What can I do to reduce my anxiety and frustration?
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Bob the Builder – Can he fix me in 10 easy steps? – No, he can’t!
As a father, the expectations on me from my children are that dad can fix it just like Bob the Builder can. No matter what the issue, I am expected to have a solution, an answer tucked away in my metaphorical tool kit.
In a wider context, one of the interesting things about life currently is that people are constantly looking for answers, quick fixes, someone or something to take away our frustrations, anxieties and hassles. Helplines and chat rooms that seem to be operating 24-7 are giving us the impression that a quick fix is always on tap as we negotiate our way through our ever-changing and high-tech, high speed world. What is wrong with this expectation I hear some of you say?
For those of you old enough to remember a time when there were only 3 TV channels to choose from and no smartphones or internet (I think that is classed as poverty these days!), may also recall that you filled your spare time with other activities. For many this may have simply been some down time, a few precious minutes to reflect and work through the issues that mattered to you.
Now that we’re always on the “hook”, stuck to technology, devices and solutions we set aside precious little time to sit, reflect and work through any issues in our head. This can lead to a lot of unnecessary emotional stress and strain and emphasises the importance of developing mental agility and reflecting.
So, what can you do to unhook?
Reflection requires CONSCIOUS EFFORT. The conscious aspect is about developing self and social awareness, in other words understanding what triggers certain emotional responses and thought processes. The effort aspect is about deciding what you are going to do with the higher levels of awareness.
There are several ways we can reflect. It is important to understand that the critical element in this process is to make your brain process information in a different way. Often, we can get trapped in our patterns of thought and our minds go over and over an event or an issue that we just can’t seem to address, either at work or at home.
As a result, we can become stressed, anxious, lose sleep and our performance is hindered. The key thing is to bypass those thought patterns and get the other parts of your brain working.
What power tools should I put in my tool kit?
There are many tools that people find useful for reflection including visualisation, mindfulness, yoga etc. but one of the simplest is the act of physically recording our thoughts and emotions by writing them down.
Research shows that writing and ‘internal talk’ both use different parts of the brain. Writing draws your brain away from those pesky thought patterns and gets you to think differently. Let’s consider a couple of “power tools” you can use which involve writing (or the principle behind writing) as a means of achieving this.
Stream of consciousness
The distinguished professor James Pennebakker championed this approach which in many cases produced valuable insights and transformative behaviour. These are his rules for writing in this way;
Set the timer on your phone or watch for 20 minutes
- Open a notebook (or word document on a PC) and when the timer starts, begin writing. Talking into a voice recorder can work well if you prefer
- Record your emotional experiences from the past day, week, month etc. Ignore punctuation, coherence etc. Apply words to your emotions
- Go wherever your mind takes you, with curiosity and without judgement. Write for yourself not for someone else to read
- Repeat this for a few days (as many as you find useful)
- When you have finished throw the paper away (discard the word document)
- The point of this exercise is that the thoughts are out of you and on the page. You have begun the process of “stepping out” from your experiences to gain perspective on them.
‘Gratitude journaling’ can help you when you find that negative thinking is becoming overwhelming or you have a naturally pessimistic streak or you’re particularly stressed or run-down. This evidence-based approach suggests you regularly record things that you are very grateful for.
Try setting aside a few minutes every day (morning or evening) where you write down just 5 or 6 things that you’re grateful for, just simple bullet points. Do this for a few weeks (ideally a month) and reflect on the difference this makes in your life.
For example, today I am grateful that my bedding is freshly washed and smells amazing, I’m also grateful for connecting with a friend and I’m grateful that I’ve finished this blog to send out!
‘Reflective writing’ (using the ‘SOAP’ model) is an approach where you look back at a situation and systematically answer the following questions:
Subjective Account (summarise the feelings and perceptions surrounding the incident or event)
- Objective Account (describe the situation using facts and observations)
- Analysis of the Incident (use critical analysis to make sense of the incident)
- Personal Learning (pull out all the learning. What will you do next time?)
Illustrative Discovery Journaling
Not everyone connects with writing or enjoys the writing process. Some of us are more visual. If this is you, try to reflect using pictures to record thoughts and emotions. You can use images, drawings, magazine cut-outs, painting, sculpture, just be creative. At Zentano we have coached several people who used this approach and found it to be very powerful. You don’t have to be ‘good’ at art, remember this is just making your brain work in a different way. Just have fun!
Back to Bob the Builder
The analogy here is about having a range of tools in your kit bag that you can draw on appropriately and situationally rather than a one size fits all approach.
There is no short cut with developing mental agility, it does require discipline and effort. There is a strong evidence base supporting the benefits of reflective practice and I can personally vouch for the positive impact it can have on your working and personal life.
To be clear, this is not about keeping a diary; you don’t even have to do this every day, or even every week. This is about getting your brain to process stuff in a different way, and believe me you’ll surprise yourself at what this approach can unlock. I urge you to give it a try!
Remember the phrase CONSCIOUS EFFORT. If you need help with developing more self and social awareness please get in touch, we would be happy to discuss the best way you can achieve this, whether that be through exploring new tools or some one-to-one coaching.
In the meantime, whatever your frustrations, anxieties and hassles why not try out one of these reflective “power tools”. To coin a phrase, can you fix it, yes you can!