Conclusion: "Don’t be a D, Don’t be a P"
Just a brief recap before some concluding remarks. Psychotherapy is largely effective in addressing past issues and reducing their impact on the present. It does what it does well. We also know that in the last 40 years, research outcomes are flat- this in spite of an explosion of new modalities (there were 40 modalities in 1960 and now we have over 400). Perhaps most salient, up to 70% of successful outcome in therapy is due to “client factors” heavily outweighing what the therapist brings to the table.
I’ve proposed that to make psychotherapy more effective and relevant, especially in serving higher levels of development, the field could find methods to help clients “practice” therapy more deliberately in developmentally appropriate ways. The view I’ve outlined in this series is that psychotherapy has done exceedingly well in addressing the “parts” that have little agency, but could improve at inspiring and educating clients how to become better practitioners of their own development.
Setting therapy aside now, the remainder of this article ties up a few loose ends about deliberately developmental practice in general. I’ll take off my therapist hat now and speak to you frankly. Note, there’s no video correlate to this conclusion because the remarks are to be absorbed in context, and only for those who have read or watched the previous material in this series. I do not recommend reading this as a stand-alone piece. And if it’s not your cup of tea you can always unsubscribe.
As I said in the Introduction, deliberate development is not for the faint of heart and it usually requires a lot of time and commitment. For that reason, I often share my view with clients that it’s ok initially to be quite driven, to wish to make progress, in matters of healing and self-development. When I convey the tone that we can always do better, I’m saying that all of us, no matter where we are- myself included- can practice something right now. There are, of course, innumerable exceptions but I believe I’m speaking to the majority. It seems, in most cases, the work is well worth the investment. But of course, there were never any guarantees.
Intention precedes all developmental practice. It’s the primary practice.
When designing practices around the six principles of Engagement, Non-Interference, Character, Nourishment, Collaboration and Play, doing so with clear intention matters. Individuals who know exactly “why” they are practicing something, with a sense of meaning and intrinsic purpose, are much more likely to fuel a healthy and enjoyable relationship to practice.
One of the reasons that deliberately developmental practices don't stick is because of a lack of clear and sustained intention. Intention comes from what we could call a “higher” part of mind- it’s not merely positive thinking- and to the degree to which that higher part isn’t clear, developed or stable, cognition and actions which follow are equally unstable.
Many people don’t know for certain what they want. When you hear “it's all about intention”, that's not just a bumper sticker as much as it’s a call to practice something. It's an instruction to be purposeful, succinct, principled and elegant. At some periods in most of our lives, sound practice involves reevaluating why we’d want to practice anything at all and getting clear before proceeding.
Get clear about what you can and can’t change. “Don’t bargain with your limits”
- Sofia Diaz, yoga master
There are limits. Perhaps there will always be limits. As the Serenity Prayer reminds us, “knowing the difference” of what (limits) we can and can’t change is wisdom. But as a rule, don’t engage with your limits. Dwelling on the reasons, internal and external, why your intention isn’t happening is a counterproductive use of energy.
In bargaining with your limits you’ll likely unconsciously be asking the universe, yourself, and even your therapist to sympathize and align with your lack of agency rather than with your self-agency. Even if all of the limits are true, how will it help you to take greater response-ability for your practice if the therapist aligns with your point of view? What is being practiced there? Sometimes it may be true and appropriate compassion, but for our point at hand, it’s colluding and enabling.
Avoid whining. It would be better to focus on the few minutes of the week you were consciously practicing something, than ask the universe to reaffirm what hasn’t been possible. Bargaining with limits rehearses and entrenches the sense of self you are trying to grow out of. The few minutes of practice were at least nearer to the arena of “who you want to become”. You’ll likely feel much better about yourself, even in the short run, if you practice your intention steadfastly in the heat of knowing you’re not going to bargain.
“But what about compassion?” There are, of course, exceptions! “I can’t!” There are victim “parts” which by definition have no agency and cannot see it otherwise. The universe can feel like it is against us in utterly convincing ways. Often, these aspects need to be honored and held much differently. No whisper of aggression, inner criticism or drivenness will do. “Leave yourself alone!” Be nice, find love. Classic psychotherapy stands in well here but even so, the intention to formulate “good interventions” would patiently, sensitively and ultimately assist us toward agency while “disrupting pretensions” of victimization from limits.
If you need to heal, do psychotherapy. If you need to grow, learn something about it.
