Obstacles to action when you know what you want

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Obstacles to action when you know what you want

Postby BarbaraSher » Thu Jan 06, 2000 11:53 am

Is there something out there that would add to your happiness -- something that you know is do-able -- but you you're not doing anything to make it happen? I'm talking about small things as well as big ones -- pulling out your bike to go for a ride on a nice fall day -- taking a drawing class -- or saving every nickel and going to India for a year. I know people who think it's impossible to go sailing in the South Pacific, and other people with no more money and no fewer obligations who actually do it. I know lots more people who would love to learn to dance or to drive, or to visit the Grand Canyon, or to make an amateur movie with their videocam and they put it off or come up with excuses that don't really hold water.

Obstacles to action fascinate me -- mine as much as anyone else's. I know a number of ways to get people into action and they fortunately work much of the time. (Personal support, for example.) And I know a number of reasons people don't act. I come across new ones almost every day in private sessions with clients. Often they're not aware of these reasons until we uncover them together. (Not entitled to be happy because they had unhappy parents, for example.)

But I'd love to know if any of you are aware of a resistance to taking action in the direction of something you'd really enjoy -- and if you can figure out what stops you. I'd love to hear what you've figured out about yourself -- or others for that matter. You can email me via "Ask Barbara" here on this page if you want privacy. [This message has been edited by BarbaraSher (edited January 06, 2000).]
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Postby Marlowe » Thu Jan 06, 2000 12:29 pm

I was part of a live discussion of obstacles to change yesterday, and offer the following summary of reasons (an unstructured list):

1. Inertia. A body at rest, or in uniform motion along a right line, will continue in that state unless acted upon by an external force.

2. Better the devil you know than the devil you don't.

3. The costs of change are usually immediate, while the benefits are usually deferred. (If I diet, I may like myself better at some indeterminate future date, but I have to give up that Hostess Twinkie NOW.)

4. Opposition (or at least indifference) from others.

5. Being of a more reflective/deliberate than active/impulsive temperament, which usually means that one's experience of change (which stems from the Jungian "shadow") has been catastrophic.

6. Don't know a viable path to get there.

7. Can't find a way to reduce change to tiny enough baby steps, or if you do, the baby steps seem, well, babyish, i.e., inconsequential.

8. Change requires persistence, and sometimes people break off in the middle of

9. The goal you have articulated is not one you really want, but one you enjoy pretending you want.

10. If you really do change, that means giving up the joy of complaining about being a victim, which can be a very rewarding career in its own right.

11. Fear.

12. No middle ground between the now and the not yet. If I let go of the old and do not have a new to hang on to, I fall to my demise.

13. Sometimes it's just not worth the effort. Q: What does 'apathy' mean? A: Oh, man, who cares?

14. Competing priorities. I can achieve one goal only at the cost of abandoning another.

15. The tyranny of the urgent. After I'm done changing the kitty litter, there's no energy to do anything but put on a rerun of "Mannix".

16. The "gender-neutral monarch of the hill" syndrome. Once on top, you are a target for others below. Staying on the bottom is more safely anonymous.

17. Fear that a goal, once achieved, will not live up to the expectation, that the reality can't match the illusion. A man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a meta phor?

18. Didn't really want the danged change in the first place. Not that much anyway.

19. Once change is initiated, the realization hits that what you thought you wanted isn't really it.

20. If change is trendy, the only way to buck the system is to stay put.
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Postby Jacque » Thu Jan 06, 2000 1:13 pm

Wow. Marlowe really seems to have covered most of the bases. One I just discovered recently: incompletely refined goals, or "the sticky candy syndrome." I was recently toying with the idea of doing portrait art for the movie industry, like movie poster art, TV Guide covers, etc (because I like doing portraits of celebrities). But after fantasizing about it, I found myself thinking, "Nah. I don't want to do that." Took me a bit of backtracking to figure out that the idea was appealing until I got to a couple of unstated implications (read: assumptions): moving to Hollywood and working at a high-pressure pace. Once I unstuck the portrait art from these other two aspects, the idea became more appealing again. I realized I just needed to add a couple of criteria to the fantasy I was developing: leisurely work pace and living where I do now (which probably have income and marketability implications, but that's okay). --<A HREF=www.eskimo.com/~jacquem>Jacque</A>
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Postby Marlowe » Thu Jan 06, 2000 1:48 pm

