We all face times when there only seems one deeply unattractive way leading to one highly unsatisfactory outcome. There seems no way out. We become wedded to a battle-weary frame of mind caused by adversity, disappointment or exhaustion from doing too much. It doesn’t have to be this way. Anyone can apply the following technique (first developed by psychologist Albert Ellis) to change how they respond to challenging situations. He called it the ABCDE technique, and it begins with ABC. Here’s a way to apply it.
A: Adversity – This stage involves recognising the precise nature of the difficulty that you face; for example, I haven’t completed my project at work on time.
B: Belief – The next step is to be aware of your current beliefs about the situation. For example, my boss will be angry with me, and I might get sacked. It would be better not to tell her, and perhaps she won’t find out.
C: Consequence – Then you need to acknowledge the consequences of your beliefs, for example, worry, shame, not sleeping, getting angry with others and so on.
Some of us are consumed with worry, catastrophising every difficulty and imagining the worst possible outcome. Eminent positive psychologist and best-selling author Martin Seligman suggests that when that is the case, recognising the ABCs of your life, ideally by writing them down, is the first step towards better managing your emotions. The following two stages aim to change your whole thought process to consider other options that lead to better outcomes. Seligman recommends a process of learning to argue with yourself, along the lines of:
D: Disputation – This is the process of rationally looking at the situation and considering other outcomes. For example, if you have not met your deadline, you might consider some options: I could ask for an extension, explain what else I was doing, and ask for more support or training. The disputation phase is aided by reviewing the evidence that what you believe is a fact. For example, the company encourages a no-blame culture. My boss often says she only asks people to admit their mistakes and is willing to help with the solutions.
The final stage of the technique is:
E: Energisation: This involves taking responsibility for managing your emotions and crucially taking whatever action is needed to move things in a positive direction. For example, perhaps I should have given the work project a higher priority, but I was working hard on something else. I have learned my lesson, but I needn’t feel so worried about it. I’ll arrange to see my boss in the morning and explain everything to her, and I’ll ask her advice about what to do next time I have a conflict of priorities.
Seligman believes that the more times you go through this process, the easier it will be – until it becomes second nature.
Practising the ADCDE technique regularly – every time something goes wrong, and you start to fear the worst – is a highly effective way of rewiring your brain. Everyone’s level of optimism – the ability to look on the bright side and imagine a positive outcome – is determined by two factors: Genetics and Experience (especially the experience of childhood). However, ultimately optimism is a choice we can all make simply by changing our attitude and reframing our responses.
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‘Flourish’ by Martin Seligman
‘Learned Optimism’ by Martin Seligman
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