The Two Week Rule (#956)

For many years, I offered all my clients weekly coaching sessions. My theory was that part of the value of coaching is in what I call “the lamppost effect” – if you tell your hopes, dreams, and problems to a lamppost each week, the simple act of unburdening yourself and leaving your mind free and clear will lead to more inspired ideas and a better life.

Yet a few years ago, I began to notice that many of the challenges my clients were bringing to our sessions seemed forced and even a little bit false. When one successful screenwriter wanted to use yet another session to discuss how he was going to handle the seating arrangements for his son’s Bar Mitzvah, I finally thought to ask him why on earth he thought that was a problem worthy of our time. He admitted, a bit sheepishly, that things were going great but he didn’t want to waste our session so he’d gone looking for problems we could work on when we were together.

It was around that time that I remembered “the two week rule”. My wife’s granny, Elsie McGivern, was an early proponent of homeopathy in Great Britain in the 1920’s. While I had never heard of homeopathy growing up, I became a fan shortly after moving to England and having a life-long condition effectively cured through the taking of tiny white pills under the tongue 3 or 4 times a day.

One of the more uncommon attitudes towards physical ailments that my wife developed through conversations she’d had with Elsie growing up was what she called “the two week rule”. In a nutshell, the idea is that the body is designed to heal itself and most of the symptoms we experience are actually part of the body’s efforts to self-correct. Fever is the body’s attempt to burn off toxins; vomiting and diarrhea are the body’s attempt to expel toxins through more direct means.

So whenever one of us would get sick or begin exhibiting unusual symptoms, unless there was any concern that it might be life threatening, we would by and large leave the body to its own intelligence, allowing it the time and space to heal. Invariably, long before the two weeks were up, the symptoms would have cleared themselves up; in those rare instances when they didn’t, we would seek and receive proper medical diagnosis and treatment.

While this may or may not be sound practice (I am not a doctor and am not offering any of this as medical advice), I have found “the two week rule” holds well for coaching and other forms of life enhancement as well. By speaking to my clients less often, they have more time to experience the self-correcting power of the mind for themselves.

One of the downsides of a self-improvement culture and self-awareness practices like affirmation, meditation, and mindfulness is that we can become hyper-sensitive to any changes in our outlook or mood.

Self-awareness then quickly devolves into self-consciousness, and we start to worry that we “can’t afford the luxury of a negative thought” or that our low mood signifies major life changes are necessary if we are ever to be happy again.

I remember one particular session with a CEO client who spent the first fifteen minutes of our time together listing all of the mental and circumstantial ailments he had been dealing with since we last spoke. He had struggled to maintain his focus at work, several key meetings had gone poorly, and his sleep had been erratic. When he finished his litany, I reflected for a moment and then asked him “Would another way of saying all that be that you had a really bad week?”

After a long enough pause that I began to worry I might have offended him, he burst out laughing. What he saw was that in any given week, we all have ups and downs – things that turn out the way we want and things that don’t; thought storms and “daymares” on the one hand, happy fantasies and moments of inner quiet and peace of mind on the other. The trick, as my mentor George Pransky has said, is to learn to be grateful for the highs and graceful with the lows. The rest of the session with the CEO was spent in a higher state of mind, focused on the possibilities of the days and weeks ahead.

In my own life, I’ve found that while two weeks is a somewhat arbitrary time frame, the capacity of the mind to self-correct is absolutely consistent. We need to do nothing but stay in the game, taking our state of mind into account without taking it too seriously. Before long, our “stinking thinking” has dissipated, our mood lifts, and we find ourselves living once again in a world of infinite possibility.

Experiment with this for yourself over the next couple of weeks. Make a list of what ails you today and check back in towards the end of the month to see how much of your list has healed itself. Instead of continually taking your mental temperature and worrying if you get a bit hot under the collar, live your life. Have fun; learn heaps. You might just find that the world keeps turning and your “psychological immune system” will take care of itself far better than you had imagined.

With all my love,

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