Thinking in Pictures

One of the basic techniques that we teach in our flagship course – Fundamentals of Structural Thinking – is to think in pictures.  There are a few reasons for this.  One is that a visual language is dimensional.  In other words, you can see various levels of information at once.  That’s a good thing because it lets you understand the relationship of things quickly.  Another way to say this is you can see how things connect, influence each other, and, from that, understand, see what the structure is and why it behaves as it does.

Another advantage thinking in pictures gives us is clarity.  Often people think they are being clear, but too often they are vague.  But when we translate what they are saying into a visual realm, we can see where we need to fill in information, test assumptions, separate concepts from facts, and clarify what is not clear.  For the consultant, coach, manager, and person in the helping professions, this is an invaluable skill to have.  From this technique, new insights and understanding become possible, and lives change.

Most of us, even the most visual, do not actually think in pictures to the degree that we teach it in the FST.  Even the most visual people tend to talk to themselves while they are picturing what is being said.  They process information in two domains: visual and verbal.  When this is the case, the verbal tends to obstruct the visual.  Words are easier to process and so the pictures take a back seat.  One of the techniques we teach is the ability to be visual without any sub-dialogue – to see the pictures without “gabbing to yourself.”  As you can imagine, this is quite a discipline.  But, through it, you increase your comprehension enormously.

We have been taught to think in verbal language.  The limitation to this verbal language is that it is linear.  It is hard to see things dimensionally.  Information is processed in sequence – one thing at a time. That means you can’t easily understand how things connect.  Without that understanding, it is hard to see the underlying structures that drive behaviour.  If you can’t see what is causing behaviour, it is very hard to enable change and have that change be sustainable.  That is why so many change efforts first seem to work, but later, revert as if the change never happened.

Neuroimaging such as PET scans of the brain have shown that children with learning disabilities often have problems with their visual centers.  In other words, if we compared most children to those with learning problems, we would find that most children have active visual centers, but the ones with learning problems usually do not.  Their visual centers are much less active.  But, when they learn to think in pictures, there is tremendous improvement.  When their visual centers become more active, their comprehension goes up dramatically.  Much of this work has been pioneered by Nancy Bell through her company Lindamoodbell.  In their process, children first learn to picture single words.  After that, the next step is to visualize phrases.  Then complete sentences, then paragraphs.  This visual training enables the students to increase their learning skills and it makes a dramatic difference in their learning process.

In a similar way, training in structural thinking has a series of exercises that increase visual fluency.  As part of that development, your learning to picture allows you an increased ability to listen to information, translate it into a visual form, and study those pictures, non-verbally.  In other words, you are able to shut off your intrusive verbal mind for a period of time.  Because of that, you can suddenly see how things relate to each other, what tendencies for behavior exist, what it would take to change the structure leading to those tendencies, and why things are the ways they are today.  This type of insight is not usually available.  But when it is, it changes everything.

Another FST technique is how you translate words into pictures.  It’s as if you have a little film crew in your head making a movie of what is being said.  The pictures tell the story.  And, when you are listening to others, especially in a professional situation, there will be some missing pictures.  These missing pictures lead to targeted questions, and laser like penetration into unexplored areas.  This is transformative and life changing.

Often there are pictures that contradict other pictures.  People are not always consistent.  The job of the structural consultant is to sort out these discrepancies.  There are only two possibilities: one of the two contradictory ideas is incorrect; or there is information we don’t have that explains the apparent contradictions.  For example, what if your client said, “Last year was a great year.  All of our sales were down.”  These statements form two pictures that are contradictory.  Perhaps one of the statements is not accurate.

“How can last year be great if sales were down?”
“Oh, did I say last year.  It was the year before that was great.  Last year was a disaster.  Sales were down.”
“Oh, did I say sales were down.  They were up.  It was a great year.”
Or there is information we don’t have that we need to have to understand the apparent discrepancy.
“Sales were down, but we got the patent on the technology, so it didn’t matter about our sales.  We make royalties on everyone’s sales.  What a great year!”

