Aug 13, 2008

Guest Post: The Blame Game – How to Bug Out of It

The following is a guest post from Deb Wunder of The Dangling Conversation. It's a follow-up to her post from yesterday on The Blame Game.

In my last post, I noted that not playing the blame game was one of the best ways to start moving forward with you life, and toward your goals.

In this one, I hope to share a few tips for doing so.

Stop Catastrophizing

The bad news is that, if you grew up in the Western Hemisphere, you probably learned how to apply blame and guilt from the very beginning. It's part of that work ethic our parents try to teach us.

The good news is that not playing the blame game is a skill that can be learned.

Most of what we do is driven by what we tell ourselves. Things like Rational-Emotive Therapy, Neuro-Linguistic Programming, and other forms of behavioral therapy show us ways to modify those internal tapes.

Now, I'm not recommending that everyone run out and sign up for behavioral modification programs. Far from it. While actual therapy might be necessary in extreme cases, what I am saying is that you can use some of the same techniques these programs teach to modify what you tell yourself about things.

Albert Ellis, one of the founding fathers of Rational-Emotive Therapy, has a list of some of the things we tell ourselves to upset ourselves. He notes that we take a fact, A, and work ourselves into a lather about it by telling ourselves B, C, and D. We tell ourselves over and over how terrible, horrible, and awful it would be if something happened, and how all our friends, family, co-workers and acquaintances would think we were total losers if it did. He further notes that we have pretty firm ideas of how things should be, and if things differ from that idea, we beat ourselves up about it.

We can, with a little bit of being consciousness, and watching what we tell ourselves, greatly reduce the amount of blame we place on ourselves and on others.

So, since I have asserted that we can change such things, let me share how this works with me.

Since a tendency to catastrophize is all too human, when I see myself taking that road, what I try to do is to magnify it until the consequences I'm imagining are so over the top that even I have to laugh at myself. Once I'm at that point I can usually pull back and examine how much I'm overreacting.

I also try to watch for "should-ing" on myself. When I go down that route, I try to stop short and see if whatever I think should be could more appropriately be considered, "I would like it if . . ." or "It would be nice if . . ." instead.

Now how does this work out in terms of debt reduction? Okay, let's take a look. My roommate is not the greatest at managing her finances. She's going to be sixty this month, and if someone else does not write out her rent checks, they tend to resemble those rubber balls we used to play with: they bounce every time. Now I can tell myself it stinks that I have to write out the checks (and hound her for her share), and I can be resentful about it. I can work myself into a real sweat about how terrible, horrible, and awful it is that I have to do this. In fact, many people would do this. The thing is, you can make choices about how you react to situations. In this instance, what I try to do is to note that this is just the way it is, and since I can't change the roommate, if I want to keep a roof over my own head, I can accept that this is just how things are, and write the darned checks. Blaming the roommate is not going to change the situation - in fact, it will just make her dig her heels in more, and will cause more problems for us, possibly eventually blowing up our friendship.

Now this seems like a fairly obvious thing, but for a lot of people it isn't.

Be Accountable

Another way to stop playing the blame game is to be accountable, and be willing to accept, or at least deal with, the consequences of your actions.

As I mentioned in my last post, my ex had put a hotel stay on his credit card for me (we were running security at an sf convention). In turn, I had promised to pay him out of my next paycheck. Then my roommate got scammed, and all of a sudden I had to scramble to make the rent. This ex and I had been together for fourteen years, and have a long history of his dealing with my financial irresponsibility. I had, over the last four years repaired a lot of the damage, but not all of it. Add to this that money is one of my ex's hot buttons. Now I was faced with having to call him and tell him that I had to break my word.

As much as I dreaded making that call, I did so. Ten minutes on the phone, the worst fight he and I have had in nineteen years, and my promises to pay him back from my next check notwithstanding, that broken promise destroyed four years of hard work. Not only that, he couldn't believe how my roommate could do what she had, and came over to talk to her about it. I knew how bad the reaction was going to be, but I also knew that I could just break my word at the last minute, with no explanation and hope for the best, or I could tell him what happened, and deal with the consequences of my action.

My ex later gave me credit for not waiting to tell him there was a problem, so he could work around it. And since I did keep my word to pay him from the following check some of the damage was undone. I still have a lot of work to do, and a long distance to go, but facing the consequences of my actions was a hell of a lot better than just taking the cowardly way out.

And that is the biggest part of stopping the blame game. Become accountable. Stop making excuses.

Treat Criticism As Feedback

Another part is learning to accept criticism as feedback. Randy Pausch tells a story about how one day his coach was really riding him about how poorly he was performing. And after the practice, well, I'll let Randy's words tell the rest . . .
one of the other assistant coaches came over and said, 'yeah, Coach Graham rode you pretty hard, didn't he?' I said, 'yeah.' He said, 'that's a good thing.' He said, 'when you're screwing up and nobody's saying anything to you anymore, that means they gave up.' And that's a lesson that stuck with me my whole life. Is that when you see yourself doing something badly and nobody's bothering to tell you anymore, that's a very bad place to be. Your critics are your ones telling you they still love you and care.
Dr. Pausch also said,
Get a feedback loop and listen to it. Your feedback loop can be this dorky spreadsheet thing I did, or it can just be one great man who tells you what you need to hear. The hard part is the listening to it. Anybody can get chewed out. It's the rare person who says, 'oh my god, you were right.' As opposed to, 'no wait, the real reason is . . .' We've all heard that. When people give you feedback, cherish it and use it.
So, the biggest tips I can give you are: stop catastrophizing, be accountable, don't beat yourself up, and listen to criticism as feedback instead of censure. Doing those things will take you far on the road to both stopping playing the blame game, and getting on toward your goals and dreams.

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