Which suggests to me the idea that two goals can be incompatible (is usually my problem in life). It can be hard to swallow the bitter pill of necessary tradeoffs. Oprah Winfrey is famous for saying, "You can have it all, but you can't have it all at the same time." For instance, if only I could eat as much as I want and be thin as I want (this kind of double-bind is what can lead people to very BAD change initiatives, like bulimia). Or, if only I could be as rich as I want and work as little as I want (ergo, I rob a bank). This is diverging a bit. Also don't forget everyone's favorite, the approach-avoidance gradient. The closer one gets to actually doing something, the larger the negatives loom and the more the positives seem to recede into oblivion.
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Postby Jacque » Thu Jan 06, 2000 4:18 pm

Well, what I'm talking about is a slightly different critter than conflicting goals, although that's an important aspect, too. (Which is where values clarification comes in. "I want to eat. I want to be thin. Which do I want more?") What I'm talking about is when a goal gets conflated with assumed consequences, but upon thinking about it, one discovers that what's been holding one back is not aversion to the goal itself, but these assumed consequences. Once the consequences are made explicit rather than assumed, they can then be dealt with as separate issues. Or as tune-able parameters.
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Postby Renee » Thu Jan 06, 2000 4:26 pm

Sometimes, if you turn what you love into a career (as I did with photography years ago) you end up hating the thing you used to love--and this is extremely painful. For 15 years I didn't touch a pro camera; I just did a few point-and-shoot shots for family purposes, and I have mourned and wept over this loss of buoyant joy I used to feel when I took out my camera. The thought of this happening with another hobby/pursuit/love I presently enjoy has certainly not been pleasant.
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Postby BarbaraSher » Thu Jan 06, 2000 10:41 pm

*Really* interesting responses. Thank you! Like all good responses, they generate more questions: Marlowe: Most of your points are right to the point and I agree. #3 re deferred pleasure is interesting, but what if the pleasure isn't deferred and if we're not talking about doing something difficult to get something wonderful, but just getting up off your butt and doing something wonderful? #4 is intriguing. Do you think opposition or indifference from others is a strong factor -- and I ask that of everyone reading, not just Marlowe. How does it show itself and why does it affect us so powerfully? #5 One's experience of change has been catastrophic...yes, that's pretty compelling. #6 "don't know a viable path..." I think that stops lots of people, but I wonder why some of us sometimes give up when we can't see a path while other times we go looking for one. #7 "...baby steps" I couldn't agree more. The first part -- can't see tiny enough steps -- is something Jacque pointed out in a fascinating way in another topic (We buy things and don't see how long it takes to make them). I think the feeling that they seem too inconsequential is much more common than anyone realizes. Let me skip so this answer isn't endless... 11 - Fear. I think it's there 95% of the time. But why? People seem to be less terrified of bunji jumping than taking a drawing class. 12 - About the gap and the demise -- true if you let go of a job or a marriage, say, without another in sight, but would you apply that to taking a vacation in the Amazon? If so, I'd love to know why. 18 - "Don't want the change...not that much anyway." How much? Again, why is it such a big deal? Those are the the responses I find the most thought-provoking. I'd love answers from anyone. [This message has been edited by BarbaraSher (edited January 07, 2000).]
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Postby BarbaraSher » Thu Jan 06, 2000 11:00 pm

