WHERE TO START:
At Psychology Self-help, Antecedents: Self-help Methods Used Prior to the Target Behavior: (http://www.psychologicalselfhelp.org/Chapter11.pdf) the author suggests a five step self-instruction training model, which I used in part to develop my effective self-control process. The five steps are:
Step 1. Consider alternative ways of responding.
Step 2. Learn the details of a new experimental response by observing a model.
Step 3. Develop self-instructions that guide the initiation & carrying out of the desired behavior.
Step 4. Practice the desired behavior-using positive self-talk.
Step 5. Try out the new self-talk and behavior to see how it works.
AN ALTERNATIVE WAY OF RESPONDING:
When I feel angry thoughts coming on I mentally distance myself from the triggering event or person (physically and/or emotionally) and try to act like a responsible, mature adult. This is the first step in responding differently to my angry thoughts. Take a look at this short youtube video by Garret Kramer: Stillpower .
Earlier in the paper I described my biological symptoms that are triggered when I feel angry. So when I feel flushed in the face, develop tunnel vision thinking, or start to feel my eyebrows pull together and teeth clinch, I know I am taking the wrong path. It is also a reminder for me to …….
Step 1. Go somewhere to hang out and cool down. This might be either a mental distancing or an actual physical displacement or perhaps both.
Twenty years ago, just to see how hard it was to change an old habit, I decided that while showering I would wash my ears first and my face second. For as long as I could remember I began the showering process by washing my face, then my ears followed by my hair, etc. I wondered how difficult it would be for me to learn to switch the two steps and not have to think about it. I discovered rather quickly that it was very hard not to wash my face first. Eventually I started reminding myself to do the ears first when I picked up the soap. If I didn’t say “ears first” when I picked up the soap, I found myself washing my face. It’s been twenty years now and I still on occasion start scrubbing my face if I have something on my mind. For my new effective self-control process I chose the words, “I’m responsible.” So, when I feel anger symptoms coming on, I use a little positive self-talk and say “I’m responsible, just think, go hang out and cool down.”
I use the words, “I’m responsible” for two reasons. First, I’ve found that the more responsibility I take on for my actions the more control I have of the situation and myself. Secondly, it is a reminder to me that I am “response”-able. I can choose to respond, not just react, not to be at the mercy of my old, unwanted habits.
While hanging out and cooling down I also remind myself that in order to think and speak rationally I must keep a level head and not let my emotions think and speak for me. Thereby not saying and doing things that can be harmful to myself, others and relationships.
While in the cooling down step of my self-control process I visualize the two following graphics illustrating the above principles.
When in a more calm emotional state I start to discover why I am getting angry. I ask myself the following questions and work through the answers to them:
Step 2. Why do I feel angry?
a. What do I fear?
b. Why do I feel hurt?
c. Why am I frustrated?
d. Do I have unrealistic expectations?
Once I determine why I’m angry i.e. what I fear, feel hurt about, is frustrating me or expecting too much, I ask myself, …….
Step 3. What do I want out of this particular encounter/situation/relationship? Again, in the case with my son Ryan in 1987, I wanted to maintain a close relationship with him but it took me six hours to discover what I feared and wanted. The angry words had already been said and I could not withdraw them. Once they’re out it’s too late. They have to be prevented as illustrated in the E-mail story at the beginning of this paper.
In determining what I need or want, I must decide what is important to me and what my priorities are. In my case I found it was:
1. My family and friends;
2. Being effective in what I do;
3. Feeling good about myself;
4. Making a positive contribution in my community;
5. Not wasting what time I have left in life.
If the cause of my anger does not fall within the list above then I’m probably just wasting time and need to let go and move on. Like I have done here, you will need to determine what is important to you. Some call them ones’ Core Beliefs.
Sometimes the solution can be as simple as deciding “I don’t need to maintain any relationship with the other party and just move them or me out of the environment.” Unfortunately, that is typically not the case. The majority of instances in which we become angry occur with friends, relatives, loved ones, business contacts and customers. “Just moving on” is not a realistic option in these situations.
Once I determine what I want as an outcome from the present angry incident I ……..
Step 4. Develop a plan to resolve it. I’ve found that if you don’t blow up, verbally try to control the other party or take the offensive, the solutions tend to be much simpler because they are not a result of acting defensively.
On the other hand, if the person takes out their anger on me, the worst possible option is mirroring their behavior. By maintaining a rational emotional state I don’t get sucked into their problem and end up in a face-to-face confrontation. This only exacerbates the situation. On several occasions, when an angry customer seemed to be attacking me, by maintaining my composure, it became obvious to them their behavior was way out of line and they cooled down. Some have even apologized to me.
Any plan to attain a goal needs to be:
1. Stated specifically as possible and written if needed;
4. Time bound (when to start and finish);
5. Measurable (I know when I get there).
Once I’ve designed the plan to achieve my goal, I need to ….
Step 5. Implement it and then
Step 6. Take it through to completion. There must to be some flexibility built into the plan. It has been my experience that we tend to fill in missing bits of information based on our own perception of reality. Frequently it does not prove to be very accurate. So, when I discover that my plan needs to be changed or slightly modified, I am not so rigid and the plan so cast in stone that it can’t be changed.
Having been a mediator for the past twenty years, I’ve come to the conclusion that eight out of 10 times, the root cause of a conflict between two parties is poor communication. Once the tw0 parties in disagreement have listened unemotionally to each other and have all the facts, they most frequently go on to reach agreement. Sometimes all I have to do is a little reality checking, then write up their agreement and have them sign it.
To help me visualize the self-control process, I designed a graphic aide to help me see it in my mind’s eye when I needed. Please refer to the anger tree in my next blog.