How often have you wished you would have done something differently? And is this a habitual way of responding – a pattern that you really would like to change?
Let's take an example. Let's say it's Friday afternoon and you're looking forward to a weekend ski trip with a group of friends. But just as you're getting ready to go home, your boss comes up to you and says he needs you to come in on the weekend to complete a project that is due on Monday. Without a thought, you agree. And then, as you drive home, you say, "Damn! I'm always doing that! Why can't I stand up for myself? Why can't I ever say no?"
Well, it is possible to change habitual ways of responding. It's gradual, but it's very systematic and, if you're focused and disciplined, it works.
Stage 1 - Evening rewrite
In the first stage, you spend some time in the evening thinking back over your day, and note if you were in a situation that you wish you had handled differently. If so, imagine the scene and re-write your response as you would have liked. Visualize it as if you could see yourself in a play on a stage. Go over it a few times, modifying your posture, facial expression, gestures and words until you are totally satisfied. Then, imagine stepping into the role and experience what it feels like.
Stage 2 - Immediate re-write
Eventually, you will find yourself noticing your habitual response immediately after it occurs. As soon as you do, start to imagine how you might have responded differently. Play it out in your imagination. Rehearse it.
Stage 3 - Catch yourself mid-stream
The next stage starts to get interesting. This is where you catch yourself as you're enacting the usual scenario. So, you just go through it and observe, as if from an outside perspective. This is an important step because you start to detach yourself from your usual role.
Stage 4 - Catch yourself at the choice point
In this stage, you notice just before you respond. This is the moment when you can choose to continue into the usual scenario or respond in a different way. You may not achieve the perfect re-write the first time, but you can continue to do visualizations later. And so, with each new occurrence you can improve your response. And, in time, this will be your new way of being. It will come naturally.
Stage 5 - Balance and flexibility
A final note about balance may be helpful. Often times, you decide you want to be more of one specific characteristic and less of its opposite. And you push yourself towards one end of the scale. But once you have achieved that, you may need to practice being flexible, depending on the situation. For example, it's fine to learn how to be assertive but there are some occasions that you may wish to be more gentle or submissive. Ideally, you want to be open to all options and decide how to react based on the immediate situation.
What criteria do you base your decision on? Well that depends on your values and your goals. And that is a topic in itself…