... or control an outcome. The participants in any of my wellness coaching activities know I'm big on producing measurable results. But influcencing a result and controlling an outcome are two different bananas. One is possible, the other generally is not.
It's useful to appreciate the difference. I have an excellent, though I'll warn you right now sad, opportunity to illustrate with a situation that just occurred in my own life. I was able to influence a result. But ultimately, I could not control the outcome.
In this article, we'll explore several views on the factors that affect a health outcome -- and then I'll share my story.
Opinions on what affects a health outcome
Dr. Herbert Benson, in his book The Relaxation Response (1984), quotes the Dali Lama on three factors that influence the success of traditionally-practiced Tibetan medicine:
- The belief of the patient
- The belief of the doctor
- The karma (or spiritual force generated by their mutual actions) between the doctor and patient. (p. 68)
Drs. Hubble, Duncan, and Miller, in their book The Heart and Soul of Change: What Works in Therapy (1999), identify four factors that influence therapeutic outcome in "any behavioral change enterprise:"
- Client factors (what the client brings to the therapy session) - 40%
- Relationship factors (between the client and the therapist) - 30%
- Hope and expectancy of the client - 15%
- Therapeutic model or technique - 15%
Caroline Myss, in her language, says that you never really know what the person's "contract" is. Tom Brown, Jr. says that you can't interfere with the person's destiny. And the Christian Bible, describing the healing work of Jesus, says about the same thing.
No matter how much we, as humans, think we've done all the right things, there is some kind of intangible "other" factor at work when it comes to a final outcome. And we, as humans, cannot control it.
We can, however, do a lot more than we often give ourselves credit for. Many times, we quit too easily, just on the brink of success. Or we fail to consider some small point of learning that, if we mastered it, would make all the difference.
For example, when someone says, "I eat all the right things and exercise, but I just can't seem to lose weight," chances are pretty good that they're missing something. Ditto the person who says, "I've done everything you're supposed to for marketing, but my product just doesn't sell." Something is off -- either in their formula, the positioning of their product, the product itself, or the timing of its entry to the marketplace.
Results speak. And, as you know, I encourage you to listen. Despite that, the final outcome may be beyond your control. Here's a story to illustrate the difference.
Scout, my little hero
Last fall, on Thanksgiving Day, a small dog took up residence in a straw pile in my yard. By all appearances, he was a stray looking for a place to spend the winter. I'd seen him strolling through the neighborhood before, but this time, he was clearly looking for a safe shelter. I decided to help him out. Ultimately, I decided to try and fully adopt him into the family.
I found an intact straw bale for a west wall and tarped over the area where he slept. Scout, as I came to call him, was very much a loner and wary of strangers. When I first started putting food out for him, he'd run away until I was completely out of sight before accepting the meal. Time passed as I consistently fed him twice a day -- canned food each morning and a snack in the evening. He had dry food and water available any time he wanted.
Fast forward to Thursday, Feburary 8th, the day Scout allowed me to touch him for the first time. He had gradually begun to trust me, as evidenced by these results:
- He'd been accepting food from my hand for about two weeks.
- He'd actually come up to me in the driveway to receive the food (at first, he'd only take it in the security of his little hut).
- On Wednesday the 7th and Thursday the 8th both, he'd been waiting for me when I brought out his morning food. This itself wasn't too unusual, but his reaction was. Each of those days, he gave a delighted little yip to see me (and the food) and on Thursday, he did a full-fledged "happy dance."
- Thursday evening when I went out with his afternoon treat, he let me touch his head three times. (A huge result!)
I'd been feeling more and more pressing concern about getting him safely indoors. It was very cold and, despite my taking him hot water bottles twice a day, the cold had to be wearing on him. Plus, he'd been drawing attention to himself. Several neighbors and the animal control officer were aware of his situation. Finally, despite having been lucky outdoors for quite a while, he clearly was not safe.
During that same week, as the possibility of bringing him into the house drew closer, I spent most of my free time consulting with a vet clinic, the kind folks at our area humane society, a groomer, and a fencing company. By Friday afternoon, February 9th, I had a plan for bringing him indoors.
I attempted to slip a lead over his head that afternoon, but he became scared and suspicious and immediately backed away (a result, though not one I wanted). I didn't chase. The humane society people had already told me it might take several attempts, and I didn't want to frighten him off altogether. I left him with a nice beef bone and that was it.
He hung around most of Saturday and accepted his food, though he would not let me touch him that day. I realized I would have to build back his trust before any further attempts with the lead.
On Sunday morning, when I went out at the usual time with his breakfast, Scout was not there. This had happened before, and when it did, he usually came back shortly. Not Sunday. In fact, he didn't return all day.
I was concerned. On Monday, I contacted the dog pound (no Scout) and the police department. About 1:00 Monday, the animal control officer called to report that a dog matching Scout's description had been hit by a car early Sunday trying to cross a busy street just a couple blocks from our home.
This, unfortunately, was the final outcome. It was a very sad day.
Scout had a very large extended family of supporters, especially those on the Organic Gardening forum. He did not leave this world an unknown stray, but rather a loved and appreciated brave dog who will be well remembered. Those are also results. Despite it all, for some reason we will never know, he is gone. And that was the uncontrollable outcome.
P.S. I'm working on that happy ending I know we all want. Stay tuned. ;-)
Elizabeth Eckert can help you explore how simple everyday choices create health — or undermine even the best of intentions. With a background that ranges from energy medicine to structural bodywork to developmental psychology, this "Stick-To-It Coach" has the experience to support you in creating the healthiest possible expression of — you!
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