When ‘doing’ isn’t enough.

My web site places emphasis on action – getting something done.

So here’s a bit of heresy against myself. Action is not always enough or appropriate to the moment!

How so and when?

Doing is not always a respectable word in therapy as action does not always ‘bring home the bacon’.  Action can be be a substitute for ‘real’ change in some situations – a handy disguise – a diversion. We can pretend to be changing. Do you notice when you run around like the proverbial ‘headless chicken’, getting no-where very fast?

Ever heard of the French expression: “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose“.  Roughly: the more it changes, the more it’s the same thing.

One reason why safe experiments may not work is that our cunning minds find actions-of-convenience that are, in truth, sneaky avoidances. On my web site, I have included a useful experiment to reduce that possibility and one such is the Socratic Question – words, not actions.

Bear in mind that the first therapists were the ancient Greeks (oh, and probably sages from even more ancient civilisations). Socrates was a Greek philosopher and he had something useful to say about questioning ourselves and others. His famous sayings include:

An unexamined life is not worth living;  and,

I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think.
So, you see, he was keen on thinking before action! As I understand it, he was advising that actions assumes we have made a judgement that so-and-so is a ‘good’ action. He is saying that judgements assume we have thought enough to know what full range of options are open to us. Until this is done, we cannot make a judgement about which option to follow.
Therefore, we can act, but that’s best done after we’ve judged the situation and that’s best done when we’ve excersised on our ability to think on things.

So, Socrates has had a large impact on modern therapy.  Note this work-sheet, courtesy of: https://www.therapistaid.com/therapy-worksheet/socratic-questioning

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You will see the similarity between this work-sheet and other cognitive behavioural approaches to testing the information we have gathered.

So what other things did Socrates do that seemed to help others? For example, he used Ironic Modesty: once he was challenged by a claim that “No one is wiser than you.”  He tried to  disclaim the award, but ended up concluding that his wisdom  was greater than many simply because he possessed awareness of his own ignorance.

His great skill was the Questioning Habit in his conversations with others. He was argumentative and cross-examined others to improve our self-knowledge. He was said to be devoted to the truth so much so that he died rather than give up his philosophy and his home.  He was obliged to poison himself when a jury of his peers convicted him of being too clever by half! He believed in the power of reason and, after his conviction, he was said to have continued to argue about his fate after death.

He saw the sneakiness of his fellows and appeared to test himself to the death.

To become more aware of our own sneakiness requires us to pay attention to our thoughts, beliefs, values and attitudes. In these areas, the experiments you may have to do are thought-experiments. Albert Einstein was the celebrity thought-experimenter and you can find out more about them at:


To work on inoculating yourself, try saying ‘hello’ to your own sneakiness and just notice the ways in which you are sneaky. Notice all the benefits of sneakiness to you and consider whether sneaky may help you from time to time and, if so, how.

When you find a way in which sneaky is getting in the way of your preferred change, go back to this web site and design a safe experiment once more. Let Socrates keep whispering in your ear.

One of the principles I have mentioned is that no ‘safe experiment’ will always work for everybody or even work always for some people. The most sensible thing to expect is that all experiments can work for some people, some of the time.

Sometimes it helps to think about things and to just notice our thoughts.  A problem, when designing your own safe experiments, may well be to decide what to record and how to record it. So, now back to actions, once more.

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