I was reading the Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson to my two year old this morning, and it struck me that this simple story of a mouse surviving in the “deep dark wood” is a great lesson to all of us about the power of perception. For those of you who don’t know the story – the little mouse gets the better of a huge, terrifying monster called the Gruffalo. He does so by making him think that he, the tiny mouse, is in fact “the scariest creature in this wood”. At the end, the Gruffalo believes this perception and runs for his life, while the mouse sits down to enjoy a tasty nut.
So what can this story teach us? It teaches us that our perceptions are very powerful things. If we perceive ourselves to be unable to deal with a threat (as did the Gruffalo in the story), then we become unable to deal with it. This, impacts on our performance and our stress levels.
The most commonly accepted definition of stress is that it occurs when a person believes that “demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize”. In short, it is when we feel out of control.
When people feel stressed, they have made two main judgments: First, they feel threatened by the situation, and second, they believe that they’re not able to meet the threat.
Perception is key to this, as often situations are not stressful in their own right. Rather it is our interpretation of the situation that drives the level of stress that we feel. So what can we do to take control of our perceptions?
Here is an easy technique which makes a huge difference.
- Firstly, become aware of your thoughts. Write down the negative stream of consciousness in an unstructured and non-judgemental way.
- Over time recognise what situations are triggering the negative thoughts.
- Rate the level of stress which you are feeling in that situation.
- Identify the negative or self limiting thoughts which are driving the feeling.
- Then start challenging them with a logical and specific process. Many negative and self limiting beliefs are automatic or general in nature. A logical thought process has to record specific evidence for and against that perception of ourselves.
- Finally change the internal (and external dialogue). Change the perception so that it becomes positive whilst still maintaining your sense of integrity. For example: “I am dreadful at public speaking” could be reworded as: “I can rise to the challenge of public speaking”, or “I am getting better at public speaking”. “I feel absolutely dreadful today”, could be reworded as “I could feel better”.
Structure you notes in the following way:
Negative Stream of consciousness………………
|Situation which I am reacting negatively to||Stress level||Negative/General perceptions||Specific evidence to support that perception||Specific evidence to negate that perception||Alternative way of seeing myself in that situation|
The process may seem a little awkward at first, but over time it helps you to recognise the illogical nature of many perceptions. For example, if the Gruffalo had done this, he would have realised that the mouse was in fact just a mouse and not scary at all. He may also have realised that all the other animals in the wood were not actually scared of the mouse, but were in fact scared of him!
This technique can help you improve your mood, reduce stress and increase performance. Alternatively, if you would rather speak to someone who can support you in taking control of your perceptions, contact Coaching Direct for one-to-one coaching.