We all have internal conflict. We know we should do the dishes, but we want to relax. We want to exercise but there’s a really cool article we want to read right now. Some people want to smoke, but they know it’s not good for them. Others want that dessert, but also want to lose a few pounds. These are all examples of conflict on the behavioral level.
Parts therapy helps us understand how to deal with these behavioral conflicts. We look at the emotional motivations behind the behaviors (we call them criteria). We go to higher and higher levels of these criteria, until we find criteria that match and then we integrate.
In other words, a person may wish to smoke to relax. They want to not smoke for health reasons. What’s important about being healthy? Maybe it helps them relax. So, there is the motivation for two opposite behaviors that want the same thing! At the higher criterion level, there is no conflict — it’s only the behaviors that conflict. Once you get them up to that higher criterion level, both motivations can see what’s going on. You can then integrate and the mind will much more easily solve the behavioral issue as there’s new flexibility.
In general, flexibility is good. If you have a range of behaviors that will help you relax, feel confident or calm you down, you can handle a variety of situations. If you only have one possible behavior (smoking, for instance), that will put you in conflict with other goals.
Parts therapy teaches us a specific and effective protocol for solving these kinds of behavioral conflicts.
But I recently discovered something in me, that is not a simple behavior, and it needs integration. In order to understand, first a bit about meta programs…
Meta Programs are higher-level programs we have. They control other programming. They are systems that control systems. An analogy would be a television set and a remote. The TV is a system for showing us programs. The remote controls that system.
We have lots of these higher order meta programs. As you can imagine, working with meta programs can have dramatic results as they may affect lots of other programs our minds run.
Towards & Away Motivation
One such meta program is the motivation sort. Motivation sort has to do with whether we focus mainly on moving toward pleasure or away from pain. Both towards and away motivation have their place.
Let’s look at this meta program in a bit more detail…
Is the person’s motivational energy aimed at getting something or on problems to be dealt with in getting something?
Toward: Toward motivation focuses us more on achieving. Words that indicate toward motivation include ‘have,’ ‘get,’ ‘achieve,’ and ‘attain.’ When toward motivated, a person may be skilled at managing priorities but have difficulty identifying roadblocks. People that are largely toward motivated might make poor quality control inspectors of circuit boards, as their thought processes might focus on the goal of having all circuit boards perfect as opposed to the pain of missing a flaw. As you can imagine, being motivated by both of those scenarios would be useful at different times.
The problem with having too much toward motivation is that it’s difficult to solve problems if you don’t even acknowledge them.
Away From: Away from motivation focuses us more on what needs to be avoided or fixed, or the pain of not reaching goals. When in ‘away from’ mode, people are problem solvers, troubleshooters and can see obstacles. They can be more oriented to pick out what is wrong with a situation. They may use words and phrases such as ‘avoid,’ ‘steer clear of,’ ‘prevent,’ ‘get rid of,’ and ‘work around.’ They might make good proofreaders.
The problem with away motivation is that it means you often won’t act until there’s a problem. For instance, you might not be motivated to fix your finances until you can’t pay the bills. In other words, you may wait for the pain to kick in before you do anything.
Most people are a mixture of towards and away motivation, and that’s good. We need both, in differing amounts, at different times. And just to be clear, both modes think about goals. It’s just that when thinking about goals, an away from motivation will think more about the pain of not getting it than the pleasure of getting it.
But I Discovered It’s Different For Me — And What This Means
I discovered I have a mixture of towards and away motivation (like most people). But it doesn’t work like it does for most. Much of the time, I’m away motivated. I see what could go wrong, I’m aware of obstacles. In fact, I experience a fair measure of negative emotions because of this. I spend a lot of time thinking about ways to avoid bad things happening. I’m fine with avoiding bad things, but not so fine with my focus being on what I don’t want to happen.
I’m also not fine with the amount of worry and anxiety that goes with thinking about the negative outcomes.
Then, when things go wrong, I’m unrelentingly positive and towards motivated. I see the way forward and I’m totally focused on getting it. Obstacles (if I acknowledge them at all) seem unimportant.
I figured this out when someone I love very much mentioned that she was worried about how ‘away from’ I am. She mentioned this in a time where I was incredibly goal-oriented and oriented toward what I wanted. I thought, “How can she think I’m away from, when I’m obviously totally oriented toward achieving this goal?” Then I realized she was right. Although I was towards motivated at that moment, I spend a lot of time away from motivation.
