Life Strategies

In 1999, Dr. Phil McGraw wrote a book published by Hachette Books called Life Strategies: Doing What Works, Doing What Matters. At this time, Dr. Phil was far from becoming a talk show that earned him, in some circles, the identification of a huckster. He was an occasional guest on “Oprah,” much like Iyanla Vanzant or Pastor John Gray. He made sense with down-home, cut-through-the-bullshit advice that spoke to my heart.

I purchased Life Strategies and it changed my life. I had both the hard copy and audiobook version on cassette, which I listened to on a Walkman as I walked through our neighborhood. At the time, I was adrift. My job with McClellan Air Force Base had ended and I was a stay-at-home mom for the first time in my life. I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up and I was still working aggressively to reconcile some of the horrible things that had happened to me in my life. The biggest challenge was knowing my own accountability. Those chains are always so tangled and it was important to me to know what was my responsibility and what was not.

In Life Strategies, Dr. Phil lays out ten “life laws” that I have consistently found to apply in most life circumstances. They helped me so much over the past twenty years that I want to share them with you here, along with my comments.

Life Law #1: You either get it, or you don’t.
Strategy: Become one of those who gets it.

In my practice, I have seen literally hundreds of people who just don’t get it. They don’t understand any culpability in their own choices and in refusing that accountability, they take away their own power to make changes. There is so much to “get” in life that I do not believe anyone can get it all, but there is a difference in having parts of your life you don’t get versus running into the same wall repeatedly because you refuse to acknowledge that you can control your own actions. You basically disempower yourself.

As much as we want to believe otherwise, life is a game and if we don’t know the rules, we can’t win. We have to pull back and objectively and wisely observe the game in order to strategically plan our own success. If you don’t get it, you can’t win the game.

Life Law #2: You create your own experience.

Strategy: Acknowledge and accept accountability for your life. Understand your role in creating results. 

For as long as I have lived a life rooted in magic, I have heard “we create our own reality,” which is another way of expressing life law #2. Our perspective crafts how we process events in our lives. If we constantly cast ourselves in the role of victim, we have a perfect excuse to never grow or actualize. As with life law #1, it allows us to blame others for the choices we make and therefore, takes away our power to take control of our own lives. We may have had a terrible childhood, horrible relationships, and terrible life experiences, but ultimately, we are now adults and we make our own choices. Like Maya Angelou said, “Believe people when they show you who they are the first time” and as Dr. Phil himself says, “If they’ll do it with you, they’ll do it to you.”

When we give others the power to make us into victims, we likely have ignored obvious clues to their behavior long before you become their next target. Pay attention to the red flags that appear and do not explain them away, no matter how much you care about the person. Just because they are lovable does not mean that their behaviors are excusable. If you would not choose to be treated the way you see them treat others, it is time to let go.

No matter how bad your life was before now, you are a grown person and can make your own choices. You are in charge of your life on all levels unless you actively choose to give that power away for whatever reason.

If we blame others for all of the bad things going on in our lives, we can hardly take credit for the good things that happen. Choices always have consequences, even if the choice is to do nothing and ignore bad behavior.

Life Law #3: People do what works.
Strategy: Identify the payoffs that drive your behavior and that of others.

This was one of the hardest life laws for me to accept and integrate into my life. How could there be payoffs in horrible relationships where I was treated badly? As I began to consider thoughts like my fear of rejection, my desire to be included in friendships, and my need to be accepted, it started to make sense. It’s true. Even if we achieve undesired outcomes that affect the quality of our lives on an ongoing basis, we make the choices we make because we are getting a financial, psychological, or social payoff on some level. It’s still all on us.

Find the payoff and we find the power to change.

Life Law #4: You cannot change what you do not acknowledge.
Strategy: Get real with yourself about life and everybody in it. Be truthful about what isn’t working in your life. Stop making excuses and start making results. 

