As people, we have three needs: physical, financial and emotional. Most employers address the physical needs of employees by offering health insurance and financial needs by offering disability insurance, life insurance and a retirement savings option like a 401K or 403B. The emotional needs may be addressed by an employee assistance program (EAP), but utilization is often low. Many people have told me that they view an EAP as the most underutilized program offered by an employer. Why? Maybe it is because we fail to see how emotions drive our behavior. American psychologist, Albert Ellis, developed Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) – a form of psychotherapy and a philosophy of living he developed in the 1950’s. In his work, Ellis created the ABC model. This simple format teaches us how our beliefs cause our emotional and behavioral responses. It looks like this: A – an Activating vent, B – our Beliefs about the event and C- the Consequences or what happens as a result. Here’s an example: A. Our boss critiques your work. B. You believe, “She is wrong and doesn’t know what she is talking about!” C. You become angry. You can’t change the fact that your boss is critical of your performance. You can only change your belief about that event and therefore change your response. If you change your belief, you can change the emotion that is created as a result. Let’s say you are open and willing to have a conversation with the boss. You think, maybe the boss has an interesting point and you are willing to listen and dialogue with the boss. Instead of getting angry and defensive, you become calm and curious. You can insert any life event for A. You cannot change A. The only power and control you have is over B, your belief about the event.
Here’s a story that illustrates this point: There was a farmer living in Russia in the late 1800’s. He and his son were out plowing the field on a fine spring day. Their horse was hitched to the plow. As they are working, the horse suddenly breaks free from the plow and runs away. The farmer and his son are left to continue their work without the aid of their horse. That night they share their story with their fellow villagers. “How awful! What terrible luck.” the villagers exclaim. The farmer just shakes his head and says, “You never know.” A few days later, the horse comes back and brings a friend. A wild horse follows it back to the field where the farmer and his son are working. They capture the wild horse and keep it. That night, the villagers again say what great luck the farmer has and the farmer just shrugs his shoulders and says, “You never know.” A few days later, as the farmer and his son are breaking the wild horse for farm work, the son is thrown from the wild horse and breaks his leg. Later that evening, as the village gathers together to discuss the events of the day, they bemoan the farmer’s bad luck. The farmer’s response is “You never know.” After a few more weeks, as the son is in bed recuperating, the Cassocks storm the village and take every eligible young man of fighting age with the exception of the farmer’s son because of his broken leg. As the mourning villagers come together that evening, they are happy for the farmer because his son was left behind, and again proclaim it as a stroke of luck. And of course, the farmer says, “You never know.” The farmer knew, as Ellis taught, it is not the events that shape our feelings, but our beliefs about the events that create stress and anxiety or peace and happiness in our lives.
So here we are in our modern lives often responding the same way the villagers of over 100 years ago did to the events that happened in their day. We now know it is not what happens to us, but how we interpret and respond to the events in our lives that make the difference. Here is your assignment: Think about an event that happens in your life where you often respond by getting angry or upset. Getting cut off in traffic is a great example. Do you respond by yelling and screaming at the other driver because you believe they are stupid and don’t know how to drive? Or do you simply think, “Wow, they must be in a big hurry to have taken such a risk and calmly continue on your way?” Identify one common event where you can change your thinking and watch what happens to your response. Let me know how it goes and post your comment here.