ABC model of Behavior

ABC model by Albert Ellis explained - toolshero

This article explains the ABC model of Behavior, developed by Albert Ellis, in a practical way. After reading, you’ll understand the basics of this powerful mindset tool.

What is the ABC model of Behavior?

The ABC model of Behavior and attitude is a commonly used tool for cognitive behavioral therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is concerned with helping people get rid of negative thinking, feelings, and behaviors. Part of cognitive behavioral therapy, and thus also part of the ABC model, is to deal with cognitive strategies and behavioral strategies. Cognitive strategies can be seen as learning to identify how behavior, beliefs, and thoughts influence how one feels and think. Behavioral strategies are concerned with implementing actions such as relaxation exercises that positively help how one feels and think.

Albert Ellis first introduced the ABC model to apply it to people for overcoming pessimistic thinking. According to Ellis, the method is based on how individuals experience or perceive particular situations. The way people think, immediately impact the beliefs about future events and personal happiness. These thoughts could be irrational, which can next be evaluated with the ABC technique.

For example, a person might get angry because of a particular event. The chance is doubtless high that this person is blaming another individual for making him or her feel this way. This is a typical example of the ABC technique of how an individual may have irrational thoughts because the person allows him or herself to have negative emotions. Although a problematic situation could have occurred, the way how it is dealt with determines the current emotions and behavior of an individual.

According to the ABC model, external events influence an individual’s emotions. But the emotions of people are many times influenced by personal beliefs. The emotions and behavior of people are not affected by the result of the accumulation of events. They are influenced by how events are evaluated and processed by an individual.

In this case, The ABC model can be useful to assess the situation. It is in the model referred to as an activating event. It can additionally be used to evaluate the individual’s beliefs and to evaluate the consequence or result of an event. The activating event, beliefs, and consequence are in the next section of this article described more in detail.

The ABC model components

ABC model components - toolshero

Activating events

This component of the ABC model can also be described as a trigger. It is concerned with the actual situation, and it analyzes the triggers that cause an individual’s thoughts and emotions. It always deals with events that have resulted in emotional reactions or irrational thinking. The following questions could an individual ask to analyze the activating event:

  • What was the situation?
  • Who was involved?
  • What did other people do?
  • What was my role?
  • What emotions were involved?

Beliefs

The beliefs of the ABC technique ask the individual to analyze the thoughts that occurred when the activating event happened. The beliefs are concerned with an individual’s mind and could be correct or incorrect, but also negative or positive. It is in this stage essential to analyze the situation and identify if the beliefs are right or not. The following questions could be asked to evaluate the beliefs of an individual.

  • What did I think when the activating event happened?
  • How did my thoughts support my beliefs?

Consequences

The consequences are as the name suggests concerned with the outcome of the activating events and beliefs. Based on the ABC model, the consequences evaluate the resulted action and emotions that are resulted out of the activating events.

  • What kind of emotions am I feeling as a result?
  • What kind of negative personal behavior can I recognize as the result of the activating events and beliefs?
  • How does my behavior influence the environment?

ABC model example

Consider the following example of an employee in an international company where the ABC model will be applied. The employee will be called Tanya and works for company XYZ.

Tanya work since recently for company XYZ. She is hired because company XYZ is consolidating three international offices in a centralized office that controls the regional markets. Tanya’s responsibility is to ensure smooth operations, and if necessary, discuss, request, and implement changes to standard ways of working.

Tanya is excited to successfully complete the job because challenges and hard work motivates her. She reports directly to the country manager but also gets assigned tasks from the department directors.

During the job, Tanya was assigned many assignments while she was at the same time identifying ways to consolidate the operations of three offices into a centralized office. Tanya was working hard and could barely manage to finish the workload before the deadlines. At the same time, Tanya’s direct supervisor, the country manager, assigned Tanya a job which he requested to be complete earlier as agreed because of some urgency. As a consequence, the country manager asked Tanya if the assignment was almost completed.

Tanya responded to her manager that the assignment was almost finished and that she will deliver it ASAP. However, in reality, Tanya was far from completing the job. She was annoyed because the continuous incremental work was too much for her. However, she did not complain visibly, and she set new priorities and finalized the assignment as fast as she could.

When she finished the assignment, the country manager was surprised about how fast she completed the task. Tanya got praised, and her work and contributions were valued.

Evaluation of the ABC model example

Let’s now evaluate the situation by using the components and the previously described questions of the ABC model.

