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PRESS THE "FIX ME" BUTTONIMPROVE YOUR LIFE THROUGH PERCEPTION MODIFICATION
By RICHARD A.M. POWELL
Balboa PressCopyright © 2011 Dr. Richard A.M. Powell
All right reserved.
Chapter OnePHASE 1: WHERE ARE YOU TODAY?
The Master observes the world, but trusts his inner vision. He allows things to come and go. His heart is as open as the sky."—Lao-tzu
I was introduced to Dr. Lieber through my addiction counselor at Stillwater Recovery, which was housed in a Victorian mansion that had seen better days. I was enrolled in a 26-week outpatient program that featured 3-times-a-week group therapy/drug & alcohol education sessions, as well as one-on-one meetings with my counselor, Lindsay. She was a sassy 25-year-old who masked her empathy with a sarcastic "drill sergeant" persona.
We were in her office one afternoon, discussing my odds of avoiding prison, when I told her that I was almost happy about my legal mess. If the universe, the Tao, God – whatever governed the cosmos – hadn't brought me to this point, I might have suffered a worse fate. But now, I was filled with gratitude and a serenity that enhanced my perceptions of life. I wondered, however, if these feelings were just "the pink cloud" phenomenon – a temporary euphoria that some recovering addicts experience. I worried that my new perspective would suddenly vanish. I wondered how I could hold on to my mental and spiritual gains.
Lindsey asked if I'd ever heard of perception modification. I hadn't, but the term conjured images of A Clockwork Orange – where the protagonist is strapped to a chair with his eyelids clamped open, forced to watch violent films until the mere thought of violence makes him physically ill.
"That was sci-fi behavioral modification," said Lindsey. "Perception modification is a process that helps people achieve their goals by changing the way they perceive the past and present. You work with a coach who helps you analyze your past experiences – especially traumatic memories – to figure out how they shaped your outlook. Then you learn how to modify your perceptions to become a happier person. There aren't any experimental drugs or torture devices. It's more like a combination of therapy and life coaching."
She began typing on her computer keyboard. "Here we go."
She hit a final key and walked to a nearby printer. A single sheet of paper emerged, and she handed it to me.
"I met Dr. Lieber a few years ago. He gave a presentation about his program. He doesn't treat addictions or mental illnesses. That's my job. But his perception modification process can help you uncover the causes of your addiction and learn how to deal with them."
"Is he taking new patients?"
She shrugged. "Call and find out."
"Okay. I just hope we don't have to conduct our sessions in prison."
"He lives in Idaho – too far away for prison visits."
"What a relief."
"Besides, you're not going to prison. County jail, maybe."
Dr. Lieber was working with a client when I called later that day, but he returned my call within an hour. I gave him a Reader's Digest condensed version of my life, focusing mainly on my boozing and the career problems that fueled it. I also mentioned Lindsey's referral and her brief description of his program.
He said the perception modification process was inspired by key concepts and practices drawn from (and sometimes shared by) modern psychology, life coaching and the philosophies of Taoism and Buddhism. The process was designed to promote optimal health in all four areas of life – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual – by helping clients achieve their Best Selves, however they define that.
The process is based on the notion that people are the sum total of their experiences. Because experiences define us, they can either block progress toward mental, emotional, physical and spiritual well-being, or highlight the paths to optimal health. Wellness hinges on our perception of our experiences and the positive lessons we draw from them.
Behavior is taught through how we perceive events and experiences. Some of these experiences may be positive and joyful. For example, when we do well at our jobs we may receive a compliment or a pay raise. A positive action yields a positive reaction by prompting us to do the best we can. On the other hand, some experiences produce negative reactions. For instance, a middle child may feel she isn't getting enough attention and act out, causing her parents to react with stern discipline. The child learns that bad behavior generates the attention she craves (albeit negative attention). Over time, this lesson is reinforced again and again, clouding the child's perceptions and behavior into adulthood.
Our perception often becomes skewed, especially if we weren't privy to all the information surrounding the original experiences. As time goes by, we may even repress the experiences because of the associated trauma, never realizing that these experiences greatly influenced who we became. As a result, we may have overlooked valuable life lessons and hidden gifts. People who always fall short of accomplishing their goals may be suffering from skewed perceptions triggered by events that are long past and long forgotten. This is where the perception modification process can help.
