ABC’s of Change - Application


To really understand the ABC Model, it is helpful to run the model with an actually activating event.  Let’s look at the activating event (A) of experiencing a hunger pang in the late afternoon.  You have already eaten lunch and hadn’t planned on eating again until dinner, but all of a sudden you become aware of that gurgling sensation in the pit of your stomach.


Once awareness of the hunger pang registers in the brain, the belief system (B) springs into action.  Unbeknownst to most of us, our brain is already busy processing the information being input by the stomach.  Almost automatically, our brain is searching the archives for memories.  “What does this feeling mean?  Is it something I am familiar with?  What do I need to do in situations in which I am feeling this sensation?”  Since this is all happening at lightning speed, most of us are virtually unaware that our brains did anything at all. 


Based on what we have come to believe about what should be done in situations in which hunger is experienced, a thought (cognition) (C) is beginning to form.  If my belief about this feeling is that “it is uncomfortable, painful, and it needs to be made to go away now” then I will likely be formulating thoughts in my head such as “maybe I should just go grab a quick snack so I can concentrate.”  I am likely then to be experiencing a feeling of anticipation, maybe an urge or craving.


I may be able to fight off the urge a time or two, but if my core belief is that hunger is a negative experience, that creates an uncomfortable or even painful feeling that must be dealt with in order to move on and be productive, soon enough I am going to find myself heading for the snack machine (doing) (D).


The end result (E) of the cycle is that I purchase a candy bar out of the machine and consume 250 calories that I hadn’t planned on eating.  A repeated cycle of tacking an extra 250 calories into my daily fare won’t take long to add up to a significant problem, 25 lbs in the course of a year.


By contrast, let’s look at the same activating event but filter it through a much different belief system.  Let’s imagine that instead of believing that hunger is a painful thing that needs to be dealt with before any continued efforts at being productive, you instead believe the “anger is merely a signal that right now you are burning fat (the very thing you are attempting to do); that hunger is a positive, welcomed signal because of its significance, and that it really has no effect on concentration or productivity.”  How do you suppose such beliefs are going to affect your thinking?


Instead of thinking immediately about the snack machine, you might think about the fat melting off of your body or you might simply smile knowing that you are right where you want to be.  Instead of feeling the urgency to take the “pain” away, you might actually sit and enjoy the sensation for a minute, realize it really isn’t painful at all.  Instead of focusing on how this hunger will “negatively affect” your productivity, you might welcome the feeling as an inspiration to work a little bit harder.


Instead of wolfing down a candy bar, you pull out your next project and within minutes (literally) the sensation has faded.  The end result is quite positive.  You stay on track and eat your next scheduled meal, just as planned.  The consequence of this repeated cycle can be quite positive.


If you can’t see yourself ever “believing” that feeling hungry could be a positive experience, don’t immediately dismiss the notion.  Instead, focus first on the process.  “If” two people had these different beliefs about what “feeling hungry” really meant, can you see how the end result could be significantly different?  The first step in the process is simply acknowledging that activating events can lead to considerably different outcomes if they are filtered through significantly different sets of beliefs.


The second step is the acknowledgement that beliefs can and do change.  Think back to when you were a kid.  Did you believe in Santa Claus?  Come on, tell the truth.  Think of the thoughts and behaviors that were generated from that belief.  What changed this belief for you?  For most of us it was receiving additional information that made the old belief simply useless.


The third step is acknowledging that human beings have the unique power to change a belief.  Just as we can move from believing in a jolly fat man coming down the chimney to the belief that mom and dad actually put the presents under the tree after the kids fall asleep, so we can move from believing that hunger is a negative experience to believing that the same experience can be quite positive.


Just not quite buying that yet??  I’m not surprised, if we took to the idea like a duck to water, change would be much easier.  The fact that you may be feeling skeptical really speaks to the pervasive nature of belief systems and the power they have to keep one locked up.  Think about it, if you are having difficulty seeing how this could play out in your own life, is that not your own belief system at work keeping you from believing that interpretations outside of your conceptual frame work (the proverbial “box”) might be equally valid?


The last step is to do the arduous work of challenging our present beliefs through the practice of cognitive disputation.  This is the process of recognizing and replacing unwanted thinking until an unwanted belief is finally buried under the pile of new, “wanted” thinking.  It takes practice and persistence but the pay-off is huge.


Change can be thought of as a function of the quantity and frequency of practicing a new wanted belief.   So what are you waiting for??  There is no time like the present to put the ABC’s into play.  Get practicing today.


All Rights Reserved.  Copyright: October 2008.  Take Charge Counseling and Consulting. 

Author: Miles Nitz, MS, LMFT