Home All The A.P.E. Method to Get Out of a Bad Mood

Senia Maymin, MBA, MAPP, PhD, is the coauthor of Profit from the Positive. Maymin is an executive coach to entrepreneurs and CEOs. Maymin runs a coaches network and is the founder and editor in chief of PositivePsychologyNews.com. Her PhD is in organizational behavior from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Full bio.

Senia's solo articles are here, her articles with Margaret Greenberg here, and with Kathryn Britton here.

You may be wondering, should I get out of a bad mood? Suppose that our answer is already, YES. Now, what do we do?

Karen Reivich, co-author with Andrew Shatte of The Resilience Factor, suggests some concrete steps. In a talk she gave at our MAPP classes in 2005, Karen gave three suggestions for getting out of a bad mood and out of a downward spiraling mindset. These are practical and immediately usable.

The problem with bad moods is that they stop you in your tracks, they hinder you from doing other things that can lead to continued small successes and that can move you forward in life. Additionally, as Dave Seah points out, you can’t always be waiting for the muse. Most often in life, you need to do things whether you’re in a bad mood or a good mood. For example, compare a person who takes actions to move his life forward only when he’s in a good mood (or when the muse strikes him) to a person who takes actions to move his life forward no matter what mood may have set on him temporarily. Who will likely be more productive?

Here are the three principles Karen Reivich teaches to get out of a bad mood. I am coining them here as the “A.P.E. Method” because I remember it better that way:

A – Alternatives P – Perspective E – Evidence

In The Resilience Factor, these principles are taught in the order AEP because the first two relate to each other, but APE is a much more resilient word. (See image).

Reivich and Shatte suggests that these are best used “When you need to disarm negative thoughts so that you can stay focused on the task at hand.” At the same time, these are not necessarily the best techniques to use “When you need a thorough, thoughtful and comprehensive understanding of a problem.”

So you want to stay focused on the task at hand, on moving your life forward. What do you do?

A – Alternatives

You can generate alternative beliefs. For example, if the bad mood started with thinking, “I haven’t done anything productive at work in the past year. I haven’t contributed anything. I’ll never contribute anything. And not only do I stink at work recently, but everything else is going down the drain too.”… then what are some alternative beliefs that you could seek?

Karen Reivich characterizes the possible alternative beliefs into three categories (that are introduced with great thoroughness by Martin Seligman in Learned Optimism):

Me / Always / Everything.

  • If your beliefs tend to focus on “me” – “I did this, I got myself into a decade worth of trouble,” then try to look outwards a little bit … not too much – do not rationalize away your own potential contribution to the situation. But do look outward if you tend to blame yourself. Do look at the environment, the surroundings, and provide other possible explanations. (Create an alternative).
  • If your beliefs tend to focus on “always” – “I’m never good at my work, I always mess up at the office, this never goes right for me,” then train your brain to find the one thing that you consistently excel at during work. Feel that pride – no matter how small – in that one thing that you own, that is yours, and that you can reliably think about to know that you are good at that part of work. (The point is to create one alternative: not always).
  • If your beliefs tend to focus on “everything” – “And not only am I not good at my work, I can’t meet a great girl/guy, I’m terrible at keeping in touch with friends,” then train your brain to find the one part of life in which you have control. Feel that control in that part of your life – no matter how small that part may be – maybe brushing your teeth, maybe emailing a certain friend regularly. (Create an alternative thought-pattern: not everything.)

P – Perspective

Emma Judge, a Positive Psychology colleague, says that she once heard somebody say something so visual that she will never forget it.

“Imagine the biggest issue you have – the biggest, most terrible problem or set of problems that you can come up with. Now blow those problems up – imagine them even bigger and more terrible. Imagine close to the worse that can happen. Imagine all those problems spinning around like the tornado in Dorothy’s Kansas at the beginning of The Wizard of Oz. … Now take that entire storm and all those issues and shrink it down and put the entire storm into a teacup.”

Do you see a white porcelain tea cup on a white porcelain delicate plate, and a small steam above the teacup where the remains of the storm can be seen? It is the super-literal description of the phrase “storm in a teacup,” and talk about perspective!

