Do one thing different from before

When the unsatisfactory outcomes of psychiatry got questioned fifty years ago, a new approach to therapy was developed. Rather than spending six years dredging up memories of past history, significant changes were realized in a few sessions. The process of systemic change was much better understood. The approach was called "brief therapy" by some, but many other names have been used for this less cumbersome intervention. As I've been developing this series of posts on emotional baggage, I've been pondering how a brief therapy approach could apply. Here's a possible use of those techniques:

Imagine our pieces of emotional baggage are really invisible copy machines that are working perfectly. They flawlessly replicate whatever we believe has really happened before. It's how the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. It's how success breeds success and failure goes into a perpetual losing streak. It's why a battered wife gets divorce and later marries Mr. Perfect who turns out to be another batterer. It's how some authors get stuck with writer's block and others feel like their muse gives them wonderful words to write down with easel. It's why we experience a string of bad luck or days where everything goes our way. The invisible copy machine is cranking out more of the same happenstance as what happened before. All it takes is believing it really happened so if can happen again to us just like before.

Brief therapy figured out how to change the original before the next copy gets made. It takes very little time or effort, just like putting a different original on the glass of the copy machine. All we have to do to get different things to happen to us is to do one thing that's different from before. Here's some possibilities for how to "change the original":
  • When we complain about something, we keep getting something more to complain about without even trying. When we give that something a compliment, show of appreciation or expression of our heartfelt gratitude, watch what happens differently after that.
  • When we always regret what happened, we get reminders to keep up those sincere regrets. When we're glad it happened, value the difference it made or turned the lemons into lemonade, something different will happen next that messes up our pattern of regrets.
  • When we already know what the result is going to be, we get proven right for being so right in the first place. When we don't know what the result will be, wonder what might happen this time or become curious about the mysterious nature of it all, it's pretty surprising what comes about from our not always being right.
  • When we react to what needs doing out of habit, we get the same result every time without thinking. When we do the thing with a slight variation, added twist or the complete opposite approach, we've embarked on a new adventure that cannot be predicted in advance.

Once you get the hang of this, you can thank your baggage for making so many accurate copies of your originals all these years. You can see how you mistakenly asked for more misery when that's not what you really wanted. You can see the value of having an invisible copy machine for getting good things to happen. You can simply do one thing different from before when it's time for a change.

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