Jacque, I really think you're completely on target. I have to pry people loose from what you call "the sticky candy syndrome" all the time. Somehow our minds race to assumptions just like the ones you're talking about and stop us dead in our tracks. I'm working as we speak on some techniques to help us notice when we're making an anassumption. Not easy, because by their very nature, assumptions are almost invisible. That is, you assume they're true, so you don't take a second look at them. It's rare to see someone catch themselves like you did. What made you stop and decide to backtrack? And why do you suppose your mind raced to the kinds of assumptions designed to stop the action? We all do the same thing, but why? I mean, we could just as easily have made other assumptions, just as wrong but far more delightful. And one more question, which you don't have to answer, but could be most revealing about this whole topic: Now that you've peeled off the negative assumptions and find the idea appealing again, have you taken steps toward doing it? Or investigating further? If so, great, and go for it. If you haven't taken any further steps, however, you'd be in the act of doing (or rather, not doing) exactly what I'm talking about in this topic -- and I'd find nothing more fascinating than trying to figure out why.
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Postby BarbaraSher » Thu Jan 06, 2000 11:08 pm

Renee, I'm so glad you brought this up. I think it's a very American habit to turn every gift into a career. We're trained to believe that whatever doesn't produce money isn't real. It's one thing to want to enjoy the work you do, but another to assume you have to turn everything you love into a career. I'm beginning to think that people who love to cook should not open restaurants, or soon they will no longer love to cook. So I can see where you'd be gun shy about another pursuit, just because it might bring up painful memories. But perhaps you're assuming you should turn another beloved hobby/pursuit/love into a career. If so, you have even better reason to be gun shy! How would it feel to decide to do something you don't mind for money, and keep the thing you love away from the constrictions of the marketplace?
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Postby BarbaraSher » Thu Jan 06, 2000 11:17 pm

Marlowe, in response to your later post: "Also don't forget everyone's favorite, the approach-avoidance gradient. The closer one gets to actually doing something, the larger the negatives loom and the more the positives seem to recede into oblivion." Yes indeed. But why?
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Postby Gudrun » Fri Jan 07, 2000 3:38 am

I want to answer to Marlowes and Barbaras *point 7: the baby steps that seem to inconsequential. My experience: I started to change my life more into my ideal day by starting to help once a week in a horse stable of a friend (being outside and with animals). I realize that more and more I loose interest to go there, thinking on Wednesday already: oh, on Saturday I must go to the stable again, I do not feel like it and so on; I see that I must get dressed, drive there, the effort, and so on. In the beginning I really liked to do it. So what happens here (thanks for making me think about it more deeply)- I fnd myself thinking that this little thing does not really change my life, that it is not of big worth and will not help in making my life more of what I would like it to be; a typical babystep which seems to inconsequential, I loose interest and would probably stop, if not my friend would ask (!!) when I will come to the stable on Saturday (luckily!). *point 4: opposition or indifference of others It does matter! For 5 years I wish to have a dog. Since I live in a house where there is a dog I love and can also go to, there was no need to get one myself, but still there was the wish. However, all the facts that speak against it (freedom, less travel, etc.) so I never decided to get one and could not even choose it as a dreamgoal. But then, a friend of mine realized a dream of herself, and I got very angry: "well, when she can do this, why can I not get a dog of my own?" It was this anger that got me moving and so I started to look for a dog. I told nobody, because I knew they all would repeat the facts (why a dog, no travel, no freedom...)and was scared that they would reawaken my own inner reservations against having a dog. Just one person supported my wish and said it would be great if I would get the dog... this was very important because I could feel that not only did she find it great but there was a kind of promise behind it "I will support you actively, help you, take the dog sometimes.." This helped me a lot, because I would not be totally alone with the consequences the decision would have! Somehow she would help me if I needed it. So, I got myself a dog (!!). The help of the friend is valuable but I know in the meantime that I would be able to manage things even without her - but it helped a lot to make the decision! Gudrun
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Postby nodummy50+ » Fri Jan 07, 2000 9:31 am