Do that – put some perspective on the issues. What are the probabilities that everything will go wrong? Usually not 100%. Put the perspective of time on it (probably not as intense if you were to look back on this from 50 years in the future). Put the perspective of seriousness on it (these are bad moods, but nobody should be dying from this). Put the perspective of “me” on this (how impenetrable does my problem look compared to starving children). The perspective of comparison with those worse off is called downward social comparison… but in psychological studies it has proven to be effective in precluding depression.

The goal in finding perspective is to create flexibility in thinking. It is not to create an excuse for things that may actually have gone wrong, but it is to minimize the impact on your life of certain thoughts.

E – Evidence

Find concrete evidence to the contrary. If you are in a bad mood because you are berating yourself, then create evidence to the contrary. If the argument is that you’ve never done anything good in your work for the past decade, get a piece of paper and list two things that you have done well. That’s it – two things. Two concrete examples.

If you’re in a bad mood, and want to switch to being productive and focused, use these three techniques to get out of your bad mood:

  • A – Create Alternatives for why something may be happening to dispute negative, bad mood thoughts,
  • P – Put the issue in Perspective to get out of a bad mood, and
  • E – Use concrete Evidence to discount the bad-mood self-talk in your head.

After you read this, you may want to keep handy the three sentences for the A.P.E. Method.



Maymin, S. & Britton, K. (2009). Resilience: How to Navigate Life’s Curves. Positive Psychology News.

Reivich, K, & Shatt?, A. (2002). The Resilience Factor: 7 Keys to Finding Your Inner Strength and Overcoming Life’s Hurdles. New York: Broadway Books.

Image: Drawn for the book, Resilience: How to Navigate Life’s Curves by Kevin Gillespie.

Not seeing the pictures for the book links? Disable Adblocking for this site to view them.

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Jeff Dustin 1 June 2007 - 12:37 pm

Here’s the big obstacle with disputing or as cleverly put by Senia, the APE…hoo hoo hoo!

For me, I can never find the Belief part of the equation. Once I am in a bad mood, its like that thinking part of my brain shuts down, narrows my vision mentally and thus becomes unrealistic and painful to try to find a belief that I never “heard” in the first place.

Any pointers from the PP crowd?

Kathryn Britton 2 June 2007 - 5:34 pm


When you get into a bad mood, do you have negative thought loops that involve being down on either yourself or on someone else? I usually do, thoughts that go around and around, over and over. I suspect the Belief is somewhere embedded in the loop.

The Belief isn’t some big permanent abstraction. But it does require a little bit of stepping out of yourself to see it.

It may help to look back after you’ve come out the other side — look back and see what was underneath the bad feelings. That might give you a place to start thinking the next time. I know that I have recurring themes.

Just a few suggestions about something that is

Kathryn Britton 2 June 2007 - 5:37 pm

(pushed submit too quickly)

not meant to be rocket science — it’s meant to be a pragmatic step. So success in finding a Belief is defined by leading to disputation that helps lift the black dog off your back.


Jeff Dustin 2 June 2007 - 9:38 pm


Loved your response. Yes, there are prevalent emotions, and I do see the theme, however, when I say that I have a “bad thought” usually that is a mere guess. I never actually hear the words in sentences in my brain.

Since the negative feelings/emotions/moods lead to narrowed thinking, I find myself totally unable to come up with the thinking that allegedly caused the bad mood in the first place.

I’ve been working at this for years with no real progress.

Kathryn Britton 3 June 2007 - 9:01 am


Maybe you could make it more of a multiple choice exercise, less of a short answer essay.

That is, after you have emerged from the narrow thinking, look back. Keep a card with your already identified bad-mood themes. Does this one match one already there at all? Where does it draw most of its energy?

You could also start writing out tag lines for the themes. THen you can pull out the theme and taglines and read in times of narrow thinking. In other words, do the creative part of this exercise when you aren’t under great stress.

The following three taglines come from Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatte’s book. You might be able to think of others that match your style better.

“A more accurate way of seeing this is …..” (Generate alternatives.)

“That’s not true because …” (Collect evidence.)

“A more likely outcome is …. and I can deal with it by …” (Consider implications — counter your worst case thoughts with best case thoughts and then find probable outcomes.)

Narrowed thinking is a fact for you. So is there a way to prepare ahead of time?