It is so easy to have our head in the sand about the motivations and actions of other people and even easier to ignore our own motivations and actions. We excuse, we explain away, we ignore. We have to face truths or those unaddressed truths will always control us.

I watch the show “My 600 Lb Life” and when we listen objectively to what the people say who weigh over 600 pounds, we can hear these life laws at work. “I am only happy when I eat.” “I don’t know how to stop.” Then we watch them crumble and cry and deny when Dr. Nowzaradan insists that they only lost six pounds instead of sixty that month because they overate and did not adhere to the diet. In their minds, they did their best, worked their hardest, and remained true to the diet, but the scale says otherwise. He explains to them that it is physically impossible for them to maintain a weight of over 500 pounds on 1200 or fewer calories a day. They tearfully insist that “not everyone is the same” and that they are not like everyone else. Eventually, it comes out that yeah, they may have cheated a few times. This cognitive dissonance is hard at work in most people’s lives to a greater or lesser level. We lie to ourselves to get the story that works for us (life law #3). If we are truly honest with ourselves, we find the power to change what needs to change.

Life Law #5: Life rewards action.
Strategy: Make careful decisions and then pull the trigger. Learn that the world couldn’t care less about thoughts without actions.

“If you do not ask, the answer is always ‘no.'”

People often ask how I can write so many books, how Eric and I achieve what we have done in life or how we can be so lucky.

There is certainly an element of luck, but there is also a LOT of hard work. Dorothy Parker once said something along the lines of “Writing is the art of applying the ass to the chair.” You just do it. Eric and I have been successful in many things we have done because we do it. Anyone can write a book if they just sit down and do it. We refuse to allow fear or “what if” to hold us back.

YOLO, for real.

Life Law #6: There is no reality, only perception.
Strategy: Identify the filters through which you view the world. Acknowledge your history without being controlled by it.

We all, no matter how actualized and wise we are, have life conditioning that gives us filters through which we process what happens to us and helps to create our world view. Two people can view the same experience or have the same conversation and come away with totally different impressions of what occurred or was said. Our conditioning causes us to focus on different parts of a conversation or an event as more significant than what another person sees. It’s not that either is right or wrong, but a shift in perception.

Despite what many people believe, our emotions do not control us. We can choose how to react and how to file away anything that happens to us. We can craft our own response internally as well as externally.

If we know we have certain triggers, we can acknowledge them and work through them. We can challenge what we think we know to be true with what actually is by testing the validity of our long-held beliefs.

For example, I often hear women say, “Men are dogs. You can’t trust any of them. They only want one thing.” Their experience with men has crafted this global belief in them, but is it really likely that all men are disrespectful of women and only want them for sex or is it more likely that they have a “type” of man that they go for and that this behavior is a consistent component of that type? I know for a fact that all men are not like that, but as long as they cling to that perception, this is the kind of man they will attract.

Challenge your perception and see if it is real and if it h0lds up to objective scrutiny.

Life Law #7: Life is managed; it is not cured.
Strategy: Learn to take charge of your life and hold on. This is a long ride, and you are the driver every single day.

One of the things Dr. Phil points out in this book is that we are the managers of our own lives. How are your outcomes looking? Is your life manager (you) managing your life in a way that makes you proud you hired them? Would you give your life manager (you) a raise for the quality work they are doing? Would you fire your life manager because they are not taking you to where you want to go?

If you are not satisfied with the results your life manager is producing, you need to demand more from your life manager. You need to do a better job of taking the reins and crafting the life you want. Another thing Dr. Phil says is that the difference between a dream and a goal is a suspense date. Create a plan for what you want your life to be and make it happen by a specific date of your choosing. We do this all the time with our CUSP philosophy and practice. We choose every winter what we want to harvest in the fall and then we make it happen through the year with magical assistance.

Your life is not a disease to cure, it is a process to manage and you are the only one in charge. If not, you’re doing it wrong.

