how’s that workin’ for ya?

Laugh if you must, but Dr. Phil has a saying that’s pretty powerful.  When he’s confronted with someone who is fiercely holding onto and defending a belief or approach or behavior that seems to be causing problems in his life, Dr. Phil will frequently ask of the person:  “So, how’s that workin’ for ya?”  Most of the time, this results in the person being left stumbling for words, his posturing and defensiveness deflated.  Because, quite obviously, if it it were indeed “working” for him, he wouldn’t be sitting on national television talking to a therapist about it.

To be fair to the poor sucker embarrassed on national television, we all do this.  We cling to ideas or behaviors that no longer benefit us because they are familiar and comfortable, or because they serve us in ways that feel good in the short term, but we pay for doubly in the long term.  My personal example of this is my attempt to avoid anger at all costs.  It’s quite a bit like being conflict-averse:  I will do everything in my power to keep the peace and not make someone angry with me, even when doing so is disingenuous or completely betrays my own needs or violates my own boundaries.  This lovely habit is no longer serving my best interests (if, in fact, it ever did, which is certainly up for debate), so I am working — hard — on eradicating it.

My ex-husband’s crutch involves his chronic use of the exasperating phrase “It is what it is.”  This is a handy little mechanism for absolving him of any responsibility to truly deal with or solve problems as they arise.  By invoking this phrase, he declares his utter powerlessness to fix anything and so doesn’t have to bother, nor feel guilty about not doing so.  It served him so well, he was served with divorce papers.  But I digress….

But, as we all know by now, admitting the problem is only the first step.  What the hell do we do next?

This post could be about the value of therapy and how I believe that everyone — at every age — should have a therapist to work out what it is that they’re doing here on this earth and how they can do it better.  But that’s not actually what this post is about.

I think the challenge, when we discover that we’re stuck doing something or believing something that is, frankly, no good for us, is figuring out how to let go of it and what to replace it with.

The letting go of it part is really hard.  Most likely, our grip on this particular hindrance is pretty tight, or it would have sloughed off ages ago from the constant friction it causes in our lives.   No, in order for it to still be here, we must have been protecting it and defending it and nurturing it all along.  So, first we must stop that.  Immediately.  We must stop rationalizing its value and defending it from criticism and protecting it from the parts of our brain and our heart that know it’s simply no good.  Acknowledging that something you do or believe isn’t working for you anymore is a huge, important step; by truly accepting that you need to find a different way, you’ve already diminished the power that behavior or idea used to have over your life.  But you have to honestly know and feel that this part of you isn’t good, isn’t worth holding onto.  Just agreeing with another person’s assessment isn’t the same thing.  That’s why good therapists will let you get there on your own, leading you perhaps, but never pushing you.  Because unless you decide on your own, for yourself, that it’s time for a change, the change won’t stick.

So, what about the what to replace it with part?  Yeah, I know that this part sounds easier, but it’s really not.  Relinquishing a paradigm that we have internalized and acted on for years creates a significant void in how we see and experience and approach the world.  So I think it’s important to replace it with another idea that feels comfortable and right and good, and that our heart agrees is going to move us in the direction we need to go.

This last part is important, so I’m going to be annoying and state it again:  and that our heart agrees is going to move us in the direction we need to go.  Because, we know in our hearts (or our guts or our third eyes — wherever your intuition speaks to you), whether a possible path is truly right or just another cop-out or falsehood.

The typical reaction to rejecting an existing paradigm, I believe, is to resort to the other extreme.  A really good example of this is one I encountered recently in a man I dated.  After experiencing a couple of  mind-blowingly untrustworthy, insincere and insecure women, he decided his normally trusting, knight-in-shining-armor-to-the-rescue approach to women wasn’t serving him well and discarded it.  In its place, he embraced a very guarded heart and strong sense of mistrust masquerading as disciplined mindfulness and mature caution.  Is it serving his best interests?  I guess only he knows the answer to that.

Drawing on my own problem area, I suppose the logical and easy extreme would be to refuse to engage at all on any terms other than my own (sounds silly, but I’ve seen divorced women do this, and you probably have, too).  I have known all along that this path would not lead me — by any stretch of the imagination — to a healthy relationship, and so I have tried to avoid it.  But I’m still struggling to find the middle ground, the healthy place, the right alternative. With much coaching from my therapist, I have come to realize that it has to do with learning to speak my truth cleanly and clearly and without investment in the other person’s reaction (see my previous post, speaking your truth, gracefully for the full story).

Last week was one long exercise in this struggle.  I had opportunity after unwelcome opportunity to practice my commitment to my new approach.  I wouldn’t say it went smoothly, but progress was made.  Definitely.

Trying to figure out what aspects of your belief system or behavior patterns are no longer serving you well and how to replace those with something that will is definitely not a short-term or easy project.  But I do think — sincerely believe — that it’s worth asking yourself, frequently:  how’s that workin’ for ya?



Filed under dating, general musings, relationships, single mom

8 responses to “how’s that workin’ for ya?

  1. The T

    Sometimes we use the phrase “it is what it is” to signify a situation that we choose to do nothing about, or that the amount of effort wouldn’t be worth changing the situation. It isn’t always so final as to our helplessness to change it.

    I think you need a paradigm shift in thinking…I’m reading your words an dthey seem to be so boxy and confining. Isn’t this about freedom and your newfound appreciateion without someone who does not love you anymore and the possibilites of loving someone else enough to start a new branch of life?

