Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Myth of "Most People"

"Most people get more accomplished in a day than I do."

"Most people have an easier time getting into a relationship than I do."

"Most people don't struggle with this."

"Most people have no problem eating well and working out consistently."

"Most people have a career path already carved out."

"Most people are more organized and efficient than I am."

These are just a few examples of what the "mythical most people" do (or don't do). Often I hear these complaints from clients who are frustrated with their current status, especially in relation to the "mythical most people" (MMP) who seemingly do things perfectly. What's interesting is that when I press clients to identify a person who fits the bill, they are usually unable to come up with a specific person that they know. Often times the MMP is just that: an ideal, a person who doesn't actually exist. Or a "specialized person": for instance, a movie star or model who's livelihood is based on looking good.

I have found that the MMP can be a self-defeating concept that keeps people stuck. Often times there is a fear of not being able to live up to an idealized standard, which results in lack of movement towards a goal. This is called an approach-avoidance conflict: wanting something, but simultaneously fearing negative outcomes from moving towards the desired thing. Often the feared outcome is a factor so strong as to prevent a person from working towards that goal. This results in a person teeter-tottering or being completely frozen. Another consequence of the MMP ideal is that it can lead to people judging themselves harshly for not living up to the standards of the MMP and not giving themselves credit for their success. This leads to disappointment and, at times, completely abandoning the goal.

You may be thinking, "But I DO know someone who is (organized, fit, in a satisfying career, in a relationship...". Of course you do. There will always be people who are "more" (and less) of whatever is your ideal- there's no denying that. It is important to assess your strengths and limitations, and accept where you are in this moment while acknowledging and working towards where you would like to be- this is called radical acceptance. Without it, you will likely continue to feel stuck in your current situation. Check out this site for more information on radical acceptance.

If you have a goal that you would like to reach and want to use a real person as your motivation, here are some steps to get you started:
1. Identify the person- why did you choose him/her?
2. Ask the person how he/she got to that place that you want to be.*

  • What was "easy" (e.g., natural talents or strengths)?
  • What were struggles/difficulties/bumps along the way?
  • What are current struggles/difficulties/bumps along the way?
  • Any advice?

3. Consider your own strengths and weaknesses in light of what the person shared.
4. Practice radical acceptance as you are working towards your goal. Keep in mind that making personal changes involves breaking habits and maintaining the change, which takes time and effort. Change does not occur overnight.

*This step is the best way to dispel the MMP. Many times the MMP is kept alive by assumptions that others have an "easier time" in life. Talking the the motivating person will likely shed light on his/her own struggles early in the process and in the present.

If you are feeling stuck with a goal, take some time to explore whether your stuck point is at the MMP ideal.

~Dr. Stanley

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