When you change the way you react to a perceived problem, it can enable you to find relief faster than if you were to try to change the circumstances.
While this process sounds a lot more complicated than it is, the field of cognitive behavioral therapy has some true gems when it comes to easing distressing thoughts. One of these gems has to do with the ABCs of mood. That is, the feelings and emotions (affect) we have in a given situation are closely related with what how we react (behavior) and what we think (cognition) in response to that situation.
For example, if you receive your annual performance review at work and learn your work was rated as satisfactory or below, then you might feel very upset (affect), think you (or the boss) are not very bright (cognition), and not work as hard the next time a major project is due (behavior). Naturally, your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are all related in this cycle. In CBT, the goal is to break this cycle so your mood and situation ultimately improve.
The following diagram illustrates this relationship:
Using the same scenario involving a poor work performance review, you can break the cycle by targeting any part of the ABC triangle to improve the situation.
Feeling defeated, you decide to go for a jog to cool off and find that after 30 minutes or so, you are not nearly as upset and are feeling a bit more composed. Or, you talk to a colleague about the annual performance reviews and commiserate on how you both felt disappointed. You might journal to process your feelings or meditate to calm down.
Frustrated that the effort and overtime you put into your work was underappreciated, you approach your boss and ask for direct feedback about what went wrong. Or, you might ask to be paired with a senior staffer or mentor who could help coach you to do better in your role. If you have a boss with a reputation for being particularly tough, you might talk to colleagues about how to better work within your boss’ managerial style.
Instead of falling victim to defeating thoughts, you can choose to focus on the areas in which you are already doing well and realize this is only one performance evaluation that is meant as constructive feedback. You might consider the fact that you are new to the company and that it will take time for you to learn more about the culture and expectations of the workplace. You may consider that a poor evaluation does not equate with being fired and is a signal to improve rather than being unexpectedly let go from the company.
Now that you have a basic understanding of the ABCs, it’s time to put these skills to practice with concerns that arise in your own life. Remember, it takes a lot of time and practice to change your thinking and approach to things. It is very normal to be reactive when something goes wrong. It will be a challenge to take a step back and realize that most of the problems that come up can be handled with relative ease. Using the ABC steps outlined here, come up with two to three scenarios from your own life (past, present, or upcoming), and go through the process of re-evaluating these scenarios: