Tuesday, December 1, 2020

A bias toward action


Therapists are known to empathize. More and more, however, we need to mobilize.

The passive, quiet, detached therapist is not much in demand these days in the therapy world. Clients seeking therapy in NYC increasingly report feeling stuck, and they want help generating energy, motivation and movement in their lives. Simultaneously, therapy clients want and expect results, which is a very good thing for the NYC therapy world. Why? Because when clients/customers are more demanding in any service industry, the quality of the services improves. I imagine the situation is similar in other cities, but I only have first-hand knowledge of therapy in NYC.

Over the past few years it’s become clear to me that there is a parallel-process between the way we therapists practice and the type of changes that clients want us to help them achieve. The bottom line is that if therapists want to help clients become more effectively engaged in life we need to be more effectively engaged in the therapy, and to do this we need to develop, and help our clients develop, a bias toward action.

the toxicity of procrastination

Procrastination is deadly. It kills dreams, goals and plans. It kills the spirit and the soul of whoever falls too deeply into its tangled web of fears, rationalizations and unhealthy habits. Procrastination kills relationships, it kills vitality and it decimates careers. There’s a saying in the NYC addiction & recovery world that goes like this:

perfectionism … procrastination … paralysis

When we hold ourselves to lofty ideals of perfection we inevitably end up procrastinating which (over time) creates a sort of paralysis, a way of being built around ingrained habits of non-action and avoidance. Once we have conditioned ourselves into such toxic patterns, it is not easy to get out. But get out we must.

I work with many people around such issues in my NYC therapy practice and the stakes could not be higher: marriages, careers, self-esteem, family stability, physical health and financial security all hang in the balance. It is simply not possible to live life fully when we are shackled by habits of chronic procrastination.

the daily challenge of making decisions

On a very practical level, it is our daily decisions that ultimately give shape and structure to our lives. Day after day, moment after moment, we reinforce certain patterns of thinking, feeling and behavior in our lives and these patterns reinforce certain realities in our careers and personal relationships. And the cycle never stops. Via our daily decision we can incrementally make our lives worse, or better. This is where the hope lies: even the smallest positive changes, one day at a time (over time) can change our lives very significantly. No magic or great luck needed. We simply need to, day after day, make incremental changes to our patterns of thinking, feeling and behavior.

your vision and values

Taking action in life is about becoming more skilled in the activity of decision-making. Surprisingly, what many people fail to understand is that there are no ‘tricks’ or ‘quick-fixes’ to getting over procrastination. We need to grow beyond it, over time, which requires personal growth on a number of levels.

One major step we can take toward this type of growth is to clarify the vision and values we want to use to guide how we live. This may sound new-agey or like a tired old cliché, but it’s actually a simple and fundamental principle of human motivation. It’s not new. In fact it’s as old as humanity. Cultivating mastery of self is similar to athletic or musical training: it is less about the newest and flashiest ideas/techniques and more about getting back to basics and more deeply practicing the fundamentals.

There are many books and exercises you can use to help you clarify your vision and values. Most include asking yourself questions such as these, and answering them deep in your heart on a regular (perhaps daily?) basis:

  • What kind of person (i.e. friend, father, sister, aunt, employee, wife, citizen, etc.) do I want to be?
  • How do I want to use this life I have been given?
  • What shall I make my highest priorities, and how shall I remain true to my values?
  • How do I want to impact on others today and going forward?
  • What commitments can I make that are deeply meaningful and motivating for me?
  • How do I want to treat other people?
  • What would it look like to, more often than not, take extremely good care of myself?
  • How do I need to live my life TODAY, so that it advances me toward my vision and is a reflection of my core values?

Holding a meaningful vision and set of values in your mind on a daily basis, one day at a time, is a very helpful guide to your daily decision-making, and a powerful antidote to procrastination. Obviously it is no easy task to align our daily choices with our vision and values. In fact we might even fail more often than we succeed at it. BUT, using this tool as part of your daily practice produces very significant outcomes over time. It’s like in baseball, if you get a hit only 40% of the time, you are still almost guaranteed to be on the all-star team because most people only hit the ball approximately 26% of the time. Error is built into the game.

the road less traveled

Each day challenges us with endless choices about how to use our limited time and energy. If we have not clarified a compelling vision and set of values for ourselves then we are much more likely to be pushed, pulled and overwhelmed by relentless demands, competing pressures, others’ unhealthy agendas, desire for immediate gratification, pressing problems, fears, confusions, etc. In such situations, the really important things fall by the wayside and we spend all our energy just getting by.

Working in the NYC therapy world over the past 15 years has taught me many things, and one of the most important is this: clarifying a meaningful vision and a set of core values for ourselves, and reviewing it regularly in deep and serious moments of reflection, will help us develop the all important bias toward action that moves us forward and neutralizes perfectionism, procrastination and paralysis in our lives.

Yes, it takes practice and effort. Yes, you have work to do to get over the humps and to build this into your repertoire. Yes, it’ll be painful to change negative habits. But what’s the alternative? As is well known, far too many people never do actually make these changes. Instead they choose the path of least resistance over and over and over and over. Sadly, I think we know the rest of that story.

Chris Kingman lives with his wife and daughter in Park Slope, Brooklyn and has a full-time private therapy practice in Manhattan, NYC where he works with adults and couples. Follow Chris on Twitter or Facebook.

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