The Willpower Myth
One day soon afterward, I received my neighbor's UC Berkeley Extension catalog by mistake. As I walked down the street to deliver it, I noticed a class on personal essay writing taught by Pushcart nominee Margo Perin. On the theory that when you don't know what to do next, do any damn thing, I called to sign up right there on the sidewalk. I felt a connection with Perin from the moment I walked into the classroom. She was publishing an anthology of stories about complicated mother-daughter relationships and encouraged me to write about my own, explaining that it wasn't the drama so much as the writing that would make my stories compelling. For the class final, I wrote about confronting my mother over her chilly dealings with my 5-year-old daughter. The essay went on to be selected as a finalist in a literary competition, and I had a new career.
Before reading Deutschman's book, I had never figured out what it was about Perin's class that so quickly unwedged me. Now I understood that it was my identification with Perin. She grew up near me and her voice sounded like home; she had a mother like mine and wrote stories like the ones I wanted to write. According to Deutschman, I could have gone on forever plugging away unsuccessfully at my essays if I hadn't met someone like Perin, who would go on to become a close friend and continues to serve as my writing coach. My emotional connection with her gave me the belief that I could craft the kind of stories I preferred to write.
Perin also gave me the training I needed, which is another component Deutschman found vital to change. Once that all-important relationship inspires you to believe you can make the change, you need to acquire the skills necessary and then keep practicing—repeating—them until they feel natural. That's what Solana Beach, California, chiropractor Star Bailey discovered after years of trying and failing to make a decent living from her work. "I was having fantastic success with patients, but I wasn't managing my business properly because that's not what they teach you in school," says Bailey, who is 42. "I thought that because I was valedictorian of my class and very grounded in ethics I didn't need to learn how to manage my business. I was in dire straits financially, but I didn't want somebody telling me what to do with my practice to make money because that's not what I'm about."
Bailey had always admired the work of Scott Walker, a chiropractor who developed a technique that attempts to identify the emotional sources of physical ailments. Bailey studied Walker's technique and even opened her practice near him in hopes of one day working with him. Then she heard that he had started a new program that teaches teams of chiropractors how to grow their businesses while enhancing patient care. Bailey wanted to sign up for Walker's first group, but she was deeply in debt. She was so desperate for a solution that when Walker was enlisting doctors for his third group, Bailey added the course fee to her already burdensome credit card bill. After four months of implementing the methods she learned from Walker, Bailey nearly tripled her income.
"There's no way I would have been able to make the changes in my practice that were necessary had the program not been Walker's, the person I trusted the most in chiropractic," Bailey says. "The bond is what made me step outside my normal behaviors and trust that maybe someone had an idea that was better than mine."