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Spoiler alert: most skills and tools WON’T solve every problem you have. 

For that matter, many skills and tools may not work perfectly when you try them— especially if you’re still developing them, or if you’re particularly overwhelmed at the moment by feelings or urges. 

Keep working on acquiring and practicing them anyway.

Skills and tools designed to help you manage your emotions and direct your behavior often work only partially, especially at first. It’s rarely a matter of, you engage a skill or a tool, and suddenly your emotions or behavior is perfectly or permanently managed. 

Engaging a skill or tool isn’t like flipping a light switch. It’s rarely an all-or-nothing proposition. 

This DOESN’T, however, mean that developing and using skills and tools is pointless. 

Some people insist that because a skill or a tool doesn’t immediately and permanently take away their bad feelings or their problematic behavior urges, then those skills or tools “don’t work” and shouldn’t be developed or used. 

It always mystifies and frustrates me when I hear this. Because it’s simply not true. 

Believe me when I tell you: you SHOULD develop tools and skills, even if they don’t work perfectly or permanently. 

An imperfect skill or tool is better than NO skills or tools…and it’s a lot better than just letting painful emotions or self-sabotaging behavior have their way with you. 

What usually happens in the real world is, if an emotion or impulse is overwhelming you, using a skill or a tool takes the intensity of that emotion or impulse down a certain percentage. 

When you’re first developing a skill or tool, that intensity may only go down from 100% to 98%. 

And, yes. The difference between 100% and 98% isn’t all THAT much. 

But when the emotion we’re talking about is sadness that is so crippling you can’t get out of bed to go to work, then that 2% difference might make the difference between losing your job or not. 

When that impulse is the impulse to harm yourself or end your own life, that 2% might make the difference between inflicting permanent injury or not waking up the next morning. 

The thing about tools and skills is, the tend to work better the more they’re developed (i.e., the more thought you put into them, the more you adapt them to your specific needs, etc.) and the more they’re practiced (i.e., the more you use them out in the real world…regardless of whether they work perfectly or not). 

A subset of people tend to be supremely unimpressed when they get into the nuts and bolts of emotional management. 

It’s as if they expected a combination of magic words and secret techniques to solve their problem of feeling bad or being drawn to problematic behavior. 

When they figure out that there really are no magic words, they get disillusioned. 

I have no problem admitting, I have no magic words that will guarantee perfect emotional or behavioral management. 

I have what every behavior change specialist in the history of the world has had: a combination of self-talk, practiced visualization, breathing exercises, and distraction and grounding techniques that heavily engage the senses. 

None of it is new. 

None of it is particularly esoteric. 

And none of it will work perfectly, every time, to 100% change how you feel or what you’re inclined to do. 

But will the tools and skills that I (and every other therapist, mentor, guru, or guide whose teachings have value) teach help you chip away at your painful emotions and self sabotaging behavior? 

Absolutely. 

Don’t insist or shoot for that 100% effectiveness rate when you’re developing tools and skills. 

Don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good enough. 

Don’t expect magic. 

Have realistic expectations, have patience, and be prepared to work hard. 

Because this stuff DOES work. 

I promise you. 

 

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