptation to ignore them or condemn yourself for having made them in the first place. Ask yourself: “With hindsight, what could I have done to prevent that?”

After making and correcting a mistake, recommit yourself to your goal. Frequently review your reasons for it. Doing so reaffirms your need for greater peace of mind, more happiness, and increased personal productivity.

Success Story: Sean

Since he was 17 years old, Sean struggled to overcome a habit of sexual behavior that he considered undesirable. He tried a variety of strategies, and each time, he promised himself the same thing: “I’ll never do it again.” He would psyche himself up, sure that this time he would finally succeed. He kept records of how many days in a row he went without a “slip.” The longer he went, the more the pressure built—"How long can I keep it up? Have I finally overcome it?” Then, inevitably, the winning streak came to an end.

The first few dozen times he failed, he dusted himself off and tried again. Eventually, however, he began to doubt himself: “I don't know if I can overcome this problem. Maybe I am a loser. If others knew about my problem, they would think less of me. I’m a phony. Even God is displeased with me.” Despite increasing doubt and discouragement, he never gave up. He kept fighting.

Realizing his thoughts were at the root of his behavior, he began fighting them. When a lustful thought came into his mind, he tried to force it out of his mind by screaming to himself, "No!" and by repeating positive affirmations, or by trying to frighten himself about possible consequences. He would hold the thought up for careful analysis, asking himself “why” he thought such things. Other times, he would wage a mighty debate trying to convince himself he did not want to think those thoughts.

Sean was caught in a vicious cycle. The harder he tried to battle his thoughts and make them go away, the more they tended to dominate his thinking. The more he thought about not thinking certain things, the more he was thinking about them. In addition to failing to keep his promise of “never doing it again,” he was also failing in his fight to “eliminate undesirable thoughts.” Failure was uppermost in his mind. By the time Sean came to see Dr. Fishbein, he was down on himself and doubted his ability to succeed. The first objective was to help him discover that the solution was still within him.

We discussed his goal “to never do it again,” and I asked him how he would know when he had succeeded. He said, “When I don't do it anymore.” I asked him how many days in a row he thought he needed to go before he could reach that conclusion. He said he didn't know, but thought it needed to be a long time, perhaps a year. Dr. Fishbein pointed out that his criteria for success were vague at best and nonexistent at worst. Unless he could say he never made a mistake, he could not say he succeeded. And how could he conclude “I never make a mistake” when he does not know what the future holds?

Setting an Achievable Goal

Dr. Fishbein explained to Sean that he could set a different goal—one that would allow him to recognize and measure progress objectively. He would then be able to experience encouraging degrees of success. The suggestion was: I will learn to keep my passions within the bounds the Lord and I have set.

There are 2critical parts to this goal. First, the concept of learning. By focusing on learning, Sean could experience some success right away. It was obvious to him that learning new skills always involves making mistakes, especially in the beginning. More important than the errors, however, is what you learn from them. The second part is setting a positive orientation. The emphasis is on learning to do a positive thing, rather than not doing a negative thing.

Positive: I will learn to hit the ball.
Negative: I will not strikeout.

Sean agreed to adopt the new goal. Now he had a positive goal that allowed for the natural process of learning and took the pressure off. As long as he was learning principles and skills for better self-management—even while making mistakes—he would sooner or later gain greater control over his thoughts and his actions.

Reaffirming Self-Worth Among Mistakes

Sean had another habit that was getting in the way of accomplishing his goal. When he made a mistake, he would get extremely down on himself. By repeatedly saying negative and unkind things about himself, he was making a second mistake. Without realizing it, he was causing the erosion of his natural sense of self-worth.

Just after he made a mistake, Dr. Fishbein asked him to recite the following words to himself: “I am a child of God with strengths, weaknesses, and potential. And I will learn to keep my passions within the bounds the Lord and I have set.” Not only does the undesirable behavior reinforce correct principles, it usually becomes less desirable itself.

Keeping Objective Records

In solving any personal problem, Dr. Fishbein looks for improvement in 2 areas—what a person thinks and how they act. He showed Sean how to measure progress in those areas in a way that would be objective and encouraging. Rather than counting the days until he made a mistake, he kept a win/loss record. After the first week, Sean reported he messed up 2 times. He was discouraged. Dr. Fishbein’s response was, “Well, let's see, you have 5 wins and 2 losses. What did you learn?”

After the second week, Sean was pleased to announce some improvement. He reported a cumulative score of 11 wins and 3 losses. The progress was not only obvious; it was encouraging, and offered valuable lessons along the way. To measure development in keeping his thoughts within the bounds he set, Dr. Fishbein suggested 2 things. First, he asked Sean to monitor how many seconds or minutes it took him to (a) acknowledge that his thoughts were out-of-bounds and (b) get them back in bounds. Second, he asked for a list of “innocent” thoughts that, nevertheless, tended to lead his mind out-of-bounds (“She is cute” or “I need to relax”). Then he asked for a report on the number of times he started down the track of “innocent” thoughts and then switched to a better path before he went out-of-bounds.

At first, Sean had some difficulty recognizing the onset. He would be aware of his emotional reaction to the thoughts before he was aware of the thoughts themselves. By then, the waves of emotion were so large it was difficult to redirect the wayward thoughts. With practice, he got to the point where he could recognize an undesirable thought and get back in bounds in about a minute. Then he could do it in 45 seconds, then 30 seconds. Sometimes, he could even do it in the ideal time of 2-3 seconds.

Prevention Is Easier Than Correction

By increasing his awareness of the “innocent” thoughts preceding the not-so-innocent ones, Sean discovered he could comfortably redirect them before they got out-of-bounds. As he noted growing success, his confidence grew. To help him gain greater confidence and strength, Dr. Fishbein asked him to consider other areas in his life he would like to improve. Anything he could do to live a more meaningful and well-balanced life would help solve the problem and reduce the likelihood of a recurrence.


3. Distinguish Your Feelings from Your Thoughts

All of us, from time to time, unwittingly blend our opinions with the truth and consider the resulting viewpoint to be fact. The thoughts and feelings you have about a situation are important, but they do not change the truth. There are 2 ways of dealing with this. At one extreme is the person who ignores their feelings altogether; at the other extreme is the person who excessively dwells on them.

Ignoring Feelings

Although you can go through life while ignoring some or all of your emotions, you do so at a disadvantage. Attempts to ignore emotional pain lead to difficulty in being sensitive to pleasure. This also causes you tomes out on important information about yourself and your environment, making it difficult to think objectively, decide reasonably, or communicate effectively.

