The If/Then Double Lie

On the first page of our book, Unlock the Power of Your Perception, Lynda-Ross and I point out that no one seeks self-awareness for the sake of self-awareness. People seek self-discovery because they believe that something is wrong, and they are looking for a solution. We go on to point out that there are many things that people feel are wrong about themselves or others, but they all have a common theme:  We feel frustrated that something that we want or expect is eluding us.

We often conclude that our lives are not going the way we want and expect because of some shortcoming within ourselves. We believe if we can figure out what that shortcoming is, and correct it, then the elusive “something” will finally be ours.

No matter what we decide our shortcoming is, there are any number of books over in the “self-help” aisle that proclaim to have the answer, the solution, the “fix”, the process, the secret, or the method that will allow us to “become a better you”, “learn the secrets of success”, “realize our leadership potential”, “find inner peace and happiness”, “fulfill our potential”, “organize our life”, “discover true happiness”, “become a great salesperson”, and “follow the path to self-actualization”.

Like many of you, I receive a daily email that offers popular books at discounted prices in e-reader format. Almost every day, there is an offer for self-improvement, whether in business, spirituality, or personal habits. Periodically, in the popular press, a new book appears on the scene that “takes America by storm” and becomes the latest solution to “solve your life”.

Despite all the available help, so many people still feel that something is wrong with them. Rarely do we fault the books for not delivering what they promise, rather all too often, we believe that the fault lies within us. We didn’t try hard enough, we didn’t work the program properly, we didn’t quite get it, we found something more promising, the prescribed process was too hard, or we discovered “results may vary”.

So, what drives our obsession with self-help and self-improvement? I believe there is a two-part answer to that question. The first half of the answer was stated beautifully by Father Richard Rohr (Center for Action and Contemplation https://cac.org/) in one of his daily meditations: “Almost all people are carrying a great and secret hurt, even when they don’t know it.”

This has been my experience too. The self-help and self-improvement industry markets itself by promising a way to “fix” this hurt, either overtly or covertly. Where this secret hurt comes from is a whole article (or book) on its own, but it is most cogently expressed in four deeply held beliefs: “I’m not loveable”, “I’m not interesting”, “I’m not worthy”, and “I’m not enough.”

The second half of the answer, and the reason we are susceptible to each new self-help promise, is that we believe that we can fix the hurt by “improving” some part of ourselves. We want to believe that if we can just get organized, lose weight, discover our true selves, or realize our potential, then we will be happy, content, and fulfilled. Unfortunately, this is an if/then proposition that does not work.

I call this the “if/then double lie” because both halves of the equation are false. Even if you achieve the “if” the “then” never materializes for two reasons: first, what is promised is usually not really an end but a human experience that is not attainable as a consistent state of being, and, second, what we are really seeking is a solution to the deep hurt, and no external or even internal self-improvement can heal that hurt.

When the if/then fails to deliver, we do not reject the if/then proposition nor question our desire for what the “then” promises. We often assume that we failed to fulfill the conditions of the “if” or decide that the conditions were faulty. Rather than question the “then” goal we have been unable to accomplish, we look for another “if” solution that the next self-help guru promises will deliver.

The problem with the “if” is that no matter what it is or how well it is performed, it has little or no relationship to the promised “then” because the “then” is not realistic as a goal and cannot solve the deep hurt that drives our desire for it. For example, if your goal is happiness, when you feel happy, you will constantly worry about losing it, and when you aren’t happy, you will feel like a failure.

Happiness, joy, fulfillment, and contentment are not goals. Like sadness, disappointment, frustration, and discontent, they are part of the experience of being human. Rather than open ourselves to the full range of human experience, we shun what we judge as negative, and search for a way to “fix” it. This leads to the if/then that drives much of our obsession with self-improvement: If I can just figure out why I am sad, disappointed, frustrated, or discontent, then I will be happy, joyful, fulfilled, and content.

This brings us full circle back to Perceptual Style Theory. You may be wondering:  Isn’t understanding your Perceptual Style and unlocking the power of your perception just another “if” promising you an unattainable “then”? What makes Lynda-Ross and I any different from other self-help gurus?

There are two fundamental differences in what we teach that separate Perceptual Style Theory from the rest of the self-help crowd. The first is our insistence that Perceptual Style is inherent and unchangeable. If this is who you are, then there is nothing that you must improve to be acceptable. The second is our deep belief in the theory of limitations. Because of your Perceptual Style, some behaviors and skills will never be part of your natural repertoire.  And that’s ok because no one person can do it all.

We reject the idea that “there is nothing you can’t do if you just put your mind to it.” You have a vast repertoire of natural skills because of your Perceptual Style and it will take you a lifetime to develop all of them.  There are also plenty of skills and behaviors that will never fall into your natural skill set and which you will never do without paying a tremendous price – psychologically, emotionally, and physically.

So, yes, we are saying that if you accept your Perceptual Style and develop the skills that fall into your natural skill set, you will experience more fulfillment and joy. But we also say that you must open to the pain and frustration of facing that you can’t do it all. We do not offer Perceptual Style Theory as a panacea for pain, nor do we suggest it will heal the deep hurt, but we do offer it as a model of self-acceptance which is at the core of healing. We invite you to focus on what you do well. We invite you to intentionally do those things more often and to discover new ways and situations where you can do them. We invite you to celebrate who you are, right now!

About Gary M. Jordan Ph.D.

Gary M. Jordan, Ph.D. is a premier authority on behavioral theories and assessment construction. He has over 32 years of experience in clinical psychology, behavioral assessment, individual development, and coaching. Gary earned his doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology – Berkeley, and spent 18 years in private practice where he specialized in helping angry adolescents, couples in conflict, and individuals searching for more meaning and satisfaction in life.
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