Nudges are a number of safe experiments, or do-able things, to move yourself along a scenic route to change, not necessarily in a straight line.
Nudges are not intended to be used to shove other people along. There are plenty of examples of just this, heavily disguised. There are many ways to foist ‘small’ changes on the public and the UK government spawned a behavioural science unit devoted to this!
It is not what you can do to others, but what you can do for yourself (with apologies to John Kennedy, and the Romans!).
INTRODUCTION to safe experimentation. Why bother with it!
All the material in this web site has been generated by a large number of people over decades; I am only one of them. None of this material would have been tested without the support of many clients, colleagues, supervisors, teachers, family and friends.
The practical nudges, or safe experiments, included here have worked for somebody, at some time.
Please chose your own way to use this material. Make it your own and find out what works for you – in the knowledge that no-one can tell you what will work until you have a go. You will need to cast around to find material most suited to you and your present circumstances.
When you take a step, it may develop your ability to build on success (a ‘small victory‘) and to adapt when you get it wrong (a ‘small defeat’). There could be a mixed result so make what sense you can of that!
I may use technical words. I will try to minimise this and I am open to your comments via email. That way, I can learn and make changes. The great thing about a web-site is that I can make alterations very quickly! It can be a conversation. My task is to find out what works for me, as much as what works for you.
Where technical details flummox you, just ignore the words. Focus on the ‘do-able thing’ that should emerge from the other words, diagrams and illustrations. DO things, rather than think too much about them.
Please keep looking for your ‘do-able thing’ and still know that doing is not all and everything.
Now, all that said, some people asked me about my own models or approaches to therapy. Its a fair question to ask as I do have a map inside my head and it has changed over the years. Take a look at the Acknowledgements page for further information, as well as other articles listed on the right side of this blog.
If this helps, fine: but this website is a road to designing and implementing your own safe experiments – in order to focus your understanding of your own world.
Keep in mind: what, for you, is the next, smallest ‘do-able’ thing you could work on?
The material you are about to generate can provide a tool for your own personal development. However, some of it may have an emotional impact on you. Therefore, you may want to work on your personal development with a consultant. If you need some leads to follow up, then let me know. There are many people who can act as a consultant. The important thing is to find some-one reliable and discreet outside your immediate circle of friends or family.
WHAT’S NEXT – ACTION
I would advise you to record the results emerging from your experiments. That way to collect data can help you build your own MY-NUAL. It can be argued that without any records and results, there is no experiment. That said, you can keep your records brief: use concrete, short sentences, even bullet-points, to help keep your focus. I have included some detailed headings on another page.
A diary or a journal is not needed. Journals and diaries are detailed documents; they can help a lot but you may not be used to that sort of thing. The important thing is to make a start and have some record to supplement your memory. In my experience Post-Its will do just as well, as long as you can organise them so the information remains coherent as you may need to come back to some of your results.
Such data will need to be used, and re-used, to move things along. Keeping the material in your head sounds convenient, but it is not likely to work. My main concern is that a fleeting experience, often valuable to move things on, is too easily missed. We forget stuff or overlook it. A similar ‘lesson’ may come again, but the process of change can be slowed or fragmented.
EXPERIMENT: write down the following items on a piece of paper, in any order:
Experiment; outcome; records; commitment; just noticing, small details; building on victories; acceptance of defeats.
Come back to your list in 24 hours. How many items would you have recalled if you had not written them down?
If in doubt, try just remembering the items and see how many you can recall twenty-four hours later – without consulting your list or this blog. Which one(s) do you leave out? Do you think the forgotten items might be ‘telling’ you something about the way you work?
You may ask why I used that particular itemised list. In my opinion, it contains the key ingredients you will need if you want to nudge your life in a different direction.
A more humourous version of this experiment is: stop for a moment and see how many of the seven dwarves you can recall from Snow White? A lot of folk cannot get to five and most of us struggle to name a seventh.
Let me now get to a word of caution. Progress may not be evident unless it creates some discomfort. That feeling can motivate us to do something else (“no gain without pain?”). Consider that feeling as a ‘small defeat‘ if necessary but – whatever you do ……
…. don’t blame yourself or me!
Instead, decide what you might do differently.
That attitude will lead to your next experiment. You can still make useful change even though you are disappointed by the first results. It is easy to be deterred and feel put off. A record of the successes and failures arising from your experiments provides a balanced record of results that can help you to move forward.
There are some unexpected challenges; for example, getting things right can lead us to brush off our successes with false modesty! With any result, encourage yourself by saying “what more might I do… what might I do differently“. When you succeed, please enjoy it and consider how to build on that ‘small victory’.
A WORD ABOUT MODELS
This is not Page Three of my Blog! There are hundreds of models of therapy. Examples such as Gestalt, Body Psychotherapy. Mindfulness, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), or Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) come to my mind. There is even a movement to integrate different models but, even then, it often seems an excuse to invent another name – without having enough respect to acknowledge others who preceded them! For a commentary on groups of models have a look at:
Some models may be more helpful than others; I am thinking, here, of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) – less a model and more a way of going about things. ACT is consistent with the dominant ideal in this web-site so I have written more about this approach. Similar things can be said about Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT).
If you do the research you may find ‘models’ offer a coherent and ordered way to understand what makes us ‘tick’. They offer guidance on how to behave differently if our ‘tick’ becomes erratic. So ….. models are fine, but they do tend to use assumptions and assertions to explain human behaviour in general, but not specifically your behaviour.
