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ABCDE … Challenge your Irrational Thinking

‘Sometimes when people are under stress, they hate to think, and it’s the time when they most need to think’ ~ Bill Clinton

As a life coach I deal with many people crippled by irrational thinking, irrational beliefs and automatic negative thoughts. This type of thinking creates anxiety, taking your life away from the success you desire and generally brings nothing but more negatives into your life.

A really important mind management method is to understand what is going on in your head, to no longer just let thoughts wander in and out, with you remaining out of control. Once you begin to focus on your thoughts you will become aware of how your thoughts hold you back.

One of your greatest faults will no doubt be your excessive, negative mind chatter. This mind chatter is an endless monologue which constantly goes through your mind, made up of a stream of negative thoughts, anxieties and worries. It results in you expecting the worse, seeing dangers and threats that do not actually exist. As Mark twain said “I’ve experienced many terrible things in my life, a few of which actually happened.”

The author Earl Nightingale puts forward that 92% of our worries are uncalled for because they are about things that will never happen, and about things that have already happened, so cannot be changed, no matter how much time you waste on them.

These negative thoughts and emotions:

• Depress your mind and body

• Steal your energy

• Disempower you

• Lower your immune system putting you more at risk of ill health

• Tire you out and discourage you

• Undermine your confidence and enthusiasm

• Lower your ability to perform effectively in the important areas of your life

• The more you think about them, the more negative, angrier and unhappier you become

• Stress you out!

From the second you wake up you must mentally watch your thoughts. You are at their mercy! Once you become aware of them, watching out for them, you become the gatekeeper of your own mind. You will live in a constant state of awareness.

You may be asking how do I change it? Today I am bringing you a process that can challenge your irrational thinking.

Identifying and changing irrational thinking isn’t an easy thing to do because automatic thoughts happen very fast, and you’ve no doubts developed the habit of not paying attention to them over a long period of time.

As a coach I am aware that many of my clients when I first meet them have virtually programmed themselves to pay more attention to the negative parts of themselves and ignore their good qualities and the good things in their life.

A major step in managing stress in your life is to firstly identify, and then to change your:

Limiting Beliefs – those things you believe about yourself that place limitations on your abilities. They may be conscious or unconscious.

Negative Thoughts – those negative counterproductive thoughts that make you see things in a worse light, and generally make you feel bad.

Debilitating Emotions – a state of consciousness that disturbs your inner peace

Destructive Behaviours – actions that harm others or harm oneself.

If I take my self back 20 years and remember the thoughts and feelings that were bouncing about between my ears, I shudder at the memory. The way I saw myself then, what I kept telling myself, the pain that I held on to, and my explosive reactions when it all got the better of me, was post traumatic stress at it very worst. This technique was one of the most important tools in helping me to understand what I was doing, and how to make the changes.

Cognitive behaviour therapy introduces the ABCDE model which provides a technique where you can learn to break these negative ways of being. It helps you to look at your stressful thinking and recognize, dispute and change it so as to replace those thoughts with a more positive thinking pattern. It allows us to test our thoughts and feelings for their accuracy.

Cognitive behavioural therapy works on the assumption that your beliefs influence your emotions and your behaviour and that by identifying and addressing problematic thoughts you can help to change your behaviour and experiences for the better.

We spend a lot of time thinking about adverse events and situations which occur in our lives, exploring them in our mind, playing them over again and again, constantly mulling over their negative meaning. All this achieves is the strengthening of their negative impact. Then you just keep beating yourself up with them. Boy are we as humans good at doing this!

It’s important for you to actually change the way you allow your mind to just wander, frequently focusing more on negative thoughts and interpretations, and instead be more realistic, seeing how things actually are, free from distortions in your thinking and not always seeing or expecting the worse. You need to find constructive ways of handling your problems and stressful situations with the expectation that things will eventually turn out for the best. Once identified, beliefs that don’t make sense can be disputed or changed.

