Changing the Stories We Tell Ourselves
We don’t observe the world we interpret it. During our interpretation, we make assumptions, and we add additional content that we don’t even know is true. Why is this a problem? Because our brain is wired to anticipate and expect the worst (remember the whole survival benefit from the Jan 11, 2014 tip?) So when our friend doesn’t call us back (or text us back), within their usual timeframe, we may instantly assume something is wrong. Are they mad at us? What did we do to make them mad? They have no right to be mad! Or how about when that driver cuts us off on the highway? Have you ever thought that they are a jerk and think they own the road? There are so many opportunities for our brains to jump to conclusions without having enough information to actually know what is really going on. If our boss doesn’t seem interested in talking to us, we may think they must be upset with us, when the real problem is that they have a throbbing headache. And that driver that cut us off? Well, they aren’t familiar with this part of town, they are late for an appointment, and they have kids fighting in the back seat. Hmmmm. Maybe they were just seriously distracted.
I have found a wonderful tool to help me with changing my stories. It is called the ABCD approach. A is the Action that happened to you (Your colleague didn’t get their part of project done.); B is your Belief about that action (Your colleague isn’t doing their job.); C is the Consequences of your belief (You are mad at your colleague and think they are a slacker.); D is the key piece. D stands for Disputing your belief (Maybe your colleague isn’t a slacker. Maybe work got unexpectedly busy or a crisis came up that they had to deal with and didn’t have time to get their other work done.) When we can remind ourselves that we don’t have all the facts and are just jumping to conclusions, we can actually change the consequences (our emotions and our reaction). This gives us the opportunity to calmly gather more facts when possible, or to simply realize we are assuming the worst when we will never know the truth (like the driver who cut you off). Give the A B C D approach a try and see if it helps you change your story and avoid unnecessary worry and frustration.
Tina Hallis, Ph.D., is a professional speaker and consultant for The Positive Edge, a company dedicated to helping people and organizations fulfill their true potential using strategies from the science of Positive Psychology.