If you served in the military no matter what branch of service you were in, you learned at some point the importance of having space to maneuver. Whether you were maneuvering pairs of boots, a tank, a ship, or a fighter jet, having adequate physical space was essential to executing maneuver smoothly and safely. Likewise, when we encounter challenges in life, our minds need maneuver space to mentally negotiate difficult moments. This series will highlight each month a different brief cognitive tool that you can use in your daily life to potentially create more maneuver space. Remember having maneuver space, or space to think, is a gift in life. Once you create it, use it to your advantage!
Check out Maneuver Space: Volume 1, Issue 1
Check out Maneuver Space: Volume 1, Issue 2
Check out Maneuver Space: Volume 1, Issue 3
The A-B-C Worksheet: Conducting an After-Action Review on Your Mind
If you served in the military, you have likely at some point conducted an After-Action Review (AAR). Joint Doctrine defines AARs as, “A summary report that identifies key observations of deficiencies and strengths and focuses on performance of specific mission essential tasks.” The U.S. Army further states that AARs specifically have four parts: reviewing what was supposed to occur, establishing what happened, determining what was right or wrong with what happened, and determining how the task should be done differently next time. AARs ultimately help military leaders capture lessons learned.
What if there was a way to conduct an AAR on the way your mind thinks? Psychology teaches us several such tools, the A-B-C Worksheet from Cognitive Processing Therapy is a good example. It first links our thoughts and feelings, then it challenges the belief we may have developed. Critically, it finally asks the important AAR/lesson-learned question: What do I tell myself when this happens in the future? Such a question is a great way to potentially create more maneuver space for our minds to think.
Step 1: A- Activating Event What happened? This can be a wide range of ‘somethings’. It could be something pleasant, neutral, of mild annoyance, or an overwhelmingly traumatic event.
Step 2: B- Belief What are you saying/telling yourself?
Step 3: C- Consequence The feeling you experience.
Step 4: The Belief Challenge Are my thoughts in ‘B’ realistic: Is your belief potentially inflexible, rigid, or not 100% accurate? Are you ‘stuck’ in the way you are thinking? If you had to make a case of your belief in ‘B’, would it hold up in a court of law beyond a reasonable doubt? Or would you discover gaps in your story?
Step 5: The Lesson Learned What can you tell yourself on such occasions in the future?: This is your AAR/lesson learned for the future. If this happens again, what is a more flexible and accurate way of looking at it that will allow me a better way forward?
The A-B-C Worksheet: An AAR on Your Mind
AARs benefit leaders in the military by allowing them to take the results and develop improved future training, address deficiencies, and sustain task proficiency. Similarly, an A-B-C worksheet is a way to AAR your mind by challenging rigid beliefs and identifying more flexible and accurate options for the future. Rigid thinking robs our minds of maneuver space to think. Don’t fall victim to it!
About the Author: Mr. Bongioanni is a licensed mental health counselor who also works for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. He is also a senior leader in the U.S. Army Reserve. His professional interests include human behavior, applied psychology, and military cultural competence. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.
 Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Instruction (2021). CJCSI 3150.25H Joint Lessons Learned Program, GL-3.
 A Leader’s Guide to After-Action Reviews (2013). Unit Training Management, Training Management Directorate (TMD), Fort Leavenworth, KS, 4.
Resick, P. A., Monson, C. M., & Chard, K. M. (2014). Cognitive processing therapy: Veteran/military version: Therapist’s manual. Washington, DC: Department of Veterans Affairs., 49-50, 55, and 58.
 A Leader’s Guide to After-Action Reviews (2013). Unit Training Management, Training Management Directorate (TMD), Fort Leavenworth, KS, 17.
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.