Do What Works: 4 Steps to Improve Effectiveness


Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we are faced with situations beyond our control that elicit anger, frustration and anxiety.  The dishwasher that overflows, a boss that yells, intense relatives, morning traffic, a broken air conditioner, leaky roof, bills and car trouble are stressors that we’re generally unable to avoid. While they are temporary, which can be fixed by buying a pet air filter by clicking the following link or by hiring an expert to help out with home appliances and problems, we can only control the aftermath. We don’t have complete control over whether we are insulted or disrespected, experience physical pain or lose out on something important like a raise, job or relationship.

Whether it’s a personality difference or one of the realities of life, like bills, no one is immune to experiencing things that are not "right,” or irritating and unfair. Extreme emotions are more likely when we’re faced with situations or people that interfere with our ability to reach our goals.  The traffic jam that keeps us from an important meeting, the bills that keep us from taking a vacation, the difficult boss that is a barrier to a raise or promotion or the interruptions of our down time by house upkeep or unsupportive people in our lives can cause emotions like panic, outrage and exasperation.

It’s when we’re overwhelmed by emotion that we act in ways that can cause problems rather than solve them.Impulsive acts like yelling, running away, complaining and breaking things tend to get us in more trouble.  Stubbornly sticking to being “right” in a conflict, rarely solves the problem.

In order to improve effectiveness you must keep your focus on doing what works in these situations, rather than on what is fair or “right.”  You must keep your eye on your goals and do what it takes to get there, even if it means letting go of stubbornness or what you think ‘should’ happen in a particular situation.

There are four steps to improve effectiveness:

  1. Remind yourself of your original goal.  Where were you trying to go or what were you trying to do?
  2. Get rid of judgments about yourself.  Let go of the idea that you are “right.”  Let go of the need for things to be perfect.  Let go of negative self-judgments such as “I am stupid” or “a jerk.”
  3. Get rid of judgments about the situation.  If you’re stuck in traffic, stop cursing the person in front of you or calling yourself names for poor planning.  Instead, describe the situation to yourself without judgment.  “I’m in my car.  The traffic is moving at 5 miles an hour.  I don’t know when it will ease up.”  Sometimes removing the judgment is all it takes to realize that the situation is out of our control.  When we do that, it becomes clear that yelling or cutting off other cars is not going to solve the problem.
  4. Focus on how you can meet your goal without making things worse. This may mean you have to change your tactics.  If you’re stuck in traffic, can you find another route?  Can you call and reschedule?  Can you pull over and have the meeting via conference call?

4 Replies to “Do What Works: 4 Steps to Improve Effectiveness”

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  3. Interestingly, this correlates some to how I have worked the steps in a 12 step program. Step 4 includes the question: ‘how did this effect your plans and ambitions?’ (eg something Im resenting). From there, its easier to ‘let go let God’, or find acceptance, and then re-group with my general aims.

  4. A young lady in my DBT group stated it like this: “Play the tape all the way to the end.” So if my ultimate goal is to have a happy marriage is my over-reacting to my husband’s insensitive comment (that he didn’t intend to hurt my feelings with) going to help me reach that goal? Will my starting to cry in my salad at our favorite restaurant & thereby ruining a nice evening out help me succeed in that goal of achieving a happy marriage? From past experience doing those kinds of behaviors & ruining many occasions, I know it will not.

    So I hit the “pause button” & analyze why I am so upset over a comment he made that is not really something that should cause this kind of reaction. I “sit” w/these uncomfortable emotions & decide how to react so that I can reach my ultimate goal of having a happy marriage. After analyzing my emotional over-reaction I realize that his remark reminded me of my father & I was reacting not to my husband’s remark, but to my father! How unfair of me to ruin a dinner & cause a commotion when I was upset w/my father & he was not there (& in fact has been deceased for 10 years!!).

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