Safe experiments will help you test these basics. The results will help identify what model might best apply to your current life and what seems not to apply. Tomorrow? You may need to change the working model!
Models find it difficult to respect the uniqueness of each of us. They offer general observations. Models, by their nature, cannot apply to all people, all of the time, across our globe.
With any model you will need to decide where you fit in. Do you fit the majority pattern or do you see yourself in the minority – an awkward fit, at best? Beware the tendency to fit yourself into what is available. Instead, use the ‘bits’ that work for you.
For many years, research has consistently demonstrated that models are less reliable indicators of success in therapy, when compared to the quality of the relationship created by therapist and client.
In short, models are not a ‘be all and end all’, but rather a means to learn how to be skillful in the art of safe experimentation. For some detailed information on how to continue with safe experiments, take a look at:
getting it together: or
I have said that success with your safe experimenting may mean feeling rotten. That is unavoidable. Please make a point of noticing how you feel – whether good or bad. This is the key safe experiment of just noticing‘. Record your reaction, your feeling, as a ‘fact’ – nothing more. Later, you may find an experiment that helps to explain what that reaction might mean to you. – what your body is ‘saying’ to you.
The art of ‘just noticing‘ is seeing, hearing and becoming aware of something, however small, especially the small and fleeting experiences. Just noticing can turn your awareness to your advantage. Furthermore, planning small steps may, only may, reduce the intensity of good or bad feelings and help us to avoid a ‘hard’ landing.
Safe experiments that promote small changes make it possible to step back and redirect our energies when we have moved in the wrong direction a little bit. Beware of learning to tight-rope your way over the Grand Canyon, only to find yourself at the wrong destination. Take pleasure in deciding what you are going to do differently, tomorrow, fully accepting that you will have to live with the consequences.
Practise through repetition of small victories will be necessary. Decisive and visible change rarely arrives first time around. The brain needs to learn and absorb what it means to be different. Our brains operate at quite a speed, but learning is a complex process. Consider how long it took you to ride a bike?! Only practice can build confidence.
This notion of experimenting, here, is saying that effective therapy does not need to provide an immediate or ‘complete’ solution. Problem resolution can emerge from some change and the ability to experiment. Russell L. Ackoff put it like this: “the way to make a big change is to start with a very small change or ‘input’ and just see what happens”
Now, is there anyone thinking: Oh, that’s interesting but what about these experiments? When will they really get going?
That’s an important question. Didn’t you notice that you have already started! You are reading this web site and I am fairly confident you are thinking about it. The thing is – there is no need for me, or my words – to give you permission to get started.
More importantly, some of us get started and don’t notice.
NOW THAT IS A PROBLEM – something’s happening, but you did not realise it. You are missing an opportunities to move out of your Window of Tolerance and to explore new possiblities. What do I mean by this? Take a look at this illustration. It appears a few times on this web site:
Safe experiments cannot begin until we commit to moving out of the Window of Tolerance (WOT). When we do this, we move into the working area. You can do this accompanied by any one you trust and/or with a therapist.
Sometimes the experiments are simple and easy to do – the word ‘experiment’ can make it all sound too fancy!!
So, consider this. You are reading this part of my web site; to a degree you have chosen to read this bit, and not anothe bit. You could have done something else with your time, and you’ve been reading this instead. Therefore, you have done something a little bit different and that’s a basic feature of ‘safe experimenting’.
When you record your experimental results, you could notice how much time did you give to reading which bit of this web page. After all, you did not have to visit my web site. You chose to do so and doing so may well be described as a safe experiment, even if you did not label it as such. Consider, also, did you skip a section? Did you read the page through it like a book, or dip in and out? Was there one sentence, or part sentence, that grabbed your attention? These approaches would each represent a different ‘experimental design’ – a step on the way to implementing a plan to make a small change in your life.
If you were not aware of this possibility, then let me challenge to make a note of any sentence (or idea) that had impact on you. Making a note is essential; that is the one way to make an experimental ‘result’ manifest:
Observing or just noticing, how you are already reacting to my writing is an experiment in itself.
Even if you are reading the material for the second time, there is still a chance your experience will have been a little bit different. There is a saying that ‘you cannot step into the same river twice‘. Rivers move – imperceptibly – the running water changes it constantly.
EXPERIMENT: Go back, or ahead, randomly, to some part of the page. Your reactions to it may change. Your feelings about what I have to offer may be different or, maybe, there are sensations in your body that are different. Perhaps you are sick of it or excited by it. I don’t know, but you will; as long as you take time to notice it and record the fact.
The point about the experiment you’ve just done is that it has an outcome. It becomes a safe experiment when you’ve noticed what that outcome is and have learned to live with the result. You’ve created a ‘result’.
Two features of an experiment are:
1. doing something a little bit different; and
2.. noticing the result or outcome.
I’ve repeated this a few times, but it’s something that may be so central that it deserves repetition.
It is easy to think that experimenting is something only scientists do. In a science laboratory, experiments are much more controlled. However, in our real world, a high level of control is not possible. What is possible, however, is to notice something a little bit different and to learn from it. That is the’ experiment’ and that is the reason for doing it. Experiments can be very ordinary and some can be quite extra-ordinary.
