Shortly after my no-fun marriage separation, my ex dropped some of my property at a friends house. The ex told my friend of my plans to do a PhD, adding his opinion that I’d never finish it.
Some years and one PhD later, I was reminded yesterday of this type of undermining. An acquaintance asked me about the progress of my book – The 21-Day Myth: A Step by Step Guide to Rapid Habit Change – Including Procrastination.
This acquaintance, unlike my ex, is a Really Nice Guy. He’s also aware of the many deadlines trashed in the writing of my book.
When I said my book should be out before March, he laughed, saying he didn’t have any faith in that.
I replied that his lack of faith wasn’t my problem.
This person has very different motivations from my ex-husband, but the underlying message is the same. Fortunately I don’t rely on either of these people for support. I’m more careful these days about oxygen choices.
‘Having faith’ or not, reminds me of a strategy I used over my eight years volunteering as a Lifeline telephone counselor. Eight years is a long time and I was senior to most of my peers. You needed robust coping strategies to manage intense and extreme Lifeline calls.
One of my most powerful strategies was having faith in the caller’s ability to change. Even the angriest, most vilely-abusive caller. Even the self-harming caller who’d been calling Lifeline for years. Even the ‘worried well’. Everyone. Even my ex.
Even if the probability of change was close to zero, it was never zero.
I’m not asking you to believe this. It’s my belief, and it’s a useful one. That, and other strategies, helped sustain me at Lifeline when many other counselors couldn’t cope.
Also, do you think we can’t tell when we are talking to someone who doesn’t have faith in us – even if they don’t explicitly say it?
Of course we can tell. And think about how we respond to people who don’t have faith in us. And how we respond to those who do.
Belief in people’s ability to change, is one of the key predictors of change.
That, along with unconditional regard for the client, are cornerstones of Carl Roger’s client or person centered therapy – the counseling modality I trained in as a Lifeline counselor. Over my years on the Lifeline phones (which BTW I LOVED) I was stunned again and again with the therapeutic power of that simple-seeming approach.
Anyway, in case you hadn’t guessed from the email subject line, I have faith in you. And, at the very least, I know you are doing the best you possibly can with the tools you currently have.
The 21 Day Myth – A Step by Step Guide To Rapid Habit Change …
So where IS my book up to?
I’m annoyed I wasted some oxygen explaining to the Really Nice Guy where my book was up to. Next time someone asks I’ll just repeat what I just read in the amazing graphic storybook about stories; Out on the Wire by Jessica Abel: and that is, “It turns out, I needed to read my book in order to write it.”
(However, I have had queries from people who have already been helped by my work, asking when the book will be out. That is quite a different thing – I find those messages, expressing faith in my work, supportive and encouraging. On a good day those messages are heart warming. On a bad day, they start me writing again.)
Can you ever forgive me?
I’m currently raving about the film starring Melissa McCarthy; Can You Ever Forgive Me? In a word; this true story is charming. In more words; it’s clever, bitchy, hilarious, delightful, understated, sad and very very human (but, to be clear, the film is far funnier than sad).
There may, or may not be, some similarities between me and Melissa McCarthy’s character, writer Lee Israel. And, if there are, that’s partly because her struggles are all too common human struggles. After my Lifeline years I can tell you most of our struggles are the same. They only vary in the details. However, in the interests of clarity, I do NOT have cat poo under my bed.
Take good care of you – you are the only one of you we have.
Til’ next time 🙂
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Like more reading?
Struggling with habit change? You may enjoy Why is changing habits so hard? (Hint: it’s not your fault!) – it’s actually an excerpt from my book on rapid habit change. It’s hard to develop effective solutions when we don’t understand the cause of the problem.
What the sex therapist told me en route to the burlesque show– this article describes how I dealt with a Lifeline plague – sex callers. Plus, as per the title, a sex therapist told me the ONLY reason couples ever come to sex therapy.
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“What would you do even if you knew that you might very well fail?”
– Mega-million best selling author Elizabeth Gilbert with a twist on a classic self-sabotage-revealing question: Big Magic, p. 259