Jeff Dustin 3 June 2007 - 9:21 am

Nifty! I agree that is a very practical way to go about it. Karen has so many very workable ideas. In fact, I’ve found her material the most effective thus far.

As I understand it from Seligman, the happiness research indicates that even the happiest people have bouts of bad moods every day, but they just can snap out of it quicker. That’s what I want, to be able to nip this stuff in the bud.

I’ll practice that and let you know how it comes out.

Senia 3 June 2007 - 9:48 am

Thanks for the question, Jeff. Thank you very much for the super suggestions, Kathryn.

Jeff, what you’re asking is actually much deeper than I originally thought. it seems to me you’re asking two questions:
1) How do I identify the Belief? and
2) How do I nip bad moods in the bud asap?

Jeff, do you know the ABCDE model that Marty writes about in Learned Optimism?
A – adversity (i.e. the trigger for the rumination and bad mood… can also be trigger for good events like “got a promotion”)
B – belief (the thoughts in the moment of the trigger event)
C – consequences… emotions and actual behaviors in the moment or afterwards
D – disputing the belief
E – being energized from the disputation

THE BELIEF. I used to think that IDing the belief was a simple process: it’s just the thought. Now, I see that it can be complicated because the thought and the feeling and the event can somewhat run into each other.

Let’s take an example – “I was late for work on Monday” – that’s the A. The B is “my colleagues will think I’m lazy,” “my boss will not want to give me any big projects,” “I’ll feel rotten for the whole day.” The C is “I feel guilty, I feel anxious about facing everybody at work(emotions). I’m rushing and my hands are jittery (behaviours).”

But it’s just as easy when starting to analyze this belief to say something like “I feel like my colleagues will think I’m lazy,” and I know you’re familiar with this Jeff, but “I feel like” is not about emotions, it’s about thoughts… so that’s a belief, not an emotion. It’s little nuances like this that make IDing the belief not a piece of cake sometimes.

But then, once you ID the thought (the in-the-moment thought), then how to nip it in the bud? (my next comment)

Senia 3 June 2007 - 10:51 am

Hi Jeff,

I agree with Kathryn about those three statements, and you can see more detail about them here: http://www.senia.com/2006/11/29/the-three-sentences-of-ape/

How else to nip the bad mood in the bud?

1) Disputing in your head (what we’ve been talking about)

2) Taking quick action on the matter (something has put you into a bad mood – what is one small action step you can take immediately so that one day that small step may lead to resolving the issue that caused your bad mood?)

3) Getting caught up in something else (getting so head-over-heels caught up in some other issue, some other situation can get your mind off this situation)

4) Talking about something else with a friend (the key part is “something else” rather than cycling inside this issue)

5) Doing something for someone else (it turns out that when people do activities for other people – such as voluteer activities – they then have more meaning in their lives and feel better than when they do things for themselves)

6) Exercise (something intense enough for you that you need to focus on it rather than think over things in your mind… and this has so many side benefits too!!!! mental clarity, emotional calm, physical health)

Does this start to get at what you were asking about, Jeff?


Jeff Dustin 3 June 2007 - 3:40 pm

You understand excellence, Senia! What a thorough response!

I think the four column method of Beck, Greenberger and Burns might be easier for me. Once I read that the B in the ABCDE could be mental sentences, could be images, but has a very wide range of other things. B = anything that occurs inside the Brain.

The writer was a cognitive restructurist. Also I’ve come to believe that emotions Precede the actual conscious thoughts. Paul Ekman calls this autoappraisal. There is some neuroscience that supports emotions-before-verbal thought model. That jives with my direct self observations. I feel the C before the B is identified or realized. Aaron and Judith Beck and Albert Ellis/Seligman’s ABCDE method has not been effective at IDENTIFYING the B because it ends up being a guess at what causes the C. There is always a vagueness that makes the disputing less valuable than if I had a concrete thought that caused the problem.

Anyway, its not the emotions that are the problem but the lasting lingering moods of darkness. Exercise, altruistic acts, action, engagement, yes yes yes. These methods have been better in my experience.

My final question brings us full circle. The behavioral interventions you mentioned (see paragraph above) are all highly effective if you do them.