Positive and Negative Space
From art there is a technique called negative space.  This is when the artist does not try to draw the object, but the space around the object.  Of course, the result will be a picture of the object, but it can look so different.  In the FST and in structural thinking, we have a similar technique.  If something is filling the positive space, such as “the door was on the right,” in the negative space, there is a left.  We may not need to know if there was anything on the left of the door, but, in our picture, there is a left.  There has to be because if you didn’t have a left, you could not have a door on the right.  Another example is if the statement someone made was, “She finally got it right.”  In the positive space we can picture a “her, getting it right.”  We don’t know what she got right yet, but we can ask about that later, and fill in that picture.  But there is even more information in the negative space.  The word “finally” gets us pictures of other times in the past when she did not get it right.  That is what the statement implies.  But people don’t always agree with what they are implying.  So we can ask a very targeted question based on our pictures.  “Has she gotten it wrong in the past?”  We expect a “yes” answer.  But if we get a “no,” we can change our pictures, knowing the word “finally” did not fit into the statement.

Often, people assume a lot about reality.  When we apply the technique of negative space, reality becomes clearer and in more focus.  Impressions may or may not stand up to scrutiny.   Often, people are reacting or responding to concepts that turn out not to be true.  This can lead to very bad decisions, ones that are not based on reality but a wrong impression of reality.  Through structural thinking, we can back up and study reality as it is, independently from our previous concepts.  This change is profound.  It is also very practical.  When you know what reality is, you can make better decisions on behalf of those things you want to create.  You can’t play the violin in tune if you can’t hear the pitch.  You can’t create the life you want if you can’t get a fix on reality as it is.

Start with Nothing
One of the techniques in the FST that takes some learning is step one: start with nothing.  Our entire educational system is based on an opposite notion, start with knowledge.  In fact, it is the job of education to fill our heads with knowledge so we can compare what we know with what we see.  This process works pretty well if you are going to train the masses to negotiate the world.  But the down side is a “this looks like that” mentality.  People think they know what’s going on before they look.  They jump to conclusions, theories, speculations, models, past experiences, and other frames of reference that distort their view of reality.  What we were taught about the so-called “scientific process” was to:

• Generate a hypothesis
• Test the hypothesis against reality
• From that, reject those things that didn’t fit
• And accept those things that did fit

So, it starts with a theory that we either prove to be right or wrong.  But that is NOT how true creative scientists work.  They start with nothing, in other words, no theory, or other frames of reference.  Sir Isaac Newton, one of the most gifted geniuses who almost single handedly invented physics and calculus, said, “Hypotheses have no place in science.”  And Rene’ Descartes said, “To understand some set of phenomenon, first rid yourself of all preconception.” Einstein was said to have his revolutionary insights from two traits he had.  One, he thought visually, and, tow, he was able to start with nothing so he was not influenced by past concepts.

Our minds want to jump to an answer in light of not knowing something.  That is natural.  The discipline we learn in the FST is how to not fill in the empty spaces of our understanding with speculation, theories, models, conjecture, and biases.  This is not easy at first, and takes real training and practice.  But the rewards are superb.

Starting with nothing, and then thinking in pictures is one of the most important fundamentals of structural thinking.  With that foundation, a new world opens.

It’s Not About Having The “Right” Attitude!

There is an especially American idea about attitude. The thought is if you have the right attitude, everything will work out. If you don’t, well then… Sorry, Pal. This idea infiltrates our entire culture. We can see this assumption in the movies from the 30s and 40s, the lead characters have to have spunk, grit, and that American CAN DO! outlook. And on and on the notion of attitude goes on.

This is the same idea that is at the foundation of positive thinking, the “secret,” thought is creative, and all of the mental power schemes that tell us to get our heads straight.

Here is an observation: some people with the “right” attitude don’t always succeed, and some people with the “wrong” attitude succeed.

There is only one factor that matters. Your underlying structure. The principle is this: the underlying structure determines your behavior. The right structure with the “wrong” attitude has a higher probability of success than does the “right” attitude within the wrong structure.

The right structure is structural tension, the tension formed between the desired state in relationship to its current state. What you want, and what you have. Notice that within this structure, there is no room for attitude, self-opinion, beliefs, past experiences, intention, and most of the rest of the anthems of self-help.

Tension seeks resolution. Setting up the right tension leads to motivation to take actions you need to accomplish the outcomes you want to create. One type of action that is often built into the process is learning. There is often a lot to learn about how to move from where you are to where you want to be.

Within the creative process, you may have various attitudes from affirmative to doubtful, to frustrated to optimistic, from steadfast to uncertain. To try to generate a synthetic positive attitude may reduce your awareness, sensitivity, and intellectual honesty, often the very factors you need to be clear about your current reality.