On this web site, safe experimentation helps anyone to become aware of their thinking and actions and to work out how to investigate those experiences differently.
- listening as deeply as we can to ourselves and to others.
- bringing a quality of openness into our lives.
- introducing some small, different behaviour into our daily action.
… and doing it without choosing sides; not being for or against the results you get!
‘Experimenting’ has become rather trendy in recent years. This arises from growing evidence that our brains are rather more flexible than we once thought. This flexibility is referred to as “neural plasticity”. The practical implications of ‘plasticity’ are becoming increasingly obvious.
Take a look at a book by Leonard Mlodinow’s “Elastic: flexible Thinking in a Constantly Changing World“. He has said “we must welcome experimentation – and be tolerant of failure“. Sounds a bit like me, doesn’t it, except I am saying that you can, or you cannot, rather than you must!
So there is a problem with this growing interest in living with ‘plasticity’. It prompts another generation of writers and professionals to find increasingly sophisticated ways to tell you what you should do!! Beware this “mustabation”, as it has been termed; you can do as you are told or you can use any advice, from anywhere, to design your own safe experimenting, and learn to live with the consequences. Your own impulses and intuitions are able to inspire you as much as other people.
The opposite of experimenting is assuming—assuming that we already know how things are. Us humans are good at that. We establish a present normal (see my inverted tree) and work hard to stick to it, not realising that it has become an ‘old normal’. Be prepared to test the obvious; when you do, your experience may become less obvious.
Like the outcome or not, us Brits voted for Brexit and the Americans tried a large experiment by electing Trump as their President. I do not recommend you to do the same thing with your own life. Those election outcomes were not small steps! Whether they were safe has yet to be assessed. Notice how, in 2020, we faced the global crisis of the corona virus. This has forced governments to experiment with unprecedented strategies. Government actions have a large knock-on all of us. It is difficult for governments to devise small and safe experiments. We can do better when the focus is on me. We can be less cautious and still live with the consequences.
Experiments are open trials; they have a quality of quiet and provisional probing. Think of them as generating a quality of affectionate curiosity in you. It comes out of caring about ourselves and others.
It is not a cold, superficial analysis; it’s affectionate, it’s warm, it’s intimate, and even playful. It is an investigation into the nature of your life. This quality of investigation is, of course, strong in most children. They are good at not assuming things and they are often more able to let go of a treasured perspective (often through energetic crying in the first instance!).
Each one of us has the ability to observe and that includes observing your emotional experience when experimenting. It is not an easy task to stay with a discomfort until you see it change, but it is possible to learn from it. An important part of any investigation is observing those experiences we find difficult to focus on.
With experiments we are not trying to make anything happen. We are simply open to something happening and remaining vigilant – to notice the result. This includes paying attention to important relationships and the attitudes and preconceptions we hold towards others. In a later experiment, you may notice how our attitudes, and attitudes of those close to us, can prevent us engaging in relationships in an open and direct way.
Consider this challenging assertion: when we think we really know someone, I assert that we are no longer in a relationship with a living, changing being!! Instead we have arrived in a relationship with an idea of that person —- our own idea, at that! Safe experimenting can bring new energy and joy to relationships when we pay attention, with curiosity, to changes in ourselves and the relationship we are generating together.
The issue, here, is that I sit in my world and, however it looks, I tend to assume it is normal. This can lead to acceptance – a reduced ability to question things that are in plain sight. The context in which I operate becomes a ‘given’ – not a suitable case for treatment.
This is not a new idea: the philosopher, Wittgenstein (1953), said:
“The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity. (One is unable to notice something – because it is always before one’s eyes.)… and this means: we fail to be struck by what, once seen, is most striking and most powerful.”
When you design and implement a safe experiment, you are disrupting that ‘normal’ by some action. That action will expose the ‘social context’ in which we live to observation once we ‘just notice’ it. You will be using, in part, a sophisticated research method called Linguistic Ethnography!!
There is no better way to stifle investigation than to become caught up in our fears and anxieties. This can deter us from practising new skills, diluting our courage to take other actions. The aim is to remain open to the experience – being a little different with ourselves or that other person – just for this moment.
Now I want to continue fitting more experiments into this organised approach using the dimensions of SPACE, TIME, BODY and SPIRIT. To explore these dimensions, please review the pages of interest to you – as listed on the right.
Each plays a part in determining who we are – the problems that are presented to us, the way we face them, and what milestones we achieve (or not) as we develop and grow.
Please see hyper-linked pages, some listed just three lines up, to research some of these elements.
It is in the environment of home that we come to know ‘normal’. Of course, often the ‘normal’ that emerges there is far from ‘normal’! For more on this: take a look, again, at:
What messages do we absorb during our early and formative years?
Some therapies really focus on this part of our history. It is very difficult to remember the important influences of infancy and to work on them. Long-term therapy exists to help this process. For present purposes, however, I will concentrate on two things that can lead to some useful experiments. These two elements are attachment patterns and script development.
The first comes from the traditional theories of, amongst others, Sigmund and Anna Freud, Melanie Klein, John Bowlby and Donald Winnicott. There have been modern revisions of their ideas in the work of the Relational thinking of writers such as Petruska Clarkson and Allan Schore.
[work in progress]
Script issues emerge from the work of Eric Berne and other Transactional Analysts. It is a model you can explore in Berne’s original text “Transactional Analysis in Psychotherapy” (1961) or Claude Steiner’s “Scripts People Live” (1974).
