In my last blog, I wrote about how to put your inner critic in the backseat so that you can take control of your life. Today’s blog focuses on the ABCDE technique, which helps you diffuse your limiting beliefs and transform them into empowering ones. Empowering beliefs are new beliefs that will boost your positive emotions and leave you with better feeling thoughts!
What is the ABCDE technique? It is a system for altering your perceptions, attitudes, and behavior that was pioneered by the late Dr. Albert Ellis, internationally recognized as the father of Rational Emotive Behavior Theory and Therapy (The EQ Edge, Third Edition, 2011).
Sarah is a 35 years old professional working in a large multinational organization. Her job is to make sure that all presentations and documents are in the impeccable format before they go out to the customer. She also manages a diverse team of ten people from different generations. Also, because the company has a hiring freeze, she is asked to take on more work every day. The workload becomes unbearable at times, and she starts pushing back. Her level of confidence and assertiveness have never been an obvious issue.
Until one day, her manager – Jack – who she gets along with very well – sends her a short and unpleasant email. The content of the email shocked her as this was not something Jack would have written or sent her without talking to her first.
Jack is a real people’s person, and he cares for the well-being of his direct reports. Jack’s email threw Sarah off guard and triggered a deep-rooted belief of insecurity, which was expressed through negative emotions.
Let’s take a closer look at the lens of the ABCDE system
C- Consequences: Sarah’s Negative Emotions
When Sarah opened up the email and read its content, her heart started pounding, and she felt a big knob in her chest. Her blood started boiling and rushing through her veins as she was stricken with disbelief.
What happened? …What had she done wrong? Jack was always very pleased with her work, and now he dismissed an entire project and blamed Sarah for it?!!
The negative emotions which Sarah felt are normal. All human beings perceive and process the information first through the limbic system – the emotional part of the brain. The issue with negative emotions though is that they keep us in bondage as we make external conditions that we do not control responsible for how we feel.
A healthier coping mechanism for Sarah would have been to label the negative emotions she felt as:
“I felt sad, disappointed, and worried that Jack perceives me as incompetent and unprofessional. His email triggered feelings of insecurity within me.”
A – Activating Event: Jack’s Email
When a negative thought emerges in our mind, it is activated by an event. In Sarah’s case, it was Jack’s email that triggered her negative emotions. She automatically assumed that his email was personally directed at her and her ability to perform her job correctly. In Sarah’s mind, this felt in direct contrast with her perception and beliefs about Jack. In her mind because of her experience in working with him she knew he was a kind and people-centric manager.
B – Beliefs: Sarah’s limited beliefs
Sarah’s negative emotions fuelled her negative thinking. She went on a rampage in her mind.
“How dare he! I have worked with him for over five years now, I have performed and delivered high quality work over and over and over again. His email is unfair. If he is upset with me, he should just tell me. If he thinks I am not good enough or that I am incompetent, I will look for another place where they do value my hard work, my loyalty, and commitment. This is so unfair, and he should know better than to treat one of his star performers like this!
Sarah’s limited beliefs are perhaps necessary for her to vent and create an outlet for her negative emotions, but in the end, they serve no one and the least herself. What negative thinking does is instead fuelling emotions and assumptions which are not based on reality but on Sarah’s perception of reality. There is a distinction to be made with what Sarah conjured in her mind based on her feelings triggered by Jack’s email than what actually happened.
D- Debate, Dispute, and Discard: Reality Testing
Once Sarah’s negative emotions calmed down after taking a walk outside in fresh air, she started contemplating the situation. She had not yet spoken to Jack because he was on a business trip. And all of a sudden, it hit her!
She forgot that Jack was meeting with his board of directors about his contract extension. He was supposed to present his plan to implement a turnaround strategy for the company as their annual recurring losses were unsustainable. He had told her that there was a risk he would get fired and be replaced by an outside consultant.
Her premise of Jack being inconsiderate with his email was flawed all of sudden as she realized that he might have sent that email in the spur of the moment while worried about being fired!
In any case, there are several possible scenarios, and as Sarah’s brain is always wired to overthink every situation, she decided to use this ability to her advantage. She made a list of what she “assumed Jack meant with his email” and a list of “what may have caused Jack to send that email.” She soon realized that she had let her negative emotions get the worst out of her because of her low levels of impulse control.
She knew Jack for so long, and she knew he had a heart of gold. Something must have happened for him to send that email, which in hindsight was not that bad after all when she re-read it again. All it said:
“Sarah, not sure this is the right approach for now. I have seen better strategies. Let’s discuss when I am back! Jack”
Just because Jack was not complimentary to Sarah’s work as he usually was or that he did not put: “Have a great day! “, it did not imply that he thought less or more of Sarah. It had nothing to do with Sarah!
E- Effects: The phone call with Jack
Sarah decided to give Jack a call; she had to find out how he was doing. Jack may be the manager, but he is a human being too. Maybe he needed a shoulder to cry on or someone to ask how HE was doing for once. Sarah realized that the one person who had been selfish was her! So she picked up the phone and called Jack, who was happy to speak to Sarah. His first words were:
Hi Sarah, so nice to hear a friendly voice! I am sorry for my short email; I just came out of the board meeting when my wife called and said that our son was in the hospital. So I am on my way home. Also, the board meeting did not go as well as I expected. They are willing to give me three more months to come up with a plan. So I can use all the help I need, and I am just so grateful to have someone as competent as you are working with me. I would not know what I would do without you!!
You can fill in the dots on what happened afterwards. Sarah felt some guilt and soon realized that these negative emotions do not serve anyone. Her lessons learned and her healthy approach in diffusing her limiting beliefs stemming from her inner-critic helped her free up so much more positive energy. She could now focus on using her positive energy from feeling better and good to boost her performance and work smarter.
She realized that one of the reasons she feels overwhelmed most of the time has less to do with her workload and more with how her negative thinking pattern fuel her negative emotions and leave her feeling drained. Most importantly, though, she realized that she has full power and control over how she feels. And no matter the validation from the outside, she has to feel it first for herself.
I hope this framework will help you address and diffuse your limiting beliefs. I will be publishing a series of blogs related to different scenarios across the personal and professional areas of your life.