13 Irrational Beliefs (Albert Ellis)

A list of common, sub-conscious ​irrational beliefs

​Based on the work of Albert Ellis who developed Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy

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1. I must do well and get the approval of everybody who matters to me or I will be a worthless person.

2. Other people must treat me kindly and fairly or else they are bad.

3. I must have an easy, enjoyable life or I cannot enjoy living at all.

4. All the people who matter to me must love me and approve of me or it will be awful.

5. I must be a high achiever or I will be worthless.

6. Nobody should ever behave badly and if they do I should condemn them.

7. I mustn’t be frustrated in getting what I want and if I am it will be terrible.

8. When things are tough and I am under pressure I must be miserable and there is nothing I can do about this.

9. When faced with the possibility of something frightening or dangerous happening to me I must obsess about it and make frantic efforts to avoid it.

10. I can avoid my responsibilities and dealing with life’s difficulties and still be fulfilled.

11. My past is the most important part of my life and it will keep on dictating how I feel and what I do.

12. Everybody and everything should be better than they are and, if they’re not, it’s awful.

13. I can be as happy as is possible by doing as little as I can and by just enjoying myself.


Common sources of irrationality and emotional distress in the above statements, according to Ellis, are:

– The demand that I or others “must” or “should” be seen in a certain way or act in a certain way.
– The consequences I foresee for myself or others who fail to live up to these “musts” or “shoulds.”

Example:  “I must do well and get the approval of everybody who matters to me | or I will be a worthless person.”

He would say that while it would be pleasant to do well and get everyone’s approval, this is an impossibility and seeing it as a “must” is irrational as is the notion that if I don’t get everyone’s approval I must be worthless.

He suggests we learn to dispute these statements e.g. “Who says I ‘must’ impress everybody? Who says  I’m worthless if I don’t?”

Mindfulness, by increasing self-awareness and giving us some distance from our thoughts, can help us to spot our irrational beliefs and to take them less seriously. I hope you’ll sign up for my Daily Bell, a daily mindfulness reminder sent by email to thousands of people around the globe. You’ll find the sign-up box on this page or at this link.