In short, the Script idea helps us to predict our own behaviour and considering lines to follow when wanting to make changes. Also, it casts light on the life decisions we make and how they came about. Berne described how Script Analysis can cast light on our internal and private beliefs to generate our perception of ourselves and others.
TA makes much use of diagrams and even if it means little to you at this first read, here is a diagram of
[work in progress]
ATTACHMENT and BONDING
There is a mass of research material relating to these subjects. The topics take us close to some of the traditional areas of therapy. concerned with our history- indeed, our very early history.
In my tree diagram, at the front of this blog, I have suggested that this data is “for information only”. Here, I will work to demonstrate how insights into our early experiences, as infants, might assist us to make change today and tomorrow.
Health warning: I cannot do justice to this complex topic, so be prepared to make your own enquiries around this subject if you find that it engages you and/or become important. It is in this area that you may find the support of a therapist is essential as we cannot know what our experiences of exploring attachment and bonding might be.
As ever, I will focus on the ‘do-able’ things.
EXPERIMENT Return the to Road Map experiment. Expand it by concentrating on your first five years. Where were you born and where did you live? What was your place in the family? Who were your parents, brother, sisters and relatives. Who lived close by and who lived at a distance. Who did you see a lot and who were the distant, if not mysterious relatives?
Draw an ecomap (with thanks to this web site for download able templates) of your wider family and community:
These examples are designed for social workers and you can see this in the examples I am offering. You may well have a different network to encompass your family, but ensure you cast your net widely.
You can use thick lines to highlight a strong relationship. You can use broken lines to highlight damaged or negative relationships. You can place more ‘distant’ relationships on the outer edges of the ecomap.
…. an alternative approach to describe just your family, and not the wider community, might be:
The top line covers your grandparents’ generation; the middle line, your parents and the bottom line is for you and your brothers and sisters. The sign // refers to a separation or divorce and, of course, you may have to find space for step-parents and step-sisters and brothers. The dates included are dates of birth and dates of death.
This experiment helps you see the larger picture if your early years and it will give you lines for research when you realise what you don’t know about your family. This may include children who did not survive long – this was not so uncommon in generations back.
There is really no limit to the amount of data you might collect. At the end of the day, you will need to reflect on what you have learned about your family, your early years’ experiences and the quality of your relationships with key people – particularly mothers, fathers, care-takers and your siblings (brothers and sisters).
How might this reflection take place?
Safe experiments are not easy. When you are working for yourself there are fewer complications as you set your own rules and stand by the results in your own unique fashion.
At this point, I am going to introduce the complication that arise when you ask some-one else to join you or, at the very least, to help you out.
In my experience, one of the problems that most couples will meet at some time is the loss of common purpose. What are we doing together, and what are we setting out to achieve and why bother. When we set out, mother nature has her own way of over-riding these questions with the permitted temporary psychosis called ‘falling in love’.
In time, her impulses or drives lessen. The smarter and younger sibling has a task on hand at that point as two of them have to reach some other kind of understanding about what tomorrow will bring.
Take a look at this work-sheet. If your partner is willing, each take a copy to a corner and complete it privately. DO NOT consult on it or work on it together at this time.
Use bullet-points to record your position within this current relationship. Reflect on:
What do you expect, yourself, to bring to it?
What do you expect, of your partner (other), in your relationship?
What do you believe your partner expect of you?
What do you expect of the relationship itself?
After an agreed amount of time, come together and review the results for an agreed period of time. Do not require yourselves to ‘sort it’ there and then. Come back to it, if necessary.
Work out a running order so there is sharing of the information, bit by bit, and one at a time. Agree that one person will not take too much of the time available yet find ways to avoid interrupting your partner and/or being offended by any particular piece of information.
Include a second experiment by using all those communications skills listed above.
I predict you will surprise yourself and your partner some where along the way. The experiment is likely to provide much material for future experiments.
Be careful with one another.
Recently, Autumn 2018, an interesting phenomenon came up a few times, after a period of rest.
That phenomenon, from the school of transaction analysis, goes by the forbidding name of a “competitive symbiosis”. It is a feature that lies behind a number of conflicts between two or more people. If you are not already familiar with transactional analysis (TA), take some time to research ‘Ego States’ as the competition is between individuals fighting for one ego state over another. Often a conflict between Parent and Child Ego States, the important behaviour is the ‘flip flop’ operating between one person and another.
One comes on ‘Parent’ and the other fights to regain that same ground. Initially there may be a Child response – such as petulance – only to followed by patronising put-downs. The other may respond in Child as well, but only en route to further Parent-oriented control actions.
For example, person one complains about the ironing being incomplete and person two responds with a stamp of the foot followed by a number of recriminations listing person one’s short-coming.
Review the ‘interrupt’ strategies recounted elsewhere. Can you negotiate a neutral word that will permit the two of you to stop for a moment, just a brief moment, in order to complete a Body Scan that may identify the FEELING behind the words. We can only identify our own feelings – others cannot do this for us. SO – notice the inconsistency when I say -in the example above, the feelings may include neglect for person one and feelings of resentment for person two.
With that in mind, I thought it might help to put an entire process of relaxation together in one place. There are many others to choose from and I’d recommend attendance at a Yoga or mindfulness class as a reasonable experiment. There should be one near you!
