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Being Effective - Doing What Works

The goal of this lesson is to focus on being effective -- to focus on doing what works, rather than what is "right" versus "wrong" or "fair" versus "unfair."  Another way to think of it is as the opposite of "cutting off your nose to spite your face."

The more I practice Wise mind with a nonjudgmental stance and remain focused, the easier it is to include the Effective skill. Being effective is often allowing ourselves to let go of feeling 'right' so strongly, that it overshadows our ability to make decisions that may correct a situation. Being determined to be right, or feel it's a matter of principle, can be a very self-defeating decision. In other words, letting go of a desire to be right and doing what works using DBT skills is being effective.

Frequently, I have the opportunity to practice being effective. If I'm driving down the road and the driver of another car is trying to cut me off and cut ahead of me, I find it most effective to slow down and let the person move on. If I get caught up in the fact that I legally have the right-of-way and don't allow the other car in front, I face the possible consequences of being in an accident or a victim of road rage.

Does this mean I should always give in? Defiantly not. But I have to weigh the importance of the situation and determine whether it is worth my energy to prove "I am right and you are wrong."

If my son came to me asking me to give him $120 for tickets to a concert, I would say no and not back down. For me, I might not be able to pay a bill, like for electricity if I gave him the money. I considered the consequences of the situation and acted in a way that was ultimately effective.

It seems that Effectiveness is often tied up with 'Radical Acceptance,' one of the Distress Tolerance skills. I don't have to like the situation or agree with the other person. Even if I am right and the other person is clearly 'wrong,' it might be most effective to let it go. In order to help me tolerate being effective, I can radically accept the situation. It's all about economy of energy. In the situations above, I evaluated the situation in the car and decided that the situation wasn't important enough to get into a snit about. I could imagine myself raving at the other driver and getting upset, but to what end? Will it make much difference in my life?

On the other hand, having enough money to pay my bills is important. This situation could have a big effect on my life. I might risk having the electricity shut off and getting a bad credit rating. My son's desire to see a concert doesn't compare to the distress I would feel when I couldn't pay a bill. I understand that the consequences may be that my son will be angry with me for a time. Again, I can use the skill of radical acceptance to help me tolerate his anger. I could say to myself, I have made the decision. I'm unwilling to change my mind, so I might as well radically accept the consequences of his anger.? (This also helps to keep me from reacting impulsively to my emotions.)

  • Do you remember the last time you "cut off your nose" to make a point? Have you ever played by the rules to get something you really needed, e.g.,  health care for yourself or another family member? How did that feel at the time?  (Perhaps you felt like you were sacrificing some of your self-respect for the sake of achieving your objective.)   How do you feel about it now? (Perhaps you feel like you acted effectively.)
  • Have you ever imposed your own culture or views on others? Have others imposed their views on you?
  • Are there situations in your life right now where vengeance, useless anger or righteousness are keeping your from being effective?
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