Mel Schwartz, LCSW

#091 Rethinking How We Think and Communicate (Encore Presentation)

This is a special encore of an episode that originally posted in February of 2019.

After reading Mel’s new book, The Possibility Principlea producer with Radio New Zealand contacted Mel for an interview with Sunday Morning host Jim Mora. Thanks to the generosity of Radio New Zealand, we’re presenting that interview for you in this episode.

Jim and Mel dialogue about a bold new way of thinking Mel crafted based upon the remarkable discoveries from quantum physics.  Mel has distilled these principles into a practical method for living more resiliently that liberates us from feeling stuck in the past and enlighten our relationship with the self and with others.

This episode also introduces a bold new way of communicating. Mel shares the words that block our ability to change, are ruinous to our relationships and destructive to critical communications as they impede compassion and empathy.

Your comments are always welcome!

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Transcript of The Possibility Podcast with Mel Schwartz #091

Welcome to The Possibility Podcast. My name is Mel Schwartz. I’ll be your host and your thought provocator. I’ve been practicing psychotherapy for over 20 years. I’ve done numerous workshops and corporate speaking gigs and I’ve worked with thousands of people over this time. I’ve been fortunate to witness countless insights and breakthroughs through my work that have allowed me to write several books and over 100 articles. I’ll be introducing you new ways of thinking, relating, and communicating to help you reach the possibilities that await you so you can truly thrive in your life. Think of it as a new game plan for living. Very often, we’ll have call ins from at least one or two people on our show. Thanks for joining my emerging community of possibility seekers and I hope you enjoy it.

Welcome everyone to today’s episode. This is going to be a novel departure from what we ordinarily do. About a month ago, I was contacted by New Zealand Public Radio. They wanted to interview me on my new book, The Possibility Principle and in particular an article they just read that I had recently written called “How Eight Words Can Change Your Life.” Today’s episode is going to be a compelling interview as we explore how you can rethink your life, rethink the way you think and in particular, rethink aspects of your communication. Here we go.

JIM: The possibility principle. How quantum physics can improve the way you think, live and love. Its author is Mel Schwartz, a psychotherapist in Manhattan, a marriage counselor as well and a well-known public speaker in forums like Ted Talks. He’s got a much viewed talk online about getting rid of anxiety for example.

There is an aspect to this book which we will focus on in our chat. It has to do with avoiding a group of words. So, we’ll get to that.

Mel Schwartz Good morning.

MEL: Good morning to you Jim.

JIM: I’d like to start by having you reassure us because of course many people switch their brains off on a Sunday that we aren’t going to be talking about quantum physics really.

MEL: Jim I probably was a C student in science at best. So it’s safe to say we will not be talking about the science.

JIM: No fair enough.

MEL: We will be talking about the takeaway, the principles how life altering they are and how we can use them to our advantage.

JIM: Okay, so for the purposes of this discussion, in general terms first, how should we think about quantum physics? Quantum mechanics as they apply to our life and ambitions.

MEL: Quantum mechanics which began in the 1930s describes a reality all together different than what we were trained to believe. We see that reality through the lens of quantum physics is presents inseparability. Something that corresponds with what the mystics and the Eastern religions have always said the universe is as one it is undivided these were always spiritual urgings but now the hardest of sciences quantum physics has revealed that this is seemingly true.

JIM: Right.

MEL: So the first principle is inseparability. We live life most of us under the illusion of separation. Which comes from 17th century thinking Sir Isaac Newton. Well that illusion of separation creates greed, hostility, conflict, excessive individualism. Much of what ails us personally and globally, I believe is due to that. If we see that reality is inseparable, then it means that what is good for you is good for me. It brings us back to the golden rule, empathy and compassion become commonplace and rule supreme once we come to stand inseparability.

JIM: Okay. Your great idea I know came to you in the presumably lonely throes of a collapsed marriage a long time ago. And so you you discovered the interconnected nature of things if you like to put it simply. So along with that came the conviction that you and I that we all can shed our old beliefs and thoughts and behaviors.

