inspiration Mandy Kloppers

How to think like an optimist

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Learn to be optimistic using a technique based on Albert Ellis ‘ Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy’. Professor Martin Seligman has elaborated on this in his book ‘Authentic Happiness’. Use the ABCDE method to challenge your thinking and reframe it using a more rational approach.

This is a method for building optimism by recognising and disputing pessimistic thoughts. The key to disputing your own pessimistic thoughts is to first recognise them and then treat them as if they were uttered by an external person, a rival whose mission in life is to make you miserable.

  1. Become more aware of your conscious thought processes and begin to treat them as if they were being uttered by an external person whose goal in life is to make you unhappy.  (Distancing)
  2. Distract yourself from the thoughts – i.e. don’t allow yourself to think about them by directing your mind elsewhere. The rubber band technique is useful. Distraction is the best technique if you have to perform a task and it would be unhelpful to think about it.
  3. Dispute the beliefs. Disputation is the most important technique here and involves checking out the accuracy of the beliefs about ourselves that are encouraging us to feel pessimistic.  When we dispute we use the same techniques which we use to argue with other people.

Once you recognise that you have a pessimistic thought that seems unwarranted, counteract it by using the ABCDE model.

A stands for adversity
B for the beliefs you automatically have when it occurs
C for the usual consequences of the belief
D for the disputation of your routine belief – using facts and logic, not wasteful thinking on affirmations.
E for the energization that occurs when you dispute it successfully (this simply means to pay attention to how you feel (e.g. lighter, more energized) as a result of disputing your negative thoughts)

By effectively disputing the beliefs that follow adversity, you can change your reaction from dejection and giving up, to activity and good cheer.


Exercise – During the next 5 adverse events you face in your daily life, listen closely for your beliefs, observe the consequences, and dispute your beliefs vigorously. Record all this on a piece of paper.  Once you have done this on paper a few times you can then simply go through the process in your head.



You gave a presentation and didn’t use your allocated time and stumbled in a few places.


I’m really bad at public speaking.  I always make a mess of it.  I really ought not to do it again because I’ll just be as bad.  My boss must think I’m not up to the job.


You turn down appointments to speak and therefore let your fear get the better of
you.  If you speak again you are very nervous and apprehensive and therefore much more likely to make mistakes.


I haven’t had much experience of giving presentations.  That was only my third.
The head of the department spoke for less time as well and no one was bothering about it.  A number of people asked me questions and were interested in what I was saying.  Kevin even said he liked my slides and he isn’t one to say positive things to people.  I might not have been that fluent but I was ok and if I can conquer my nerves I should be better next time.

There are 4 different ways to make your disputations convincing:

Evidence – shows that the negative beliefs are factually incorrect. Most negative beliefs are overreactions. So ask ‘what is the evidence for this belief?’  (This is not just about affirmations or repeating positive statements it is about employing logical arguments.)

Alternatives – ask yourself if there are alternative ways to look at the problem which are less damaging to yourself. Focus in particular on causes that are changeable (eg you were tired), the specific (eg only this instance), and the non-personal (other people’s contribution to the problem).

Implications – even if you still take a negative view of what you have done you can still decatastrophize. E.g. even if you did put your foot in it at the interview and didn’t get this job what are the implications for other jobs or the rest of your life?

Usefulness – question the usefulness of your belief. It can be helpful here to realise that even negative situations can in the long run work out well. We can also realise that some of our beliefs about the world (eg that it should be fair) though laudable lead us to be unduly negative.

Use the above approach and you will definitely find a way of looking at the world that leaves you in a happier place.

Mandy X




Mandy Kloppers
Author: Mandy Kloppers

Mandy is a qualified therapist who treats depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD, trauma, and many other types of mental health issues. She provides online therapy around the world for those needing support and also provides relationship counselling.