Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Our Guest Blogger Writes About Personal Problem Solving

Well...we're something like four days into our cessation of drinking (that`s right, we quite drinking - http://just-call-me-frank.blogspot.com/2011/12/quitter-quitter-why-were-bitter.html)...and all is going well.

We are, however, looking forward to New Years Eve when we will have a bottle of wine to celebrate, and then "dry up" for the foreseeable future. The nicest thing about quitting drinking, unlike the other habits we cut out this past year, is that we do not intend on never drinking again, only cleaning ourselves up a bit, and then being more responsible about our consumption. Resetting, it you will.

We survived the holiday weekend...which was easy because we celebrated it with the house unadorned by a single trace of Christmas; and we celebrated Christmas Eve by making homemade pizza (from scratch), eating Twizzlers and watching movies (Bad Teacher & 
Bundy: An American Icon) - Christmas is a bit of a blur, but we spent it with just James, and there was a hippo involved (http://jstcallmefrank.tumblr.com/post/14790794916/merry-christmas-santa-didnt-get-us-what-we)

Now, on to our guest blogger Kerry Stott...granted this piece would have been better posted before the holiday season (
we dropped the ball on that), when people traditionally get overwhelmed with life commitments, and problem solving, but guess what...better late then never (right?), and maybe going into the new year you can employ the steps she lays out in your life, so 2012 can be a year of personal empowerment for you.

We want to comment on the the part where Kerry says "What would Frankie say?", which made us laugh. Truth is, we have been known to fall into the trap of taking on too many responsibilities/commitment, particularly in our last job, and relationships...and getting overwhelmed, which for us can be a drastic problem (internally). It's highly dependent on who (which one of us) the person is asking for the favour,
The Other Girl (eliminated core alter) used to be terrible for getting us involved in copious commitments the last year we were with her, she always wanted to please people, to make people happy, over making herself/us happy; we tend to be better, collectively, at saying no to things now that she is gone...thankfully employing the steps Kerry lays out in her piece.

~ Frank

So, without further ado....

When is a problem not a problem?
Colleague: Kerry can you go to a formulation meeting for me ...
Me: Yeah, sure.
Another colleague: Kerry I’m stuck with a patient, can you co-work them with me.
Me: Well, my caseload is rather full but yes I think I can.
Family member: Kerry you’re good at DIY can you help me put some shelving up.
Me: Of course, but I’m a bit tired.
Friend: can you bring along a cake to the party.  I really like the chocolate cake you make, can you do that one?
Me: Yes, I would love to do it.
Me (thinking): Hell bells I’m knackered and now I have SO much to do.

I am TERRIBLE for saying yes to people.  I don’t want to let people down or disappoint them.  I have a very hectic life; several jobs, coach rugby, family, husband, writing, blah blah blah.  I know that there are 24 hours in everyday and I do pack a lot in but if I say yes to lots of people I end up feeling very stressed and unhappy, but I find it really difficult to say no.  The down side is that I keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again; and I get the same results of feeling unhappy and put upon.  I try saying ‘no’ but often I feel worse and think that I am letting other people down and that I have failed them in some way.  Every strategy I tried I could not pull myself out of my ‘being helpful’ quagmire; aaaahhhhh!  Either someone sabotaged it or I sabotaged myself by relenting, and I would end up feeling a complete pillock.

You have heard me say that there is no difference between myself and my patients.  That we all tend to think and react in the same ways.  Well, before I learnt about Stop and Think therapy I was already putting its principals into action and I would like to share them with you because I have seen how it has helped others and helped me.   Plus *rolls her eyes* there is an evidence base for it so it is not just me spouting some quirky therapy, it works.  In fact, for those of you who regularly read my work, you will know that I am doing some research work and it is this problem solving therapy that the research is about.  It is a group therapy and works because other members of the group help each other but it is not as intrusive or invasive as some group psychotherapies due to its’ rigid structure.  Allow me to explain.

Problem solving therapy, also known as Stop and Think, helps you break down the problems you have and develop strategies to combat the problems so that there you have more options.  The more options the more in control you feel, and then the less stressed you are.  It is called positive problem orientation.  When you feel that there are no options or no way out of a problem, you can (and do) feel very negative about it and can feel rather hopeless about the outcome (negative problem orientation).  Having strategies and options can and does make us feel more positive and confident at getting an outcome we want. 

