As I think about what goes on in a person’s mind right before they do something against their own values system, I remember one of the most important insights I have gained in my work to become a skilled therapist.
Some time ago, I received three phone calls in one week from individuals who all said something like, “I was doing so good. I don’t know what happened?” I spent the weekend pondering the similarities in each case. I realized that if I were to ask each individual, I would discover that they each would say something like, “I forgot…. I forgot to do what it takes to win my battles. I forgot the little things that matter. I forgot the big things that matter to me.”
There are many books on the topic of identifying and clarifying one’s values system. My favorite is Stephen Covey’s, First Things First. If you do not feel clear on your values, start with his book. But today, I want to talk to those who know better, become dedicated to strong values, forget, and then do stupid things anyway.
If you believe in the Adam and Eve story you might recall that when they were kicked out of the garden of Eden, they were told that no longer would good things grow naturally as they had in the Garden of Eden. But from now on, the only things that would grow naturally are weeds. I remember in my youth my father thought it would be a good idea to help his 9 sons develop by planting a large garden and having his sons care for that garden. Once planted, every week on Saturday morning, we had to go out to the garden and pull the weeds from our designated rows. One week I decided that I tired of this weekly pattern and so, in order to be able to take a break, I worked especially hard to get every tiny weed out of my rows so I wouldn’t have to get out of bed the next Saturday. When the next Saturday came, and my father passed my room telling me it was time to get up and weed the garden, I called back and told him I didn’t need to because my rows were already done. He knocked on my door about 15 minutes later inviting me out to the garden to take a look. Reluctantly I did so, and was devastated to find the weeds were back, trying to choke away my plants!
This was one of the most sobering experiences of my growing years. I learned that some things, as part of living on this earth, would have to be done and redone, over and over and over.
What I didn’t expect is that the brain is more like a garden than it is like a computer. I was hoping when I first started studying psychology, that I would just have to program my brain like a computer, and it would do whatever I wanted it to do from then on and forever! It was very frustrating to discover otherwise. The brain is more like a garden. First, you plant a good plan/value in good soil. Then, frequently, you go over that plan/value and make sure there are no weeds (contrary ideas/desires) growing around it. Also, while in your “garden”, you nurture the intensity of your desire for that plan/value.
And now, practical application. In these situations, I recommend versions of the following tools:
Test Prep 3×5’s: When you want to do well in school, when you want to prepare well for a test, you will use various methods of memorization and review. A popular and effective method is the use of 3×5 cards. First you would condense the useful information to a handful of 3×5’s, then review them over and over until the test. In real life, the “test” is every day. Will you remember what needs to be done to win your battles? Will you remember what matters most to you? So, each day you review the cards (often more than once a day) making sure the ideas/plans/values are deep in your head and no weeds are choking them out.
This is the first of several tools, but I have run out of time and space for today. If you want more info on this topic, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org