We have addressed this topic through many great thinkers these past few months. In particular, Miguel Ruiz has helped me understand the power of past emotional scars and the wounds that they create in us. Who better to explore the topic of a scar than a famed plastic surgeon, Maxwell Maltz. He uses the idea that a scar really can be viewed as a favorable response to injury in that it represents thicker collagen tissue that resists further injury. For example, a callus that develops on a toe from repeated walking in hard gravel would lead to protection from pain and hurt in the future. However, similarly, when we get hurt, our emotional scar tissue forms a thick barrier between us and others. We don’t allow others to touch us in ways that would cause pain. Accordingly, we isolate ourselves to avoid this pain. We are particularly sensitive because we take things personally (sound familiar? if not, reread The 4 Agreements, which have been life changing for me and which I covered in a blog series a few months ago). From a small and wounded ego we allow things to affect us.
Someone asked Maltz then how does a plastic surgeon avoid scar tissue? Maltz responded that a plastic surgeon does create scar tissue but there is not obvious external scars. I like the old joke: what is the definition of plastic surgery? All it is is surgery done right. I use that all the time…which is true. When i make a cut, I follow relaxed skin tension lines, how the collagen bundles move. I cut out 3:1 ellipses and hide it along subunits of the face. I remove tissues in subunits to hide them. I undermine tissue to remove tension. I use multiple layer closures. I use skin eversion and non tissue reacting sutures. I borrow tissue to fill in tissues that have a similar color and texture match, etc. The point is that a plastic surgeon can make a cut without scar tissue because these techniques minimize tension on a wound. Without tension, a wound heals appropriately. Similarly, when we have a strong self image and self identity, nothing can really wound us because there is no tension. We can be our own plastic surgeons. Tomorrow we will talk about how to perform our own emotional facelift according to Maltz’s principles.
As encouraged throughout this blog series, Maltz wants us to have an incredibly realistic self image not one based on self delusion and self denial. I think if you have been faithfully reading this series you will recognize the truth of this comment. Accordingly, even though we should focus on the positive goal (“keep our eye on the prize”) we also should not disavow the importance of using negative thinking.
He likens the use of negative thinking to a golfer who is aware of where the bunkers are in front of him but focuses on the green. Similarly at the end of the day, focus on your successes but have the flashing lights on the dashboard of the pitfalls you avoided or failed to avoid so that you do not commit the same error again. Like the guided missile moving toward its target, we have to acknowledge the errors so that we can make corrective steps toward our goal and so that we can avoid that negative action again. When negative thinking forms boundaries in our minds or serves to focus us “on the green” so to speak, it can be a good thing.
Today we are going to talk about how to avoid our Automatic Failure Mechanism by painting a detailed picture of what failure is using the acronym of F.A.I.L.U.R.E.:
Frustration, hopelessness, futility- Frustration over your life circumstances and a view of your life as futile comes from one of two perspectives: unrealistic goals or poor self image. When we set ourselves up for failure by creating perfectionistic goals rather than practical ones, we are driven to try to attain things that may not ever happen. We might just set ourselves up for failure. It is not bad to have great dreams but when those dreams become the source of frustration, we need to reevaluate the dream itself. Or, we need to see whether we have such a poor self image that we cannot see but dissatisfaction with everything that we do or try to do.
Aggressiveness (misdirected)- Frustration leads to aggressiveness like day leads to night, as Maltz says. When we are confronted with frustration, we turn that energy into anger and aggression. We reach a boiling point that makes us lash out to those around us without our even knowing it sometimes. We must not allow our frustration to turn to this aggressiveness. One of the best therapies to break this frustration-aggression cycle is exercise: channel your misdirected energies into physical activity that will help your body rather than shooting out at everyone around you without regard to why you are doing that.
Insecurity- Maltz talks about how two patients who both receive similar cosmetic surgery and with similar benefits have completely different responses. One person has a life-changing experience and moves forward. The other individual can barely see the improvement and is mired in self doubt and hatred. The difference lies in one’s own self image. With a bad self image, one cannot move beyond it despite physical proof to the contrary. With a good self image, one sees the improvements and accepts those changes. Sometimes we can raise ourselves from our own insecurity by setting a new life goal that we can move toward. Without goals in life, we are a ship that does not know which way we should go and that can breed insecurity.
Loneliness (lack of “oneness”)- Loneliness sometimes is a protective mechanism in which we shield ourselves from emotional pain but not establishing ties with others. But by doing so, we freeze ourselves into a terrible condition. To talk, laugh, party, dance, and enjoy the company of others is pleasurable and can enhance our own success mechanism. To stay standoffish can lead to our own crippling Automatic Failure Mechanism.