In the meanwhile consider this: when you have found a place and time to relax, have regard to:
POSTURE: this should be upright, looking straight ahead, hands on knees or upper leg, with feet firmly on the floor.
BREATHING: with mouth closed and breathing in only through the nose (this regulates the volume of air you will take in). Change your count to observe the impact of it, but start with the same count for both in-breaths and out-breaths. When you investigate this further, you will find different breathing patterns to follow. These are all experiments to try.
BODY SCAN: attend to the thoughts, feelings and sensations in your body starting with your feet. Allow your attention to move up one lower leg and then the other. Continue this ‘scan’ with your upper legs and posterior region Move slowly and methodically to your stomach and lower back, continuing up into the rib cage and lower neck. Finish by scanning your neck and head until you reach the tallest hair on your head. As you do all this, be attentive to any experience in your body. When you notice something that makes you curious, attend to it and develop an experiment to explore it. Allow any tension from that spot to ease as you let it go on each out-breath. You can complete the body scan when you have given attention to each and every tension in your body and reached the very top of your head.
FOCUS: if you still have your eyes open, you can focus your attention on a fixed object in your upper vision and just to one side. If you have closed your eyes, focus on each and every disturbance of thought feeling and sensation. Repeat the body scan, if it helps. From time to time, ‘just notice’ your experience and let it pass. Sometimes it may help to simply say ‘hello’ to an experience and ask it to pass.
ATTENTION: continue to use your breathing to attention to any unwanted tension in your muscles or body. Use internal dialogue to acknowledge some disturbances or use other self-talk or diversionary strategies, as you wish. In time these strategies may become surplus to requirement.
EYES: if your eyes remain open, they are likely to feel tired. This may become more so as you play with any images around the fixed object. Allow your eyes to close in your own time. Meditate on any image created within your ‘inner eye’.
This process can continue for a few minutes or for parts of an hour, as you wish, or as time allows.
This movement is a current favourite in therapy circles as it combines some of the benefits of structured cognitive behavioural, Western psychology with the Eastern traditions of meditation and contemplation.
As this approach encourages a lot of experimenting, and places emphasis on ‘just noticing’ already mentioned a few times by me, you may want to do some of your own research. Take a look at:
I’d encourage any reader to consider attending a Mindfulness course in their home area. For further information, you could visit the Centre for Mindfulness Research and Practice (CMRP), at Bangor University.
For the present, it may help to include my observations on Mindfulness.
- It will offer you an effective way to manage the thoughts, feelings and sensations in your body. It will help you develop an an ability to observe the detail of internal experiences. One aim of mindfulness is to strengthen that `observing’ function by promoting an experience of ‘being in the here and now’ as well as an acceptance of `what is’.
- Mindfulness helps you to be aware of what is happening in the present, on a moment by moment basis. It helps us to become aware of our bodies and minds and the world about us, whilst not making judgments about the things we find.
- Mindfulness accepts that feelings and high emotions are real and need to be respected – but the perceived threat or danger is often not real.
- Mindfulness practice is a form of self-awareness training similar to meditation but not dependent on any belief or ideology. It is proven to benefit a wide range of people and health conditions.
- When our minds are constantly occupied we feel disconnected from ourselves and our immediate environment which blocks our attempts to alleviate our distress. Being aware in the present allows us to disengage the automatic pilot and respond to life’s challenges with a clear mind. It makes it possible for us to respond rather than react to situations.
- When we observe our symptoms closely we find that it is often not the `monster’ that it first appeared to be. It has many different forms and shapes, and is liable to change when observed. The attitude of mindfulness is to be curious about our experiences and not judge them.
COMMUNICATING BETWEEN BODIES
….. in progress
SOME HEALTH WARNINGS
Therapists and teachers know from their experience that the process of learning and change does not proceed in a straight line – onwards and upwards. There is a point in much therapy when some-one will give up. The challenges feel too much. Maybe the experience is disillusioning. Experience suggests that this withdrawal can be close to a useful point of change – a kind of feeling of ‘cold feet’ which might warn you off doing anything more.
Now, the theme of my blog is that you choose the direction and pace of your own change so you can stop and start as you wish. Even so, this ‘health warning’ may stop you sabotaging the work you have already undertaken.
Take a look at this cartoon:
Please note: the term ‘incompetent’ is not intended to be an insult. It simply saying all of us, including me, do not know some important things or possess some valuable skills. We are unaware of them; we are unconsciously incompetent. The cartoon suggests we can go through life happily if we are blissfully unaware of the learning we need to do. Obstacles to learning make things sticky when the going gets tough.
Before we can learn, it is necessary to become very aware of what we do not know (consciously incompetent). This is the discomfort that will arise when any safe experiment feels like it went wrong. The intention is that practise and persistence will lead us to become consciously competent. We will feel better at that time, if still a little unsure; do you remember my example of learning to ride a bike?
When that sense of uncertainty eases, we will become unconciously competent and be ready to press on to new horizons once again.
I emphasise this phenomenon as it tells us that the pathway to understanding and improvement follows a scenic route. We need to take this into account when planning our own learning and designing the next round of experiments.
This pathway is well illustrated in the next graphic. In theory, progress could be from top left to bottom right – from things we know to things we do not know. However, learning often requires the stimulus of others around us, so the pathway can move freely from box one, into box two or three, and back again, if necessary. Arriving at insights into the unknowns of box four can be long and convoluted.
