Adversity: What happened in your life that is causing you to feel negative emotions (anxiety, depression, anger, etc.)? Be specific.
A coworker spread a false rumor about me.
Beliefs about the adversity: What are your thoughts about this problem? Is it unfair? Upsetting? How does this adversity clash with the way you want things to be? This is your chance to honestly identify what you think about this particular problem.
I don’t like it. It’s not right to spread rumors about people. It’s unfair! I wish this never happened. Everyone at work will think less of me. I want people to judge me for whom I am, not what other people say about me. I don’t want to see this coworker ever again. I can’t stand her!
Consequences of these beliefs: What kinds of emotions are you experiencing as a result of these beliefs? What kinds of actions are you taking? How do these beliefs and actions make you feel? Are they pleasant or unpleasant?
I’m anxious about going to work. I’m also angry and frustrated that this happened to me. I feel nervous imagining what everyone thinks about me. I also feel depressed that I might have to quit my job. I barely slept last night and ate almost nothing for dinner. And I’m furious with my coworker! I don’t like the way this feels.
At this point, we’ve established that some adversity occurred, and, more importantly, the beliefs we have about this problem are causing unpleasant and painful consequences. Even if these thoughts are totally justified and technically true, we must acknowledge that they are not making us happy. They need to be challenged and changed. Here’s how:
Dispute upsetting beliefs: Are these beliefs true? Why? How do you know? Are they logical? Where is the proof or the evidence? Do these beliefs make you feel happy and healthy? Does it make sense to keep thinking them? If not, what new beliefs about this problem would make you feel better?
Well, I’m not 100% sure that everyone will believe this rumor. Maybe they’ll just forget about it or won’t take it seriously. This rumor is upsetting me, but I don’t even know how people are going to react. I might be worrying about all of this for nothing! Even if some people do believe this rumor, I know who I am and anybody who really knows me won’t believe it. It’s too bad that this coworker said this nasty thing about me, but it’s already done. I’m only in control of how I respond to this situation and how I feel now.
The efficacy of the alphabet technique depends on whether or not you really believe that your happiness is affected by the way you think. Research in this area overwhelmingly indicates that negative thinking is related to lower wellbeing. One experiment found that participants who thought privately about a negative event reported less life satisfaction (an important component of happiness), compared to a control group.4 Indeed, negative thinking doesn’t just stop you from feeling good; it causes you to be unhappy.
After trying this technique, you may discover that you’ve been thinking in a self-defeating manner for years. If your beliefs are interfering with your happiness, it will take time and determination to change them. As you practice the alphabet technique, your thinking will have less and less of a harmful impact on your wellbeing. Instead, your thoughts will be transformed into reminders of your self-worth, confidence, and beauty. Rather than obstacles thwarting our attainment of wellbeing, thoughts can be essential allies as we persevere on our happiness journey.
1 Ellis, A. (1999). Why rational emotive therapy to rational emotive behavior therapy? Psychotherapy, 36, 154-159. 2 Engels, G. I., Garnefski, N., & Diekstra, R. (1993). Efficacy of rational-emotive therapy: A quantitative analysis. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 61, 1083-1090. 3 Powers. M. (2003). The Dragon Slayer with a Heavy Heart. North Hollywood, CA: Wilshire Book Company. 4 Lyubomirsky, S., Sousa, L., Dickerhoof, R. (2006). The costs and benefits of writing, talking, and thinking about life's triumphs and defeats. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90, 692-708.
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