Paying Attention
Bill McDonald’s Website Newsletter
November 2019 - Volume 19, No. 11
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“I could’ve (forehead slap) had a V-8!”

I’ll venture that many of us still remember that old, now classic, television commercial from the 1970’s for V-8 tomato juice.

I could have called this ‘the tyranny of regret’, or ‘the agony of second thoughts.’  

It’s more than missing the taste of eight skillfully combined salted vegetable juices with that distinguishable dirty red coloring.  

How often, perhaps when we’re under stress, or just lazy of thought, do we make a quick decision - after which we realize “ICHHAV-8.”

A 3-part decision making process

Somewhere along the line, I’ve picked up a useful 3-part process for conscious decision-making. It’s really a V-8 head-smacking antidote.  It goes like this:

1). The first part I call “Research”.  

This can be useful with pencil and paper. Start making lists of your options. A central pillar of my work is a belief that we each have (many more) options that we can think of at any given time. At first the list doesn’t have to be realistic, or even legal.  (I remind my clients that being their therapist doesn’t include prison visits.)   

When we’re under stress (and for some persons, this seems perpetual) our mental and behavioral fields of vision narrows considerably. The ideal is to think from the widest possible perspective.

Much of the process of psychotherapy is coming to terms with the (seemingly automatic) list of options that are wired into our brains and muscles from other times and places. They don’t necessarily have much to do with what’s going on in our here and now. I’ll call them “wids”, shorthand for “when in doubts.” An example could be “when in doubt, believe you are inadequate,” or “when in doubt find someone else to blame.” Our own primary “wids” may be quite a short list - but still successfully prevent us from taking a larger view of the options in our life or current situation.  

I had a client who was a habitual liar, which was driving his wife to divorce him.  He knew he lied but couldn’t stop - until I told him that from what he shared about his childhood, he had to lie to survive. I simply connected those dots for him.  “Are you living in your childhood home now?”  “No.” “Do you have to lie to survive now?” “No.” “Do you need to continue lying now?”  “(pause) No.”  The next week he told me he’d stopped lying, completely - which his wife confirmed.

Some of our “research” helps us get in touch with current reality, and then learn to trust it (or our perception of it.

2). The second part of decision making is then to deliberately make the Decision.  

After listing and considering a broader range of options, that’s when you’re in a position to make a decision. I’ll suggest setting a specific time ahead for this.  For example “On March 13, I’ll make my decision.” And not until. This need not be set in stone - as long as it’s a future time.

One value of this is to keep separate the process of research from the actual act of deciding itself. When you’re trying to do both at the same time, it can get pretty crazy. Each is a different logical process. Sometimes a couple will come to me when one or both have already made their decision.  “Have you already made a decision?”  If the answer is a congruent “Yes,” then I’ll say, “It’s not my job to change your decision, unless you feel you haven’t yet fully decided. Once a decision is made, it’s not my job to change it - unless it’s not yet a true decision.  

3). The third part of decision making is to Never Second-guess it. 

This validates the individual once a real decision is made. And it’s often the most difficult of the three parts to deal with. With a couple, my work can be to make a real decision real. If one decides to leave the marriage, then the marriage is over. One marriage therapist I know of will tell the couple, “Your marriage itself no longer exists. It’s dead. If you want a new one, even with each other, I’ll help you build it. That’s a new and different decision to make.”

It’s not a matter of “ICHHAV-8”

The decision itself is a matter of fact, but the meaning (the head-slap), subtly invalidates both the decision and the individual making it.  

I’ll often hear out a client complain of a mistaken marriage (or job choice, or home purchase, or about children, or a health choice, or a credit card purchase, etc.). Yes, on one level, it can be a ‘mistake.’ It can be a vagary of the research and/or decision process. And oftentimes mistakes can be remedied. 

Sometimes it’s a very conscious/unconscious mistake. “I knew fully when walking down that aisle that this was a mistake.”  One woman told me “Even as we were ready to walk down the aisle, my father told me that if I wanted to change my mind, even now, he would fully support me.”

Often therapy involves unpacking those (frequently unconscious) patterns.

And then sometimes (quite often actually) its “if I can be a good enough wife and make him into a good enough husband, then I can deserve a good enough husband.  Bargaining from a lesser position usually produces a lesser position. (Or the timely death of an available benefactor.)

Quite often, seeing something differently will require we do something new or different. Or we can simply accept that we’ll rarely get to enjoy a V-8 - or at the least enjoy only with a head bruise.

If it’s something we chose to do or not do, then let us be responsible either way.

My challenge to you:

If you want a V-8.  Find a way to get a V-8.
  And live freely with the outcome.
  (and no forehead bruising.)


Pay Attention


                     - The Hero’s Creed - 

   I am in charge of what I do
   My thoughts and feelings mine alone to order or accept.
   Though the outcome may not be fully as I anticipated
   I will yield responsibility for myself to no other 
        man, woman, creature, or god
   And thus will I always honor my Creator.

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Bill McDonald
Fenton, Michigan

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