“Can you drive a car?”
As a psychotherapist, coach, and educator, I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to get others to do things that they want to do but are not sure they can. In most cases, they have more than enough ability to achieve what they desire. The problem is that their feelings and emotions get in the way, their logical brain shuts down, and they either don’t try, half try, give up too soon, or sabotage their efforts. Sounds illogical but, trust me, I see this dynamic repeated every day.
Most of us have considerably more strengths than we realize. We also are aware of our weaknesses. When taking on a new challenge in our lives, our awareness of our deficits often takes on a life of its own. We become acutely aware of what it feels like to be defeated and often subconsciously do whatever it takes to avoid experiencing that feeling again. We become so motivated to avoid pain that we don’t try, kind of try, avoid trying too hard, then we fail, and we experience that feeling anyway!
In order to get my clients to put forth their best efforts and try I often ask them, “Can you drive a car?” I don’t blindly ask the question, as I try never to ask a question that I am not pretty sure I already know the answer to. My client will usually answer with a puzzled look and say, “Well, yeah, of course I can drive a car.” I then take them for a trip down memory lane as I ask them to remember what it was like for them when they first learned how to drive. I asked them to recall how it felt for them mentally, emotionally, and even physically by asking questions like: “Remember going through that first intersection? Remember that first time you stepped on the gas pedal and the car responded? Remember that day you took the driving test?” Inevitably, these memories are indelibly burned into their minds, as they recall vivid details of these vehicular rights of passage. I usually respond with the typical therapist response, “Wow, that must have been quite a challenge.” Then I segue into the take away point that I’m trying to make-this is yet another of those difficult challenges that my client has the ability to overcome.
My daily commute from my home to my day job as a director of hospital-based programs in Boston involves a 40 mile round-trip drive each day. I live in an area that is half way between Boston and the city of Worcester. Yesterday while driving to work I learned that Worcester Massachusetts ranked number one in the nation for having the worst drivers, while Boston ranked number two. The route that I drive daily, Route 9, is one of the most congested roadways in Massachusetts. The news story got me to thinking about how difficult driving can be and, as I sat in bumper to bumper traffic, I realized how many people are willing to take this challenge on despite the inherent difficulties, and can do it with ease. Every day I witnessed people talking on their cell phones, eating breakfast, putting on makeup, shaving, and occasionally even reading books. I’m sure all of these drivers once had a considerable amount of fear and doubt that they could ever learn to drive. The fact that they all can now drive, and take such a casual attitude towards it, shows that fear and doubt can be overcome.
Learning to drive can be a metaphor for learning to do the impossible. If you drive, I’m sure you can relate to what it felt like as a student driver, passing the driving test, getting back behind the wheel after your first fender bender, and getting to the point where you are able to drive miles and miles while your mind is completely somewhere else. The reason that you got to this point is because you were persistent. When I use the learning to drive metaphor with my clients, the more resistance among them will say, “Well yeah but, I had no choice. You have to be able to drive.” At this point I typically respond with a brilliant tactic I learned in graduate school involving a look, 10 to 15 seconds of silence, and a “hmmmm.” If if my client is a little on the slow side and doesn’t get where I’m going with this, I ask “So, how is this challenge different?”
The point I’m making is that the way we think about challenges and obstacles that we face determines more towards our success than even our abilities. All of us have a reservoir of strength, potential, and capabilities that the human mind enables us to tap into if we allow it to do so. If you can get to the point where you can navigate a 2 1/2 ton weapon while wielding a cell phone, a cup of coffee, and listening to the radio, I’m pretty sure you’re capable of much more than you think. Consider this next time you’re taking on something challenging and doubt and fear begins to creep in. You are certainly far more capable than you’d ever imagine.
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