Is the Glass Really Half Empty?

If you’re like most people, you’ve been in situations that haven’t turned out like you wanted or expected. For example, you might have been passed up for an exciting opportunity or promotion that you felt well-qualified for, or you didn’t get the pay increase you were expecting. We’ve all been faced with disappointment in one way or another in our personal and professional lives.

The question is, “How can you work through it in a positive way?” In my work with high performing leaders and in my own life, I have found the work of Martin Seligman, the acclaimed author of Learned Optimism, to be extremely helpful. He offers a simple model called “ABCDE,” which helps you recognize and dispute pessimistic thoughts and replace them with optimism and hope. Once you recognize that you have a pessimistic thought that seems unwarranted, argue against it using the ABCDE model.

A stands for adversity B for the beliefs you automatically have when it occurs C for the usual consequences of your routine belief D for the disputation of your routine belief E for the energization you get when you dispute it successfully

Here’s an example to bring it to life.


I didn't get the promotion I had worked so hard for all year long.


My boss doesn't value what I have to offer. He still thinks I'm not experienced enough. What am I still doing here?


I'm really disappointed and am not sure I can continue to work somewhere that I'm not appreciated and don't have a future. I'm so tired of the political games at this company.


Maybe I’m overlooking some important facts. No one else at my level got promoted this year. In fact, several people were laid off. My boss gave me good feedback on my performance and I did get a good pay increase. He explained what a financially challenging year it has been for the company. I don’t think I specifically told him that I expected a promotion this year.


I am getting recognition for my work when I really think about it—it’s just in a different way than I expected. I need to follow up with my boss to have an open conversation with him about the promotion I want, and how and when we can make it happen.

I encourage you to try out this model for the adverse events that you face— whether personal or professional, major or minor. One of the most powerful aspects of the model is that it forces you to look for evidence to dispute your negative beliefs. You may be surprised at the energy you get as you succeed in overcoming them.