psychology, power of belief
While a natural part of the discourse found in conversation, we often turn to one another and ask, “What do you think?” We ask for the opinion of a respected “other”, hoping it might shed light on an area of reticence, inaction, low motivation, or a blind spot in our lives.
In the therapeutic context, soliciting a counselor’s personal opinion may be met differently. While a powerful pull to answer the question is felt, I refrain from answering the question directly. Why? Because it isn’t the therapist’s belief about the client’s situation that is so powerful and insightful, but the client’s belief and thought process — even about his or her own interpretation of the therapist’s withholding of personal opinion — that is so compelling to the story.
“If you know the answer, why won’t you tell me?”
I’ve helped many people transition from living in another area of the country to Seattle, WA. Eventually, they all need to learn how to get around Seattle. They ask questions about the Seattle Freeze (“Is it real?”), they wonder whether it is truly possible to live in the city without a car, and they want to know if they are missing out on any important features of Seattle living that would help them get ahead. These questions can often be answered with facts and factoids gathered from blogs and magazines, and I have no problem pointing people to resources to help them get their questions answered.
There are many questions that I won’t answer. These are usually related to the greater adventure of life. There are no simple answers, and even my most complex opinions won’t serve you well. My experience will not be your experience; my failures and challenges will differ from yours.
One of those people transitioning to the Seattle area admitted to not knowing the Seattle city limits well, even after five years of living in the Emerald City. She navigated to well-known city landmarks by relying on GPS on her cell phone. The result: she could not drive anywhere in the city limits with confidence. Traffic would throw her off, while other drivers could take side streets to bypass accidents and gridlocked freeways without worrying that their GPS would fail them.
This person will only learn to get around Seattle when she turns off the GPS and learns make her way on a variety of alternative routes without the help of Google Maps. When she shifts her reliance on asking someone or something else to tell her how to get from Point A to Point B, she enters a problem-solving process that she can access from that point forwards.
Learning To Hear Your Yourself
When you hear me reply, “I’m wondering what you think you should do,” I’m not trying to obstruct your path. I’m actually helping you reflect on your beliefs and processes. One of the gains found in therapy is the opportunity to learn to truly hear yourself — your own thoughts and feelings — processed without judgment, critique, or praise, until you come to your own conclusions about what actions, if any, you wish to take towards a particular situation. When you hear yourself and learn to take your own actions, you become response-able to your story, your goals, your dreams, and your relationships.
Ultimately, you become the hero of your own life. You learn to act powerfully towards your own happiness and your cherished relationships. When you identify your beliefs and you congruently act upon them, no other opinion is needed. Not even your therapist’s opinion.
Conversely, if you do not believe you can accomplish X task, or have Y relationship, or reach Z goal, your own beliefs serve as a powerful barrier. The power of your own repeated statements about your limits, your lack of potential, or any other story you feed yourself, if not based in any reality, act as a powerful block. In that case, having someone listen to you can help you identify how your own beliefs may be constraining you to repeated failure, underachievement, and even — wait for it — boredom.
Clients and friends often ask me, “How do you stay disciplined to do X activity?” with ‘X’ being some hobby or goal requiring attention, money, and skill over a long period of time. Beliefs and values tend to be the source; learning to organize oneself to accomplish goals, tasks, and improve relationships is a skill set that follows from aligning your beliefs in the direction you choose. For example, if I believe sticking to a running program gives me energy, improves health and fitness, focus, and a sense of accomplishment, it is much easier to align myself with creating a program and sticking to that program. No one has to task me; I will task myself if my beliefs and actions are in alignment.
Action point: what will it take to learn to hear yourself and identify your beliefs? Do you have a thought process that seems fuzzy to you? Take a moment to write down how you identify your most cherished beliefs.