I hope these diagrams will provide some encouragement to you as you finish this blog. It is highlighting the very personal and unique experience of learning as we move along the pathway between birth and death. It is intended to help you design those steps in a spirit of realism and with enough energy to make it all happen.
Here is some advice: I want there to be a little advice in my Blog, but some of it seems unavoidable, especially when I am so insistent on some action. I will include advice when it is based on the consistent experience of others who have learned the hard way!
ADVICE: Beware making a large moves after a major event such as a trauma, bereavement or other major loss. Such events tend blow your current time structure out of the water. Sometimes this is unavoidable, say, after a death or divorce. Even so, the advice is to minimise large moves and really consider the question: ‘is my journey really necessary?’.
It is always possible to make that same, big move a little bit later, but only after careful thought and discussion.
LIMITATIONS OF THERAPY
If you go into therapy, bear in mind that even the most conscientious client is not likely to spend more than 30-40 hours a year working on their issues (there are models encouraging even more sessions, but …..). There are 8760 hours in a non-leap year. That means over 200 hours are spent in your every-day world for every hour you spend in therapy. More problematically, you will not spend your life-time in therapy so you do the math on that!
Conclusion? Therapy needs to be but a preparation for savouring our everyday world. Experiences shows therapy can become a substitute for some people and this is not always helpful. Outside therapy, there are unlimited minutes to spend on practising conscious changes, and noting outcomes, thus increasing the prospect of a result. Consider this graphic:
LIMITATIONS TO EXPERIMENTING
I have suggested that therapy has the potential to be unhelpful. I suspect the same must be true for the experimental approach I have described. A fellow blogger, Karuna, pointed out just one such limitation with a poster, as follows:
Please Listen to Me
“When I ask you to listen to me and you start giving advice, you have not done what I asked.
When I ask you to listen to me and you begin to tell me why I shouldn’t feel that way, you are trampling on my feelings.
When I ask you to listen to me and you feel you have to do something to solve my problems, you have failed me, strange as that may seem.
All I ask is that you listen. Not talk or do, just hear me. Advice is cheap. I can do for myself I’m not helpless. Maybe discouraged and faltering, but not helpless.
When you do something for me that I can and need to do for myself you contribute to my fear and weakness. But when you accept as a simple fact that I do feel what I feel, no matter how irrational, then I quit trying to convince you and can get about the business of understanding what’s behind this irrational feeling.
And when that’s clear, the answers are obvious and I don’t need advice. So, please listen and just hear me, and if you want to talk, wait a minute for your turn; and I’ll listen to you”.
I’ll make one addition to this; if we want others to listen, how good are we at listening to ourselves?
That said, if this blog has disregarded your feelings, then I’d ask you to say so and to identify what more I need to do differently ………
This blog has focused on the experiments each of can do. The truth is there are larger issues that may be beyond experiment. Sometimes only whole communities can experiment and it would appear t hat 2016 was a year when both the UK and the US embarked on such an enterprise. Sometimes we need to step back and look at the large picture.
Throughout this blog, to this point, I have not mentioned one factor that undermines the effectiveness of experimenting, and and our ability to build up a series of small victories. This factor goes by the name – structural inequality. That is, each person does not have equal access to resources to solve their problems. Those resources are not always personal – motivation, resilience, desire or sheer ability. Too often there is too little money to get by and a large minority of others who hang on to wealth not available to most people.
POLITICS, ECONOMICS and COMMUNITY
More the concern of sociology, you might say, structural inequalities are differences created by forces outside an individual’s control. On occasions, I have hinted at the large influence our environment can have on the way our life evolves. Even so, most of this blog has focused on what you might do to make a small difference in your life. The theory is that a string of small differences will nudge you towards success. A series of nudges will help you feel more at ease and help you to perform better in your home, work and community.
The reality is that our lives continue to be shaped by forces larger than ourselves; the education system and the capitalist employment culture in which the UK is immersed. Even our communities, often with benign intention, ‘ask’ us to behave in certain ways as we talk to neighbours, visit the shops and play our part in some local social event.
This may sound gloomy; how can ‘small victories’ compete with the daily oppression that is imposed on the individual by these larger factors?
All is not lost, as it is possible to look these features in the eye and, like facing down the big bully, we might call its bluff. Occasionally, we can get hurt by it but our integrity can still feel intact.
How might this be done?
- by remaining realistic about what is ‘do-able’ and respecting small changes and having the wisdom to know when larger actions are needed by more people working together
- by remaining alert to the cunning and subtle ways in which our understanding of ‘normal’ stops us noticing those small differences and allowing for the possibility of something different.
- by knowing when the ‘current normal’ needs to move to a ‘new normal’ and being willing to play our own part in making it so.
- by knowing that it is rather difficult to know the nature of the ‘real’ world. Some modesty in this matter may make it easier to understand the very different view of the next person.
ME AND MY MODEL
All models have a bias. Some of them are made more obvious than others. Here is one way of viewing them. Notice there is a YOU and THEM dimension intended to demonstrate how therapy can be pre-occupied with you and your experiences, or it can help see you in relationship with others. The INNER and OUTER dimension addresses the tendency of some models to focus on our internal experience and a fewer give attention to ourselves in our environment and community.
