A client was stuck. Frustrated. Life was not going well. I gave her some advice which she refused because she liked to learn the hard way- through experience. Many people tell me they like to learn the hard way, to learn from experience, and that is why they have a difficult time following advice, or even, a course of study. They feel they need to experience something to really lear it. I ask such people if they had to reinvent language to learn how to speak, or reinvent the automobile to learn how to drive a car. I point out that they learned language with the guidance and help of others, even if it was just having a model to copy. By shifting perspective it is easier to see the fallacy of their belief. Not every ounce of wisdom has to be gleaned from direct experience. I don’t need to have AIDS to know I don’t want to catch it. I don’t need to be mangled in a car accident to know I want learn to avoid it.
She began talking about her life as soon as we shook hands. Silently, I asked my spirit guides if I should stop her. No, let her talk. At one point about half way through she mentioned a man had asked her to marry. She declined since he wasn’t her type. When she finally stopped she asked me if she could get married. I told her she could have already been married. Who? When? You mentioned earlier a man proposed and you declined. Had you accepted you would already be married. Ask a better question.
I told her to ask if she could happily marry someone that was her type. What I didn’t tell her is that even that question is limiting because many people, including her, don’t really know what their best match is. It would be best for a person like her to pray to receive the best person for her happiness. A question often leads to a single answer, or more questions, not all answers. It is important to ask good questions to get good answers.
The young woman pounded her fist on the table and asked, “How do I fix my relationship!” A bit amused I asked, “Are you going to do this all by yourself.” Without hesitation she said, “Yes!” “What’s the point?”, she didn’t understand my question and began to explain herself. I stopped her, “If you are going to do this all by yourself, then do you really have a relationship with another person?”
Her mistake is a common one. People either get scared of not getting what they want, or of losing a relationship, they begin to try too hard and completely dominate the relationship. When this happens it becomes a relationship of one person with their self. To have a good relationship it is important to communicate and share in the development of the relationship. If communication, appreciation, and participation fails then the relationship fails. Recognizing this failure can be painful, but at some point it may be better to leave than force each other to stay.
Tokyo, Japan, March 10, 2011. A Japanese woman is looking up at the night. She was looking up at the sky expecting to see stars. She was startled to find a sky full of angels. She was confused by their presence. Then the earthquake hit, the tsunami struck, and she understood. The angels were preparing to greet and guide those souls to Heaven. Know this: even if you don’t believe in angels there are divine beings ready to support you in your worst times.
The woman said she was confused. I said she wasn’t. Yes I am, no you’re not, yes I am, no your not. You love him, right? Yes. You want to marry him, right? Yes. You want to spend the rest of your life with him, right? Yes. So how is it that you are confused? Because he doesn’t know what he wants. Doesn’t that make him confused? Yes….
I find women more than men will mistake their partners, children, and parents frame of mind as their own. Women seem to identify with the group, and lose themselves, more than men. But this confusion of identity leads to ineffective problem solving. It is not selfish to have distance of identity, to separate your sense of self from a relationship or group. In fact it is necessary to have meaningful relationships based on mutual appreciation. Journal, diary, take long walks, find some way to reflect and stay in touch with yourself.
“You must unlearn what you have learned.” -Yoda
Learn a New Behavior
As much as I love Yoda the only way to unlearn is brain damage. And even that’s not a guaranteed fix. Not something I would recommend anyway.
New behaviors are gained by forming new pathways in the brain. The old behavior remains. Forgetfulness is not erasure, but lack of recall. It is better to focus on learning something new than to struggle with unlearning.
I quit smoking at twenty-eight. When I was twenty-seven my three year old daughter said, “Look daddy!”, as she puffed on a weed stem. Instantly, I became highly motivated. I soon found motivation was not enough. I quit four times over a one year period. The runner up method was acupuncture needles in my ear. I didn’t smoke for three months. Then I went drinking…. I learned through trail and error that quitting smoking would take a multi-layered approach.
A Multi-Layered Approach
Finally a combination of the patch, changing behaviors like not hanging out with smokers or smoking environments like bars, and mental reprogramming by repeating phrases like I am becoming a former smoker and I am former smoker, worked to shift my identity away from that of a smoker. The reprogramming part is thanks to Anthony Robbins. According to Robbins congruency with identity is related to honesty and trustworthiness in our culture. A change in behavior can be perceived as being
incongruent, and therefore, untrustworthy.
My Part Approach to Quitting Smoking:
1. Chemical – The patch
2. Behavioral – Not being around smokers or smoking environments.
3. Mental – Affirming a new identity.
My approach was to establish and reinforce new neurological pathways rather than erase old ones. Those the old neurological pathways that formed my identity as a smoker are still there along with their related physical responses even after twenty-two years. They are a lot less intense. I don’t crave a cigarette when having a drink, but there are times when the idea that a cigarette would be nice comes to mind. When that happens I remember the sick feelings I got while smoking and that is enough to counter the nostalgia.
Unlearning is a nice idea, but the reality is that any behavior change is multitiered. Change is more effective when approached through focusing on learning new behaviors instead of getting rid of old ones. Much of our identity is the result of learning. Reframing identity as something learned, instead of an inherent or inherited trait, makes it easier to change. If you learned to be who you think you are then you could always learn something different.
New learning means growth and growth means an expanded consciousness. Quitting smoking taught me more than just giving up cigarettes. It taught me a new formula for learning something new. Be it quitting smoking, losing weight, eating healthy, or anything else you want to learn, I hope my three steps are of help to you too.