MEL: Well I came to understand that our core beliefs about ourselves. Our core identity is in fact a belief but many of us regard it as the truth. Well, once we come to see it as a belief, we then can navigate freeing ourselves from the thousands, if not, millions of thoughts that tend to come out of the core belief. So, let’s look at the belief like I’m not lovable or I’ll never be a success. If that’s one’s belief about themselves, then, the ensuing thoughts confirm that belief and we become trapped. We become imprisoned by old thought. So, in my book, The Possibility Principle, I share techniques of breaking free of old thought. You see, we can’t progress and access change if we’re trapped in imprisoned by old thought. So, there are techniques whereby you can learn to see your old thought and not become the thought. In that nanosecond where you see the thought and choose not to become it, you’re in a state of pure possibility, pure potentiality and that’s what I call thinking. Thinking is rising above thought, seeing the thought, and choosing consciously to think differently.

JIM: I’d like to get back to that moment of possibility that you’ve just referred to because I think it’s quite important but early on, I’d like to ask a question on behalf of all the people listening who’ve tried to be better people and I guess we all all do and in the end have only partially succeeded or maybe not succeeded really at all in terms of their fundamental situation. They haven’t been able to realize that possibility. So, what makes your quantum association with quantum physics ideas more useful to them.

MEL: I would say a one core reason is that as a people, we tend to resist uncertainty. We want to know the future and predict the future. I recently gave a TEDx talk called overcoming anxiety in which I point out that you need to know a future which is unknowable. The result will be fear and anxiety. Now, what happens when we do the opposite. If reality, the other principle of quantum physics by the way is that reality is all together uncertain. It is not deterministic as Newton trained us. So, if reality appears uncertain, I need to embrace uncertainty. If I embrace uncertainty, I can create new possibility. You see, uncertainty equals possibility but if I’m stuck in this web of needing to know what is unknowable then change is impeded. I can’t access possibility if I need to know a future which I haven’t lived yet. So when we embrace uncertainty Jim we participate in the creating of our future.

JIM: Okay. How can uncertainty be the wind in our sails? Cuz uncertainty often leaves many people be calmed on an ocean of indecision Mel.

MEL: Well uncertainty in the way I am applying it doesn’t align with fear because what you’re referring to Jim is the fear of making a mistake.

JIM: Yeah.

MEL: Now, what is a mistake? A mistake is a concept. It’s a it’s a concept around the fact that if we do something or don’t do something, we regret the outcome but that outcome is a momentary snapshot in our life but we draw on the outcome. You know, so many people fret and have a fear about the consequences of a decision that we’re deliberating making.

JIM: Yeah.

MEL: But we don’t worry about the consequences of lack decision. You see that’s what jumps up and bites us in the rear end. We become inactive because we’re afraid of making a mistake. The only mistake arguably is to be afraid of making a mistake and to be inert.

JIM: We stay stuck. We stay inert. Uh we clank through life wearing outdated armour. That’s one metaphor from your book which jumped out at me. So shall we go go shopping for new armour. Uh another talk of yours which attracted attention recently was that once upon a time you and your former wife used to argue as many couples do over whether the room was hot or cold.

MEL: Yeah.

JIM: Can you take up the story from there please?

MEL: Certainly. So it was bedtime and invariably I’d say it is hot in here. It is. And she’s saying no it isn’t. And after a while I realized my error was I was making an objective statement: is. So I learned to say I feel hot. Well that wouldn’t change the thermostat. But at least I wasn’t stuck in an argument about objective truth. So I began to read about the to-be verbs. Is am, were, was, be, been. These verbs are all inert. They’re fixed. They’re products of seventeenth century thinking the great machine-like universe things. So, I began to come across research and literature go dating back to the 1930s, which proposed that when we write and speak without using to-be verbs, we free ourselves up. Look at the term change is hard. Most people agree change is hard. It’s due to the word is, that makes it an immutable fact. If I say, I struggle with change. Well, that’s amenable to change. So, I consider that our thoughts filter our experience, most of us agree with that but if my thoughts are comprised of these inert to-be verbs, leaving me speaking about objective truth, it ruins my communication ability to be able to tend to another’s feelings and perceptions, it victimizes me in that whatever my self-esteem issues are are rooted in to-be verbs. So, for the listeners to the show, think about a core self-esteem issue you have, something that you feel inadequate about. Now, write it down. I bet there’s a to-be verb there. Now, restate it. Restate it without using a to-be verb and notice the difference. You’re now talking about your belief, your feeling, or your perception and that is open to change. It’s not stuck.