Proponents of different models will look aghast at this table. In some ways, they are right to do so, as it presents an over-simplification of some complex and valuable insights offered by psychological models, old and new.
I am still including the table here as it may help you with experimental designs. Note how some of the suggestions I make ask you to focus on your inner experience (the body scan) and others advise attention to you communications with others (assertive communications) or even your larger community (The Road Map).
The radical element in my blog, as I see it, relates to the idea that any effective experiments have to operate in your ‘real world’. It provides a warning that many therapies, and a lot of therapists, under-play the social setting in which you have to operate. Modern ‘mass’ therapies, particularly those offered by the NHS and Employee Assistance programmes (EAPs), have opened the world of therapy to many more people, but you may find their programmes have an implicit message about you fitting in (to your work place or a medicalised environment running on increasingly tight budgets). I should emphasis that there are many therapists who will not implicitly encourage you simply to ‘fit in’ but the higher management of mass programmes do find it difficult to really focus on changes you might need to make when that might be inconvenient to their wider world.
For instance, the Government’s recently privatised Behaviour Insights Unit exists to devise nudges to help you help the government achieve governmental goals – reduced costs and greater efficiency. There is NOT a great concern for the way any costs fall on you and your family. They use their psychology to attain mass goals; your outcomes might need to be very different.
Also, bear in mind that the table helps emphasise that doing work in a laboratory is not often so helpful. Note, therefore, that you can do experiments in a therapy room but, even then, the results have to be re-tested in your everyday world.See my LIMITATIONS OF THERAPY commentary.
Slow and steady changes need to be tested and re-tested in the ‘untidiness’ that comes when you live with others. The process may be helped by researching information into the full range of models offering insight into ourselves, our bodies, our sensations, our behaviour, our relationships, our ways of communicating and belonging – all shaping our place in the world
Can you use ‘safe experiments’ to help others?
The general answer here is ‘no’. Experiments can only give you insights into your own life. You cannot know how they will impact on another person. Too often we over-estimate our ability to ‘help’ other people. In my work, I often invite people to try safe experiments but I can never make some-one take up the invitation. Also, there is the ever-present risk that our safe experiments, when involving others, do so in a manipulative and indirect fashion.
In my work it is unacceptable to do that and I’d prefer you to follow that ideal as well.
That said, I am aware all this can sound very ‘cold’ and anti-social. Most of us want to help others. Also, there are times when others need us. One such time is after some-one near to us suffers a loss. This might include an accident, a family bereavement, a divorce or a loss of home or employment.
In these situations, it is possible for experiments in listening to help. For instance, an awful lot is known about the likely responses an individual will make in the face of a loss. It is predictable because known neural responses are made by our bodies, almost entirely on auto-pilot. However, the range of reactions can still vary a great deal. There is nothing more infuriating that tell some-one how they will be. Research only tells us what thousands of people have done, not what you will do. Avoid the temptation to state the obvious (“time is a great healer” may be true, but it’s still not helpful!).
Talk and practise, instead, the art of just noticing and listening:
Things to watch out for – without needing to comment on them, include:
- feelings of horror and anxiety;
- emotional numbness and a sense of disconnection on the other;
- forgetfulness; finding it difficult to remember significant parts of what happened.
- recurring memories or feel as if they are re experiencing the event through painful flashbacks.
- Emotional reactions such as shock, fear, grief, anger, resentment, guilt, shame, helplessness, hopelessness, emotional numbness.
- Difficulty feeling or expressing love and intimacy or taking interest and pleasure in day to day activities.
- Cognitive reactions such as confused, disorientated, and indecisive thinking.
- Shortened attention span, difficulty concentrating, memory loss, unwanted memories and self blame.
- Hyper-arousal or over-alertness accompanied by panic attacks, rage, extreme irritability, intense agitation, exaggerated startle response.
- Severe anxiety creating paralysing worry, extreme helplessness, compulsions or obsessions.
- Depression typified by loss of energy, interest, self worth, or motivation.
- Anniversary reactions when any of these experiences return, or get worse, around the anniversary of the event.
- Physical reactions such as bodily tensions, fatigue, edginess, difficulty sleeping, nightmares, aches or pain, being startled easily, racing heartbeat, nausea, change in appetite, change in sex drive.
- Interpersonal reactions: distrust; irritability; conflict; withdrawal; isolation; feeling rejected or abandoned; being distant, judgmental, or over controlling in friendships, marriages, family, or other relationships.
Grief symptoms may include strong feelings of yearning or longing for the loved one and feeling empty or like a part of the survivor has died.
People often speak of a generalized pain or heaviness in their chest, feeling depressed and hopeless about the future, and having things that were once important not seem to matter so much any more. They may cry easily, lose interest in eating, or experience stomach upset, headaches, and feelings of restlessness.
Please bear in mind that lack of support from family and friends, and the presence of other serious problems, such as major health problems, may extend the recovery time. That said, people who suffer loss are known to withdraw from social contact sometimes. This is unfortunate, because it cuts them off from interactions with you that could be healing. Wondering if you have done something wrong should not be taken too far and be prepared to go on listening or attending.
The immune system and the cardiovascular system may be affected by grief, so it is important for survivors to eat well and to stay in contact with their family doctor. Any chronic health problems should be monitored. Survivors are prone to other sorts of mishaps, such as automobile accidents, because they are often preoccupied by their grief. It may be unwise to make major decisions during the first several months after a loss since they may bring on additional stress.