Some people, unaware of their feelings, mistakenly consider themselves highly rational. Such individuals often appear impeccably calm and smooth. Nothing seems to upset them. If you are married to someone like that—and you are aware of your ups and downs—you and they may mistakenly view them as calm and yourself as volatile. Contrary to outer appearances, the so-called “rational “person often has difficulty distinguishing facts from feelings because they are unaware that there is any difference.

Example: When Bill walked through the front door, Sharon knew he was upset. Bill, however, considered himself calm and rational. Actually, Bill was upset about work but had not recognized that fact. When Sharon asked him how he was, he responded sincerely, “Fine.” Upon looking around the house, Bill launched into a tirade about how messy it was even though it was reasonably tidy. Because Bill was unaware of his feelings about work, he had difficulty seeing that the house was neat, and his opinions were being affected by feelings he did not admit he had.

Dwelling on Feelings

Some people are so aware of and involved with their feelings that they lose sight of what the facts are and whether they support these feelings. Such individuals tend to base their opinions and decisions on how they feel because what they feel represents what are real. Attempting to reason or communicate with that person is an exercise in frustration, regardless of how much evidence you give them.

Although Norm and Sue are living beyond their means, when Norm feels they can afford a new car, financial facts cannot convince him otherwise. Since he feels good about the purchase, he “reasons,” it must be all right. When you can distinguish facts from feelings, you are in the best position to objectively and sensitively examine all information.

Steps to Applying the Principle

On several 3x5 cards, write “Thoughts and feelings do not change facts.” Place the cards where you can see them at least a dozen times a day. Whenever you have a strong feeling, remind yourself of what is written on your cards. When you experience a feeling that seems unreasonably strong or inappropriate to the situation, ask yourself:“What are the facts that support this feeling?” If there are none, you may acknowledge but are better off not taking the feeling seriously.

Practice this skill in 3 areas of life: Your identity (“I am” versus “I feel I am”), your activities (“I do” versus “I feel I do”), and your possessions (“I have” versus “I feel I have”). It helps to take paper and draw a line vertically down the center. List your feelings on the left side and the facts on the right. When there is a discrepancy between facts and feelings, you are usually better off acting on the facts. Emotions are typically not as reliable since they can fluctuate independently of the current situation because of flashbacks, exaggerated thoughts, or insufficient information.

Feelings. Facts: Identity

I Feel:
I Am a Terrible Person
I Am Brilliant
I Am Great
I Am Hopeless
I Am a Jerk
I Am Worthless

I Am (the Facts):
Adperson with Strengths, Weaknesses, and Potential
Me
[Name]
[Gender Identity]

Activity

I Feel I Do:
Everything Perfect and Right
Nothing Good, Important, or Worthwhile

I Do (the Facts)
Community and/or Religious Service
Eat Healthy Food
Regular Exercise
Take Care of My Family

Possessions

I Feel I Have:
No Friends
No Money
Nothing of Value

I Have (the Facts):
Car
Family
Friends
Home
Job

Success Story: Terri

Terri, a high school homecoming queen, felt ugly and unpopular. Her parents repeatedly tried to reason with her but to no avail. Every time they pointed out the facts that over 1,000 of her peers voted her homecoming queen and that she modeled for Macy’s, she told them those things did not change her feelings. Dr. Fishbein pointed out to Terri that her feelings were screaming so loudly in her ears, she mistakenly believed them to represent reality. Her parents, on the other hand, were so focused on the facts, they could not seem to acknowledge, let alone understand, her feelings.

He encouraged her parents to stop trying to use facts to talk her out of her feelings. Instead, it would be better to acknowledge and respect them. He suggested they tell her they understood she was feeling down on herself and reassure her that the emotional storm would eventually pass.

Meanwhile, he and Terri discussed a variety of situations where feelings and facts are not the same, such as feeling like you failed a math test when you did well or vice versa. She began to realize that although her feelings were real and understandable, they did not change the truth. Finally, she saw that feeling down on herself did not change the fact that she did have some positive physical characteristics and good friends. Once again, she was able to objectively look at her strengths and weaknesses independently of how she was feeling.


4. Focus on What You Can vs. Can’t Control

In any situation, there are things you can control and cannot control. Focus your attention on what you can. You may wish to turn sickness to health, a bad driver good, a hot day cool, a depressed economy robust, or a disobedient child obey. The tendency to dwell on things you cannot control is normal but unhealthy. It leads to anxiety, anger, or depression. In personal relationships, thinking about things you cannot control often leads to manipulative behavior.

The Golden Rule can be misinterpreted to mean: “If I do unto others as I would have them do unto me, then they will do unto me as I want.” Such a restatement suggests one person can control what another will choose to do. Certainly, if you are kind to others, there is a greater likelihood that others will reciprocate, but that is their choice, not yours. In relationships, if you do something, then there may be a possibility or even a probability of a particular response, but that choice is in their control, not yours.

Sadly, there are things you cannot completely control that also require your attention. Goals or plans involving other people or external events are important to think about even though you cannot entirely control the outcome. You may set a family goal to improve communication by speaking in a kind manner. Although you can affect your contribution, better communication requires the efforts of others, whom you cannot control. Whether in a family or business setting, it is essential to have a clear goal. Dr. Fishbein suggests giving about 10% of your attention to important things you cannot control, but focus 90% on what you can.

You Can Control:

Family Rules and Consequences for Obedience or Disobedience
Your Actions
Your Choices
Your Effort, Contribution, and Performance at Work
Your Influence on Others, Whether Positive or Negative
Your Thoughts

You Cannot Control:

Children’s ‘Choice to Obey or Disobey
Consequences of Your Choices
Emotional Consequences of Your Thoughts
Others ‘Reaction
Others ‘Response to Your Influence

There are some painful situations where desirable choices seem nonexistent (illness, relationships, or job loss). In such cases, there is a natural tendency to give your attention to the things you cannot control. These results in reduced awareness of available choices and feeling trapped. Fortunately, in all situations, there are some constructive choices available—just not always the ones you might prefer.

A classic example of finding constructive choices in a situation that was anything but ideal is found in Dr. Viktor Frank’s experience in Auschwitz—a Nazi concentration camp where thousands of his fellow Jewish people, including his family, were murdered in the gas chambers. Daily, he saw the black smoke from the incinerated bodies rising to the sky. He was starved and tortured. Many were dropping dead from starvation and despair. Did he have any positive choices? What could he control?

