I loved even more reading Timothy Wilson’s latest book, “Re-Direct: the Surprising New Science of Psychological Change“. A must-read. Science-based. Full of interesting information and insights. And the “story-editing” approach Wilson advocates shares with Solution-Focus the same strategy: a brief intervention that has self-sustaining effects leading to long lasting changes in behaviors.
Wilson’s approach is based on the idea that it is all about the interpretations we give to events – not about the events themselves.
Not a novel idea, since it was one of the cornerstones of Stoic thinkers.
But now we have the science to test this approach and… it works!
The interventions Wilson puts under the “story editing” umbrella follow one of the following strategies to change the stories people tell themselves:
- redirecting the narrative in a way that leads to lasting change: exercises, like Pennebaker’s writing protocol, which are useful for people who have failed to come up with a coherent interpretation of an event that does not make sense and / or it is unpleasant to think about (e.g., trauma)
- story prompting – redirecting people down a particular narrative path with subtle prompts; for example, by giving people information that would allow them to reframe their experiences. E.g. students might interpret their academic difficulties when they start college as a sign they are not cut out for it; simply showing them data that tells them experiencing difficulties at first isnormal, in addition to a video of peers saying they too experienced difficulties when they started, is enough to have a significant impact
- do good, be good; as Aristotle said, “we become just by the practice of just actions, self-controlling by exercising self-control, and courageous by performing acts of courage.” So by acting in a certain way, people shape their narratives in ways that are helpful to them. E.g., they act kindly and so they get to think of themselves as kind persons.
One of the most interesting point made by the author is that while we thoroughly test drugs before putting them on the market, we do not do the same with psychological interventions. As a result, much money and effort has been spent on programs that seem to make sense – but do not work. One example: D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education).
It gets worse. Not only some programs or interventions do not work – they might actually be harmful. Among these: CISD (Critical Incident Stress Debrief); “Scared-straight” programs like R.I.P. (Restoring Inner-city Peace). Bottom line: test first, roll out later. Not vice-versa!
But as I mentioned, the book is not about what does not work – it is about what works in facilitating self-sustaining, and therefore long-lasting, change.
You will learn about a technique that, again, was conceived by the Stoics – negative visualization. You will learn about the power of volunteering for keeping teenagers out of trouble. You will learn about the tricky but effective “minimal sufficiency principle“. And you will learn about how a simple 15-minute writing assignment allowed students to close the achievement gap. Among many other things… and it is all in —> here.