Strategy Not Working? Consider the Context!
The serenity prayer goes like this:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.
New research suggests that these words are indeed true. The research focused on cognitive reappraisal, a strategy that involves reframing one’s thoughts about a given situation in order to change its emotional impact. Does it work? Well, it turns out that context is everything.
In a situation in which you have no control, reframing is very helpful. But this is not the case in circumstances you can influence. In the words of lead researcher, Allison Troy, “For someone facing a stressful situation in which they have little control, such as a loved one’s illness, the ability to use reappraisal should be extremely helpful — changing emotions may be one of the only things that he or she can exert some control over to try to cope. But for someone experiencing trouble at work because of poor performance, for example, reappraisal might not be so adaptive. Reframing the situation to make it seem less negative may make that person less inclined to attempt to change the situation.”
In the study, the results showed that the ability to regulate sadness was associated with fewer reported symptoms of depression, but only for participants whose stress was uncontrollable — those with an ailing spouse, for instance. For participants with more controllable stress, being better at reappraisal was actually associated with more depressive symptoms.
So, when you are choosing a strategy to put you on an upward spiral, consider the context. If you are in the No Control Zone, go for reframing. But if you are in the Influence Zone, seek more active strategies like problem-solving and social support.
Source: Association for Psychological Science