Life is plastic.

One big problem most of us face after falling down a few holes along the ungraded path of our life is that we secretly believe we belong in the hole.

Something negative, or challenging, or threatening happens to us and it immediately activates a whole set of irrational core beliefs about ourselves:

  • This ALWAYS happens to me.
  • I can’t do this. This is too hard.
  • I deserve this happening.
  • I am (or I feel): worthless, useless, stupid.
  • This is going to be 100% awful.
  • This would not be happening if [insert name] hadn’t [insert action]!

The following simple technique is based on the ABCDE model developed to manage irrational beliefs by Albert Ellis in the 1960s.
Known as Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, it is nothing mind-blowing. It is simply a reminder to critically appraise or interrogate our core beliefs about ourselves.

The word “belief” means a conviction in the truth, actuality, or validity of something. So a belief is a thought with an emotional component (conviction) and a factual component (truth, actuality or validity). Beliefs can be either positive or negative. Having a negative belief is not necessarily a bad thing; however, when one believes in something that is false, a negative belief tends to become what Ellis called an “irrational” belief. Irrational beliefs are not friendly to happiness and contentment and are definitely unhelpful for getting one’s basic desires for love and approval, comfort and achievement or success met.

Julie Axelrod PsychCentral

So. This is the way an adverse event pans out for many of us.
We feel ourselves falling in that hole (you know the one)… it’s like: oh no…here we go again. And the negative internal dialogue kicks in…

When you maintain a situational awareness or NOW-fulness that an adverse event is occurring you can interrupt or interrogate the usual consequences both emotional and behavioural as they unfold.
You examine your internal dialogue and correct it with an evidence-based script.

As with all this stuff, the trick is not the actual skill (which is straightforward enough)…the trick is knowing that now is the time to dispute your belief & emotion IN THE MOMENT.

The following questions are useful critical interrogators when disputing your usual self-beliefs (from positive psychology.com):

  • Activating Event
    • What is the Activating event?
    • What has happened?
    • What did I do?
    • What did others do?
    • What idea occurred to me?
    • What emotions was I feeling?
  • Consequence
    • Am I feeling anger, depression, anxiety, frustration, self-pity, etc.?
    • Am I behaving in a way that doesn’t work for me (drinking, attacking, moping, etc.)?
  • Beliefs (Dysfunctional)
    • What do I believe about the Activating event?
    • Which of my beliefs are my helpful/self-enhancing beliefs, and which are my dysfunctional/self-defeating beliefs?
  • Dispute
    • What is the evidence that my belief is true?
    • In what ways is my belief helpful or unhelpful?
    • What helpful/self-enhancing belief can I use to replace each self-defeating or dysfunctional belief?
  • Effective New Belief and Emotional Consequence
    • What helpful/self-enhancing new belief can I use to replace each self-defeating or dysfunctional belief?
    • What are my new feelings?

I am always trying to be now-ful of moments when I need to interrogate my beliefs. It is a constant work in progress. It often feels more secure, more comfortable, more familiar, and to be brutally honest, more enjoyable just to dwell in the hole.

But life is plastic. And even the deepest hole can be crafted into something else. You are the artist of falling. You are the artist of creating.

You can read more about the ABCDE model here.
You can read more about how to effectively dispute your core beliefs here.


Photo credit: LMonlight

Ian Miller

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