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Managing Negative Thoughts with the ABCDE Method 🧠
A Practical Guide for Improving Mental & Emotional Health (8 min Read)
Reminder About ANTs
The ABCDE Method
Steps 1-3: Activating Event, Beliefs & Consequences
An Interlude from Albert Ellis
Step 4: Disrupt
Step 5: Effective New Belief
Implementation Tips for the ABCDE Method
Welcome, today we will be focusing on the Mind.
Specifically, a tool that can help you manage your ANTs!
If you don’t remember what ANTs are, be sure to reread the ANT blog.
“ANTs” stands for Automatic Negative Thoughts.
And today, we’re going to use the ABCs to help you combat them!
The Most Common ANT’s
Before we get into the ABCDE Method, I wanted to remind you what some of the most common ANTs are!
I always fail, I’ll never be successful, no one will ever love me, everyone, every time, everything…
Predicting the worst outcome for any situation or assuming that things won’t work out
Taking someone’s silence as “They’re mad at me” or “They hate me”
Shoulding on Yourself
Also known as “Guilt Beating”, it sounds like I should, must, have to, do a certain thing
Blaming others or something else for your problems. This puts you in the Victim role, instead of the Player role and can make it harder for you to change your circumstances
Alright, now that we’re caught up on common ANT’s, let’s breakdown the ABCDE Method!
What is the ABCDE Method?
This practical psychology tool is based on cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) principles.
There are been numerous studies done that support the effectiveness of this method in combatting anxiety and depression, I will reference them below!
The "ABCDE" method has 5 steps:
A: Activating Event - Identify the situation or event that triggered the ANT.
B: Belief - Identify the negative belief associated with the activating event.
C: Consequence - Identify the emotional and behavioral consequences of the ANT.
D: Dispute - Challenge the ANT by asking yourself if it is rational, evidence-based, and helpful.
E: Effective New Beliefs - Replace the ANT with a PET (Positive Empowering Thought).
Lets break down each step!
Step 1: Activating Event
The first step in the ABCDE method is to identify the “activating event” but what does that even mean?
Activating events are situations or events that trigger the ANTs inside of you.
Everyone experiences different activating events, so things that get your ANTs going, but might not get someone else's.
For example, I have some ANTs that pop up when I go to public speak, I start thinking that I’m not worthy to speak on this topic, or that people won’t like my presentation.
These are probably not ANTs that someone like Tony Robbins would experience when public speaking.
Here are some common examples of activating events:
Receiving negative feedback
Losing a job or experiencing financial difficulties
Experiencing a traumatic event or loss of a loved one
Feeling overwhelmed by responsibilities or expectations
Coping with social isolation or loneliness
Feeling uncertain about the future or facing an uncertain situation.
Once you’ve got the adversity picked out, it’s time for step 2!
Step 2: Belief
The next step is to identify the specific ANT associated with the activating event.
For example, if the activating event is a mistake made at work, the ANT may be "I'm a failure" or "I'm not good enough."
Notice how these ANTs have the words, “I am/I’m” that’s how you can tell they are beliefs, not just feelings or thoughts.
We identify with beliefs, meaning instead of saying, “I feel not good enough” you say, “I am not good enough.”
To be clear, not all beliefs start this way, but it is pretty common!
Some other common belief statements are:
"If I don't do this perfectly, I'm a failure."
"If this doesn't work out, my life is ruined."
"If someone is upset, it must be my fault."
"I did well on that test, but it was just luck."
"I should be doing more" or "I shouldn't feel this way."
The goal of this step is to outline all of the beliefs tied to the activating event you picked in step 1.
Step 3: Consequences
The third step is to identify the emotional, physical, and behavioral consequences of the ANT.
Some common consequences are:
Emotional: feeling sad, anxious, angry, frustrated, guilty, ashamed, or helpless.
Behavioral: avoiding certain situations, withdrawing from social interactions, procrastinating, self-medicating with drugs or alcohol, or engaging in self-harm.
Cognitive: having intrusive or repetitive thoughts, engaging in negative self-talk, catastrophizing, or having trouble concentrating or making decisions.
Physical: experiencing physical symptoms like headaches, stomach aches, chest pains, rapid heartbeat, sweating, or muscle tension.
Interpersonal: experiencing conflicts with others, feeling rejected or misunderstood, having trouble communicating effectively, or feeling isolated or lonely.
