I would like to share a method with you which will help you remove all that is stopping you from being happy.
It all depends on how well we understand our thoughts. Dr. Albert Ellis, in his book “The Practice of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy” describes a brilliant way to help rationalize our thoughts in order to improve our lives. Dr. Ellis’ idea is that “people are disturbed not by things but by their view of things”. He created the ABC formula which helps people track their thoughts and put them in order. Here’s an outline of the ABC formula’s main points:
Activity (A) x Belief (B) = Consequence (C)
“A” is an ACTIVATING event to which we have a strong reaction. Examples of activating events are: people laughing, your date telling you that they want a serious relationship, a job interview, an offer to start a business or competing in a major competition. The activating event could really be anything. It could be nothing for many, but it could trigger a meaningful memory which could stop you from pursuing bigger, better opportunities.
“B” represents the BELIEFS we create for ourselves about the activating event. For example, if you see people laughing you may believe they are laughing at you, if you are dating an amazing person you may believe that he/she will eventually leave you or you might believe that your competitors are much better prepared than you. In summary, these beliefs, if not revised, can kill our happiness!
“C” represents the CONSEQUENCES of our beliefs. Since you believe you are a failure, you may find yourself avoiding social gatherings, or if your belief is that all men cheat, you may find that you protect yourself from getting closer to your partner. The consequences of negative beliefs are dire and can stop us from reaching our dreams, happiness and success – the most beautiful things in life…
The BELIEFS which stop us from achieving what we want and which make us depressed are known as ABSOLUTISTIC EVALUATIONS:
- DICTATORSHIP – Dogmatic Demands – These are represented by musts and absolutes both on themselves and other people: I must do very well, I must be approved and accepted by people who are important to me, People must treat me fairly and give me what I need, I need to be loved by someone who matters a lot to me.
- THE END OF THE WORLD – Awfulizing – When we view events as being more than 100% bad, terrible, horrible or awful: People must live up to my expectations or it’s terrible, It’s horrible when major things don’t go my way!
- I CAN’T STAND IT! – Low Frustration Tolerance – This is represented by expressions such as I can’t stand it, I can’t bear it, I can’t stand it when life is unfair or I can’t be happy if X happens.
- UNDESERVING OF LOVE – Self Deprecating Comments – This is characterized by feeling bad, worthless and rating yourself and others as subhuman and undeserving. For example: I am a bad or worthless person when I act stupidly, I am a bad, unlovable person if I get rejected, People who act immorally are undeserving, rotten people!
In order to put the ABC formula into practice, you will need to become more self-aware and make notes about your thought and feelings. It’s a hard task, but the more often you do it, the easier it becomes.
When an event occurs, take some time to notice the feelings and thoughts you have about the event. Recognize and acknowledge your feelings just as they are and test if your beliefs and rationalizations are not dogmatic.
Our minds play big games with us if we do not make an effort to revise our thoughts. Maximize your freedom by actively working on changing destructive beliefs. Here’s a tool that will help you track your thoughts and beliefs:
- (A) ACTIVATING EVENT – describe the aspect of the situation you were the most disturbed about (the event can be internal or external, refer to an event in the past, present or future or can be an interpretation)
- (C) CONSEQUENCE – What unhealthy negative emotions (anxiety, depression, anger, guilt, shame, embarrassment, hurt, jealousy, self-hatred…) did the activating event cause? What self-defeating behavior (compulsions, addictions, phobias, procrastination) has it produced and which would you like to change? Describe:
- Major unhealthy negative emotion
- Major unhealthy negative emotion
- (B) BELIEFS – list the beliefs you have about the event, are they:
- DOGMATIC DEMANDS – musts, absolute shoulds, oughts.
- AWFULIZING – event more than 100% bad, it’s awful, terrible, horrible
- LOW FRUSTRATION TOLERANCE – I can’t stand it, I can’t bear it (“I cannot be happy if “x” happens”).
- SELF DESTRUCTIVE THOUGHTS – bad, worthless, less worthy, rating themselves and other humans as subhuman or undeserving.
- (D) DISPUTING – write arguments against your beliefs by answering the following questions:
- Is it true? Where is the evidence to support the existence of my irrational belief? Is it consistent with reality?
- Is my belief logical? Does it logically follow from my rational belief?
- Where is holding this belief getting me? Is it helpful?
- NEW BELIEF – create a new belief about the event:
- Non-dogmatic preferences (wishes, wants, desires)
- Evaluating badness (it’s bad, unfortunate)
- High frustration tolerance (I can’t stand it, I can’t bear it)
- Self/other acceptance (all of us humans are fallible)
- Replacement of my irrational beliefs (I’d prefer, I’d like, but it’s not necessary…)
- NEW EFFECT – describe how you should react next time the event happens:
- New healthy negative emotion (concern, sadness, annoyance, remorse, disappointment, regret, concern about relationship)
- New constructive behavior
- HOMEWORK: I will work hard to repeat my NEW beliefs forcefully to myself on many occasions so that I can act less self-defeatingly in the future.
MINDSET: I must not allow people to disapprove of me.
EVENT: People laughing
CONSEQUENCE: I avoid social events and talking to people. It is hard for me to work with people. I am too nervous at interviews and cannot get a good job. I am lonely.
BELIEFS: People are laughing AT me, therefore I am an incompetent, rotten person (overgeneralization and self-deprecating). As a result my life will be completely miserable (overgeneralization and awfulizing). I will always act incompetently and have significant people disapprove of me as they know I am no good (jumping to conclusions). They will keep laughing at me and will always despise me (focusing on the negative). When they do laugh with me and see me favorably, this is only because they are in a good mood and do not realize that I am fooling them (disqualifying positive). Their laughing at me and disliking me will surely make me lose my job and all my friends (catastrophizing).
DISPUTING: Is it true that people are laughing at me all the time? Is it true that if people are laughing at me, it is the worst thing in the world? Is it true that I am not good all the time?
NEW BELIEF: I wish people would respect me, but if they don’t it is not the end of the world. Maybe they just did not have a chance to really get to know me.
NEW EFFECT: If someone laughs at me I will feel annoyed, but I will try to laugh with them to show that I have a good sense of humor.
HOMEWORK: I will work hard to repeat my NEW beliefs forcefully on many occasions so that I can act less self-defeatingly in the future.
What beliefs stopped you from reaching your happiness? Share them in the comment section below to help others reach their true potential.