What are some reinforcers that you have found effective to motivate you, whether these reinforcers were external (money in a jar every time you run for 10 minutes) or internal (a vision that inspired you to reach your potential)?

This is the central question because without motivation, there is no progress, while with it, everything pretty much snaps into place.

Jeff Dustin 3 June 2007 - 3:45 pm

One more comment then I’ll clam up.

This is about behavioral fluency, a topic I am totally rabid about!

How do you assess your expertise at at combating the B’s of Doom?

What would a fluent disputer look like? How could you plot your progress graphically? Then you could data mine the points to see if you were becoming more or less proficient and perhaps try different things to empirically see if it worked. Then you could catch when you were slipping up and slacking off. Without the data, maybe you are getting better, maybe not, but with it, you are golden.

Sorry, I’m a graphing fool and I love to see progress!

Senia 3 June 2007 - 9:54 pm

Hi Jeff,

Quick clarification: the ABCDE model is not necessarily linear. C does not at all have to come after B. A lot of people feel emotions (C, consequences) before they have a thought (B, belief)… sometimes even disputation (D) starts at the same time that the event itself (e.g. “My friend Marion hung up after 1 minute on the phone even though we hadn’t talked in a long time”) (the A) happens.

So, I’m with you on emotions often happening around the same time as the event and the thoughts – totally.

Ok, the biggest question you have been asking ever since I’ve been reading your comments on Pos-Psych.com is HOW DO I MOTIVATE MYSELF?

First of all, if you were my client, the first thing I would say to you is, “I’m already glad that you’re asking the question.” Good. We’re already at the HOW stage.

Here’s my personal answer for self-motivation: I follow the GOOD constraints and I firmly self-regulate… more specifically, I tell myself what I do and definitely do not do: i.e. I don’t eat ice cream Mon-Fri. I just don’t. Personal rule. That’s my good constraint. Another is I exercise a certain number of times a week.

And I self-regulate by saying to myself on those mornings when I don’t reeeeeeaaaalllly want to go out and exercise that by going running right now (self-regulating in this domain), I am actually improving my organizational habits, my eating habits, and my general productivity (self-regulating in another domain).

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. : )

On graphing progress: any system that works for you is a good system by definition. (I know that’s a straight up observation). So, maybe try a few graphing systems, and measure how effective they are for you. Another thing I find with measurements or graphs is the simpler, the better because then you tend to stick to it!

Jeff Dustin 4 June 2007 - 8:58 am

I’ve had somewhat great success with data collection. I’m a nerd, hyuk hyuk hyuk.

Anyway, with ABCDE I am well aware that it is usually the C we notice first. However, let me boil down the question further. What if you CANNOT find the Bee, no matter how much you try? The Bees I find just seem unrealistic given that I never “heard” the Bees in the first place. This is the sticking point in disputing ABCDE. Once you get that flash of emotion or low mood, Bee hunting is difficult.

In response to self-regulation, I will say this: the GOOD Constraints are awesome, the self-regulation idea is compelling and I still have one question.

How do you set a goal that is realistic?

You’ll probably say, well, duh! but hear me out. If you have never done a skill before, let’s say jumping rope, and you want to set a goal in that area, what are some goals that are realistic? How would you even know what realistic meant in that context? My conclusion is keeping data, hypothesizing (guessing), and trial-and-error experimentation. What can you come up with?

Kathryn Britton 4 June 2007 - 10:40 am


Here’s my opinion, for what it’s worth, about setting goals about jumping rope.

There’s no point setting a goal for how much you actually achieve. People learn physical things at very different paces. Instead set a goals of practicing a certain amount every day for a period time. Or every other day. Then at the end of that time, renew the goal. That’s what you have control over — the practicing, the asking for help/instruction, the persistence. Then the level of accomplishment follows.

With respect to this case, set goals of collecting data & thinking about patterns — when you aren’t in the middle of a crisis. Every crisis is followed by reflection that refines your personal tools to combat future crises. Also, figure out what form those tools should take. What would you look at, what would bring your reflections back to mind? A note card with some tag lines? A picture that makes you laugh? A sketch of your own mental image of a better way of thinking?