Grieving is a difficult process because it involves remembering what happened. These memories may be so upsetting that it is almost more than the survivor can bear. This can manifest in a number of avoidance responses and it is important to learn strategies to manage that and to calm themselves down. These might include such things as taking a walk, taking a warm bath, exercising or watching a film.
All addictions offer another area where the support of others, as much as experimentation, can make all the difference to your personal intention to change. Support can come from many directions, including specialist and voluntary services such as Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous.
An unwillingness to seek help and support can, itself, provide evidence of an addiction being a problem. Why? Because shame and pride are two emotions known to sustain addictive behaviour. The very thought of sharing our concerns about our addictive behaviour with others is well able to trigger those emotions. Experimenting on your own is, in this case,not always the effective strategy.
What can be done on your own here is to keep a drink diary. Fact-finding, as I have already asserted, is a key first step to designing an experiment. Fact-finding can help bring home the nature of the issues you are facing.
Note this diary is not simply concerned with the volume of your drinking; it will help establish the pattern of drinking – not only what you drink, but when, with whom and where. By now it will not surprise you to know that mood and emotion can play a large part in initiating and sustaining any addiction.
Complete this diary for at least seven days before looking for patterns that make sense to you. Notice, for example, if you have any alcohol-free days. If there are none, then one experiment would be to observe your reactions, in some detail, when you determine to do a little something different and go without for 24 hours.
OTHERS, such as Internet use and sexx
Procrastination appears to arise from the fact that our time on this earth is time-limited. Some of us find it easy to fit things into our allotted ‘slot’ and others struggle. For the latter group, life becomes a race against time but time doesn’t have to be your enemy.
Using the Transactional Analytic model (TA) or any other ego state model, it is evident that different ‘parts’ of ourselves struggle and pull our available energy in different directions. This tendency generates confusion and ambivalence – in two minds about something. That inner conflict can create the behaviour we call procrastination.
The overall aim of any experiment to manage procrastination is to bring about some harmony between the conflicting inner forces. Experiments will focus on listening attentively to your different ego states. In time, experiments will enable us to meet different needs without neglecting one or more ego state. Experiments will help you develop the ability to be act like a diplomat and to run your own life in a balanced way..
There are a number of ‘Stoppers’ that your experiments will have to address:
* the existing thought, possibly now well established, that you are a procrastinator. This needs to be replaced with observation that that you sometimes use procrastination as a behaviour to cope with an aspect of your past or current way of life. You are not procrastination-personified
- the tendency, over the years, to become more disciplined, to try harder, get organized. This sounds good, doesn’t it! However, such get-tough schemes can cause a backlash over time. This will dry-up your motivation and, possibly, in time, create burn-out.. We can lose the will to go on.
- a personality driven by a ‘Be Perfect driver‘. Second best and good enough no longer work for you. If your results aren’t perfect, you will withhold any effort in the future to hide your imperfect self.
Most of the experiments that will help will take care over the language you use – either in your head, or in conversation with other people. Such key differences include:
* replacing “feeling obliged” or “must do”, with choosing to do.
- replacing “when I’m done” with “I will start with”.
- big ideas replaced by smaller but do-able actions. This means working safely, not over-reaching yourself.
- replacing perfect with “good enough”
- replace “living to work” with “I work to live”. This involved committing yourself to a better quality of life, not mere existence.
Any of the breathing exercises can help manage procrastination; when it comes to body scanning, look out for the negative thoughts. In particular, listen out for those thoughts about not wasting your time meditating and relaxing!! Edit those thoughts and change the language. Look out for the Core Belief that the thought are supporting, e.g. Work Hard To Live or Life is not for Enjoyment etc. consider what alternatives are available to you, even though you may not believe them.
Compare the alternative beliefs available and consider which one might be most helpful to you. What actions will be required to make an alternative belief work.
EXPERIMENT: exploring some common beliefs
Often it is difficult to separate out our beliefs from things we accept as ‘fact’ or simple ways-of-the-world. Looking at some extreme beliefs may help make the distinction:
On a scale of 1 – 7, how much do you believe the following statements (where 1=hardly at all, and 7=absolutely).
I can be liked or accepted by every important person in my life.
I can be successful and competent in everything I do.
It’s bad when things are not the way I would like them to be.
Unhappiness arises when things are beyond our control.
Now, all these items are beliefs. Each one allows us to say ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ to varying degrees. Some folk reckon that beliefs can only come true if you stick with a score of 7!
Beliefs raise more questions, than answers. What do we mean by ‘accepted’, ‘successful’ or happy’. A dozen people in one room, might well come up with more than a dozen answers to the question.
By contrast, if I say that I did a certain things, on a certain day, at a certain time, in the presence of certain people, then the statement can be verified or contradicted. This does not mean that everyone will affirm every detail; police studies regularly demonstrate that witnesses vary considerably from one another when trying to describe an event. However, for practical purposes, enough affirming evidence can be gleaned by a systematic recording of events.
That’s one reason why I have encouraged the regular practise of systematic recording of your safe experiments.
Through these experiments it may be easier to use the time available to you to your advantage, with time no longer working against you.
You, too, can make your own on-line inquiries if you want to deepen your research and to investigate a ‘nudge’ in more detail. The page on:
should be worth visiting now as it is intended to help you go on designing your own safe experiments into the future.