Category Archives: ABC model

On Carrots, Eggs & Coffee: Experiences and perceptions and how they can connect, or disconnect, us from ourselves.

There is an old parable about a boy who was so discouraged by his experiences in school he told his grandfather he wanted to leave. His grandfather filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to a boil. In the first, he placed carrots, in the second he placed eggs and the last he placed ground coffee beans. He let them sit and boil, without saying a word. In about twenty minutes he turned off the burners. He fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. He pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then he ladled the coffee out into a cup. Turning to the boy, he asked, “Tell me, what do you see?” “Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” the boy replied.

Then he asked the boy to feel the carrots, which he did and noted that they were soft and mushy. His grandfather then asked him to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, the boy observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, he asked the boy to sip the coffee. He smiled as he tasted the coffee with its rich aroma. The boy asked, “I don’t understand. What does this mean, if anything?”

His grandfather laughed and explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity — boiling water — but each had reacted differently. “Which are you?” the grandfather asked. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity, becomes soft and loses strength? Are you the egg that appears not to change but whose heart is hardened? Or are you the coffee bean that changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavour. If you are like the coffee bean, when things are at their worst, your very attitude will change your environment for the better, making it sweet and palatable.”

The moral of the parable is that it is not the experience that matters. What matters is how you interpret and react to the experience. We are each given a set of experiences in life. The experiences are neutral. They have no meaning. It is how we interpret the experiences that give them meaning. Your interpretations of your experiences shape your beliefs and theories about the world which, in turn, influence the way you live your life. The grandfather’s lesson is that when you can’t change your circumstances, you change yourself.

We automatically interpret all of our experiences without realising it. Are they good experiences, bad ones, what do they mean and so on? We do this without much thought, if any, to what the interpretations (and associated assuptions, perhaps) mean.

For instance, if someone bumps into you, you wonder why. The event of her bumping into you is neutral in itself. It has no meaning. It’s your interpretation of the bumping that gives it meaning, and this meaning shapes your perception of the experience. You may interpret the bump as an accident or you may feel you are of such little consequence that you’re deliberately unnoticed and bumped around by others. You may fault the architect for the design of the sidewalks or you may feel you are at fault for not being more attentive to others. You may interpret the bump as a deliberate example of feminist aggressiveness, or you may even interpret the bump as (her) way of flirting with you.

The crucial point here is that your interpretation of an experience determines your perception and hence effects your choice of belief/behaviour, and hence, those beliefs or behaviours impact directly upon the consequences of holding those interpretations.

Hence, experiences-in-the-world (A) -> lead to Beliefs or Behaviours (B) -> lead to consequences (C).

Thus, if we want different consequences (C) we cannot change the experiences-in-the-world (A), but WE CAN choose different beliefs or behaviours (B).