Spotlight on: Ivana Franekova – Psychotherapist & Life/ Corporate & Executive Coach

January Self-Change Project: Assertiveness

Introduction:

As a therapist and Coach, I set myself regular small goals throughout the year to work on. However, since most of us set ourselves bigger goals in January, I’ve decided to work on a ‘Self-Change’ project and the goal I chose is: Assertiveness.

I’m going to give you step-by-step Self-Change instructions, and a blueprint, that you can easily apply to your own self-change project.

Self-change projects require a lot of dedication, motivation and energy. There’s no therapist or Coach to guide you; you alone are responsible for completing your goals.

For my self-change project, I chose to improve my assertiveness. Being better at assertiveness will help me gain better understanding of my personal and professional relationships and stop me from wanting to constantly please other people. It will also result in me having more respect for myself, and it will allow me to live the life I want. (well I hope so, anyway).

The history of my problem:

The problem started in my childhood, within my family system. My father wasn’t the kind of a man that could talk to us children properly; he’d employ shouting tactics. This resulted in me being terrified to ever say to him, or in front of him, how I felt, even in an adulthood. So, I adopted a belief that ‘if I don’t say anything, or if I escape or avoid situations where I need to be assertive, I’ll be safe’.

With that belief, I identified what MAINTAINS MY PROBLEM:

I’m avoiding situations I need to be assertive in, or escaping the situations, or pretending everything is OK when it’s not.

Rule number 1:

Whatever project you’re applying my techniques to, always identify what maintains the problem. Only then you can tackle your problem successfully.

Rule Number 2:

Always set SMART goals.

My main goal:

To become more assertive.

Breaking that down into small, specific parts to work with:

SPECIFIC:

Practice and become good at assertiveness in 3 situations:

1. When confronted by situations in which I need to react straight away;

2. In situations where I need to speak up once I gather evidence;

3. When trying to break years-old habits of being quiet.

MEASURABLE:

I will measure my progress via behavioral experiments and thought diaries (Cognitive Behavioral Psychotherapy Tools), and work with the feedback to build on progress. I will review any setbacks (not failures) and plan for alternative actions next time. I will rate my progress from 0-10 (10 being the highest).

ACHIEVABLE:

I will start with small goals. I’m going to look for opportunities in which I can be assertive. I need to watch what reaction I’m getting from people and build on that.

REALISTIC:

My confidence on being assertive isn’t that great so I need to keep going even if I’m unable to be assertive when I want to be. Small steps at the time.

TIMELY:

I will try and tackle things head-on as and when they arise. I’ll review weekly occasions on which I had been, or could have been, assertive. I’ll do this project again in a year to see how I’ve done.

Rule number 3:

Identify practical steps- or small goals of action you’re going to take.

These may include:

  1. Educate yourself on the problem;

  2. Go to gym 3 times a week;

  3. Apply for 5 jobs a week;

  4. And so on.

*For Anxiety problems, use my ‘Corporate Anxiety & Stress Measurement Tool’ or ‘Test Your Anxiety Levels Tool’

Ivana Franekova In Media

Rule number 4:

How badly does this problem affect you, and why?

It is affecting my life badly, 8 out of 10.

The whole process exhausts me because I feel like I am arguing and defending myself constantly, not being assertive. I need to psycho-educate myself on the differences between assertiveness and aggressiveness.

My goal is best reached by doing small and short behavioral experiments, building on the feedback. I also need to address my cognitions and look for evidence of faulty beliefs in place.

My safety behaviors are to avoid/ escape situations in which I need to be assertive and telling myself people won’t take me seriously/ no one cares about me so what’s the point. I also have faulty belief that I cannot express myself properly.

Rule number 5:

Identifying Antecedents (or activating events) why I believe I should NOT to be assertive (insert your problem here):

  1. I believe I will be shouted at (based on experience within my family);

  2. I need to be people pleaser;

  3. I believe it makes people hate me;

  4. People will think less of me;

  5. Being assertive means being difficult;

  6. Being assertive is being argumentative;

  7. I don’t believe I should stand up for myself- I should make sure everyone likes me;

  8. I should always be there for others even if they’re not there for me;

  9. When I feel I could get into trouble, I try to ‘edit’ truths- again, this got me more in trouble than being assertive and state facts calmly.

Rule number 6:

What have I learned from this process of completing my Self-Change goals?

For me, I have learned that:

  • Some things need to be talked about;

  • I felt much better once I said how I felt;

  • I have new-found respect for myself;

  • My family started to look at me differently.

Lesson from observing my own behavior:

Don’t think of unrealistic ‘consequences’ (what ifs); state clearly what you feel is right or wrong, provide facts, ask for a resolution.

Rule number 7:

Identify chain of negative events that hinder my (assertiveness) progress:

In my case, these were:

1. If I fail to be assertive with someone, I’ll not be assertive in other situations either as I’ll think ‘what’s the point’ and/or ‘they already hate me anyway’. I won’t try again.

2. Even if I do try to be assertive on occasions, it may result in me getting angry and even verbally assaulting the person- this is especially true when I’ve been bottling my emotions up for a long time. I again need to deal with my emotions, and reactions, there and then.

What are yours?

Rule number 8:

Modify current, or select new behaviors:

When I’m unhappy about something, I will analyse the situation to see if speaking up would make the situation better or worse. I will practice relaxed confrontation, gaining understanding and check my facts before important conversation. 

In other words, these are substitute behaviors for my current, ‘avoiding or escape behaviors’ in situations where I should be assertive.

What is your new selected behavior?

Rule number 9:

Prepare Plan of action for the future:

  1. Keep reminding myself I have rights, personal and professional, to state what is right and not right in my mind- self measure;

  2. I have nothing to lose but everything to gain, including fair treatment and self-respect, plus their respect;

  3. Being assertive may feel UNCOMFORTABLE but just like with any other skill, I can learn, build on it and get more comfortable in it;

  4. Keep the end goal in mind- to achieve a result that’s good for both parties, establishing boundaries;

  5. I know when I don’t speak up, it makes me feel resentful towards myself and other people;

  6. I will have more respect for myself each time I stand up for myself in a polite, respectful but firm manner;

  7. Record how I’m doing, people’s response, what it brought and so on;

  8. Plan for situations when I need to be assertive there and then, and record how I did- start with smaller situations first, train my awareness to situations and record my responses, build on that. Even if I don’t react right away, think of the ways I could have reacted

Rule number 10:

Create blueprint for yourself to successfully continue your Self-Change project- your ‘SUCCESS BLUEPRINT’:

My Self-Change Blueprint- Planning for the future:

  1. Review problems and goals regularly;

  2. Review measurements regularly;

  3. Revision of what has been learned so far;

  4. Continuation management plan;

  5. Predict pitfalls;

  6. Plan response to pitfalls;

  7. Celebrate success and inspire confidence / self-reliance (plan rewards, or ‘reinforces’).

What’s yours?