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It's As Easy As ABC: Your Life Explained


Life is a series of cause and effect; something happens, cause, and this influences/elicits a response, effect. Navigating your internal self with all of it's emotions, hormones, thoughts, and physical operations within the external world is complicated and baffling on many levels. However, understanding why you behave the way you do is actually as easy as ABC. Managing our behaviors and emotions in an unpredictable world is not a simple thing to do, but it is actually a simple process to understand; the rest comes with practice. So let us begin with A: "A" stands for "activating event", or this may also be known as a "trigger". Many people may believe a trigger implies a negative event but triggers, or activating events, are simply things that cause an effect. An activating event is anything a person can see, hear, touch, taste, or smell. In other words, anything that can be experienced through one of the five senses. This becomes a little more complicated when we bring in mental disorders, but we can get to that later. So you are currently, and at every moment, being influenced and activated by all the things around you that you can see, hear, touch, smell, and taste. The color on the walls, the temperature in the room, how hungry you are, how tired you are, what smells are coming through, the comfort level of your clothes, and numerous other things within the external world. All of these are coming in through your senses and ultimately influencing your internal state. What does this mean? Well that takes us to the B: "B" stands for "belief", or perception. All of these things in the environment that you are experiencing come in through your senses and then you determine what the information means. For example, if I run into a room and yell "I'M ON FIRE" then run out, each person in the room will have a different reaction. One person may believe I am insane and this information means I am scary, another may think I am joking and their belief is the situation is funny. Beliefs, or perceptions, of activating events are a combination of emotion, logic, and past experience. There are other nuances, but these are the main three components. For example, the person who determined I am scary may have had past trauma or experienced an event that makes loud or abrupt noises startling. The person who believed the situation was funny may have been raised with a great sense of humor and have little to no trauma that causes them to fear abrupt or loud noises. So each will respond differently because each experienced the situation from a different perspective, which leads us to C: "C" stands for consequences, which is the emotional and behavioral reaction that results due to the belief that the person has in response to the activating events. First comes the emotion, which then influences which behavior will be used. For example, take the scenario we used previously with the two people in the room when I run in and yell. One person may feel entertained or happy and their behavior may be to laugh, while the other person feels fear or scared and they run out of the room in a hurry. Both individuals experienced the exact same event in the exact same place at the exact same time, so why isn't the response the exact same? Well, they have different histories, or experiences that are influencing their perception of the event. If you and a friend are walking down the street and a car backfires, you may look back in curiosity while your friend immediately begins to run. Your friend may have been in the military or perhaps lived in a crime-ridden neighborhood. So they have experiences in life that makes their brain perceive incoming information differently than you, therefore they have a different emotional response and choose a different behavior to respond.

So in summation, each moment you are experiencing incoming sensory information (activating events) that your brain analyzes and determines what the information likely means (belief), and this results in an emotional reaction and a resulting behavior (consequence). So the question is how do we change our behaviors that we do not like? Well the answer lies between the B and the C, or can be explained by adding in a "D" and an "E". So to change your behavior we first focus on the D:

"D" stands for dispute, which means we must challenge our belief about incoming information when we can catch ourselves moving through the A-B-C process. We have to challenge our thoughts and emotions in the moment, or in hindsight we can trace them backwards to gain insight. So next time you exhibit a behavior you do not like, later when the situation has calmed or changed you can look back and try to identify what the activating events may have been and, more importantly, what was your belief or perception of these activating events. If you change the way you think then you change the way you respond to the external world. Sometimes this can be accomplished by simply catching it and challenging it whenever you can and practice makes you better, other times you may need a therapist to assist you using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or other interventions. But to finish what I started, let's get to the final letter, E: "E" stands for effective new beliefs. Naturally if we want to eliminate a belief then we need to have a new effective belief that results in a different behavior. So when you are able to catch yourself moving from B to C or in hindsight after the event, you need to identify what is another belief or explanation for the events experienced. This is not something that will happen quickly, it takes practice and repetition just like it did for you to learn the beliefs and behaviors you have now. This is something that has to be practiced over and over and will need to be practiced ongoing if you wish to identify and incorporate more appropriate emotional and behavioral responses to daily situations. The process is difficult but the concept is easy. When you identify a behavior you do not like just stop and ask yourself, "what are the ABC's?"

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