I blog at JustOneWeek about my very long list of habits that I want to create and projects that I want to complete (or start!). I feel guilty way too often about items stranded for years on my to-do list and about habits that never seem to stick. I am done feeling guilty. And so I blog at JustOneWeek about my quest to find motivation, discipline, and acceptance.
Jenna has a giant item that has taken residence on her to-do list: Finish her degree. She’s written in the past about her self-imposed deadlines to finish before the wedding, before the pregnancy, and before the baby. And she has humbly informed us that she has missed all of her deadlines.
What is fascinating to me isn’t the fact that Jenna has not yet achieved her goal (I certainly have items that have taken near permanent residence on my to-do list) but how passionately her readers (including myself) have responded. It is as though we think our comments could motivate her to change her behaviors?!
Most comments take one of the following approaches:
- Tough love/bullying/confrontational – Call it what you want, but these comments are aggressive. We think we can bash her, shame her, help her into seeing the light.
- Knowledge/statistics/facts – If only Jenna knew that she’d be a statistic, a poor role model, have trouble providing for her children if something happened to TH… then she’d be motivated to change! These comments act as though Jenna hadn’t thought about why she should finish her degree, and so we kindly inform her.
I left my first comment on the subject over a year ago and I shamefully used both tactics:
… so far I’ve heard 1.) your husband wants you to, 2.) so you can have a baby, 3.) because your parents want you to. This may be rude, but you can add a 4th external reason – the Church would want you to. It is a continuous source of embarrassment for BYU that their 4-year graduation rate for females is deplorable (as is the overall graduation rate for females)…
Ouch! I love that I pretended to soften it by stating “this may be rude.” I should note this is only an excerpt; I leave ridiculously long comments.
I recently attended a training seminar for Motivational Interviewing (MI). In short, MI is a counseling approach frequently used in Behavioral Medicine with patients who need to change their smoking/drinking/eating/medicine-taking habits for health reasons. More generally, MI is “a directive, client centered counseling style for eliciting behavior change by helping clients to explore and resolve ambivalence.”
The seminar discussed the common myth that confrontation and knowledge (just like our comments) are needed to trigger change. When I stopped to think about it, I could not recall a single instance where either changed my behavior – and thus why do I use those techniques to try to change Jenna – and why do I even care? The answer – my Righting Reflex.
The seminar discussed our need (as psychologists) to want to fix things. But I’m pretty sure that the desire to fix, change, right, or improve things – really people – extends far beyond our profession. The problem is that the Righting Reflex puts me into their shoes; but I’m not in their shoes – they are! I’m sure any of you readers can grab my to-do list and start checking things off. It is a lot easier when it is not your own to-do list. The Righting Reflex causes us to ignore the ambivalence that makes change difficult.
Ambivalence – the coexistence within an individual of positive and negative feelings toward the same person, object, or action, simultaneously drawing him or her in opposite directions.
Jenna has a long list of reasons why she wants to finish her degree. She also has a very long list of reasons why other people think she should finish. But she also has valid reasons for maintaining the status quo. She is ambivalent. And that is very normal.
The Righting Reflex causes me to be very judgmental and not very helpful. It also causes me to attend to other people’s unrealized goals and ignore my own. I’d like to be more of a cheerleader and less of a judge. Recognizing my Righting Reflex is my first step.