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Recently my partner lost a dear friend, far too early and far too sudden. Understandably, the normal human emotions to grief all played out, with her and the circle of friends all touched by this loss.  Many of you reading this will be familiar with the “Kübler-Ross Grief Cycle” and it’s hard to watch a loved one process through each stage.

Ever the pragmatist, my own reaction was to offer as much empathy and support as possible, but I just happened to be working on some Resilience programmes for a client and, seeing my partner struggling, stuck in her “cycle” and bouncing between the “Anger” and “Depression” stages, we began discussing some of the techniques we use in the workplace to cope during times of extreme stress or change.

The way we perceive an event or situation will dictate how we feel about it, and how we respond to it.  Negative thinking can cause stress, anxiety, and depression – none of which helps. Also, when in this state of mind, we produce more of the hormone cortisol, which can have a negative impact on our immune system if sustained. The longer we stay in this state the more the situation exacerbates, so we all know that it’s best to avoid this negative cycle long term.

Of course, it’s easier said than done to simply “avoid negative thinking”. Humans aren’t automatons who can simply switch off emotions!

But there are coping tricks and techniques that we can use to foster positive thinking and create the environments we need to move forward and process the challenges we are faced with.

A good approach for overcoming negative thinking is the ABC technique, first suggested by Dr Albert Ellis.

ABC stands for:

  • Adversity (or Activating event)
  • Beliefs
  • Consequences

In work or in our personal life, we may encounter the ‘Adversity’; a perceived problem, obstacle, or difficulty.  How we think about this creates our ‘Beliefs’. These beliefs are how we understand and interpret the Adversity.  This then influences what we do next, so they become ‘Consequences’ – our actions and our behaviours.

The ABC Model can highlight the connection between people’s beliefs and their emotions; showing that the events around them do not necessarily dictate their emotions.

Here’s an example:

Dave has a busy day ahead. First thing in the morning, his manager asks for an important task to be completed by lunchtime. Dave thinks to himself “I have so much work to do! I’ll never get anything finished!”. His stress levels rise, he doesn’t know where to start, and procrastinates. Although he finishes the task, his manager knows its not up to his usual standards and spends some of her own time revising the work.

So, what are the ABCs in this scenario?

Adversity: planned day was disrupted, and a tight deadline imposed

Beliefs: “I have so much work to do, I’ll never get anything finished!”

Consequences: gets stressed and deliver a poor quality of work


In another department, an almost identical situation has arisen for Susan. Here’s how she dealt with the situation:

“I had planned to complete other tasks today, but my manager clearly thinks this is important. I have a lot of work to do, what tasks do I need to prioritise?”

Susan discusses her workload with her manager and refocuses on the new task, which she completes on time and to a high standard.

The adversity (A) remains the same, but Susan’s belief (B) is different. Susan was able to avoid feelings of stress with a positive mindset and complete the task well (C).


The ABC model can help us develop key resilience skills such as emotional regulation, impulse control and empathy. Of course, this is a simplistic example of the ABC model which can also help to highlight wider cognitive distortions, and how irrational evaluations may cause emotional and/or behavioural consequences that often, in turn, lead to increased distress or conflict.

My partner’s friend was a strong advocate of positive thinking and widely encouraged her peers to embrace life regardless of age, size, etc. (as weekly bikini selfies bear testament!) This mindset came to the fore as the group reminisced about her life and has generated an overwhelming outpouring of both love but, more importantly, a reminder that positive thinking can be a powerful ally in overcoming adversity and finding a way to move forward.

For more information on the ABC System, or on other ways to reform your thinking, the culture of your workplace, or your approach to challenging situations, call us today on 01234 757575, or email hello@askeurope.com – or download our programme guide.