He made a remarkable discovery. Although the Nazis could take his family, possessions, and liberty, they could not take away his faith in God, his hopes and dreams, and his love for his fellow man. They could not make him hate or give up hope. Despite the atrocious conditions, he realized he could still do some good with his life. Regardless of how long he lived or under what circumstances, he could help his fellow prisoners and learn to suffer with dignity. He could hope and plan for a better life someday—even though the chance of survival was low.

He found meaning and purpose in his life as he determined he would live to the best of his ability within the limits of his current circumstances. He discovered freedom in a Nazi concentration camp. Although Dr. Frankly was undoubtedly aware of things he could not control, he still found a way to focus his attention and energy on what he could. As a result, he not only survived Auschwitz but also discovered freedom and meaning in his life. He developed an internationally renowned theory and approach to psychotherapy, primarily derived from his experience. (Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor E. Frankly, Washington Square Press, 1985).

Steps for Applying the Principle

Ask yourself: “What aspects of this situation can I control?” and “What aspects can’t I control?”Just by asking the question, there is a natural tendency for your mind to self-correct. When you find yourself dwelling on something you cannot control, do not try to change your thinking at first. Just watch what happens. Observe the consequences, especially how you tend to feel and act.

Example: A young mother of 3 children related to Dr. Fishbein how she felt overwhelmed, inadequate, and depressed. In the last week alone, her 6-year-old had screamed “I hate you” several times, her 10-year-old had brought home a note from school for disrupting the class, and her 14-year-old was having trouble with algebra. Sandy was sure that she was somehow the cause of their problems. To help her distinguish her responsibilities from her children’s, she made a list of what she could and could not control.

Sandy’s List: I Can Control
My Actions
My Choices (What I Teach and Give to My Children)
My Thoughts and Feelings
Setting the Rules and Consequences

I Cannot Control
Their Actions or Reactions
Their Choices (What They Learn and Receive)
Their Choice to Obey or Disobey
Their Thoughts and Feelings

Sandy felt relieved, knowing she was not responsible for everything going on in her family. She came up with a constructive plan for action, benefiting herself and her children.

Avoid Excessive Positive Thinking

Prior to the big game, the players convinced themselves they were so good, they could not possibly lose. Such thinking is not realistic. No matter how good a team is, things over which they have no control can always occur that can cause defeat. A star player may become sick or injured, or the other team might play their all-time best. When players do not consider the possibility of losing, it is difficult for them to give their all during practice. If failure then seems possible, the players are not prepared to face it.

Set a team goal and visualize success. Acknowledge that winning or losing is the result of many factors, not all of which you control. Then, focus on developing, practicing, and implementing a game plan.

Controlling Rules and Consequences, Not Children

Cory and Cossette believe that if they set a good example, teach correct principles, and discipline with love and firmness, then their children will behave properly. When their children misbehave, Cory and Cossette feel responsible for their children’s choices. A vicious cycle can develop where children rebel against what feels to them like coercion, while parents keep trying harder to make the children obey.

Set a good example, teach correct principles, lovingly control rules and consequences, and allow for the fact that children will make their own choices and receive the consequences of their obedience or disobedience. When parents give their best in the areas they can control, children are most likely to choose to do the same. Sometimes, of course, children will decide to misbehave, despite their parents’ best efforts.


5. Recognize Your Inherent Worth

Feelings of self-worth fluctuate throughout life, but your intrinsic worth and identity is a secure and permanent fact. You have an inherent value independent of your feelings, actions, or accomplishments.

Everyone, regardless of age, intellect, accomplishment, position, or popularity, feels “I am not OK,” or “I am not good enough” at times. Feelings of worthier like the waves, continuously rising and falling. Self-worth is commonly thought of as something a person can get or lose. It is often measured by external things such as wealth, popularity, accomplishment, or others’ opinions. Nevertheless, money only measures wealth, not the things that really matter like happiness, love, intelligence, and family closeness. If external standards are the metric, identity and self-worth are built on a shaky foundation.

Basic Premise

Your inherent worth—distinguished from the worth of your accomplishments and your worth to others—is like the pedigree or certificate of a thoroughbred horse. It is permanent and irrevocable. No opinion, feeling, or accomplishment can change it. Somewhere inside of you is a natural sense of “I am” or identity. Permanently stamped or imprinted deeply in your mind is the certain knowledge that “I am me, a person of worth.” Even when you make a mistake, experience failure, or feel worthless, your natural sense of self-worth says, “That’s okay, just try again.”

Other than your name, you do not need a label to be special or unique. Your particular combination of strengths, weaknesses, potential, and heritage is unlike anyone else’s in the world, just like your fingerprints.

Losing Sight of Natural Self-Worth

Despite the inherent worth a child is born with, they receive new information from the environment. Their personal identity is unintentionally labeled by the attitudes and actions of parents and other adults. Good behavior usually results in “good boy/girl,” while bad behavior brings forth a label of “bad boy/girl.” Labeling a behavior or characteristic this way may be appropriate, but using such a label on a person can be harmful.

When a child is given a label affecting their identity or worth, they are faced with a dilemma. Their natural instincts tell them they are a good, worthwhile person no matter what. When adults contradict this, what does the child believe? By around age 8, a new tape or program may have developed, suggesting their self-worth depends on accomplishments and what others think.

Identity Wheel

Even in homes where caution is used in applying labels and teaching a child the facts about which they are, a child still has a natural tendency to begin using personal labels of good or bad, depending on accomplishments and opinions. This proclivity for self-labeling, if left unchecked, can eat away at self-esteem. Whether the natural or artificial tape becomes the ruling force depends first on the child's environment and then on him or herself.

When Dr. Fishbein’s son Shane was eight years old, he began playing soccer. After one of his games, he came home and jubilantly announced, “I am a great soccer player.”His dad asked him why and he explained how he scored 2 goals. Dr. Fishbein said, “Shane, that is great that you scored 2 goals, but that does not make you a great soccer player.”He then asked him to say what fun about the game was and what he learned.

The next week Shane came home from a game dejected, saying, "I am a horrible soccer player." His dad again asked why. Shane explained he was playing goalie when he bent over to stop the ball and it rolled between his legs, scoring the goal that lost the game for his team. Dr. Fishbein said, “Shane, you made a mistake, but that does not make you a terrible soccer player. Now, did you have some fun during your game? And, what did you learn?” He got the point.

