There is a problem with the approach I recommend. It places a lot of responsibility on you to decide the direction of change and how to go about it bit-by-bit. At the risk of being patronising: how can you remove your blind spots? We may be less effective at this than we think!
Consider what the BBC broadcast by David Robson has to say. His programme is called The Expectation Effect. See: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/series/m00199wp?partner=uk.co.bbc&origin=share-mobile
He touches on a number of nudges that are available to us. He offers the warning that any safe experiment will need to take account of “unconscious inference” – that is, we see what we predict, rather than what is out there. Humans can tend to stick with the familiar and predictable, and side-step puzzling things that do not fit in with meaning in our world.
Doors open to us?
You can explore potential blind spots by considering the ‘doors’ are facing you. As you look down the scenic route, there will be:
- open doors: that offer familiar opportunities;
- trap doors: that are less familiar and may hide obstacles. Some will be visible, and others will not.
- target doors: ways through that may help us on the journey. These are neither the familiar (or easy gateways), or the evident stoppers. They might offer realistic alternatives able to slow us down but get to our intended destination.
On another page, I comment on the problem that arising when deciding on who is ‘right’, about what!
Blind spots: can therapy draw attention to them?
Therapy has thrived as a profession because you and I possess these blind spots. Even so, they can make it difficult to direct therapy. Therapists have compulsory professional supervision to minimise the impact of this problem in their world. Many people have reported the benefits of having some-one around to help them complete the therapeutic journey.
You may well doubt your own judgment as you examined the results of some of your experiments, and wondered what to do next.
Through this website, I’ve encouraged you to seek a consultation when this happened, with a trusted friend or a professional. That could be Christina and I.
Even so, there are still do-able things to address blind spots.
The Johari Window provides a route to see ahead, just a little bit more. Getting information from other people can help move things along.
The Discount Matrix approaches the same topic from a different direction; by identifying our four ‘levels of blindness’. That matrix can be valuable, even if it is off-putting; it can help us to identify what is do-able now. It may mean expending less energy on things just out of our reach.
However, this page can say more to develop our self-awareness and, to extend the benefits of the ‘safe experiment‘.
Open Doors, Trap Doors and Target Doors
Let’s consider these ‘doors’ in more detail.
The idea of ‘doors’ came originally from Dr. Paul Ware, a psychiatrist. This notion was developed from a Transactional Analytic perspective in Personality Adaptations: A New Guide to Human Understanding in Psychotherapy and Counseling by Vann Joines and Ian Stewart.
There is more detail on the topic to be found at the Couples Institute: https://www.couplesinstitute.com/6-personality-adaptations-and-3-doors-a-model-for-knowing-where-to-connect-with-your-clients/
You will need to experiment differently when approaching the different ‘doors‘. Try this:
Consider an issue in your life: a new one, or one you already have worked on before. Jot it down somewhere in the briefest detail.
- That issue is likely to be concerned with the way you think, behave or feel. A fourth door is the one of ‘sensation’; what my body appears to be ‘telling’ me.
- are you more dogged by specific thoughts, behaviour, feelings or sensations? The one you chose is likely to be most familiar. It shapes a number of decisions you make. That dominant one is the ‘open door‘; the default door that is most often used. That door requires some attention, but continuing to go through it will not do. Charging at it does not help very much, either. If you look around for a battering ram the door may open wide and, as in so many comedy films, you end up flying through to the back of the house!
- other ‘doors’ – rarely used – may be closed doors or even trap doors; doors most likely to trip you up when you find yourself in unfamiliar territory. Therefore, starting your experiment with a trap door may be less than helpful. You may, in due time, walk towards it – but not at the beginning.
- a better start might be your ‘target door’; one that is just a little more available to you. This ‘doors’ may be more approachable.
Now, how will this category of ‘doors’ help with safe experiments?
Open and Trap Doors
‘Doors’, like ‘parts’, can be useful in figuring out where to first establish contact with change.
