The “ABCDE” method for changing your mind – for the better, redux

Today’s post is based on the work of  Dr. Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology. The goal of the ABCDE’s isn’t to sugar coat life, but to take a closer look at all the possibilities and allow us to weigh our options before accepting our perceptions. The perception you accept is up to you!

Would you like to reduce or to turn around your negative thoughts? Would you like react more positively when “things” go wrong?

If so, the ABCDE method for changing your mind might be helpful.

In 2007, Nicholas Hall wrote an article for the Positive Psychology News Daily website about how to use Dr. Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology’s, ABCDE method for objectively reviewing events or situations in our lives. I liked the way Hall described Seligman’s method.

I use versions of the method in my life and my life coaching practice, and thought it might be helpful to share it with you so you could use it. Following the ABCDE approach can help you pause, reflect and rewind. It can also help you review and reshape your thought patterns.


In a coaching session, I might use one of the ABCDE’s in the form of a question or assign them as homework after discussing them with a client. It takes a bit of time to familiarize yourself with them, but eventually you will learn to quickly review them in your mind when dealing with adversity. When I’m working with my or a client’s negative thoughts and patterns, I use “A” to take a look at situations that are causing stress. You can reduce your stress dramatically by simply unraveling what actually happened.

The most immediate benefit of the ABCDE method is realizing you can choose how you think about a situation, which also means you can create new patterns of thinking, reinforce positive patterns and change negatives ones.

Excerpts from Hall’s article for using the ABCDE approach to combat feelings of helplessness and depressing thoughts are detailed below in blue. My notes are in black.

Below is an outline of the ABCDE method for disputing your thoughts. The idea is that your thoughts can generate your feelings. So, if you take active control of your thoughts, you are in turn taking active control of your emotions (Reivich & Shatte, 2003).

Having a pen and paper handy is helpful with this exercise. Use these steps when dealing with adversity.

1. Adversity:

  • Describe a recent Adversity.
  • Include the Who, What, When, and Where of the situation.
  • Be specific and accurate in your description.
  • Don’t let your beliefs about the adversity creep in!
  • Be objective. I call these truth statements, because they focus solely on the facts.

EX: I got rejected today from an interesting program.

2. Beliefs:

  • Record what you were saying to yourself in the midst of the Adversity.
  • What was running through your mind?
  • Write it down verbatim. Don’t worry about being polite!

EX: “Man, this always happens.” “I’m just not good enough.” “It’s all about who you know, and I don’t know anybody.” ”Maybe I’m not cut out for this sort of thing.”

3. Consequences:

  • Record the Consequences of your Beliefs. (What did you feel and what did you do?)
  • Be specific. List all of the emotions you experienced and as many reactions as you can identify.
  • Ask yourself: Do your Consequences make sense given your Beliefs?
  • If you don’t have the Aha! experience, see if you can identify other Beliefs that you may have not been as aware of initially.

EX: I felt worse and worse thinking this way. I began to not take any action on other projects that I wanted or needed to do today. I felt pretty low, and I began comparing myself negatively to others that I thought were better off than me.

Yes, these feelings and actions DO make sense given those beliefs!

4. Dispute:

  • Generate one piece of Evidence to point out the inaccuracy in your Beliefs,
  • or generate a more accurate/optimistic Alternative belief about the Adversity,
  • or Put Into Perspective your Belief.
  • You can use the tag lines below to craft your responses:a. Evidence: That’s not completely true because…

EX: That’s not completely true because I know a lot of great people, and some of them are in great positions. I have achieved great things like this in the past.

b. Alternative: A more accurate way of seeing this is…

EX: It really is only for one week, it’s not like I got rejected from Yale.

c. Putting It In Perspective: The most likely outcome is… and I can… to handle it.

EX: The most likely outcome of this is that I put my energy into another big project I’m currently working on, and I can work harder and be more focused on this project and that will help me handle the rejection from the scholarship.

5. Energy:

  • Write a few sentences about how your Disputation changed your Energy.
  • What happened to your mood?
  • How did your behavior change?
  • What solutions did you see that you didn’t see before?

EX: My energy became more focused and clear. I felt much more competent in my abilities and in my future. My behavior changed by getting me back to working hard on the things that matter to me, because I want a positive future for myself. The solutions I saw were about what I could DO for myself, rather than let the world happen to me.


Peterson, C., Maier, S. & Seligman, M. E. P. (1975). Learned Helplessness: A Theory for the Age of Personal Control. New York: Freeman.

Reivich, K, & Shattẻ, A. (2002). The Resilience Factor: 7 Keys to Finding Your Inner Strength and Overcoming Life’s Hurdles. New York: Broadway Books.

Seligman, M. E. P. (2006). Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. 2nd Edition. New York: Vintage.

The ABCDE method is a great tool for building the future you really want. Let me know how it works for you!

WTW Dandelion

Wishful Thinking Works Life Coaching

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