Activating events

Tanya was a new employee and closely collaborated with senior management. She had a responsibility and had to prove herself. She was driven by challenging work, but the workload became too much for Tanya. Based on the activating event of the ABC model, she felt frustrated and had to find innovative ways to finish the work.

Beliefs

Tanya believed that it was expected that everything had to be finished as soon as possible. Since she had many assignments on her task list, Tanya thought she was running behind. She additionally felt that she could not keep up with the workload. However, in this case, her beliefs were not correct because she had more time left to finish the assignment.

Consequences

As a result, Tanya told the country manager that one of the tasks she had been assigned to was almost finished while she still had to work on the assignment. She experienced pressure and felt a tendency of urgency. In this case and based on the ABC model, Tanya’s behavior demonstrated to positively influence the environment because her hard work could motivate others.

However, Tanya could be honest with her manager and explain about other priorities she had. Together they could find a solution and see which structure would work best. In this scenario, Tanya’s thoughts about the working pressure from various assignments were wrong because her manager would have given her more time to finish the work.

ABC model summary

The ABC model is a commonly used tool that evaluates personal beliefs and how this affects functional thinking. By utilizing the ABC technique, individuals may understand the connection between their thoughts, emotions, and behavior. The most important part of the ABC model is that it demonstrates that occurring events do not directly affect an individual’s feelings and behavior. Still, the way how one thinks and what one believes determines the resulted emotions, beliefs, and behavior. This means that the way people feel, and the way people behave results solely because it is chosen to be.

The ABC model can be applied in various situations, such as in business settings, but it can also be used for personal circumstances. It is today frequently used by therapists who treat behavioral problems of clients. For example, the ABC technique has been successful in treating aggressiveness because it forces clients to analyze the triggers and the resulted in actions and behaviors, instead of avoiding the triggers that could again lead to aggressiveness.

In addition, the ABC model helps individuals to easily structure events and how this influences the individual’s thoughts. It easily demonstrates how a personal way of thinking influences behaviors.

Finally, the ABC model can be extended by adding the letter D and E. The letter D stand for disputations to challenge irrational beliefs, which basically means that irrational thoughts have to be changed into a belief that is more rational. The letter E stand for effective new beliefs that replaces the irrational ones, which means that the more rational beliefs must have a more positive impact on the individual concerning how one thinks and beliefs.

Now it’s your turn

What do you think? Are you familiar with the explanation of the ABC model? In which situations would you apply this tool? Do you recognize irrational thoughts on a personal level? How can the ABC model help you or people in your organisation?

Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.

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More information

  1. David, D. (2014). Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT). The Encyclopedia of Clinical Psychology, 1-8.
  2. David, O. A., Matu, S. A., Pintea, S., Cotet, C. D., & Nagy, D. (2014). Cognitive-behavioral processes based on using the ABC analysis by trainees’ for their personal development. Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, 32(3), 198-215.
  3. Ellis, A. (1991). The revised ABC’s of rational-emotive therapy (RET). Journal of Rational-Emotive and Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, 9(3), 139-172.
  4. Erskine, R. G. (1975). The ABC’s of effective psychotherapy. Transactional Analysis Bulletin, 5(2), 163-165.
  5. Florsheim, M. J., Leavesley, G., Hanley-Peterson, P., & Gallagher Thompson, D. (1991). An expansion of the ABC approach to cognitive/behavioral therapy. Clinical Gerontologist: The Journal of Aging and Mental Health.
  6. Malkinson, R. (2010). Cognitive-behavioral grief therapy: The ABC model of rational-emotion behavior therapy. Psihologijske teme, 19(2), 289-305.
  7. Muran, J. C. (1991). A reformulation of the ABC model in cognitive psychotherapies: Implications for assessment and treatment. Clinical Psychology Review, 11(4), 399-418.
  8. Walen, S. R., DiGiuseppe, R., & Dryden, W. (1992). A practitioner’s guide to rational-emotive therapy. Oxford University Press.
  9. Ziegler, D. J., & Leslie, Y. M. (2003). A test of the ABC model underlying rational emotive behavior therapy. Psychological Reports, 92(1), 235-240.

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Alexander Zeeman
About the Author

Alexander Zeeman is Content Manager at ToolsHero where he focuses on Content production, Content management and marketing. He is also an International Business student at Rotterdam Business school. Currently, in his study, working on the development of various management competencies and improving operational business processes.

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