Hello, dear reader! In a recent video over on my YouTube channel, I discussed the ABCDEs of learned optimism.
Taken from the book Learned Optimism (affiliate), by Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, the ABCDEs are useful in separating your mind from any troubling situation and allowing clarity to enter where only confusion and rumination may have previously reigned.
While the video is concise on its own, I’d like to go into more detail using the specific event to which I alluded. So let’s get our alphabet on!
A is for Adversity
Adversity is anything that sets your mind off and running. It could be traffic, a look from your partner, a lack of parking spots, a forgotten facemask, no toilet paper in the bathroom, etc.
For this particular example, I was doing a vigil bike ride to Freedom Corner in the Hill District after a Civil Saturday sit-in in Squirrel Hill (holy alliteration!). Freedom Corner is where Danielle Brown arrived at the beginning of July to start a hunger strike for her son’s death at Duquesne University in 2018. The hunger strike was apparently the furthest thing from my mind, because I got out a bag of nuts and started chomping down shortly after we arrived.
A fellow cyclist came up to me, and after I offered him some nuts, he declined and explained that, as a show of solidarity, no one was eating at Freedom Corner.
I apologized, thanked him for the reminder and squirreled away my nuts, but not before my unconscious beliefs kicked in.
B is for Beliefs
Beliefs are the thoughts we have about the adversity. As they are thoughts, they can be evaluated for accuracy. In this instance, I thought all the goodwill I’d generated had been lost because I’d done something foolish. Something so simple, as my mother would say, clicking her tongue in judgement.
The worst part was, I wasn’t even that hungry. I just wanted something salty after biking the four-ish miles and standing in the sun for hours with other cyclists being a barrier between police and protesters.
It wasn’t long before my thoughts morphed into feelings.
C is for Consequences
If thoughts are evaluated in Beliefs, then feelings are evaluated in Consequences.
Almost simultaneously as this conversation was happening I started to feel like a dumbass, a real ultra-maroon. I was embarrassed and ashamed that I wasn’t present enough to realize why we were all there. I felt like a bad person. I was quiet for the rest of the time there, speaking to few, and was one of the first to leave.
D is for Disputation
Disputation is when you put your thoughts on trial, cross-examining them to get at the root of your often-incorrect beliefs.
It wasn’t until I was at home, showered and struggling to sleep that I started the disputation process. In my journal, I wrote: “Feeling misaligned. I ate @ Freedom Corner. No one else is thinking about it. No one else cares.” This was enough to get me calmed down enough to sleep, but when I woke the next morning, the ruminative thoughts woke with me. I took to my journal again:
Fortunately [Miss Brown] wasn’t there. THAT’S ENOUGH! I SET THE INTENTION TO LET GO OF THE RUMINATIVE THOUGHT THAT I WAS BAD FOR EATING @ FREEDOM CORNER. NOW THAT I’VE MADE UP MY MIND TO SET THE INTENTION TO LET GO OF THE RUMINATIVE THOUGHT THAT I WAS BAD FOR EATING @ FREEDOM CORNER I’M NOT GOING TO DEBATE ABOUT WHETHER OR NOT I’VE MADE UP MY MIND TO LET GO OF THE RUMINATIVE THOUGHT THAT I WAS BAD FOR EATING @ FREEDOM CORNER BECAUSE I AM NOT BAD FOR EATING @ FREEDOM CORNER. […] I was @ a different level of consciousness yesterday than I am today, & I am grateful for that awareness.
As Seligman states in the book, pessimistic thoughts latch onto dire beliefs not because they’re necessarily true, but because of their dire nature. As we shift from pessimism to optimism, it may be necessary to latch onto positive beliefs in the same way. We may not believe they’re necessarily true, but we must latch onto them because they are so positive.
E is for Energization
I’ve mentioned before how powerful setting intentions can be. The above intention coupled with the rubber band trick from my awareness post were enough to take back my awareness and keep my mind in a positive, optimistic direction. Plus, I spent most of the day biking and that always makes me feel better.
I resolved to be more mindful when next I end up at Freedom Corner, and without even realizing it, I took my guilt and shame and turned it into this post.
Putting it all together
Often, each of the ABCDEs can occur instantly, especially with Adversity, Beliefs and Consequences. Like a terrible row of dominoes, one knocks into the other until you’re spiraling down into a slump of untrue, unconscious beliefs. Had I been more mindful, I could have Disputed my beliefs right away and it would have likely Energized me differently. However, I wasn’t mindful enough, and I’m kind of glad for that because it provided me with a teachable experience to share with you.
And it reminded me of this process, and it’s a darn good one. With enough practice, it can be applied seconds after the first sign of Adversity. Soon, it will become automatic and you’ll begin rewriting the stories your pessimistic mind loves telling.
That is, at least, my hope for you, dear reader.