Don't Try Harder, Try Different!

Simple strategies for handling anxiety and stress.

You Are Unique, Not Special

I cannot handle it because I am special.

Now comes time for my favorite Don't Try Harder, Try Different topic: Specialness. Specialness is all about the idea that somehow the rules of the world apply to me differently than they apply to everyone else. Specialness is the belief that it is OK if bad things happen to the other 6.5 billion people that live on the planet, but if anything bad happens to me, it is the worst, most awful thing in the entire world and I cannot handle it because I am special.

To introduce the idea of specialness to my patients, I ask them to do the following exercise: I tell them to spend the entire day treating themselves as if they were their best friends in the entire world. If anything goes well, they are to tell themselves how awesome they are, and that they are totally cool, and that everyone is proud of them. If anything goes wrong, they are to tell themselves that no one noticed or really cared and that it was really no big deal.

I tell people to do this because that is how most of us talk to the people we love - we tell them that we are proud of them and their work. Yet, almost no one actually talks to themselves in this way. We are actually more likely to remind ourselves of every dumb thing that we have ever done instead of telling ourselves how well we just did. And, even if we just did something really well, we will almost always still find a way to criticize ourselves or beat ourselves up about something that "should" have been better.

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Then, the following day, I want you to treat everyone you know like you normally treat yourself. Anytime anyone does something wrong, be sure to tell them how stupid they are and that they are one big failure. Further, anytime anyone does something well, tell them that it was just luck and that they did not actually deserve what they just got, and then see if anyone will ever speak to you again.

Now, I am betting that you would not be willing to do this, so let me ask you a basic question - why is it OK to treat everyone else wonderfully as a way to motivate them, but you need to beat yourself down in order to get yourself to behave better? And the answer is: You do not need to. You could actually be very nice to yourself and motivate yourself positively.

Take this example: Say you have a child or niece or nephew who is taking piano lessons and they invite you to the recital. You will probably tell them before the recital that you are proud of them and that you cannot wait to hear them play, even if this is not true. You might truly be thinking, "What a horrible piano player - these lessons have surely been a true waste of money, but have a great recital." We would not tell anyone else this, so why would we tell this to ourselves?

If you want to start to feel less stress, go into situations with a positive attitude and motivate yourself the same way that you would motivate others - build yourself up and stop beating yourself down.  

 

 

Patrick McGrath, Ph.D., is the Director of the Alexian Brothers Behavioral Health Hospital's Center for Anxiety and OCD Program and president of Anxiety Centers of Illinois. more...

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