Martin Seligman, PhD, the father of positive psychology, gave us a quick lesson on a classic optimism-boosting exercise—which he calls the ABCDEs. The goal, Seligman says, is to get you to stop thinking pessimistically, rather than teach you to start thinking optimistically (which rarely works). "This fix isn't instantaneous," he says. "But we've done studies on it involving thousands of subjects, and we know it's effective." So the next time you experience a setback—anything from a leaky faucet to a fight with a friend—walk yourself through these five steps:
A. Name the adversity, or problem.
(For example: "I didn't get a call back after my job interview.")
B. List your beliefs.
These are your initial reactions to the problem. ("The interviewer saw right through me. I don't deserve that position. And he could probably tell I don't believe in myself. I'm sure the other applicants are smarter, younger, and more qualified than I am.")
C. Identify the consequences of your beliefs.
("I'm going to quit my job search so I don't have to suffer through this feeling of failure again.")
D. Formulate a disputation of your beliefs.
Pessimistic reactions are often overreactions, so start by correcting distorted thoughts. ("I probably didn't feel confident because that position wasn't the best fit. It's only a matter of time before I find an opportunity that's right for me. And now that I've had practice, I will be better prepared to present my best self.")
E. Describe how energized and empowered you feel now.
("I'm more motivated to keep looking for a job that makes me happy. I won't let fear stand in my way.")
Practice this exercise as often as possible, and when you can, take time to write out the ABCDEs. Eventually, the sequence will become a habitual thought process. Seligman found that his subjects were still using the technique four years after he taught it to them.
More on Health and Happiness