One of my favorite exercises to give a client who has announced his readiness for change, is the narrative exercise. The narrative exercise, involves a person writing out of narrative, or a story line where he lives out his desires, or the type of change he desires to experience in his life. This exercise is only as potent as the willingness of the writer to be honest, this is because what gets revealed in the first draft of a honest narrative, is a series of logical fallacies.
In case you are wandering, a logical fallacy simply means an error in reasoning. In the first draft of narrative exercises, I witness clients make logical fallacies whereby the logic they use in an attempt to construct a new reality for themselves, contradicts the existence of important variables they have not accounted for. As a result, the error in reasoning occurs when the person’s happiness becomes dependent on the outcome of his en-devour as opposed to his process of pursuing the en-devour.
An example would be a writer’s motivation for writing a book; if his motivation is primarily based on selling a lot of copies of the book and making a bestseller’s list, his process in writing the book would becomes difficult. As opposed to a more humble approach of writing a book solely for the benefit of a specific audience. The latter is more attainable, because little to nothing is compromised as the author uses his authenticity to connect with his targeted audience.
In other words, chances are that the reason you are reluctant towards practicing the changes you desire in your life is because it simply makes no sense to your subconsciousness. If you can agree that your subconsciousness only understands information on a prescriptive level, versus a descriptive level, the nuances of what you really desire to accomplish will become lost to the subconsciousness, if the information for the change you desire contradicts itself on a prescriptive level.
A narrative exercise will expose the irrationality of your beliefs and desires and will become the first step in your guidance towards producing a healthier and more believable story.
Believable stories we tell ourselves, motivate us in following through with our commitments.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.
Using Narratives to Change Your Life.
The other day I came across a you tube video of a physicist, criticizing a hover board invention. His claim was that the invention was a hoax. While the invention in of itself was very real, looking at their kick-starter page, I felt their presentation was significantly misleading. Meaning that the hover board itself was only regulated to a special surface, versus the board being able to hover over any surface. Regardless, I also did feel that the physicist was very limiting in his critic of the project, in that it appeared that the overall theme of his critic seemed to suggest that the ambition of making a hover board to hover over any surface was not possible – I could be wrong about this.
This got me thinking about people I know and work with who operate on limiting beliefs, specifically in regards to what they can not do. Conversations geared towards problem solving with such persons can be frustrating, as their overall message is based on how their acquired knowledge and skills have lead to the conclusions of certain impossibilities. While these arguments are usually based on logic, one has to wonder, what happens if we were to focus more on using acquired knowledge and skill sets towards attaining certain possibilities?
I have written about using narratives to change your life before, and it was soundly rejected. I will chalk it up to me making a poor argument and I am now prepared to take another go at it. Let’s say you wanted to lose some unwanted weight, you purchase a scale, purchase a gym membership and consult with a nutritionist.
A protocol is established regarding your exercise regimen and your daily diet, however there lies one fundamental problem, you keep cheating on your diet. Then it stands to reason that you have developed a habitual behavioral response pattern to being triggered for various types of food, specifically types of food that you and your nutritionist have determined to be unhealthy for you.
Using the narratives technique, once you identify what your trigger is for cheating on your agreed upon diet, you construct a narrative where you are successful in overcoming your urge in engaging in poor habitual behaviors. It need not be long winded, and in most cases a simple paragraph would do, such as passing up on the urge to drink sugary drinks. If in real life passing up on the urge to drink sugary drinks like soda seems much for you, then in your narrative you detail what types of feelings, specifically negative feelings you will be forced to deal with if you passed up on a sugary drink during say.. lunch time.
Once the feeling or feelings have been identified then you construct a narrative on how you will go about making peace with these negative feelings without resorting to consuming any sugary drinks or any other substitutive that can alter your consciousness in the same way a sugary drink can. Such a narrative is focused upon the possibilities of overcoming one’s addiction to sugary drinks towards the eventual goal of losing unwanted weight. When people who have a habit of thinking within limitations, approach such a goal, they tend to focus of what’s not working while still engaging in the behavior that continues to produce the unwanted weight for themselves.
My attitude is to take the approach of leaving no stone unturned. Rather than focus on what’s not working, focus on the eventual goal. If the goal in of itself is possible to achieve, then it stands to reason that there lies many paths you can take towards achieving that goal.
