"Insanity" is popularly defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Yet, people have a tendency to do just that, whether it is with relationships, jobs, or destructive behavior. "Sanity" does not come, however, by simply dropping bad habits and relationships or swearing off certain behaviors. As Dr. Henry Cloud puts it, one has to take off the old and put on the new.
Cloud, a clinical psychologist, leadership consultant and author of the long-standing bestseller, Boundaries, presents in his new book, Never Go Back: 10 Things You'll Never Do Again (Howard Books), "ten key realizations about behaviors and thought patterns that hold us back and keep us from our goals."
"What we know about the brain is it's sorta like the old spiritual advice. What the Bible tell us is, there's two sides to getting better. We've gotta put off the old, but we have to put on the new. There's no such thing, really as stopping doing something without replacing it with a different direction and a different way of behaving," Cloud told The Christian Post in a recent interview.
Below is a transcript, edited for brevity, of CP's interview with Cloud.
CP: You initially thought about titling this book I Repent, or Awakening. Why did those two words come to mind?
Cloud: I went back and forth with so many people about it, because I really wanted to call it I Repent. The word 'repent' really means … It's seen as negative by so many people. If you want to take a simple way of looking at repent, just get out of your chair and walk into a wall and see how that feels. When you get it, when you have an awakening — "I think I'll go through the door instead." You take another path, you go around, you go in a different direction.
What we found about highly successful people both in their relationships as well as in their performance lives is that they recognize some patterns that once they get it, they never go back to running into that wall again and they don't recreate those mistakes. That's the difference a lot times with people that do well and people that don't.
I just couldn't get anybody to like that word is the problem. Everyone thought it was too negative.
CP: You write that external factors, like material things, status, etc., do not necessarily equate happiness. Yet, we live in a culture where people seem to get satisfaction out of acquiring these external things. I'm thinking specifically of recent examples involving megachurch pastors manipulating bestsellers lists or even being accused of manipulating baptisms in order to trumpet a figure. How do you convince people on that point, when everywhere we look materialism, status, the right job, etc. seem to make all the difference?
Cloud: It's a very important question. There's so much research, and secular research on this. When I look at all of the scientific research on happiness and thriving, and I looked at what all the studies have found in the last decade or more, it's almost like reading the Bible. Because when you look at what makes people happy, is a list of factors that is exactly what God says that there are ways of living that make you happy whether you're rich, poor or healthy or sick, or have the job you have or don't, or the car you want or don't, the salary you want or don't. That all of that external stuff, research shows, only counts for 10 percent of our happiness. Then there's some biological things (like) temperament. But the rest of happiness comes from basically some life practices. There are things like staying connected and being grateful, and forgiving and having a purpose and utilizing your talents and sharing, and a bunch of things that God has actually wired the brain to release positive states of joy and happiness and chemistry and all of this, when we have certain things built into our lives.
Yet, what we do is we don't listen to that wisdom. We think well the new car or the right relationship, the right job or the right neighborhood or the right house or whatever, that's going to make me happy. What we do is, we find in the research it says you'll get about a 10 percent bump in happiness when you get one of those things. But then, it goes away, because we're going to be who we are.
How do we get people to hear that? Well basically there's two ways. One is, wisdom. And wisdom is listening to the pain of others. You go to the Book of Proverbs, it gives you all this wisdom. Here's two ways to this: you can touch the stuff and find out it hurts; or you can listen to me and don't touch the stove. So wisdom is when we learn lessons from people who have experienced the pain, and then we live according to wisdom. The second way is, go and pursue all that. If you think making a lot of money is gonna make you happy or you think getting a lot of people to think you got bestsellers is gonna make you happy, think you're cool and all that, what you're gonna find is you gonna get to a very empty road. Then you're gonna find, through the pain, that you better start looking at your internal life.
It's so funny you know, I work in Beverly Hills so obviously around all the entertainment industry and stars and all of that, and you see all the glamour and riches and all that. But if you go to the supermarket and stand in the check-out lines and see all the tabloids there, and these stars that supposedly have everything that everybody wants and a lot times, you know, there's drug addiction and there's broken relationships, there's depression and there's all this kind of stuff, because there's never enough of 'stuff' to make us happy.
CP: In the chapter titled "The Truth About Self-Help" you deconstruct the term "self-help." Why do you say "self-help" is an oxymoron and believe it reflects what you say is the Bible's "core message?"
Cloud: Self-help really, it is an oxymoron. If we have a problem in something we can't do, then to think that we are going to be the solution when we are the problem is kinda goofy. It's sorta like your car is out of gas and you're gonna tell it to get some self-gas. That just doesn't work. Everything we know about a closed system is that it deteriorates and it runs out of energy and it runs out of the ways to do things well. To use an example, leave your toddlers at home for the weekend and tell them to get some self-discipline. That's gotta come from the outside.
