By Caroline Smith and the Mind Tools Team
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The ABC Technique

Overcoming Pessimistic Thinking

Learn how to think more optimistically when you experience a difficult or stressful situation.

Robyn has worked hard on a report all week. The deadline was tight, and, as she hands it over to her boss for an initial read-through, she swells with pride. She knows her boss is going to commend the quality of her work.

However, as her boss reads it, she develops a small frown. A moment later, she hands the report back to Robyn.

"I think you did a good job," she says. "If you'll just rework section two and add the figures I sent over last night, this will be ready to present to the board."

Robyn heads back to her office, crushed. She worked so hard, and her boss thinks the report is lousy. She adds the new figures with a sinking heart, wondering how long it will be before she's demoted or fired. For the rest of the day, she can't get the image of her boss's frown out of her mind. Her mood is down, she's listless, and her work suffers. She even misses a sale with a key client, because she's not on her game.

Clearly, Robyn is blowing the situation way out of proportion. With her pessimistic outlook, she has assumed the worst, and has turned a small setback into a disaster.

How about you? Are you an optimist? Or would you have reacted in the same way as Robyn?

Optimists have been proven to be happier, healthier, more productive and more successful than pessimists. The good news is that optimism is a skill – you can learn how to be more optimistic. In this article, we'll show you how to use the ABC Technique to develop a more optimistic outlook.

About the Technique

This approach was originally created by psychologist, Dr. Albert Ellis. It was then adapted by Dr. Martin Seligman, a University of Pennsylvania professor and past president of the American Psychological Association. Seligman's adapted version was published in his 1990 book, "Learned Optimism."

ABC stands for:

  • Adversity.
  • Beliefs.
  • Consequences.

In short, we encounter Adversity (or, an Activating Event, as per Ellis's original model). How we think about this creates Beliefs. These beliefs then influence what we do next, so they become Consequences.

Here's an example – you yell at your assistant because she forgot to print a key report before your meeting (Adversity). You then think, "I'm a really lousy boss" (Belief). You then perform poorly during your meeting, because your self confidence has plummeted (Consequences).

The key point occurs between adversity and belief. When you encounter adversity, how you tend to explain it to yourself directly impacts your mindset and your relationships. Seligman calls this your "explanatory style," and he says that it is a habit that influences your entire outlook on life.

There are three dimensions to your explanatory style...

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