We often assume that the quality of our life and our level of happiness are influenced by what happens to us. Good things happen and we feel good. Bad things happen and we feel bad. In-between things happen and we feel in-between. It’s simple, right?
In reality, how we make sense of and process the events of our lives has far more impact than the events themselves. We view our lives through certain lenses, which have been shaped and coloured by our internal rules for life, previous experiences, and what we believe about ourselves. Often, we’re not even aware of what lenses we’re wearing or how they shape our perception of the world. We go through life thinking “This is truth, this is reality,” when what we’re calling truth and reality is a smattering of events mixed with a generous helping of guesses and assumptions. As I’ve written about before, the stories we tell ourselves matter. For the unhelpful stories, the best way to shift them is through noticing and questioning.
In The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor shares a useful framework we can use for this purpose: ABCD.
ABCD stands for Adversity, Belief, Consequence, and Disputation.
Adversity is something we can’t change. Whether we like it or not, it will happen at some point so let’s just accept that as part of being alive! :)
Belief, however, is something we can influence. Shawn points out we often use the phrase “bouncing back” in the context of recovering from adversity. In reality, however, adversity is an opportunity to “bounce forward,” to come out the other end a little older, a little wiser and with more self-knowledge around our strengths and self-trust in our resilience. We can shift our mindset around adversity and view it as a temporary circumstance and an opportunity for growth.
Shifts in our beliefs affect “C”, the Consequences of our beliefs. If we think we’re doomed, we will envisage very different consequences than if we’re aware of the growth opportunities within the challenges and adversity we face. This doesn’t mean we whitewash our emotional experiences or pretend everything is fine when it’s not. Instead, we can practice noticing what we tell ourselves about what’s happening to us and noticing how that influences our thoughts, feelings and responses. There are many ways we can do this, this question is one of my personal favourites.
That brings us to Disputation, which is a fancy way of saying “Just because you think it doesn’t mean it’s true.” This involves recognising that our belief is just a belief, not a fact, and that it’s open to examination and questioning. Try asking yourself what the evidence for that belief is, whether the evidence is airtight, and how you would respond if you heard a friend using this reasoning. Ask yourself: what are the alternative interpretations of this situation? How else could I respond? If I were to view this situation through a lens of self-kindness, what would that look like?
Your challenge: Try using this framework the next time you encounter a challenging situation or thought. What do you notice as you work through from A to D?