Although this principle is so simple that a child can understand it, adults are often confused. When you ask an adult, “Who are you?” the answers are: an attorney, a housewife, an engineer, fat, bright, rich, lazy, or popular. This way of thinking leads a person to base their intrinsic worth on variables that can be taken away or lose their value rather than on the fact that “I am,” therefore, “I have worth and value.”

You Are Not Your Roles

Although everyone has important roles to fulfill, you are not your roles. You are more than your career, body, marriage, and accomplishments or lack thereof. Nevertheless, many people define their identity by what they do. You can think of your various roles in life as hats you wear: the hats are yours, but you are more than your hats. Your roles describe your responsibilities, but they do not completely describe you.

Wanting to feel good about yourself is natural, but since feelings are fickle, basing your identity or worth on how you feel is inherently unstable. You’re better off building on a firm foundation. Feelings and possessions may pass, but your own uniqueness, abilities, and potential will endure. The steps for applying the principle are divided into 3 sections:

Avoid seeking after what you already have.
Look at yourself objectively.
Accept your natural self-worth.

Avoid Seeking What You Already Have

Notice if you set up tests to determine your worth. For example, “I am worthwhile if I get a promotion,”“I am lovable if he loves me,”“I am intelligent if I communicate well.” Testing your self-worth is self-defeating. You cannot win. Even if you score high on several tests, you never know how you will do next time. The threat of not being worthwhile lurks around every corner. Continually questioning your self-worth leads to never-ending tests and increasing self-doubt.

You do not need to fight for something you already have. Take off the emotional battle fatigues and peacefully do things you consider worthwhile, regardless of how you feel. The worst that could happen is that you will feel badly about yourself while doing good things. It is much more likely, though, that your feelings of self-worth will continue to fluctuate, but without the extreme highs and lows. Strive to minimize or, if possible, eliminate, comparisons of yourself to others. This leads to lower or artificially inflated self-esteem.

Look at Yourself Objectively

Observe how you use the 2 most important words affecting your identity and self-esteem: I am. Habitual use of these words to describe yourself in any other way than, for example, “I am Laurie,”“I am a person,” “I am a woman” may be hazardous to your self-esteem. Likewise, observe how you use the 2 most important words affecting your view of others: “He/she is...” or “You are...’

Accept Your Natural Self-Worth

If you are concerned that your productivity or motivation will diminish by accepting your natural self-worth, consider the following:

Myth: If I accept the notion I am worthwhile, perhaps I will become lazy and fail to accomplish some important things.

Fact: Everyone has a natural desire to improve and accomplish, though some have learned to ignore it. When you strive to achieve something because of its value to you rather than because you are attempting to achieve self-worth, you are more likely to enjoy your successes and survive your failures.

I Am vs. I Have

I Am:
A Person with Strengths, Weaknesses, and Potential
Male/Female/Other

I Have:
Accomplishments (Successes and Failures)
Family Relationships
Feelings (Pleasant and Unpleasant)
Habits (Good and Bad)
Possessions
Thoughts (Good and Bad)

Decide that you want to accept what you were born knowing: that you have inherent worth, independent of others’ opinions or anything you do. Then you can strengthen or regain your childhood faith in yourself.
Take several 3x5 cards and write the following words or something similar: “I am worthwhile because I am me, a child of God with a unique blend of strengths, weaknesses, and potential.”

Place the cards where you can see them at least a dozen times a day. Use your feelings as a trigger to remind you of what you wrote. Whenever you feel depressed or doubt your self-worth, repeat them to yourself. By doing this, you are using feelings of self-doubt to help remember what you once knew so naturally. To reinforce your effort, share what you are working on with someone. Notice that your efforts to prove you are worthwhile are never quite enough. Just as you cannot prove the existence of God, you cannot prove you are worthwhile, no matter how hard you try.

Listen to those around you who know the truth about your worth. Even though you may not feel worthwhile, give yourself permission to believe others when they say you have worth. Strengthen your faith in your inherent worth by doing things you consider worthwhile without making this the foundation of your self-worth. Frequently reassure yourself that feelings of low self-esteem or worthlessness, though normal, do not change the fact of your worth.

Success Story: Care

Dr. Fishbein spent several weeks trying to help Care overcome a lifelong feeling of worthlessness. He asked her to tell him if others viewed her similarly to the way she viewed herself. “Oh, I don't believe so,” she said. Others viewed her as a loving wife and mother. Her manager at the bank viewed her as dedicated and hardworking. At church and in the community, she was known as someone who was willing to help and serve others.

Although she was aware of the good things she did and of others’ love and appreciation, she continued to feel badly about herself. Sometimes she argued persuasively that she just was not good enough. Because she forgot what she knew as a child—that she has inherent worth—she repeatedly asked, “Am I worthwhile?” The more she asked, the more she doubted herself. She was caught in a never-ending test of her worth as a person. No matter how much she accomplished, how often others praised her, or how good she felt about herself, she kept asking the same question.

Since the answer was pre-programmed in her mind, Dr. Fishbein knew that once she stopped asking, the natural answer would emerge. He suggested she stop asking the question. She agreed. Instead, she simply went about doing her usual things. Whenever the question popped into her mind, she dismissed it and went about doing her business. As she thought less about the question, she became less troubled about her identity and worth. It was not so much that she suddenly felt great about herself, but she no longer doubted her worth as a person.

Story of a Shaky Foundation: Fred

Fred had no doubt about his worth. He was the greatest. He was the president and owner of a large corporation. He was a popular and influential member of his community. He had plenty of money, a big house, and expensive cars. He was also an exceptionally talented and successful athlete. One night, Fred failed in bed with his wife, whom he loved dearly. The next night he tried harder, but to no avail. He became increasingly discouraged and eventually concluded, “I am a failure.”

Fred had spent a lifetime convincing himself he was worthwhile because of his performance in school, athletics, business, and community. When he experienced failure, he naturally, though mistakenly, believed he was a failure. Before he could resolve his problem, it was necessary for him rediscover that his worth as a person was intrinsic, not based on his performance. When he realized he was worthwhile—even lovable—independent of his impressive list of successes and failures, he not only felt better, but to his delight, performed better.


