Home All Paradoxical Decisions: Apply Self-Humor, Improvisation, and Affirmation

Paradoxical Decisions: Apply Self-Humor, Improvisation, and Affirmation

written by Alex Sternick January 28, 2019

Alex Sternick, is an expert and internationally recognized practitioner of the Art of Nonsense and Laughter Therapy. He started laughter clubs in Israel and worked with Israelis and Arabs in an attempt to bring these diverse groups together through laughter and nonsense. His web site is Laughter Stress Management. Alex is the Gibberish Professor for the Msc. in Applied Positive Psychology program at New Bucks University in the UK. Full bio. Articles by Alex are here.



Why do people stay in their comfort zones and stick to old beliefs and behaviors, even when those patterns do not serve them anymore? Why do they continue trying to do their best in situations where pushing harder is like pressing on the accelerator with the car in neutral?

What if instead people recognized the value of self-acceptance and the value of surrendering to a current situation, then playing with the situation rather than fighting it, thus accepting reality as it is? Perhaps they are slowed down by common sense, which often comes from authorities or social norms, thus encapsulating the views of other people.

What if instead they made paradoxical decisions deliberately contradicting old belief systems, as suggested by Bruce Lipton? These decisions might enable people to transcend old attitudes and patterns of behavior. When people can make paradoxical decisions playfully, surrendering, and enjoying the uncertainty, they can make liberating decisions without any scruples.

A Personal Paradoxical Decision

Running on the beach – speaking Gibberish

I remember sitting in front of the computer focusing on office work. Facing the screen, I had an intolerable feeling, a total unwillingness to fulfill the “I need to…” thoughts that kept me there. Writing emails felt like pushing the gas in neutral. I realized that nothing positive could emerge from trying my best. Becoming conscious of this feeling through sensations in my body, I recruited courage to rise from the desk, step away from the screen, and leave the office. I drove to the beach to do something else.

Personally, I enjoy singing in Gibberish. This is a major part of Non-Linear Approaches/Non-therapeutic Psychotherapy that I started in 2004 and have been deepening ever since. (Concepts from this approach are italicized below.) I now teach masterclasses on non-linear approaches around the world. By non-linear, I mean not conventional, not defined by cultural or social norms, not restricted to any one absolute truth. Often this involves breaking up an old belief system. For example, where a conventional approach might be to try to fix the patient or administer an antidote, a non-linear approach might be to evoke the symptoms and help the client accept and play with them.

I parked on the beach and went jogging barefoot on the sand, chanting in Gibberish, and forgetting about the tasks that my judgmental self believed I needed to fulfill. Talking in Gibberish is a way to bypass the hyper self-criticism of the intellect and avoid being trapped in a never-ending mental loop.

I applied the concept of doing something else to escape preoccupation, which minimized my mental turmoil and brought me back to the present. As my mind calmed down, many insights related to future projects flowed through my mind. I felt a great joy that I could transcend the linear attitude driven by fear that I must sit and work in the office. Instead of pursuing these tasks by forcing myself to think them over excessively, I could let them proceed indirectly. Dr Viktor Frankl once advocated that we not aim at success, a linear perspective, but instead let it happen as a byproduct of being aligned with our unique meaning and purpose, a non-linear approach. Hence, self-dedication liberated me from the linear logic and associated fears coming from society, governments, or culture. I was able to take distance from the situation.

I felt contentment and happiness being on the beach, in the sun, not imprisoned in the office trying to produce something. I was not driven by the fear that shows up as “I need to pay my bills, so let’s create more work.”

Paradox: On or On switch

What are Paradoxical Decisions?

Paradoxical decisions are commitments that have nothing in common with the person’s usual outlook or ways of making decisions, although a paradoxical decision might be a deliberate contradiction of past ways of action. Paradoxical decisions set up a new private logic. Making paradoxical decisions requires a humorous attitude, not only on the cognitive surface, but much deeper in the sub-conscious mind, that comes from a conviction that the past logical ways of action have become useless. Humor lets us see that we are mentally stuck.

Paradoxical decisions may help people accept their situations as they are. They may engender a playful attitude toward any consequences and circumstances. They can result in future non-linear, playful actions. People taking paradoxical decisions tend to assume a self-humorous responsibility instead of taking life and the future too seriously.

Self-humor is the faculty to recognize and accept our turbulent minds as illusions. Self-humor can be also produced by explicitly exaggerating seriousness in front of self and others. Self-humor helps us step out of situations, opening up the ability to make paradoxical decisions. Sometimes people act paradoxically out of existential and unfathomable despair, understanding that nothing can be worse than now and nothing can be lost by taking a different direction.

