OVERCOMING PEER PRESSURE: COMMUNICATING ASSERTIVELY
Consider the following situations:
• Julia is trying to give up smoking; her friend Marie continues to offer her cigarettes whenever they are together.
• Emilio is planning to exercise in the morning; his roommates tell him he’s being antisocial by not having breakfast with them.
• Tracy’s boyfriend told her that in high school he once experimented with drugs and shared needles; she wants him to have an HIV test, but he says he’s sure the people he shared needles with were not infected.
Peer pressure is the common ingredient in these situations. To successfully maintain your behavior change program, you must develop effective strategies for resisting peer pressure. Assertive communication is one such strategy. By communicating assertively firmly, but not aggressively you can stick with your program even in the face of pressure from others.
Review your health journal to determine how other people affect your target behavior. If you find that you often give in to peer pressure, try the following strategies for communicating more assertively:
• Collect your thoughts, and plan in advance what you will say. You might try out your response on a friend to get some feedback.
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• State your case how you feel and what you want as clearly as you can.
• Use “I” messages statements about how you feel rather than “you” statements.
• Focus on the behavior rather than the person. Suggest a solution, such as asking the other person to change his or her behavior toward you. Avoid generalizations. Be specific about what you want.
• Make clear, constructive requests. Focus on your needs (“I would like…”) rather than the mistakes of others (“You always…”).
• Avoid blaming, accusing, and belittling. Treat others with the same respect you’d like to receive yourself.
• Ask for action ahead of time. Tell others what you would like to have happen; don’t wait for them to do the wrong thing and then get angry at them.
• Ask for a response to what you have proposed. Wait for an answer and listen carefully to it. Try to understand other people’s points of view, just as you would hope that others would understand yours.
With these strategies in mind, review your health journal and identify three instances in which peer pressure interfered with your behavior change program. For each instance, write out what you might have said to deal with the situation more assertively. (If you can’t think of three situations from your experiences, choose one or more of the three scenarios described at the beginning of this activity.)
Assertive communication can help you achieve your behavior change goals in a direct way by helping you keep your program on track. It can also provide a boost for your self-image and increase your confidence in your ability to successfully manage your behavior.
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