Changing Beliefs using the ABC Framework

Dec 31, 2021
4 minutes

My last article was about Belief Systems - the theory part. This article is the practical part - the ABC Framework. If used properly, this framework can change your life - you can control your responses to everything that happens around you.

The idea of Belief Systems is well known in Psychology - especially in Cognitive Behavior Therapy(or CBT). Before CBT, Psychology was dominated by the psycho-analytical school of thought. They believed that emotions are caused by the subconscious mind shaped by childhood experiences. CBT revolutionized this field by saying that your emotions and behaviors are the result of your thoughts. If you can change your thoughts, you can change your emotions/behavior.

This is best illustrated by the ABC Framework. This framework can help you to understand and, if necessary, change your responses to any event. It breaks down any response you might have into three parts…

A - Activating Event/Trigger

This stands for an external event(that’s generally negative) that happened. The cool kids these days call it a trigger. This is generally not in our control.

Example: You saw a friend on the street - but he did not smile at you.

C - Consequence/Response

This is what happens because of the activating event. This is the end result. This could be an emotional response you have(eg. feeling sad) - or it can be an action or behavior that you do.

Example: You are angry at your friend because they ignored you.

You might have noticed something is missing. The ‘B’. Most people are not even aware of this component in the equation.

B - Belief/Assigned Meaning

This is the belief we had about the activating event that caused the consequence. You get some automatic thoughts when the event happens - people accept this as the truth. But in reality, these automatic thoughts are a result of your conditioning or our mood that day - or many other things. It’s far from the truth - it’s just a belief.

Once you understand that it’s just a belief, you have the freedom to change that belief. And with a changed belief, the consequence/response also changes.

Example: You are angry at your friend because you believed that they ignored you. If you can change the belief to “the friend did not see you”, the consequence will not be anger.

It’s easier to change the belief before there is an emotional response. Once you have an emotion, that will create a feedback loop that will make your earlier belief that created this response much stronger. It’s possible to change the belief after an emotional response - but you’ll have to put in much more effort.

Changing Beliefs

People find it difficult to change their belief - because they are tied to the idea that their belief is the truth. This is fine if it is a belief about an objective fact, like say, gravity. But if your belief is about something subjective(like say, which programming language is better - Javascript or Python), then being stuck to one belief as truth is a bad idea. You should be asking “Which belief is helpful for my purpose?” rather than “Which belief is true?”. Finding the “truth” about subjective things is a futile exercise - like writing on water.

This has the potential to reduce conflict of beliefs too. If you cling to the idea of true belief, by definition all other beliefs are wrong. But if you can change your belief based on which belief is most helpful for your purpose, then you will become more tolerant of other beliefs. Something we as a society desperately need.


ABC Framework in Cognitive Behavior Therapy(CBT) is a practical guide to using belief systems to change your responses to any event. It has 3 parts - Activating Event, Belief and Consequence/Response. The consequence is a result of your belief about the event. If you change this belief, you’ll be able to change your response. But it’s difficult to change your beliefs because we tend to think that our beliefs are true. Thinking of your beliefs as helpful/not helpful is a better approach than thinking of them as true/false.