Goals are like destinations, no matter where you are in the world, if you pick a destination of choice, there are multiple paths that lead towards that destination, and multiple paths that don’t.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and professional life coach.
Why are disappointments so difficult to bear for some people? One reason could be because some people place all their stock for being happy in one basket. Specifically in regards to setting goals and expectations for the future. I often see this with people who struggle with mild depression, and procrastination. If you ask them what they want to accomplish, they are quick to inform you about their dreams, but some where along the way they lost motivation once the going got tough. When this phenomenon occurs it is because there seems to be an expectation that happiness can only be achieved once certain desires, goals and expectations are met. For clarification, my definition of happiness in this post refers to feelings of prolonged content and acceptance , versus joy which is shorter lived.
Where does happiness begin and where does it end? If you read or listen between the lines, sometimes when people are discussing something they want to accomplish, it appears that their beliefs about happiness stem from hidden statements such as, “I can only be happy if..” or “I can only be happy when..”
Ambitions, desires, goals and accomplishments are all part of the wonderful attributes of the human experience, specifically they bring a sense of meaning and purposefulness to the experience of life. However, what happens when your narrative changes? What happens when a goal you set out to achieve with all your heart is not realized due to circumstances beyond your control?
Postponing your happiness today based your hopes and dreams for tomorrow is a recipe for a case for acute and prolonged depression. I have worked with people who were so caught off guard by a sudden and unexpected change in their fortunate situation that they spent more years depressed compared to the years when they were thriving. What If you could begin experiencing happiness today, inspite of what your current circumstances are? What would that look like?
From my perspective what happiness today would look like would be living your life from a place of gratitude. Recognizing what you have going on for you and seeing any challenge in your life as an adventure and an exciting part of your journey. So even if you are confronted with disappointment from not having realized a goal, it would be easier for you to grieve and transition with your experiences into your pursuit of another goal.
So instead of the hidden statements such as, “I can only be happy if…” or “I can only be happy when…” replace them with “I can experience happiness regardless of my circumstances.” This type of thinking leads you towards regarding your goals and ambitions with a different attitude. An attitude that leads you towards focusing on the process, rather than the outcome.
So when the going gets tough, you can always draw energy from your feelings of consent and happiness, because you understand that challenges are a natural and occurring phenomenon in our lives.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.
A college student I worked with was experiencing difficulty in school, in regards to completing and turning in her class assignments. One day she mentioned to me that perhaps she suffered from attention deficit disorder . I responded by reminding her about how we had rescheduled our agreed upon appointment two weeks prior because she had to take an examination, which was three hours long. I further reminded her that during our most recent meeting, she had informed me that she had passed the examination.
“People with attention deficit disorder struggle to pull that off,” I added. As it turns out, her lack of motivation was caused by her not knowing what she wanted to study and that she was only pursuing the major of study she was enrolled in to impress her parents. This revelation came out after she came to realize that she was able to concentrate for hours at at time as evidenced by how well she had done on the three hour exam. The difference was that over the years she hadn’t been doing it on her own terms.
From time to time, I encounter people who become upset with me because I tell them they can get better, when they believe they can not. There is another story of a client who used the analogy of a blind man, he informed me that telling him that he could get past his depression was like telling a blind man that he could see again. I then informed him that while blind people certainly couldn’t see, they could still get around and function on par with their sighted fellow humans.
The human mind is neuroplastic, it has a remarkable ability of reorganizing itself to help us address our everyday issues in life and thrive, regardless of the trauma experienced and survived. What remains is for us to believe in our ability to adapt and change.
Consider this study, involving hospitalized depressed men for the effectiveness of fluoxetine in treating depression. The men were divided into two groups, one group which received the actual treatment and the second group which received a placebo treatment. Both groups showed dramatic and significant improvement in their depressive symptoms, as evidenced by self reports and scanned images of changes in their brains’ glucose metabolism using positron emission tomography (PET). This is one of many studies that shows that power of simply believing, through the effects of placebo.
The truth is that we are able to accomplish any feat we set our minds unto. So if you are experiencing difficulty in consistently accomplishing a task, or following through with agreed upon expectations, perhaps it has nothing to do with your ability but your willingness, influenced by other factors.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.
If negativity is to water, then positivity is to the boat that keeps you afloat and takes you across.
