Some opening thoughts....
"You're gonna find this funny," he said, "but my shrink is making me NUTS."
"Oh?" I said, "how so?"
"Every week, it's the same thing: I talk and he listens. He takes a few notes, nods a lot, and when I'm done, he talks about stuff that has nothing to do with my problem. Repressed feelings, anger management, and communications. What does any of that have to do with me? Then there are the books he suggests. Men from this planet, women from that planet. I'm okay; you're not, on and on. The books don't tell me anything either. I swear, sometimes I think you therapists don't live in the real world. Just once I'd like my shrink to relate to my situation; just once I'd like to read one of those books and actually recognize the people they're talking about. Just once."
When the conversation and our lunch were over and my friend had left, I got to thinking about what he'd said. Were therapists and all the books we write and recommend that out of touch with the real problems our patients face? Are we so isolated in our models and paradigms that we offer solutions and analyses that have little to do with the every-day lives of the people who come to us looking for help?
I also took another hard look at the rows and rows of books that line the shelves of my office and home. I took some of them down and began to reread them. My friend, I thought, had a valid point.
And so, I started to rethink the models I use in my practice. I decided to rethink the way I analyzed my patients' various, but similar situations. And, I became determined to write this book.
"Oh great, Mark," I can hear you saying. "Just what we need, another book."
Well, I like to think that maybe you do need this book, or at least that maybe it'll help. You see, this book is different, and I'll tell you why.
No, this book isn't going to make you more beautiful or handsome. It isn't going to make you an instant business success (although it will help you recognize some things that might be standing in the way of that success). And it isn't going to solve every single problem you have with your spouse or significant other, your kids, your boss, your neighbor or your blowhard brother-in-law. If you want a book that does all that, one that will solve every single problem, go back to the shelves and look for something under philosophy, religion or Martha Stewart.
What this book will do, however, is help you recognize some of the stumbling blocks we all trip over time and again throughout our lives. Remember the opening credit sequence of the old Dick Van Dyke Show? Remember how he'd come in every week, be greeted by Mary Tyler Moore and then trip over the ottoman and fall down on his way to greet Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie? Didn't you just want to scream at the TV screen and warn him to watch out for that damned ottoman? Well, this book is a lot like that. Every year, every month, every week, and sometimes every day, we trip over the same psychic and emotional ottomans again and again. We get frustrated in our personal and professional relationships, we have our feelings hurt, we feel put upon and manipulated. We may change jobs; we may change relationship partners or even spouses. And yet, the next thing we know, we have that same argument all over again. We feel frustrated, under appreciated and undervalued again; we get mad at ourselves and mad at others, and we look for reasons why. But the problem is that we often look in the wrong places.
Worse still, often the therapists and the books we turn to for help are among those wrong places because they are not focused on the real world in which we live. What's wrong with them? I think the problem is that a lot of well-meaning therapists and authors start with a model and then try to apply that model to a wide range of problems and situations. But just as there really isn't any one-size-fits-all garment that really fits everyone equally well, there is no one model that fits all situations. Rather, each situation and type of relationship is different, or at least has different dynamics at play. I wrote a moment ago about the ottoman Dick Van Dyke used to trip over and I said it is a lot like what many of us do repeatedly. But the more accurate truth is that we have a series of psychic and emotional obstacles we stumble over as we go through the days and weeks of our lives. It would be as though poor Dick tripped over the ottoman in the living room, a misplaced stool in the kitchen, Richie's fire truck in the hall and Laura's shoes in the bedroom. Remembering that the ottoman was in the living room would not be enough to spare him the daily tumbles over all those other things.
I wrote this book to help you recognize the things you might be stumbling over not just in one place or in one facet of your life, but in several. I wrote this book to help you look for answers in the right places for a change. What are the right places? Most of them are right there, inside you, inside me, inside all of us. Also, some of them are in the outside world, in the society and rules with which we grew up and live. Rarely, however, is the answer found in another person, so forget looking there. There is no perfect mate, perfect spouse or perfect boss. There is no perfect job, no perfect career and no perfect situation. But none of that means that you have to be miserable; there are ways to be happy in spite of the fact that nothing in this life is perfect and few things are always the way we want them to be.
So how do you find them? In this book, I am going to suggest essentially one strategy; I call it facilitating your environment. What does that mean? It means, in essence, getting rid of the ottomans (and the fire trucks, the misplaced stools and boots) that are in your way, the hidden (and not-so-hidden) obstacles that lie, like landmines, just waiting for you to come along and trip over them, step on them or otherwise set them off.
As you read this book, I am going to introduce you to a lot of new concepts. Some of which you will recognize easily and realize that you just never had a name for them before. You will, I hope, recognize a lot of the situations presented and maybe even recognize yourself in them. Others you may have to think about for a while before you see how they impact you in your everyday personal and professional lives. Sometimes, it may seem that I am wandering a bit far afield; but I promise you that when I do it is to make a point and I will always bring you back to the main discussion. Finally, this book will ask you a lot of questions, questions designed to make you think, make you analyze and, hopefully, help you be honest with yourself.
There is a great line in an old song: "The strongest lies are always those, the ones we tell ourselves ." So that is where we are going to begin. We are going to examine the lies we tell ourselves, notions such as operating fantasies, operating assumptions and operating presumptions. We are going to examine the parallel value tracks each of us has in his or her life, how we use them to make decisions and how others often use them against us. We are going to take a look at effective control, at growing up versus maturing; we are going to discuss well-defined outcomes. We will discuss denial, the degrees of control we have over our lives, the concepts of motivation, currencies of approval and currencies of gratification, the differences between recognition and reward, between reaction and response, blame vs. responsibility and the notion of My Nice vs. Your Nice, among other ideas. And, we are going to do it with humor.
Along the way, you will meet such characters as the Unfortunate Jones, his wife and her fish sticks. You will meet Ol' Stuffenbottom, the quintessential boss. You'll meet Cobblepot and Bixby. We'll make stops in Oz and the Twilight Zone, and have a point or two made by Mr. Spock. I want this book to be entertaining, as well as engaging.
A good deal of this book takes the form of a dialogue. I am trying to communicate with you in this book, so I couch the entire thing as a conversation between us. I think it is a format with which you will be comfortable; it is relaxed, informal and, I hope, constructive.
Eventually, if you remember the show, even Dick Van Dyke learned to avoid the ottoman and stopped tripping over it during those opening credits. It is my hope that, after reading this book, you will find that you, too, have finally found a way around some of the obstacles that repeatedly have blocked your path to personal and professional fulfillment. The journey toward that goal begins when you turn this page.