Want to Think More Optimistically?
Here’s How to Create Performance Enhancing Thoughts
Change your thinking, change your life!
Before Dr Martin Seligman became well known for his work in Positive Psychology, he coined a term known as “Learned Optimism”. In Seligman’s process, one uses the ABCDE method to train the brain to respond differently to a negative situation or event.
Based on Ellis ABC model, the first part of the process (A) is adversity, the event or situation that occurs. B is the belief of how the adversity is interpreted, followed by C, consequences, which are the personal feeling and thoughts resulting from the beliefs. Seligman has then adapted this model by adding disputation (D), a step in which you challenge your beliefs and think of other reasons as to why this may have happened using facts and logic. The final step, energisation (E), is noticing the changes in your thoughts and feelings after you have successfully challenged your beliefs.
The ABCDE method is another technique that you can use to help you catch and transform your ANTS, especially during times of challenge and uncertainty. Let’s use Tom as an example. Here are some of the things he thinks after he gave a poor presentation to his colleagues:
Adversity: “Today, I gave a video presentation in front of my colleagues, and I was very nervous, shaky and stumbled many times over my words.”
Belief: “I am a terrible public speaker, and I will never be good at it. I am not qualified for job roles that require me to speak in front of other people.”
Consequences: “I will turn down opportunities that I may enjoy for fear that I will have to speak in front of people. I am so embarrassed; I don’t think I am going to speak to my colleagues that were in on the video call.”
Notice how Tom’s beliefs about what happened led him to come to the conclusion he has been thinking.
But, what if instead Tom decides to think about this differently? See what happens below when Tom transforms his ANTS into a Performance Enhacing Thought (PET) with more helpful and realistic thinking.
Disputation: “This is only the first time I have spoken in front of these colleagues. Several people asked me questions and were interested in what I was saying. I might not have been that fluent, but I was ok and if I can conquer my nerves, I should be better next time. I can learn some techniques to help me becomes a more confident speaker and practice more to manage my nerves next time.”
Here are a few techniques Tom (and you) can try to make disputation even more powerful.
You can make your disputations convincing with:
- Evidence- show that negative beliefs are factually incorrect. Sometimes a belief may just be an overreaction, so ask yourself “what is the evidence for this belief?” Remember, thoughts are not facts!
- Alternative- ask yourself if there are any alternative ways to look at the problem that is less negative. Focus on specific causes that were changeable. For example, could you have practised more? Were you tired? Was it non-personal?
- Implications- Even if you still have a negative view of the situation, reflect on how you could de-catastrophise it. Is it permanent? Will it matter 5 years of=r a year from now?
- Usefulness- Question the usefulness of your belief. Is your view realistic, and does it benefit you? Can this negative situation help you in the future?
The last step is energisation. Here is the energising thought that Tom is thinking about. You can see he has spent some time transforming his thought to something more helpful and realistic.
Energisation: “I feel more confident knowing that my presentation went better than I originally thought. I feel hopeful that I can do better next time with more practice and preparation.”
Appli have put together a Navigating Challenges and Uncertainty Mental Fitness Toolkit with more techniques and valuable tools that you can use to help your transform your ANTs into PETs.
Beck, J. (2011). Cognitive Therapy. New York: Guilford Press.
McLeod, S. (2019). Cognitive Behavioural Therapy | CBT | Simply Psychology. Retrieved 24 November 2020, from https://www.simplypsychology.org/cognitive-therapy.html
Robinson, P. (2018). Practising Positive Education: A Guide to Improve Wellbeing Literacy in Schools (2nd ed.). Positive Psychology Institute: Sydney, Australia.
Seligman, M. E. P., (2006). Learned Optimism: how to change your mind and your life. New York: Vintage Books