Behavioural Experiments

Okay The Oxford Guide to Behavioural Experiments in Cognitive Therapy doesn’t sound like the most exciting book in the whole world. Its very plain cover smacks of an academic text. But even though I’m having a clear out of my rainbow bookcase after leaving work and getting rid of some of the books relating to work, this one is staying. For it contains ideas that have changed my life.

Years ago I went on a day long course run by James Bennett-Levy, one of the book’s authors. In the afternoon we were sent off in pairs to design behavioural experiments of our own .  Children of the sixties will remember this good awful fodder from school dinners. Dinner ladies tried to force me to eat a bowlful approximately once weekly. I wasn’t allowed out until I finished them. But I refused point blank and missed years of dinner hour play as a consequence.   My hatred was compounded when Michael, another small boy sitting next to me was sick in his. A complete stranger came to my house and watched me test my long held belief that just opening a tin of prunes would make me retch. I’d like to have reported that I’d got over my aversion but this was not the case.

A behavioural experiment helps you test whether a belief that you hold is valid. Here’s a link to a great little article describing how to use them. The most important thing that they’ve done for me is to change my mindset about trying something new. In the past I had to succeed. If there was chance of failure then I became avoidant. Now I view life as an experiment. ‘Let’s see what happens.’ is my mantra. I look at myself like a scientist sticking stuff into test tubes. More often than not I’m pleased with the result but if something turns out to be a god awful f*ck up I’ve learnt something too. Oops best not do that again!

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