Some clients are filled with great ideas for getting things done but never seem to do anything. They lack the discipline to evaluate their ideas, choose the best, and turn them into action. Often this kind of work seems too tedious to them, even though it is precisely what they need. Consider the following case.

Clint came away from the doctor feeling depressed. He was told that he was in the high-risk category for heart disease and that he needed to change his lifestyle.

He was cynical, very quick to anger, and did not readily trust others. Venting his suspicions and hostility did not make them go away, however; it only intensified them. Therefore, one critical lifestyle change was to change this pattern and develop the ability to trust others.

He developed three broad goals: reducing mistrust of others’ motives, reducing the frequency and intensity of such emotions as rage, anger, and irritation, and learning how to treat others with consideration. Clint read through the common strategies used to help people pursue these broad goals (see Williams, 1989).

They included the following:

  • * Keeping a hostility log to discover the patterns of cynicism and irritation in one’s life
  • * Finding someone to talk to about the problem, someone to trust
  • * “Thought stopping,” catching oneself in the act of indulging in hostile thoughts or in thoughts that lead to hostile feelings
  • * Talking sense to oneself when tempted to put others down
  • * Developing empathic thought patterns—that is, walking in the other person’s shoes
  • * Learning to laugh at one’s own silliness
  • * Using a variety of relaxation techniques, especially to counter negative thoughts
  • * Finding ways of practicing trust
  • * Developing active listening skills
  • * Engaging in assertive rather than aggressive behavior
  • * Putting things in context, seeing each day as one’s last or contrasting the seriousness of one’s problems with those of people with real, life-limiting problems
  • * Practicing forgiving others without being patronizing or condescending

Clint prided himself on his rationality (though his “rationality” was one of the things that got him into trouble). So, as he read down the list, he chose strategies that could form an “experiment,” as he put it. He decided to talk to a counselor (for the sake of objectivity), keep a hostility log (data gathering), and use the tactics of thought stopping and talking sense to himself whenever he felt that he was letting others get under his skin. The counselor noted to himself that none of these necessarily involved changing Clint’s attitudes toward others. However, he did not invite Clint to challenge himself at this point. His best bet was that through “strategy sampling” Clint would learn more about his problem, that he would find that it went deeper than he thought. Clint set himself to his experiment with vigor.

Clint chose strategies that fit his values. The problem was that the values themselves needed reviewing. But Clint did act, and action gave him the opportunity to learn.

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