It breaks down into 6 components.  1) Feeling bad, which looks at the physical feelings of having a problem like a tense tummy, butterflies, feeling sick; some people struggle to realise when they are getting into difficulties.  2) What is my problem, finding out what actually is the issue.  3) What do I want, defining what you want the outcome to be.  4) Options, writing down all the options available good and bad, odd and sensible, legal and illegal; then weighing up all the pros and cons of each option, this is where the group joins in and helps out.  5) Action plan, finding out which short, medium and long term options you are going to use.  6) How did I do, reviewing what when on, what worked, what did not and why it worked or did not work.

On paper it all sounds achingly simple but it’s not.  Giving yourself the chance and more importantly the time to put the brakes on life and reflect upon what you want and not being swept along in the by the tide of ‘you have to’ and ‘I must do/be/try...’.  When was the last time you said to someone at home or at work ‘Hang on, I’m just going to have a think about this before I answer you’?  Thinking about it, it makes sense doesn’t it?  The quality of the answer would be better and the outcome for you would be better.  Like everything in life the more you practice it, the easier it gets.  I used to be terrible for saying yes to just about everything because the pressure was always on and I like to please but this did not take into account my needs and the quality of the work or jobs or babysitting etc. that I was doing.  One of the most powerful things that I have learnt to do is ask for time to think about my answer.  It doesn’t mean that I will say no or yes but it gives me some psychological space.  Also if you practice this technique enough times people start to automatically give you time to think.

By reflecting and reviewing what actual options you have gives you more control and more power.  When people feel helpless and out of control, they can make odd decisions and often have knee jerk reactions.  It does not instil calm and relaxed feelings either in yourself or the person coming to you with the problem.  The really dumb thing is that this therapy works and works well.

I was at a meeting yesterday, I went there out of the goodness of my heart, it was quite far away and I was not getting paid, it was for the research job I start in a couple of weeks.  I needed to shadow someone, for a more technical aspect of my role, and I was asked if I could return the next day.  My gut reaction was to say yes, I was available and it would be good to get a head start on the job so that I could hit the ground running.   But, this would be a 100 mile round trip, I was not getting paid and I had already given up a day off to go to that meeting, going the next day would mean me giving up another one of my precious days off.  You see the pattern, glutton for punishment.  I could feel that stressed feeling rising in my stomach, me wanting to say yes but wanting to keep my day off.  Everyone in the meeting was looking at me, I could feel myself getting hot and going red.

1) Feeling bad: I had a knot in my stomach, my pulse was racing, and I was feeling hot and going red. I also had that worried sinking feeling.
2) What’s my problem: Being asked to do a job when I am not getting paid and in my own time.
3) What do I want: To extract myself and keep my day off.
4) Options:
- Say no and tell them to fuck off – not appealing and my new boss was there I don’t want to lose my job before I start.
- Say yes – I would lose my day off and feel stressed and put upon and back into the same revolving scenarios.
- Make up an excuse – do-able, I could think of at least 3 that I could do make up but I run the risk of being caught out.
- Get up and leave the meeting room – I think I would feel even more of a complete prick if I did this.
- Say no because your time is precious – yes but it would take some confidence and I run the risk of offending my new boss and colleagues.
- Say no and point out that I am not getting paid – pass me that confidence, I need it for this option!
- Say no and highlight that it is not much notice – also do-able but I am breathing into a paper bag now with nerves.

What would Frankie say? Tell them to get lost #stabbytweet.
What would my hubby say? What are you playing at, you’re not getting paid.
What would my mate say? Stop putting other people first, when are you going to learn?

5) Action plan: Say no and point out that it is too short a notice.  If that is not accepted point out that I would not be getting paid and I had not started the job officially yet.
6) How did I do? I said no and that it was too short a notice, I then pointed out that I wasn’t getting paid and that I hadn’t started the job yet.  As it turned out, the world did not end (OMFG).  My new boss admitted that he was getting a bit wrapped up in his work and that of course I had plans, I was a busy and successful person which was why he employed me. THEN he apologised to me!!!! What the actual fuck!  Wow!  How did that happen?

Problem solving can cause us to be either the success we want to be or be very stressful, and all points in between.  Taking stock and giving yourself time to reflect and have strategies is a good plan and it pays off.  To me my example felt and was real, I had a real dilemma but I hope that by using my example from yesterday that you can see that people who are allegedly ‘together’ and ‘successful’ still feel stressed and uncomfortable with the problems that they have.  And if you look around, the ‘together’ people screw up too but because they have a positive problem orientation, they can roll with the punches a bit better and recover faster.

If you are genuinely stuck, write it down on paper, breaking your problem down into the 6 steps. Have a go, give it a try; you might even develop a new strategy for an old problem and break your cycle, but you don’t know until you try.

Good luck and happy problem solving.
Kerry x @kerrystott

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