The best way to explain this analogy is to substitute negativity as challenges and positivity as the courage to practice change in overcoming certain challenges.
From addictions to maladaptive behaviors, the key to emancipation from habits that weigh us down is practicing the courage to take risks. Imagine if you can, the look of disbelief when I tell a client who struggles with depression that he needs to go thirty days without using marijuana, or the look of horror registered on the face of the shy young adult who is given an assignment to ask someone out on a date.
These two examples have something in common and the commonality is people being asked to take the risk to practice change. For example, the client who uses marijuana, by quitting will be taking the risk of experiencing the inner turmoil and discomfort he has been using the drug to hide from. In his head, facing his fears is the worst thing that could ever happen to him even though it’s the best thing that could happen to him. The exact same thing could be said for the shy young man, afraid to approach females he finds attractive.
There are a number of research studies like this one on risk taking that seem to suggest that people are more willing to take risks when they feel happier or more optimistic. However, what if it works both ways? What if it is true that while happier people take more risks, that miserable people who practice risk taking also experience more happiness? More specifically, what if it turns out that people who are unhappy can experience more optimism if they take risks even when the outcome of their risk taking doesn’t yield success?
For example, what if a young man who is shy finally exercises the courage to begin approaching and making small conversations with women he finds attractive. What if he finally asks someone out and she says no? In my practice what I have witnessed is that even when turned down, young men who struggle with self confidence report feeling more optimistic, because being turned down wasn’t as horrible and as unbearable an ordeal as they had imagined.
Furthermore, risk is a term that’s often used to describe irrational decisions instead of everyday life in which it should be used. For example, driving your car is risky for obvious reasons, but gambling in a casino is irrational, as the odds are always in the favor of the house, which makes the probability of you winning any substantial amount of money slim to none.
People become adverse to the idea of risk taking when their definition of risk involves taking steps to improve their situation with a high likelihood of failure. This certainty of failure becomes so big in their minds that they become fearful of taking any steps to improve their situations. It is when I explain to clients how they take risks everyday in theirs lives that they become more willing to take the necessary steps to do things differently to improve their situations. When people start doing things more differently to improve their circumstances, they become more optimistic regardless of the outcome. They also begin taking about more opportunities that have come up for them as a result of practicing get the courage to change.
Happiness like any other feeling is feedback from the brain that tells you that you are either getting your needs met or in the process of getting your needs met. It is not something that occurs before the event or an action is initiated. For example, it would be equivalent to feeling wet outside on a dry day shortly before rain pours from the sky. We take risks everyday with no guarantees that things would go our way, and happiness is becoming more aware of this phenomenon and being at peace with it.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.
Recently I was speaking with a client of mine who expressed feeling handicapped with her feelings of fear. She is in the process of leaving a corporate job she works for, with plans to open up a small retail business. She reported being terrified of failing at her small business, more specifically she was frightened about what others would think about her if she was not successful with her business. Then she asked for suggestions about what to do about her fear.
I responded by asking her why she was leaving her corporate job, and after a few minutes of pondering, she stated that she feared spending the best years of her life working for a company that she disliked, in a position she found utterly miserable. She further stated that she feared becoming an older woman like some of her coworkers, having given the best years of her life to a company with very little to show for her years of hard work.
I then asked her which of the two fears she had identified, she feared the most. The one where she fails at her business and gets looked down upon by her family and friends, or the other where she gives away her youthful energy to her employer and matures into an older woman with having accomplished very little in her career.
Without hesitation she stated that remaining stuck with her employer was her biggest fear. I then informed her to use this fear as her fuel for motivation. So every time she finds herself fearing possible failure in her business, she considers the alternative, which is to remain with her employer. The idea is that she would be so motivated to not find herself in that predicament, that coping with her fear of failing at her business would become relatively easier.
This was part one for how to deal with fear. The second part is to practice positive thinking. We attract what we think, so instead of worrying about how her business could fail, I asked her to focus on how her business could succeed. In doing so she would pay more attention to how people in her niche have succeeded with their businesses, and incorporate their strategies for success into hers. This would then increase the likelihood of her business succeeding, thus leading to a positive self fulfilling prophecy.
While on the topic of positive thinking, you should really get a copy of Pam Grout’s E-Squared. The title is a play on Einstein’s theory of relativity and features nine do it yourself experiments that prove your thoughts really do create your reality.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.