How you happen to feel any particular day is irrelevant in the creative process. You don’t need to give yourself a pep talk to get yourself going. You just need to position your strategic choices in relationship to each other. The primary choice will be the outcome you want to create. Your secondary choices will be those choices you need to make on behalf of your primary choice. Trying to maintain any particular attitude will distract you from the creative process.


The other day I was checking out at our local Food Coop. The lady in front of me asked, “Are you Robert Fritz?” “Yes.” “You’ve changed my life.” “How did I do that?” “I took one of your courses 20 years ago, and it has completely changed the direction of my life.”

Actually, it is not unusual for people to tell me such wonderful things. I never get tired of it, nor do I ever take it for granted. In fact, all of the workshops and programs I’ve created have the goal of enabling people to create the lives they want to live.
Of course, lots of programs promise to change your life. And those who participate in these courses are always well intentioned. I think the promise self-help makes is too often based on some basic misunderstanding of what creates real and lasting change. The usual premise is this: things will work out if you change your attitude and beliefs. Some think that you need to resolve your past to move on to your future. Some are promoting magical thinking, that thought is creative, and if you think the right things, the law of attraction will bring you riches and fame. Most of these approaches are old wine in new bottles, claiming to have the latest approach to life’s great secrets.

I thought the same way about 40 years ago. My first courses were based on these ideas. At first, almost everyone created their goals. But then, as I tracked these students over time, I found a very strange thing. Over time, many of these same people had reversals, and they had lost the progress they had made. I began to track the patterns and discovered there were two basic ones: oscillation and advancement.

My question became what caused the difference? This question led to the discovery of structural dynamics. The basic understanding: the underlying structure of anything will determine its behavior. No matter what your attitude, how positive your thoughts, how many affirmations you make, how many repressed areas of consciousness you relive and release, how much will power you try to assert, how much you meditate, if the underlying structure of your life doesn’t change, your progress will be reversed. You will end up in the same place you started. It’s structure and structure is physics.

This discovery was truly revolutionary. It presented a completely different understanding of why people do what they do. It was other than psychology, metaphysics, psychotherapy, and the other theories that were popular. From these discoveries, I began to develop just how to change one’s underlying structure, which I first wrote about in 1984 with the first edition of The Path of Least Resistance, which became an international best seller. According to Amazon, that and later editions of the book have influenced over 100 other books.

About 10 years ago, we began to work with a company that presented the first video based version of Creating Your Life. Later, my son Ivan Fritz and his wife Jen formed a new company and I designed a new generation of the course and we shot over 120 videos. The first version, only available for iPads. was an Apple App. Ivan and Jen have now updated the course, creating an internet based format, available for all computers, tablets, and smart phones.

What is special about this course is that it accomplishes something well beyond goal setting and forming good productive habits. It changes your orientation by changing the underlying structures of your life. This is not a small matter. In fact, from the design of the course, and over enough time to assimilate the principles being taught, real and lasting change can happen in your life-building process.

Creating Your Life is being used as part of a program to enable Special Operations Forces, such as Navy Seals, to successfully transition to civilian life. And now, it is available to you.

The course has two learning strategies. One is the daily lessons that last from a few minutes up to twenty minutes. This is the learning dimension. The other strategy is the living dimension, where you apply that day’s lesson in your life. For over 90 days, the power of the creative process builds in your life experiences.

Little by little, you are able to shift from, what in The Path of Least Resistance I describe as the reactive-responsive orientation, to the generative-creative orientation. Your life becomes the subject matter of your own creative process.

From Ivan Fritz:
It’s a new year and a new decade. Many of us see the New Year as a great time to begin new projects, set new goals, and to rethink our lives and our direction. If you could have the life you’d choose, what would it be?
Now announcing “Creating Your Life” for the web, our three-month, self-study course with Robert Fritz that helps you not only define your goals but also create strategic plans of action to achieve them. You’ll be taken on a journey that starts with small, easy to achieve goals and moves you over time to long term, more complex goals while building daily habits, changing how you think about your objectives, and building the discipline you’ll need to accomplish those things that matter most to you!
The new version of the course runs on any device with a web browser, so you can take it with you wherever you go. You’ll also be supported on your journey by participating in our monthly “Conversations with Robert,” where you get the chance to interact with Robert directly as well as other students taking the course. Join us today and start your own journey!
Scroll down in this email to see what features are included with your subscription, the cost per month, and how to subscribe.
Also, please feel free to contact us directly at with any questions, or check out our FAQ or our course page for more information. Thank You and Best Wishes for a Happy 2020!
Ivan Fritz – President CreatorTools, Inc.
What’s included with your “Creating Your Life” subscription:
• “Creating Your Life,” a three-month video based self-study course with Robert Fritz, which helps you develop the practical skills you need to systematically create the life you want to live. Daily lessons start you off with small, easy-to-take steps and slowly builds you up to larger, longer-term goals. By the end of the course, you will have a plan for the next 5 years and beyond. Please visit our website for more information.
• “Conversations with Robert” webinar: Once a month, active students from all around the world gather online to talk directly to Robert about the principles and practices you’ll be learning.
• Unlimited support along your journey via email and phone when needed.


