Mind your models
I was feeling sad sad sad over the apparent end of something I'd begun with someone in that crazy-elusive romantic realm, and a sweet friend was sitting with me by phone to help me witness my pain body and listen to my spoken thoughts. I heard her say back to me something like, “I hear you [my cue she was reflecting back what I'd said], it's so frustrating when you're on a certain trajectory with someone and then it just drops off into nothing.”
Trajectory? That caught and shifted my attention. What trajectory? I hadn't used that word but my friend was responding to what I was presenting. I was deep enough in conversation mode that I began with, “Yeahhh ...” but that's as far as I got going down that track. I stopped and started explaining my theory of models, to which my friend, bless her, listened patiently.
I keep getting fascinated by how much we live out of models. Don't get me wrong: models are wondrously useful sometimes. I give my clients models all the time that they find very helpful (when the models resonate—a helpful model will resonate), and that allow them to understand themselves (like locating their personality programming as a number on the Enneagram), or to drop rigidity and perfectionism (like using Molly Gordon's 7-5-4 standard), or get to forgiveness, trump procrastination, shift a relationship with sleeplessness—any number of things. Models can be lovely, especially if we recognize them as models and take them on consciously with the awareness of how they serve us.
We may even think of them as positive ways to trick ourselves, as one client is currently doing with a just-get-ready model. She's taken to Just Getting Ready for the activities she avoids (put on coat and winter gear, grab the yoga mat or relevant supplies) and even physically going to the place where something's happening, telling herself all the while that she still doesn't have to go if she doesn't want to. It gets her there. It allows her to live into her intentions even when she feels she isn't up to it. You gotta love a good model.
The problem with models is that we adopt them all the time without recognizing them as models. It's similar to the problem of walking around believing your thoughts as if they were narrating reality to you (that's just never what thoughts are up to). When we use models unconsciously, we turn conceptual frameworks into statues and treat them as if they really existed as concrete entities. We give them way too much respect. We get hooked into total illusion, believing ourselves to be on a trajectory, for example. There's really no such thing. I could draw a cute little diagram illustrating this trajectory I'm on with someone, and while it may help me understand or express something, I'm also now at risk of believing this trajectory is real. If I think I'm riding it when it's interrupted, I have to screech to a halt or possibly get thrown off or take some free fall into nothing—ay, get me off this thing.
But a trajectory is only one way to understand the collection of events and interactions that I'm organizing by ordering them on said trajectory. Ultimately, that's what models are for: they provide ways of organizing our thinking about something (anything—relationships, events, tasks, goals, mental health) to feel we have a handle on it. But once we set up the model, we start to think of it only in this way, as if it really had a fixed form. We forget that we could have (and still could) set up an entirely different model, and then we'd have the experience in an entirely different way. This matters! People use drug therapies or have surgeries believing these are the only way, just because of the models they (or their care providers) have adopted. With a nutritional or holistic-health model, suddenly drugs and surgery aren't necessary. Or people get trapped in ill-fitting lifestyles because they're in an either-or binary model when truly there's a whole spectrum you could posit as another model containing innumerable options. (Here's a cool TED Talk on a sexuality spectrum beyond gay vs. straight.)
So sure, I can posit a trajectory if I'm exploring relationship with someone, then events get ordered on some rising line and there's some direction it's supposedly headed. There's nothing wrong with this, except that the trajectory doesn't really exist anywhere in time and space—it's not real—and my belief in it will require me to be dismayed when the trajectory is interrupted, and then I'll feel that something harsh has happened to me. A model I prefer for that exploring-relationship thing is the idea of two people moving through a series of yes and no responses, one at a time, until one or both get to a global yes or a global no. That yes-no series doesn't actually exist either, but it's about choice and agency and clarity and allows spaciousness in decision-making. (I like it.) (And I'm not saying there's no dismay in encountering a no or that sad can or should be avoided.)
I catch clients all the time in illusory models about any topic under the sun. People often explain to me where they rank on a certain scale—a scale that doesn't exist in the realm of reality. The proposed scale could be their family mythology, or some lineup of a random population like the people they graduated with, or a cultural concept of beauty or strength or success—you name it. But the illusory ranking in their mind, treated as real, keeps them perpetually believing they fall short—and this affects how big they live, how much they accomplish, how peaceful they feel (I could go on).
Many of the identities we posit function as models, and these may or may not be useful—they may be helpful and harmful by turns. By identities, I mean single mother, or sober alcoholic, or someone living with chronic disease, or the black sheep of the family, or the one who just can't get it together financially. If thinking about some shared challenges and concerns of, say, single mothers helps you to feel validated and supported and connects you to a group of amazing women making more happen than they ever imagined in their wildest dreams—you're connecting well to a useful model. If you reach for it when things get hard and it makes you feel sorry for yourself and believe that life is against you and you're all alone doing a bad job while your children are getting a shoddy deal—then you're turning that model against yourself. It's just a model. There are many, many moments when single mother (or your identity of choice) has no relevance to you, it's not who you are, and you don't need to refer to your set of beliefs about (or your model about) that identity. In fact, if you don't refer to it, you can just show up right here, right now for whatever's happening, whatever life is asking of you, and you can locate all that supports you in meeting the task at hand.
I challenge you to notice the models you're operating from. Bring them to consciousness. And don't throw out any babies in some major dumping of bathwater! Notice where your models serve you, and notice where they don't. See if you can find alternate models for any given concept or situation, and get curious about what else changes when the model changes—your perceptions, your sense of possibility, how you feel about yourself. It's fun to play with, and the difference it makes can be none too subtle. I know someone who was calling himself a dropout when he had decided for very good reasons to take time off to do some very important exploring involving travel and learning about topics he cares about and having experiences that spark his curiosity and harness his sense of adventure. If the model says you must go to college and you must get in and out in the four years that follow high school, I guess he really is a dropout and should rightfully feel like a loser. But in a different model, he's the intrepid explorer on a fabulous journey the rest of us may envy, well on his way to learning what he's doing on this planet.
Yes, models matter, and using them consciously helps. I invite you to notice them, and then adopt or drop them as they support your growth and well-being or don't.
love & blessings, Jaya
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