We can start with the Body Scan and our thinking, feeling, sensation or behaviour. Where have you heard this before! Knowing this, we can meet at an open door; one where we feel secure and ready to meet others. Planners can use ‘thinking’ as an open door even if the aim is to go elsewhere as ….
….. the target door is the place where change may be profitable for us.
By contrast, our trap door may be any number of obstacles. Self-protection may lead us to side-step it by using familiar open-door strategies, but one’s that are least likely to promote progress.
Finding the target door
… presents an opportunity to focus on a ‘target’ using the skills already available to me. The ‘open door’ may provide the usual way in, but a small, safe experiment may aim to move me away from my ‘usual’ ways.
The target door offers me a challenge; an opportunity to pace myself to do something just a little bit different, without stumbling over too many ‘rocks’.
That all sounds rather vague so let’s make up some examples.
An individual becomes more and more aware of his checking behaviour, say, door locks. It is getting in the way of a quality life; it wastes time. That person senses entrapment in that repetitive behaviour. The trap door is insecurity and the need to minimise unsafe situations.
He is good at thinking but his thoughts are full of “did I check or not“. Thinking is his open door. On this analysis, a target door could be the ‘sensation door’. He starts to just notice the butterflies in his stomach and he starts to notice just how often this happens.
He may then notice that regular checking eases that sensation for a while. Anxiety needs to be relieved and checking does it for the moment; or does it? How long can some-one stay on that treadmill?
In time, if the gods smile, the safe experiment may move a trap door (of sensations) into a target door (of what IS that feeling?). When that happens, you may just notice the thoughts that encourage checking behaviour in the first place. If all is well, you may find a different conversation to develop in his head. For example, between an ‘anxious part’ and an ‘excited part’ (at the prospect of doing something just a little bit different).
The Target Door may help acknowledge our feelings and the actions and thoughts connected to it. Just noticing ‘anxiety’ may address that feeling, rather than side-step it. It is very easy to return to ‘did I check or not‘, again and again.
Affect regulation, or controlled breathing, is a behaviour-oriented target door that can disrupt thoughts and help to ‘switch’ me to other roads less well travelled. Just noticing my feelings can promote a different way to act.
In this example, the safe experiments have moved from thoughts as the open door, to sensations as a target door. Can this transform the trap door of insecurity leading to repeated behaviour towards viable change.
It is for this reason that my scenic route has so many bends in it!
Just get started
In practice, initial experiments I encourage are likely to focus on body scanning and just noticing body sensations. These safe experiments can be a preliminary to moving toward affect regulation and the prospect of observing changing levels of anxiety, using SUD scales. This may lead, through practice, to labelling our feelings and acknowledging the way our feelings go up and down. In time, actions and behaviours can prove more useful and making me more aware of other options available to me.
What about another individual – a woman – who finds it difficult to say ‘boo to a goose’? She demonstrates withdrawal in company; her behaviour, the open door, is passive avoidance of company. Her thoughts reinforce her actions – ‘I wouldn’t do that if I were you’.
The trap door could be intense ‘feelings’ and discomfort promoting withdrawal from company to reduce anxiety or shame.
The target door might be ‘sensation’ as long as the sensations can be calibrated. Again, the SUDS scale can help here. It will not help her to go to a social event when the discomfort in her body is likely to be high. This seems like a trap door but a growing aware of her sensations may help her affirm those ‘new’ thoughts. The target door is a graded way to react – changing her behaviour a little bit at a time.
For example, the self-affirmation: “even though I am feeling anxious when I step outside, I can deeply and completely accept myself ” may, in time, help her to act differently and, indeed, to meet other people. By making such new connections, this woman may improve her self-confidence – enough to act just a little bit differently. Here, the thinking can become a target door.
So what notes did you make about your incident and your open door, target door and trap doors? Depending on the combinations you’ve just noticed, what might you do differently to use a target door and diminish the impact of trap doors on the quality of your own life?
Some other leads to consider
Actions making up safe experiments