Anyone who has tried meditation knows first hand the constant ongoing stream of unconscious self-talk. Trying to empty the mind is very difficult, even when we are consciously trying to avoid thought it just keeps coming!

Bryce Courtney once pointed out that our negative self-talk is so overwhelming that if we treated our friends that way we would soon have no friends. Negative self-talk is a destructive habit but it is part of our essential defence mechanism that we develop to protect ourselves. Often when we tell ourselves “I really can’t do this” what we actually mean is “I really can’t deal with doing this” If we find ourselves in a stressful situation – such as meeting new people for the first time – our negative thoughts are there to tell us that we shouldn’t do it.

The most commonly accepted definition of stress is that it occurs when a person believes that “demands exceed the personal and social skills the individual think they have”. Perception is the key to this as situations are not stressful in themselves; rather it is the interpretation of the situation that determines the level of stress we feel. And our interpretation is usually driven by our negative self-talk.

Meichenbaum & Deffenbacher introduced the skill of coping self-talk to help us deal with the fear of meeting people and overcoming shyness. (The Counselling Psychologist, 1988 pp 16-90)

The concept of coping with self-talk has two major elements, first the ‘calming’ and then the ‘coaching’. The aim is to replace the negative self-talk with more helpful ones. It is about doing as well as you can rather than aiming for perfection, and thus has a far more realistic goal than trying to instil unobtainable standards.

By using coping self-talk you set yourself attainable goals which you are more likely to achieve.

So in the moments before you open that door give yourself a calming talking to!

Tell yourself to stay calm – Simple little statements like “Relax” “just take it easy” with a couple of deep breaths will stop the rising level of anxiety.

Tell yourself that you can cope. – and reaffirm regularly. Other coping statements we can use during the social situation could be :

· “Take my time. Breath slowly and smile”
· “Relax – I can manage this if I take it one step at a time”
· “I don’t have to be liked by everyone – all I can do is the best I can”

When we introduce the coaching self-talk we can intersperse it with ongoing calming talk.
The way that coaching talk can help you is:

By specifying your personal goals for the situation – so you could say “I will go up and introduce myself to a minimum of two people” By keeping it achievable and maintaining coping strategies you should be able to reach your goal.

By listing the steps to the goal in simple language – tell yourself, “I will go and get a drink and smile at three people as I do so” “I will respond if someone speaks to me.”

By concentrating on the task – talk yourself through the first introduction. This is a well known coping strategy as you instruct yourself. Pilots are taught to do this when they talk themselves through difficult situations.

You can use your coping and coaching self-talk before, during or after social situations. After is especially important. So instead of telling ourselves how dreadful it all was, and how stupid we were, why not try

I’m proud of how I am learning coping skills.”
“Each time I try it gets easier”
“I have shown myself that I can do it now”

We need to realise that we are often more harsh on ourselves, more judgemental, and more unjust to ourselves in a way that we never be with friends and co-workers. So we need to challenge this and while perfection is an impossible aim, setting ourselves realistic and achievable goals is the way to cope with our fears of personal inadequacies.

Once we have put ourselves in a more positive frame of mind, we can look at some skills involved in making that initial contact. – so come back on Friday to find out some simple tips on what to do after you have taken the plunge and said “Hello, I’m …”

Michele @ Trischel.

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