The ABCDE model is a great tool for doing this:

‘a technique in which people can learn how to break their habits of automatically thinking negative thoughts and instead introduce affirming, remembered, wellness inducing thoughts’. ~ Professor Herbert Benson MD

When we are stressed we have a tendency to be more negative, and the more stressed we get, the more negative we become. In truth it is a vicious circle, our stress causes us to be negative, and this negativity fuels our stress.

The ABCDE model will help you to break this cycle enabling you to see each situation correctly, ascertaining accurately the good and bad in each situation.

Using the ABCDE approach. ‘ABC” refers to how we react negatively to success or adversity, while “DE” refers to how we can rethink the pessimistic reaction into an optimistic one.

If any event produces stress, you must question the beliefs you hold about this event.

Are the beliefs valid?

Are they reasonable?

Are they rational?

The ABCDE model will help you to identify how your beliefs influence the stress you feel, and show you the beliefs that don’t actually make sense, to then enable you to dispute them or even to change them. When this happens, better results and feelings are possible. This technique will enable you to stop the destructive thinking patterns that create so much of the stress in your life.

Lets take a look at the ABCDE model:

A The activating event. Your objective description of the situation and your subjective account of the most troubling aspect of the situation

B The self-limiting/defeating beliefs triggered by A. The thoughts that occur to you when the Activating Event happens

C Consequences: emotional; physical; cognitive(thoughts and images). How you feel and behave when you have those Beliefs (consequences may be divided into two parts: your actions and your emotions)

D Disputing or examining these self-defeating beliefs:

E New and effective outlook

A (Activating Event) stands for the external situation or event. Your mind in response to A, creates B, the way you interpret this situation, which then brings about your reaction which is C. When (B), the belief is an irrational belief (An irrational belief refers to a belief that is false and rationally unsupported), it causes a negative emotional state. A does not cause C, but contributes to it; B largely determines C.

So let me make this absolutely clear. It is not the EVENT itself that causes the CONSEQUENCES, such as your thoughts, the pictures you see, the way you react. It is the BELIEFS you internalise due to the EVENT that brings about these CONSEQUENCES.

You need to question whether your beliefs are the only explanation. For example, ask:

• What is the evidence for my beliefs?

• What are other possible explanations for what happened?

• What are the implications of my believing this way, and do they make it worth holding on to my beliefs?

• How useful are my beliefs? Do I or others get any benefits from holding on to them, or would we benefit more if we held other beliefs?

Looking at the example above you can then ask whether the beliefs highlighted are justified by the Activating Event. One of the approaches of CBT would be to ask you to reflect on whether the beliefs are justified or are based on erroneous assumptions or thinking errors.

Once you have done this and looked at things in a new light, you will be aware of the new consequences (feelings, behaviors, actions) that do or could follow from a different, more optimistic explanation or set of beliefs.

An example of how to use the ABCDE model:

Activating Event Getting caught in a traffic jam going to work. Once upon a time living in suburban London and commuting to the City, it wasn’t unusual to be stuck in jams for up to 45 minutes, or even longer, and for a journey of less than 15 miles to take me over two hours.

Beliefs Your mind will fill with negative thoughts and feelings. “It is my fault for not leaving earlier.” “This is a waste of time.” “My boss will be angry about this.” “I’m stupid.” ‘I’m going to miss that meeting, and lose the client’. ‘I’ve really messed up here’.

Consequence Tense, feeling anxious, irritable and having negative thoughts. You start to perspire. You mentally beat yourself up. You start to blame yourself for being so stupid. You may even blame others, such as your wife, for asking you to put the bins out before you left. All the work that you have waiting for you will build the pressure, knowing that you have to make some really important calls, or that a client will turn up for a meeting with you, and find you’re not there. You begin to panic.

