One foundational process to undertake in the development of greater self-confidence is to manage how you interpret events and situations. The way that we behave is dependent upon how we feel, and how we feel is dependent upon what we think. This process, as laid out by influential cognitive behavioral psychologist Judith Beck, is as follows:
At their best, people with a healthy sense of self-esteem assess situations realistically, and thus calmly manage their emotions. This process leads to behaviors and actions that are appropriate for the situation.
However, when people who have not learned to manage their insecurities enter into similar situations, they are likely to misinterpret events, leading to feelings that are out of proportion and behaviors that are either under- or over-reactions to the situation.
Oftentimes, employees are unexpectedly asked to meet with their manager. In such a situation, a person with healthy self-esteem is surprised and curious (thoughts) with mild apprehension (feelings), and walks into the manager’s office with an open mind and genuine interest in what the manager has to say. The healthy individual is confident and comfortable.
An insecure person in the same situation has exaggerated thoughts—“Am I in trouble? Will I get dressed down? What have I done wrong?”—which lead to heightened feelings (despair, anxiety, even shortness of breath).
In such a state, an individual is likely to walk into the manager’s office exhibiting behaviors that are excessive (manic, restless, or withdrawn) and generally inappropriate for the situation. The manager may just want to know the address of that great seafood restaurant where the team ate last week!
This is a simple example to demonstrate the typical levels of anxiety that plague an insecure person. Thankfully, there is a fix. It may not be possible to stop the thought, healthy or exaggerated, that comes into your mind as you assess a situation. But it is important to realize that these thoughts inevitably lead to feelings.
So before acting on your initial feelings, reassess the situation to determine if your initial thoughts were rational or perhaps a fearful product of your insecurity. The process looks like this:
There is a pause point—between feeling anxious and taking action—when it is important to take the time to determine if your thoughts are, in fact, rational and appropriate for the situation.
Once this process becomes routine, the insecure person increasingly recognizes their patterns of irrational thinking. They can learn that the exaggerated thoughts and feelings are (usually) out of proportion to the situation.
With practice, thoughts become more tempered, and inappropriate reactions and excessive feelings of anxiety begin to subside. Effectively managing behavior is one of the greatest assets an individual can possess. Furthermore, this tool generalizes to virtually any situation, and is particularly useful for those in leadership positions.
Next time you are unexpectedly called into your manager’s office, take a moment to assess your thoughts and feelings. Are they warranted? How can you adjust?
THE TAKEAWAY: By taking a pause point to interpret your own thoughts and feelings, you can survive—even thrive—in difficult situations with a healthier frame of mind.
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