Typically when clients come to see me they are seeking help with unwanted behavioral patterns. So we will spend a couple of sessions going of their history and what keeps reappearing in their lives and how this behavior is causing distress. It is then that I usually introduce them to the poem by Portia Nelson. I do this for two reasons. One, it allows the client to decide which chapter they fit in when talking about the behavior they want to change. And two, it helps the client to get better understanding of why they seem to be stuck in this chapter, which allows them to ask them-selves what are their “psychological rewards” to keep repeating these behaviors.
For example, “procrastinating”. You may ask what could be the psychological rewards for ‘procrastinating?” Well it can keep people in their comfort zone, so they don’t have to deal with the feelings of “fear.” Think of applying for your dream job. You know the deadline, you know what needs to be done, but you keep putting it off saying “I’m too busy right now”, “I will get it done tomorrow.” Then tomorrow comes and then there is another excuse. This creates a convenient excuse for not achieving more for fear of failure. It can help with avoiding conflict and confrontation. You know you have to stand up for yourself or tell someone that they hurt your feelings etc. But you procrastinate for fear that they may get angry, may walk away from you etc.
So take a look at a problem that has been causing you some stress and ask yourself which chapter you are stuck in? Why do you think you’re in this chapter? What are your “psychological rewards?” Does it keep you isolated, help you avoid conflict, keep you in your comfort zone, do you get attention etc? Then ask yourself what you need to change to move up to the next chapter.
Autobiography in five short chapters by Portia Nelson:
I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in. I am lost. I am helpless. It
isn’t my fault. It takes forever to find a way out.
I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don’t see it. I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place, but it isn’t my fault. It still takes a long time to get out.
I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it is there. I still fall in. It’s
a habit. My eyes are open. I know where I am. It is my fault. I get out immediately.
I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.
I walk down a different street