“Can an old dog still learn new tricks?” What I mean is, at my old age of 58, can I still change my ways, my behaviors and attitudes? I am disappointed in myself but I can’t help myself. My aggressive/abrasive ways had cost me career derailment and have turned people away from me. This is true not only at home but also in the office. I used to be in a management line position with several people reporting to me. I have been put in the “freezer” and have only one person, my secretary, reporting to me now. Admittedly, I’m unhappy but I don’t know how I can change myself and whether people I’ve alienated from me will take me back. Please help me since you are a psychologist.
Thank you for your openness. It took a lot of courage on your part to admit that your need to change, and that you are seeking help for this change to take place. You are unhappy about the hurt and unhappiness you cause other people, and about the way your aggression had adversely affected your work and career, and destroyed relationships.
To your question of “Can I change my ways?”, my answer is YES. However, this depends greatly on you, your motivation to change, and your being open to the grace of God. Let me suggest some things you need to do to start the change process. Allow me to share with you a model for self-management which I have developed based on my own experience of self-change, which I continue to do up to the present, as I open myself to the feedback of other people.
First: List down your aggressive/abrasive behaviors and opposite each one, write down your observations of the consequence, i.e., how others react to your behavior and the probable outcome (PO) on you.
|Probable Outcome (on you)|
|being disappointed with yourself/perhaps hating yourself for hurting the other person, no matter how you justify your aggression|
Second: Write down the antecedent (or stimulus or what makes you do the negative behavior) to your aggressive behavior. The antecedent could be one or several factors. The antecedent can be internal (coming from within you) such as thoughts, self-image, perceptions (i.e., how you see the other person), your mindsets (or paradigms) coming from memories of past experiences, or your imaginations of what could happen; or feelings and emotions about yourself and about the other person that are aroused by such thoughts. The antecedent could also be external such as the actions of the other person, the place where you are, or the event you are experiencing.
The model for self-management is as follows.
A —> B —> C —> PO
Antecedent Behavior Consequence Probable
Identify the antecedents that cause you to shout. Internal stimuli could be your thoughts, paradigms of yourself and of the other person. Ex.: You think: “This person doesn’t know what he is doing. He is stupid!” “ If I were in his place, I wouldn’t do what he is doing.” These thoughts running in your mind, arouses tension, leading to emotions of anger, resentment, etc. Once these negative emotions are aroused, you shout. The other person’s hurt feelings lead to reactions of withdrawal or silence, or perhaps, counter aggression also, such as shouting back at you. This leads to the probable outcome (PO) on you of feelings of guilt, self-hatred and self-condemnation.
These first two steps constitute your analysis of your behavior. After this analysis, comes your plan for change. Change includes identifying the antecedents that you will remove or minimize in order that you will not be tense and the negative emotions will not be aroused. This leads you to the following steps:
Third: Remove the antecedent. This requires that you change your negative thoughts about yourself and about the other person. Ex.: Instead of the above negative thoughts, fill your mind with the following positive thoughts:
- I am a child of God; he/she is also a child of God.
- God loves both of us dearly.
- I have been blessed with the knowledge, skills and expertise on this matter, and the IQ for this kind of task.
- It is my duty to develop this person by coaching him/her so that he/she can do the task according to my expectations.
- I need this person. If he/she leaves me, I will be spending my time and effort to do his/her task and I won’t be able to do mine.
- I want people to treat me well; I will treat them as I want to be treated.
- Etc. etc.
If you fill your mind with these positive thoughts you will elicit positive emotions, such as care, concern, friendliness, etc., towards the person, and values such as, positive regard and respect for the other person.
These positive emotions will remove the tension that leads to the negative behavior. The consequence (C) to the other person will also be positive. He/she will be open to you, listen to you, approach and trust you.
The probable outcome (PO) to you is also positive. You feel good about yourself and about the other person, you feel grateful to God for having given you the grace to manage your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. You have peace of mind (due to the absence of guilt feelings) and joy in your heart.
Fourth: Have a daily SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time Bound) objective/goal for each person you work with.
Ex.: Cathy, your secretary (not her real name). Have positive thoughts of her as you recall the things she has done to help you with your admin work, such as printing, photocopying, getting/recording calls, etc.