JIM: So.

MEL: It frees everything up.

JIM: It free, okay. So, it frees us up. It’s an interesting notion and I notice it’s got a lot of attention. So, our words set the stage. Uh they should be aimed at letting people in and enabling us to get out of being trapped and so when Hamlet said to be or not to be, you say not to be, don’t you? You see?

MEL: Well, to be. I I entitled one of the articles on this to be or not to be but let’s think about interpersonal communication. Have you ever had somebody say to you, you’re wrong, you are wrong. Now, we know the moment we’re told we’re wrong, we become defensive. We’re no longer open. The conversations cut off. This impacts relationships and couples in particular. So, instead of saying to your partner, you are wrong. You might say, I I struggle to understand why you feel the way you do. There’s no to-be verb in there and we’re seeking common ground. Help me understand why you feel that way. That’s inviting. It’s generative. That’s a shared inquiry. It has the guts of dialogue and if we began to communicate this way with one another, it would change very many things.

JIM: As you say, this idea goes back Alfred Korzybski in his book Science and Sanity. It goes back to the 1930s as you’ve alluded to. And he said you can’t avoid all those to-be words but you should be you should pay much more attention to using them. Does that sum up your position?

MEL: Yes you know it occurs to me that if my phone rings and I’m in the car and my son says what are you doing or there’s no way for me to say anything but I am driving the car. So, there are exceptions but when you are facing a challenging conversation, when you think the other person is going to be defensive or reactive, rethink it and start your conversation without a to-be verb. So, instead of you are, I find you, my experience looks like, move into it subjectively rather than objectively and then, there’s a better chance the other person is listening.

JIM: May sound a bit stilted to start but it’ll produce good results. We’re talking about.

MEL: And and and we should welcome it feeling uncomfortable by the way.

JIM: Yeah no that that makes sense too. Mel Schwartz is talking to us. Author of The Possibility Principle: How quantum physics can improve the way you think, live and love. So to borrow from your book part of the possibility principle is that in that nanosecond before the next thought we all have now anything is possible. And I’d like to make the comment that depressed or anxious People know this feeling. You maybe wake up and for a few seconds you’re your normal self calm and then the torrent of worry or the sloth of despond arrives. And there is possibility at any moment. But Mel how to prolong it? That is the trick isn’t it?

MEL: It’s rather like creating a muscle memory. When I work with individuals to be to be today I use the new term. I use a term from fishing for the first time. Catch and release. I proposed that the goal is to see the thought catch it and release it. It’s just the thought. The more you do that the more it becomes a muscle memory and then you reach a point where it is second nature. So you’re no longer trapped by old thoughts and old feelings. And then change change is is is common place then.

JIM: You’re right. We are becoming more and more aware of that quantum world and the quantum concepts imparting the veil between us and them and realizing that there isn’t much of a veil in the area all. But in terms of living with uncertainty what happens to us Mel when we live a life as many of us do defined by the need for security and predictability because it’s so strong and most of us and we’re probably quite scared of free floating notions. We’ve gotta pay the mortgage. We’ve gotta get the car fixed. We might see a free floating life as being the man sitting on the ground asking for money at the entrance to the supermarket. So it is a it is a hard notion to embrace isn’t it?

MEL: Well it I think it’s due to our training. Um of course we need to know what time the train arrives and when the kids come home from school. And I’m I’m not proposing otherwise. We could look at how much of the gross domestic product of a country is derived by uncertainty. Sporting events, movies, books where we’re thrilled because we don’t know the outcome. But our own lives are choked like a straight jacket by resisting uncertainty. Oscar Wilde said uncertainty is the essence of romance.

JIM: Yeah.

MEL: Well we can see that. So what do we do once we secure the relationship? We turned it into conformity and predictability and perhaps this is why romance tends to wither. So if you live your life as though you’re playing a chess match. We are sitting back in calculating and deliberating the next move you’re not in flow of life. So there is a balance. But when we embrace uncertainty in no way does that suggest that we are not wise, intuitive, and aware. I’m not proposing being reckless. I’m proposing that our comfort zone gets very small and narrow and then fear intrudes because of our belief that if we don’t know if we’re not familiar then we’re in trouble. That’s a meta belief that is very damaging to the human spirit.

