Psychological problems can be really tough. Maybe you are struggling with an emotional problem like depression or anxiety. You’re having a difficult time coping with your unpleasant thoughts or feelings. You wish these thoughts and feelings would just go away, but you can’t seem to get rid of them, no matter how hard you try.
Here is a 3-step process for dealing with any kind of psychological problem. Also, if you need more help, don’t be afraid to get in touch with a good mental health counselor who can help you out. (Here is my post on how to choose a counselor.)
3 Steps for Dealing with a Psychological Problem
- Accept your unpleasant thoughts or feelings. Acceptance has a bad rap in our culture today. You might think to yourself: Why should I accept these thoughts or feelings? I want them to go away! The problem is that when people do a lot of work to avoid or control an unpleasant thought or feeling, it doesn’t usually work. Sometimes the avoidance or control strategies actually make the problem worse! The alternative is to accept your thoughts and feelings. See if you can hold them, even though the sensations are unpleasant. See them for what they are—just thoughts happening in your brain or sensations in your body. Sit with them for a bit and see what happens. Often unpleasant thoughts and feelings ebb and flow over time.
- Identify your values. The second step is to identify your values in this particular situation. What is it you want for yourself? What direction do you want your life to take? Where do you want to be heading right now? For example, if you are feeling anxious about reaching out and asking a woman on a date, the value might be having a good relationship, acting with courage, or engaging with vulnerability. Get clear about your values and what you want.
- Take action in line with your values. The third step is to engage in actions that line up with your values. It’s important to note that your unpleasant thoughts and feelings don’t have to change before you take action in line with your values. This is a common misperception. Sometimes people think they need to wait until they are feeling better in order to take action, and they end up waiting a long time! Instead, a better strategy is to take action in line with your values, and then see if your thoughts and feelings come along for the ride. (Or they may not. It doesn’t really matter. The important thing is that you’re taking action.) Your actions are done in service of your values. You pick up the phone and dial the number of the woman you are interested in SO THAT you can put yourself in position to have a good relationship. When taking action, keep these two keys in mind:
- Start small. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Start with small action steps in the direction of your value. For example, if you want to move in the direction of a romantic relationship, don’t set out to call 30 women in a week. That’s too big of a step, and you aren’t likely to be successful. Instead, try making one phone call, and see how it goes.
- Be consistent. Small changes done consistently over time lead to success. Try to do one thing every day that is in line with the value you are trying to develop. Habits are built slowly over time. Continuing the example from above, try doing one thing each day that involves reaching out to a potential romantic partner.
Action Step: What is one psychological problem you are dealing with right now in your life? For the problem that is most pressing, see if you can walk through the three steps of (1) acceptance, (2) identify values, and (3) take action in line with values. What came up for you as you did this exercise? What can you take with you moving forward?