Often we are most critical of ourselves. At times we subject ourselves to irrational abuse through our thoughts of unworthiness, stupidity, failure, or some other shortcoming or mistake.
We often take a belief that is unjustified and ruminate on it. If this continues it can be incredibly destructive and even lead to depression. One simple method, designed by Martin Seligman (former president of the American Psychological Association), that can help you to challenge these negative thoughts. Often by going through this process you will realize how invalid these thoughts are and will be able to eliminate them, boosting confidence and mental well-being. Occasionally you will find that a though is justified and has some real evidence to support it. This should be see as a way of becoming more self-aware and instead of beating yourself up about it work through its causes and effects and thing about ways to solve the problem. In either case, these steps will help you to evaluate your judgements and pessimistic thoughts and move forward from them. Seligman calls this the ABCDE method.
A = the Adversity you face
B = the Beliefs that arise when the given adversity occurs
C = the Consequences of this belief
D = Disputation of your routine belief
E = the Energization that occurs when you successfully dispute this belief
1. Adversity: What is the thought or event?
For example, “I didn’t get my reports in to my boss on time.”"I looked in the mirror the other day and my six-pac was gone, replace by a couple of small handfuls of stomach fat.
2. Belief: What is triggering this feeling or thought within you?
“I’m a terrible assistant! I can’t even get reports in on time; I’m not good at anything. Now my boss wants to meet with me on Friday?! He’s probably going to fire me! Oh no, now I’m going to worry all week.”
3. Consequences: What do you feel when you think this belief? How will attaching to this impact you?
“I’m not worthy of this job. I feel useless and like a failure, I’m disappointed in myself.”
4. Disputation: Reframe things more objectively. Plays the Devil’s advocate against your belief. Champion for yourself.
“Maybe I’m being a bit unrealistic. The whole office has been super busy this week and it is very rare that I turn things in late. In fact I’m generally very punctual. My boss is a reasonable man. I did do a through job on the reports. I’m sure he’ll be understanding.”
Consequences: How does this shift in attitude make you feel? Can you use it to better the situation?
“I feel better about the whole situation. I’m going to put extra effort in now to show I’m really committed to my job. I approached my boss and apologized for the late report and asked if there was anything else I might take off his hands. He smiled and told “Don’t worry about it, you’re doing great. I know how crazy things have been around here the past week.” I felt relief. I was stressing over hypotheticals and it was causing me to be anxious and less productive. I really do contribute value to my organization.”
It’s essential to realize that your beliefs are just that –beliefs. They may or may not be true. If that voice in your head is telling you outrageous negative things, don’t except them without disputation. Chances are if a stranger came up and flayed you with such one-sided criticisms you would be quick to defend yourself, either face to face or internally.
This does not advocate for blinding yourself to your flaws and absolving yourself or all folly. It is important to realize that many criticism do have merit and should be addressed appropriately. But often we are far too hard on ourselves.
So next time you find yourself in a situation where you’re tearing yourself down or feel limited by a pessimistic though, try the ABCDE method out.