Dispute: “That’s not right, this happens to everyone at one time or another. I’ll use this time for some planning of my day’s activities. If I get anxious now, it may affect me when I do get to work.” I’ll pull over to the side of the road, at first opportunity, and use my mobile phone, and call who I need to avoid any major problems. Everyone knows these things happen. “Why is it catastrophic?”’’ And why is that bad’’ Keep going till you see … hey I’m being a bit silly about this!

Effect Relaxed, positive, in a good mood. Made good use of time spent in traffic jam. Plan your day, think through a project you’re working on right now, use a Dictaphone and make some verbal notes, listen to some relaxing music, or a personal development tape. Use this as some extra ‘you’ time.

Try the ABCDE exercise for yourself:

Think back to a recent event that made you stressed or worried. Close your eyes and picture it for 30 seconds. Now using the ABCDE model you are going to change it’s emotional impact, how to think differently and improve the outcomes.

Activating Experience (the event): The event or situation that triggered your thoughts and feelings.

Belief(s) (thoughts or interpretations of the event) What thoughts did you have about this event?

Consequence(s) (the negative emotional result of your self-defeating belief)? Actions – How did you act then? Emotions – What did you feel then?

Disputing self-defeating belief you identified in “B”. (Start with a phrase like, “That’s not right….” and add a positive statement, so as to interpret the Event in a positive way)

Effect of disputing your self-defeating belief –( How do you feel now having challenged your negative thoughts?)

Using this process you will be able to make sensible balancing thoughts into your thinking processes, allowing you to make considered practical decisions about how you will act or respond in the situation.

This is about making a sensible assessment of your situation and making the most beneficial choices that you can to develop it or deal with it. It promotes you to think about what your choices are for dealing with negative or imbalanced thoughts both by using balancing thoughts to address your thought processes and by thinking about practical actions that you might take to improve or cope with a problematic situation you find yourself in.

What situation, or area in your life do you think about that the ABCDE model can help you with. Please comment and share your thoughts.

‘Human beings are relentlessly capable of reflecting on themselves. We can habitually think things, and then reflect on what we are thinking. We can ask ourselves (or sometimes we get asked by other people) whether we know what we are talking about. To answer that we need to reflect on our own positions, our own understanding of what we are saying, our own sources of authority. We might start to wonder whether what we say is ‘objectively’ true, or merely the outcome of our own perspective, or our own ‘take’ on a situation’ ~ Simon Blackburn


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About Larry Lewis

Hi there! I’m Larry Lewis and I’m the founder of Healthy Lifestyles Living, a community for people passionate about achieving excellence in life and in health.

3 comments

  1. It is great advice but is it so easy to put into practice? If you are under considerable amounts of stress, I totally agree that a portion of that stress is made up from your own thoughts and emotions but there’s also a large factor outside of that and if those things do not let up it’s not so easy to deal with the ABCDE method that you mention. That method is talking about thinking of a particular situation that made you feel stressed or out of control and then putting it into perspective. If the main cause of stress is built up over a multitude of things then I would like to see a method that enables you to break the cycle of stress and enable to you to deal with the main fractions rather than trying to separate it into a specific section relating to a moment in time which would take too long to analyze. I see this working wonderfully for people suffering momentary stress but not for people who suffer from mainline stress usually associated inline or with depression.

    • SJ,
      This is REBT, that is Rational Emotional Behavioral Therapy and what I teach. It works amazingly well for people with lifelong huge issues to inconsequential issues. It looks easy but takes a little practicing to determine what your subconscious irrational beliefs are. How you look at any situation, big or small, will determine how you FEEL about it. If you are thinking rationally (in the context of Rational Therapy) your life will be better. Tim

  2. CBT Larry ;) I use A B C charts at work and have done for years ours are antecendents behaviour and consequences though. I have used a bit of CBT on myself in particular situations looking at the things you describe and they helped me. For a while driving was a nightmare for me. Could only drive certain routes at certain times. The last few years driving quite large distances to places i dont know have all been part of my job!

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