Tool One: Up Until Now Everything You've Done Has Not Worked
"Tom, where do you start when people come to you for counseling? What is the first thing you say to them?"
My answer seems evasive, but it is not.
"I start at the beginning."
"I don't understand. The beginning can't be the same place for a couple who has been married for 29 years and are now contemplating divorce as it is for a 15 year old pregnant unwed teenager."
"You're correct in your premise, but my answer is true. The beginning for both is the same place. Up until now everything they have done has not worked. How do I know? They are sitting in my office asking for help. If they were satisfied with their circumstances they wouldn’t ask for counseling.”
In both cases we can use my premise to turn their problem into a solution: If up until now everything you have done has not worked, what do you do? Answer: Do something different - different meaning better.
So you see they are both at the same place. Both need to stop doing what has led them to the point of needing help and start doing something that will see them through their dilemma.
Note: My carefully worded appraisal of their situation does not say everything they have done is wrong. The word wrong does not appear in the statement. They came for help not condemnation. Whether they are right or wrong is secondary in the problem solving process. They need to be convinced that what they have done up to now hasn't worked.
More is not better; different is better.
Illustration: I drank my first beer, Monday, December 31, 1951, and for 17 years I was getting drunk, was drunk or was sobering up. My first beer plunged me into alcoholism. I had to stop what I was doing and start doing something different – meaning better.
I've coined an aphorism: There is no change if there is no change. Frankly, I wasn't impressed with this terse saying embodying this truth until God's Holy Spirit taught it to me through my own behavior. Once learning it I've been teaching it ever since.
The Holy Spirit convinced me, if I wanted tomorrow to be different from yesterday, I had to do something different today. Most often, when I use the word different I can readily substitute the word better. Let's not let this simply stated lesson slip by unheeded.
They, whoever they are, say more is better; God's Word teaches different is better. Change is difficult to bring about even if we pursue changing for the better.
To bring about change we must understand these three elements: Superficial, Situational and Substantial. The process of changing may not be as clean-cut as described, but always recognize which aspect of change you're working through.
I describe a Superficial Change as a New Year's Eve Resolution. By adding this descriptive phrase many people think they know where I am going with this. There is, however, more to this level than the obvious conclusion.
One of the most common mistakes made regarding new resolutions is telling others we're making them. Why? We would like to believe family and friends will be supportive of our efforts, but many not.
Once a verbal or written list is posted our words and deeds are monitored. As soon as we break a resolution or neglect to do something we committed to do, these would be friends become our accusers. This is difficult to weather. Worse than this is the conversation we have with ourselves.
"You know, they're right. I keep saying I'm going to change, and I'm really trying; but I can't break that habit or start that self-improvement program. Maybe something is wrong with me. Maybe I can't change. Maybe I'm broken or something. Maybe I can't be fixed. I'm hopeless. Why try."
Depression often sets in. Depression can be the result of a problem not the cause of the problem itself. Depression breeds depression.
Some begin to think maybe things will be better if I quit this job and move somewhere else.
Situational change is temporary change at best. I'm not putting down legitimate change. I don't live in the house where I was born, nor am I still carrying newspapers. However, those who attempt to change their lot in life by changing their job or address seldom achieve their goal if the primary reason for the change is to change their situation. Get problems under control then make a change if change is still warranted. Most often it isn't.
How do I do this since I've never been successful in doing so?
Author’s Note: Next we will “flesh-out” the third level of change and add additional problem solving tools to Problems are Solutions in Disguise.
Rev. Thomas (Tom) C. Lacy is Founder and Director, of New Hope Counseling Service and on the Board of Advisors of the Virginia Christian Alliance