do you know your …

04/15/2011

by anne lueneburger

You may think that this must be a typo…but ABCDE refers to a method that was developed by Dr. Albert Ellis, a highly regarded 20th century psychologist, and it let’s you change how you feel by going about it rationally!

ABCDE appeals to many of our clients as they are vastly more comfortable when asked to think logically to solve a problem than to get in touch with and to leverage their emotions. Ultimately this is, of course, what this approach does: allow the individual to become aware of and effectively manage their emotions: moving from unwarranted ‘hot’ feelings to ‘cool’ and less intense feelings, bringing about sound decision-making.

Do you wish to establish better relationships with your team? Are you looking to reduce stress? Boost your optimism level and resilience? Think strategically? Ellis’ ABCDE method works for a wide range of challenges:

A = Activating event

B = Beliefs

C = Consequence

D = Dispute

E = Effect of D on B and thus C (shift in consciousness)

Take Miranda. A successful consultant on partner track, she was told that her bonus this year would be 30% less than what she had expected when she had signed on with the firm and had reviewed their partnership model (A).

As part of our coaching partnership since three months Miranda shared that she felt demoralized, pessimistic, and angry. She was considering leaving the firm and taking the offer of a competitor (C).

It is exactly this jump from A to C that leaves out a crucial and often overlooked intermediate step (B): in this case Miranda’s beliefs triggered by the discussion with one of the senior partners.  Despite being told that the firm as a whole was struggling as a result of the economic downturn, Miranda had the suspicion that not all pre-partners received the same cuts and that because she was a woman and a more quiet contributor she had been short-handed.

The crucial lesson: A leads to B which then leads to C. There is no jump, neurologically we are wired to follow this sequence. However, the speed with which neurons fire often leads us to focus on C. Yet, as you systematically use and practice the ABCDE method you will train yourself to avoid just that.

Miranda may very well have left the firm or, if not questioning her beliefs, stayed on and become less motivated and engaged at work. As part of our work together, she took a closer look at her underlying beliefs and evaluated the inner dialogue that she had engaged in mostly subconsciously (D). Examples of questions we looked to answer were:

*Where is the evidence for your beliefs?

*What may be another way of looking at this?

*What advice might you give to someone else who faces a similar situation?

*Have you been in a similar situation like this before and had similar beliefs? How did that serve you?

Much of this self-talk is self-defeating, nurtured by our inner critic. Disputing these beliefs, taking a hard look at how realistic they are and subsequently discarding those that are not is key to change B and as a consequence C.

Miranda evaluated what effect our discussion around her beliefs had on her previous thoughts. After some research and informal exchanges with colleagues it became clear that most had to take a 30% cut on their bonus (and some even more), regardless of their gender.

In a follow-up meeting with the senior partner she was able to clarify some of her additional assumptions and realized that her previous assumptions had been unfounded (E). When we met next, she was in very good spirits. She had just been promoted to the next level, the precursor to her partner election. More importantly, for future adversity, she had become much more effective to dispel unrealistic beliefs about these obstacles.

On a more general level, research shows that using the ABCDE method can vault any of us who are pessimists by nature out of our ‘funk’ – leading us to flexible optimism, key to professional success and well-being.  The idea is that it allows us to realize that we can change the way we think about adversity. When challenges arise, we don’t have to look at them in their most permanent, pervasive and personal light. We can adopt an explanatory style that allows us to determine whether what we face may in fact be temporary, concerns a very specific incident and is the result of external causes, nothing we need to blame ourselves for. If you want to learn more, check out Dr. Martin Seligman’s classic ‘Learned Optimism‘.

So, how well do you know your ABC…DE?

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