ABC Real World Example
These 3 steps are experienced differently for everyone, and where the majority of things go wrong generally!
What do I mean by this? Let’s use a real-world example to demonstrate what I’m talking about.
Let’s pretend Alfonso is walking down the street and passes a friend, but the friend doesn’t acknowledge him. (Activating Event)
Alfonso believes this because he doesn’t want to be friends with him anymore (Belief/ANT), which makes him feel sad, have a knot in his stomach, and drink too much alcohol when he gets back home. (Consequence)
Now, let’s imagine that Cleopatra is in the same activating event, however, her belief is that her friend must not have seen her, so she calls the friend when she gets back home to set up some time for them to catch up and feels happy!
That’s a much different consequence… What’s the difference here?
If you answered Beliefs/ANTs, you are correct.
The key thing to understand about this method is that it isn’t activating events that cause the consequences, it’s the ANTs/Beliefs!
Albert Ellis Insights on Beliefs
Albert Ellis was one of the pioneers of CBT and developed Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), which is a type of CBT that emphasizes the importance of identifying and disputing irrational beliefs.
He believed 3 key things:
The primary cause of your unhelpful reactions is your beliefs about the event, not the event itself.
You remain psychologically disturbed because you continue to hold onto your rigid beliefs.
Psychological health only comes when you work hard to change your irrational beliefs.
So, how do we shift/change these irrational beliefs? I’m glad you asked!
Step 4: Dispute
Let’s dive back into the ABCDE Method to do exactly this.
The fourth step is to challenge the ANT by asking yourself if it is rational, evidence-based, and helpful.
The focus of this step is questioning the evidence for the ANT and considering alternative explanations or perspectives.
For example, if the ANT is "I'm a failure," ask yourself if there is evidence to support this belief.
Here are some great questions to get you started:
Is this belief based on facts or opinions?
Am I jumping to conclusions? Am I making assumptions about the situation without sufficient evidence?
Would I say this belief to a friend who was going through the same situation? How would I advise them?
Are there other explanations for the situation? What are some alternative perspectives?
Are there times when you have succeeded in similar situations?
Step 5: Effective New Beliefs (PETs)
The final step is to replace the ANT with a more positive and realistic thought or belief.
And before you start thinking this is some kind of kumbayah in the forest-type process, I can assure it’s not!
In the last step, you started to ask questions about your ANT/belief, and by doing this, you were collecting evidence that can now support a new thought/belief, or a PET (Positive Empowering Thought).
For example, instead of "I'm a failure," (ANT) the new thought could be "I made a mistake, but I can learn from it and do better next time." (PET)
Here’s a list of PETs, feel free to steal them, I made this list longer so you could use them:
"I can handle this situation. I've overcome challenges before, and I have the skills and resources to handle this one."
"Mistakes and setbacks are a normal part of life. I can learn from them and use them as opportunities for growth and improvement."
"I am worthy of love and respect, and I don't have to earn it or prove it to anyone."
"Other people's opinions and judgments do not define me or determine my worth."
"I can't control everything that happens in life, but I can control my response to it."
"I am capable of change and growth, and I can take steps to improve my life and well-being."
"I don't have to be perfect to be happy or successful. Imperfection is a natural part of being human."
"I am not defined by my past mistakes or failures. I can learn from them and move forward."
"I am not alone in my struggles. Many other people are going through similar challenges, and I can seek support and connection."
"Every day is a new opportunity to create positive change in my life and the lives of others."
By using the ABCDE method to manage ANTs, you can challenge and replace negative beliefs with more positive and realistic ones.
This can help you reduce feelings of anxiety and depression and promote overall mental & emotional well-being.
Some Pro Tips Before You Go
As you start to try out this method, here are some pro tips to make implementing it a bit easier.
First of all, as you know, I’m a huge proponent of Internal Family Systems.
Meaning, I believe that these ANTs/Beliefs come from Part of us that are trying to protect us in some way.
So, by personifying these ANTs into Parts that we can talk to, it’s much easier to start to shift these beliefs.
Some other helpful tips:
Use a journal to write down ANTs.
Practice self-compassion when challenging ANTs.
Seek support from a therapist or mental health professional if needed.
While the ABCDE method may take some practice, it can be a powerful tool for managing ANTs/Parts and building resilience.
As always, I hope this was useful for you. If it was, please feel free to share it with a friend!
Otherwise, I will see you all next week! Until then… Live Heroically 🧠
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