A Powerful Exercise for Changing Your Thinking

Three Minute Refutations by Michael R. Edelstein Ph.D.

SMART is based in part on the rational (REBT) concepts of Albert Ellis. Here, Michael Edelstein outlines his distinctive style of the application of REBT as an aid to recovery.

In my book Three Minute Therapy, I introduced the cognitive practice of the Three Minute Exercise (TME) to challenge your internal demands–your “I musts,” “Others musts,” and “Life musts.” The Three Minute Refutations (TMR) involves a powerful exercise for changing another type of addictive thinking. It targets your rationalizations or excuses, which arise from your demands. For example, if you have set a smoking quit date and find it uncomfortable to follow through, you may tell yourself you “must” avoid that discomfort and smoke anyway. Or if you have the urge to light up in an area where smoking is prohibited, you may think you “must” satisfy this urge and step outside. These “musts” lead to self-defeating behaviors.

Targeting your “musts”

The Three Minute Exercise (TME), which is discussed in Three Minute Therapy, is ideal for targeting your “musts.” Your “musts” may encourage you to make excuses for not quitting on the appointed date or not abstaining from a cigarette during work hours. Some excuses might be: “I have a lot of stress today, I’ll quit tomorrow” or “I’ll have only one drag, then I’ll stop.”

Irrational Belief

“I absolutely MUST satisfy my urge for a smoke right now. I can’t stand feeling frustrated.”

Excuse or Rationalization

“I’ll have one last cigarette, then I’ll quit.”

Targeting your excuses to attack your smoking addiction

This is where TMRs are useful. They target these excuses and rationalizations. Along with the TMEs, it mounts a two-pronged attack on your smoking addiction. The TMEs target your demands, while the TMRs target your excuses.

TMRs also prove effective for other behavioral difficulties including procrastination, alcohol, drug, and food addictions. They consist of two elements: excuses and refuting the excuses. Let’s focus on excuses first.

Excuses are statements we say to ourselves which make procrastinating, overeating, overdrinking, or smoking seem reasonable, when in reality they’re destructive because they block, interfere with, or sabotage our long-term goals. Refutations put the lie to the excuses and state how they’re false or self-destructive. Here is an example of a completed TMR:


“It’s ok to smoke right now because it’ll be the last time.”

“Refutations put the lie to the excuses and state how they’re false or self-destructive.”


1. I’ve used this excuse hundreds of times. It hasn’t worked before and it won’t work now. It always has led to the next time.
2.This “last time” could mean losing my job and ruining my marriage.
3. How many days of smoking is this “one last time” going to continue?
4. I don’t HAVE TO indulge this “last time.”
5. This “last time” could lead to lung cancer.
6. I’m lying to myself, pure and simple.
7. I can change this statement to: “No more times!” or “Quit smoking right now for good!”
8. I’ll be better off now, better off tomorrow, and better off for the rest of my life with: “No more nicotine.”
9. Since I choose to smoke, I can also choose not to smoke.
10. If I choose not to smoke, the discomfort I’ll feel will be temporary, not forever.

Implementing TMR

How do you implement TMR? With practice and effort! Here is what I recommend:

1. Write and read these refutations five times daily until you’ve memorized them.
2. Then write them from memory five times daily.
3. Whenever you have the urge to light up, identify the thoughts that make smoking seem reasonable. Then refute these excuses.
4. If the excuses seem to be gaining the upper hand, externalize the debate by writing down the dialogue or saying it out loud.
5. Practice, practice, practice.

If this sounds like a simple concept, it is. But simple does not mean easy. The application is your challenge. But if you follow the five recommendations above, you will be successful in changing your addictive thinking.

About the author:

Dr. Michael R. Edelstein is a clinical psychologist with a phone, Skype, and in-person practice in San Francisco and Marin County. His book, Three Minute Therapy, Change Your Thinking, Change your Life can be found on Amazon. He can be reached at DrEdelstein@ThreeMinuteTherapy.com

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