Posted August 30, 2017 in Monthly News

What's Your Strategy?

Most of the time when we establish a strategy to do something, we don’t think of it as a “strategy.” Once established, a strategy becomes automatic, disappearing from consciousness and residing only in the “unconscious” part of our minds. Humans aren’t the only creatures that use strategies, of course. The basic strategy for everything that lives is to do what’s required to say alive: “find food and water; eat and drink. Avoid being killed and eaten.” As far as we know, members of the animal kingdom are the only species that deliberately use strategies to achieve goals. That doesn’t mean that other plants and other life forms aren’t using strategies, but only that we aren’t aware of how they might be “planning” to achieve goals. All mammals, on the other hand, use their intelligence to plan.

A long time ago, we were in Boston for a convention. While walking through Boston Common we encountered a squirrel that had a strategy for finding food. The squirrel climbed Joel’s pant leg to see if he had food in his pocket or would otherwise provide something to eat. Somewhere along the way, the squirrel had learned to employ that strategy. Several of the squirrels that visit Joel’s deck in Kalamazoo, have learned to sit back on their haunches, put their front paws against their chests in a “prayerful” position, and stare into house until food is provided. Strategies are learned behavior. If a behavior works, it is repeated. Cats use strategies for catching mice, or for deciding which lap to sit on or where to sleep. We have seen one of Joel’s cats going through the process of deciding whose lap to sit on. They don’t say what factors they are considering, but they make it pretty obvious that they are aware that they have a choice before they select a lap.

The complexity of strategies increases with intelligence. We don’t usually expect squirrels, cats, or other animals to have strategies, but they do. They can also develop a strategy from watching other animals employ one. A well-know example of the transmission of a strategy from one member of a species to others is the so-called hundredth monkey effect. While the research doesn’t support the “automatic” transfer of a strategy from one monkey to groups of monkeys, monkeys are smart and good observers. A monkey sees another monkey use a stick to pull ants out of a nest to eat them, as they are evidently a monkey delicacy. Monkeys are also willing to experiment to find ways to achieve their objectives. When they succeed, they repeat the behavior. Other monkeys catch on quickly.

Most of the time we are unaware that we are developing and using strategies. When Joel was young, he was a terrible speller. He guessed at the spelling of a word based on how it sounded. One of his teachers told his father that he was the only student she ever had who could spell “only” four different ways. In about the third grade, Joel asked one of the other students who got all the words right on the weekly spelling tests how he managed to do so well. The kid had a strategy: he took the list of the words home and studied them. Joel started using that strategy, and it worked. For most of what we do, we can “model” or imitate strategies used by others use to accomplish an objective. That is, in fact, the main function of school, even when we aren’t really sure what we are learning or why we are learning it. Learning to learn is itself a strategy that can be modeled and imitated.

We have been fortunate to spend time learning from some individuals who are amazingly gifted as spiritual teachers and healers. Debra has been to the Casa in Brazil and witnessed first-hand the healing work of John of God. Debra was mentored in Healing Touch by Janet Mentgen, who founded Healing Touch in the U.S. We have seen Dr. Eric Pearl (The Reconnection), Deborah King (Be Your Own Shaman), and Donna Eden (Energy Medicine), just to name a few. We have attended countless workshops with Richard Bandler (co-founder of NLP) and consider him to be one of the greatest minds of our time.

One of the most interesting things about the development of NLP related to strategies is that when Richard Bandler and John Grinder were studying strategies of three therapists whose clients had predictably good outcomes (Fritz Perls, Virginia Satir, and Milton Erickson) each of the three had different strategies for doing remarkably similar things. In fact, Virginia did not want Milton to be included in the study because he did hypnosis and she did not like hypnosis. Richard Bandler videotaped Virginia and Milton working with clients and showed her frame-by-frame that she was doing hypnosis, too! This illustrates that people do not always understand the true nature of the strategies they are employing.

Disagreements often arise around strategies. Annoyances, judgments, frustrations, and even partings can result because we see different ways of doing the same thing. We like our own strategies, but we don’t always like the strategies others use for achieving the same goal. Europeans and people living in the States have different strategies for using knives and forks while eating. Both strategies work just fine. Get used to it….

Strategies are related to “evidence procedures.” Joel uses the example of how you know if someone loves you. For some, it is based on what you see (gifts, a certain look). For others, it is based on something you hear (loving words, tone of voice), and for others, it is based on something felt (affectionate touch). How often that demonstration is required to communicate love varies as well. For some, once is enough.

You may have heard the story of the couple who were divorcing after 50 years of marriage. The attorney asked the woman why after all these years. “Because he has not once in those 50 years told me he loves me.” When the attorney asked the man if that were true, the man said simply, “Well, I told her I loved her the day I asked her to marry me. I have not changed my mind.” Because once established, a strategy disappears from consciousness and resides only in the “unconscious” part of our minds we can repeat self-defeating behaviors without noticing we are at risk of losing something meaningful.

Because strategies tend to operate below the level of conscious awareness, it’s worth spending some time bringing them into conscious awareness any time we aren’t getting the results we hoped for. If a monkey stuck a stick in a termite hole two or three times and the stick came out without termites, the money would look elsewhere. We need to do the same. If what we have been doing isn’t working, we need to start doing something else. So … what’s your strategy, and how is it working for you?

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