4D Pros and Cons

This page tells you more about the DBT ‘pros and cons’ skill for ‘crisis survival’.

‘Pros and cons’ is one of the 4 crisis survival strategies of Distress Tolerance.  Crisis survival strategies are about helping you tolerate and survive a crisis situation, they provide you with tools to help you cope with and get through a particularly difficult experience and to manage overwhelming emotions.

Crisis survival strategies are for when temporary solutions to get you through surviving the crisis is what’s important.

So, how does the DBT ‘pros and cons’ skill work?

This skill is about thinking about the pros and cons of tolerating the distress you are experiencing now, but also the pros and cons of not tolerating the distress (the good and bad reasons for making it through the situation, and the good and bad reasons for not making it through the situation).

This might sound very simple, but it is an important skill that can help give you the energy and encouragement to get through the pain you are currently experiencing.

Step 1

First, it’s helpful to think about times when you have not chosen to tolerate a painful experience.  What were you thinking at the time? How were you feeling?  How did you react?  What did you do or say and how did you behave?  What was the outcome of choosing to deal with the situation in this way – did it help or not – what happened?

Step 2

Now, think about what your long-term goal is for the future.  What do you want to be doing?  How do you want to be feeling?  What do you want to achieve?  It’s really important to keep your long-term goal in mind when you start to think about ‘pros and cons’; imagine yourself achieving your goal, what life will be like, how things will feel different.

Step 3

With your long-term goal in mind, ask yourself:

  • how will tolerating the pain of this moment (without acting impulsively) help me in the short-term?

  • how might tolerating the pain of this moment not help me in the short-term?

  • how will tolerating the pain of this moment help me in the long-term?

  • how might tolerating the pain of this moment not help me in the long-term?

Step 4

Then, with your goal in mind, weigh up whether the best decision for you now is to:

  • accept reality and tolerate the distress. This is not about saying that what happened or is happening is ok; instead it’s about acknowledging that it did happen, it is reality.


  • reject reality and refuse to tolerate the distress of this moment; instead choosing to ignore it or fight it.

Step 5

Finally, compare your points from each of these questions.  Weighing up the best course of action for you now.

Many people struggle to tolerate painful experiences, instead they might refuse to acknowledge what is happening or they might find they react impulsively to the situation (driven by the strong emotions they are experiencing).  Ignoring or fighting pain does not improve the situation; instead it usually leads to greater pain and suffering.

This skill is about helping you to consider how acceptance and tolerance can be helpful in painful situations, it helps you to make ‘Wise Mind’ choices about the best course of action to help reduce your pain in the short-term and achieve your goals in the longer-term; and can give you the strength and encouragement to get you through the painful moments.

It’s important to remember that hard times pass, and these skills will help you to get through the moment.

 My 4D Toolkit Activity

To make it a bit easier, we have created our own ‘pros and cons’ template for you to download and print out.  And remember,

No matter how thin you slice it, there are always two sides.

Baruch Spinoza

Everything has a ‘for’ and ‘against’.  Ice-cream may taste delicious, but too much of it wouldn’t be too healthy for you; and exams may be really hard, but landing your dream job may require them.  Even if you choose to go with your original idea, weighing up the options always adds value.

Pros and Cons download button

Distress tolerance

Related Pages – Crises Survival: Distract, Self-soothe, Improve the moment,

Related Pages – Acceptance Skills:  Acceptance, Acceptance Exercises

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