6. Build Foundation for Your Personal Security

Your security in life depends more on how you manage yourself than on any other person or thing. The better you manage yourself, the more personal security you have. As you develop more knowledge and skill, you are better equipped to deal with the opportunities and difficulties of life. Learning to live in a well-balanced, reasonable, and virtuous manner offers more security. If you take good care of your body, your health is more secure. If you manage your money well, you are more financially secure. Note the emphasis on more, not completely.

Regardless of the degree of security you obtain, your feelings of it still fluctuate. Even people who manage themselves well feel self-doubts and insecurities.

The Irony About Trying to Feel Secure

Even though the goal of emotional security may seem reasonable, you cannot attain it. Usually, the harder you try the worse you feel. On the other hand, when you put more effort into improving yourself and your relationships with others, you usually end up feeling better. The goal to feel secure or to eliminate feelings of insecurity is futile. It is like trying to control the waves at the beach.

Basing Your Security on Yourself—a Natural Tendency

The natural tendency to base your security on yourself rather than on others is seen in a child's instinctive drive to become increasingly self-reliant (learning to crawl, walk, run, ride a bike, and drive a car). Although the child allows others to teach and help them, they ultimately want to do things on their own. Even a child with a beloved security blanket eventually leaves it behind—sometimes only after a parent removes it. Then, as the child continues to learn and mature, they become more independent and secure, even though feelings of security fluctuate along the way.

If, when a child feels the normal, periodic feelings of insecurity, they are given reassurance that they are still all right, worthwhile, and capable, they generally learn to ride out the waves of emotion without giving them much thought or attention. They know those feelings of insecurity will pass, so they focus their attention and effort on doing important things.

The Benefits

A person with a well-developed degree of personal security can lose a loved one, a job, wealth, or even health, and still have the ability to proceed with life. Just as the skilled surfer is able to deal with a variety of surf conditions, when you are well-prepared, you can deal with the vicissitudes of life and ride out or even avoid some of the more traumatic waves.

Losing Sight of the Natural Foundation for Security—You

If, when a child feels insecure, parents send a negative message (“You are not good enough,” “You are upsetting us,” or “You should not feel that way”) the child will likely experience more pain or difficulty than they know how to handle. They tend to get sidetracked, looking externally for comfort and security.

Avoiding or minimizing pain becomes the goal instead of self-improvement and accomplishing worthwhile things. The child is likely to seek after alluring, counterfeit forms of security that promises feeling good, but always fail. They may become obsessed with being better than others, shy away from social or competitive activities out of fear of not being good enough, or attempt to anesthetize pain with alcohol, drugs, or sex.

If the child does excel—partly out of attempting to alleviate feelings of insecurity—they may become irrationally driven to maintain or achieve a higher level of success that makes a balanced, happy life difficult. If success becomes too difficult to obtain, they may give up or find some other way to escape their feelings through alcohol, drugs, sex, or even TV. Instead of simply focusing on developing and using skills that lead to a well-balanced and relatively secure life, they ride a treacherous treadmill seeking a fixed and secure feeling.

Steps to Apply the Principle

Think of a time in your life when you were particularly independent and self-reliant. Write a brief description of a poignant event during that time. For the next month, review and try to relive that event for a few minutes, 3 times a day.

Example: Sally inadvertently became dependent on her husband, much to his dismay. She could hardly make a decision without worrying about whether he would approve. She thought back to a time in college when she was living with a roommate. Although she was considerate of her companion, she recalled how she made decisions independently, based on what she thought was best. As Sally recalled them 3 times a day, she began to rediscover her ability to think and act independently.

Strengthen your personal security by improving yourself physically, mentally, socially, professionally, and spiritually. Set a goal and work toward it. As you do, you will become increasingly secure and the inevitable feelings of insecurity will become less intense and less frequent. If you tend to base your personal security on someone or something other than yourself:

Take several 3x5 cards and write something like: “My happiness and security depend more on me and how I manage myself than on any other person or thing.” Place the cards where you can see them at least a dozen times a day. Use your insecure feelings to remind you of what you have written on your cards. To reinforce them, share your efforts and improvements with someone else.

Real-Life Example: Mark

As a teenager who often felt insecure, Mark frequently envisioned himself feeling worthwhile, when he would someday be a multimillionaire. It was not so much the money that he wanted, but the feelings of security that so easily eluded him as a youth. For the next 20 years or so he studied and worked hard, often harder than anyone around him. To those who knew Mark, he was dedicated or driven to be the best employee or manager he could possibly be. That certainly was true, but even more important to Mark, and unknown to others, was his underlying quest for security.

Mark was 38 years old when he sold the company he started for 3 million dollars—cash. His dream came true. He spent the next year buying everything he wanted and traveling around the world. During his first appointment, he told Dr. Fishbein his story. He was impressed with Mark’s accomplishments, not to mention the Lamborghini parked in front of the office. He then dropped the bombshell—he did not feel any more secure now than he did before. Despite hard work, a successful company, and a great deal of money, he still felt insecure. His lifelong plan failed, and now he was depressed.

He did not know what to do with his life now. He still wanted to feel secure, but had no idea of how to go about it. He knew he could start another company and perhaps succeed again, but he also knew that would not solve the problem. Although Mark understood that success and wealth do not bring security, he was not ready to look at himself. He was afraid he could not face up to being as insecure and inadequate as he perceived himself to be. His life and his perspective were so out of balance he was now convinced he was a failure. He provided a vivid example of the futility of building our lives on externals.

Rebuilding Solid Foundation for Personal Security: Gloria and Tom

As a child, Gloria was emotionally abused. To escape her pain, she dreamed of the day when a man would love her so much she would feel secure in his arms. During college, she found such a man. Tom was a confident, take-charge person. He was also very demanding, but Gloria did not mind. She bent over backwards to please him, because she loved him and needed his love to feel secure. What she did not realize was that underneath his strong exterior, he felt equally insecure. His way to battle that was to appear calm, strong, and rational. He needed to be in control. They became dependent on one another—or codependent.

Before Dr. Fishbein helped Gloria rebuild her foundation for security, he explained what would likely happen as she became stronger and more self-reliant. At first, she had trouble imagining Tom feeling insecure at all, let alone being somewhat dependent on her. But then she began to recall that when she would start to do things for herself such as taking a class, spending time with her friends, or expressing a different opinion, Tom would become irritable and accuse her of being selfish and inconsiderate. She began to realize his agitation was not her fault, but rather an indication he was basing his security on her dependence.