JIM: But of course the Romans wouldn’t have gone to the coliseum if their own lives were thrilling. So the obvious question is how many people can embrace your idea of life even if we all agree with it. Uh surely it’s always been a determined few, you know, quantum or no quantum, a determined or lucky or genetically blessed few who can live that way.

MEL: Well, I I share my own life story. Um I am not a genius. I’m not I don’t think of myself as an intellect. I had been in business. I was young man, married with two children, a lot of expenses. My business was profitable but I wasn’t feeling gratified. I was lacking in meaning and purpose. At the age of forty, I decided close my business and I did not have financial independence at that time. I closed my business and I thought what would I like to do? And I remember the conversation I had many years before. When someone asked me what do you love to do? My response had been I love to help people think differently. So I thought what could that look like? Well by the next morning I had my path. Now that was fraught with uncertainty and risk. And danger but I kept thinking to myself, why can’t I? Why can’t I succeed? Why can’t I succeed as a therapist, as a marriage counselor, ultimately, I do corporate communications work, I write books, I talk, why can’t I? If I hadn’t embraced my uncertainty personally, you and I would not be speaking right now and I’d be relegated to a life of conformity and dullness and so I made the choice. No thanks.

JIM: It is interesting to hear you say that because that’s quite a good example. You know, we’ve probably all met many people who’ve tried positive thinking and mind power or whatever and often it’s presumably worked for some and often people have failed to embed it in their lives like New Year’s resolutions but if someone, if you were giving a Ted Talk and someone shouted out, give me one simple line to live by, Mel, to change my life, what would it be?

MEL: The most important relationship you will ever have isn’t with children, your parents, your spouse, your lover. The relationship that will impact you far more than any other is with your thoughts. You need to learn to choose them with care and turn your thoughts into your ally. That’s the most important message I can provide.

JIM: You once took a client to the beach and drew a circle around them and told him to stay within it while you went and got lunch. Why?

MEL: Yes. This individual was trapped with fear of the unknown. Uh imprisoned by his own fears and thoughts. So, I wanted to illustrate to him what his life was looking like. So, we took a walking session. My office is nearby a beach on the water and so, I drew a circle with a a stick and said, stay here until I get back and he looked at me in alarm. What do you mean? What are you doing? I said, well, that’s what your life looks like. You have trapped yourself inside a circle you have drawn. Wanna step out of the circle. Let’s step into the uncertainty and into the unknown. That is where new possibility lies.

JIM: Okay. Last question and this is a whole last chapter in your book actually. How to get from where we are to where we know we should be because you show us the sunlit uplands of a life moving more nimbly in tune with a fluid universe getting back to quantum. So maybe I’m listening right now driving an Uber around trying to earn extra money on a Sunday to keep paying the rent or whatever I’m doing. What direction do I go in to get to where I can be? How do I start?

MEL: I I am not a follower or a believer in gradualism. You know, that that I find that mythological that we need to take a slow, steady gradual path. I believe I have lived and experienced defining moments where in a moment, if I get out of my own way and look at something, have an insight and aha moment and I commit to it and then, I ask why can’t I as I had shared previously. So, a defining moment requires a willful intention, the willfulness is often lacking. Often we set our intention. This is what I want to do. These are my goals and objectives and here are my breakthroughs that I need to attain but the willfulness is lacking. So, think of it as being out at sea on a sailboat. You hoist the sail, that’s your intention to move but you need wind in the sail. That’s the willfulness. The wind is the embrace of uncertainty. That will get you moving.

JIM: And the sea metaphor is that actually because you say that we should live as a wave not a particle just to close on just a

MEL: Very very much so

JIM: Just have a quantum

MEL: The wave in quantum physics refers to a pure state of potential

JIM: Very nice to talk with you and thank you for your time as well

MEL: My pleasure it’s great talking with you Jim

JIM: That’s New York psychotherapist Mel Schwartz author of The Possibility Principle

MEL: Thanks for joining us today. I hope you really enjoyed the show. Please feel welcome to leave your comments at this feed or at Mel at Mel Schwartz dot com where you can reach me directly at my website Mel Schwartz. com, you can read about the possibility principle. Please feel welcome to join the RSS feed and subscribe to our show and if you’d like to offer topic ideas or potentially be a guest on the future show, send me that email at Mel at Mel Schwartz dot com. Thanks and have a great day.

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