The Reflective Eclectic
Don’t Force It
My father was a car mechanic. When I was a kid, he tried to teach me all about cars, but I wasn’t very interested. After a while, he might have thought he was wasting his time, but one of his lessons stuck with me. I think about it every day.
“Don’t force it,” he often said.
He was troubled by the way I was so hell bent on getting those bolts loosened that I would stand on the wrench, extend it with a pipe, or perform any number of crazy stunts to get it to turn. A couple times, I snapped the bolt or rounded it off. Then we had had real problems. That’s why he kept repeating, “Don’t force it.”
“How am I supposed to get the bolt off, if I don’t force it? It won’t go.”
“Don’t force it. Understand it.”
There would be a blank look on my face. “How do you understand a bolt?”
“Look at things from the bolt’s point of view and work with it. What’s keeping it from turning? Is it rust? Then WD-40 would help. Is it in too tight? Heating it up, then cooling it down will loosen it. Is there a nut you have to hold at the other end? Do you even have the right sized wrench?”
I thought he was nuts, trying to understand the problem from the bolt’s point of view; but his advice prepared me for working with people.
Every day, I sit with people who won’t change. They stubbornly persist with the same habits that get them in trouble. Strategies they’ve adopted don’t work, so they try them again. I often have better ideas of what could help; but my father’s words come to me from beyond the grave.
“Don’t force it.”
So, I try to understand the issue from the other person’s point of view. What do they need to be able to see things clearly, to do something differently, to change? Then I work with them. I don’t force it; I understand it.
You may know someone who you believe needs to change: a husband who won’t do the housework; a wife who spends too much; an old mother who says whatever she thinks; an uncle with ridiculous political opinions; a young adult son into drugs; anyone with a gambling problem using your money; anyone whom, when you tell them something they don’t want to hear, you don’t know what they’re going to do. These are all bolts you’re trying to turn.
Don’t force it.
When you’re using violence, you’re forcing it, of course. But, when you bring up serious things at a bad time, you’re also forcing it. When you complain about her when she complains about you, you’re forcing it. When you find yourself in an argument and, instead of patching things up, you hammer away at whatever point you’re trying to make, you’re forcing it. When you don’t let your partner come up with his own solutions, you’re forcing it. When you lecture, when you accuse, when you nag, when you harangue, when you shame, you’re forcing it.
Don’t force it.
How can you tell when you’re forcing it?
When there’s resistance.
The more you try to force the issue, the more resistance you’re going to get. Are you getting an argument? Has she started to raise her voice? Is he defensive? Does she agree with you, but go on doing what she wants? Does he have a million excuses? Does it seem like you are working harder at change than she is? Then you’re forcing it.
Don’t force it.
What should you be doing instead?
Take a look at the problem from the other one’s point of view. Why is housework not important to him; why is spending money important to her? Does your old mother feel she’s not taken seriously? Does your uncle feel powerless over events? Does your young adult son believe he can do life on his own? What’s the payout the gambler is looking for? What is the fear the angry guy is trying to avoid? Nobody does anything for no reason. What is their reason and is there another way to do what they want to do?
Don’t force it; understand it. Your problem is their solution. Understand their problem before you offer another solution.
Then, work with them. Don’t lecture; have a conversation. Put your heads together, don’t knock them together. Don’t confront; collaborate. Just, like, relax man, chill out, and understand it. Don’t force it.
Keith R Wilson is a mental health counselor in private practice and the author of three self-help books, three novels, and innumerable articles. His third novel, Who Killed the Lisping Barista of the Epiphany Café? is currently being published one chapter at a time in Medium.