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It is better to receive than to give. How might that be true?”

My client inhaled sharply, then started to weep.

She was drowning in responsibilities at work and at home. She had come to our call asking for solutions but kept batting away my ideas.

More than one “Yeah, but” in a coaching conversation – as in, “Yeah, but no one cares as much as I do”; “Yeah, but they’d probably just make a mess, which I’ll have to clean up” – tells me we’re not just dealing with bad ideas. We’re dealing with resistance.

Where there is resistance to solutions, there is a belief supporting it. My client was believing a thought that was keeping her stuck.

My hunch was she was believing that it is better to give than to receive. It’s a universal belief, even a moral dictum (something good people believe), in our culture.

But the reality was, in this situation, that belief was making her miserable.

Which means it couldn’t be true.

So, I turned it around to the opposite. It’s a kind of mental jiu jitsu, using the power of the belief against itself to neutralize it.

It was the beginning of her getting unstuck, and the beginning of her being able to think creatively about her problem.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Notice resistance to solutions.
  2. State the belief under it.
  3. Turn the thought around.
  4. Find evidence for the turnaround.

Notice resistance to solutions.

How to spot resistance to problem solving:

  • Responses that begin, “Yeah, but…”
  • Increasing, not decreasing, tension.
  • A physical sense of being pulled in conflicting directions.

State the belief under the resistance.

My favorite questions to ask, gently, to find the belief are:

  • “What are you thinking and believing right now?”
  • “What are you afraid of?”
  • “What’s going on?”

It may arrive as one tidy sentence. Or it may come amidst a flurry of words, which you may need to summarize or pick from. Write down or listen to it all. The core belief will have a charge to it that hits you in the belly or makes you feel heavy.

Articulate it as a simple, declarative sentence, such as, “It is better to give than to receive.”

Turn the thought around.

Flip it — that’s the jiu jitsu move. Articulate the turnaround as a simple opposite, such as “It is better to receive than to give.”

If you are turning around a universal belief, you may at first be shocked, but don’t fear. Despite appearances, we’re not rewriting moral theory for everyone! We are noticing instances of suffering, not generalizing. If a belief, no matter how apparently true, creates suffering here, we are going to try the turnaround.

A good turnaround often will cause an immediate release in the body – an intake of breath, laughter, or tears.

Find evidence for the turnaround.

Go looking for specific, believable evidence that the turnaround is truer than the original thought for this situation. Without it, the mind will shrug and go back to the default belief, and you’ll stay stuck.

Here is what my client found for the turnaround, “In this situation, it is better to receive than to give”:

  • “I’ve created dependency and resentment by over-giving.” (She noted specific examples). “What I really want is friendship.” (What creates friendship?) “Give and take.”
  • “Always giving robs others of agency (example?), of learning (example?), and me of a balanced life (example?).
  • “When I’m in their business (giving to them), no one is in mine (example?)”

Don’t Resist Resistance

It can be frustrating to encounter resistance when you want to solve a problem – yours, a friend’s, a client’s. But fighting it only strengthens it. It will dig in.

Instead, see resistance for what it is: evidence of a limiting belief. Identify the limiting belief and then do some mental jiu jitsu on it. Flip it! Turning the thought around uses the thought’s power against itself and neutralizes it.

Then you can start solving the real problem.

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