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The Steps of Positive Thinking

The steps of positive thinking can be quite easy, but they do require discipline. Apply this model to create higher level thinking questions for yourself and your team

If you want to be unstoppable in life, then follow the steps of positive thinking outlined below.

We all have challenges/adversities in life. How fast you bounce back from challenges dictates your success. When some people hit a problem, their negative thinking and beliefs kick in, and that's it. Game over! They crumple.

Changing your interpretation of an event, asking yourself better questions and disputing your automatic beliefs enables you to stay in the game. To continue to take action, and to feel empowered and engaged. Below is a process developed by one of the world's leading psychologists, Dr. Albert Ellis, to help you shift the meaning you give to an event.

The Five Steps of Positive Thinking

The ABC model developed by Dr. Albert Ellis

  • A stands for Adversity (the challenge or problem you face)
  • B for Beliefs (which subconsciously and automatically kick-in when the event occurs)
  • C for the Consequences (that occur because of the belief),
  • D for your Disputation (of your routine beliefs and thoughts - to get a more balanced point of view) and
  • E for the Energization that occurs when you successfully dispute the belief

Before we share an example of this process in action, let's take a deeper look at Disputation. Disputation is the powerhouse within these steps of positive thinking and so needs a little more explanation. The disputation stage has four essential components.

The Steps of Disputation

  • 1
    Evidence: Here you attempt to get a good dose of reality. What are the facts in the matter? The key at this stage is to adopt the role of detective "What is the evidence for this belief?" You are trying to avoid catastrophizing what has occurred. Instead, you are searching out real evidence whether your beliefs are accurate or false.
  • 2
    Alternatives: What could be all the possible contributing causes? You want to focus on those that are temporary and specific; rather than permanent and pervasive. (See more about this on the optimism vs pessimism page). For example, if you failed a test, it might have been because you were tired or didn't study hard enough. That's an example of temporary and specific. Rather than you are not smart enough. That's an example of permanent and pervasive. The key is to ask yourself "Is there a less destructive way to look at this?".
  • 3
    Implications: If you discover your beliefs are accurate, then the most powerful thing you can do is to de-catastrophize. You need to say to yourself "What does it imply? How likely is the worst-case scenario?" For example, if you failed an examination does that mean you will never get a job?
  • 4
    Usefulness: Is the belief destructive? The response "I'm no good" is the recipe for giving up altogether. A good tactic is to detail all the ways you can change in the future. 

The Steps of Positive Thinking in Action

Adversity: One of my team members resigned, quoting family reasons

Beliefs: It's because I'm not a good leader that she left. If I had been more inspiring, she would have stayed with me. I'm no good at this. Maybe I'm not cut out to be a leader, running my own business.


Consequences: I feel lousy and sad. I'm thinking about giving away trying to build the business.

Disputation: Hang on. I have three other team members who are still with me. They all appear to be happy that they are on the team. Perhaps the reasons she gave were genuine. It did indeed have nothing to do with me.

One team member resigning does not mean that I can't build this business. As I keep improving my leadership skills, I'll be able to attract and keep people in my team. I'll get my coach to help me more in this area.

Energization: I feel much better, more focused and calm. I'll put my energy into improving my leadership capability. I even feel more reconnected to my dreams and goals for this business.

Does this mean that you are forever positive and never feel bad?


Of course not. 


What it does say is that you need to train yourself to use the steps of positive thinking. To view situations and experiences from a different perspective.

Train yourself to ask better questions. By asking better questions, you will get better results.

Using the Steps of Positive Thinking with Your Team

You can use the steps of positive thinking with both individual team members and groups ...


Adversity: You've announced a significant change in the way in which your team operates. Many people are fearful and worried about the change.

Now you work with your team to help them list some of the thoughts and beliefs that are experiencing.

Beliefs: It's not right. This is a crappy place to work. They don't care about us. It might mean layoffs. There is nothing wrong with the old system. These changes will hurt our bonus payout.

Once you and the team have identified the beliefs. Next, discuss with your team the consequences of holding on to these negative emotions:

Consequences: Anger and resentment. Internal conflict. Uncertainty. Increased sick leave. People not speaking to managers leading to poor communication. Sadness, causing people not wanting to come to work. Sabotage

Now lead your team through a disputation process, looking at the usefulness of their current beliefs and responses.

Disputation: Sometimes our old way of working has been ineffective and caused us to work harder than we needed. It seems we are going to get a lot of training and support to make sure we understand the new way of working. We can ensure the security of the company and our jobs for a long time because we become more competitive. It will be better for our customers in the long term. When we have had changes in the past, our teammates have always helped each other. For sure they'll do the same this time. The leadership team in recent times have been very upfront and honest with us. In all likelihood they'll be the same now.

If you facilitate this process well, you may find your team members begin to laugh at some of their debilitating thinking.


Next, ask your team to create a list of the new behaviors and thoughts they may want to hold to feel more energized by this change.

Energization: New behaviors might include: Take responsibility for learning your part of the change process. Be understanding that sometimes communication may not occur in the way that you'd hope. Look for ways to help make the change as seamless as possible. Once we get our heads around this change, we'll find it easier to do our jobs.

Continue to reinforce the new thoughts and behaviors with your team (collectively and individually). Do that well, and you should find that they will remain energized.

Good luck in using the steps of positive thinking. Applied regularly and consistently you will become unstoppable!


Finally, this article on self-talk - both for the individual and for the organization - complements this article.

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