In thefirst installmentof this post, you learned about the background of the ABCs of REBT, what an activating event is, and how consequences of your beliefs can manifest in your life. Now we'll look at what lies beneath, driving those consequences, and how you can use that information to make lasting changes in your outlook and behavior.
Identify your Beliefs (B)
When I first started working the ABC process, I was sure that the hardest part would be to change my beliefs. What I've learned, though, is that figuring out what I believe, that is to say, identifying the story, is the real challenge. Once I've named the unhelpful beliefs, I can work on changing them - that takes patience, practice, and persistence, but it's not nearly as difficult as I thought it would be.
Our beliefs have come to us from all kinds of influences, through the course of our entire lifetime. Some are so ingrained that we think of them as universal truths, and don't even think to question them. But once we do, we have a great shot at experiencing a true paradigm shift.
The process of uncovering your beliefs starts with acknowledging that you are telling yourself a story. Somewhere, somehow, you picked up the details that you are using to build a narrative. Some of examples include:
This only happens to me and that's not fair!
No one likes me!
People who are frequently late are doing something wrong and must be punished - by me!
No matter how hard I try, I always fail, so why try?
The world is terrible and I can't change the whole world, so why not just look out for myself?
I deserved to get that promotion and not getting it wasn't fair!
If something isn't fair, I am entitled to get angry and do whatever I want to express that anger, even if that means hurting someone's feelings, or even hurting them physically.
Think of a time when you became upset - can you identify the story you were telling yourself?
Helping you or Hurting you?
Once you have identified the story, the next step is to ask yourself whether that story is helping you reach your goals or if it's keeping you from reaching them. If the story is helping you, then it is probably worth holding on to. If, on the other hand, the story is hurting you, and if you want to improve your consequences (C), then you must take the next step and dispute (D) that story,
Dispute your Beliefs (D)
Sometimes, we recognize that a story (our beliefs) aren't helping us, but we just don't know how to change the story into something more helpful. We have found that the best way is to look at the original (unhelpful) story and ask yourself questions designed to challenge it.
Some questions that can help you dispute an unhelpful story:
Where's the evidence?
Is that really true?
Am I exaggerating?
Am I overlooking important information?
What examples can I find that contradict what I'm saying?
So what? Even if this thing that I'm telling myself is true, is the fall-out from it as bad as I'm making it out to be?
Am I jumping to conclusions?
Am I mind reading?
Am I fortunetelling?
Am I maximizing the negative? Minimizing the positive?
Am I judging someone? What gives me the right to do that?
Am I imposing my beliefs on an another person?
For example, if you can look at a statement - "This only happens to me, and that's not fair!" - and answer honestly that you are the only person that particular thing has ever happened to, in the whole history of humankind, then maybe your statement is accurate.
However, if you can't find evidence to support it, if you find just one small reason to disprove it, you'll need to revise that story right off the bat - "This doesn't happen to very many people, and it's just my luck - I'm one of them!" By making this minor adjustment in the language, you have already diffused the strident tone of the original belief.
This revised belief - with a bit more work - could ultimately become a new, more effective belief (E) - "This doesn't happen to many people, but it just happened to me. I may not think it's fair, but that's not going to help me. Fair or not, it's the situation I've been dealt, so it's my best interest to make the best of it."
Before we continue, let's look at the original sentence again - "This ONLY happens to me." Using absolute words like "only" (or never, always, must, can't, have to, etc) is a red flag - with it, you'll not only know that there is something to change, but also where to start.
Absolute words are rarely accurate, and can almost always be disproved. Once you've started to disprove a belief, you'll see that it gets easier to to dismantle it completely.
Effective New Beliefs
The process of disputing your beliefs, of challenging your story, can take time, and it always takes effort. We encourage people to write out both the unhelpful stories and the corresponding disputes (with their answers) - you can keep them in a notebook, or as files in your computer or mobile device.
One particularly helpful strategy is to make a voice recording (easily done with a smartphone, but you can also leave yourself a voicemail message) of the disputing questions and answers, then listen to it regularly. However you do it, remember that the point is to catch yourself every time the old unhelpful belief comes up, and forcefully replace replace it with the new belief that you have developed.
New, Improved Consequences
Over time, with diligent practice, the new belief will become your new default belief. Think back to the original belief "This only happens to me, and that's not fair!" When you used to think that, what kinds of consequences did you experience?
Maybe something like this?
Emotional consequence: feel resentful
Behavioral consequences: sulk, lash out verbally, refuse to cooperate in improving the situation
Now think about the new story: "This doesn't happen to many people, but it just happened to me. I may not think it's fair, but that's not going to help me. Fair or not, it's the situation I've been dealt, so it's my best interest to make the best of it."
Emotional consequence: feel frustrated, but also hopeful about the future; relatively cheerful
Behavioral consequences: work to improve the situation, laugh at the frustration rather than cry
Although the process seems complicated and lengthy when broken down and written out, it's actually quite straightforward. With some practice, you can go through all the steps in the time it takes you to take a substantial breath. The more often you use the ABCs, the more skillful you'll become in using them.
You can read a detailed example of an ABC that helps someone move beyond disappointment HERE.