Have your cake and eat it, too

When we’re double-minded we don’t get much done. Here’s how to develop the singular focus required to achieve your goals: the double-bind exercise

Life is full of contradictions

People often contradict themselves and pointing them out can be extremely valuable. Consider an adolescent with a cannabis use disorder that’s on probation. If her drug test is positive for marijuana, then she’ll be sent to inpatient treatment for 90 days.

On one hand, she wants to stay in the free world and not go to treatment. On the other hand, she wants to smoke marijuana. Her desire for freedom and marijuana are juxtaposed. She can’t have her cake and eat it, too.

The double-bind exercise

There’s a tool we use in therapy that helps her resolve this ambivalence, tipping the scales toward the most favorable outcome. It’s called the double-bind exercise. Here’s how it works.

Together we’ll explore both paths forward:

  1. Pursuing freedom by abstaining from marijuana
  2. Smoking marijuana to her heart’s desire.

For therapy to be effective we must remove judgment from the equation. We don’t say whether each of the two options is good or bad. The therapist simply lets the client think through the fork in the road, herself.

Next steps

For each path forward we ask two questions:

  • What’s the best-case scenario?
  • What’s the worst-case scenario?

Our client will talk through the best and worst possible outcomes for each path forward. It’s best practice to write down her remarks on a large whiteboard for her to see in two columns, one for each of the two paths.

Finally, the magic of logic, “Given best- and worst-case scenarios for each, which of the two paths makes the most sense?”

Deciding for herself

We empower our clients to decide for themselves. Personal transformation is more likely to occur when it’s their idea. Where most people will interject and tell her what to do, a highly skilled therapist will empower her to choose for herself.

Other uses

The double-bind exercise can be used with any inner conflict to help a person decide which path to take at the proverbial fork in the road. We’ve seen it successfully implemented to resolve the following:

  • To live or die
  • To “work it out” or divorce
  • To quit or stay at a job
  • To change or not to change

There are numerous ways to use the double-bind exercise. It comes in quite handy when we find ourselves in a dilemma. The bottom line is, we’re more useful as therapists when we simply help people see the fork in the road for themselves more clearly.