In 2011 and 2012, I traveled the world in order to learn from the best therapists and psychologists. On my journey I met all kinds of astonishing individuals. A few of them had an inspiring and humbling mindset towards other human beings. These individuals were able to make someone feel appreciated, special and respected within only a few moments. At the same time they had a tremendous understanding of human interactions and how arguments or problematic behaviors arise.
During this time, I noticed that different exceptional therapists had a similar mindset towards their clients and people in general. Implementing these four mindsets in your daily life will help you to be more tolerant towards others, stay calmer during arguments and be more accepting when it comes to your own problems. Here are 4 things everybody can learn from therapists.
1. Even if you dislike a person’s behavior, you still can accept and appreciate the person.
Usually we dislike people because they behave in a certain way. We ultimately see the person and the person’s behavior as one thing. Therefore it is hard for us to appreciate a bully who beats other kids at school or sympathize with a person who lies to his friends. When somebody acts in a way that we do not like, understand or appreciate, we often dislike the person as a whole. Still, the therapists that I met where able to appreciate or even like people who did terrible things. This is based in their understanding that you can separate the person from his or her behavior. In a therapeutic context, this appreciation is necessary and builds the foundation for therapeutic work.
Implementing this mindset in your everyday life won’t be easy, but it is tremendously valuable. You won’t easily be upset or angry with other people anymore. Also, it will be easier for you to give out criticism and easier for the other person to take it. Because when the other person senses that even though you criticized her, you still value her as a whole human being, she will be more receptive towards what you have to say.
2. You never know what’s good for another person.
“She would be better off if she leaves him.” “He should really quit taking drugs.” “Staying at his old job would have been much better for him.”
Do these sentences sound familiar to you? Probably yes! Most of us think they know what might be better for their friends or the people around them. We believe because we are looking at the person and his situation from an outside perspective, we can judge what is good for him and what not.
The therapists I met were embracing a mindset called “Change Neutrality.” It describes the basic idea that you are neutral towards change. These therapists believe that they never know what’s the best for their clients. Of course they have hypotheses and ideas of what might be better, but they always tell themselves they never know for sure. They always view the client as the expert and their task is only to make offers to support them.
This humble mindset of not knowing what’s best for a person allows them to be accepting towards all kinds of behavior. They don’t feel the urge to push people towards a certain kind of behavior that is perceived as “good.”
Implementing this mindset in your daily life can take off a huge burden from your shoulders. Often, one feels responsible to help people to change. By understanding that you never know if it is really better for a person to change, you can relax and just accept how it is at the moment. Sometimes it is even necessary to make bad decisions to eventually grow and change, so by trying to change the person, you might actually take away these valuable experiences from them.
3. Every problem was a solution, once.
When people are confronted with pressure or an uncomfortable situation, they try to find a way out of there as fast as possible. Although, in our society, it is not always possible to run away. When your boss is bullying you, it is often not easy to run, because it might be hard to find a new job. Therefore, instead of leaving the uncomfortable situation, you find a way to deal with it. You might get sick, and constantly oversleep to avoid him in the mornings or become a workaholic and be so good at your job that he has no reason to interact with you. For now you develop a great solution for this situation, but when your boss quits and you get a new boss who is nice and friendly, the constant oversleeping or becoming sick is not necessary anymore. So the behavior that was a solution to the prior uncomfortable situations now turns into a problematic behavior. Your behavioral patterns are not up-to-date anymore.
At this point a lot of people become angry at themselves because they don’t understand their own behavior and it seems irrational. Understanding that your behavior is not irrational, but rather just not up-to-date can help you to be more accepting towards yourself. Instead of blaming yourself as sick, stupid or irrational, you can be tolerant towards your own behavior and assume that at one point it was a very creative solution and is proof of your problem solving capabilities.
4. Behaviors are more dependent on the context than on the person himself.
When somebody acts in a certain way, we tend to think that he acts in this way due to certain characteristics of his personality. Given the case your boss screams a lot, you might think he is choleric. If one of your friends becomes very insecure around certain people, we might label her as insecure or shy. This is called the fundamental attribution error and shows that we tend to attribute people’s behaviors to their personalities rather than their circumstances or their context. However, numerous empirical studies show that a person’s context has way more influence on his behavior than his internal traits. Therefore very good therapists always ask for the person’s circumstances under which they show a certain behavior.
You can implement this mindset in your every day life and keep yourself from judging other people’s behavior too fast. Instead of labeling behavior, you can explore under which circumstances it arose, and then this behavior just might make perfect sense.
Putting these mindsets to practice won’t be easy, so start with small steps. The first step is to simply notice when your old mindsets are at work. You could for example pinch your thumb and thereby be more conscious about what you are doing every time you say “You should really work out more often” (violation of mindset 2) or when you are angry at somebody because he behaved in an unlikable way (violation of mindset 1). Finally implementing these mindsets in your life will make you calmer and more tolerant, thus improving your life quality as well as the life quality of others around you.
Featured photo credit: Vermin Inc via flickr.com