Uncertainty- Philosopher Elbert Hubbard said, “The greatest mistake a man can make is to be afraid of making one.” The idea is that if we don’t make a decision then we will not have any consequence. We must make mistakes and move forward and not be ruled by the uncertainty of a decision. Maltz uses the example of Sherlock Holmes. Holmes will make a decisive deduction and sometimes be dead wrong. Rather than cowl in embarrassment, he makes a turn and moves forward with more decisions ultimately to arrive at the right one. We should not be crippled by our decisions but be able to make wrong ones so that we have a chance of arriving at the right ones.
Resentment- Being resentful makes it virtually impossible for you to have a good self image in which you helm the captain of your own ship. Resentment means that you are allowing others to rule over you, but you can rule your own destiny. Stop blaming your parents, your spouse, your circumstances, your boss, or any external factor or person that you believe is limiting you from your own success.
Emptiness- Oftentimes we see people who are seemingly successful despite being resentful, lonely, insecure, aggressive, and frustrated. But many of these individuals who have strived for monetary gain may be left with only a feeling of emptiness. I like what Maltz says, “Life becomes worthwhile when you have worthwhile goals.”
The two companion blogs on S.U.C.C.E.S.S. and F.A.I.L.U.R.E. are so rich with content that I would advise you to reread them again when you have time or at the conclusion of the entire blog series and stop and meditate on each letter. I would also recommend buying the book, The New Psycho-Cybernetics, and reading those chapters because there is just too much good content there that I cannot and should not reproduce in my blog series out of respect for the author.
There was once a man who was traveling by himself along a lonely stretch of highway carrying a bag over his shoulder filled with bricks, a boulder over the other shoulder, and weeds wrapping around his legs. He was so weighted down that he could only advance with abbreviated, hobbling steps. One day a stranger by the side of the road asked him, “Sir, why are you carrying that heavy boulder on your shoulder?” The man stopped and thought, “Hmm, that’s a great question. This rock has gotten so heavy, but I have forgotten why I am still carrying it.” With that, he let go of the boulder and was able to walk a bit straighter. He then came across another bystander a little farther down that asked him, “Sir, why do you carry that heavy bag filled with bricks?” The man again stopped and could not remember why he was carrying the bricks so he in turn let the bricks down on the side of the road and felt his pace quicken and his heart lighten. A small child then said to him farther down the road, “Why sir are you walking with weeds choking your feet?” Again, the man had no ready answer and unraveled the weeds from his feet only to walk now with a light step and a quickened energy.
The problem with the man was not his carrying the burdens but his lack of awareness of his burdens that he was carrying. What burdens are you carrying today? Do you need to carry those burdens? As an exercise, write the name of each burden that you are unnecessarily carrying on a rock or a heavy object and put it in a knapsack and put it into the back of your car. When you get to work, tell yourself consciously, “I shall leave these rocks here and not take them to work with me today.” When you drive home and are about to get out of your car say to yourself, “I will enter my home at peace without these large bricks of burden.” Obviously, you can use any physical substitute for a brick like a plate or something else. Making it concrete will help you realize just how much you have been carrying without your even knowing it.
We all know of our IQ (intelligence quotient). You may also know the term EQ, or emotional quotient, or EI, emotional intelligence, that have been of recent interest. Maltz cites Paul Stoltz, a management consultant, who in 1967 came up with the idea of AQ, or adversity quotient. Stoltz believed that the successful person had a high AQ, i.e., could handle adversity, and Maltz sees the congruity with his own thoughts on how he envisions a successful person with a good self image. Stoltz outlined three attributes of the person with a high AQ:
1. They do not blame others for the adversities or setbacks they confront.
2. They do not blame themselves either; they do not see setbacks that occur as reflecting poorly on themselves.
3. They believe the problems they face are limited in size and duration, and can be dealt with.
Many individuals see their problems as insurmountable. They feel helpless. They cannot overcome their situation in life. They are subjugated by a victim mentality. They are burdened by mounting shame and guilt. They blame others for being weak. They blame God or destiny. They blame themselves.
Stoltz worked to help organizations move people from this victim mentality to see obstacles as small speed bumps rather than brick walls. He found that by helping people raise their AQ to deal with life circumstances, they could help themselves achieve their goals and be happier. Maltz’s view of a high self image is in accordance with the principle of a high AQ. When we have a solid self image, we can then allow our sub-conscious to work its magic by overcoming obstacles without us having to even try in many cases.