The Dream — Revisited

For Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Over fifty years ago Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech, one of the most momentous speeches of the 20th Century. Why did this speech have the power to impact history? No other speech given that day or since has lived longer or had more influence on the minds and hearts of the entire world. Three factors make this stunning speech alive and relevant from the day it was first heard to today.

The first was Dr. King himself. If we compare his words to the other words spoken that day, we find something extraordinary. Nowhere in his speech is there bitterness, hatred, intolerance, or extremism. Instead, we find wisdom, love, vision, and truth.

How could this man who experienced the police dogs of the old South, the jail cell of Birmingham, the brutality of racism, the unspeakable crimes to which he was witness, rise to such enlightenment? He learned his lessons from Gandhi and Christ, and so, he could actually love his enemies, even while abhorring what they did. And because of this, he could bring friend and foe into a higher plane of reflection, where the noise of the then-present rage on both sides quieted down. This reflection was so quiet that one had to see the truth that existed exactly as it was; one had to measure his or her deepest values against that reality; one had to answer to what was highest in the human cause.

There are many very good biographies on Dr. King’s life. One of my favorites is Let The Trumpet Sound by Stephen B. Oates. When we study Dr. King’s life, we find that he wasn’t born with the transcendental wisdom that was one of his hallmarks. His personal journey was to rise from his own prejudice and reaction against bigotry to a deeper understanding of the human condition that allows such transgressions to exist. He learned about prejudice from his own prejudice. He learned about transcendence from his own experience of transcendence. He not only spoke about freedom and justice, he embodied it. Through his own self-mastery over his circumstances, he became uniquely qualified to lead, not only a movement, but the world.

The second factor was the speech’s content. Freedom is its own cause. Today, freedom is as much a world issue as it was in 1963. In some ways, ironically, more so.

Freedom is a hard notion to grasp and a harder reality to achieve. The human heart and soul long for freedom – freedom of thought and individuality, freedom to live one’s life as one sees fit. As an aspiration, freedom is opposed by many forms of tyranny: sometimes of the state, sometimes one’s society, sometimes one’s family, sometimes one’s own inner chains. In the world today, the battle between extreme worldviews that would demand of people their strict devotion to dogma is the first major challenge and battleground of the new century. This is yet another version of the historical struggle in which doctrines of conformity are in mortal conflict with a profound desire for freedom.

When King talked about freedom, he wasn’t speaking in the abstract. He had reached a level of personal freedom in which even the prospect of his own death was not a deterrent to what he saw as right action for the higher cause of freedom and justice. King embodied a type of freedom that, as Robert Frost described in his poem It’s Hard Not to Be King When It’s In You And In The Situation, is “the type of freedom that is not granted by kings.”

The third factor that made King’s speech more than just a speech was the form. He began by describing the original governing principle of the United States: freedom. This was the promise that we had made to each other. This was the seed from which the great nation had been brought into being. Then he described the current condition that existed: injustice, racism, brutality, and oppression. He then described his dream, his vision for America and for the world. It is a vision in which people can join together freely and build something grand, something better than we have seen so far in history, something that is worthy of that which is highest in our humanity. His speech was the essence of the creative process and structural tension: to envision the future and hold that dream while being truthful about reality.

His speech has entered into the international consciousness. His dream was one that all children understand when they ask the simplistic question, “Why can’t people get along?” No matter what condition the world finds itself in, be it the dark periods or the ages of enlightenment, we have the entrenched hope of peace, freedom, justice, and a world that can join together to build its civilization, to be able to join hands and sing, “Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we are free at last.”

A Case For Democracy

To explore these thoughts, we must leave politics at the door. I know that’s a hard task nowadays in such a political world. But once politics is added to questions of democracy, it is hard to have a true discussion about democracy.

A few ways to define democracy:

Government is determined by the people who are governed.

The rule of the majority and the protection of the minority.

Freedom of the individual.

