Sunday, July 12, 2009

Chinese Finger Trap Self-Help: How Acceptance of Powerlessness Leads to Freedom and Love

Over the years, I have come to understand that acceptance is a powerful human characteristic, which can be curative for a wide range of human challenges, including issues related to recovery. According to Alcoholics Anonymous, "Unless I accept life on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes."

Consider for a moment the childhood brainteaser of the “Chinese finger trap.” This interwoven tube of heavy paper locks its user’s fingers in place when one finger from each hand is inserted into each end of the channel. Subsequent attempts to remove one’s fingers prove fruitless.

The secret to freeing oneself from the Chinese finger trap is to accept that one is powerless over it. Although this mindset may initially seem self-defeating, it is actually a lesson in “living life on life’s terms.” Controlling the Chinese finger trap is not the goal. As one accepts the powerlessness, one can finally focus upon the true goal of freedom. This renewed focus allows one to let things happen and do things consistent with freedom, in order to solve the dilemma. Instead of simultaneously pulling one’s fingers in opposite directions, which creates more of a stuck sensation, one can push one finger into the trap, which actually helps to loosen its grip.

I often use this above analogy within my private-practice, in order to illustrate to my clients the power of acceptance in dealing with their presenting concerns. In real life, it tends to be easier to accept the unacceptable, if one can first find something within the situation about which to be grateful. Therefore, gratitude helps to lead to acceptance. Acceptance can help to lead to forgiveness. Forgiveness can help to lead to the quintessential experience of love.

In light of the above, consider the following example. A teenager totals his new car. He is angry with himself for not having made a complete stop at the stop sign. He struggles with guilt and upset for several weeks, because he does not accept the fact that he acted so foolishly. Eventually, he begins to appreciate the fact that nobody was injured and his insurance has paid for his automobile replacement. Now, he can begin to accept the fact that accidents happen and he can learn from the experience. Finally, he can begin to forgive himself and feel appropriate self-love, despite his human condition.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Is Positive Psychology the Basis of the Law of Attraction?

The term "positive psychology" first appeared in the last chapter of Dr. Abraham Maslow's 1954 book Motivation and Personality, the title of which was, "Toward a Positive Psychology." In this chapter, Maslow maintains that “psychology itself does not have an accurate understanding of human potential, and that the field tends not to raise the proverbial bar high enough with respect to maximum attainment."

Whereas the contemporary disease model of psychology is often considered overly preoccupied with pathology, positive psychology incorporates its key elements of humanism, by supporting the notion that people are predisposed to seek ongoing growth and higher improvement.

More recently, Drs. Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi define positive psychology as the study of how human beings excel in the face of hardship. Seligman characterizes the six human virtues of wisdom and knowledge, courage, love and humanity, justice, temperance, and spirituality and transcendence. He claims to have arrived at this list of basic virtues, by distilling it from a cross-section of theological, sociological, and philosophical teachings from across the centuries of recorded civilized human history.

I have come to understand modern "positive psychology" as akin to a “neo-humanistic” approach to the understanding of human behavior. The early influences of humanism can also be seen within popularized versions of its ideology as found in the mid-20th century writings of its time, evidenced by Robert Collier's 1926 book, "The Secret of the Ages" and Napoleon Hill's 1937 book, "Think and Grow Rich." These best-selling books expounded upon the notion that positive ideas and thoughts have healthy transformative power.

Modern examples of these same philosophical influences can even be seen within the popularized writings of Norman Vincent Peale's 1952 "The Power of Positive Thinking," Wayne Dyer's 2004"The Power of Intention," and Rhonda Byrne's 2006 book, "The Secret."

The basic tenant within these modern writings seems to reflect aspects of many of the concepts related to positive psychology, partly suggesting that the things upon which we focus tend to become our reality, as we allow things to happen and do things, consistent with this structured focus, in order to manifest our desires. I do believe that one of the most vital benefits of positive psychology is its ability to offer its heartfelt reminder of the true nature of limitless possibilities and the power of human spirit and perseverance.