The paradoxical theory of change
Now, that sounds like a big mouthful of mumbo-jumbo, but, the paradoxical theory of change is really quite simple: Change happens when a person or group or organization simply acknowledges what is real. When they accept what they are at that time, and they stop trying to continually to be what they are not. From there change can happen. Based in reality, not from what people think ‘should’ be.
As a therapist I hear this all time: I’m really trying to be happy and my smile is hiding tears. The reality is you’re trying to be happy, while suppressing your sadness. If you’re trying to be happy. You’re not happy. In trying you don’t allow yourself to feel your very real sadness. Then you can’t actually acknowledge who you are and what you want to be. You know the old saying, trying is lying, or as Yoda says: “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”
Dealing with emotions
Now, people are frequently trying to get away from something they perceive to be negative. This perception of negativity is another one of those commonly held, limiting beliefs that, when you work with me as a therapist or as a consultant, we can move through. Emotions are neither positive or negative. They simply exist whether we want them or not.
I can help you learn, instead of trying to be happy, to accept and experience your sadness so that it becomes an integrated part of who you are. My clients can learn not to lie to themselves, not to amplify difficult emotions through avoidance. I can help you learn to do or not do. But again, here’s the paradoxical theory of change: change happens when an individual or group or organization accepts what is, what they are, then feels the pain of this reality, and embraces it.
Accepting reality as it is
Now, accepting and embracing things we are conditioned to view as negative can be unpalatable, like reality can be unpalatable. You know we have shadows, things we don’t like about ourselves, a dark side. Together, we look at the fact that we all have polarities within ourselves. We can be really nice and really mean, and that doesn’t mean you’re nice OR you’re mean. Actually, you’re nice AND you’re mean. It really depends on the context. You can be happy and sad, you can love someone and be angry at them at the same time.
You are full of polarities
So a big part of applying the paradoxical theory of change with an organization or an individual is supporting them as they begin to accept these shadowy aspects of themselves. These seemingly irreconcilable differences, these polarities are the sum of our realities. I help individuals and organizations accept that we can contain all of these and it’s actually our diversity, our ability to contain our polarities that makes us so strong.
In a dark place we find ourselves, and a little more knowledge lights our way – Yoda