ABCDE Model – Improving Emotional Intelligence

This week I have been working all week on delivering EQ-i feedback to leaders in a client organisation. One of the considerations of emotional intelligence is getting people to recognise that for ANY event, we are capable of adjusting or changing our emotions. The ABCDE Model is a simple mnemonic developed by Albert Ellis in the field of rational-emotive behaviour therapy, that helps people mentally work through a reflection process to consider if they want or need to change their thinking and therefore their behaviour around some emotions.


A = Activating event
B = Belief system
C = Emotional Consequences of A and B
D = Disputing irrational thoughts and beliefs.
E = Cognitive and Emotional effects of “updated” beliefs


ABCDE Model explored

A – The activating event or adversity that causes the stress, worry or change in emotion. This could be from something trivial to something significant. Recognition is the first step on many change processes and the same in this process. Example: a person presenting in public

B – The belief system which is the cognitive component in the person’s reaction to the events. Often they are limiting beliefs or negative “self talk”. The capacity to recognise the activating event and therefore change the mental “self talk” becomes a crucial part of the change. Example: The mental self talk of the person is “I am really bad at presenting, this presentation will go really badly”

C –  The consequences from an emotional perspective is often repetitive and can create self-fulfilling prophecies. Example: the presenters nervousness in the presentation creates a poor flow and rapport with the public which makes the presenter even more nervous.

D –  Disputation or challenge the irrational or limiting beliefs is required for mental change to take place. Reviewing, challenging and eschewing the current beliefs sets the person up for future success.

When looking at the D section there are three key kinds of disputes that can be used:

  1. Empirical / Scientific dispute – Where is the proof or basis for the belief / feelings / thought pattern
  2. Functional dispute – Is the belief supporting some other, potentially unconscious goals?
  3. Logical dispute – Does the belief system make common sense? Is there any generalisation or other thought pattern influencing these beliefs?

Example: The presenter recognises the thought pattern and changes and sees they are not based on truth or logic and adapts over the time to a view of believing that they can do a decent presentation.

E – Effect of challenging the self-defeating belief system. Psychologists often this cognitive restructuring, as new mental patterns and habits are created. Example: Presenter gains more confidence as presentations become more fluid and gets more positive feedback, this in turn improves their self belief and creates a positive cycle of change.

ABCDE Model at work

One key way that this concept can be used is to create a learning journal where key moments of tension, stress or any other significant emotional switching has happened. This journalling can help people work through the process by writing down the ABCDE model and working through the different elements.

Have you used the ABCDE model? Any others that support this belief / behaviour change?

Thanks for reading, Andi

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