The first step to solving most problems is to identify and separate the emotion so that we can clearly focus on a resolution. If we can recognize how we feel in response to a situation, then we are more aware of choosing how we want to respond to the situation. For instance, you may feel angry at what you perceive as an injustice. Once the emotion is identified, then you can think about how you want to respond. When we are unable to identify the emotion or just react impulsively, we are no longer in choice of our reaction. Emotions do trigger our responses; for example, fear tells us to seek safety. However, staying in the emotional upset for too long keeps us stuck and unable to fully access our logic needed to solve a problem. Limiting the emotional discharge to 10 minutes is beneficial and we can always return to the release of emotions after we have successfully thought of a resolution
The second step in problem solving is to tell the critical voice to “Stop.” When we listen to our critical voice, it impacts our feelings and consequently, our behavior. Imagine your son or daughter up at bat. She or he really wants to hit a home run. One scenario is that the coach is telling him or her, “Hitting a home run is impossible for you. You aren’t a good ballplayer.” The other scenario is the coach telling your son or daughter, “I know you can hit a home run. Do your best Be confident Remember, you are an excellent ball player. You can do it!” In which scenario is your son or daughter more likely to accomplish a home run? We internalize some of the messages we have received from the external world and those negative messages become our internal critic. Therefore, by telling the Inner Critic to “Stop”, we are training our brain to stop this process the more we practice this skill. You may simply remind yourself that effective problem-solving doesn’t include negative self-judgment. When we judge ourselves as wrong or bad, that judgment keeps us stuck on ruminating upon the judgment and can even spiral into all the evidence to support our negative judgment. This process can lead to feelings of anxiety, depression, or frustration in the moment and further hinders our problem-solving ability. With practice of turning the negative chatter to the off position, we are strengthening our ability to focus logically on solving the problem.
The third step in separating our emotions from our logic is surprisingly very simple. The psychologist, Ethan Kross found that by speaking to ourselves in the third person, versus the first person, we gain psychological space from intense emotions and this distance “enables self-control, allowing us to think clearly and perform competently.” ( Pamela Weintraud, “The Voice of Reason”, May 2015) Talking to ourselves in the third person gives a sense of calm. By speaking more objectively to ourselves, we step out of the emotion and can perceive the situation with more clarity and ease. Additionally, Ethan Kross found through his research that using one’s first name minimizes social anxiety. Social anxiety is the fear of being judged by others in a social environment. Talking to oneself with positive statements by using the third person reduces the anxiety and thereby increases performance. The results of Ethan Kross’ studies have also indicated that the positive third person statements prior to a stressful situation have an effect on the stressful situation. The person is more apt to self-evaluates his or her performance in a more positive light. This positive self-evaluation improves self-confidence which leads to more positive thought in future challenging situations. Problem-solving becomes easier with distance from the emotion, less anxiety, and more confidence.
To sum up, the three steps to more effective problem-solving:
- Identify the emotion and limit the emotional venting to 10 minutes
- Train your mind by telling the Inner Critic to “Stop!”
- Create emotional distance by talking to yourself in the third person
Self-talk definitely shapes our responses and belief systems. For common distorted thoughts among teens (and ourselves), download my e-book here, “Why Motivation Is Not Your Teen’s Problem, 5 Surprising Steps to Academic Success!”