Life Law #8: We teach people how to treat us.
Strategy: Own, rather than complain about, how people treat you. Learn to renegotiate your relationships to have what you want.

Boy, is this a big one or what? But it is truth. We reinforce behaviors, good and bad, by what we allow in our lives. Why we allow bad behaviors goes back to life law #2 again. We do what works. If people get a payoff from us for their misuse of us and have no unbearable consequences for their bad treatment of us, they will continue to treat us poorly to get that pay off. If they have to spend a few minutes watching us cry or hearing a lecture on how disappointed we are, it may be worth that cost to have the payoff.

Do not expect others to value what we value or have our standards of behavior. Stand firm on what is and is not acceptable treatment for you and be prepared to back that up with action (life law #5). As much as it hurts, if a person routinely lets you down or hurts you in some way, right in this moment stop expecting that to change. Instead, decide if it does or does not fit into your life. If it does, then that is your choice. If you choose the behavior, you choose the consequences.

I tell my students that the most powerful words in magic are “Until now” because those two words create a defined boundary of change. “Until now, I have put up with this. After this moment, I am deciding this is unacceptable. If this behavior continues, I cannot continue our relationship.” Then you quietly (or loudly – you do you) re-establish the dancing distance to a safe level.

Life Law #9: There is power in forgiveness.
Strategy: Open your eyes to what anger and resentment are doing to you. Take your power back from those who have hurt you.

When we hang on to anger, hurt, resentment, and pain, it ties us to the person or situation that created those feelings just as surely as we are tied to people who spark love, joy, and fulfillment in us. When we forgive someone, it is not for their benefit and, in fact, they do not ever have to know we forgave them. When we forgive someone, it does not mean that we condone their actions (at all). Forgiving someone can be as simple as acknowledging that someone else is so broken that they made the poor choice to hurt us. It is not our job to fix others, but we can absolutely depend on them to be who they truly are.

In Wicca, we enter into a sacred circle with others under the premise of coming to that circle “in perfect love and perfect trust.” In my Wicca classes, I often have people ask how you can enter in perfect love and perfect trust if you do not personally know all of the people in that circle. The concept of perfect love and perfect trust means that we leave all discord outside the circle and that we enter with love in our hearts, perfectly trusting everyone in the circle to be exactly who they are on a very authentic level. If you come into circle with a facade, you are bringing a lie into the circle, therefore we have to move forward into ritual with the belief that everyone there is offering their truest self. That doesn’t mean their truest self is someone we want to hang out with on a regular basis. We do not have to approve of their truest self. We just have to accept who they are for that time.

Life law #9 is similar. When we forgive, we release our attachment to the anger, pain, frustration, and resentment and accept fully the fact that who this person is at an authentic level is not someone we want to attach ourselves to in our movement forward. We forgive them for being who they are and we cut away any emotional cords we still have to them and the situation rather than allowing those lingering emotions to control us and craft our perception (life law #6).

Forgiveness frees us, not them. It doesn’t “let them off the hook.” It takes the hook out of us.

Life Law #10: You have to name it before you can claim it.
Strategy: Get clear about what you want and take your turn. 

Too many people have no idea what exactly they want, they just know they want things to be different. In CUSP, each December, we take a careful personal inventory and consider what specifically we want to be different in our lives on November 1 when the harvest is over. We get very clear about this planning and do not honor any doubts or perceived limitations. We dream big and make a focused list, then we ritualize it in a “Name It and Claim It” ritual.

Once you put a name to what you want, tailor your behavoirs to what does and does not support that goal. Do not expect to be perfect, but make a strong effort toward evaluating every decision according to whether it supports the goal you defined.

In 1999, I started the arduous task of taking each one of these ten life laws seriously and working aggressively to implement them into my life. It is by far not a perfect process and I often have to re-seat myself be reading these ten again. They have never failed me and have always given me strong perspective, especially in times of struggle. I hope they are helpful to you as well.