This is an excerpt from my latest book Dear Hannah: 70 Methods I Used and Abused to Change Who I Am.

Changes to My Life after a Few Weeks of Cognitive Therapy

Date: May 10, 2009
Age: 27
Location: Austin, TX
Subject: Cognitive Therapy’s Blowing My Mind Away

Hi Hannah. I haven’t heard from you in a month, are you all right? How are you finding CBT? I really need someone to talk to about it. My world is being turned upside-down all-of-a-sudden.

For starters, my work-life is so different. I’ve finally snapped out of that never-ending fog of semi-work. You know those long stretches of weeks or months I’ve had, when I burnt through my savings while marathoning The Sopranos or 24? I’ve snapped out of all that. It’s so surreal for me to be out-and-about at 2 p.m. in a power-blue Van Heusen shirt, driving to meet a client who wants an iPhone app. It’s even weirder to then find myself at 3 p.m., driving to Wells Fargo to deposit a check. Banks are nearly empty at that hour, and it occurred to me that I hadn’t deposited a check in more than six months.

And it’s all because of CBT. In one of my sessions, I asked myself to be brutally honest. I told myself to pick a number between 0 and 10, representing how much of a failure I really thought I was (10 being a total failure, 0 being not at all). After stewing on it, I picked the number “3.” And as I hit the “3” on my keyboard, I felt like I had just swallowed a pill. It’s like I couldn’t accept the truth, which is that I haven’t really been a failure after college. And just by the act of speculating that I might be okay, I felt liberated.

Just look at the results: I’ve worked an average of eight hours a day every weekday for the past month. Is the work I’m doing perfect? No. Have I found out what I want to do in life? No. But I’m no longer sitting around waiting for some magical total salvation.

And yet, despite all the work hours, I have so much more free time. I’ve redeemed between two and four hours each day that I used to spend lying on my futon, staring at the ceiling, over-analyzing my life. I now use this extra time to reach out to my friends, even friends I haven’t seen in months. I see people nearly every day now, whereas before, my once-a-week meet-up with Ollie or Tanner was the entirety of my social life.

Ironically, cognitive therapy has caused a new problem in the form of change stress. For example, I’m considering buying a condo, which entails a lot of paperwork and financial anxiety, something that typically sends me to neurosis. But I know I can get through it with CBT.

Out of all the things I’ve ever tried, cognitive therapy may just be the one thing that sticks.

- Phil

To cope with the change stress, I eventually limited myself to one session per day, and that calmed things down a bit. Since then, I have not had any extended period of non-work. The extra free time I gained has also become permanent. Cognitive therapy has been one of the largest contributing factors to my happiness.

To learn more, check out Mind over Mood or Feeling Good by David Burns. There’s also something called “computerized CBT,” e.g. Mood Gym, which might be helpful. You could also look for a therapist who is well versed in the formal methods of cognitive therapy. Many therapists claim some familiarity with cognitive therapy, but they might have a reduced version of it, so you should read the books first to know what you’re getting into.

Other letters from Dear Hannah about cognitive therapy:

Cognitive Therapy Abuse

Problems with Cognitive Therapy

How I Found My Way Back to Cognitive Therapy

› Changes to My Life after a Few Weeks of Cognitive Therapy

Challenges with Core Belief Theory in Cognitive Therapy

This is an excerpt from my latest book Dear Hannah: 70 Methods I Used and Abused to Change Who I Am.

Before Philip wrote his first line of code, he tried to re-program his mind. For his 14th birthday, Hannah gave him Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, which kicked off a life-long obsession with self-improvement. Follow Philip over 82 letters as he re-tells his journey from winning ThinkQuest, to quitting Stanford, to dealing with dating, happiness, and direction, to eventually making it as an indie iOS app developer. Dear Hannah is either a cautionary tale about self-improvement, or it is a filter for the 10% of self-help that may actually change your life.

PHILIP DHINGRA is a President’s Scholar from Stanford University, where he received his B.A. in Mathematical and Computational Sciences. In addition to authoring books on life change, he develops best-selling iOS apps including Nebulous Notes and The Creative Whack Pack (a collaboration with creativity pioneer Roger von Oech). Philip divides his time between Austin, Texas, and San Francisco, California.