The perception modification process consists of Seven Steps:
1. Where Are You Today?
2. Discovering Your Best Self.
3. Identifying Obstacles, Challenges and Strategies.
4. Rediscovering Your Past.
5. Planning and Goal Setting.
6. Initiating Your Plan.
7. Maintaining Optimal Wellness.
"This program is unlike any other you may have encountered," said Dr. Lieber. "It doesn't involve counseling, and it isn't meant to point out your faults. It's designed to help you identify your positive qualities, and use them to achieve your Best Self.
"The first phase is identifying who you are today. This step is the foundation of the program. It allows us to identify where our starting point is. This step isn't meant to confirm all of the bad things in your life. It's meant to help us establish a baseline.
"The second phase is equally important. This is the vision phase. It lets us open up our imagination, and create a vision of who we want to become. There are no limits or boundaries in this phase. We let our imaginations roam freely. The vision of who you want to become is what we will work to achieve. During this phase, we consider all four aspects of our lives – our physical being, our mental and emotional health and finally, our spiritual health. We want to consider our whole being, not just one or two aspects.
"For example, maybe we'll decide that you're a little overweight – that you're an emotional eater. To realize your Best Self vision, you want to lose weight and overcome the causes of emotional eating.
"The next phase is often considered the most difficult. This is the discovery phase. Here, we look at your past experiences, and revisit certain events that you've endured – events with a direct or indirect impact on you today. I want to stress, however, that we do not relive those experiences. We simply revisit them. When we identify events that have affected who you are today, we sift through each one to determine if we can modify how you perceive it. Our goal is to transform each experience from a negative to a positive.
"The key is changing how we perceive the experiences, and discovering if there are any useful lessons that will support us in achieving our Best Self. You'd be surprised how often we take past experiences and use them to help us accomplish our goals.
"The fourth phase is about goal-setting. Most people know how to set goals, so this phase is usually quick. We learn the steps used to set goals – positive and achievable goals – that we'll implement in phase five.
"In phase five, we plan strategies to achieve the goals. We take the daily steps, which we planned earlier, to reach our short-term, mid-term and long-term goals.
"The sixth phase is the revisiting phase. We revisit our initial vision and goals and if necessary, we modify them. As we move forward, our lives change. Even in the short period from phase one to phase six, our lives may change enough to require an adjustment to the original vision and goals. For instance, if your original goal was to lose 20 pounds and you lost the 20 pounds in three months, you'll need a new goal. So, your new vision may be to maintain your current weight, and your new goal will be consistently eating right.
"The seventh phase is the maintenance phase – maintaining our vision once we achieve it, and changing it when necessary. Life changes and we must be willing to change with it. When life throws us a curveball, we don't panic or let chaos control us. We use the tools we've acquired to help control how we deal with life. The best part of this program is that once you've successfully completed all seven phases, you'll have the tools needed to deal with most of life's challenges.
"Basically, the program is set up to help you become independent and empowered and to put me out of business.
"So what do you think so far?"
I didn't know what to think. Creating a Best Self? Goal-setting? It sounded like some bullshit self-help seminar. Next thing you know, Dr. Lieber would have me chanting affirmations into a mirror – "I am a strong and self-actualized man who can achieve all his goals, blah, blah, blah." This is the sort of New Age rubbish that comedy writers make fun of. On the other hand ... revisiting past experiences to understand their impact on my life today? Well, that might be interesting.
"Do you think the program would work for you?" he asked.
"It sounds interesting," I said. "I'm just not sure it's a good fit. I'm pretty self-aware, as most writers are, so I don't need someone to pinpoint the sources of my problems. I know where I am and how I got here. Aside from excessive drinking, I don't really have many problems. This program sounds like it was meant for people who are really screwed up."
"Bruce, the program is flexible. It's designed to help people with any challenges, major or minor. You don't have to be screwed up to achieve your Best Self. The program is tailored to your visions and your goals. It's not a one-size-fits-all approach. If we go through the vision phase, and you discover only one thing you want to change, then we'll work on just that one thing."
"I also want to stress that this program is only meant to provide you with tools that can help you develop your 'best you.' If you're almost there, great, that just means we'll move through the program even faster. The bottom line is, if you feel that the program could benefit you, let's proceed. If you feel that it has nothing to offer, then that's fine, too. The program is meant to guide you toward empowerment – toward taking back your life. But it's not my job to tell you what to do. It's my job to provide you with options, and right now you have two options: start the program or don't."
