The ABC's aren't always easy

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Emily Rautenberg
  • 514th Air Mobility Wing

When Jacklyn Urmey, 514th Air Mobility Wing director of psychological heath, showed a photo of a small bear cub touching a stuffed teddy bear during her “ABC’s” class, those in attendance could not help but smile and let out an audible “aw.” The reaction was completely different, however, when the same audience was shown quite a different picture.


“The goal of the ‘ABC model’ is to be aware of how your brain drives reaction to an event,” said Urmey during her “ABC’s” class August 4, 2018. “If we don’t like the way we are acting, we should be able to slow down and change direction.”


When Urmey showed the class an image of a large snarling bear, the class immediately reacted with unease and a desire to change the slide.


“These reactions are just happening from pictures, so it makes sense for life events to cause even bigger reactions,” Urmey said. “In real life, you might react much more strongly to a growling bear.”


Although we are not always in control of a given situation or the way those situations make us feel, it is possible to control how we react.


“Knowing when to stop and being able to go against your natural reactions is not easy, but learning to use the ‘ABC model’ can help you pause and think before you react,” said Urmey.


The ABC model breaks up situations into three pieces: an activating event, the brain, and the consequences.


“An activating event is usually out of our control,” said Urmey. “This could be traffic, a job change, etc. After an activating event, our brain processes what we believe happened or is happening, which leads to emotional and physical reactions, or consequences.”


Urmey showed this series of action and reaction in a diagram of the “ABC model.”


“While the diagram shows a very linear sequence, it is normal to bounce between the brain and consequence stages,” said Urmey.


Urmey walked the class through the following exercise to start thinking more about their reactions:

1.      Describe a recent activating event. Be objective and focus on one event.

2.      Record your beliefs, or brain’s interpretation. What were your “in the moment” thoughts?

3.      Record/list the emotional and physical consequences.

4.      Ask yourself if your reactions interfered with your performance, values, goals, relationships, etc.?

5.      If you did not feel good about your reaction to the event, then it is time to start trying to change it.


“Over time, slowing down will allow you to change your reaction,” Urmey said. “Try starting at the end by changing small parts of your reaction, not at the beginning where you have to change the entire environment.”


Urmey said values also play a big role in how and why one reacts to different events.


“Understanding your values help to resolve and process these activating events more easily,” said Urmey. “Having a partner who shares these values can help hold you accountable. We might not think of other’s reactions as proportionate to the situation, but we don’t all have the same experiences.”