*The following is taken and adapted from Mark Manson.
For years I have been producing content on Sexy Marriage Radio and the blog aimed at helping people take the next steps in their relationships and life. Over the years, it seems that people who seek out marriage and life help do so with two very different mindsets.
The first group treats this process like going to the doctor. For our conversation we’ll call this group the “Doctor People.” Maybe their marriage is on the brink of failure or they had an existential crisis or they’re struggling to deal with some sort of trauma. They’ve got this pain or confusion in their life and they want to solve it so they can move on and feel normal and healthy again. Much like a doctor eases your physical ails, they look to a book or website or seminar to cure their emotional ails. In their minds they can easily be saying, “I paid you, now fix it!”
Then there’s another group that approaches this process like they’re learning a game – like basketball or chess. They want strategies or roadmaps or checklists, but most of all they want a mentor or coach. We’ll call these the “Coach People.” Coach People want to know all the right moves. They want to understand the game of life and relationships on a deep level. Any new breakthrough of experience or emotion, they want to have it, to conquer it, and to be transformed by it.
There are pros and cons with each of these two approaches.
Doctor People are usually in a lot of pain so they’re likely very motivated and willing to listen to whatever it is you have to say. The problem is that Doctor People see personal growth as information that is to be learned rather than a skill that must be practiced. Self-awareness is a skill. Managing emotions is a skill. Empathy and vulnerability are skills. You start out horrible and eventually become somewhat good at them. But that can take years. A lot of Doctor People get really unhappy when they’re told this. Like, imagine going to the doctor with the flu or COVID and the doctor starts giving you a three-hour long lecture about nutrition and exercise. You’d hate that doc.
Coach People, on the other hand, intuitively understand that these things are skill-based and they must be worked on over and over again for many years until you can do them unconsciously. The same way you perfect your golf swing or your free throw shot by steady, conscious practice, you develop self-awareness and emotional management through consistent, conscious practice. Coach People are in it for the long haul. They understand that you don’t just “solve” personal and relational problems overnight. You have to commit to them. And you have to commit to yourself.
But what the Coach People don’t get is that the whole point is to eventually stop. It’s to leave. Because unlike chess or basketball, there’s no world championship for anger management or marital satisfaction. Nobody is going to give you a trophy for mindfulness.
Oddly enough, viewing personal and relational growth in terms of achievement and optimization could eventually inhibit personal growth! At a certain point, trying to manage your anxiety perfectly will only lead to more anxiety. Trying to be perfectly vulnerable will cause you to be less vulnerable. Obsessing over connecting with your spouse on a deep level will ironically make you fell less connected.
In this way, the skillset of personal growth doesn’t exactly work like the skillsets of basketball or chess. The skill curves are inverted. In basketball or chess, the better you get, the more effort is required to further improve. Whereas, in personal and relational growth, the better you get, the less effort is required to further improve.
This is because personal growth skills have positive feedback loops baked into them. Self-awareness generates introspective questions that naturally lead to more self-awareness. Developing highly productive habits gives you time and energy to consider how to be even more productive. Better relational skills manifest a relationship that grants more chances to develop better relational skills.
Personal growth skills are more like skiing downhill. It takes a lot of effort to get some speed going, but once you’re on your way, the most effective thing you can do to gain speed is nothing.
(Important note: “doing nothing” is itself a surprisingly difficult skill.)
Perhaps what the Coach People miss is that the whole point of this stuff is to one day be free of consciously having to think about it. The way to “win” at relationships is to be completely comfortable in your relationships. The way to “win” at anxiety is to stop caring about your anxiety. The way to “win” at health and productivity is to integrate them into your life so completely that you stop thinking of them as health and productivity.
Ironically, this is what the Doctor People intuitively understand. You can’t stay in marathon therapy sessions and fancy seminars forever. At some point, you just have to live your life.
Instead, it’s the Coach People who struggle to accept this. That’s because Coach People do what everybody does when they obsessively work on something: they adopt it as their identity. And once they begin to identify as the “personal growth” person, not only do they get trapped by it, but they are also incredibly likely view themselves as “personal growth coaches” and tell everyone else in social settings how to fix their problems.
The real point of this journey as I see it is to walk authentically through life — alone, and with others, as solidly and consistently as possible.
This is where finding a community to help along the way comes into play. And if you’ve read this far then you’re in luck – we have a great community here with the SMR Nation.
The Academy is an on-going community where you can get support and content aimed at helping you in your marriage relationship – regardless of the current state of your relationship.
Wether you are more of a Coach Person, or a Doctor Person (let’s face it, we are each one or the other) – you’re welcome in our community.
Have a great weekend.
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