Fostering ‘Response-ability’

Maintaining Resilience and Wellbeing in the face of a public health crisis: Fostering ‘Response-ability’ by remembering that we are capable of choosing our response to challenging situations.

This is based on Epictetus’ understanding that ‘People are disturbed not by things but by the view they take of them.’ Hence, the key to emotional intelligence and wellbeing is not to avoid challenging situations; but rather to choose an effective attitude towards them.

This insight is the basis of the A-B-C Model of Emotional Health:

‘A’ = the ‘Activating Event’ eg. Change in working patterns due to the corona virus pandemic;

‘B’ = the ‘Belief’ ie. the attitude the person takes towards this event – what they ‘tell themselves’ about it; and

‘C’ = the ‘Consequence’ eg. frustration, despair, giving-up – or a determination to make the best of the situation, even whilst accepting that it’s not ideal.

Clearly, the ‘Consequence’ @ point ‘C’ is determined not by the Activating Event itself, but rather by the ‘Beliefs’ and self-talk that the person subsequently engages in @ point ‘B’.

For example, if someone activates Beliefs along the lines of: ‘This is so frustrating! I can’t stand spending so much time in PPE! It’s awful to have to live and work this way!’ they will generate a great deal of upset. Equally, if, instead, they activate Beliefs along the lines of: ‘It’s disappointing not to be able to interact with my colleagues, family and friends as I’d like to; but the important thing is to stay safe and to help others to stay safe too – and actually, this is a real opportunity to make a significant contribution to public health’, they will generate positive feelings of motivation instead.

From this perspective, negative feelings are best viewed as verbs, not nouns – ie, they are things people ‘generate’, rather than things that people ‘have’ (in the same way that they might ‘have’ brown hair, or size nine feet).

The key thing is how to help people to choose beliefs that work for them rather than against them; so that they can stay resourceful even when things aren’t the way they would like them to be.

For example, a well-meaning colleague might ask someone who is now having to work wearing full Personal Protective Equipment, ‘How does that make you feel?’ This is a disempowering question, which suggests that the individual has no option but to feel the way they do (in other words ‘A’ leads directly to ‘C’). If the person feels low, this is likely to make them feel worse.

The well-informed colleague, however, asks instead ‘And how are you choosing to respond to the new situation?’ This is an empowering question, which draws the individual’s attention to the fact that they have a choice as to how to respond to the new reality of working to minimize the risk of catching or transmitting the virus – and that if the choices they’ve made so far haven’t worked for them, they are capable of choosing differently. In other words, the well-informed colleague has helped them to move from a feeling of victimhood towards a recognition of their ‘response-ability’.

In the words of Viktor Frankl: ‘Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: The last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances; to choose one’s own way.’

The A-B-C Model is a core model in Cognitive-Behaviour Therapy, which is one of the most effective therapies for helping people to live effectively with situations which are not as they would choose.

You can also listen to some of John’s podcasts here:

Barefoot Coaching: Dancing in the Moment

The Self-Worth Safari

Julie Leoni – What’s Your Thing

Ideas Hub

Published 15th February 2021

John Perry

John Perry