They were stuck. Neither one could get out because the other one would not allow it. As soon as one climbed near the top, the other pulled them back down. Neither one could stand being alone despite not getting along. Though Gloria realized that becoming stronger would be as hard on Tom as it was on her, she decided to do it, not to control him but because she loved him and wanted their marriage to succeed. She began making constructive changes in her thinking and behavior. Despite reassuring Tom she loved him; he became increasingly agitated, especially as she learned to say “No.”

Eventually Tom realized that Gloria was becoming stronger and happier and he was feeling worse and even worried he might lose her. Tom came to see Dr. Fishbein and was brave enough to look at himself and admit his foundation for personal security had a crack in it. He humbly recognized his dependency on being in control and having Gloria needs him. It was uncomfortable for them to establish separate and independent foundations. They not only became self-reliant, but also committed themselves to a loving and respectful marriage. They are now like 2 pillars, supporting the marital bridge they designed and built.


7. Set Your Minimum Standards

In any situation or relationship there are minimum standards you consider necessary for it to be acceptable. While still striving to obtain the ideal, define them. Measure quality or performance as being above or below your minimum acceptable standard. Just as you have some idea of what perfection is, there is also some level of performance you consider acceptable and satisfactory, even though it is less than ideal.

Knowing in advance what the prerequisites are lets you know where you stand and what your choices are. If you do not qualify, for instance, you can often do something about it. Some people worry that identifying and focusing on a minimum acceptable standard will drive them or a relationship toward mediocrity. They are afraid of losing sight of the long-term goal of excellence or perfection. To the contrary, as long as you have a clear goal or vision, defining a minimum standard gives you a baseline or benchmark to make sure you are maintaining and then exceeding as you strive toward your goal.

Reasons for Setting Minimum Standard

Everyone wants to succeed in life, but the definition of success involves obtaining a seemingly impossible relationship, position, or performance. Striving for perfection is desirable, but what happens when you measure your performance against a standard of perfection? How can you ever feel that your present level is acceptable? If you do obtain that which you consider to be ideal, the odds are you will simply raise the level of what you consider ideal. No matter how hard you try or how well you do, it is not good enough when measured against the ideal of perfection.

On the other hand, being satisfied with a minimally acceptable job without striving toward an ideal can interfere with your progress and lead to stagnation. That is why successful businesses and individuals develop mission statements, core values, and goals to strive toward, knowing full well that daily performance will be somewhat less than the ideal.

Setting Your Own Standards Without Forcing Them on Others

It is your right to determine the minimum requirements or standards you consider necessary for a relationship or personal performance to be acceptable. You can set your standards at whatever level you like; it is up to you. You could, for instance, unreasonably decide that anything less than a perfect spouse is unacceptable. Or, at the other extreme, you could decide anyone who breathes and is willing to marry you qualifies.

Although your standards may define your requirements for another person’s performance, you do not, have the right to force someone to accept or live up to your standard. That is their choice. Nor does having the right to set your standards mean you are necessarily right.

3 Benefits of Defining Your Minimum Standards

First: Rather than comparing yourself to some ideal, you have a practical and objective benchmark to measure your performance. No doubt you will feel encouraged in some areas, while in other areas you will see the need for improvement. You will also find yourself having more control over evaluating your success, since you can rely more on your own criteria and judgment than on what others think.

Second: When your minimum standards are clear to you and you are adhering to them, you send a clear signal to others of what you require of them and of yourself. When they know where your line is—what you are and are not willing to negotiate—they are more comfortable. If honesty is one of your minimum standards, others will know there is no point in arguing or trying to manipulate you into doing something dishonest. Of course, if someone finds your standards or requirements unacceptable, they do not have to adhere to them. The relationship, however, will be off balance and unlikely to progress until the standards are mutually acceptable.

Third: You have an objective criterion to evaluate where someone else stands relative to your standards. In marriage, if you consider respect an essential, non-negotiable ingredient, you can accurately assess your spouse’s behavior in that area. If there is a problem, you can communicate and focus on it until a solution is found, even if it takes weeks or months. In every healthy relationship, whether personal or business, minimum standards are mutually understood and respected. If you are in a good relationship, you may not even need to identify minimum standards.

Steps to Applying the Principle

These apply in any situation. Additional steps are suggested for 4 special situations:

  1. Private or Personal Activities (Exercise, Diet, Neatness, Car Care, etc.)
  2. Relationship Between Peers (Premarital or Marital)
  3. Relationship Where One Person Has Authority Over the Other (Business, Civic, or Church Organizations)
  4. Relationship with Non-Peers (Grandparents, Parents, or Children)

An Ideal Goal or State of Perfection: Strive to Achieve the Ideal

In marriage, you might strive for a peaceful, happy, loving relationship. In addition to ideals that are mutually agreed upon, there are many negotiable preferences. Shelly, Dr. Fishbein’s wife, always wanted a husband who could dance. Fortunately for him, that was not one of her minimum requirements.

Make a list of things you consider necessary and non-negotiable for a relationship, performance, or situation to be acceptable. After you finish, go back and add specific examples for each item. For “Respect,” provide specific, behavioral examples that allow you and your companion to determine whether that standard is being adhered toxin marriage, your minimum standards might include:

Respect: Valuing each other’s opinions and feelings, even when there are differences. No name calling or yelling.

Commitment: The martial relationship is more important than any other, including those with children, extended family, friends, or business associates.

Fidelity: No intimate involvement with other people.

Good Communication: Speaking to each other kindly and honestly, solving problems in a constructive way where both people benefit.

Self-Reliance: Each person is independent with the ability to think rationally and act responsibly, without requiring the other’s permission.

Friendship: Each person is the other’s best friend.

If possible, have another person review your list. Their reaction and comments can help you evaluate the reasonableness of your standards and suggest some ways to add to or refine the items on your list. Use these as criterion to measure quality or performance, while striving to achieve your ideal.

Relationships Between Peers

Before sharing your minimum standards with your companion, invite them to make a list of their own. Unless they are given an opportunity to clarify their standards before you share yours, they are apt to feel overwhelmed or pressured. While reading each other’s minimum standards, look first for things you share. Next, look at those that seem to conflict.

Make sure you understand each other's standards before you attempt to resolve any differences. If you do not understand what is meant by a certain thing, ask questions. Seek to find ways to honor each other’s standards without violating your own. If this isn’t possible, you’re encouraged to seek professional help.

