Feeding crocodiles is dangerous

Today’s article is in response to a reader. What appears below are just a few of the comments he made. His lengthy e-mail has been condensed to fit in the available space. Our reader writes:

“I have been looking all over the Internet for ways to overcome my bad habits. There must be hundreds of self-help books but none of them offer any solid solutions to my problems.”

A map doesn’t take you where you want to go. It merely points the way. If you really have a destination in mind, you’ll have to get off the couch, get in your car, turn on the ignition, and start driving. Books are maps, not solutions. What I’m writing is a map, not a solution. There is only one solution to your problems, and that is YOU. When you are ready to start your journey to a new, better you, pick a map, study the directions, and DO what is necessary to get there.

Our reader continues:

“Self-help books aren’t geared towards the people that can’t find a way to help themselves.”

What you really mean is “books aren’t geared towards people who WON’T find a way to help themselves. You see, it is a DECISION we make. We either decide to help ourselves (“I WILL do whatever is necessary.”) or we decide to become a victim (“I CAN’T do whatever is necessary.”). Why would anyone want to become a victim? Well, in their mind, it is convenient. You don’t have to do anything; after all, you’re helpless. So, you just sit around and wait for someone or something to solve your problems. This type of thinkiOng is akin to feeding crocodiles. I’m referring to something Ronald Reagan (1911 ~ 2004) said: “To sit back hoping that someday, some way, someone will make things right is to go on feeding the crocodile, hoping he will eat you last — but eat you he will.” Don’t feed your problems, but face them, and do something about them.

Our reader goes on:

“I’m not asking for a solution to all my problems I realized that only I can do that after all the therapy. I would however, like to know what you have done to overcome laziness and what steps you took to become a more productive person.”

You mention that you are undergoing therapy, so I’ll share some views on that subject. The word “therapy” has its origin in Greek and means to heal or treat. That’s what a knowledgeable therapist does. Good therapists treat their patients for a short time, enabling them to get on with their lives as soon as possible.

Suppose you were wounded and the doctor applied balm to your wounds. If your wounds weren’t healing after treatment, the doctor would realize that something is wrong and would try another form of treatment. Yet, some patients see psychiatrists for long periods of time. Sometimes as long as 10, 15, or 20 years. Isn’t that odd? If the patient isn’t being healed, how can that be called therapy?

So, be forewarned. There is good therapy and poor therapy. An example of good therapy would be Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (R.E.B.T.) or Cognitive Behavior Therapy (C.B.T.). Both forms of therapy recognize that our problems are caused not by external events, but by our internal beliefs, thoughts, and feelings. So treatment consists of teaching patients how to change their beliefs and thoughts. When patients do so, their feelings and behavior also change, empowering them to handle their own problems. You can learn more about the subject here:


While taking therapy, one of the dangers is some patients put their lives on hold. That is, instead of thinking, “I will start solving my problems NOW,” they think, “My life will improve AFTER I’m cured.” In other words, they use their therapy as another excuse for not changing (“I will change AFTER I get better.”).

Morita Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy both address this problem. They both teach there is no need to wait until you understand the cause of your problem. There is no need to wait until you master an elaborate coping strategy. You can start right where you are today. You can accept your flaws, weaknesses, and problems. You can say to yourself, “Yes, I’m not perfect, but I’m not stupid either. I know I have problems. I know I have to change. I know what I need to do. So, I will begin taking action steps today. One baby step at a time. I will do something to improve every day, no matter how small the step. And as long as I persist, one step at a time, it is impossible to fail. So, I begin NOW.”

You can learn more about Morita Therapy here: http://www.morita-therapy.org/

You can also easily teach yourself Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). In fact, this will be my suggestion to our reader. Please pick up a copy of Dr. Steven C. Hayes and Spencer Smith’s workbook “Get Out of Your Mind & Into Your Life, The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy” (New Harbinger Publications, 2005, ISBN 1-57224-425-9, US $19.95).

Morita Therapy (which is a mixture of Zen philosophy and Western Psychology) and ACT are firmly entrenched in reality. For example, it is well known that it takes EFFORT to achieve anything worthwhile. M.T. and ACT practitioners, and well-grounded people, ACCEPT that fact. They don’t fight it. They don’t resist. They don’t run away from a little ‘pain.’ They focus on the prize and do whatever it takes to get it.

But some try to replace ‘pain’, discomfort, and effort with pleasure, such as food, drink, and TV. Now, here is the paradox. Those who seek a life of pleasure end up in pain, for by refusing to make the effort to succeed, they fail and experience regret, shame, and guilt. And those who willingly accept ‘pain,’ end up with pleasure. For what can be more pleasurable than achieving your goals and reaching your dreams? This being so, the effort nee ded to overcome challenges is the seed that contains our happiness, which is exactly what we are looking for! So it makes sense to embrace ‘pain’ (“no pain, no gain”).

Regarding how I overcame laziness, it is not a matter of being lazy or productive. Rather, it is about having good or bad habits. You are not lazy; you just have a bad habit. As David Hasslehoff said, “If you stand still long enough, you’ll get stuck.” That’s what happened to you. You stood still so long you got stuck. The cure, as suggested above, is to take small action steps every day.

If you’re not impressed by what David Hasslehoff had to say, consider the words of Leonardo Da Vinci (1452 ~ 1519), “Iron rusts from disuse, stagnant water loses its purity and in cold weather becomes frozen; even so does inaction sap the vigors of the mind.”

If you wish to learn more about habits and being stuck, you can check the following articles:


Finally, for the benefit of our readers wanting to become their own therapists, I recommend the following book: “How To Be Your Own Therapist, A Step-by-Step Guide to Taking Back Your Life” Patricia Farrell, Ph,D., McGraw-Hill, 2003, ISBN 0-07-138733-1, US $14.95.