Our choices are the result of our thinking patterns. So, to change our outcomes and circumstances, we have to change our thinking. Here is a technique that can help.
Make a list of 5 counterproductive thoughts you might have in a given situation. Watch out for the thinking traps such as mind-reading (thinking you know what someone believes about you or a situation without actually knowing this) and catastrophising (thoughts that spiral from set back to disaster). For each counterproductive thought, try the following approach to formulate a more helpful response. Ask yourself:
What’s the evidence? (That’s not true because….)
Now reframe. (A more helpful way to see this is…)
Knowing this, how might you act to improve the outcome? List your ideas.
This technique is useful to dial up your real-time resilience when something happens that drags you down. However, you can also use the approach to plan ahead so that you are better prepared to deal with other difficult situations or tricky issues. You might like to try ‘If-then’ planning to assist you as it is a simple yet effective way to choose a response that will enable a better outcome. It takes practice so persevere – it is worth the effort.
How it works
‘If-then’ plans take the form of: “If X happens, then I will do Y.” It works because the human brain is good at thinking in the language of contingencies. Once you’ve formulated your if-then plan, your unconscious brain will remember what you decided you’d do and be ready to respond accordingly.
It also boosts self-confidence in handling known tricky situations if they arise because you have thought through in advance how you can respond. This approach helps calm the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ part of the brain which otherwise can tip you into automatic pilot.
Thinking through in advance activates the rational part of the brain (the prefrontal cortex) where the working memory is held. Then you can choose the response that best serves you in the circumstances rather than just reacting at the moment.
How to do it
Make two columns headed ‘If’ and ‘then’. Set out each difficult or challenging ‘If’ scenario followed by one or more options for how you can choose to respond – ‘then I will ….’.
Step back and ask yourself ‘what else’ so that you can dig a little deeper.
Write down what comes to mind. Then review and decide which ‘If-then’ strategies will be useful and rehearse these in your mind. You can also use ‘If-then’ planning to help you work through your options if you anticipate these in advance.
These are useful self-management skills and can help increase your influence and impact through having a calm, measured response to difficult situations.