A quick note from Michael:
To coincide with the publication of Supercoach, I’ve decided to feature the work of some of the coaches I talk about in the book. In each case, I’ll share what I consider to be some of the most transformative elements of their work. I will also do my best to make clear what is their material and what is my interpretation and experience of that material. Any misrepresentation is mine and mine alone…
In 1997, my wife and I watched a documentary called “I Want My Child Back” which followed a family from the United Kingdom and their autistic son through a two week journey to a place called The Option Institute in Sheffield, Massachusetts. Over the course of that time, the child was engaged in seemingly innocuous play sessions while the parents were involved in dialogues with a counselor/coach about the source of their unhappiness and its role in helping or hindering them from assisting their son in making changes.
When ½ way through the documentary a night-time camera showed their previously incapable, seemingly unreachable child get up and make himself scrambled eggs in the microwave, Nina and I both burst into tears, which continued unabated as we watched parents and child reconnect and begin to thrive at deeper and deeper levels throughout their stay. As soon as the show was finished I found the phone number for the Institute and phoned them. If what I had just seen was for real, I wanted to know everything about it.
Ten days later, I was in Massachusetts doing a week long program for myself, and over the past 12 years I have continued to incorporate the Option perspectives in my life and work. Because the work originated with a man named Bruce Di Marsico and has subsequently evolved into two separate schools, what I share is based on my experience with both rather than on one particular “supercoach” approach…
1. Why are you un-happy?
One of the first statements I ever read by Bruce Di Marsico was this:
The only reason why you are ever un-happy is because you think you should be.
In other words, when you feel bad, it is because you think you should feel bad – that there is some positive benefit to it.
That benefit generally falls into one of two categories:
1. We feel bad because we think it will motivate us (or we are afraid that we wouldn’t act in our own best interests if we weren’t)
2. We feel bad because we think it means something good about us (or are afraid that it would mean something bad about us if we didn’t)
Here’s how I wrote about this in Feel Happy Now:
I will always remember the man who challenged me during a Happiness workshop I was giving in London with a somewhat provocative question over whether I was advocating that he should feel happy about the recent death of his wife.
After quickly pointing out that that was NOT what I was saying, I went on to explain that for me, the question was not whether or not he ‘should’ be happy but simply if he was willing to be – that is, would it be OK with him if he felt at peace with what had happened?
He shook his head ‘no’, so I went on to ask him this question:
“What are you afraid it would mean about you if you were not un-happy about your wife’s death?”
He looked at me aghast. “What kind of a monster would I be if I was not un-happy about that?”
“So are you saying,” I asked, “that your feeling un-happy now is your way of expressing your love for your wife?”
He softened immediately and nodded.
“Is that how you want to express your love for her?” I asked.
“No,” he acknowledged. “But won’t other people think there’s something wrong with me if I’m not miserable?”
Rather than venture forth with my own opinion, I asked him how he would answer his own question.
“I suppose,” he said slowly, “that if they did, that would be OK with me. Because if there’s one thing I know for certain, it’s how grateful I am for our time together and how much I will always love her.”
Is it really true that we are only un-happy because we think we should be?
Honestly, I don’t know.
But whether we have learned to use sadness to express our love, anger to signify our caring, or fear to motivate ourselves to go for what we want, the point is this:
Whatever you can do with un-happiness, you can do better when you’re happy.
2. What are you afraid of?
Probably the second most impactful thing I learned from Bruce’s writings was this:
All fear is the fear that unhappiness will happen.
Think about it – are you afraid of failing, or are you afraid of failing and feeling bad about it? Are you afraid of losing all your money, or are you afraid of losing all your money and feeling bad about it? Are you afraid of ending a relationship, or are you afraid of ending a relationship, feeling fine about it, but feeling bad that you don’t feel bad about it? (Complex, aren’t we?:-)
I remember the first day this really made sense to me on a visceral level. I was waiting to cross a busy road, stepping back involuntarily whenever a car whizzed by, when I realized I didn’t have to be afraid of being hit by a car to not step out into the road. I could take care of myself in this way simply because I wanted to and knew how to – I no longer needed fear to help me do it.
Play with this for yourself by thinking about something you are afraid of – let’s say what’s going on with the economy, and specifically that you might lose all your money and wind up out on the streets.
Now, consider for a moment that you may be less afraid of the consequences of your financial actions or inactions than what you perceive to be the consequence of the consequences – i.e. feeling bad, miserable, unhappy, etc. In our example, this might take the form of embarrassment or shame – after all, what would your mother/father/siblings/grandparents/friends/teachers think if you wound up losing your job and your home?
If you’re not sure whether your fear is more about the event or the feeling, ask yourself this:
If I didn’t have to feel bad, regardless of what happened, what would I choose to do differently in relation to what I had been fearing?
Now if you didn’t have to feel bad or embarrassed about begging on the streets, you probably still wouldn’t want to do it. But chances are, you would also become aware of little (and sometimes big) things you could do to begin taking better care of your money and to create more financial stability in your life right now.
For example, if you had to, where could you find some extra money this week? What things could you do this month to “hedge” against a potential future loss of income?
Please note, this is not “planning to fail” – it is simply overcoming the fear-based inertia of failing to plan for the full range of future possibilities.
1. Think about something in your life that you are un-happy (angry, sad, fearful, etc.) about.
My kids don’t listen to me, we don’t have enough money, I hate my job, etc.
2. If I could wave a magic wand and you would be instantly happy in that situation without anything else changing, would you want me to wave it?
In other words, is it OK with you to be happy in that situation, exactly the way that it is?
(Remember, this is not saying you shouldn’t be un-happy about whatever you are un-happy about – it is just a sincere and curious question from you to you.)
3. If your answer was ‘no’, ask yourself either or both of the following questions:
- What am I afraid would happen if I wasn’t unhappy about ______?
- What do I think it would mean about me if I wasn’t unhappy about that?
If I wasn’t angry with my kids for not listening to me, then I might never do anything about it. If I wasn’t scared about not having enough money, I might not look for ways to earn more or spend less. If I didn’t hate my job, I might never leave.
4. Whatever you came up with, pick out the positive intention behind it – i.e. the ‘very good reason(s)’ you have for getting and staying un-happy.
With my kids, I get angry to give myself the courage to confront them about their behavior. When it comes to money, I scare myself so that I’ll take action and do something about my situation.
5. Finally, imagine yourself feeling comfortable and peaceful in yourself and handling the situation elegantly and well. Come up with at least 3 ways that you could fulfill that positive intention without the ‘negative’ emotion.
With my kids, I could sit down and talk with them calmly – they might actually listen to me if I wasn’t shouting at them all the time.
I could write down what was really important to me for them to get and ask them to sign it when they really understood and agreed to it.
I could make a real point about speaking with them publicly when I wanted to praise them and privately when I had something critical to say.
Have fun, learn heaps, and if you don’t, you don’t have to feel bad about it!