The myth of resolve — the art of helping people.
She is looking down and away and then deeply into my eyes as if trying to pick the solution to her predicament out of my brain. Her husband hasn’t produced a single piece of music since his massive hit piece 6 years earlier. Having small children and him losing his temper in fits of despair she is telling me a story of a family in crisis.
He is highly intelligent and very self-reliant and has somehow tied himself into this knot of stress and procrastination. He has tried therapy before without effect. This aligns with my thoughts about their situation; that offering him therapy or coaching would just add insult to injury. So when she asks me if I want to help him, I hesitate.
The allure of psychological theories
There are countless models explaining the lack of resolve and action in a person’s life as something pertaining to the inner workings of the psyche. For example ADD, oedipal issues/schema enmeshment, fear of failure, bad habits or even fear of success or fear of self actualization — strange at that may sound. Gurus en masse have made a career out of promising hopefuls a break from bad habits and a path to success. Gullibility is gold in the hands of gurus. I am a bit guilty of that myself having been the expert on national TV on a series on motivation and life style changes. There are indeed many fancy sounding and well-conceptualized routes to success in the business of therapy and coaching where resolve is promised as “thing” you can get by listening and thinking. Something that can propel you — yes you! to the stars and sometimes it actually does work if you get heavily into listening to these messages.
In coaching most problems are seen as things to be solved by route of something like: conversation-conceptualisation-homework-repeat on a weekly basis which gives associations to the Nietzsche quote “for the one with a hammer everything looks like a nail”. So I was sat there thinking that the musician in question needed another kind of help than that. He didn’t appear to fit into any of the boxes.
A lesson from the…. Amish?!
Most guys have some stuff at home that needs doing, that we just can’t be asked to finish. In the Amish community they don’t have that problem, as they have communal way of going about a lot of such tasks. (They may have other types of problems that the rest of us don’t have.) It’s a no-brainer really. The modern malaise of procrastination arise to a large extent from the fact, that we are split up into smaller and smaller social systems, from the tribe or village to the farm, to the family to the single city dweller. Today most of us are more or less left to our own devices, when it comes to a lot of life challenges. We are not forced into “individualism” somehow we just prefer it that way. But this more individualized way of life comes with new challenges. Our solution to this predicament is to impose structure onto ourselves as scaffolding for our neocortical resolve and as such to establish a vicarious tribe of sorts to adhere to. Establishing personal goals and values and creating a structure is virtuous and it works well for most of us most of the time, but such means don’t possess the punching power emerging from our sense of doing — and having to do — meaningful and reciprocal contributions to the community/club/work place/world. Most people need a sense of belonging and some feelings of responsibility in order to give it our best in the long run. It can be hard to do stuff on your own, for your own self. No man is an island. The musician in question, needed more than a room for reflection to strengthen his resolve. He needed to form a kind of bond with someone. A “someone” he could mirror him self in. Which brings me to the next point.
A lesson from … autism?!
People in the autism spectrum have such hassle working out what the right response may be in a given context, that many of them simply emulate or rather imitate somebody they like, for example an older brother. They may still come across funny to others at times, but at least this “trick” reduces their own confusion in the social arena. This reveals the fact, that people by way of a decision can actually side step their own default state of mind by identifying with an alter ego — somebody else. This musician seemed to me, to need to form a social bond with a role model.
So what did we do with this particular disparaged musician? I arranged for him to meet up with a personal friend of mine, who apart from being quite smart himself, really likes working out and martial arts and is kind of a he-man. I admonished my friend that the client be trained really hard. The client had to exaggerate his tantrums in the gym with somebody who actually masters aggression in order to integrate and master those aggressive impulses and “shadows” of his psyche if you like. I also asked my friend to hang out with him, and kind of get under his skin and make him work with full concentration three hours a day within a month. I only supervised the process. I never actually met the musician. After two months and about 15–20 hours of them spending time together the musician was totally back on track. He even wrote about in a song that you may have heard. He wanted to share his experience with the world of having been lifted up off the ground — almost literally.
The lesson — spread the word!
Sometimes people have no will power left in their mind and body, why trying to coach them to boost their will power reserves can be quite the tragedy. Some people literally need a hand and a push! The nannying and reflections from the therapy sessions can for some types of people actually be counterproductive. When Nietzsche’s Zatrathustra ponders friendship he writes: He won’t give people fruit from his tree, but they can pick it themselves and he’ll give a friend in trouble a hard bed to sleep on. Friends, role models and mentors are sometimes the best helpers. The psychologist can follow and supervise these processes.