Handling conflict skilfully: Knowing your personal style…

Blog Post No. 47

12th April 2017

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2017

Renata’s Coaching & Counselling blog: Handling conflict skilfully: Knowing your personal style…

~~~

Introduction

The-Satir-modelIn this blog I am going to do a ‘rave review’ of a short and simple quiz that shows us how we handle conflict in our current relationships. Some quizzes don’t give us many insights about ourselves when we’re interacting with other people, but this one strikes me as giving us a clear mirror which shows us how we deal with pressure from others.

The quiz, created by Virginia Satir, outlines the five main ways of handling conflict with others. She created a system of conjoint-family-therapy, and was a pioneering therapist who showed that families play a significant part in the development of the problems of individuals, and that blaming individual family members for their problems was unfair, because the problems the client showed up with were learned and created in the family.

Understanding how we deal with conflict at the moment

The great thing about this quiz is that it shows you a range of patterns that people play out when they are dealing with interpersonal conflict. The strategies used vary from constructive to really unhelpful and ineffective.

If you complete the quiz below, and you look at your results, you’ll be able to see your current favourite approach, and how to change your behaviour if you are not happy with the result.

The Satir Personal Styles Quiz

Here are the five ways of handling conflict which Satir identified:

The-conflict-styles

PLACATING – Pacifying, calming or appeasing behaviour. (Appeasing means to make someone calm and less hostile by giving in to their demands).

BLAMING – Holding someone to account, condemning or accusing them.

DISTRACTING – Diverting, changing the subject, cracking a joke for entertainment, etc.

COMPUTING – Assessing, analysing, and theorising about what you are experiencing.

LEVELLING – Being frank, open, honest, and above board. Telling the truth as you see it.

So this quiz tests how you react when life gets difficult: particularly during interpersonal conflict.

Your ‘blaming’ score shows how far you are liable to blame other people when under stress.  Your ‘placating’ score shows how much you tend to placate or appease.  Your ‘distracting’ score shows how much you tend to distract yourself and other people from the problems being presented.  Your ‘computing’ score shows how far you tend to cut off from your feelings.  Your ‘levelling’ score shows how far you tend to react creatively and flexibly.

~~~

Here is the quiz: Read through this list of 20 statements.  Write down the statement number of any statement with which you strongly agree. (You will need these numbers to mark your resulting score).

Choose as many statements as you like from the list if you think they reflect you or your views.  You should choose at least seven statements.

  1. Conflict is something I try to reduce as soon as possible.
  2. If someone’s going to tell me something I don’t want to hear, I’ll quickly and smoothly try to change the subject.
  3. Conflict is healthy if it means the people involved solve a problem.
  4. It’s important that people know who’s responsible for a mistake.
  5. Catching people off-guard with a compliment is a good way to ease tension.
  6. I’ve been told I can be unemotional.
  7. I’ve been told that sometimes I let people take me for granted.
  8. I can get stressed but I try not to let it affect my life too much.
  9. Avoiding taking responsibility for my actions is a good way to shift blame.
  10. In the past, I have taken the blame for something when it wasn’t my fault.
  11. I can keep my head clear by distancing myself when those around me are getting edgy.
  12. Hopefully, people know that once a conflict with me is finished, we can then move on.
  13. I’ll fight my corner at all costs to make sure I can hold my head up high.
  14. I dislike being shouted at, so I’ll usually try to soothe the situation.
  15. If I’m clever and funny enough I can keep conflict at bay.
  16. If something bad happens, I cut off from my emotions; it feels safer to not let my guard down.
  17. I’m not scared to confront someone – but I do to do so without making the other person feel bad.
  18. Getting over-emotional during conflict is no way to solve problems.
  19. I have a long memory when it comes to remembering others who’ve crossed me in some way.
  20. If I’ve forgotten to do something I said I would, some ‘social flirting’ keeps people off my back.

~~~~

Now that you’ve chosen at least seven statements as being ones that you agree with, please draw a grid like the one below, and write in the numbers.  Then tick those numbers you’ve chosen above.

Here is the grid, containing a worked example.

1 3
7 9 11 8
10  13  15  16 12 
14  19 20  18 17
TOTAL   2 2  4  1 1
Interpersonal style PLACATING BLAMING DISTRACTING COMPUTING LEVELLING

~~~

Scoring

Which column has the highest score?

The one with the highest score is your favourite strategy, followed by the next lowest number.

In the example in the grid above, we can see that  ‘distracting’ is the style most often chosen, followed by ‘placating’ and ‘blaming’.  So this person would be called ‘a distractor’, for shorthand description.

Satirs-five-freedomsVirginia Satir’s conflict categories:

When things get tough in our lives we choose one or more of these personality patterns. Here is more of an explanation of these styles of behaviour:

Placating

Step on a placator’s foot and they will be the one to apologise.  Placators know that peacemakers get blessed – or at least don’t get trashed.  And so a typical placatory will soothe, please and pacify.

More females than males tend to be placators. They tend to dislike disagreeing with people – even if they are being criticized.

The aim of the placator is to get others to be nice to them – and, as placators tend to be externally influenced, they’ll therefore probably go along with whatever the other person wants.  They’ll hold eye contact, smile a lot, and nonverbally ask for forgiveness.  They apologize a lot.

~~~

Blaming

If a blamer steps on someone’s foot, they will expect the other person (whose foot they stepped on) to apologize. This is because a blamer’s classic move is to shift the responsibility away from themselves, and there are many ways of doing this: They can nag; they can sulk; they can shout; and they can hit out.  Or they can pretend that it’s not a problem and then launch a surprise attack a few hours later when everyone thinks the worst is over.

~~~

Distracting

Did they step on someone’s foot? No. A distracter will state that they weren’t even there.  They’ll smile, or crack a joke, or say what lovely weather it is today, and do everything in order to deflect attention.  Their favourite phrase is this: ‘It wasn’t me’.

~~~

Computing

When a ‘computer’ steps on someone’s foot, they simply won’t register the fact.  They are the one who just doesn’t seem to feel anything, and doesn’t respond emotionally to what’s happened.  They simply shut down their feelings – and can’t understand the suffering of others, if it is (or seems to be) illogical or irrational.  Or just plain ‘emotional’!

A computer style used by a person may seem like they are responding calmly to a crisis. But they are panicking just as much as anyone else.  It’s just that they are trying to handle their panic by cutting themselves off at the neck.  And actually, that’s just as bad an idea as placating, blaming or distracting, because they are missing out on the information or motivation their body is trying to give them.

So they will take action, but over-rationally.  They’ll respond, but insensitively.

~~~

Communication-quoteLevelling

A leveller who steps on someone’s foot will notice.  Then they’ll move back.  Then they’ll ask if there’s anything they can do.  They won’t grovel, dump or look the other way – and they won’t cut off from their feelings.  They’ll be genuinely regretful – but unlike people who run the other four personality sub patterns, they   won’t go into a spiral of defensive responses.

So a leveller is going to be the one to hang in there under stress or in conflict, and simply get things sorted.  They will strike a balance between thinking and feeling – and that means that they will:

(a) Face up logically to the problem; and:

(b) Have the emotional energy to sort it out.

Whether at home or away, they’ll have the space to listen to other people, take into account everyone’s needs and find a solution.

Anyone who works with a leveller, marries a leveller, or has a leveller for a friend, therefore has an easy life.  They know exactly where they stand with a leveller, and consequently feel secure. They know that if any problems arise in their relationship then the leveller will tell them. (They will not whine, sulk, push the problem away or deny their feelings).

The bottom line is that the more positive your upbringing, the more likely you are to be a leveller. (Or you could have some corrective experiences, in social relationships or therapy, later in life).

~~~

Learning to level

It might now be obvious that all of the ‘types’ could benefit from learning how to level with others: or to speak up and describe what is happening, and how they experience it.

Being a heavy-duty placator, blamer, computer or distracter isn’t a particularly good idea.  Not only do these personality sub-patterns feel uncomfortable to actually use, but they will not be appreciated by a boss, or by friends or close family.

First-Satir-callout

Of course, everyone runs a bit of the four more unhelpful personality sub-patterns, at least some of the time. This is not surprising, because we learn ways of behaving when we are young that seem to work. And at school, skills at maths and English and other subjects are rated much more highly than the ability to deal with people effectively and skilfully.

IQ (or the ability to take logic tests) is rated much higher than EQ (or the ability to read one’s own emotions; the emotions of others; and to communicate about both).  But when we’re an adult, the limitations of our lack of skill in handling conflict start to become much clearer. Virginia Satir’s therapeutic advice was to shift your behaviour towards helpful ‘levelling’.

Some tips

The limitations of the different ways of handling conflict will now be outlined:

  1. If you tend to be a placator:
  • You may think it’s a good sub pattern as it seems to smooth things over.
  • In fact, you won’t get what you want – plus you can drive people crazy by always apologising.

~~~

  1. If you tend to be a blamer:
  • You may think it’s a good sub-pattern because at least no one shouts at you.
  • In fact, it alienates people – plus by shifting responsibility, you give away your power.
  • Instead, to move towards being a leveller, learn that the world’s not out to get you and that temper tantrums don’t work.

~~~

  1. If you tend to be a distracter:
  • You may think it’s a good sub-pattern because it gets you off the hook.
  • In fact, you never get to face problems – plus you never take responsibility for things. (And taking responsibility is the first step in solving most of our problems!)
  • Instead, to move towards being a leveller, learn to face up to it when other people challenge you. Then either take their criticisms on board, or stand firm in believing you’re OK.

~~~

  1. If you tend to be a computer:
  • You may think this is a good way to behave, because it keeps you clear of messy emotion.
  • In fact, you miss out by ignoring feelings – plus you may come across as hard hearted. If you cannot read another person’s emotions, then you cannot really understand them or communicate effectively with them.
  • Instead, to move towards being a leveller, allow yourself to pay more attention to what others are feeling; and take their emotions into account. (You might need some coaching in the labelling of emotions; and understanding how to manage them in yourself).

~~~

Second-Satir-calloutLearning new behaviours

As you can see from the quiz above, the behaviour of someone who is a ‘leveller’ is the ideal style of communication that we can work towards, if we want to work well with other people, and have loving, healthy relationships.

But it ain’t easy! We never stop learning how to deal with people, and this quiz should help you to know the strengths and weaknesses of your personal style.

The ‘levelling’ approach reduces conflict; and also reduces stress in our bodies, because we are dealing with problems as they arise and are facing up to them.

The reality is that we can’t change other people – only ourselves! (And that, as you most likely know, is not easy!)

But we can earn our own self-respect – (which as Lord Roseberry said, is worth fourteen times more than the approval of other people) – and be a really good role model for our children and other people in our environment.

Virginia Satir’s model helps us see where we are operating from; and also what works and what doesn’t, when it comes to dealing with conflict constructively.

~~~

Conclusion

In my opinion, this quiz, presented above, is very useful.  It raises our self-awareness, and gives us specific ways of behaving which are very useful for us if we spend a lot of time dealing with people in the work environment, or in our family life. These insights are very helpful for our own personal development, if we want to take on the challenge.

See what you think. Try the test out and see if it’s any use to you. Consider whether you could benefit from moving towards levelling.  And if I can help, you know where I am!

Best wishes

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Lifestyle Coach-Counsellor

ABC Coaching-Counselling Division

Telephone: 01422 843 629

Email: renata@abc-counselling.org

~~~

Self-confidence through self-acceptance

Blog Post No. 44

17th March 2017

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2017

Renata’s Coaching & Counselling blog: How to develop more self-confidence by accepting yourself exactly as you are

The Oxford dictionary definition of confidence is:

 “A feeling of trust in one’s abilities, qualities, and judgement”.

~~~

Introduction

Confident-peopleMany of us would like to feel more self-confident than we are at the present moment, and in this blog I want to outline a simple technique which will increase your level of self-confidence, if you experiment with it.

What this technique will do is to bring about a change in your attitude towards yourself as you live your life, and as you perform all the necessary tasks that you have to do, in order to survive. Why don’t you give it a try and see if it changes your view of yourself?

The technique for greater self-confidence: ‘One conditional self-acceptance’

Ellis-video-imageIn the 1980’s, when I first came across Dr Albert Ellis’s concept of USA, (Unconditional Self-Acceptance), I thought that this was a very therapeutic way of helping people to stop giving themselves such a hard time when they failed or behaved poorly in work or in life. One of the ways in which people give themselves a hard time is this: They create lots of rules for themselves, like “I must achieve this goal!” Or “I must achieve highly in life!”  Or: “I must never fail in any way”.  And so on! In this kind of way, they can really upset themselves (and frequently do!) because they are not as rich/ talented/ skilled/ academically successful/perfect in all the areas that they want to be.

All around us we can see and hear people passing judgement on themselves, and this is an enormous waste of their vital life energy. (Except in one area, which is to do with morality.  It is important that we, and they, judge the quality of our moral actions, and refrain from harming others!)

Callout-5

Here is an example of such negative self-judgements: Many people have problems accepting themselves when they remember mistakes they made in the past, (as if they should be able to perform skills really well, immediately, without any failures or slipping back.  And as if they should be able to be perfect).

Our judgemental attitudes begin in early childhood.  Although we accept ourselves when we fall down when learning to walk, we then, sometime later, begin to fault ourselves when we fail to do something which is new to us.

School experiences are a case in point.  We can all remember examples of not being able to perform as well as others, in classrooms, and this can start the formation of a sense of ourselves as failures; and our abilities as lacking; or our skills as being not as good as other people. And by the time we are teenagers our self-concept can get fixed and set in stone in our minds.  We have learned to rate ourselves on the basis of our failing attempts to learn.

Albert Ellis taught that we should not rate our selves, but rather our behaviours, and to distinguish between ourselves and our behaviours.  In this way, we can preserve our good judgement of our self, and only criticize our behaviour or performance.

Callout-2For example, “I am not my mathematics ability (or my skiing ability; or my socializing ability).  I am an error-prone human, like all other humans.  And I have some areas of high skill and some areas of low skill development.  But my high skills do not make me Great!  And my low skills do not make me a Worm!
Ellis called this ‘unconditional acceptance’ of ourselves (or other people, or the world).

So unconditional self-acceptance of ourselves, in the context of our mistakes and imperfections, seemed to me to be a great idea, when I came across it in the 1980s.

But I hadn’t taken into account human nature. I had assumed that people would mostly behave morally and ethically towards each other. Therefore, it seemed to me to be okay to address a class of 15 or 20 individuals and tell them it was okay to accept themselves exactly the way they were (without realizing that at least one of them might be a serious criminal or amoral abuser of others!)

This was rather naïve of me, given that, according to Alexander Solzhenitsyn: The line between good and evil runs right down the centre of the human heart!

~~~

Somewhere along the way, Dr Jim Byrne, who had agreed with me that Albert Ellis’s USA was a great idea, began to have second thoughts.  After examining and researching the full implications of unconditional self-acceptance, he came up with the concept of “One-conditional self-acceptance’, as he realised the flaw in Albert Ellis’s view that people should accept themselves unconditionally (without spotting that they should not do this in the case of immoral actions on their part). (See Byrne, 2010, in the References, below). Dr-Jim-Self-AcceptanceEllis’s USA approach, at least implicitly, and unfortunately, gives people permission to abuse others and to not feel bad about it afterwards.

So Dr Byrne proposed that we accept ourselves as imperfect humans. But we should not (and that is a moral should!) give ourselves permission to go out and behave badly or immorally towards others.

Jim distinguished between three areas of human activity as follows:

  1. Performance competence;
  2. Personal judgements;
  3. Moral/immoral actions.

His argument was this: It is perfectly reasonable, and indeed desirable, and certainly self-helping, to always accept yourself when you fail to perform competently; or you make poor personal judgements.  You should forgive yourself in these contexts, try again.

But with regard to item 3 above: moral and immoral actions; we owe it to our society to act morally, and to refrain from acting immorally.  And we morally must not accept ourselves as being okay if and when we behave immorally.

This means that you can practise the technique of accepting yourself as you are – an imperfect human, who makes mistakes occasionally just like everyone else. But you must not accept yourself as being okay when you act immorally!

Accepting yourself under one condition

So you can accept yourself as being totally okay on one condition – that you behave morally and ethically towards all other human beings. Treating others as you would wish them to treat you is the basic contract people have in a civilised society. It’s called following the ‘Golden rule’ and enables people to live together in a decent and safe way.

Why is giving yourself “One-conditional self-acceptance” an important factor in self-confidence? Because there are all sorts of skills which we are all learning, and practising, every day of our lives. And we inevitably make mistakes. Realistically there can only be a few skills that we are very, very competent at, in our lifetime.

Callout-4But in our cultures we will face criticism for our imperfections, as if we had to be perfect all the time. What nonsense – but it’s very powerful pressure. Just look at the pressure in the UK culture to look ‘good’! In 2015 (according to the British Association of Aesthetic plastic surgeons) 51,140 people had treatment to improve their appearance.

Most of those people could have kept their dignity, and their cash in their pockets, if they had practiced one-conditional self-acceptance.  (And we also know, from Maxwell Maltz (Psycho-Cybernetics, 1960), that having plastic surgery will not change your self-concept reliably [for a significant proportion of those surgery patients], because it’s our inner self-appraisal that affects how we feel about ourselves, and not our objective appearance.  For example, Marilyn Monroe thought she was ugly!)

However, we can learn to accept our physical appearance, even if it is ‘perfect’, by telling ourselves: “I am not my face.  I am not my nose.  I am not my balding head.  I am not my fat; I am not my skinniness; I am not my social skills.  I am not my socially disliked characteristics!”

We’ve got a moral responsibility to ourselves to reduce our contact with people who try to put us down, and destroy our sense of self-worth. But the most crucial factor in relation to our confidence is our own (one-conditional) self-acceptance of our imperfections.

“One-Conditional self-acceptance” – What does this mean in practice – in real life?

It means that if you make mistakes, you make mistakes. End of story. It doesn’t mean that you are a bad or evil person for having done so. Obviously you will need to apologize and make amends if the mistakes are very serious and (accidentally) harm others physically or emotionally. But as an imperfect human being, you are bound to make mistakes. We all do – all the time!

What happens if we don’t give ourselves permission to screw up in one way or another? Our resilience and physical energy will be badly affected. Albert Bandura stated in 1966:

There is no more devastating punishment than self-contempt.”
Psycho-CyberneticsRefusing to make allowances for our humanity and imperfections will wreck our confidence when we are trying to learn new skills.

Practising “One conditional self-acceptance” (OCSA) means that you have to extend compassion towards yourself. As the Buddha said:

Compassion that extends itself to others and not to yourself, is incomplete “.

~~~

Taking action

Trying out this technique (OCSA) means that you have a much kinder and much more accepting attitude towards yourself when you make mistakes; form poor judgements; or act incompetently.

This helps you to feel much stronger when it comes to handling criticisms from other people (and internal criticism from your ‘Inner Critic’).

Callout-1If you practice this one-conditional acceptance approach to yourself, you will be taking a huge burden off yourself – one that you may not have realised you were carrying.

And guess what? If you have children, they will see you accepting your own humanity and imperfections, and not mentally beating yourself up for being imperfect.  And they will copy what you do, and accept themselves more. Do you remember the quote about what makes a great leader? “Example, example, example!“

How happy do you want your children to be?

This change of attitude towards yourself – of accepting yourself one-conditionally – will take time to become part of your approach to yourself as an imperfect human. (It can be very hard for us to accept ourselves when we make mistakes – especially when we screw up in front of other people).

Teaching is a very public job, and I found during my early teaching career, that making mistakes in front of others as I learned my job, was very challenging and emotionally threatening. But accepting my mistakes and learning from them really helped me to recover and keep my equilibrium, so I had the energy to keep learning and trying to improve my performance.

For these reasons, I strongly recommend practising “One-conditional self-acceptance” in your daily life and especially if you are learning any new skills, or have got problems in any of your relationships.

Callout-3.JPG

Can you imagine how much less stressed you will feel, if you give yourself permission to be an imperfect driver? Or mother? Or husband? Or worker/professional? (So long as you are doing your best, and not acting immorally or unethically, or disregarding the possibility of harming others!)

This then gives you the mental space to realise that, if you wanted to, you could slowly learn new behaviours to improve your performance, and your judgements, but without your inner critic nagging away in the background.

This would amount to treating yourself with respect and consideration, just as you would treat your best friend if they were in the same situation, with undeveloped skills which they wanted to improve on.

If you experiment with this self-permission, this self-acceptance, you could find it a real life-changer!

That’s all for now,

Best wishes,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Lifestyle Coach-Counsellor

The Coaching/Counselling Division

Renata4coaching@btinternet.com

01422 843 629

~~~

References:

Byrne, J. (2010) Self-acceptance and other-acceptance in relation to competence and morality. E-CENT Paper No.2(c).  Hebden Bridge: The Institute for E-CENT.  Available online: https://ecent-institute.org/e-cent-articles-and-papers/

Maltz, Maxwell (1960). Psycho-Cybernetics. Simon & Schuster.

~~~

 

 

Self discipline and therapeutic writing

Dr Jim’s Counselling Blog: Diary of a counsellor – Self-discipline and Writing Daily Pages

by Jim Byrne (c) 2014-2016

Posted on Friday 2nd December 2016 (Originally posted on Saturday 12th April 2014)

Introduction
Man-writing3I am currently (2nd December 2016) working my way through a three month course in ‘creative recovery’, based on Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way.

For this reason, I thought it would be instructive to re-post a piece I wrote about this process a couple of years ago.

~~~

What I wrote…

Today I want to share with you some insights into my own life; my own struggles with self-discipline; in order to help you to think about your own life, your own self-discipline; and to help you to become your own counsellor in this area.

In the past, I have posted about Julia Cameron’s wonderful system of Morning Pages (from her book, The Artist’s Way) – a writing activity involving stream of consciousness writing, designed to clear the clutter out of your mind, and to improve your creativity.

Of course, I have tended to advocate this system as a form of writing therapy, or being your own counsellor, using a process of self-reflection and emotional processing.

The problem is that we all have busy lives, and it is very easy to lose good habits, and to form bad habits.  So, even though I know the value of my daily pages as a writing activity (whereby I write two to three pages about whatever is on my mind) I do have a tendency to let this habit slip, especially when I am very busy.

CoverBut that is probably the time I need it most; being a counsellor who has to do a lot of very challenging emotional labour with my clients.

So sometimes I skip my pages; sometimes for days, or weeks, or even months.  This is like Popeye failing to eat his spinach!  Or Superman playing with Kryptonite.  It’s a good way to weaken myself; and to fail to take advantage of a good way to strengthen myself!

When I notice that I have let my pages slip, or drop completely, I sometimes try using ‘lines’ as punishment for skipping the writing of my pages.  Lines which include:

“I must not skip my pages.  I must not skip my pages.  I must not skip my pages”.

~~~

Why is the writing of pages so important?

But why not?  Why must I not skip the writing of my Daily Pages?

Because, as shown by the quote I recently put on my homepage:

Writing about your problems, in a diary or journal, can help you to process them and resolve them: “Diarists reported better moods and fewer moments of distress than non-diarists.  Those, in the same study, who kept a journal following trauma or bereavement also reported fewer flashbacks, nightmares and unexpected difficult memories.  Writing can itself be an act of emotional processing so it can help in many situations of danger, extremity and loss of control.  People who keep diaries are admitted to hospital less often and spend fewer days there than those who do not (keep a journal)…”

Philippa Perry, How to Stay Sane (2012). (3b)

~~~

So, if I return to writing my Daily Pages:

I will get better moods – automatically!  I will have fewer moments of distress than non-diarists (including about my business indicators, income, health, etc.!!!)

I will have fewer unexpected difficult memories, when I run into traumatic events.  By writing my pages every morning, I will be engaging in emotional processing, which will help me to stay emotionally healthy; to be happier; and to enjoy my work and my leisure; rest time, etc.

It will also help my physical health – thereby avoiding the GP and the hospital.

~~~

the-artists-way“I must not skip my pages.  I must not skip my pages.  I must not skip my pages”.

~~~

How to use penalties to keep up your good habits

Given what I know about the value of daily pages, of journaling, of keeping a diary, it would be a stupid act of self-sabotage to skip my daily pages.

So therefore, I must apply the “£2 down the drain” penalty to:

  1. My daily physical exercise (5 days per week);
  2. My daily meditation (5 days per week);
  3. AND MY DAILY PAGES WRITING (5 days per week).

If I fail to do any of these activities, by bedtime (on Monday to Friday), then I will either make up the deficit before retiring, or I will go outside, right there and then, and drop two £1 coins down the nearest drain.

That is to say:

£2 for my physical exercise (if I have not done it that day); and/or:

£2 for my meditation (if I have not done it that day); and/or:

£2 for my Daily Pages (if I have not written them that day).

This is now ‘carved in stone’.  From Monday to Friday each week I will do my meditation; do 20-30 minutes of physical exercise; and also write 2-3 pages of Daily Pages.

Make a commitment and then keep it!

This is my commitment.  I will apply the penalties shown above to keep myself on track.  I will also have a system of rewards.

If I do my meditation and my exercise and my daily pages today, I can go out for lunch in a café tomorrow, and also have a large Americano, and read the Guardian.

If I do not do my meditation and my exercise and my daily pages today, I cannot go out for lunch tomorrow, and I cannot have any coffee either.  Nor can I read the Guardian.

These three processes stand me in good stead.  When I have 3 or 4 clients to see in one day, I find I need to do all four of my exercise systems, in order to feel resilient in the face of my clients’ difficulties.  So this week, which was very busy, I did all four of my exercise systems every morning (taking about 30 minutes each time):

Warm-up exercises;

Zham Zhong (Standing like a tree)[1];

Press-ups and sit-backs; and:

Chi Kung (or Qi Gong).

~~~

If you want to learn how to use these kinds of writing therapy approaches, then please see my book on Writing therapy: How to do it.***

 

That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Jim

[1] See Lam Kam Chuen’s book ‘The Way of Energy’, http://www.amazon.co.uk/Chi-Kung-The-Way-Energy/dp/1856752151

~~~

How to change your negative habits

Blog Post No. 40

15th October 2016

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2016

Renata’s Coaching & Counselling blog: A ‘Rave review’ of “The Power of Habit – Why we do what we do and how to change”, by Charles Duhigg

Introduction      

lady-eatingCharles Duhigg’s fabulous book about The Power of Habit is a fascinating read. It’s a very practical guide to changing our habits and is very straightforward, and helpful, and contains case studies which show the process of habit change from start to finish. It’s also got easily understandable illustrations.  So, if you have some bad habits you want to eliminate, this book could be a huge help to you!

The nature of habits

What are habits? Here are two definitions

The definition of Habit by the Merriam-Webster dictionary is as follows: It’s (1) “… (a) behaviour pattern acquired by frequent repetition or physiologic exposure that shows itself in regularity or increased facility of performance” or (2): “…An acquired mode of behaviour that has become nearly or completely involuntary.”

~~~

All our life, so far as it has definite form, is a mass of habits”.

(William James, 1892)

~~~

We are habit-based human beings, and the more we know about how we form habits, the easier it will be for us to change old ones that aren’t working for us, and create new ones.

A researcher at Duke University in 2006 discovered that more than 40% of the activities people engaged in every day were habits, and not decisions they had made.  And some theorists would say that this is as high as 95% (Bargh and Chartrand, 1999).

zigs-quoteOur brains have developed the ability to create habits because they allow our brains to save effort, and to think more efficiently without having our minds cluttered with the mechanics of the many basic behaviours we have to follow each day.

The structure of a habit

In his book, Charles Duhigg has looked very closely at the specific features of what makes up a habit. They are like a loop that has three parts: the cue; the routine; and the reward.  Here is a picture of that loop:

simple-habit-loop

  1. Firstly, there is a cue (a trigger that starts off a routine: e.g. the sound of the alarm clock in the morning).

Here’s an example of a cue that I recently found in the Sunday Times Magazine, in an article by Viv Groscop (who performed her one-woman show at Edinburgh in August this year).  Viv stated that, to make her exercise routine strong, she started keeping her workout clothes and trainers next to her bed, so they were the first things she saw- the Cue! – in the early morning, as soon as she woke up. (She lost 3 stone [or 42 pounds in weight] in one year through changes in her exercise and nutrition habits).

2. Secondly, this is followed by a routine.

A routine is here defined as any pattern of behaviour.  Examples include: eating, going to the pub, watching a TV programme, going to the gym, doing homework, buying clothes, smoking, placing a bet, etc.

3. Finally, there is a reward – the most important part of the loop.

All habits have a reward at the end of them. Here’s are some examples of rewards: The feeling of comradeship when drinking at the pub; the rush of pleasure after you have just done a bout of exercise; giving yourself a cup of coffee when you’ve done your daily exercise. Seeing the good, pleasurable results of any difficult task.

callout-1The importance of craving!

For habit change to work you have to crave the reward.

There is an important alert here: You have to really crave the reward, or you won’t have the incentive to change your behaviour. Charles Duhigg describes a research project undertaken by the National Weight control agency. The agency examined the routines for eating food that had been created by people who were successful dieters. They investigated more than 6,000 people’s routines.

What was discovered was that all the successful dieters eat a breakfast (which was cued by the time of day). But they also had very real, very desirable rewards in place for themselves if they stuck to their diet plans – and it was the reward that they craved. (For example, being able to fit into new clothes in a smaller size; etc.)

lady-exercising-with-mental-image-of-rewardAnd if they felt themselves weakening in their commitment, they changed their focus onto the rewards that they would get if they kept to their plans. This visualisation of the very real rewards they would get, kept them strong in the face of temptation.

Apparently people who started new exercise routines showed that they were more likely to follow an exercise routine if they chose a specific cue (first thing in the morning, or as soon as they get in from work, or before bedtime). So having a cue in place is crucial to initiate the new behaviour.

The new routine follows from the cue.

And the reward is what people crave at the end.  Some of the rewards mentioned were having a beer, or allowing yourself an evening of watching the TV without guilt.

powerspin2As my own experiment, I wanted to establish a daily habit of exercising my arm muscles, to firm them up.  Therefore, I set up a cue which is the start of the BBC TV programme “Pointless” at 5.15pm every day.

When I hear the theme music for Pointless, I get out our “Powerspin” device (illustrated above) and do a pre-planned (recommended) set of exercises.

This exercise routine is designed to strengthen our arms and back muscles, and core (stomach), and is very simple.

And the reward for me (which I crave strongly – otherwise it won’t work) is the knowledge that my arms and back and core muscles are getting stronger and fitter, and will keep me fit and able to carry heavy objects into old age! And so far so good – I’ve only missed a few times!

Duhigg’s own experiment

Charles Duhigg did a really interesting personal experiment to see if he could change one of his own habits.  He was eating too many cookies and he was starting to put on weight. Here’s his explanation.  His description of his experiment and the results are shown in the following YouTube video clip:

~~~

The importance of substitution

What if we have a habit that we want to change? Can we get rid of it?

How do we go about it? Charles Duhigg states that we can’t get rid of old habits – but what we can do is substitute new routines for the old ones, and get the same rewards.

habit-change-process

He explains that a golden rule of habit change, which has been validated by repeated studies for a long time, is as follows:

“To change a habit, we must keep the old cue, and deliver the old reward, but change the routine.

“That’s the rule: if you use the same cue, and provide the same reward, you can shift the routine and change the habit. Almost any behaviour can be transformed if the cue and reward stay the same”. (Page 62)

He gives the example of someone who wants to give up cigarettes. If the person wanting to quit smoking fails to find something else to do, when they start to crave nicotine, then they will be unable to stop!  It will be too hard for them.

Stopping addictions

Charles Duhigg states that the organisation called ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’ is effective in helping people reduce their drinking habits because it examines and shines a very clear light on the cues which trigger drinking in people; and their program deliberately encourages people to identify the cues and rewards that encourages their alcoholic habits, and then assists them as they try to find new behaviours.

So the implied question that AA asks an alcoholic is: “What rewards do you get from alcohol?”

“In order for alcoholics to get the same rewards that they get in a bar, AA has built a system of meetings and companionship – (the ‘Sponsor’ each person works with) – that strives to offer as much escape, distraction and catharsis as a Friday night bender.” (Page 71)

If someone wants to get support from another person, they can receive this by talking to their sponsor or by going to a group meeting, rather than “toasting a drinking buddy”.

aa-logo

A researcher called J. Scott Tonigan has been looking at the work of AA for more than ten years, and he states that if you look at Step 4 of the 12 step program, (which is to make a ‘searching and fearless inventory of ourselves and to admit to God, to ourselves and another human being the exact nature of our wrongs’), then he considers that something crucial is taking place, which he sums up like this:

“It’s not obvious from the way they are written, but to complete those steps, someone has to create a list of triggers for all their alcoholic urges. When you make a self-inventory, you’re figuring out all the things that make you drink…”  The cues!

The rewards of drinking

The AA organisation then asks alcoholics (or alcohol dependent individuals) to look really hard for the rewards they get from alcohol, and the cravings that are behind the behaviour. And what is discovered?

“Alcoholics crave a drink because it offers escape, relaxation, companionship, the blunting of anxieties and an opportunity for emotional release….the physical effects of alcohol are one of the least rewarding parts of drinking for addicts.” (Page 71)

So what AA does is gets you to create new routines for your spare time instead of going out drinking. You can relax and talk through any worries or concerns you might have at the meetings.

The triggers (cues) are the same, and the payoffs (rewards) are the same, it’s just the behaviour that changes,” states Tonigan.

structure-of-a-habitDuhigg includes in his book a summary of a valuable experiment conducted in 2007 by a German neurologist called Muellor. He and his fellow researchers at the University of Magdeburg, identified the specific part of the brain (the basal ganglia) where the habit loop is based, and recruited alcoholics who had been in rehab and had been unable to give up drink. They recruited five alcoholics.

What they did next was embed small electrical appliances into the brains of these men. They put them in the part of the brain where the ‘habit loop’ resides, which is in the basal ganglia.

basal-ganglia

These appliances gave off a small electrical charge which interrupted the neurological reward sequence that created a craving in people. This stopped the habit loop completely.

After the operations had taken place and the participants had recovered, they were shown a sequence of images. The images were related to their drinking habits, and they were pictures of a glass of beer, or people going into a bar.

When the electrical charges were being run, they stopped the men reacting in their habitual way, and they stopped drinking. And one of the participants told Mueller that when this electrical current was operating on his brain, then his longings for alcohol disappeared.

However these cravings came back as soon as the participants’ brains were not receiving an electrical charge. The participants’ drinking habits returned with full force for four out of the five subjects.

lads-drinking

What was noticed was that the participants relapsed when very stressful events happened in their lives, and to curb their anxiety they turned to self-medication: i.e. alcohol.

But the good news was that once they learned new routines for managing their stress, their drinking stopped completely! Some of the participants decided to go for therapy, and one participant started attending AA meetings.

So the men taking part in the experiment embedded these new behaviour patterns, or routines – (going to therapy/learning and using new stress management techniques; or going to the AA meetings) – into their lives, and were successful at managing their alcohol use. And one of the men, who had tried to detox from alcohol sixty times previously and was unsuccessful, found that, after this routine change, he never had another drink.

The result of the experiment

To summarise the value of the experiment, it showed that the former alcoholics only succeeded in eliminating their drinking behaviour because they developed new routines which followed the old triggers (or cues), and gave them their comforting rewards.

Apparently the techniques that were developed by the AA for changing habits have also been successfully applied to children’s temper tantrums, sex addictions and other types of behaviour.

The AA is described in Duhigg’s book as an organisation which creates techniques to change the habits associated with the use of alcohol:

“AA is in essence a giant machine for changing habit loops and though the habits associated with alcohol consumption are extreme, the lessons AA provides demonstrates how almost any habit – even the most obstinate – can be changed.” Charles Duhigg

He makes it clear in his book that overeating, alcoholism, or smoking, are ingrained habits that take real commitment to change. But if you know how your habits are working, this makes it easier to experiment with new behaviours.

Sherlock-holmes-image.JPG

Essentially, Duhigg considers that if you look very carefully at the cues (or triggers) and cravings and the rewards that fuel any unhealthy or self-destructive habit that you have, then this scrutiny will help you choose more constructive routines which deliver the same rewards.

The book has several really interesting case studies in it. For example, right at the beginning of the book, Lisa Allen is described. She focussed on one specific pattern – smoking – and this was described as a Keystone habit’. This smoking habit, after being successfully changed by her, led her to reprogram a lot of the other routines in her life as well, because her achievement had a knock-on effect.

What is a ‘keystone’ habit?

Duhigg admits that identifying keystone habits isn’t easy: they are the habits which, if you change them, will give you ‘small wins’. They facilitate new structures of behaviour in someone’s life and start to make it easier to change other, bigger habits. Here are some examples taken from research:

Exercise seems to be a keystone habit that has a beneficial, ‘knock-on’ effect. When people begin exercising, and it can be as little as once a week, they begin to change other, unconnected habits in their lives. It has been discovered that they reduce their smoking, spend money less, and have more understanding for their family and the people they work with.

Exercise spills over“, stated James Prochaska (a University of Rhode Island researcher). “There’s something about it that makes good habits easier.”

Other studies have revealed that families who have their meals together regularly raise children with higher school grades, more emotional control, better homework skills and increased confidence.

Apparently making your bed every morning is also a habit that has a spill over effect. It is correlated with a higher level of happiness, stronger skills at sticking to a budget and a higher level of productivity.

~~~

A powerful example

habit-reversal-trainingHere is an example of the full process of habit change.

Mandy, a chronic, nail-biting graduate student who was at the Mississippi State University, went into the counselling centre at the university and they referred her to a doctoral psychology student who was studying a type of therapy called: “habit reversal training.”

What this psychology student got Mandy to do was very simple: He got her to describe what triggered her nail-biting. (That is her cue!) She was asked to describe what she felt just before she lifted her hands to nibble at her nails. (What cued her?)

The answer Mandy gave was that she felt tension in her fingers (the cue) and once she had started to bite her nails to reduce the tension, she felt she couldn’t stop until she had bitten all her nails.

As they talked, it became clear that she bit her nails when she was bored, and as she described a number of situations, it also became apparent that when she had bitten all her nails, she felt a “sense of completeness”. This was a physical experience that was rewarding for her.

At the end of their first session, this psychologist asked Mandy to do some homework:

“Carry an index card and each time you feel the cue – a tension in your fingers – make a check mark on the card”.

Index-cards-image.JPG

The following week she came back to the psychologist and she’d made 28 marks on the card, at times when she was conscious of feeling tension in her finger tips, which was her cue to start biting her nails.

The next thing the psychologist taught Mandy was to create a “competing response”. When she experienced the familiar tension in her fingers (which had always led to her biting her nails), she was to look around quickly for something that would make her unable to put her fingers into her mouth e.g. putting her hands in her pockets, or underneath her legs, or take hold of a pencil.

Then she was to look around for something physically stimulating like rubbing her arms, or any type of physical movement.

The cue – tension in the fingers – stayed the same. But the routine changed (to rubbing and/or physical movement); and the rewards stayed the same (relief from tension in her fingers).

She practised the new routine and when she left the psychologist’s office she was given another homework task. This time, she was to keep using the card to do a checkmark whenever she felt the urge to bite her nails, and to make a hash mark when she succeeded in overcoming her nail-biting habit.

Manicured-nails.JPG

The result: The following week Mandy showed that she had only bitten her nails three times, and had made the competing response  (rubbing arms, or physical movement) seven times. So she rewarded herself with a manicure, and continued using the cards.

After a month had passed, her habit had disappeared, and her new ways of responding to the feelings of tension in her fingers, the “competing responses”, were now totally automatic! One habit had taken the place of the previous habit.

~~~

Habit reversal

Here is a quote by Nathan Azrin, who was one of the people who developed habit reversal training:

“It seems ridiculously simple, but once you are aware of how your habit works, once you recognise the cues and the rewards, you’re half-way to changing it.”

Apparently today, habit reversal is used to treat gambling, depression, smoking, anxiety, procrastination, and sex and alcohol addiction etc.

Charles Duhigg makes the point that although the habit process can be simply described, it doesn’t mean that it’s easily changed.

mark-twain

Charles Duhigg states:

“It’s facile to imply that smoking, alcoholism, over-eating or other ingrained patterns can be upended without real effort. Genuine change requires real work and self-understanding of the cravings driving the behaviours. No one will quit smoking because they can sketch a habit loop.

“However, by understanding habits’ mechanisms, we gain insights that make new behaviours easier to grasp. Anyone struggling with addiction or destructive behaviours can benefit from help from many quarters, including trained therapists, physicians, social workers and clergy.

“Much of those changes are accomplished because people examine the cues, cravings and rewards that drive their behaviours and then find ways to replace their self-destructive routines with healthier alternatives, even if they aren’t aware of what they are doing at the time. Understanding the cues and cravings driving your habits won’t make them suddenly disappear – but it will give you a way to change the pattern.” (Page 77)

~~~

kids-smokingConclusion

Why do I think this is such a valuable and useful book for people to read? Its value lies in the way it makes habit change understandable, and this is very hope-inspiring in all of us who have habits we want to change.  And also for those of us who are committed to helping other people change their unwanted habits.

The book also has examples of organisations that tried to develop the habits of their employees to make them create more productive businesses and other very interesting information.

So what habit would you like to change? If you have one specific habit in mind, for example like reducing your weight and as a reward, wearing a particular dress or outfit at Christmas, then what this book gives you are the tools to help you change your behaviour.

It’s very tough to do it on your own, and having a lifestyle coach or counsellor can help you achieve these goals. So that’s where I come in.

Contact me if you’ve got a sense of hope from reading about the techniques I have summarised from this book, and you want to change your life in a positive way.

That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Coach-Counsellor

The Coaching/Counselling Division

Renata4coaching@btinternet.com

01422 843 629

~~~

References:

The Power of Habit – Why we do what we do and how to change. By Charles Duhigg, (2012) London, William Heinemann.

Bargh, J.A. and Chartrand, T.L. (1999) The unbearable automaticity of being.  American Psychologist, 54(7): 462-479.

~~~