This tool that I want to share with you is one that I use with my clients when their stress levels rise. It is a model taken specifically from the area of psychology called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and has been also been applied to Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). It is called the ABC model and I use it to help my clients understand the true causes of most of their problems doesn’t lie with their environment, the people in their lives or external events. Very often the cause of much stress and pressure that they put themselves under comes from their own thinking.
Consider the following real life example. John’s boss asks him when is the report that he been working on going to be ready. John immediately starts to feel under pressure and rather than snap at his boss he grumbles to himself “Why is he always doing this to me? Doesn’t he know I’m working as fast as I can? Who does he think he is? It’s not fair he always picks on me”. John now feels a few familiar emotions that he might package up and call stress. These emotions may be anger, resentment, feelings of injustice or sadness to name a few. If we were to sit down and talk with John what do you think he would consider to be the source of his “negative” emotions? More than likely he would see his boss as the problem.
The ABC Model
Now let’s look at this from a different perspective while describing the ABC model. The ABC model comes from the work of an American psychologist Dr Albert Ellis and is described in greater detail in most books on CBT.
The “A” stands for activating event and in this case it is when the boss asks John when the report would be ready, a perfectly reasonable request if delivered appropriately.
The “B” stands for the beliefs or thoughts that John has immediately after the request. Why is he always doing this to me?
The “C” is then the consequent emotion which practitioners and researchers of CBT belief arise as a result of the thoughts that John tells himself.
So the chain of events is that A is followed by B is followed by C. Now often the thoughts may happen very quickly, so quickly in fact that they may go unnoticed and John is left thinking that the cause of his “negative” emotions were his boss. This line of thought is also a trap for John because the more he thinks like this the more “negative” emotions will be created which leads to more unresourceful beliefs. This is what can be termed a vicious cycle of events that can quickly spiral out of control. Research has demonstrated that our emotions can be controlled by our thinking, so what we need to do is to think differently in order to experience different emotions. If we can stop then reverse the vicious cycle we can end up with a virtuous cycle instead that will lead to clearer and more resourceful thinking. To do this we add “D” and “E” to the ABC model.
“D” is about disputing or questioning your unresourceful thinking and “E” stands for the effective result that arises from taking the time for the internal discussion. In the example above John has the belief that his boss is always doing that to him. The word always is a generalisation so John could start disputing whether this is actually always the case and is his boss actually picking on him? If John continues to believe that he is a victim his behaviours and emotions will be that of a victim and this will only perpetuate the cycle for John if other potential bullies or persecutors identify John as an easy target or a whipping boy
An Exercise to Change Your Life and then Your Team
This exercise can be life changing for you and that is no overstatement. Once you begin to change your thinking and feeling, your behaviours will naturally and automatically start to change. This is the secret that underlies most successful behaviour change. So, start to identify for yourself what emotions you experience on a daily basis that you may like to start feeling less. People may call these “negative” emotions and that is why I have highlighted the work negative. To me the emotion really isn’t negative – it’s just an emotion, neither negative nor positive, but often we want to feel these negative emotions less often than the positive ones. For instance you may find yourself being angry, sad, depressed, anxious, stressed, resentful or whatever; Ask yourself are these emotions really useful or resourceful for you? If not then start to become better at spotting the thinking that precedes them and the events that started the thinking process. Maybe you could start an ABC diary that can capture the events, the beliefs or thinking and the emotions that follow. Once you have started to identify the ABC then start to dispute and question your thinking that leads the “negative” emotions, you may then start to have new and more resourceful thoughts that can lead to “positive” emotions.
Once you have started to master this change for yourself, if your team hasn’t already started to change because of your changes, then you can start to coach them to become better at identifying and changing their thinking and subsequently their emotions.