I’ll address these next two points with a metaphor. Say you want to buy a house. You shop around, you consider what life would look like in each place you visit. You find a place and though it’s not perfect, your friend- who’s a builder- assures you that you can make improvements. You can remove walls, put in new windows and even add an addition. This house might just work! Then your friend remembers there’s an empty lot down the road in a great location. They make you a surprising offer; “We can design your dream home, you can quit the job you’ve been hating for years, and we can build it together.” You’ve never done anything like this before. What do you do?
Some people simply need a decent place to live in. And some go out of their way to make improvements, to really settle in, make the home functional and the environment beautiful. But there’s something difficult to describe about walking into a home built by the person living in it. Assuming that every detail clearly mattered, something extraordinary has been practiced. This person not only had to learn carpentry but had to focus all of their intention, energy, finances, time, and character toward one end. Of course there’s a time and a place for each of these levels of commitment- discerning one’s capacity, resources, and a myriad of other factors are to be carefully considered.
Practicing Deliberately Developmental Psychology is practicing the “right kind of hard”.
All of these options being equal, however, the person who has built their own house has more likely benefitted from what I call the “right kind of hard”. The right kind of hard has three characteristics.
1) First, it’s pain or challenge that is consciously chosen or engaged. It’s deliberate. It is not the same as suffering that comes from passively weathering circumstances.
2) Second, it has purpose. It’s not just enduring the suffering that conditioning and limits have brought to bear, it has meaning with a long term end-game in mind.
3) Third, it is “Antifragile” (I’ve borrowed this term from Nicholas Nassim Taleb’s book of the same title). Much like a human immune system is actually strengthened by being exposed to periodic short-term stress, the person who has built their own house knows something, not only about building, but about the truth of themselves under stress. They know they’ve done something of “the right kind of hard” which is directly connected to a strong sense of self.
It seems we live in fragile times. Our governments are fragile, our planet is fragile. The left is fragile, the right is fragile. Our ability to get along with others is fragile. Our demand for material, emotional and even spiritual comfort is fragile. Fragility is being revealed everywhere. Do you consider some of the ways how YOU might be a fragile system? I sure do. Can you see a way out of our current “meta-crisis” that does not include toughening up a bit? I sure don’t.
And finally, in conclusion please....
...when it comes to practice, “Don’t be a dick and don’t be a pussy!”
-Keith Witt, Psychologist
Relationship expert, Dr. Keith Witt did this short, humorous Ted Talk years ago and I recommend its application not just to men, but to all adults. You might pause now and listen to it from the point of view of practice! I’ll assume you’ve watched it, addressing it briefly and stereotypically for our purposes.
First off, we all have dicks AND pussies. Unhealthy dicks (suppressing the softness and warmth of their own pussies) are prone to be more aggressive, arrogant and insensitive. They likely misunderstand and overdo the principle of Engagement and have deficits in the other principles. Practice from this point of view tends to be competitive, critical, driven to eradicating the negative, failing to cultivate the positive, and lacking in ease or gratitude. Unhealthy dicks oppress pussies because they’re afraid of their own gentleness or vulnerability.
Unhealthy pussies, on the other hand (suppressing their firmness and directness of their healthy dicks), lack assertiveness, feel weak, and are overly sensitive. They likely misunderstand and overdo the principle of Non-Interference. Practice from this point of view is prone to collapse when it’s difficult, mistakes laziness for surrender, fixates on the positive, and lacks the backbone to fully face the negative. Unhealthy pussies preach “compassion” while simultaneously channeling aggression inwards as shame (or passively outwards as blame). Unhealthy pussies are afraid of their own strength and really hate dicks.
More important than striving to reach the next frontier of development, is to make our dicks and pussies as healthy as possible. Of the six principles of Deliberately Developmental Psychology, Engagement and Character are distilled into active aspects of practices which strengthen healthy dicks. Non-Interference and Nourishment are more receptive aspects of practice which promote healthy pussies. I jest, the principles of Collaboration and Play are where all of our, hopefully healthy, dicks and pussies can firmly and flowingly practice dancing together. Yum.
Ok! We’re all done! You have now safely graduated from Chad’s Academy of Deliberately Developmental Rants. Thank you for joining me and considering some perspectives on this exploration of deliberately developmental psychology. More than anything I hope you leave more excited to practice something than when you arrived. The practice life is often challenging and I personally find it to be unbelievably and immeasurably rewarding. I wish you the “right kind of hard” and true “enjoyment in your becoming.”
Sincere thanks and much appreciation for you,