THE BASICS OF ASSERTIVENESS
Ever wonder what assertiveness really is? Ever wonder why it is important? Ever wonder how to be assertive? In my work as an outpatient psychologist, I run across eight types of problems every day. One of them is how to be assertive. It affects all the other problem areas (anxiety, depression, relationships, etc). When one learns to be assertive, the resolution of all the other problems speeds up. It is not always easier because people learning assertiveness have to go through at least a small learning curve, which compounds solving other problems. But when that is accomplished, both assertiveness and solving other problems becomes easier.
Assertiveness involves five basic steps. Think of these steps as a kind of flow chart, progressing from step one through step five. You have to start with step one and not skip any along the way. You cannot adequately master assertiveness until you process all the steps. So, what are the steps?
Step One: What is my experience? By this I mean, ask yourself what are you thinking and feeling? I am constantly surprised when I realize many people are not fully aware of what goes on in their minds, whether it be thoughts or feelings, physical sensations, etc. So, take a minute and ask yourself right this minute. What am I thinking or feeling? Try to put your experience into words. Describe it out loud to a friend or roommate or partner if you have to. The idea is to get a clear idea of what is going on inside your head and to be able to describe it clearly using the appropriate words.
Step Two: Is it important enough to do anything about? Most people do not stop long enough to ask themselves this question, either. Most people go right by this aspect of their experience and say to themselves, "This is no big deal" or "No one is interested in what I have to say." There are a million versions of these two thoughts but in one way or another, most of us "pooh pooh" the importance of our own experience and in short order, dismiss it. Unfortunately, we cannot be assertive if we do not know our experience, be able to communicate it clearly and think it is important enough to do so. If we fail at any one of these steps, assertiveness stops. The first really, really basic steps to follow in becoming assertive are to acknowledge your thoughts/feelings, encapsulate them in words and decide they are important. Then, and only then can we progress to Step Three.
Step Three: Plan your work. If you do not think your thoughts and feelings are important, or important enough to communicate, you are done with that particular thought or feeling. Assertiveness stops until the next thought, which starts the process over. However, if you do feel that what is inside your head is important, then the third step is to think about the possible ways or other aspects of communicating. Planning your work involves fantasizing about whether to communicate now or later, by telephone, email, IM, verbally or any other way you can think of (telepathy?). You are not going to do anything at this point other than just muse; that is, mull over the possibilities in your brain. You can imagine a little play in a theatre where you are the protagonist and speaking your lines to some imagined listener. You create the lines, the listener, the props, the timing--all of it. None of it is "reality" at this point, only fantasy, which makes it safe and if you are creative, fun. But at this point it is just imagination in preparation for the real thing.
Step Four: Work your plan. This is when you do in reality what you planned in fantasy (Step Three).
Step Five: Feedback. How did it go? Success or failure? If you succeeded; that is, expressed yourself, asked for what you wanted, etc., this thought/feeling has exhausted itself and assertiveness has been accomplished. If you failed and now have "additional" thoughts/feelings, you are back at step one. Would you believe we go through at least Steps One and Two with each and every thought? And, if assertiveness is to have its way, we go through all Five Steps with each of those thoughts/feelings. It happens like lightening in the back of our minds (meaning, unconsciously), but the process is the same for all of us. I have written an ebook that details these and every other basic but necessary aspect of how to be assertive. I have boiled this down to the simplest process possible.
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