Relationships with Non-Peers

After you write your minimum standards, kindly announce your position. This is not a discussion or debate, but a declaration of the standards by which you live in a relationship. There is no need to defend, justify, or excuse them. You’ll instead want to share your hopes for the relationship as well as your love and appreciation for the person.

By giving the other person a chance to privately read and think about what you said, you increase the likelihood of them understanding that you are doing this for the mutual benefit of the relationship rather than a desire to control. A letter is especially helpful if they are apt to initially misinterpret or overreact.

Relationships Where One Person Has Authority

When you are reporting to someone with authority over you, it is usually necessary to obtain their approval. In essence, you are writing your own job description. You are defining the standards by which your performance will be measured.

After you have written your standards, schedule a time to meet. Preface your presentation by explaining you wish to do the best possible job and would like them to review some standards you came up with. When both of agree, you have an objective, reasonable criteria to measure and evaluate your performance without having to wait for someone else’s evaluation. Strive to meet, maintain, and then exceed the standards. As your skills increase, you may wish to raise them.

Private, Personal Activities

Make a list of that which you consider necessary for your performance to be acceptable to you. Be specific. Dr. Fishbein’s wife, Shelly, would ideally like the house immaculate, but with 5 children and a husband, that ideal is usually unobtainable. If she thought of the ideal as her minimum standard, she would be frustrated much of the time. Instead, she has minimum standards of order and cleanliness she considers acceptable: beds made in the morning, kitchen cleaned after each meal, and house picked up before dinner.

Success Story: Dr. Fishbein

As Dr. Fishbein was growing up, he knew precisely what kind of marriage he did not want to have. Even so, he feared becoming emotionally involved with someone, getting married, and then waking up some morning to realize he had made a mistake. He did not trust his feelings to help him make a wise decision on whom to marry.

To make matters worse, Dr. Fishbein also realized that dwelling on what he was afraid of would keep those things prominent in his mind, thereby increasing the likelihood of getting trapped in the very thing he was determined to avoid. He did some private research to find out what a good marriage—at least for him—would be like. He observed lots of marriages and even watched “Leave It to Beaver.”

Making List

Dr. Fishbein began to develop a mental list of characteristics he felt were necessary for him to have a good marriage. What he came up with were the rock-bottom necessary ingredients, what he would not compromise on. He included qualities like commitment, fidelity, respect, honesty, friendship, self-reliance, and common values.

As he dated, he kept his list in mind. He only wanted to get serious with someone who felt comfortable with the standards he considered essential for a successful marriage. At some point, he would bring up various items to discuss. Shelly not only met each one; she exceeded them.

An Example of a Minor Minimum Standard

One evening Dr. Fishbein and Shelly were talking about marriage, and he realized he had another item on his list of standards he had not thought about or shared with her. It was something trite and immature but nevertheless something on which he did not plan to compromise. That is, he does not eat green beans. He explained that no one forces him to eat green beans and asked Shelly how she felt about that.

At first she laughed, never having considered such a thing. Then—after she thought about it—she told him that if she went shopping for dinner, came home and prepared, cooked, and served a meal, she would expect her husband to have enough respect and courtesy for her to at least try a little of anything she served. “Yes,” she said, “If I served green beans to my husband, I would expect him to have some. ”He smiled and shook his head, saying, “No, not this husband. ”They had a little problem. She had a minimum standard he considered unacceptable, and he had a minimum standard she considered unacceptable.

The Danger of Capitulation

Perhaps someone would have advised Dr. Fishbein—for the sake of an otherwise great relationship—to go ahead and eat green beans once a week. But if he continued to think he was being forced, feelings of resentment would build week after week. Then, after several years, the problem could escalate beyond a little green bean issue to one of emotional conflict.

Someone might have advised Shelly to simply forgo serving green beans at home and order them for herself when out at a restaurant. But if she thought she was restricted from serving green beans, she might feel controlled or trapped. If the problem continued unresolved, stress would be placed on the marriage—not because of green beans but because of the accompanying attitudes and feelings.

Just about everyone has at least one green bean dilemma on their list. These little problems in marriage are like slivers in your foot. They may be small, but if ignored, they can become infected and cause pain. Although most of the items are much more important than green beans, if the little things are not taken care of, even the best relationships can deteriorate in time.

Working Toward Mutually Agreeable Solution

Dr. Fishbein and Shelly decided to see if they could find a way to respect each other's standard without capitulating. Neither ridiculed nor attempted to pressure the other to change their position. Shelly proposed the solution that still works. Kindly and with a smile on her face, she said, “John, if you will tell me ahead of time, what food you are too immature to eat, I will only serve that food to the children and me. Would that be all right?” That sounded great.

He now encourages all single adults, regardless of age or circumstance, to write their minimum standards for marriage. Then, when the time comes to make one of the most important life decisions, they will not be left to rely on their emotions alone. For those who are already married, it is not too late. Many marital problems can be resolved simply by clarifying standards and working toward a way to respect them.

Setting Minimum Standards for Relatives: Vance and Sabrina

Vance and Sabrina loved Vance’s parents and enjoyed their visits, which occurred several times a year. The grandparents were an important part of their family. They helped with the down payment on the house and spent a lot of time caring with the children. The only problem was that Vance and Sabrina did not drink or serve alcohol in their home, and Grandpa was an alcoholic who brought his jug of wine whenever he visited. The situation was discussed, debated, and ignored for years. Vance and Sabrina never took a firm stand.

Asking Grandpa to not drink seemed unthinkable, yet having him continue to drink in front of the children was unacceptable. Vance and Sabrina felt they were in a bind. They asked Dr. Fishbein to help them find an acceptable way to tell Grandpa not to bring alcohol into their home. He pointed out that they were asking for help in accomplishing 2 things, one of which they could control and the other they could not. Finding a kind, honest, and constructive way to communicate their wishes to Grandpa was achievable. Whether he responded to their request in a reasonable manner was out of their control.

He that they have the right to determine the standards for acceptable behavior in their home for children, parents, or guests. Vance was afraid Grandpa would feel rejected, unappreciated, and possibly never visit them again. Dr. Fishbein I reassured him that when Grandpa is given the choice between visiting his family without bringing his jug and not visiting his family, he would likely find a way to accept his son’s standard. Even if Grandpa was upset at first, he would probably get over it.

