All too often we follow the same old patterns of behavior, and all too often we get the same result. A stressful event arises, you/your body recognizes the stressor, triggers a response to the stressor, and then there is the behavior. Maybe this isn't always a bad thing, but maybe you're looking back on an event and wishing you had recognized that it would be stressful and would likely trigger some of those unhealthy patterns of behavior. One strategy I like to use is what I call, "Setting the Stage."
Setting the Stage is useful when you know in advance about an upcoming event that might be stressful - holiday dinner with the in-laws, studying for finals, starting a new job, getting the kids (and yourself) out the door in the morning and on time - and spending some time preparing your mind for how you want to handle it. This might sound obvious, but often times after a stressful event we look back on it and think, "next time I'm going to do things differently," but we don't always set ourselves up for success.
Setting the Stage includes some advance preparation:
- Take a moment and visualize yourself after the stressful event - how do you want to feel as you reflect upon the situation?
- Hold onto that feeling, and think about what you need to do during the event to achieve that outcome. Visualize the event and think about how you want to behave.
- Identify your pitfalls or triggers - negative self-talk? lack of preparation in advance? getting caught up in things that may not be that important? Recognizing these triggers in the heat of the moment can help us to notice that we might be in danger of falling into old patterns of behavior.
- Recognize what you can control (yourself) as well as the things that you cannot control (pretty much everything else!). As unexpected things happen (they always do), you can notice them more readily and respond to them with conscious awareness (as opposed to following those old patterns of behavior).
Old patterns of behavior are hard to change, but recognizing these patterns and making plans for change is the first step. Good luck Setting the Stage!