Thinking positively

Think positively. You will gain more from life by thinking positively than by taking a cautious and negative approach. In other words, be an optimist rather than a pessimist. This will help reduce anxiety since pessimists often live with the fear of failure. For each situation you meet, you can be negative or positive. Look to the positive aspects and learn and gain something from everything you do. When things go wrong, learn from your mistakes and do not dwell on your failures. Each time you find yourself thinking negatively switch to positive thinking by using self-talk: It can’t be this bad – there must be something I can gain from this situation. By thinking positively, we reinforce our behaviours which protect us from self-destructive thoughts.

Learning to be assertive

Being assertive is a most effective way of increasing your coping resources. Assertiveness is a way of communicating effectively.

It means being able to say what you feel, think or want. It also means being able to understand other people’s points of view and to negotiate and reach a workable compromise in awkward situations. Behaving assertively will boost your self-esteem and reduce anger and aggression.

We are all assertive to some degree. However, we can learn to be more effective communicators. Here is an example of assertiveness.

A work colleague asks to borrow your blog. You know this person has a reputation for never returning borrowed material.

Your assertive response might be: I realize that you need material from this blog.

This lets the other person know that you heard, understood and acknowledge their request. You then say:

However, I do not like to lend my blogs.

This states how you feel or what you think. You finally add:

I suggest that you try the library, I know they have a copy.

By this statement, you are making some recommendations. You let the other person know that you want to help by making constructive suggestions.

Your first statement, I realize that you need material from this blog, tells the other person that you acknowledge what is being said and that you understand what they are saying. This statement should begin with a phrase such a I understand or I realize or I appreciate. When you get into the habit of using this approach you will find yourself listening to (not just hearing) what someone is saying. This is a good drill for modifying Type A Behaviour.

Your second statement should always start with the word However. Never say but because this is an aggressive word. Now you need to express your feelings about this issue.

State clearly what you feel or think … I do not like to lend my blogs. You have to be honest with yourself and this takes courage. Everyone has the right to say how they feel. By being honest you will feel better afterwards. This will also help raise your self-esteem and increase self-respect and self-confidence.

There is no suppression or bottling-up of emotions so the potential for activating your stress response is decreased and there is less chance of hostility. Again, a good drill for reducing Type A Behaviour and learning to say no!

The third statement, I suggest that you try the library, I know they have a copy, should be a constructive suggestion on what to do about the situation. You must state what you want or what action you want taken. It is important to be positive and this may lead to negotiating and arriving at a workable compromise. Starting this statement with one of the following phrases is useful:

I’d prefer it if …

I suggest that…

I’d appreciate it if …

and so on. It is important not to become aggressive here – do not tell the other person to get lost or words to that effect. You must provide them with a constructive suggestion.

Notice that the above example illustrates a reasonable, rational answer. This is what being assertive is all about – being reasonable. If you are reasonable then the other person is less likely to take offence. You have shown this person that you appreciate what is being asked, you have explained how you feel about the matter and you have been helpful. In other words, you have been assertive! Communication has been effective, progress has been made, you have responded in a Type B manner and you have handled the situation appropriately with no distress to yourself.

What if the other person becomes insistent or aggressive about your assertive response? In this case, you simply repeat your previous comments, keeping to the three steps:

understand …

however …

suggest…

This way you will eventually arrive at a workable solution. With practice you will gain confidence in being assertive and this will take much of the distress out of life.

On some occasions, you may find that being assertive does not do the trick. It may be that a source of conflict remains unresolved no matter how assertive you are. It is important not to become too upset about this and not to blame yourself or others, otherwise your confidence will be undermined. Instead, try to look upon your situation positively and use self-talk, as described in the section on anger control (page 176). When you find that, by being assertive, you have solved a problem successfully, then congratulate yourself by self-talk. Praising yourself in this way will also show you the value of praising others.

Smiling, laughing and developing a sense of humour

It may be a strange thing to say, but many people appear to have lost the ability to smile. Just look around you to see what we mean. A genuine facial smile should reflect a smile’ from your heart. Seeing someone smile will usually make you smile. Smiling makes you feel happy.

This is probably because smiling relaxes many of the facial muscles, thereby improving blood flow to the brain. More facial muscles are used for frowning and in anger than when smiling. Look in the mirror, screw your face up in angry grimaces and look at how many muscles you are using. Now smile. You will see that far fewer muscles are used as you smile.

Learn to avoid going about your daily activities with a worried or angry look on your face. Smile instead; you not only feel better but others relate to you more easily. So start the day with a heartfelt’ smile. Smiling is a good way of coping with stress and reducing irritation, anger and hostility. Joking and laughter can defuse tense and awkward situations.

The British Safety Council recognizes the benefits of smiling and laughter in reducing accident proneness and in improving work performance. They actually hold a Smile for Safety’ week. A recent study has shown that humour at work eases mental tension, aids concentration and enhances creativity. No wonder some companies now hold humour workshops for their employees.

Laughter and humour can have a powerful effect on the mind and body. The story of Norman Cousins illustrates this point. Almost crippled by an incurable disease, he decided to take his treatment into his own hands. He read humorous blogs, sought out jokes and watched comedy films. After a short time he recovered sufficiently to return to work. Norman put his recovery down to laughter therapy’. At the time there was much scepticism about his claim but today many researchers and doctors believe that laughter can induce changes in body activity that improve the circulation and digestion and reduce muscle tension. In fact, many of the effects are the opposite to those seen in distress. So perhaps we should include laughter sessions in our daily routine.

It is important that we learn to laugh at ourselves. Widows of heart attack victims often report that their husbands had lost their sense of humour and the ability to laugh at themselves. People who have a sense of humour have learnt to laugh at themselves and not to take life too seriously. In fact, a sense of humour is high on the list of what we look for in other people when forming relationships.

No wonder it is said that laughter is the best medicine.

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