Sunday, July 13, 2008

Burning in Hell

As I mentioned before, I've been reading the book, Awaken the Giant Within, by Tony Robbins. I've just come to a chapter in the book in which I feel wary of some of the author's advice, so I thought I'd voice my uncertainties here to see if you readers have opinions about the matter.

So, here's the deal... It's Chapter 6, which is titled, "How to Change Anything in Your Life: the Science of Neuro-Associative Conditioning". In this chapter he says, "If you and I want to change our behavior, there is only one effective way to do it: we must link unbearable and immediate sensations of pain to our old behavior, and incredible and immediate sensations of pleasure to a new one." Step One tells you to "decide what you really want and what's preventing you from having it now." Step Two tells you to "Get Leverage: Associate Massive Pain to Not Changing Now and Massive Pleasure to the Experience of Changing Now!"

A lot of the advice in this chapter is quite sound, makes sense to me, and seems quite useful. But, some of it is quite troubling to me. For example, the best way for me to stop drinking coffee, according to this chapter, is for me to associate drinking coffee with getting esophageal cancer -- to visualize myself getting such amazingly terrible acid in my stomach that my acid reflux problem comes back in an awful way and quickly progresses to full out throat cancer. [I know this is what he means, because he gives a similar example, using cancer, for someone with another problem.] Is this really a healthy way to think? Will I really be building a healthy, fulfilling life by conditioning myself to develop intense fears of all the behaviors I want to discontinue? Quite possibly... I have to admit, since I went through this step of the process, I have not drunk any coffee -- and frankly, the thought of it repulses me at the moment.

Another aspect of this advice I'm having trouble with is how to apply it to a wide variety of examples. How do I apply this if what I want is to make a career of singing? Or, what if I want to stop thinking negative thoughts? What's in the way of my making my career singing? I guess it's that I never audition for anything. So, I guess I need to associate massive pain with not auditioning? -- like, the longer I go without auditioning, the hotter the seat underneath me gets until it's a burning flame under my butt? And, what's in the way of stopping myself from thinking negative thoughts? I think it's those damn negative thoughts. Or, maybe it's not enough positive thinking... So, I guess I need to associate massive pain with not thinking positive thoughts? -- like, if I go five minutes without a positive thought, my head will explode? Oh no! I'm so happy!!

What do you think about all this, dear readers?


Jake said...

Yeah, that doesn't sound very healthy to me, and as you so eloquently point out, logically absurd when you get to the nub of it. I'm generally suspicious of most of these self-actualization type books, because in the end, if they last longer than 5 years, it's because they're saying the same thing that most religions have been saying for thousands of years, and if not, the ideas are... questionable to begin with.

Forcing associations onto things sounds like a typically American, fix-it-now approach. But I'm pretty profoundly bothered by the idea that in order to change, you actually willfully make yourself hate something, or willfully create pain for yourself. One thing I've come to know is that we humans perversely like pain for whatever reason, and trying to make pain painful so you won't feel it any more is perversity squared.

I love that you're on this search, though. There's so much we can learn about ourselves! I know that for me, the most useful tool I've ever found is a pen. Whenever I've felt myself in a bit of a spot, asking questions to myself, on paper, often yields surprising results. Sometimes it takes a couple pages of continuing the "why" cycle, but eventually I'll come to a question I had no idea was there, and when I write the answer, it's so many times not what I expected. If a question stumps me, I'll either rephrase it, or ask why it's stumping me....

Steph said...

My husband's cousin, who is coming off of a cocaine and heroin addiction, is on a medication that will make her violently ill if she starts using again, so violently ill that she'll having to be taken to ER, where she'll be subsequently arrested.

I don't have any idea what to make of this medication, but it seems relevant to the principles in this chapter you describe.

Honestly, I think this is insane advice. I mean, maybe if you're trying to quit smoking it's good to think about lung cancer, and if you're trying to stop abusing alcohol it's certainly good to remind yourself of the people you've hurt while you've been drunk, or whatever. But creating all this fear around things like drinking coffee sounds just crazy. Take it from someone in a family of chronic illness survivors--you don't want to put energy into envisioning some awful process occurring your body!

And as a guide for life decision-making, well, I think you did a good job of pointing out how dumb this is. We don't decide how to proceed with our careers like trained rats in Pavlovian cages on a feedback loop.

Good luck on your journey--I am sure you will come to greater wisdom than you found in this chapter. :)

Terri said...

Hm, I find that an interesting approach. But why make life even harder/more painful than it already is? It seems like a pretty simplistic approach to a problem: like children, lure yourself with pleasure, flee from pain. Wouldn't it be a much more mature approach to actually deal with why we do the things we do - and then get over it?

There are so many positive examples of creative visualization, and people who employ it for lasting change, I would suggest that as a viable alternative.

Thanks for the post! said...

very unsound advice- rediculous to me-
the way I see it is to think about what you want- but
its not quite that simple-going back to what you were doing before- be it coffee or your job- a great thing is to look at all of the positive qualities of your present'
habit or situation- this is a must-like with coffee, think about how you like the taste and the relaxation when you are drinking it etc. Don't focus on how it can make you feel. Then also think of yourself doing something else and how does this make you feel- go ahead and actually go there- enjoy the new drink or job-and I think it is important to not dwell on your lack of success in change-and remember, change often comes incrementally- there may be another drink with 3/4 the acid and caffeine - and there may be incidental jobs that will open up for you- you will be in the new place in your head and because of that, will attract information about what you want-and just keep thinking about WHAT YOU WANT-

Scott said...

I think it's very unwise to rely on a system that requires you to alter your reality-based beliefs into new beliefs that you don't actually believe. For instance, if you believe that drinking too much coffee makes you jittery, or is too expensive, or is an addictive habit you'd prefer to stay clear of... then these are things worth focusing on to reinforce your desire to break the habit. But to force yourself to believe that every time you drink a cup of coffee, you are pushing yourself into an early grave from throat cancer... this is foolish. You don't actually believe that. So why would you force your mind to alter the belief system that it has created based on observation of REALITY, in favor of new beliefs based on unreality and fear?