These are the most common ways people think about democracy. I have an additional way of thinking about it. Democracy, at its best, is a manifestation of a collective creative process. People are able to join together to create to society they want to create.

These days, the way people argue about capitalism and socialism is absurd. Why? Because of the “ism” at the end of the words. “Ism” means that it is a belief system. Once something is reduced to a belief system, we have to pit one belief against another belief. We can see what has happened out of this. People argue like they are talking about religion. Then, too often, the belief system becomes connected to their identities. The term identity politics is an accurate way to describe how the person’s political belief system is fused with how they define themselves. To consider a different point of view can lead to the feeling of one’s identity being attacked. If you haven’t read Dr. Wayne Andersen’s and my book Identity, please do if you want to see this principle developed in no uncertain terms.

Politicians’ business is to get elected. The current underlying structure is incapable of supporting a true democracy in terms of it being a collective creative process. Politicians nowadays must vilify those who are running against them. It wasn’t always this way. There were times in the past when there was a built in respect for political opponents. And there were times, for example in the 1830s and 1840s, when everyone running for office tried to paint their opponent with the worst wickedness there was. These were not times of a collective creative process. Quite the opposite.

If you’re looking for an example of a collective creative process, think about the Apollo Project from the 1960’s. (Just for a quick reference point so what I’m saying doesn’t seem like an abstract idealist pipe dream.)

Here are a few things to know. There is no inherent conflict between capitalism and democratic socialism. There is between communism and capitalism. I’ll say more about this later.

But in these days of trying to make the opposition seem like the biggest idiot there is, the terms are made to sound as pejorative as can be.

Remember, if we get rid of “ism” we can have an interesting exploration of ideas. Money is a good thing. Without it, we would have to barter chickens for a ticket to the movies. Hard to put chickens in your wallet. Money is capital. Drop the “ism” and we get to appreciate how great the invention of money has been.

Those who glorify the free market make that into an “ism.” If we really understood exactly what is being glorified, it is a self-organizing system. What we have come to understand from structural dynamics is this: self-organizing systems ALWAYS develop into structural conflicts.

In a true free market self-organizing systems without any controls, people would put lead in your milk, sell you electric equipment that could burn your house down, and do other things to beat the system that would be harmful to society. Some people who have turned this idea of the “wisdom” of the free market would say, “Yeah, but after a while, people would stop buying the milk that has lead in it.” Of course, lots of kids would have been damaged by then. And still, some would still try to get away with it to succeed in the market.

A totally free market is not conducive to a collective creative process.

But a totally controlled market kills invention, individuality, and advancement. This is also not conducive to a collective creative process.

Take these two principles together, and that raises the practical and useful question, just how much do we need to regulate the market? Take away the “ism,” and there can be some very beneficial answers. Take away the “ism,” and we can experiment and correct if we’ve gone too far on one side or the other.

Some things we can do better on our own. Some things we can do better together. We want the best of both worlds. I’ve always thought the argument people love to have – is healthcare a privilege or a right – is silly. It is one of those things that tries to force people into a belief system. Fight it out. Privilege or right? Duel at dawn. Choose your weapons.

A not silly question is this: what type of healthcare system do we want to create? Absent is the “ism,” and present is the possibility of invention, clear outcomes, and good sense, both short term and long term. Short term: address people’s immediate health needs. Long term: help people live healthier lives so there is less need for short term care.

Democracy, as a collective creative process, means we are taking collective action to have what we want come into being. As I’ve been saying for decades, creating is NOT problem solving and problem solving is NOT creating. We can solve all of our problems and still not have created what we want.

There is a place for problem solving, but if that is all we do, we will have created nothing.

So why do the politicians mostly talk in terms of problems? To appeal to the most reactive emotions. To generate outrage, sense of fear, sense of loss, sense of danger. They have not been to “creating school.” They could never make a film, compose music, make a béarnaise sauce, write a novel, or tie their shoes using their way of thinking, let alone run a country.

A collective creative process is one in which we join together to create something we all want.

Throughout the world, democracy is being undermined. One reason, the understanding of what it is, is being distorted and damaged. If it looked like just a bunch of foolish politicians fighting it out about who is the biggest jerk, many people would say, “No thanks.” Some of those who really want to undermine democracy are the ones who want to run it all without other people’s input: the dictators, the tyrants, the autocrats, the authoritarians, and especially the despots. They do not want you to have a say in your own government, nor be able to comment on how they’re doing.

