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What is a "5% change"?

There is a near-industry consensus guideline in the counseling community that one should not offer advice in counseling.

By Pramod TiwariPublished 5 months ago 10 min read
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What is a "5% change"?
Photo by Dylan Gillis on Unsplash

There is a near-industry consensus guideline in the counseling community that one should not offer advice in counseling. Why? Because it's useless to mention it. Every counselor understands how difficult a successful intervention is, in a sense, like fighting in a ring against an opponent called "inertia. It is strong, cunning, focused, with an indomitable fighting spirit and the skill to repair itself. Even a beneficial change will stimulate its strong resistance, I call it "rejection".

Everything in life that brings change, unfamiliar elements, will push outward, even at the expense of calling on the entire psychological system, to make up a reasonable reason. On the upside this is an immune mechanism to avoid possible risks; but it can also be another risk in itself, making it difficult to retain those changes that are good for the person.

Then again: even if we do offer suggestions, are they really good suggestions? This is also questionable. What makes it good for the client to follow our counselor's suggestions? It is simply the counselor's subjective perception or personal preference: what we think is important and what we are used to solving difficulties with. This preference applies to counselors, but not necessarily to others.

That said, when I do counseling, I remain committed to triggering some change in the client over just a few sessions. It's not that I have any ability to help people solve their problems, but I believe the client can do it on their own. The most useful solutions are often found on their own, except that many people aren't looking for them either. Even when they are in pain, they are always beating around the same old bush of futility.

That's what I'm trying to do inside this book: bypass the resistance of inertia and invite the person to try something they've never done before to get a different experience that will produce change.

Simply put, I'm trying to get them to move by responding in writing and giving them advice. These people who write to me online, I ask them to do something in the next week no matter what. It's a simple truth: You want to make a difference? Do something about it. Even if the change is insignificant, it must start with "doing" something.

This action can only be the person himself, no one can replace him. You can't just watch a fitness blogger's video to improve your body shape or read a recipe to know what food tastes like. If you want answers, you have to find them yourself.

All the answers are hidden in new actions. Action, even if it doesn't directly solve the problem, may even make it worse. But it still has an irreplaceable meaning, and the new action initiates the process of exploring new experiences.

But this brings a new problem, which everyone knows well: action is hard.

It's not because of laziness. Many people are not really "lazy", they would rather put in ten or a hundred times the effort every day to maintain uncomfortable inertia, but they are afraid of "novelty". This is related to the processing preferences of the nervous system. So, the action they want to try is both new and not too uncomfortable. This is called "perturbation," giving just the right amount of "stimulation" to make it easier for the other person to initiate a different kind of experiment.

To achieve this effect of perturbation, I have summarized a few tips.

First, you can't "agree" with the other person's problem too quickly. I think this quote from family therapist Salvador Minuchin is similar to Einstein's "You can't solve a problem by thinking about it in the same way that it was created. The problem is not an objective thing, it is a narrative, based on the perspective of the questioner's past understanding and response to the world. Since the problem is created from this perspective, you cannot solve it from the same perspective.

For example, a parent writes to me and asks: What about our child's "lack of confidence"? Why do you say that? The reason is that they once encouraged their child to be a school bully, but the child said that he or she was fine being a "school dud". From these words, parents can hear that their children have the problem of a "lack of self-confidence". But in the same sentence, I can also say that the child is confident because he doesn't need to prove his worth through the grade ranking, right?

So who is right, me or the parents? Both are right, there is no objective conclusion, just different perspectives on the same thing. But if we have agreed with our child's "lack of confidence", any intervention given on this assumption, you are repeating and reinforcing the problem. Think about it, if someone encourages us every day, "You need to have more confidence in yourself!" Do you think this will make us more confident, or will it instead confirm that we are the ones who are not confident?

What if, as I said, you interpret your child's behavior as "confident" from the start? Parents have to think about something completely different. They can think, for example, about how to motivate a child who is confident in himself, even if he is a little overconfident. He doesn't need to prove his worth by his grades anymore, so what other ways can we motivate him to learn?

This is the unexplored question. Starting with this question, new experiences arise.

Much of the confusion in our lives is the same as the "lack of confidence" here, not a nail in the coffin, not a fait accompli in the blood or genes, but simply a pattern of observation and action - the way people "see" problems by It is simply a pattern of observation and action - people create and sustain problems by "seeing" them. Then we step out of that pattern and something different happens. The old saying "the onlooker sees" is because the onlooker is not in the same position as the person in question. By looking at it from a new perspective, it is possible to see and create new results.

