The problems we face each day are often overwhelming. We give it our all at work and we often do all we can in our personal relationships. Too often people face challenges and experience an immobilizing fear that whatever they choose to do will result in negative consequences. In facing such fear the response too often is to do nothing hoping that the problem will just go away by itself. Sometimes people do nothing by doing everything but face the problem. Sometimes doing nothing takes the form of using any distraction we can find to avoid facing the problem. We do this because deep down inside we believe that tolerating the problem is too much to handle.
Dialectical Behavior Therapists refer to this phenomenon as Willful behavior. Simply put, Willfulness is what happens when we see a problem, know how to handle the problem and choose instead to do nothing. People who grow up in abusive and or addicted families learn to behave in Willful ways in order to survive and avoid being beaten down by enabling parents and siblings. However, Willful behavior is exactly what addicts and abusive people need to get others to do so that they can either protect their addiction or keep hurting others. It is the behavior that prevents people from fixing problems and improving their lives. The antidote for Willful behavior is what Dialectical Behavior Therapists refer to as Willingness and use of what is referred to as the Wise Mind. Every day we make many decisions. Many choices we make are made based purely on logic and many decisions we make based on emotion. For example, hardly anyone chooses their dessert based purely on logic. On the other hand, no good accountant does a tax return based on how he feels or on how you feel that day. The idea here is that we all think with our feelings at times and at times we all think purely with our logical rational brain. We use a Wise Mind when we incorporate both. We make the best decisions when we make them based on both how we feel and what our intellect and logic tell us. When someone is acting with Willingness he or she is truly present and is acutely aware of the problem instead of actively ignoring it. Acting in a Willing manner involves being focused on effectively solving the problem in an unpretentious manner. Willingness is solution focused.
Why doesn’t everyone act with Willingness? We often fear failure or even worse believe that to even try is a futile effort. We often over-emphasize the negative aspects of failure and often overlook the negative aspects of not taking action. Sometimes past traumas cause us to block problems from our conscious awareness.
It is important to understand is that everything we do or don’t do is a choice, and it all has consequences. In every moment, we are saying, “yes” to one choice, and “no” to many other choices. Ironically, we often fear failure when perhaps we should fear making the poor choice of Willful inactivity. Time does not stop; yesterday doesn’t come back, and missed opportunities may not return – or at least not under the same terms.
If you struggle with Willful behavior consider the questions below:
• Have you recently acted with Willfulness?
• Describe the situation in which you acted Willfully.
• What were you feeling?
• What were you thinking?
• What physical sensations were you experiencing?
• What beliefs and attitudes told you not to act in a Willing manner?
• What are the costs of not taking action?
• What measures can you take to prevent the failure you are fearing?