Some of the ways to undermine democracy is to try to limit participation. Could be through limiting voting rights. Could be by trying to convince people it doesn’t matter if you vote. Could be by turning you off, so you don’t care anymore. Could be by trying to establish sides so that people are more motivated to fight with each other than create together.

Real democracy does exist, by the way. It is here in Vermont, where people run their towns by town meetings, and it is surprising how well informed people are, and how well they do without all the political manipulations of an us against them mentality.

Democracy is an invention. It is not a fact of nature. It requires certain prerequisites. A level of education, for example. This is one reason Daniel Webster advocated for public education. He and his contemporaries understood that people, in order to join together in a collective creative process, needed to have a common understanding of the world in which they lived.

Most people want their kids to go to school, college, etc. Most people think education is a good thing. But nowadays, we have the so-called “elite” (the educated people) as somehow against the “common man.” This is just another ploy to try to divide us for political gain. If we do a little thought experiment and change the word “elite” to “educated,” how silly is sounds to criticize a person for being educated. And if, having been educated, they’re so bad, why do we want our children to follow in their footsteps?

One last thing, not all systems are workable at being able to support a collective creative process. Communism is one. Theocracy is another.

The history of communism is simple. No matter how idealist it was in the beginning, it always generates into a dictatorship. This is because it is a system that can’t work structurally. It claims democratic goals, but it is incapable of reaching them.

With theocracies, authority is not from the people, but from those who claim to speak for God, and your job is to just get in line.

The creative process is the most successful process in history. It is philosophically neutral. It promotes learning, cooperation, and, when it is collective, can lead to our ability to create fantastic things we would not be able to accomplish on our own. Things that make our lives better, support our freedom and individuality, and release the highest possibilities in the human spirit.

The Ideal Vs Reality

Most people have expectations about how things will go, how the world is, what the rules of the road are, and what is supposed to happen in most situations. Let’s call these expectations your concepts or ideals. But most often, reality turns out to be different. For some people, they experience a constant battle between their ideals and reality. You can hear them complain about how things are.

What is the basis for their complaints? Let’s think about this structurally. That means, looking at these two elements within the structure – ideal/reality – and how they are connected. The stronger the ideal is held, the more the frustration when reality contradicts it. The less the insistence of the ideal, the more flexible one can be.

Here is a fact. Your ability to create what you want includes the ability to be fluent in reality. The creative process happens in reality. One way to define the creative process is the ability to bring what you want to create into reality. If you are not able to create the results you want in reality, you haven’t actually created it.

A skill to develop, no matter what you thought reality should have been, is to understand reality as it is. What does it matter what preconceived ideas you had, reality shows up as it actually is: real.

Once you are fluent in reality, if you have a vision of what you want to create, you are in a better position to create it. This is pure structural tension. A clear idea of what you want to create along with a clear understanding of the current reality as it is in relationship to your vision.

Notice when you find yourself complaining about how things aren’t the ways they should be. That is an indication of your ideal in conflict with how it really is. Develop a preference for seeing reality accurately, no matter what you happen to expect. As I have said, reality is an acquired taste. A taste that is good to acquire.

“I’m happy because I sing”

I don’t sing because I’m happy,
I’m happy because I sing.
———————-William James

Charles Darwin thought that human beings sang before they developed language. Of course, Darwin was thinking about evolution. Which came first, the music or the words. Darwin’s answer was the music.

Steven Pinker, in his seminal book The Language Instinct, writes that language is a human instinct, wired into our brains by evolution. He argues against linguistic determinism because, if people do not have a word for something, they will invent one.

I used to believe in Linguistic Determinism, which was a very popular idea when I was a student. The idea, in a nutshell, is that the structure of language directs the thought process. Therefore, some thoughts would be unthinkable in certain languages. Some of the strongest proponents of this idea were Benjamin Lee Whorfand and Edward Sapir whose names are used in the term “The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis” which is the theory that language forms thought. I’ve changed my mind to thought forms language. If we needed a word for something, we would simply create one, as evidenced by all the new computer related terms we now use fluently as if they always existed.

There are two intriguing ideas here.

One is that thought has as much to do with the way music works as it does with the way language itself works. The structure of music is, at its basic root, the tension-resolution system. A tension sets up a dynamic that strives to move toward a resolution. Poet Robert Frost had a notion he called sound sense – that the sound of the language communicated as much or more than the words. To prove his point to a friend, once walking in a field in England, he called over some gobbledygook to a distant farmer that sounded like “Good morning. How are you?” The farmer shouted back, “Fine, and how are you?” Frost was showing how the sound itself carried some of the meaning that communicates content.

