Can I egg you on?

Encouraging change

I had an interesting conversation with a colleague from the US in March 2021 . I was reminded of an important point that might be encouraging to you – to egg you on to do more small, safe experiments.

It’s all very well creating a website offering a ‘library’ of safe experiments that others have devised over the years. Writing this enables me to thank everyone involved here once again. Contributors to this library have identified many small, safe experiments and they are included on the website as an edited version may work for you, the reader.

My colleague’s question, in summary, was: what more might I do to widen access to ‘small safe experiments’ (or nudges)?

So: a challenge

Can more be done by you and me to see that nudges work more often and for more people?

The short answer is “no, not really“. I cannot ‘make’ some one design their own small, safe experiment. There could be unintended, unhelpful consequences if I have a go.

Encouraging others could end up as a small defeat. True, I am convinced that learning from small defeats, as well as small victories, works for most people, most of the time. It is both, not one or the other. Even so, I do not want to I veer off to one side and foster defeats by being pushy. That’s why I am critical of some training procedures and the main-stream thinking about nudging.

I’d have to ask the question: who I am doing this for? Is it me, my profits, or does your well-being benefit from my pushiness?   Pushiness can undermine well-being; it might be good intentioned and still be oppressive.

To take the scenic route outside the Window of Tolerance – and to widen it a little bit more – is often a one-way street and a personal commitment. Taking the scenic route can offer permanent learning, and it has to be YOUR learning.

My colleague wanted to recruit more people into the art of small, safe experimenting. He was concerned about the less motivated individual. We agreed that motivation was going to be higher for a ‘safe experimenter’, and lower for anyone feeling defeated and/or unable to change. 

He had a percentage figure for that less motivated group. I will not quote his global figure, but it was high, very high.  His ambition was to improve on the figure: to ensure that the percentage of motivated and fulfilled people was increased. My own sense is that there is more to it than that. I wondered if, sometimes, it is wiser to consider our own motivation for wanting to do ‘good’.

I’m less sure I can help some-one who is not – as yet – ready to change. Most models of change support the idea that it can take time to be ready to make a move. There may be a high percentage of almost ready to move’ individuals, but that’s not the same as NOW ready to move.

In my view, it is best that the pace is slowed if I am to find some-one who is ‘really’ ready to change. Change that comes a ‘little late’ is better than change that falters because it has been hot-housed. All that said, I do understand that this cautiousness may tell you more about me, than the world at large!

Gulliver’s Travels might help here

Our conversation reminded me of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Swift’s first Travel Tale was about the Lilliputians. They were warring over eggs on a long-lost foreign island. The Big Endians asserted that boiled eggs should be opened at the big end. The Little Endians asserted eggs should be opened at the little end.

Now, I don’t want to start a war between the safe experimenters and those less willing, or unable to experiment so let’s leave the categorising of people behind.

BUT I do want to increase the number of small, safe experimenters. Even so, let’s agree that the point was to enable, rather than to instruct.

Every such opportunity taken in this way will, in time, increase the minority of small and safe experimenters, and reduce the proportion who are not making moves. They may see a pathway in their heads, but not in front of them.

So, how might it happen that one person takes an important step that they value. All this begs one important question  :

What are qualities that will make a difference; that a small, safe experimenter may want at their finger-tips?

I get close to it on the page about psychological healing. There, I describe the workings of our Vagus nerve, and consider how we might care for it. This is not straightforward; the ingredients I talk about here are important. So what are those ingredients?  I have been reluctant to identify some of them as it implies I am offering the list. All you have to do is to go and buy them from the psycho-market!

After some thought, I’ve decided to ‘egg’ you on to identify, explore and mix these ingredients.  I do so with one caveat: see if you can add at least one quality of your own and, maybe, move towards something even more comprehensive!

No one ingredient is necessary or sufficient to the task. But each is important.  Combinations of ingredients are even more powerful. They can help you develop a stronger plan of action.

Consider some of these ingredients

Having awareness:  this seems a vague quality and yet safe experiments can only begin if I know that something is wrong. It may just feel wrong, appear wrong, sound wrong or look wrong.  A value of ‘wrong’ is needed before I am able to move towards ‘right’. I have to Think and Judge,  before I Act.

Having patience: I put this quality in early on as many people tell me that they are impatient for change. Even so, the harder you try, the more resistance you may experience.  So, how do you slow down or accept who you are, and the way you are, now?

Having willingness: your life will go on as it is without any change(s). You may well live a fine life. There has to be a willingness to shift, to move to somewhere else – literally or metaphorically.  It is not obligatory. It may not even be desirable.

Having self-compassion:  this is a tricky one. One person’s compassion may not be another’s compassion. Even so, most of us have an ‘inner critic’ and – for some – this is a sharp, shrill and persistent voice in our heads. The tricky thing is that some of us want to wash it away or order it away. The truth is that that voice, however unpleasant, may be saying something important – if in an unhelpful way. Through self-compassion, it may be possible to listen to the whisper, behind the voice.

Having curiosity: this quality is embodied in the process of learning described on two pages I have marked here – both hyper-linked on this line.

Support: this is lower on my list, but it should be higher up. Why? Support is essential to most of us on a 24 hr/7 day a week basis. That is not always the experience for many of us.  Even if you are in therapy, there are still 6 days and 23 hours to account for – assuming you attend a one-hour consultation every week.  None of us is guaranteed a high quality support system. That said, support systems can be improved by “talking” to our Drivers, particularly the Be Strong Driver. There is an antidote to that driver: to ask for things.  This seems so easy on one level. You try it, and see! Not all of us are good at it.

Being motivated: this web site has touched on motivation a fair bit.  Identifying what the word means to you does not produce the drive to change out of thin air. What skills and abilities may you need to encourage that drive to change?

Creating an outline of a plan: there are several ‘pathways’ described throughout this website. The Johari Window is a useful map to have at hand. Can you take a look at the illustration and find some inspiration for a journey you want to focus on? What is the scenic route you might follow using the Johari Window or the Window of Tolerance?

Possessing needed resources: now here is a big problem so I give it a lot of space.  Resources are too often over-looked in the design and delivery of therapy. Sometimes, the lack of resource is seen as a personal deficiency – something that you could put right by ‘getting on your bike‘ . For the most part, those assertions are lies.

We do not live in a just world

Furthermore, there are few fair shares in the world – we are not all in it together, as the popular mantra goes. Public services offering free services are inundated, and they tend to become inefficient or bureaucratic (or get sold to private companies for profit). By contrast, low charge,  third sector services are inundated as well and they can duplicate services, or leave holes in service provision. By contrast, fee-paying services are not inundated. Why is that, I wonder?

The sad truth is that even fully-costed therapy cannot offer guarantees. There are some who might give the impression of a certain outcome. In financial circles, it is popular to say that if the promises are too good to be true, then they are not true. Similarly, in therapy, beware therapies with simple formulae and many assurances. Some are serving a self-interest. Far worse, others undermine your own capacity for self-care. I’d go as far as saying that private services can collude with those seeking long-term therapy. This collusion ignores your own responsibility for your self-care.

By the way, I am in independent practice. How do I live with that, then? Do ask.

Ability: this is at the bottom of my list as we all lack some abilities. Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) gives attention to this area of change. We can make good some of those abilities, and this website has a number of pages devoted to this – on assertiveness, on communication, on management of our feelings and on improving sensitivity to yourself, your language and other people.

At the same time, we can undermine the abilities we do possess. The Discount Matrix provides information on how each of us can miss a trick here.

Further leads to consider

What is a nudge?

Designing safe experiments

Actions contributing to safe experiments

A pathway for nudges?

Obstacles to nudges