Live by the golden rule: Never Drag a Cat.

People who come into my office usually want change. They want something, or someone, (or their relationship with something or someone), to be different. I ask them first what they have tried so far. Usually it turns out that by now they are tired of trying to drag a cat.

Drag a cat? That sounds ridiculous! I was reading once about a house cat who had been trained to walk on a leash with his owner. “You start gradually,” the human explained. “Let the cat explore while you gently guide it as a leader. And the number one rule is: you never, ever drag a cat.”

Just this image makes me smile. Anyone who understands cats knows that they are famously independent. It’s not that they don’t like or want to behave according to our wishes; they just want us to believe that it was their own idea to do so. Very human-like, don’t you think?

A delicate balance of praise and nonchalance is the most effective strategy for change.

How does this relate to you and what’s in your life?

Well, most of my clients have become frustrated due in some part to the fact that they are trying to drag a cat. Here’s what it sounds like:

“But she should be…” Or, “How hard is it to…?” Or, “Every time I try, he…”

Perhaps you have tried to give advice before to someone who is trying to drag a cat. Your thoughtful ideas are dismissed after being met with “Yes, but…” (This is why, despite popular perception, therapists help clients in ways very different from giving advice.)

After I learn what my clients have been trying, we figure out what to do next. For some of us it is very difficult to accept that our efforts of dragging the cat haven’t worked. We are so focused on what a good job we are doing – and staking out our place of how right we are – that we have lost focus. Our efforts turn us bitter, resentful, and defeated. We need a new approach.

Here’s how you can use solution-focused therapy on the cats you have been dragging:

  • Identify the ORIGINAL problem (“my husband is always late”), not the problem that you perceive dragging the cat has become: (“my husband is insensitive and doesn’t care about people’s feelings”).
  • Think about what has worked in the past. Chances are that something that you have tried before has worked. What was it? Can you do more of it?
  • Remember that in order you to enact change, you must have leverage. You do NOT get leverage through threatening, pleading, or yelling. (Again, think about the cat. Wouldn’t you look ridiculous doing this to your animal on a leash?) A big part of my work with couples is discovering leverage for change so that they can do something different.

When you find yourself trying the same thing again and again and expecting a different result, this is not only the definition of insanity. It probably means that you-and a very unhappy cat-are out on an unpleasant walk.