There is the antecedent-consequential phrase, which is a form of the tension-resolution system. This is the question-answer, or statement-comment on statement phrase. How are you? Fine, thank you. I love cabbage. Really? I hate cabbage. The tension is formed by the question or statement, followed by the resolution, the answer or comment.

This same structure is at the foundation of the creative process. Tension is followed by resolution. In the form of structural tension, a vision of the desired state combined with an understanding of the current state (if there is a difference) generates a tension, which motivates action to resolve the tension by creating the desired state, ending the difference. You have created your vision.

Now the second intriguing idea is I’m happy because I sing. Let me expand the word “sing” to the word “create.” Most of our society has the impression that we will be happy once we get what we want. In the arts, there is a built in understanding that the creative process itself, brings a type of involvement in which you feel alive, even happy, often even happy when things are going in the wrong direction. Happiness is not the goal. Creating a desired outcome is. Happiness is a by-product. I’m happy BECAUSE I sing is not singing for the sake of being happy, but singing for the sake of the song, itself.

New Year’s Resolutions

I was on my monthly video conference with a group of our Japanese students the other day, and one of them asked, “Robert, what New Year’s resolutions have you made?” “None,” was my answer. Then there was one of those golden moments where you could hear the gasps and laughs as a new thought began to settle in. I went on to explain. Most New Year’s resolutions have the subtext of “I promise to be a better person this coming year than last year.” So the resolutions are based, not on true aspirations or values, but corrections to what is seen as bad behavior.

I went on to say to the group, “I promise not to be a better person this coming year as last year!” Now that’s a resolution I can keep.

Most New Year’s resolutions that people make are forgotten by February. It’s not because they lack sincerity when they make them. It is that they have the same structural dynamics that all problem solving has. The motivation is to overcome or rid yourself of a problem.

The intensity of the problem leads to action. The function of the action is to reduce the emotional conflict that the problem generates. More conflict, more action, leads to less conflict, leads to less future action.

You go to the gym a few times and the emotional conflict about being a couch potato is reduced. You begin to feel better about it all. The conflict is reduced. The motivation to continue is weakened, which leads to missing a few visits to the gym. That is followed by some guilt about not following through with what you said you would do. That creates its own sense of emotional conflict, especially if you have your identity tied up with it all.

The old pattern of breaking your promises to yourself translates to “You are a weak loser who can’t even make it to the gym to support your own health and well-being.” Well… Happy New Year!

People in this structure begin strong. They lose weight, achieve their goal, but then celebrate by gorging junk food at McDonalds. Professionals who offer lifestyle changes involving exercise or diet know that there is an explosion of interest in January, which fades by March 1.

What to do? Think in terms of what you want to create rather than what you want to change. You can solve all of your problems and still not create what you want. Creating is different from problem solving.

It’s not to say that problem solving has its place. But if it becomes a way of life, you are in an orientation that can’t lead you to what you want to create in life.

One more thing. You don’t have to be a better person than you are. You are just fine, exactly as you are. You may want to create wonderful things in your life. But that’s not a matter of how you define yourself. It is a matter of creating your aspirations, which is the highest expression of the human spirit.

Trying to Justify Your Life

Many people are in the bad habit of judging themselves against how much they have done during the day, or the week, or up to that point in their lives. They have tied their identity to accomplishment. There are a few variations on this theme. One has to do with the notion of justifying your existence.

The idea is pretty simple. You have no value in-and-of yourself. So, to make up for that fact by trying to compensate by achieving worthwhile deeds. If you have done enough for the day, you can go to bed with the comfortable notion that the day was not wasted, you did enough to make it okay that you’re running around the planet.

But, if you haven’t done enough, well, that’s another story. You will stay up fretting about your lack of accomplishment, your waste of time, your failure to pay for that day’s existence. You promise yourself that tomorrow will be different, and mentally you list all the great things you’re going to do, some of which are to make up for today’s failure, some of which are to justify tomorrow’s existence.

You have created or adopted a myth, one all of us are feed from the time we are toddlers. That we have a job in life, and that is to achieve something of value. We are praised if we succeed and criticized if we fail. We learn to take it personally.

Success or failure takes on a specific meaning. We are good or bad depending on our level of accomplishment. This myth can be so ingrained in us that it goes without saying. The myth becomes an invisible assumption, one we may hold, but one that we do not know we are holding.

