No Crowbar Means Frustration
You’ve been called to a meeting at work and you know that you have important ideas to share, but you can’t shake that feeling of being inadequate. You are practically bursting with solutions in your mind, but the meeting ends without you having said very much. This feeling comes over you at all the wrong times. How frustrating!
Or maybe you have a different story. You want to express your thoughts and get your opinions on the table. But inevitably you put your foot in your mouth and you are embarrassed. Then the embarrassment makes everything you say sound like you don’t really believe it. So much for appearing self confident.
If the truth were known we all have patterns of emotions that knock our feet out from under us when we are in certain situations. We see it coming, we try to stop it, but the feeling-pattern takes us down.
Anyone with a bit of self-awareness knows that irrational patterns of emotions are a reality that hinders us from performing at our potential. What most people don’t know is that when you fight directly against these feeling patterns, the frustration often increases. To top it off, the few times we succeed using brute willpower, it turns out we’ve just stuffed the emotions down so that they can resurface at another inconvenient time.
12 Skills = Crowbar
If you really want to do battle with dysfunctional patterns of emotions, then you need leverage. Like a crowbar. For prying out unwanted emotions, the crowbar is a set of skills that change a dysfunctional thought pattern into one that is more positive and realistic. This new set of thoughts and beliefs become the crowbar to accomplish the heavy lifting of changing unwanted feeling patterns. Here is an example:
- “I’m just a new employee” gets pried loose and replaced by “I’ve been hired to do a job!”
- Then, perhaps later, the feelings of self-confidence show up for the party.
The 12 Skills are about finding and changing the thoughts that are driving the feelings.
But you can’t use a crowbar effectively if you don’t know where to position it. Thoughts are much more within our power to change, whereas feelings are almost impossible to change directly. Therefore, Skill 2 is about wisdom. It is the wisdom of distinguishing thoughts from feelings. Once you develop even a little bit of skill 2, then you can know where to position the crowbar of the other 11 skills of honest optimism.
What About Affirmations?
Many men and women experience a feeling pattern of helplessness about being socially confident and find themselves stuck in a mindset that seems impossible to change. Self-help resources for raising self confidence are in abundance all over the internet as well as in magazines and books. One of the commonly taught self help techniques is positive affirmations. If I want more self-confidence, then I just say to myself, throughout the day, “I am a confident person.”
So someone can memorize certain affirmations and repeat them. But often affirmations like, “I AM a confident person in business meetings,” don’t work because
- the feeling pattern is just too strong, or
- the affirmation isn’t relevant to the thought driving the feelings, or
- the affirmation just doesn’t feel true to the person attempting to use it
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against self affirmations. But often people use them as a tool for being in denial, or they just create more frustration and what I call self-improvement fatigue. But self affirmations about social confidence can work well if they address the specific thoughts that drive the overall sense of being inadequate in the situation.
Finding the Right Crowbar
Skill 2 is the skill of distinguishing thoughts from feelings. This is not an intuitive skill. You have to think about it, work with it, and practice it. Skill 2 is based on a massive amount of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) research about how changed thoughts (and behavior) are crucial keys to changing emotions. But having these keys don’t help much if you can’t distinguish thoughts from feelings. You have the key, but you do not know which lock to insert them into.
Crowbar for Anger Example
Here’s how it can work when the crowbar is positioned to work on a specific dysfunctional thought pattern. Paul tries for years to not be angry when the family is packing to go on vacation. Year after year he gets angry and gets the whole family walking on eggshells and wondering whether or not it’s worth it to even go on the trip. He sincerely tries to not be so angry, but it always happens, despite his best efforts.
But then Paul discovers that his feeling pattern of anger is driven by his particular thoughts about family vacations. He figures out that he believes that each vacation must perfectly reproduce the one vacation of his childhood that he remembers so fondly.
So, he starts working on changing conversations in his head and this begins to change his rigid expectations about what a family vacation is about. He learns some techniques to makes his thoughts and expectations to be more realistic. Although it seems awkward at first, he gets himself to think about something that he actually believes to be true: “This should be a time to relax and just go with the flow. We can have a good time even if it’s not what I expected. And if problems come up, we can address them and move on.” He positions the crowbar and uses it.
Finally, his anger begins to subside because he has found the crowbar to change his feelings. He identified the dysfunctional thoughts and so he could concentrate his efforts on something that is doable, namely, prying these thoughts from his head and replacing them with realistic thoughts and expectations.
In a Nutshell
So we circle back now to the main point: Skill 2 is distinguishing thoughts from feelings so that you can apply your efforts at changing worn-out thoughts and let the new thoughts do the heavy lifting of changing the feeling patterns. By itself, Skill 2 doesn’t give you much benefit, but within the menu of 12 Skills for Honest Optimism, it is an indispensable prerequisite for Skills 3 through 9. Skill 1 makes use of stream journaling to increase your self awareness. By stream journaling everyday for a several weeks, it can set the stage for learning skill 2 in a way that grows organically from your stream journaling.
Next Steps for Change
If you haven’t already done so, sign up for the free membership and watch each one of the 12 Skills videos. This will give you an overview so that you can see where Skill 2 fits into a larger process. Then begin stream journaling, the main tool for skill 1. After you have been journaling for a few weeks, choose two different colors for highlighting and go back over what you have written. See if you can highlight your sentences expressing thoughts and beliefs–how you interpret reality–using one color. Use a different color to highlight descriptions of your feelings such as sadness, disappointment, anger, or fear. Review the Skill 2 video in the free members area just before you start highlighting.