In our last post, we described the intense frustration we sometimes experience when we are working most diligently towards a certain goal or at least we believe we are, and for a reason we can’t put a finger on we just aren’t getting there. We cited the example of the unfortunate fellow who passed up a great opportunity just because, subconsciously, he couldn’t bring himself to take someone’s advice. We concluded that an internal conflict of wills can prevent us from achieving what we want to achieve.
And as we noted, the worst part of this intangible but very real phenomenon of a conflict of wills, or desires, is the negative, occasionally devastating, impact it can have on our relationships. We may feel that something is wrong but don’t understand what it is, which only increases our confusion.
Paul is the father of two lovely children. He’s also the owner of a small professional consultancy, virtually a one-man show. He’s not finding life easy. In a sluggish economy, he is working ridiculously long hours just to keep his practice afloat, to somehow attract new clients and to retain the few he has. It almost breaks his heart that circumstances are compelling him to turn his patient and devoted wife into a virtual “single mom”, and that he is seeing so little of his own kids.
Thereupon, Paul makes a firm resolution. No matter how busy he is, he will put aside one afternoon every week to be with his children, even if it means working until the wee hours of the night to make up the time. So every Tuesday afternoon, he takes off from his schedule to spend quality time with the kids. One week it’s a romp in the park, another a trip to the zoo or even playing ball in their own back yard, or if the weather’s not so kind, sitting indoors reading adventure stories together.
For the first few weeks, it’s simply hard to tell who is enjoying themselves more – Dad or the kids. As each outing draws to a close, both the father and his appreciative offspring already start counting the hours to the next one!
But after the first few weeks, something seems to be going wrong. Even though Dad seems to be trying hard to find new things to do and and inject a feeling of excitement into each outing, the kids are starting to feel a little bored. For that matter, so is Dad. It’s difficult to say why. Paul is as enthusiastic about the project as ever – or so he thinks. And the children certainly love their Dad and appreciate very much what he is doing for them. But all the same, the precious, all too few hours they are spending together are turning into one big “yawn.
The scourge of self-sabotage
Fortunately, Paul has a very perceptive friend. After a long chat, he helps Paul to understand what’s going on in Paul’s own mind. A feeling of guilt had begun to overtake Paul. If he was giving so much pleasure to his children with the linited time he was spending with them, why wasn’t he giving them even more? This thought induced great internal distress. As it was, he was facing a formidable task to find enough hours in the day to fulfil all his responsibilities. As things stood right now, finding more time for the children seemed just not practical.
So how did Paul resolve his inner conflict? He began to sabotage his own efforts. Quite subsconsciously, he made a decision that the childen should not enjoy the outings overmuch. If it were to turn out that he was not succeeding in keeping his kids happily entertained even for one afternoon a week, there would be surely no point in taking them out for two! The result: he would be be left with nothing to feel guilty about.
How can we uncover our own conflicting wills and prevent them from working against us? What should we do when our chosen goals seem to be just beyond our grasp – even though we know of no logical reason that they should be so elusive? And what should be done when we long to draw closer to our nearest and dearest or to others we may come into contact with daily, but somehow, we seem to be pushing them further away?
There can only be one solution. We have to learn a new skill – the skill of introspection. We need to learn to uncover our own motives. We have to learn to look deeper and deeper inside ourselves. We have to ask ourselves questions, penetrating questions, and possibly uncomfortable questions. For example: “Assuming I were to give up my attempts to attain this goal, would I have anything to gain by this decision?” “I know I have so much to gain by doing what I’m trying to do, but is there something I stand to lose as well?”
This is an art that may not be easy (except in theory!), but it’s an art that we will surely master with practice. And the rewards will be great.
Azriel Winnett is the author of the highly acclaimed, eye-opening book How to Build Relationships That Stick. An enhanced edition is now available as a paperback.