But disagreeing with the other person does not mean being an enemy of him. This is my second lesson: keep respect for people. There is always a reasonable side behind the problem: if a person is depressed, he may be avoiding failure with a cautious strategy; if a person is anxious, he may be carrying too many expectations and doesn't know how to say no; even if a person does nothing, he may be fighting for his autonomy in this way.

So, I don't agree to see these things as problems, I have a different perspective, but can I see him as a person who deserves respect? Am I going to see the reasonableness of his actions, or am I going to decide that "he made a mistake and I want him to admit where he went wrong"?

This latter mindset, no matter how embellished, will make my advice with a hint of unconscious arrogance, with predictable results. Who would want to listen to someone who despises himself? Conversely, the more a person feels understood, the more secure they feel, and the more willing they are to open themselves up to new experiences.

The basic skill of counseling is to put yourself in the other person's shoes and understand them. The world as he sees it has its reasoning, but his reasoning is in trouble at the moment, and this is an opportunity for him to learn, not to be treated as a perpetrator who "was wrong" or "made his own mistakes". The difference is subtle, but it always comes through between the lines. Nearly all of the questioners who gave good feedback for a change were, in hindsight, the ones whose attitudes I had conveyed more respect and appreciation for.

How can we do this from the heart, but still be able to say "I don't agree with you" in the right way to expand the perspective of the person? The key is whether we believe that in our hearts.

My training comes from a systemic approach to psychotherapy, which sees most "problems" as homeostasis maintained by a system through self-organization. I understand how a person builds a sense of self-explanatory stability into the process, and I am aware of the risks and challenges that come with change. This is not a language skill. It can't simply be "say something nice and the other person will be happy to change. If you're not honest, you're not fooling anyone.

The third final lesson I'd like to share with you sounds a little odd: the changes the person is asked to try must be small and near constant.

How to understand it? Let's look at the story of a friend inside this book.

This friend says she has been very anxious lately. She had gained almost ten pounds in two months and was about to turn twenty-five, living with her parents but not communicating well. With the desire to maintain a normal social life, including the expectation of changing careers, she continued to do a job that had never interested her. She doesn't know how to start her career and has little hope for her emotional life.

She also hated the minutiae of life, hated the minutiae of work, procrastinated a lot, and didn't know how to live in order to not hate herself so much and get out of this cycle of internal conflict. Every day is a struggle and she feels that this is not the life she wants and she is not on her way to becoming the person she wants to be. What should she do?

My response to her was to ask her to keep most of her life the same for the next week, just as bad as she described. Don't make too many attempts to change. Whether you want to reconcile with your parents, change careers, or learn a new skill, you can only devote a specific hour a day to doing so. This is only 5% of the time in the day. That is, she has to stay the same for the vast majority of the week, and can not change more than 5% of the time.

Why do you set it that way? Because people always expect 100% self-change in difficult situations, but this expectation often leads to 100% frustration because it is difficult to follow through. In my experience, the part of a person that actually succeeds in changing is perhaps only 5%. That's where the name of my book, "5% Change," comes from. I think the title of the book, it sums up the idea that I want to convey.

It doesn't just say that any change has to start with the 5% at your feet, although that's also true. But more than that, I wanted to convey that when we want to change 100%, we do so based on an impulse to go all in on ourselves. But those qualities in you and me, no matter how bad we feel in a difficult situation and how much we want to deny it all, actually have their reasons, and it may even be a virtue or survival mechanism, it doesn't have to change that much, and it may not change. What I'm trying to tell you is that you don't have to deny yourself that much because we're not that wrong.

What I want to advocate is a seemingly insignificant, 5% change. Just a little adjustment in the mindset, approach, or strategy of getting along with others, but then you can let that 95% of yourself live in a relatively stretchy state. That may be a solution. The point is, it is at least implementable.

After this friend received my response, she started with the 5% change and after some time, she wrote back to tell me that she had resumed the daily exercise habit that she had previously maintained for most of the year. After she started exercising, she said she clearly found a sense of control and accomplishment and no longer felt like she couldn't get things done. Because she only used to change 5%, she felt much better about herself and began to make spontaneous choices in all areas that were more beneficial to her.

For example, when it came to working, she weighed the pros and cons of different options and chose the direction she wanted more in the end - deciding to quit her job, prepare to study and move to a new industry. Luckily, a few days after she mentioned her departure, she found a job opportunity that would help her in the industry she wanted to go to. She then wrote a summary saying: After changing 5%, the rest will start to loosen up, like a snowball, once you start, the snowball will get bigger and bigger

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Pramod Tiwari

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