Jeff Dustin 4 June 2007 - 2:03 pm

What I came away with here is I should evolve my understanding of the situation with the data I collect, pursue the controllable elements of a goal plan and have a prop as a reminder of better thinking during crises.

Food for thought.

Jeff Dustin 4 June 2007 - 2:11 pm

Happy 30th Birthday, Jeff!

Kathryn Britton 4 June 2007 - 2:33 pm


Happy Birthday indeed!

Reminds me of a t-shirt my brother gave me on one of my birthdays:

Never trust anyone older than 30
I laughed at it … but I never wore it. Then I gave it back to him the next year, and he wore it out.


Atlanta Camilleri 4 June 2007 - 6:00 pm

Hi Fabulous Material,
Love your work!
I facilitate a group of SMART RECOVERY for people with addictions. At this stage we have members with drug and alcohol issues. SMART encourages clients to set their own goals.
Relapse is part of the process for many, I recommend small achievable goals (smart) and we use the ABCDE model. Impluse is a factor so breaking down actions and consequences helps.
Seeing others achieve helps motivate. Coming weekly gives a sense of accountability and belonging, motivation is increased by sharing of successes.
An underlying theme I hear from many is “Whats the point” so I ask about meaning and purpose in life.
Clients can really help each other and it doesnt seem to matter if it is the emotion or the thought that comes first, as long as it helps them pause before reacting.


Senia 4 June 2007 - 6:56 pm

Hi Jeff, Kathryn, and Atlanta!
JEFF, Happy Birthday!
Kathryn, like you wrote in your article here on setting goals, I totally agree about the small steps and watching the process, not the conclusion – both very rich pieces of advice.
Atlanta, SMART is a great goal-setting thought-process. Jeff, are you familiar with SMART? Do you like it?

And finally, this question – “How do you set a goal that is realistic?” – is a hugely important, self-directed question. One other method I like beyond SMART is to set 6-month goals, then work back to one-month goals, and then to weekly goals for that month. You’ll know at the level of weekly goals whether something is time and resource achievable. How does this sound to you?

Jeff Dustin 4 June 2007 - 7:10 pm

Yes I’m familiar with SMART goal setting. Your advice about working backwards with the end in mind is a bullseye.

Jeremy Lee 26 October 2007 - 7:12 pm

I am writing to let you know the latest issue of Greater Good magazine
(Fall 2007) is out.This issue explores “The 21st Century Family,”
discussing the many ways that American family life has been transformed in
recent years. Families today face issues their grandparents could scarcely
have imagined: the challenges of being a dual-income couple; the questions
faced by gay and lesbian parents and stay-at-home dads; and the obstacles
confronted by all families today to find time for one another and make
ends meet.

This issue of Greater Good gets past overheated rhetoric about the decline
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these research findings to life in honest, revealing portraits of typically
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Link to this article:

In addition to Coontz’s essay, the issue also covers topics including:
Divorce. Ruth Bettelheim explains how divorce can be painful for children,
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Link to this article:

Lee McMullan 24 October 2010 - 3:38 pm

Hi everyone

It never ceases to amaze me that we are beings who attempt to self diagnose ourselves, I personally relish at the wonder of possibly being “not just what i see looking back in the mirror”

anyway talking about moods and feelings and belief’s and to get to the point quickly without to much reading,
it seems that we are all basically wired the same in our brains, and with the right conditions science can now elicit “Spiritual Experiences” to order….from the Out Of Body experience to a spiritual encounter with “God”
it may sound bizarre but its all well documented, point being that science has identified certain areas in the brain that can make us feel “Down” and make us feel “Elation”
if you want to hear it from the Horses mouth then go here and listen to Todd Murphy, http://www.transpersonalscience.org/vidmurphy1.aspx
after the first few minutes it gets to the good stuff about how we’re wired for the good and bad feelings….well worth a listen

also I bought the so called “God Helmet” and yes it definitely works but i’ve only tried it twice so far, to each his own

its taken me a few years of dabbling and reading to conclude that if I focus on a desire but also attach a realistic emotion to that desire then there’s always a positive result, and although some will say negative emotion is weak take it from me if your Thought and Emotion is directed with enough intensity and “Reason” then you will see the results of that….so avoid that, its really not something you will like after it comes to fruition.


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