I was on a bus yesterday and recently have been observing the different responses that bus drivers take to the various events that they face within their job. Some seem to take perverse pleasure in driving off just as someone is running to catch the bus; others wait patiently and helpfully for the person to reach the stop. Some drive like maniacs so that cyclists have to scatter; others are courteous and careful. Some are really helpful to confused tourists; others are dismissive, rude and obstructive.
At Positiveworks our coaching and training courses are based on the principles of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and you may well have read that the Government is wanting to introduce this into schools (see our book FUTURE DIRECTIONS http://www.positiveworks.com/education/futuredirections.htm) and also make it more available to those suffering from depression. So what is CBT and how might it help a bus driver or anyone else finding it hard to make the most of the situation in which they have placed themselves? Basically it works on the premise that how you think affects how you feel and that how you feel will drive your behaviours and actions. For example if I have a large pile of work on my desk and think “I have too much to do in too little time” it makes me feel stressed. Feeling stressed stops me thinking clearly and the work ends up taking longer and I may damage relationships with colleagues in the process as we communicate very differently when we when we feel stressed, anxious, fearful or angry to when we feel calm and confident. Similarly we make different decisions when we feel down to when we feel up and it all starts in our mind.
It is not a new concept: it is based on the reflections of the Stoic philosophers and Epictetus in particular, born around A.D.55. He was born a slave so had experience of hard times himself and yet his words are quoted by Governments all these years later. You may have heard before the quote “Individuals are disturbed not by events but by the views they take of them.” Therefore that it is our thoughts, reactions and approaches that unsettle us, not the nature of the event itself. I am sure we have all seen this in action – one person we know who was made redundant and felt destroyed by the process, another who was delighted that they could now focus on some new opportunity. Same situation, different response.
CBT is not about ‘Polyanna’ thinking that everything in the garden is roses: it is about constructive reasoning, enabling people to develop thoughts, beliefs and expectations that best support their goals and quality of life. For example if someone has a sales meeting with a client it is not going to help them if they are doubtful of their ability to achieve the sale. On the other hand if they are thinking they ‘must’ achieve the sale this also sets up tension so a CBT response would be “I would prefer it if I make this sale but I can manage it if I don’t as there are plenty of other customers out there.” Or “I have made sales before so there is no reason why I shouldn’t succeed this time.” It is about finding thoughts that lead to an emotional state that helps you manage the situation. It is about trying one’s best but understanding that the world is an uncertain place. It is about accepting one’s fallibility as a human being and yet doing what one can to make the most of oneself, others and all the situations in which one finds oneself.
So CBT can help the bus drivers, or others who get resentful and bad-tempered in their work, to realise that they do, in fact, have a choice in the way they respond to the situations they face every day. If they are choosing to remain in their current job they can choose, in Stoic fashion, to make the most of things and may well be happier as a result. It is the flick of a mental switch. If they choose to leave they will be doing so in strength and not in anger or desperation. It is not about not acknowledging their emotions. It is about realizing that their emotions are showing them that they need to review their life and consider what action they could take to achieve greater happiness and fulfilment. There are always options of approach, though sometimes we don’t see them. What are your options to make the most of the situations you may face over the next week?
Answer to Comment: I have been asked how to manage if someone is constantly negative. How do you help someone who can’t see that they have a choice to ‘flick that mental switch’. Well, the most helpful way I have found is to ask questions and also watch out for generalisations and black and white thinking. Words to observe are ‘EVERYTHING… goes wrong’ or ‘NOTHING … is working’ or ‘this will NEVER work’ or ‘NOONE ever helps me’. It is very unlikely that this is the case and the most logical people can sometimes totally lose their perspective when they get into the habit of negative thinking. You need to help them get specific in order to help them realize that their current thinking is both irrational, unhelpful and probably out of perspective. Some questions you could try: “How does that attitude or approach help you to achieve what you are trying to achieve?” “What IS going right?” “Who IS helping you?” “Do you have evidence that it will never work?” “Has any aspect of it ever worked in the past?” It can also help to show people that they have greater choice by copying other people’s responses – eg “Would everyone respond in this way?” “How might x manage this situation?” “How might someone else manage this?” This can show them that there are options. Help them, also, to consider what it is they really want to achieve – what would success look like, feel like, be like. This can get them out of the problem and start working on the solution. Hope that helps! Helen