These are fantastic postings (discussions)and I am soaking it all up! Since I tend to soak up surroundings, negativity and indifference is hard to deal with. Destructive criticism seems to be the norm where I have worked. In a discussion with counseling in this area, I am not alone in my concern. This is a trend, not a figment of imagination. What holds one down can be poverty syndrome seeping through and having no money, NO NICKEL, to vacation, buy a new suit, get haircut, or pay rent. I am fortunate to have very small insurance benefit from late husband. (I was widowed early, got child through college, and try to be self supporting. No welfare, no unemployment, no whining) I love my hobbies and love working with creative people, but my rewards have been few, just what I can give me; friends can leave work early to play golf league. I havent enjoyed this for a long time, since I was a manager. I want something better for last 10-15 years of working life! Fear of the unknown is another one, yet we who are alone fall into this easily. Since this is already long, I'll listen for awhile!
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Postby mgre » Fri Jan 07, 2000 10:50 am

I think this has played a quite large part in my life: "#4 is intriguing. Do you think opposition or indifference from others is a strong factor -- and I ask that of everyone reading, not just Marlowe. How does it show itself and why does it affect us so powerfully?" I guess I have so little confidence in my own abilities that I desperately need the encouragement of others. Over the years, I've written stuff and sent it out but when the rejection slip comes back, I put away my writing for several years. I remember being really excited about some art I wanted to do - a combination of fabric, painting and ceramics - I did some drawings and showed some of my family and their response was "Could you please pass the butter?" It just got put away in a drawer. I seem to desperately crave encouragement. As I was cleaning out my room this week, I found some drawings I did 10 years ago and I thought, why didn't I keep that up? Why did I get discouraged and put it away? And I start berating myself - look where I could be now if I hadn't stopped. But I think if one person had said something encouraging I might have done it. But then again, I'm not sure that just any friend could have done it. I mean I would have needed to respect that person's judgement in that area to have really been encouraged by it. But these things do have some kind of pull for me because I do keep coming back to them, maybe after quite a length of time. Martha
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Postby Jeremiah » Fri Jan 07, 2000 10:57 am

Wow, this topic has ballooned in a hurry. My selection of obstacles from Marlowes menu would #5, #6,#11, and #12. Just to comment on what Barbara said about fear: "People seem to be less terrified of bunji jumping than taking a drawing class." Most people I think would rather endure any amount of physical pain rather than just a little emotional pain. Violin hit on it when she brought up the story of the POW's. The same is often true of prisoners and homeless people. They would rather stay put and live with the physical discomforts than leave behind things or people that they have come to trust. It may not be much, but they have come to rely on it. About #4, I think that indifference can sometimes be worse than opposition. Even the most modest of people at some point want what they do to be recognized or appreciated even in a small way. When time and again nobody seems to care when you do something well you could start thinking that "What's the point?" or "If nobody else cares why should I?" Or you go down the path I did in which in an effort to get some little drop of recognition for a job well done you try to be perfect all the time. Everything has to be super-fantastic, extraordinary or it is a failure by your own standards. If I understand her correctly I am in the same boat as Jacque. A hypothetical example would be a person that wants to photograph exotic locations but absolutely detests travel. They would love to take the pictures but just don't want the aspects of the job that we assume will "come with the territory" as people say. Figuratively speaking, it's all the baggage that comes with the what you want to do that turns you off to an idea. In fact, didn't we briefly have a similar conversation on this once before? If you finish those new techniques Barbara, send them my way please! Image
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Postby BarbaraSher » Fri Jan 07, 2000 10:57 am

Great! Everybody's jumping in. Thanks for the new insights! Let me reply (I agree with Marlowe - it's depressing when you don't get a response. Fortunately, it rarely happens on this bbs. I love this bbs!!!) Now, then. Where was I? Violin: "Learned helplessness." Interesting. Does anyone have any personal experience of this? It seems to require the notion that the people who are supposed to take care of you know enough to take care of you. I was never that trusting as a child so I don't know about that and would love to learn more.
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