Author: Ann Schiebert
Do you remember the old sitcom called the Bob Newhart Show? It ran from 1972 – 1978. I will never forget Bob Newhart acting the part of a psychologist who was treating a woman who was afraid of being buried in a box. He told her to just “stop it!” For every problem she told him about he gave her the same response: “Stop it!” Now, I have never heard of any psychologist I know giving such feedback, but I got to thinking about this funny skit one day and began to wonder if there was any wisdom to it.
The reason that my patients and clients come to me for help is that something is not working in their lives. It can be a personal issue or a challenge with another person. I have to say that the main topic usually addressed in my individual and group sessions is relationships: relationships with alcohol and other drugs; romantic and platonic relationships; employee/employer relationships; and child, teen and young adult relationship problems. What brings most people to me is that something is not working for them and they don’t know what to do about it. I came up with an inventory for them to take. It’s called, “What’s Not Working for You?”
Figure out what’s not working for you by answering these four questions:
- What challenging issue occupies your mind most of the time?
- How long has this topic been an issue for you?
- What have you done to try to solve this matter?
- Has that worked for you?
My patients often complete this brief inventory in my office. They write down their answers. Question number three is usually the most perplexing because when practiced enough, one’s problem-solving methods habitually become automatic. This leads folks to repeatedly deliver the same lecture, give the same advice, nag about the same topic and, somehow, they conclude that they have permission to try to direct others to do it their way. Then I ask them the following question: Has this method of creating change ever worked for you? The response is usually a firm NO. At which point I deliver Bob Newhart’s line: If it hasn’t worked for you, STOP IT!
Now, that might sound a little blunt, but here’s the deeper issue – all of us can get stuck in our familiar ways and feel stumped when it comes to changing what we say or do. We get stuck without realizing it.
When someone has repeatedly rejected our advice, what keeps us from believing that they don’t want to take our suggestions? I suspect that we somehow become “addicted” to the hope that our failed methods will create different behavior. We tend to ignore the fact that each of the corrective measures we have taken have NOT worked. Let go of the hope that what hasn’t worked in the past will somehow, miraculously work in the future. Discard what has NOT worked. In other words, STOP IT!