Living active lives
20th March 2017
Show respect if you want respect
20th March 2017

Call a spade a spade

A successful way to transform your life is by acknowledging your problems

Tshepiso Matentjie

There’s a Setswana maxim that goes Bitso lebe ke seromo, cautioning one to be discerning when naming one’s children, because bad names may curse them for life. I often see a similar reluctance about labelling personal problems, for fear of exposing their true nature, depth and complexity. We use all sorts of pseudonyms, hoping to minimise or diffuse their impact.

Part of the challenge of personal mastery and transformation is the responsibility to “call a thing, a thing!” in the words of author and life coach Iyanla Vanzant in Fix My Life. I would like to share a few tips you can use to transform your life:

Analyse the behaviour: to understand what’s eating you, you need to understand the “what”, “when” and “how” of your triggers. This requires understanding your ABC’s (Antecedent-Behaviour-Consequences). A is the Antecedent or Activating event i.e. what triggers the behaviour problem; B is the Behaviour or how you react to the trigger, and C is the Consequences, the resulting impact. Read about Functional Behaviour Analysis on the web for more information.

Tell someone: when you analyse your own problems it is very difficult to see patterns and appreciate their complexity, particularly from the perspective of how “you” contribute to the same outcomes. This is in spite of your good intentions to change the situation! The value of having an objective person listen to you as you analyse your problems is that they can help you see things objectively and help you to give them names.

Analyse the opportunity costs: think about what you stand to lose by calling a problem by its true name. Sometimes if we admit that there is a common factor to our problems and that the common factor is X, we realise that changing X will require Z, but that might result in losing Y. But we are not ready to give up Y, so it’s better not to do anything about X, as it will rock the boat!

Admit there are hooks: as people we are very complex and dynamic, and so are our problems. The more we ponder the nature of a problem, the more we realise how entangled we are in it, and this can make it very daunting for us to begin the task of disentangling ourselves from it. So admit upfront that each problem has hooks, and how deep the hooks are embedded is dependent on how long the problem has been in existence. Problems that stem from a long time ago are likely to have very deep hooks.

Beware of the danger of self-diagnosis: remember the goal of this exercise is to call a spade a spade. So if you call it a nail and insist calling it that, then the whole exercise will be about finding a hammer … and that is futile. Therefore be mindful that you may have blind spots, even if you believe that you have been honest about your problem. Your blind spots limit what you choose to share or not share, and therefore they skew the data, resulting in calling a thing by the wrong name! The value of seeing a professional cannot be overstated. They can help you obtain the correct diagnosis and intervention, with the correct support.

Die Apie is op jou skuoers”: the direct translation of this Afrikaans saying is that the monkey is sitting on your shoulder. It means that once you acknowledge that there is a problem, you have a duty to do something about it! Once you know, you no longer have permission to play ignorant, deny it or shift it to someone else. Choose to commit to the process in order to achieve the change you seek. Stating to friends and family: “I know I have a problem …” does not make you smart or mean that you have a high EQ (Emotional Intelligence). In fact, people with a high EQ know that they have a problem and they will tell you what they are doing about it, and ask for feedback. And when they get feedback that is negative, they admit their faults, ask for forgiveness and commit to doing better next time.

“One swallow does not a summer make”: when you embark on the journey of personal transformation you need to be wary of generalisations. Remember that one incident of success does not make you successful. Similarly, one incidence of failure does not make you a failure. It is important to appreciate that you are a work in progress; once you know what the problem is, you are on the right track, as you now have a clear goal and know which direction to proceed in.

Marching on the spot: as “project you” is unfolding, it’s possible to get distracted by life, work, other people, family etc. This often leads people to become distracted and lose the momentum to keep working on themselves. Marching on the spot becomes especially important when you cannot do a big job; keep busy doing small things, such as giving up bad habits and people who trigger your problems.

The power of information: when you have a better idea of what your problems are, do research. Speak to other people who have similar problems; let them share their wisdom on how they manage to lead successful lives in spite of their problems. Attend self-empowerment coaching sessions, talks and seminars. Read! Information will enlighten you on how to treat yourself better and alleviate some of the minor problems associated with your situation. Information will also teach you how to allow others to treat you while “project you” is busy taking shape.

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