Perfectly wonderful people can feel deep-seated guilt while they have done nothing wrong. They simply think they haven’t done enough. Of course, soon there is a backlog of things they haven’t done and times they haven’t done enough, and this feeling that there is something wrong with them infiltrates their lives.

Do you try to define yourself by your accomplishments?

Do you think you are a better person if you succeed, and not as good a person if you fail?

Do you think that you have a mission in life, but that you don’t know what it is and, therefore, you are not living up to it?

Do you feel you do have a mission in life, but you aren’t doing enough to fulfill it?

Do you feel you need to do more than you do?

If any of these questions have a “yes” answer, you are putting a burden on yourself that comes from misconceptions you have picked up somewhere along the way in your life.

It doesn’t matter where you may have taken on these concepts. What matters is that you have adopted them and think they are true, which they are not. Concepts are not reality. The creative process happens in reality.

The essence of structural tension is rather simple: What do you want to create? Where are you now in relationship to that outcome? What actions do you need to take to accomplish that outcome? Notice that the answers to these questions have no place for your self-concept or any other type of concept.

Cheers, Robert

The Spirit of Creating

When I was in the music business, often there would come a time, especially playing with great musicians, that something magical would happen, something, that if you named it, could vanish in an instant. You would watch it, feel it, know it was there, but, somehow, you knew not to acknowledge it, because the moment you did, you would spook it and it would be gone.

Many creators have this experience. And for a long time I thought it was evoked by the creative moment, that it was the luck of the muse, that it was from the act of making music together, the interaction, the way a great musician can blow the minds of the other musicians, who then reciprocate by exploding into new and greater heights.

Now, after all these years, I’ve come to a different conclusion than the one I had as a musician. The spirit of the creative process can come at any time, all the time, in fact. It does not have to be evoked, nor does it have to feel like magic. Rather, it is sensed as doing something real, something authentic, something fantastic yet ordinary at once.

Because there is such a dramatic power in the act of spontaneous improvisation, it was easy for me to think that playing music induced the spirit, since you need to be focused at every moment to play. That alone generates electricity. And then, when the musicians are playing something you’ve never heard before, could never even imagine before they played it, well, it can have that energy that is not unlike being around the birth of a child. Something new has entered the world.

But spirit can take many forms and have a wide range of expressions. It can be there in the quiet moments when you are working out just the right words for a blog. It can be there when you are working your tail off to develop a business idea or reach a market. It can be there when you’re not looking but while your mind is creatively inventing a new process to accomplish an outcome you are working to create. And, as I’ve come to learn, it does not spook easily.

And you might think, how do I know if the spirit is there if it can be expressed in so many ways? By contrast. When it is not there, you feel like you’re going through the motions, but without involvement, without connection, without care. Perhaps another way to say this is without love.

In the creative process, love is generative in that we can love the creation before it exists. As I’ve said in the past, the filmmaker loves the film before it exists, the architect loves the building before it is built, the chef loves the dish before it is made.

This does not mean you always love the process. Much of the time, discipline involves doing things we might not like doing. Some people think that discipline is forcing yourself into doing these things. Willpower, manipulation, and intimidating yourself into ‘good behavior’ never work for very long. They are not sustainable. You can’t build an orientation of true discipline that way. Yet, the advice many give us is to do just that.

Generative love evokes the spirit of the creative process, the human spirit at its best, and maybe even more than that. Sometimes it’s hard to describe. One thing that’ll kill it is when you forget or lose touch with your desire to see the creation exist.

You can’t invest your life spirit in a compromise. And it is not a compromise to make the secondary choices you may have to make to support your creative process, even when you hate taking the necessary action steps. It is not a compromise to do the hard work, learn what you need to learn, develop the skills you may need but don’t have yet. It may not always be fun, but the spirit will still be there throughout the process. Easy or difficult, fun or a pain, throughout the good, the bad, and the ugly, that experience of connection, involvement, of being true to yourself and true to your creation will permeate everything you are doing.

What is going on? It is you, being a creator, which, by that fact alone, evokes the type of spirit I’m talking about no matter what the circumstances you are in.

In the 19th century, artists commonly talked about “tricking the muse,” which was their way of trying to explain why sometimes they would be better than other times. In the 20th century, with people like Constantin Stanislavski and Lee Strasberg, the creative process changed from something you had to trick to something that was consistent and reliable, something that would never fail you. When you are creating, the spirit will be there in abundance.