Suppose you’re stuck in traffic, late for an important business meeting. You bang the steering wheel and explode, “Damn traffic! Now, I’ll probably get fired!” You just bypassed something important, blamed the traffic, and unwittingly added a catastrophe (getting fired) for which you have no evidence. Heavy traffic is just heavy traffic. It didn’t happen to make your life miserable. Your thoughts about the traffic cause your distress, not the traffic.

Prevent Obstacles From Disrupting Your Well-Being And Mindful Productivity

Psychologist Albert Ellis developed the A, B, C cycle to help you get a handle on how your irrational mind creates emotional stress when you don’t realize it. The ABCs of chill can help you stay calm and productive when you feel like pulling your hair out: A+B=C

A stands for the triggering event (traffic jam)

B stands for your belief or perspective about the event (I’ll probably get fired)

C stands for your emotional reaction to the event because of your beliefs (getting upset and banging the steering wheel).

In this scenario, you jumped from A (traffic jam) to C (banging the steering wheel and blaming the traffic) and bypassed B. Now let’s go back and consider B (your belief), which is what creates most of C.

Everybody has different beliefs about the events that interrupt their productivity. The key is to be mindful of them. The conclusions you draw in emotional situations raise your stress level because you believe the thoughts—even when they’re exaggerated—simply because you think them.  Once you practice paying attention to B and see how irrational they are, you feel calmer. Why? After your lizard brain (the survival or emotional part of your brain) calms down, your prefrontal cortex (the executive function or rational brain) comes back online.

Think about one of the curve balls life has thrown at you and how you handled it. You probably remember the upsetting event (A) and your reaction (C). But you might have overlooked what you were thinking at the time (B). Now go back and think about a negative belief that disrupted your productivity. Once you’re aware of it, you can change your perspective of the situation. Then write down a more rational thought that might mitigate your knee-jerk reaction. Here’s an example:

A= Triggering event: my computer crashed.

B= Negative belief: “I’ll never get this project finished on time.”

C= Reaction: You blow your top.


B= Now go back and insert a rational perspective to mitigate your reaction: “Computers sometimes crash. It sucks, but I’ll find another way to finish the project.”

C= Reaction: Chill prevails

Be Mindful of First and Second Zingers

Another way of gaining mindfulness about the obstacles you unwittingly put in the way of your productivity is to become aware of first and second zingers. Ever have an itch and the more you scratch it, the more it itches? Maybe you can’t do anything about the itch, but you can do something about the scratch. When an unexpected event zings you (A) and you impale yourself with a second zinger of frustration or anger (C), you add insult to injury, making the misery worse. The obstacle (A) is the first zinger (stuck in a traffic jam or computer crashing), which is unpleasant for sure, but sometimes the real distress comes from (B) your second-zinger reaction (your negative belief and blowing your top).

Next time an obstacle (A) zings your productivity, notice you’re in an unpleasant emotional state with thoughts and feelings such as worry, anger, or frustration (B). Hold them at arm’s length and observe them impartially as a separate part of you, much as you might notice a blemish on your hand. Get curious about where they came from. Instead of pushing away, ignoring, or steamrolling over them, the key is to acknowledge them with something like, “Hello frustration, I see you’re active today.” This simple recognition gets second zingers (B) to chill (C) so you can face the real roadblock—the first zinger (A)—with more clarity and ease. And you’re back on the path to mindful productivity.

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  • Bryan Robinson, Ph.D.

    Journalist, psychotherapist, and Author of 40 books.

    Bryan Robinson, Ph.D.

    Bryan Robinson, Ph.D. is a professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, psychotherapist in private practice, and award-winning author of two novels and 40 nonfiction books that have been translated into 15 languages. His latest books are CHAINED TO THE DESK IN A HYBRID WORLD: A GUIDE TO WORK-LIFE BALANCE (New York University Press, 2023)#CHILL: TURN OFF YOUR JOB AND TURN ON YOUR LIFE (William Morrow, 2019), DAILY WRITING RESILIENCE: 365 MEDITATIONS & INSPIRATIONS FOR WRITERS (Llewellyn Worldwide, 2018). He is a regular contributor to, Psychology Today, and Thrive Global. He has appeared on 20/20, Good Morning America, The CBS Early Show, ABC's World News Tonight, NPR’s Marketplace, NBC Nightly News and he hosted the PBS documentary "Overdoing It: How To Slow Down And Take Care Of Yourself." website: