THIS WEEK: A day late. . . the weather here in the Pacific Northwest has been beautiful the past few days! Sunny and peculiarly warm. At least for winter. Last year it snowed the first week of March, and here as that date rapidly approaches we are no where near snow weather. With the sun comes a lot of benefits.
Looking for the plus side to things can be exactly what is needed in the moment. After a family hike yesterday my eldest son was complaining how thirsty he was, and looking for something positive to say about the situation, since I could not produce water for him, I told him instead of saying, "Man, I am so thirsty!!!" (with a negative tone) say, "Wow, that first glass of water I am going to drink will taste so good!" (with a positive inflection). See the difference? He is going to be thirsty either way. He can be thirsty and very in need of a glass of water miserably or contented.
If you are like most people that is so much easier said than done. We all know that if there becomes a problem, we know that we had a thought process to that problem, and we know that we had feelings or emotions attached to that problem. Clearly we all know that if we cannot change the problem (needing the glass of water in this case) we can change the way we think about the problem and therefore change the way we feel about the problem, ultimately taking that 'problem' and reducing it down to an occurance or challenge.
There would be a magic key if I were to say it is as simple as that. Change the way you think of the problem and the problem goes away! Poof! O.K., so it doesn't take the problem away, but believe it or not, you would be amazed at how much it makes a difference.
So where to begin? I consider myself to be a person who does not do much journaling, however, it is amazing how helpful a pen and a piece of paper can be.
Going through the DBT program I learned a little tool that really amazed me and at first I thought it was a joke. In the sessions for Problem Solving, there was a form for making a list of Pros to a given situation and Cons to that situation. Yes, they had simplified it down to pen, paper, pros and cons. Does it get any more simple? (and I paid how much for this course? - seriously though the course is worth ever penny)
Sometimes when we are suffering we complicate things. Not intentionally, we don't sit around hurting and dream up ways of making our lives harder. But we do that when we grasp at straws and desperately try and fix a problem without taking the simple step of looking at what is a positive of the situation and what is a negative of the situation. The first filter of reducing our pain came in the way I just typed that last sentence, read it again. This is where a clear distinction of what judgments are comes in handy, notice I switched from saying the 'problem' to saying the 'situation'. The word Problem brings negative judgments. They go hand-in-hand. The word 'situation' brings curiosity. It opens up the door for you to take a curious approach to what is bringing you pain. Curiosity is a great tool because forces you to ask questions about the situation you are in. By using the word situation, the natural question that would come up first would be, "If this isn't a problem, then why am I in so much pain?" Notice here, I did not say you weren't in pain. Simply changing the word from problem to situation does not make any pain go away. It only helps open the curtains in your mind and lets a little sunlight in. Get yourself asking questions and you will get some answers. Those answers will be what brings your pain down.
Back to the pros and cons. If you are practicing your mindfulness regularly you will be more likely to notice when you are off of baseline emotionally and you won't have to wait for something to happen to cue you into needing to ask questions about your current situation, although, there will be times that you will find yourself right in the middle of a very painful situation and that will be your cue to get out your pen and paper and start listing your pros and cons.
Most of us are used to using the tool of pros and cons with more traditional decisions. We are not so versed in using it in making decisions that we aren't really sure that we are making a decision at all. Think about it though, I am in pain, I want badly to engage in target behavior and I am not thinking clearly. By applying my newly found tools of DBT, I will know that my urge to engage in target behavior is my cue to take out my pros and cons tool, I write at the top of the page: "If I engage in target behavior" of course you will want to write specifically what that target behavior is, do not be generic when using pros and cons. Be as descriptive as you can, because when it comes time to list the pros and cons of engaging in this target behavior you will want to be sure that you do not lessen the seriousness of the con of what that behavior really would be. So you have your pros and cons list labeled, and you pick the pros first, list anything and everything that would be positive about your choice to engage. Be honest with yourself, one of the pros of engaging would be relief from the pain. If your list is not honest, when it comes to listing the cons you will be less likely to believe them. Remember, your doing this on the basis of what IF you engage. So after you are finished and you can look at a truly candid list of pros and cons, you read them aloud to yourself and then make your decision as to whether you will engage or not.
Looking at the urge to engage in target behavior that way can be very sobering, and I would venture a guess that you will be surprised as to how effective this tool is.
TRY THIS: pick a conflict or a situation that is causing you distress and make your pros and cons list. Do not wait for something to crop up before you use this tool. You will want to have some practice with it before you can expect it to work in the moment. Keep working with this tool, you may find that you make a list and you still choose the ineffective behavior. This doesn't mean it didn't work. It means that you made an informed choice. Whether that choice was the "right or wrong" choice. . . well that will be for another week! Let us know how this works for you, how do you feel about it? Challenges, successes, etc.