Dr Dale Peterson, Freud, Watson, Maslow, choices, life direction, free will

What I'm Going To Do, I Think

What I'm Going To Do, I Think

© 2000 Dr. Dale Peterson; © 2006 Wellness Clubs of America.com

My son-in-law recently sent me a passage from his college psychology textbook. He had found it particularly interesting. The author observed that Freud, a psychoanalyst, studied disturbed people and concluded we were controlled by our unconscious mind. Later, Watson, a behaviorist, did experiments on normal people and concluded we were controlled by our environment. Subsequently, Abraham Maslow, a humanist, studied outstanding people and concluded we can make conscious personal choices and are not controlled by the unconscious nor the environment. He said people were basically motivated to grow and achieve.

I am struck by the thought that all three researchers were correct. They simply failed to grasp that life is a series of choices, and that these choices define an individual’s lot. One of the sad truths of life is the fact that indecision is in reality abdication of the power to choose. When we fail to make a decision we are actually making a choice. We are choosing to live as a victim rather than as a victor.

Freud studied disturbed people and concluded that we humans are controlled by our unconscious minds. I would argue that the people he studied were disturbed because they failed to make conscious decisions. They relinquished control of their lives by failing to use their ability to reason and make wise choices.

Freud’s observations were correct, but he drew the wrong conclusions. His patients were not victims of drives and instincts beyond their control. They were people who had chosen to allow their unconscious minds to direct their paths, with tragic results. Without a clear sense of direction they found themselves living lives of despondency and desolation. If you don’t know where you’re going any path will do. Unfortunately, the paths of least resistance are nearly always downhill.

I remember public service announcements in years past proclaiming, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste,” referring to the need for access to higher education for the conscious mind. The same statement is true of the unconscious mind. It is an incredibly creative and powerful resource, but it will only work to our advantage if it is given clear direction. When we choose to control our thoughts we are capable of rising to great heights. When we do not choose to control our thoughts we can fall to the depths of despair.

Watson’s observations were also correct, but he, like Freud, failed to grasp the truth. The people he studied were not normal; they were simply non-decision makers. Sadly, the vast majority of people in the world today lead lives of quiet desperation, unaware that they have the potential to create their own environment rather than be controlled by the circumstances in which they find themselves.

It is a grave danger to accept this behavior as normal. It is ironic that Watson is called a “behaviorist” when he did not realize that allowing one’s external circumstances to control one’s thinking and one’s actions is simply a learned behavior. It is not normal behavior; it is commonplace behavior. It is not life by design.

Each person on the face of the earth was created for a purpose. We are all designed to grow and achieve greatness. The people studied by Maslow did not possess supernatural gifts unavailable to other individuals. Most were not born with unique talents and abilities. They were ordinary people who, by making conscious choices, achieved what appeared to be extraordinary things.

What is viewed today as outstanding or extraordinary should be the norm. Excellent teachers appreciate this truth. My other son-in-law, an outstanding musician, began his teaching career working with junior high school students. After one of his personal performances he was asked, “Knowing how the music should sound when performed by an accomplished artist like yourself, how can you stand to listen to beginning students day after day?”

Without hesitation he replied, “I expect them to sound the same way!” It is not by chance that his student groups excel in their performance.

Freud, Watson, & Maslow observed three types of people, all with the potential for greatness, separated only by their willingness to choose. I am involved in many activities, but the silver thread that runs through each of them is what I consider my calling or purpose in life. It is asking each individual to choose to live up to his or her potential; to refuse to settle for what is commonly considered the norm.

Most people choose not to decide. Instead they are content to be controlled by their unbridled unconscious mind or by external circumstances. Repeatedly they will come to the point of saying, “I think I’d like to ____,” but are never able to make a decision to take action. Although I know that this is the case, it still breaks my heart to see them do so. Every so often, however, I am given the privilege of meeting an individual who chooses to make a decision to achieve greatness.

This is the type of person who gives me renewed courage, vigor and resolve. My new friend, Bob, is just such an inspiring individual. At eighty years of age, unable to drive because of loss of vision, and suffering complications of diabetes, he has decided to start a new business. “I’d rather be working with people who are going somewhere,” he says, “than sitting at home waiting to die.” If more people, young and old alike, would adopt his attitude the world would be a marvelously different place to live.

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