There is a really valuable tool that you need to know about. It will make a massive difference to how you perceive problems, deal with worry and continue to overcome challenges.
It’ll take you out of your stuck state or unhelpful thinking and put you in a better position to handle any challenge. And because it’s that powerful I’m passionate about you really taking this technique and applying it as much as possible.
One of the reasons we get stuck or feel we can’t achieve something, is because we’ve created a story about that particular situation.
You need to wrap your head around this concept: for you to feel unhappy or frustrated, you will have generated a universal or generalised story of the problem. I make no apologies for labouring the point because so many of you really need to understand this:
Breaking these absolute truths is critical in getting you into a mindset that helps you with whatever problem or challenge you’re facing.
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Let me illustrate this with an example. A client recently started a new job. A few months in, they told him he’d made some errors, some data entry issues. This had caused him a lot of distress and concern, particularly since they’d not shared the specifics of the errors. As is often the case, he had inflated these worries and made them mean more.
He was very keen to manage his anxiety and stress not only for right now but also for the future. I gave him a couple of basic questions and you’re going to see how what I’ve shared above is demonstrated below.
I asked him, of this particular task with the errors, how much time in his working day had he spent doing this? He replied around 45-60 minutes a day at the most. We worked out that, as a percentage, it was about 6% of his working time per day. I asked if there had there been any other problems errors or mistakes in any other part of his role. He replied that no, this was the first and only time anything had come up.
I reflected back to him two things. 1) nobody is perfect. And 2) he’s performing perfectly fine 94% of the time.
These may seem both very small points but we can fall into the trap of believing we need to achieve 100%. He needed to recognise that we have imperfections and no employer would be fair in criticising someone for delivering on 94% of their workload.
I hope you can see that from these two points took it from a big issue to a very small one. This problem merely involved 6% of his workload. This exercise helped him de-escalate the issue making it more manageable, more bearable and help him wait for more information regarding what the mistakes actually were.
The next time we meet up I asked him had he had any more information regarding the mistakes. And he had, he received an explicit, detailed list of the data entry errors he had made. Smiling he showed me the list. Before I commented he said it for me.
“Of the 6% I gave this task, the errors equalled in the region of 0.5%.”
He saw that it was nothing more than a small fraction of his workload per day. From the large worry of the ‘error’ we were able to step it through to the specific – non-generalised – reality of 0.5% of his workload.
I hope you can begin to appreciate how from that generalised, universal, view of a big error we tracked it down to specifically what the issue was. And the client was able to fully dissolve his stuck feeling.
I implore you to take this on board: nothing is perfect, and you mustn’t judge yourself against it. We can be judged by an ideal. Being judged against perfection is a crippling measurement that we must put all our effort into resisting. Yes, for the client, there’s something to learn, but he’s not letting it define who he is.
More importantly it gave him the tools to apply in any future situation. He would be able to work through the same steps and not arrive to his previous level of anxiety.
Get really specific about the situation, problem or challenge that you’re currently thinking about. Take it from the generalised, universal, point of view down to the specific. Getting specific is far easier to resolve because you make it smaller. Keeping it in a generalised version of the reality makes it impossible to achieve.
I really hope you get my point. Take it down to the specifics, down to the detail. It creates a mind shift that is the gateway to dominating your unhelpful responses.
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Ben Jackson is a registered counsellor, coach, and lecturer with nearly 10 years of professional experience. He helps clients with stress and anxiety, anger management, self esteem, confidence, and depression.
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