Being a Success At Failure: The Secret to Profound Behavior Change
I was asked recently what was a blunder in the early days when I was practicing psychotherapy that embarrassed me and yet gave me pause to learn something profound. With the growth of my current company concentrating on high powered, critical stakes decision making moments with people, I do catch myself going back in my memory and remembering those early therapist-in-training days with an awkward pause on how far I have come …and yet still nowhere. That tension, as you will read, is the greatest gift.
One day I remember going into my office with a jammed back day, something all therapists sadly know far too well. As a professional who prided (with hubris, I know now…lol..) himself in practicing the merits of visualization, I ran my day over in my head, who I was going to see, who was dealing with what, getting myself prepped for the “what if” scenarios that could arise. Though I had a regular habit of checking charts prior to sessions to further pinpoint where we all left off, an interesting blunder occurred regardless that had profound effects on my perception of the psychotherapeutic process:
2 charts were out of the scheduled ordered for the day.
And so what happened from here was quite interesting—my 9am person I talked to with my 10am therapist conceptualizations. Two radically different people, different issues. But the kicker is this—they couldn’t tell, and my brain fog grew, keeping my blunder out of my consciousness, for the client reinforced positively each confused reflection, tip, piece of advice. An odd dissociative moment. So picture a “psychological Mr. Potato Head” being built from all the wrong, mixed up verbal parts. A radically different mind, experience, a “third voice in the room” than what both of us thought was real
But it was arguably one of the best sessions ever.
What it taught me is that error may just be what gets us ironically away from our strategic use of our beloved “models”. Charles Jacobs states it eloquently in his book Management Rewired when he said change—what we all actually seek as a result from therapy—from a brain side is only truly achieved, due to its self-protective biases and illusions, through grandiose, paradigmatic Failure (not small “f” failure, which in this story would be, say, misinterpreting the RIGHT client’s response one too many time). As behavioral economists have shown us, the wild and the bizarre–the hidden forces— is quite influential in transforming us. Though I may not go as far as James Hillman and Michael Ventura with the title of their book “We’ve Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy and the World is Getting Worse,” I would say that the fuller truth is that we have had milleniums of this thing called a brain and the world is getting worse through it’s eyes.