In my last blog, I looked at practical ways to make changes, using the GROW model of coaching from Sir John Whitmore. This practical tool can be a great way of dealing with external issues which may be causing problems, for example the weekly shopping as a stress trigger.
I explained in the blog post that I would also look at how we can make internal changes, so here are a few tips which will work in conjunction with tackling external issues:
Before you make any changes, take a step back and have a really good think about whether a change at this point is needed or indeed wanted. It is vitally important to know whether a change is actually appropriate, wanted and possible. I covered this in the last post but just to remind ourselves, before you even attempt to try and make a change follow these 6 steps:
Let’s s assume that making a change is possible and appropriate, and you have some idea of what it is you want to change. Continuing with our theme from the last post, let’suse stress as our example. So we have established that the thing we want to change is stress. Having tackled the external issues, the triggers and events which seem to cause a stress reaction, (previous blog) lets now look at the internal process of stress – the thoughts and emotions. You now need three things to do this:
Self-awareness is the ability to “notice” our own thoughts and emotions as they are happening to us. Jessie Zhu in Positive Psychology Program, provides a useful insight into the nature of self-awareness and describes it as
‘…the ability to monitor our inner world, our thoughts and emotions as they arise. In my view, it is important to recognise that self-awareness is not only about what we notice about ourselves but also how we notice and monitor our inner world.’
The point of having this self-awareness is that in breaking things down you can then pinpoint certain aspects eg a negative thought, and deal with them with specific tools – which we’ll look at in a minute….
The article offers some useful advice on how to foster self-awareness, but I’d like to offer the process from the Cognitive Behavioural model. I use it as a way of remembering what to look at in myself and others eg children. I use it when when something occurs with an emotional outburst, or an irrational thought happens or something is simply not sitting well with me.
So if we use stress as an example, lets apply the process of:
Trigger = weekly shop.
Then look at the thoughts and beliefs which follow = ‘I HATE shopping, something ALWAYS goes wrong’.
Then look at the feelings both physical and emotional = fists clenched, head tight and feeling angry.
Then finally the resulting actions or behaviours = shouting, physically aggressive. You can apply this process to any situation to understand things with more self-awareness.
Motivation reminds us of our goals and keep us going when things get tough. It is often far too easy to forget what one wants to change, and slip into old habits. A great way to promote motivation is to create a vision board as a representation to remind you of the path ahead. Here is a great example of how to complete the process.
Once you have made your vision board, you can put it somewhere it will be seen to keep the goal at the forefront of your mind. You can also visualise the images on it when you are out and about.
So we’ve looked at some triggers and how to eliminate some of them. Then we looked at some self-awareness which is like turning on the ignition in the car. The motivation is the fuel. Now we need some wheels….. Well, some tools to help push the process along:
At times our emotions can feel so real, and convince us of a reality which doesn’t necessarily exist. There are a few ways of dealing with difficult emotions – you can distract yourself, or learn to replace negative emotions with positive ones, or you can accept them and deal with them objectively as in Mindfulness. My preference is for acceptance, as I think that wrestling with your emotions can in itself be exhausting and needlessly hard work. My favourite at the moment is the RAIN exercise. (Recognize, Allow, Investigate, Nourish = RAIN)
If you want to deal specifically with emotions, then all you need to do in the first step of ‘Recognise What is Going On’, is name the specific emotion, and say it to yourself. In the case of stress as discussed above, you would identify ‘angry’.
You can also shorten this exercise, so you can use it when out and about. If you are in the middle of the shopping for example and you start feeling angry, you can go through the acronym in your head to calm down. Just by naming the emotion, acknowledge it in saying ‘yes’, Investigate by accepting that you find the shopping difficult, and Nourish by taking a breath, releasing it and letting it be.
Negative or unpleasant thoughts can often accompany negative emotions. You can use the RAIN exercise for thoughts, but my preference here is to try and reframe things and start thinking in a different way. It is very simple. On a piece of paper, draw a line down the middle. On one side you title it Victim and on the other you title it Hero. The object of the exercise is to see things from two perspectives. So if we take a thought from the shopping, we have been thinking like a victim – ‘I HATE shopping, something ALWAYS goes wrong’. So now ask yourself what a hero would think. Maybe ‘The shopping is hard work, and the kids do play-up, but it isn’t every time and it isn’t all the way through the shopping, just when they get bored’. The idea is to get a bit more perspective.
The last tool is also very simple. It’s simply a ‘Stop. Think. Go’ strategy which causes us to pause and consider what is going on. I might use it if I felt I was going to act out of anger. In the case of the shopping, the identification of a ‘hero’ thought is useful, as it helps us to see that when the kids play up, it is specifically in relation to boredom. I would then use this information to Stop, then think ‘the kids are getting bored’ and the ‘go’ would be to give them something to distract them.
These tools can be used in any order, though it is useful to start with our thoughts as the emotions and actions tend to follow. However, it isn’t always easy to recognise things in a particular order. Sometimes it might be a physical sensation you notice first, then you have to use your self-awareness to go to your thoughts and reframe them. Or it may not work to reframe things, so quickly acknowledging emotions and letting them pass with a mindful breath might be the way forwards.