When faced with a threat or a potentially upsetting situation, Mark Goulston says, we grasp for something that will reduce the tension or keep us from getting hurt. These self-defeating behaviors might bring short-term relief, but they invariably come back to haunt us. Then we curse ourselves for being stupid, foolish or weak, when in truth we simply lost perspective in the midst of a threatening or confusing situation. Here are five steps, given in his book Get Out of Your Own Way, for beating the behaviors that are holding us back:
Step 1: Increase physical awareness. Try to experience your fears or anxieties as physical sensations. Stop and notice what you feel and where you feel it. In your stomach? Head? Neck? Chest?
Step 2: Increase emotional awareness. Try to connect the physical sensation to an emotion. Why do you feel tense? What do you feel angry about or afraid of?
Step 3: Increase impulse awareness. Do the feelings you just noticed make you want to take action? What do they make you want to do?
Step 4: Increase consequence awareness. Ask yourself what the outcomes are likely to be, in the short run and the long run, if you take that action. Becoming conscious of the undesirable consequences of that action serves as a deterrent.
Step 5: Increase solution awareness. Ask yourself what alternatives you have. Which of those is likely to produce the best outcome? Picturing the good things that will happen if you act more constructively can serve as an incentive to change.