Taking Stand

With fear and trembling, Vance and Sabrina wrote a letter with 3 parts. First, they expressed their love and appreciation to their parents. Second, they explained their family policy of no alcohol in their home and kindly stated that Grandpa would no longer be able to drink in their home—of course, what he did outside of their home was up to him. Third, they shared their hopes for a continued close and loving relationship.

Fortunately, Dr. Fishbein had prepared them for the worst. A week after sending the letter, Vance and Sabrina received a note saying, “After all we have done for you, and you treat us like this. We know when we are not wanted. We will never step foot in your home again. ”Just as Vance and Sabrina had the right to set the standards in their home, the grandparents had the right to accept or reject them. The grandparents were struggling with how to deal with their children’s rules in much the same way a child might struggle with parents’ rules. Misinterpretation, tantrums, and rebellion are not limited to toddlers and teenagers.

The Result: A Better Relationship

When the grandparents did not visit over Thanksgiving, it was all Vance and Sabrina could do to resist giving in. It broke their heart thinking of losing the closeness their family had previously enjoyed. Dr. Fishbein reassured them that he had never seen grandparents permanently disown their children or cease to associate with them when the children take a firm yet reasonable stand. He has assisted over 100 adult children to respectfully announce to parents that certain behaviors were unacceptable (giving unsolicited advice, making critical comments, dropping in unannounced, and criticizing parenting practices). Although it is possible, it is extremely unlikely.

About 2 weeks before Christmas, a wonderful letter arrived. Grandpa and Grandma announced they would be coming for Christmas without their jug of wine. At the end of the visit, Grandpa told Bill they had a great time, even better than usual. The family had progressed through a difficult and awkward stage. Now the relationship was more mature and loving than before.

Setting Minimum Standards in the Workplace: Kyle

Kyle was the vice-president of a large national corporation. Even though he was working 60-80 hours a week, there was always more to do. Although his boss was pleased, he kept pushing Kyle for greater performance. Kyle found himself suffering with frequent headaches and a deteriorating home life.

Dr. Fishbein asked Kyle whether he felt he was doing a good job. Even though his boss was pleased and profits were up significantly from the previous year, he did not feel that he was doing a good job. He even worried about being fired or losing the family he loved deeply. He knew he could not continue to work at his current pace but feared the wrath of his boss.

Dr. Fishbein suggested Kyle write his minimum standards for an acceptable performance. At first, he was concerned about settling for mediocrity, but measuring his performance against an ideal standard was self-defeating. Once he understood, he made a thorough and detailed list of what he was willing and able to do for work. One of the items was work no more than 50 hours a week with exceptions for rare occasions.

Though he believed he might be fired after presenting his standards, for the sake of his family and health, he set up an appointment with his boss. First, he assured he was fully committed to the company’ mission and goals. Then he presented the list, asking if performance at such a level would be acceptable. The boss reviewed the list, finding it more than satisfactory. By analyzing the needs of the company and his own talents, Kyle prioritized and organized his efforts to be more productive faster. Not only did he end up with more time for himself and his family, he made a more significant contribution to his company.


8. Establish and Maintain Good Physical Health

The health of your mind, body, and emotions depends on proper nutrition, exercise, and sleep. Eat 3 well-balanced, low-fat meals a day, exercise 20-30 minutes 3-4 times a week, and sleep 7-9hours a night. Your brain—like a muscle—has physical needs just like your body. If your body or mind is weakened, you tend to view life in an unclear, negative, or exaggerated manner. Insufficient food, exercise, or rest is a common cause or contributing factor when you are upset, depressed, anxious, or angry.

Steps to Applying the Principle

Examine your eating habits. Are you getting 3 balanced meals a day? Are they full of fat, sugar, or salt? Are you habitually consuming anything that artificially affects your emotions such as caffeine, alcohol, or tobacco? Examine your sleeping habits. Are you getting the sleep your body requires at this time of life? Different amounts of sleep are required, depending on age, circumstance, and stress level. Do you have a routine for bedtime and for getting up? Decide on some manageable improvements in your eating and sleeping habits. Try them for 30 days, and then see how much better you feel.

Examine your exercise habits. Are you getting a minimum of 20 minutes of good cardiovascular exercise such as walking, running, swimming, or cycling 3-4 times a week? You should consult your physician if you have not been exercising regularly in the last year or if you have any health concerns. Consider various ways you could exercise. If you need ideas, ask a family member or friend, or check local college, YMCA, and community groups for exercise classes.

Decide on an exercise plan best for you with a regular schedule. If you have difficulty beginning or continuing on your own, join with a friend or a group. While you are exercising, notice how much easier it is to avoid feeling upset. Keep going even if you don’t feel better yet. The added strength you are gaining will help you in taking whatever additional actions are needed.

Success Story: Martha

At first glance, it was not difficult to see why Martha was depressed. She was going through a painful divorce, her son was getting into fights at school and refusing to obey the rules at home, and there was hardly enough money to make ends meet. She sought help for herself. Although a counselor helped her deal with the divorce and her son, she still felt depressed.

When she came to Dr. Fishbein seeking additional help, he asked her, among other things, to tell him about her eating, exercise, and sleep habits. She told him there was so much to do she could only get around5 hours of sleep a night. To wake up in the morning and stay awake at work, she drank 6 caffeine beverages a day. She was too busy to eat more than 1-2 meals a day, though she usually found a way to grab a candy bar or donut now and then. As far as exercise, that was the last thing she felt like doing.

Though he suspected a variety of causes and solutions for her depression, he told her he would only accept her as a client if she committed to do the following: eat 3 meals a day, get 7-8 hours of sleep a night, and dramatically decrease her caffeine consumption, if not eliminate it entirely. Until she took better care of her body, she was not likely to escape feeling depressed no matter how many improvements she made in other areas.

Although Martha was not happy about this, she made the commitment. She then proceeded to tell him she thought she needed some anti-depression medication. He explained that in some cases such medication is appropriate, but even then, only as a temporary aid until the mind and body are functioning better and until the person has learned the skills to live more effectively. He told her they could consider the possibility that she might need medication, but before he would recommend it, he wanted her to do what she could herself to restore her physical health.

She agreed. She began taking daily walks, sometimes early in the morning or during her lunch hour at work. At first, the exercise was a chore—one more thing for her to do—but soon she began to find it somewhat enjoyable. Although it took more than proper nutrition, exercise, and sleep for Martha to climb out of depression, they gave her the physical strength necessary to make the climb and, in her case, she succeeded without medication.