These thoughts will lead you to have positive feelings for her.
A (positive thoughts and feelings for Cathy) —> B (smile as you talk to her; listen to what she says) —> C (Cathy smiles back at you, listens to you when you talk to her)—> PO (positive interaction leads to your having positive feelings about yourself and about Cathy)
Fifth: Reward yourself for your success in showing positive behaviors. Rewards for yourself can be intrinsic or extrinsic. Intrinsic rewards includes your feeling good about yourself, feeling proud of yourself, experiencing a sense of achievement and self-fulfillment, thanking God for His grace that enabled you to manage your thoughts, feelings and behavior. Allow yourself to experience these positive thoughts and feelings, as you breathe in and out and relax.
Extrinsic rewards include treating yourself to your favorite soft drink or brand of coffee if, during the day, you had positive interactions with people.
Sixth: If you slide back, don’t fret. Start again in the following interaction with the person. As soon as you become aware that you behaved negatively, “shift gears” (as what we do in manual driving when we shift gears to gain power), and behave positively towards the person. Example: if your forgot yourself, and you shouted at your maid for the overcooked fried egg, go to her, say “Sorry”, if you can. If not, lower your tone of voice and ask her, in a pleasant voice, for what you need, and thank her. With your spouse, it is easy to make amends because you can always approach her, embrace and kiss her. Verbal apology should still follow.
Seventh: Keep at it. Repetition of the same positive behavior create the positive habits that modify your character. Above all, ask God to bless your efforts everyday, as you start your day.
Here is an inspiring quote from Mahatma Gandhi:
“I keep my thoughts positive, for my thoughts become my behavior.
I keep my behavior positive for my behavior becomes my habits,
I keep my habits positive for my habits become my values.
I keep my values positive for my values become my destiny.
Another similar quote from Frank Outlaw:
Watch your thoughts, they become your words;
Watch your words, they become your actions;
Watch your actions, they become your habits;
Watch your habits, they become your character;
Watch your character, it will shape your destiny.
Develop the habit of waking up each day, feeling thankful to God for being alive and being healthy; for having your spouse, children and grandchildren; for having a home, a car; for having a maid who makes your home clean and gives you clean clothes to wear each day; for having a good job with a good company; for having the people you work with and who make your tasks easier to do; etc. Relish these positive thoughts and feelings as you drive to work. Thank God for a smooth traffic; for traffic lights; for traffic policemen who keep order; for the celfon you use to communicate, etc. etc. Develop this habit of thankfulness to God, and it will work wonders for you during the day.
Once in your office, greet people you see with a smile as you look them in the eye. Say “thank you” sincerely, to any one who does things for you, as you look him/her in the eye. If you are consistent in doing these simple actions, their negative image of you will change over time. When someone in the office comes to you with a request, think immediately: “This person has a need for me to fill. Therefore, he/she is my customer. My task is to satisfy his/her needs.” Then listen to the person as you look him/her in the eye.
This Christmas season is a good opportunity to give a card or a simple gift to people in the office whom you have hurt. Perhaps you can write a “thank you” message for what the person had done for you.
Do not think “It’s hard” (Oops, there goes your negative thought, again!) Rather, say, “I can do it. With the grace of God, I can!”
No person is too old to change. It’s all in the mind.
“I am determined to change because I want to;
Even if others do not;
Even if others cannot;
Even if others will not change.”
Give yourself a gift this Christmas of an inspirational book, such as that written by our own Bo Sanchez, by Norman Vincent Peale, by John Maxwell, and others who have inspired people to overcome their human weaknesses and have given them hope for a daily life well-lived according to God’s purpose.
Avoid the company of people in the office who justify their negative behaviors. Be in the company of positive role models, i.e., people who have a reputation for being good and kind to people, yet are able to get the latter’s cooperation and commitment to achieve goals and objectives. They are still part of your antecedents because they influence you to do positive behaviors.
When you feel tension building up because of what others do or say to you, get out of the room for a while, breathe in and out and pray to God for the grace to control yourself.
I will appreciate getting a feedback from you on how you applied the A-B-C-PO model of self-management and the results of your application.
God bless you. Have a grace filled 2009