    For me, I love a girl who I thought was the love of my life while living in the Virgin Islands….she lived in Oklahoma….tough yes, both really happy yes… and then it suddenly ended when I made a mistake…done….lessons learned… I am a victim of my own circustance….if i heard Dr Phil ask how’s that workin for ya? I’d be truthful and tell him that I turned the love of my life’s heart black and cold. I would tell him it’s a painful lesson but it worked…I would be careful as to making more solid decisions in the future. It has been nearly a year and that girl is still not able to attempt to find love. I want the best for her…and it was my fault…however… I’m imperfect yet I want true, enthusiastic love… I’m going to find it…I can’t find it while I’m on this island, but I’m waiting patiently… I will come back to the states in a year and I’ll find that good girl somewhere out there that needs to be loved as much as I want to give it… Life moves in mysterious ways….

    How’s that workin’ for ya?


    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment. Apparently, I hit a nerve with “it is what it is,” since that wasn’t really the point of my post, but merely an example of something that hasn’t served him. I’m very aware that he sees it as a choice not to do anything, but it’s very passive-aggressive to say “it is what is is” rather than “I choose not to address that.” One is passive voice, the other active.

      I’m not sure what you mean about boxy and confining…. I don’t feel boxed in or confined but perhaps you are sensing something of which I am not aware.

      Also, I think that you misunderstand the intent of “how’s that workin’ for ya” because it wouldn’t apply to your situation unless you’re attempting to defend the behavior that brought about the death of the relationship you so cherished, and you don’t sound like you’re doing that at all. It sounds like you made a mistake, learned from it, and shifted your behavior accordingly. “How’s that workin’ for ya” isn’t intended to be critical of people who are actively seeking to do better; it’s meant to undermine the blind adherence to behaviors and beliefs that are creating the same outcome over and over while the individual sits there and says, “I just don’t understand why these things happen to me!” I think, in your case, it sounds like it would be more appropriately levied at you if you were repeating the relationship mistake you made, over and over, while bemoaning the fact that the relationships kept ending. Which, again, it doesn’t sound like you’re doing. (Also, it isn’t meant to address one-time mistakes, no matter how great, but patterns of behavior or thought.)

      Things are workin’ pretty good for me, at the moment. Thanks. 🙂

    • Oh, and, btw, if you didn’t like this one, you’re really going to hate my next post. 😉 Consider yourself warned!

      • Amanda Sabrotini

        Seems to me the only person who gave their worth was from the “T”. he seemed honest and responsive which was what you were fishing for. I went to his website address and he wasn’t listed, but the more I read about him, the more I would agree that he’s a man of realistic thought. I wish I had a guy just like him. I’m tired of the long and lonely nights of montreal when I could use someone with passion and lust. You and your followers might not like this guy, but what is there that you have against him? I keep reading your comments and those whom are linked to you, and the worst thing about him is the best thing which happens every weekend to most girls. He’s better than you give him credit. I just broke up with my boyfriend 4 days ago and I think you might have the wrong idea of what men are in the modern age. How old are you?

        • I am always intrigued when someone singles out anything that Thomas Murray posted on my blog. I leave his comments up (well, most of them) just to see who might surface to defend him…

          You say you are from Montreal, but your IP address tells a different story.

          I think it likely that you are another alias he is using online, or perhaps you are truly misled — as I once was — by his seeming eloquence. It would likely serve you well to do some further reading. Start with this post: and then type “Thomas Murray” into the search box of my page for the rest of the story. Unfortunately dear Jenni has decided she is safer in oblivion than exposed on the internet, so you won’t be able to read her raw and emotional tale in first person. But, should you be defending Mr. Murray because you are acquainted with him, I would strongly advise that you have a short exchange with Jenni, for your own safety and well-being. I can facilitate that if you decide you’d like to.

          Anyway, I am 45-years-old, divorced for 5 years, and now living with and committed to a wonderful man who reveals men like Thomas for what they are: frauds, cowards, and predators. Good luck to you, because whether you are Thomas in disguise or simply a misguided woman who believes him to be anything special or worthy, you will need it.

  2. I liked it 🙂 I had an ex who used to say that all the time… and actually I’ve caught myself doing it a time or two as well. But I fully agree with you – that it is an attempt to relinquish any or all responsibility for how we got ourselves in a situation… still, sometimes after beating a dead horse, over and over, I simply HAVE to relinquish responsibility, and although I rarely believe anything really “is what it is,” there are some instances where it just needs to be said 🙂

    Of course, that’s not what your post was about, but it made me chuckle after reflecting on that particular ex, and how I used to feel when he said it. And the moments of desperation which have caused me to utter such a silly phrase.

    Still, I enjoy your reflections, and find them very well thought out. But, I hope sometimes you don’t think… I hope sometimes you write, say, or do without the slightest bit of consideration or evaluation of consequences. Cuz, that’s where the REAL livin’ begins!

    • Lol… Who knew that “it is what it is” would generate so much commentary?!

      Your point about doing things without thinking is a good one, and it’s actually one of the things that I enjoy about writing — usually I just hammer it out, without much editing afterward. I sit on it for a little while and have a second read, just to be sure that it’s pretty clear and doesn’t reveal anything too personal about any of my friends. This kind of free-form writing is so satisfying, almost like a stream-of-consciousness…. But I think my friends would tell you that, pretty much, almost every thought that comes into my head comes out of my mouth. For better or for worse…. 🙂

  3. Pingback: thomas murray: a cautionary tale | that precarious gait

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