In psychology we know that the states of anxiety and relaxation cannot co-exist. This has become the mainstay of behavioural therapy for dealing with phobias and other anxiety disorders. We can also adapt this approach when dealing with ‘difficult people’. Some may argue that there’s no such thing as a ‘difficult person’ only ‘difficult behaviour’, However, when we are on the receiving end of someone whose habitual patterns of behaviour cause us distress, the distinction really doesn’t matter.
In the, Dhammapada, a collection of Buddhist sayings, there’s one that says ‘ Hatred cannot coexist with loving-kindness, and dissipates if supplanted with thoughts based on loving-kindness’. This saying was the inspiration for a the Loving-Kindness meditation that is used in the Broaden-and-Build in positive psychology. The idea is that we gain more by actively cultivating positive emotions rather than forever trying to ‘mop up’ negative feelings.
I’ve adapted the loving-kindness meditation for my confidence building approach which is based on our ability to feel comfortable in our skin, that is, to be able to relax. True inner confidence comes from stillness, whereas the busy ‘in your face’ over-confidence is often masking anxiety. Another key theme is in my approach is the concept of confidence-karma. This is the idea that we build confidence in ourselves as we build it in others. So this is how I devised the calmer-confidence-compassion meditation for my confidence building workshops. The idea that it helps to lay the foundations for positive interactions, even with the people we find objectionable.
The Calmer-Confidence-Compassion Basic Script
- Begin with long, slow deep breaths to relax. As you breathe out, repeat the word ‘calmer’
- Start directing feelings of calmness, confidence and compassion to yourself
- Smile and mentally repeat the mantra ‘calmness, confidence and compassion’ for a few breaths
- Reflect on your positive qualities, and make a positive statement about yourself
- Continue to direct feelings of calmness, confidence and compassion to yourself
- Now direct your attention to someone (not a family member or friend), who you admire and respect; it could be respected public figure or a spiritual leader
- Direct feelings of calmness, confidence and compassion to them and see them smiling at you (and sending back feelings of calmness, confidence and compassion). Take a moment to experience the positive feelings.
- Now imagine a close friend, a family member or a loved one and direct feelings of calmness, confidence and compassion to them.
- See them smiling and redirecting the feelings back to you, taking a moment to experience the feelings
- Now imagine a neutral person to whom you have no special feelings, such as a shop keeper or the person who delivers the post.
- Direct feelings of calmness, confidence and compassion to them and see them smiling to you (and sending feelings of calmness, confidence and compassion back). Take a moment to experience the positive feelings.
- Now consider a ‘difficult person in your life’, someone you are currently having issues with.
- Direct feelings of calmness, confidence and compassion to them and see them smiling to you (and sending feelings of calmness, confidence and compassion back). Take a moment to experience these feelings.
- Now bring your attention back to you and direct the feelings of calmness, confidence and compassion to yourself. Smile and repeat the mantra (‘calmness, confidence and compassion’).
- After taking a few long, slow, deep breaths, open your eyes and return your awareness to your surroundings
This is an edited version and represents the first stage in a three stage process (The full version can be found in Unlock Your Confidence).
The order is always the same:
- begin with yourself
- then focus on a famous figure whom you revere and you don’t know
- then a family member, friend or loved one
- then a neutral person – a casual acquaintance you know by sight
- the difficult person
- back to yourself
Practised regularly it will open up opportunities to take small, significant actions to boost and build confidence in others. It will also help to begin to change your perceptions of difficult people in your life. You may not see a dramatic transformation but you may well see a few glimmers of light.
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About the author
Dr Gary Wood is a social psychologist and life coach. He is based in Birmingham and Edinburgh where he runs his own training and coaching practice and research consultancy. He is author of Unlock Your Confidence which is based on his confidence-building workshops. Contact Gary to see how his solution focused coaching approach would benefit you or your organization.
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