Paradoxical decisions elicit self-empowerment, assertiveness, and lightness. Laughter dominates instead of the feeling of being condemned to apply logical interventions to solve problems.

Another Example of Paradoxical Decisions

Trekking in the Himalayas

Here’s another example. A 70-year-old lady at a kibbutz in Israel had a recurrence of breast cancer after believing she was cured. Medical authorities recommended conventional regimens including surgery, radiation, and chemo. She decided instead to administer a paradoxical intention as illustrated by Viktor Frankl in the words, “Today I am going to have a stroke.” She announced loudly, “I am going to grow many carcinogenic tumors in my body.” By doing that, she administered self-acceptance, embodying a great sense of self-humor, and accepting the cancer as a friend or gift, rather than an enemy.

Then she made several paradoxical decisions. Instead of a long conventional series of treatments, she decided to take a distance from the situation by going on vacation in the Nepali Himalayas where her daughter was already trekking. Accompanied by her supportive husband, she fled Israel for Nepal for several months. She also went on an organic, completely vegan diet without sugar-based foods. When she came back to Israel, she tried some alternative methods to boost her immune system, including bee venom therapy or Apitherapy. Her paradoxical decisions allowed her to take distance from a fear-based mindset. Surprisingly (or not) her tumors shrank.

Conclusion

Paradoxical decisions can be a possible resolution when people realize their past linear patterns of action do not work. They might playfully contradict themselves out of deep understanding that there is no need to take themselves and the world too seriously. While admitting weakness, disease, and imperfection, they can accept themselves fully, becoming friends to themselves. There is no need any more to fix themselves using mental effort. Instead they could use the paradoxical intention approach suggested by Victor Frankl. This approach elicits self-humor, which in my view, is a high form of humor and laughter. This reduces the need to see life and the external world as a jungle. People can easily change old patterns of action and step ahead into refreshing, sometimes rebellious, non-conventional behavior that comes from taking a distance from the problem, making paradoxical decisions, and playing along the way.
 


 
References

Bhaerman, S. (2015). Swami Beyondananda interview with Alex Sternick: The Sense behind the Nonsense.

Frankl, V. (1959). Man’s Search For Meaning. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Frankl, V. E. (1946/1975): Ärztliche Seelsorge. München, Kindler. English translation: The Doctor and the Soul: From Psychotherapy to Logotherapy, Revised and Expanded. The statement, “Today I am going to have a stroke,” is on p. 185 of the German version.

Johnstone, K. (2016). Don’t do your best: How to live an improvised life.

Lipton, B. (2006, 2016). The Biology of Belief 10th Anniversary Edition: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter & Miracles. Hays House.

Page, C. M.D. (2013). The Healing Power of the Sacred Woman: Health, Creativity, and Fertility for the Soul. Bear & Company. On page 76 includes the story of Shin Ichiro Terayama accepting the cancer as a friend.

Sternick, A. (2018). Art of Nonsense MasterClass: Fast Gibberish& Cathartic Release of Restrained Emotions.

Sternick, A. (2018). Acknowledge and exaggerate your seriousness towards self humor-Art of Nonsense Switzerland 01.18.

Sternick, A. (2013). Playing with nonsense. Positive Psychology News.

Picture Credits
Running on a beach Photo by Richard Masquelier on Unsplash
On or on switch courtesy of Mark Oliver Dittrich. Released into public domain on his behalf by Digital camera via Wikimedia.
Himalayas Photo by Ben Lowe on Unsplash

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2 comments

Ryan Niemiec January 29, 2019 - 1:45 pm

Dear Alex, I also love singing with my kids in Gibberish! You are a real “treat” for this field. Thanks for your insights….

Reply
Alex Sternick February 13, 2019 - 3:12 am

Dear Ryan,
It is so warming my heart to read your testimonial
Of course, Singing in Gibberish (Sacredly as i have been doing that…look for the ‘stephan micus’ style) or as you do it, is not the most final aim of working with the Paralogical Tools&Interventions or Therapeutic Gibberish. In the end, Adopting a new Belief System which supports us (and not killing us!) is the most important so we should be able to bypass our intellect..it is easier said than done…but i have done it for the last 16 years…not in one go of course. To live our life Fearlessly is one of the aims of this work (Which includes Gibberish Improvisartion of course, also on the Theater Stage and in Real Life).

Now from my inspirational throne in the Himalayas where Allen Ginsberg spent his time….i wish you much Metta and A-Bun-Dance
Alex Sternick

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