Learn The "ABC" Of Thinking

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

It is not the events that hurt us, but how we look at them can.

That was what Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, said over two thousand years ago. Modern psychology, too, has come to the same conclusion. What you think about an event and about yourself will determine the final impact that event will have on you. According to modern psychology it is called the "ABC of thinking."

According to one school of thought, it would be good preventive medicine if everyone learned the ABC of thinking early in life; it would reduce stress and make passage through crises a lot easier.

The "A" in ABC of thinking stands for Actual event; the letter "B" stands for your Beliefs regarding that event, yourself, future, and the world you live in; the letter "C" stands for the Consequences you think you will bear as a result of that event.

To borrow an example given by David Burns, the celebrated author of "Feeling Good, The New Mood Therapy," let’s suppose the actual event is divorce. The divorce has just occurred in your life and you begin to believe many of the charges your embittered and unreasonable ex- has leveled against you. You now believe that you are "selfish," "uncaring," and "vindictive."

You may further believe that you are being punished by your nemesis for your wrong deeds and that you will never be able to have a satisfying and loving relationship. The consequences of such beliefs might be guilt, despair or even depression.

By changing your beliefs, you can change the consequences. What you do or fail to do depends on these very beliefs. Therefore, it is very helpful to learn to change your negative beliefs and thus change your perception and feelings about challenging events.

Here are seven ways devised by Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, and Rational-Emotive Therapy to change negative beliefs, thinking, and feelings related to an event:

  1. Treat yourself just as you would treat a friend. We are generally much harder on ourselves than we are on others. What would you say to your friend if the same thing was happening to your friend and he or she came to you for your advice? I believe if your friend, after his or her divorce, were to feel selfish, uncaring, or vindictive, you would perhaps say something like, "Just because your relationship has ended, it doesn’t mean that you are a bad person. It can happen to the best of the people. You deserve a better relationship than this."
  2. Examine the evidence for and against. To continue with the above example, perhaps, on occasions, you said things to your spouse you shouldn’t have said because you were angry and frustrated regarding your spouse’s lack of commitment to marriage. But, what about the hundreds of times when you forgave him or her for past wrong actions and took positive steps to improve the relationship? Consider both types of evidence
  3. Do an experiment. Your ex- says you are mean and selfish, but are you really? Conduct an experiment. Write down everything you do in the coming week and identify the actions that are "mean" or "selfish" and those that are not, and might even be helpful to others. Ask yourself such questions as, "When I offer to help others, open the doors for someone, or pay them a compliment, am I being mean or selfish at such times?
  4. Survey. Ask several of your friends who know you well to list your strengths and weaknesses, honestly and fearlessly. Review the information objectively.
  5. Consider partial successes as achievements. People tend to think of a single failure as a reflection on their total life. For example, people tend to say, "My life is a total failure," but, a closer examination of their lives shows that they had many successes in several areas covering their educational, occupational, and family lives.
  6. Use language accurately. People use "bomb" words to hurt themselves or others by such words as, "blind," "trash," "idiot." For example, if you didn’t detect that your spouse was having an affair behind your back, it was not because you were "blind" or an "idiot," you were too trusting.
  7. Solve the problem. There is no point in badgering yourself for what you did or didn’t do. If there is a problem that needs to be fixed to prevent further loss or damage, fix it.

When we feel badly, our thinking becomes negative. When we think negatively, we feel bad. When our beliefs become negative, outcomes of events are pretty much ordained to be negative.



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