Self-Help Techniques: Strategies to help you move from self-defeat to rational living.
Changing the way you think is the secret to feeling better and behaving in more functional ways. But changing beliefs is more easily said than done – as the saying goes, old habits die hard. Fortunately, there are many strategies and techniques you can use to help make the changes that are in your interests.
A key technique: Rational Self-Analysis
Probably the most useful technique is Rational Self-Analysis. Doing an analysis, preferably in writing, enables you to identify and change the thoughts involved when you experience distress or behave in self-defeating ways. This helps you in the present and in the future – you deal with any current distress, and reduce the likelihood of reacting the same way from now on.
How to complete a self-analysis
The first thing to do when you are feeling or acting in a dysfunctional manner is to stop. Interrupt any self-defeating episodes. Take time out to get your brain working on the problem. Get a good-sized sheet of paper and follow this sequence:
Identify and write down the Activating event – the stress trigger (the ‘A’). What are you reacting to? Be brief – summarise the ‘A’.
Identify the Consequence – (the ‘C’) – how you felt and behaved in reaction to the ‘A’.
Identify your Beliefs – (the ‘B’). What you are telling yourself about the ‘A’?
Look for any distortions of reality – black and white thinking, filtering, over-generalising, mind-reading, fortune-telling, emotional reasoning, personalising.
Even more important, identify your evaluative beliefs. Ask questions like:
– What is ‘terrible’? (awfulising).
– What is ‘intolerable’? (discomfort-intolerance).
– What am I telling myself must/should be (or not be)? (demandingness).
– What I am labelling myself (or others)? (people-rating).
Finally, identify the underlying rule(s) on which you are operating.
Identify the new Effect you want – (‘E’). How would you prefer to feel or behave differently to how you reacted at ‘C’?
Your goal is to replace the self-defeating reaction with a more appropriate emotion or behaviour.
Make sure that any new emotion you want is realistic. Rather than attempt to replace an intense negative emotion with a strongly positive one, aim to substitute a more moderate negative feeling. If you are anxious, for example, do not make your goal to ‘feel great’. That would be unrealistic. It would be better to aim to be ‘concerned’. This is still a negative emotion, but more in perspective to the ‘A’ and less disabling than anxiety.
Dispute each of your beliefs – (‘D’). Substitute rational alternatives for those beliefs you decide are self-defeating. There are three ways to dispute a belief:
Empirical disputing: ‘Where is the proof?’ ‘What evidence is there?’ ‘Is there a Law of nature that proves … ? Or does the evidence really prove some other conclusion?’ ‘Is the ’Law’ really only in my head?’
Logical disputing: ‘Does it logically follow that because … (I want something, it’s unpleasant, I made a mistake)’ that ‘therefore … (I must get what I want, it’s awful, I am a total failure)?’
Pragmatic disputing: ‘Does it help?’ ‘Does believing this help me to be effective, achieve my goals, and be happy? Or does it create unneeded distress, difficulties with other people, or blocks to achieving my goals?’
Finally, develop a plan for Further Action – (‘F’). What can you do to reduce the chance of thinking and reacting the same old way in future? Some ideas for self-help action assignments follow later in this chapter.
Here is an example of a Rational Self-Analysis to show how it works in practice.
A. Activating event (what started things off):
Head of Department criticised me in front of my team.
B. Consequence (how I felt and/or behaved):
Stayed angry all day, took it out on my team, unable to concentrate on my work.
C. Beliefs (what I told myself about the ‘A’):
It was awful to be put down in front of my subordinates. (awfulising).
I couldn’t stand it. (discomfort-intolerance).
She should have talked to me in private. (demandingness)
She’s a bitch. (people-rating)
I must always be treated in a fair and just manner, and it is awful and intolerable when I am not. (underlying rule)
People should always do the right thing. When they don’t, this shows how bad they are. (underlying rule)
E. New Effect I want (how I would prefer to feel/behave):
I would prefer to feel annoyed (rather than hostile), and assertively sort it out with her (rather than brood and take it out on others).
D. Disputation and new beliefs (that will help me achieve the new Effect I want):
It was uncomfortable, but hardly a source of abject terror!
I didn’t like it, but I stood it.
It would have been better for her to talk to me in private; but where is it written that she ‘should’ behave correctly at all times?
She is not a ‘bitch’ – she is just a person who sometimes does bitchy things.
I would prefer to always be treated fairly and justly; but nowhere is it written that I ‘must’; and though I dislike poor treatment, I can survive it.
It would be better if people always behaved correctly – but demanding that reality not exist will only screw me up. And a bad action does not make the total person bad.
F. Further action (what I will do to avoid the same dysfunctional thinking and reactions in future):
Re-read material on demandingness and how I can combat it.
Enrol for an assertiveness training workshop.
Once every day, deliberately choose to ignore a misdemeanour on the part of my staff, or other people in my life, to which I would normally react.
Learning and using rational self-analysis
The best way to learn self-analysis is to practice it in writing. Later, you will be able to do it in your head (though at times you will still find it helpful to get out pen and paper and analyse an episode more formally).
If you are like most people, you will start by doing analyses after an episode. Later, you will be able to do them while episodes are happening. Eventually, you will begin to anticipate dysfunctional reactions and interrupt them at the start.