ABC


I mentioned on Facebook last week about how beliefs (B) shape our consequence (C) to actions/activating events (A). Whilst it is easy to recognise this in other people, it is often much less easy to acknowledge that the reason we are feeling or behaving in a certain way is down to us (i.e. our beliefs) than to external things. But when we do recognise that we can control our beliefs and therefore our reactions, it is a beautiful and wonderful thing.

For instance, when we're stuck in traffic and may be late for an important event, our beliefs could be:

This is unfair and it shouldn't be happening to me

I'm going to get fired/shouted out/look foolish

So our reaction, our consequences, are negative (getting stressed, honking other drivers, verbally abusing people in a way we wouldn't face to face, imagining disastrous consequences). But if we look at those beliefs, in a rational, non-emotive way, we can check them for validity. Is it really unfair that you are stuck in traffic? Do you believe that life is always fair or do random, inconvenient things happen to people all the time? Sometimes we benefit from that (hey, I just found a £5 blowing about the car park) and sometimes we don't (hey, I could have sworn I had a £5 in my jacket pocket....). How realistic is our belief that we will be fired for being late? Maybe it is realistic that we will get shouted out for being late (I don't know where you work. Maybe that's how they roll?) But is it the worst thing that could happen to us? And will worrying about that make it any easier or better?

Martin Seligman (the father of Positive Psychology) conducted work on the factors that made people optimistic or pessimistic. He wrote that optimistic people viewed events differently on three dimensions:

  • permanence - they viewed bad events as temporary

  • pervasiveness - bad events don't affect other unrelated areas

  • personalisation - they don't blame themselves for bad events.

We live in a society that often leads us to characterise events as pervasive. 'Bad things come in threes'. 'It never rains but it pours'. We actively encourage ourselves to look for bad things happening and then treat them as connected events. (I got stuck at every single red light on the way in, there was a learner driver on the roundabout, the milk in the office fridge had gone off so I couldn't even have a decent cuppa and my 3 o'clock meeting got shifted to half 5. What a crap day.) One negative event can put us in a place where we are actively looking for bad events and then we can believe that it is all part of a 'bad day'. But we can turn that on its head. My current favourite country artist, Luke Combs, has a great song called 'When it rains, it pours'. In it, his girlfriend leaves him so he goes for a drive to clear his mind. At a gas station, he buys a scratch card, wins money, then wins a radio call in, wins a raffle, gets the last spot in the Hooters parking lot, the waitress leaves her number and picks up on the first ring and, as the chorus says, he never has to see his ex-future-mother-in-law anymore, when it rains, it pours. None of those events are connected, but he claims the only logical reason these things happen is because his girlfriend left him. Let's leave aside the questionable use of logic in that sentiment, but we have probably all done something similar in reverse. One bad thing can seem to lead to another and another. Part of that is because we are looking for further bad things and then because we have a belief that all these bad things are pervasive and permanent, then we react in a completely different way than we would if we viewed them as single unrelated events, that have no permanence and no per