One of the principles in NLP lies in understanding that in therapy and in your life you must be in a position of at cause for the solutions to your problems, and not at the effect of the problem, in order to gain the most from the experiences your life brings.

You know how shit just happens? Stuff just goes wrong. Just because things aren’t quite the way you desire, doesn’t mean you don’t have control over how you emotionally associate with the problem and therefore resolve it.

Being at the effect

We typically look outside ourselves for the cause of something that goes wrong.

  • I’m late for work because … bad traffic; the car broke down; train ran late etc.
  • I didn’t achieve our sales KPI this month because … the supervisor changed the evaluation; the market was down; customers changed their minds, etc.
  • I can’t make more money because … my parents/teachers didn’t teach me about money management; the rich have it all; the government requires too much tax, etc.
  • I have an unhappy life because … I was abused as a child; I’m in an unhappy marriage; I have to go to a job I hate, etc.

Or, we look inside.

  • I’m late for work because … I’m an idiot for sleeping through my alarm; stupidly I missed the train, etc.
  • I didn’t achieve my KPI this month because … I’m not as good as the other team members; I’m not smart enough; I can’t close, etc.
  • I can’t make more money because … I’m not smart enough to manage money; I don’t think I could get a promotion; I have to take care of all the bills, there’s no way I can make more, etc.
  • I have an unhappy life today because … I allowed myself to be abused; I’m too weak to leave my unhappy marriage; I don’t believe I can do work that brings me joy and still pay the bills, etc.

All of these are examples of you being at the effect of the problem.

It puts the problem squarely on others or on yourself and makes it personal. You’re directly associated in the problem. A problem is just that. A problem. The personalisation of a problem is what causes the resulting emotional angst and control over you.

Being at the cause of the solution

When you’re at cause of the solution, you remain disassociated with the ‘what’ of the problem and look immediately to the ‘how’ of its resolution.

  • I was late because I didn’t take into consideration that traffic might delay me. I’m here now, what do I need to do to make up the time?
  • I was late because I accidentally slept through my alarm. I’m here now, what do I need to do to make up the time?
  • I didn’t achieve my KPI this month because I missed the email explaining the change in the evaluation process. I know now and will adopt the requirements for next month.
  • I didn’t achieve my KPI this month because I am still in the learning process and therefore cannot compare myself to my teammates. I respect this learning process and know the areas I can continue to improve in.
  • To date, I have been unable to make more money because I’ve felt my upbringing didn’t provide me with adequate money management education, but I know that the Internet can teach me anything for free.
  • To date, I have been unable to make more money because I currently lack the financial education I need. I know that I am smart enough, I now need to apply my current skills and seek knowledge from others.

All of the at cause examples do not omit that there was a problem, each example takes responsibility that a problem exists and then takes responsibility for being in control of the solution.

Case study 1

Being at cause does not negate the behaviour of others towards you if they’re being shitty human beings. What these people do is present you with a problem, for which you need to find a way to be at cause for the solution.

Let’s use an extreme example:

A client of mine and I were talking about this concept and he asked what it would mean to be at cause for a circumstance that has happened to him. Fred* proceeded to tell me a story of how his first marriage ended some 20 years earlier when he was in his mid-20s. Fred’s friend, Mike*, slept with his wife. Fred walked in on them in the action, which led to Fred beating the beejeesus out of Mike and sadly, in the heat of the anger also being physically abusive to his wife. To hear this man speak about this incident you knew it was counter-intuitive to his nature to be physically abusive to anyone, let alone a woman, and yet, he openly admitted to losing control. It resulted in charges being pressed, a short stint in jail and a messy divorce from which he did not lose visiting rights to his beloved children.

“How could I have been at cause at that moment?” Fred asked me.

My answer: “You couldn’t.”

In the heat of any moment, you are going to react as is normal for the circumstances presented to you and what resources you have neurologically available to you to manage such a heightened state of stress. Fred didn’t have the skills at the time to manage that heightened level of anger. However, as we explored what happened after, I discovered that he was at cause for the solution in every action thereafter. He was honest with the police, his lawyers, the court, his anger management counsellor while in jail and proactive in subsequent therapy post-release. He took responsibility for his actions every step of the way. What he couldn’t have known and we’ll never be able to prove, is the effect on his sentencing and the divorce proceedings if he had not openly admitted to acting inappropriately in a moment of surprise, anger and hurt. At no time was he recalcitrant.

In explaining this to Fred, he visibly dropped his shoulders. Relief passed over his face and as we continued with his Time Line Therapy®, he was able to conclude with incredible positive learning and insights from the significant emotional experience, which he saw had impacted many of the love-decisions he’d made since.

*Not their real names, nor particularly imaginative ones either.

Case study 2

Prior to starting this business, and my prior project management and administration service, I was a full-time employee of a local Melbourne accounting practice. A small business with two directors, a few admin personal, a finance administrator and 4-5 accountants. I was the receptionist. And over time, I was given more duties which included facilities coordination, marketing coordination, executive assistance to both directors, as well as a virtual assistant to the three other businesses in the building. I became extremely busy, but I loved it because I love the variety and hate twiddling my thumbs. After about 10 months, the sheer amount of workload began to catch up. I felt I was never on top of the workload and was not being heard when stating as much.

Around the same time, I decided it was time to increase my education. I liked what I was learning about business and finance through my role and thought I’d learn something more. I commenced a Masters of Entrepreneurship & Innovation at Swinburne University of Technology. I thought the company were supportive, and certainly, in the beginning, they were.

Two semesters later, I began to recognise changes were underfoot in the company, and within myself. I was coming up with ideas for improvement that were falling on deaf ears. The directors hired a business development manager (BDM) who was, I later learned, instructed to make me ‘fall into line.’ A line mind you that I didn’t know I was crossing because I didn’t know it existed. I was exceptionally good at my job but I was also outspoken and honest, something my client’s (especially corporate) now utilise as their advantage to working with me but at the time I had no way to know it would be my undoing. I never really fit into the company ‘culture’ and while I did get along with the team, I hardly called any of them friends. The management spoke about a family culture but that didn’t include little ol’ black sheep over here answering the phones.

The new BDM was hard on me from day one. I was in tears by the first Friday. And it went downhill quickly thereafter.

I used to tell the story that this BDM and the Directors bullied and harassed me to resign, something I couldn’t prove. After months of criticism, micro-management, mediation and thousands of tears shed, I woke one Friday morning in April 2014 and knew that I would resign that day. They didn’t bat an eyelid. “That’s your final decision then is it?” one of the Directors asked. And that’s when I knew it had all been by design. They couldn’t fault my work but they could ‘performance manage’ me to resign by making my life miserable.

Were I at the effect of their actions, I would continue to tell the story that I had been bullied. But in resigning I know that I was at cause of the solution.

When I think back on that time now, it remains bittersweet, and yet, I am grateful for all I learned while working there. I learned what type of leader I am and what type of company I will, and now, run. I learned how incredibly talented and skilled I am. I learned that I am resourceful and strong. I learned that I am articulate and intelligent. I learned that I am the despot ruler of my life. I learned that I am not a victim of a bunch of dickheads, nor a survivor of a horrible workscape.

Most significantly though, I learned I was in control of the solution.

An exercise for you

Think of a time when you’ve been at the effect of a problem. Reflecting on that experience, how could you have been at the cause of the solution?

Share your reflection in a comment below to positively impact others with your experience.

Your coach,