I thought for a moment before saying, "Let me get back to you."
As I hung up, I heard the front door open and close. I caught a glimpse of Laura disappearing up the stairs.
"Hey babe, how was work?" I called.
"Same old, same old," said Laura. "How was yours?"
"It could have been worse. I called that doctor today."
"He went over his program with me. I don't know if it's for me."
"What do you mean?" She appeared at the entrance to my office, wearing a T-shirt and jeans. "What don't you like about the program?"
"It's for people whose lives are total wrecks. My only challenges today are staying off booze and out of prison. The doc's program is meant for people who've lost their jobs and homes because they're drug addicts or emotional cripples."
At that instant, I knew I'd stuffed my foot in my mouth. I saw a look in Laura's eyes that I'd never seen in all the years I'd known her. Her eyes were squinted, her lips pulled close together and her complexion had turned gray. She began to tremble.
"How dare you— You think everything's fine?" she stammered. You must be blind! Has this entire experience been in vain? I can't believe you think everything is okay because you promised, for the zillionth time, to stop drinking!"
"It's not just a promise this—"
"Yes it is! It's another empty promise until you commit to turning your life around. Rehab is a good start, but once that's finished, most alcoholics crawl back into the bottle. You need something more to make sure that doesn't happen. You need this program. You at least need to give it a try!
"Have you looked in the mirror lately? Don't you realize what your behavior has done to you – what it's done to us? Do you really think our lives are perfect, except for a few hiccups? I just spent $10,000 on attorney's fees – money I didn't have. I pledged all the equity in our house to bail you out. Did you ever stop to think about that? And if our lawyer can't keep you out of prison, I'll be stuck here paying the mortgage and the bills without you. Hey, no problem, right? As long as you promise to stay away from alcohol, everything is cool!"
She stormed up the stairs, slamming the bedroom door.
I stood in my office – my head spinning. Laura had never talked to me like that. It wasn't her nature to be harsh.
I'd pressed her to the brink of emotional collapse. I'd pressed our marriage to the brink of collapse. There was only one solution if I hoped to save our relationship. I needed to commit to Dr. Lieber and commit now. I had to work the program and make it work for me. I had to do it for Laura, for our marriage and for myself.
"Bruce, you aren't alone on your journey to understanding who you are and why you arrived at this crossroads in your life," said Dr. Lieber. "Most people have stood – or will someday stand – where you are today. The key difference is that you are taking the first steps toward self-discovery."
"Too bad I didn't take those steps 30 years ago," I said.
"At least you're on the path. The vast majority of the world's people will never understand themselves. Let me ask you this: Have you ever seen a homeless person?"
"I'm a former New Yorker."
"So you've seen people curled up in alleys, looking cold and hungry. And you're no stranger to addiction yourself. So when you see a homeless person, do you ever ask, 'How in the world did he end up like that? Was he once a father, a husband or the CEO of a large corporation? What went wrong? Did he get hooked on drugs? Was he raised in an abusive household? Did he drop out of school and have run-ins with the law?'"
"I've asked those questions."
"And today you're asking, 'How did I reach this point? Why has my life turned out like this?'"
"Life is confusing and frustrating, and we sometimes lose our way. You're asking profound questions, and you want answers. I've spent my life looking for the answers. From my earliest years, I wasn't satisfied or happy with the person staring back at me from the mirror. Time and again, I was told I needed to change, or I'd end up in jail or dead. Unfortunately, even though everyone saw that my behavior was reckless, nobody could show me how to change. They couldn't help, because they couldn't offer me tools to reshape my life. All they knew was that I was heading in the wrong direction.
Excerpted from PRESS THE "FIX ME" BUTTON by RICHARD A.M. POWELL Copyright © 2011 by Dr. Richard A.M. Powell. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
NO ORDINARY LIFE....................5
PHASE 1: WHERE ARE YOU TODAY?....................15
PHASE 2: DISCOVERING YOUR BEST SELF....................27
PHASE 3: OBSTACLES, CHALLENGES AND STRATEGIES....................67
PHASE 4: REDISCOVERING YOUR PAST....................85
PHASE 5: PLANNING AND GOAL-SETTING....................111
PHASE 6: INITIATING YOUR PLAN....................119
PHASE 7: MAINTAINING OPTIMAL WELLNESS....................121
ABOUT THE AUTHOR....................125