I don’t know how many times she punched me before I woke up.
“Should I break up with her?”
I asked my therapist. “What do you think I should do?”
Therapists never tell you what to do.
“People don’t want to be told what to do,” Lori Gottlieb said. “They think they do. They’ll beg you to tell them what to do. But, really, people want to have agency over their own lives.”
Lori Gottlieb is a psychotherapist and the author of “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone.”
Which is about real patients. With real blind spots. And real delusions.
“A lot of people are shooting themselves in the foot repeatedly,” she said on my podcast. “I want to hold up a mirror and help them see their reflection more clearly.”
She told me some of the reasons why we can’t see ourselves clearly. And how this affects the decisions we make every day.
Here are 3 reasons we get stuck in the same bad decisions:
1. WE’RE NOT SELF-CURIOUS
I was the one with the gun. I thought the therapist was torturing me. “Give me the answer! Set me free! I want to go home!”
I broke up with this girlfriend. I put the gun down.
And therapy got better.
Because I stopped wondering what was wrong with her. And started wondering what was wrong with me.
“A lot of people come to therapy to change someone else,” Lori said. “And quickly, they realize the only person they can change is themselves. They need to get curious about what their role is.”
That’s Lori’s #1 goal as a therapist.
2. WE KEEP SECRETS
Lori dated a guy for 2 years. Then he broke up with her.
“I thought we were going to get married,” she said.
So she found a therapist. And made the same mistakes her clients make.
She said, “I wanted what a lot of people want. I wanted him to back me up. I wanted him to say, ‘No you’re not crazy! You dodged a bullet there.’ But that’s not what he did.”
“Why did you think you were different? Why did you think you were going to get validation when you already know you don’t do that for your patients?”
“Yeah, it’s hard to see ourselves clearly,” she said. “We keep lots of secrets. We keep secrets from the world. We keep secrets from people close to us. We keep secrets from our therapist, but we also keep secrets from ourselves. And those are the ones the therapist works really hard to uncover.”
There’s a part 2 to this one.
Lori said there are always two problems to every problem:
PROBLEM A is the “presenting problem.”
This is what you think is wrong with your life. “My boyfriend broke up with me.”
“My boss sucks.”
Lori calls this “the red herring.” She says, “But it’s often a symptom of something bigger that’s going on underneath.”
PROBLEM B is the “underlying problem.”
Lori wants to find the underlying problem “…so they can change the things that aren’t working out so well for them.”
3. WE’RE SCARED
I’ve asked 500 peak performers how they got over their fear.
Sara Blakey, billionaire founder of SPANX challenged herself to NEVER get too comfortable.
She said, “Whenever I started to get scared, I’d find a way to embarrass myself on purpose.”
I do this, too. (When I remember).
One time, I dared myself to go into a coffee shop. And ask for 10% off. For no reason at all. The guy behind the counter looked confused.
He got the manager.
“You’re asking for a discount? Is something wrong?”
“No. I’d just like a discount please.”
It was uncomfortable for everybody.
Another example: Tony Robbins.
Every day, he throws himself into a freezing tank of water. He has a rule: “I will not negotiate with myself.”
Justice Sonia Sotomayor told me she hated her first job as a lawyer.
So she left. That’s scary.
But instead of being scared, she searched for an alternative future. And found Bob Morgenthau. He gave her a job. And it changed her life. Now’s she’s on the Supreme Court.
“Most people know what they should do,” Lori said. “The question is why don’t they do it?”
“Right. So why don’t they do it?”
“Because whatever they’re doing protects them. Their way of coping feels safe to them. Even if they’re miserable in the safety.”
Everyone I interview chooses potential misery over certain misery. They choose to be scared. They choose to get rid of the things that aren’t working for them.
It’s a muscle. Over time, they begin to trust themselves more and more.
Trust and self-curiosity.
So next time I go to therapy, I won’t ask for answers.
I’ll ask for the mirror.
Links & Resources
- “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed” by Lori Gottlieb
- Also check out Lori’s book from 2011, “Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough” (This book is not about settling! She says “I didn’t win the title battle with the publisher. And I still get letters from people who say the book has helped them.” A lot of it has to do with saving your marriage or setting standards. And she wrote a column about this once, too.)
- “Dear Therapist” this is the column Lori writes for “The Atlantic.” You can submit a question for Lori here
- Listen to my first interview with Lori Gottlieb: Ep. 427 – “Why I Go to Therapy“
- Sign up for her newsletter at Lorigottlieb.com
- Follow Lori on Twitter and Facebook