See, Do, Teach

If you think that going to therapy means you can go to a shrink’s office, unload all your problems, and walk away a new man, you’ll be disappointed. You might feel better for a minute, but if you go home and do the same things you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.

Therapy involves learning new skills. The couple who’s coming in for marriage counseling needs to learn to listen and respond differently. The anxious person must learn to relax; the depressed one, how to keep going; and the addicted one, why and how to stop using their substance. Every person must be able to observe themselves accurately and compassionately. The greater part of all this learning occurs outside the therapy hour, far from your shrink’s office.

A surgeon once told me they have a saying in medicine: see one, do one, teach one. Only when you complete all three can you say you know the procedure well enough to do it on your own. See one means you watch someone perform a surgical procedure. When you try your hand at it under supervision, you are doing one. Teach one requires you to explain it to someone else, so they can do it, too.

There’s a lot of wisdom in this method, which can be applied with variations to almost any kind of learning. It’s not enough for me to tell you how you can calm yourself down in sixteen seconds by square breathing, you must do it. Then, it’s not enough for you to do it, you must explain to someone else how to do it. I have often found that I think I know something when I start writing about it, only to be confronted by all the ins and outs of the topic before I’ve reached the end of the page. Teaching someone is how you work out the kinks in a skill and develop real mastery. Then, if you really want to learn something, learn it well enough to explain it to your grandmother.

Learning a new skill in therapy is harder than learning a surgical procedure because you really need to use the skills when you are under extreme duress. You need to learn to listen when your spouse is yelling at you, how to calm yourself when you think you’re going to die, how to go on when you wish you would die, and why and how to stop using a substance when it seems like nothing but the substance could solve your problem. You need to be able to observe yourself accurately and compassionately when you are the most ashamed. That’s hard. It’s as hard as a surgeon learning a new procedure, not on a patient, but on himself, blindfolded, without anesthesia. To be able to learn to do that is going to take more than watching one, doing one, and teaching one. You’re going to have to do ten thousand.

This is where drilling comes in, otherwise known as repeated conscious practice. No one likes to drill, but a musician who hasn’t done his scales will not know how to play. An actor who hasn’t rehearsed does not know her lines. A basketball player who hasn’t shot from the foul line countless times will not score a point when the game is at stake. The idea of drilling is to repeat something often enough so you can do it in your sleep. If you’re ever going to be able to listen when your spouse is yelling at you, listening must be automatic.

If change is ever going to occur as a result of therapy, then most of the work, and the drilling, must occur between sessions. The anxious person must take up meditation; the depressed one, action; and the addicted one must repeatedly choose not to use his substance. Everyone must practice observing themselves accurately and compassionately if they’re ever going to have a chance of doing it when it’s hard.

Ride the Ego Balloon

You may be amused, instructed, affirmed, chastened, enriched, or enlightened by my latest video.

The ego is a good tool if you understand its uses and limitations. The ego balloon can make you crazy, but it’s often a good crazy, a necessary madness, provided you can land the thing when it needs to come down.

Snapshots

Photo by Ryan Magsino on Unsplash

If the inside of my own head is any indication, we all carry around a few snapshots of what our childhood was like. These snapshots are extremely powerful in determining our self-image, the choices we make, and the way we feel about everything.

One snapshot of my own childhood is that of me, sitting in a school bus. Every other seat is taken, but the seat next to me is empty. Continue reading

Freedom

Photo by Ryan Magsino on Unsplash

If you have ever been to a sawmill like the one I used to run, you have seen one of the most fearsome objects you are ever likely to meet: a sawblade at least three feet in diameter with teeth as big as a tiger’s whirring loudly just a couple feet from the operator. There were no safety guards on my sawmill. I’m not sure how there could be. I frequently had to reach close to the blade to remove boards and some debris.

One day while I was working, the thought entered my brain that I could just dive onto that sawblade and have it cut me in half. This thought frightened me so much I shut everything down, went home, put the covers over my head, and talked to no one. What was going on with me? I wasn’t suicidal. Until this happened, I was happy with my life. Was I going crazy? Continue reading

Better Angels

shrinbks-links-photo1Last week, which was the second week of the government shutdown, was the week in which a large proportion of the clients I saw complained about the stress of having a government that, not only can’t get along, but does not seem to even want to get along. I didn’t bring it up; they did. These clients see me for all kinds of problems and issues; but for many, this was one of their issues last week competing or even eclipsing other concerns.

The stress might be similar to that a child might feel when his parents are fighting; when they are fighting so much that dinner never gets made, baths are never drawn, and bedtime is forgotten; except for one thing: my clients are not children and Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi are not their parents. The government is at odds because the people are at odds; at least the noisy ones. And they are at odds because they value the point they are trying to make more than they value getting along.

If you value getting along or at least having a civil dialogue and not making hostages of federal employees, then you could start yelling, too, and add to the clamor; or you could get involved with the Better Angels, a citizens’ organization uniting red and blue Americans in a working alliance to depolarize America. I’ve been involved for a couple years. Just before the holidays we tried to get a local event going, but simply lacked enough people to plan it.  I know there should be more who are willing to speak up, not to add their voices to the din, but to get everyone else to settle down.

Click here to go to the Better Angels website.

Why You Should Observe Advent Even If You Don’t Do Christmas

Old Posts

You know what Christmas looks like. Busy malls, colorful lights, the ubiquitous Santas. You know what it sounds like: jingle bells, jolly music, ho ho ho. You know what you’re supposed to do: attend parties, kiss under the mistletoe, go mad buying things no one needs. You know what it’s supposed to feel like: generosity, warm fuzziness, wonder, enchantment, and excitement. Christmas has the distinctive smell of pine needles and ham dinner. You know when it’s supposed to occur; before Halloween is definitely too soon. Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, you know all about Christmas. Getting what you want is like Christmas to you.

You may think you know all about Christmas, but you may not realize that you’re missing a whole ‘nother holiday between Thanksgiving and December twenty-fifth. No, I don’t mean Black Friday. You’re missing Advent.

You think you know about Advent, do you? There’re the candles and the little paper houses where you open a new door every day. You’ve been there and done that; it’s not your thing. But, I bet you never thought about the true meaning of Advent, just like the true meaning of Christmas is often hidden under mounds of discarded wrapping paper.

Advent is about waiting. Continue reading