So what you see with high-performers, every high-performer, truly high-performer, they have along the way and still do, they have people that speak into their lives and that support them and that help them through struggles and give them wisdom and give them feedback and give them coaching. You take even the athletes. If you look at Michael Phelps, who won more gold medals than anybody, what do you look at? You look at his picture where he's had a coach pushing him into the pool at five in the morning for years and years and years. And when he wants to quit, talking him out of it, on and on and on.
When I say it's the core message of the Bible, that God is the only self-sustaining entity and we are all dependent on the outside. We're dependent on Him and we're dependent on other people to give us the support and the correction and the teaching and the modeling and the healing and all the stuff we need from each other.
If people are going to succeed, they've really got to open up to what I call open-system change, instead of closed system, where they open themselves up to energy sources from the outside — support and (guidance) and strength and spiritual growth and all of that, as well as new information from the outside. If you do that, then you can be helped. But to think that you're gonna come up with all of that yourself is very grandiose and very, very wrong.
CP: Among the "eight readily available ingredients for change" that you list in Never Go Back, which one or two would you say are supremely essential?
Cloud: One of the things that we tend to do is we will tend to do things in the way we've always done it. I always say to people, "You know what, we don't need new ways to fail. The old ones are working just fine." What we've got to do is, we've got to get above those patterns and begin to do it in a new way. The section of the book that you're talking about is, first of all having a wake-up call that I don't have problems. What I have is, I have patterns that cause problems. If I can see that and I can identify the pattern, and that's what the book is about. There are about 10 of these patterns that end up causing most of our problems. If I can see that and I can observe them, then I can do things like strive for progress and not perfection. Everything we know about growth, for example, is that growth is incremental and it's directional. It isn't all or nothing. So the first mindset that someone's got to get in is that I'm gonna be in a process of change, not of instant change, and that I've gotta keep getting better, a little bit further each and every day and stop thinking in an all-or-nothing way.
I think that that is one of the most important ones after the one I said earlier, that we've got to really, really make sure we're opening ourselves up to two things: a new source of energy, support from God and other people; and we've gotta learn new ways, we've gotta learn new principles, we gotta have new knowledge and new skills. That's the way you see people change.
CP: People often say, when things do not turn out as they had expected, "I wish I had known…" In your book, you use the phrase "play the movie." How can hypothetical thinking actually help people anticipate long-term results of their actions?
(Listen to Cloud's response in the audio player)
CP: You mention as much in Never Go Back, but many of the principles you point out are common sense, yet human beings have a tendency I suppose to keep making bad choices. Why do you think that is? Why is it so hard for some us to face the music so to speak?
Cloud: It's kind of the human condition, right. It's interesting, I don't know who it was, but someone said, "The problem with common sense is it's not too common." What's more common is that we don't do common sense. What basically happens if you look at it from — I'm a psychologist so I study brains. If you look at it from a neuroscience perspective, what we know is that our behavior patterns basically are hardwired. We have neurological wiring, just like a computer is wired to do certain things to certain outcomes. We have patterns, and that's the wiring we have. So if we are wired, like I was talking about my daughter, if I had allowed her to do that and this pattern in her gets created that every time I got a conflict I'm gonna avoid it and go the other way, then the reason she'll repeat that is the same reason is when you have a computer and you double-click on an icon, a certain program comes up. Until you load another program.
So what we know about the brain is, is it's sorta like the old spiritual advice. What the Bible tell us is, there's two sides to getting better. We've gotta put off the old, but we have to put on the new. There's no such thing, really as stopping doing something without replacing it with a different direction and a different way of behaving. So I can't say to somebody just, "Don't eat this. We gotta go do these other things instead and go do these other things as well." It starts with the wake-up call of figuring out, "Wow, I continue to do the same thing expecting different results." Once you wake up to that, then you have to ask what is this pattern that I have to avoid? What am I gonna replace it with? In the book, what I did was I just gathered 10 of these patterns that I see high-performance people stop doing. You don't find successful people doing these things, and they begin to behave differently.
CP: Is there any other point you want to make about the book?
Cloud: I think what's really cool about just this whole area is that it's something that we can identify with in all areas of life, whether it's relationships or performance, that the difference in successful people, oftentimes in unsuccessful people, is that successful people go through these wake-up calls. They have awakenings where they realize that this pattern is basically causing all my problems and want to get it. Once they get it, they never go back to doing that again. These are things that all of us can learn and they're good, old fashion wisdom, but they will do two things: they'll avoid a lot of pain and create a lot of success.
Dr. Cloud suggests in Never Go Back that people should never: 1. Return to what hasn't worked; 2. Do anything that requires you to be someone else; 3. Try to change another person; 4. Believe that you can please everyone; 5. Choose short-term comfort over long-term benefit; 6. Trust someone or something flawless; 7. Take your eyes off the big picture; 8. Neglect to do due diligence; 9. Fail to ask why you are where you are; 10. Forget that your inner life produces your outer success.
Learn more about Never Go Back:10 Things You'll Never Do Again online at Simon & Schuster.