So what is ideal? To me, the ideal situation would be to quickly consider what might go wrong in a situation, develop contingencies and then move on to a more toward orientation. Then, there would be an occasional check-in to make sure I wasn’t missing something.
A nice propulsion mechanism to move a person forward is to have pleasure at the thought of achieving a goal and pain at the thought of not achieving it. In other words, if your goal is to exercise in the morning, when the alarm goes off, you immediately think about how great it will be to be in shape. If you have a thought about staying in bed, there’s a price to pay for that thought. Maybe you briefly see yourself ten years from then, out of shape and that thought causes distress. That distress is enough to get you out of bed. Then, you immediately begin thinking about achieving your goal.
In other words, most of the focus would be on what you want to do. Most of the visualizing would be of the positive outcome. Negative feelings would be there briefly, just when you needed them to motivate you.
Back To Integration
In my parts therapy program, I talk about the signs that parts therapy would be appropriate. One is when a person flips back and forth between extremes. You see, a wonderful place to be is to have range and flexibility. If you can be towards or away or any combo of the two at any given time, it’s good. But when you see someone flopping between two extremes, it’s often the sign of what we call a sequential incongruity. I’m congruent with my away from motivation and I’m congruent in my towards motivation. It’s just that they happen at different times — they’re sequential.
In other words, I have range, but not flexibility. It’s as if my car has two options, pedal to the metal or full stop. That’s internal conflict.
Let’s Talk About What’s Healthy
I don’t know if you know this, but I’m a musician and record producer (If you’re interested, pop on over here). As a guitarist, in order to improve, I need to know what I’m doing wrong. As an example, if my picking technique has a flaw, I need to know about it in order to fix it. I might design an exercise that highlights the flaw and then concentrate very carefully on doing it correctly. My thinking process might go, “Gee, that sucks. How do I stop making this mistake? I know. I’ll take this hard-to-pick section and make it more difficult. Then I’ll slow it down and concentrate on doing it perfectly. Once I get it to where I can do it perfectly and consistently, then my overall playing will improve.” Then I play the exercise slowly and focus on how I want it to be. Any time I make a mistake, I figure out what I did wrong, how to correct it and then again, bring my focus back to doing it right.
Notice the healthy back-and-forth between away from and towards? Notice the flexibility and the speed with which I move between towards and away? That speaks to integration, and it’s what to shoot for. In general, I think it’s good to spend the majority of your time thinking about your end goal and visualizing it as if it is true. There should be periodic check-ins that let you know in what ways you’re not there already. Then you problem solve those areas and go back to your goal orientation.
In the midst of that is some towards and away motivation. I might briefly think about the pain of still playing guitar ten years from now and not having solved the picking issue. That away from motivation might motivate me to concentrate fully on the exercise. During the exercise, I would spend most of my time focusing on doing it correctly and fantasizing about how great it’s going to be in the future.
In other contexts, I don’t have that flexibility. In fact, in many contexts, I flop between extremes. That’s internal conflict, and a sign integration is needed. Looking back, I can see how this pattern has caused lots of pain in relationships and finances, to name two contexts. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s sabotaged relationships that were extremely important to me. And in finances, how successful are you going to be if you wait for pain before you take action? Those are two BIG contexts and flip-flopping could cost practically everything that’s important to me. And what about you? Do you have any internal conflict about exercise or healthy eating habits? Relationships or finances? Success? These internal conflicts, left unchallenged, can have dramatic negative results. So, what to do?
Parts Therapy For Internal Conflict
We can use parts therapy as it’s outlined in my program. In short, I’d look for the motivation behind being towards motivated and the motivation behind being away from motivated. I’d chunk up (find higher and higher levels of motivation), until I had identical criteria for both towards and away. Then I’d integrate.
There are also other integration techniques. I can do an anchor collapse (anchor both states and then fire off the anchors simultaneously). I can do “Michael’s Really Cool Integration Technique.” Today, I’ll see if I can identify contexts where this is a problem and if there’s a higher-order connection between those contexts (if I can find a higher connection, I can integrate at that level — if not, I’ll probably have to integrate each context separately). I’ll do the integration myself. If I feel like it isn’t working that way, I’ll get someone to help me with it.
I’ll let you know how it goes tomorrow or the next day.
PS: I hope you find this thought process valuable in both your own self-development and if you have clients, in working with them.