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Roger Martin – Why Am I Doing This? What Treatment Can Learn From Business

Ever since I read The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking, I have been a big fan of Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management in Toronto, Canada. In his book on the problem-solving power of “integrative thinking,” Martin profiled several leaders of successful companies to demonstrate how the “opposable mind” – Martin’s term for the human brain’s ability “to hold two conflicting ideas in constructive tension” – can synthesize “new and superior ideas.”

In this video, Dr. Martin claims there is a ‘crisis of meaning’ in the world of business, especially for the Millenials or Generation Y (the generation with birth dates from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s). Millenials are leaving for other occupations because, according to Dr. Martin, they are finding little purpose in the workaday world of business. For example, when a Millenial asks ‘why am I doing this?’ management will often respond by pointing out how it benefits shareholder value. That’s not good enough, according to Dr. Martin.

So what, you may ask, does this have to do with addiction? What struck me about this video was how glaringly obvious the question of ‘why am I doing this?’ is for the clients we see in addiction treatment and how rarely it’s addressed. Yes, we tell clients how destructive drugs and alcohol can be and, yes, we can explain to them how to stop using these substances. However, if we don’t answer the question ‘Why am I doing this?’ or ‘Why should I quit?’ then perhaps we’re spinning our wheels. The client probably won’t be very motivated, not for long anyway. Assuming that the client knows he is hurting his family, ruining his health, etc. is not good enough. We need to dig a lot deeper.

A second consideration to the question ‘why am I doing this?’ is about why clients use drink or get high in the first place. Interestingly, (and this is something I have learned from our Program Director, Geoff Thompson) we never ask how clients benefit from drugs or alcohol. We just focus on the bad things that result from drug use. Maybe counsellors are afraid that they will trigger their clients if they talk about why they use or maybe the counsellor just assumes he has the answer. Either way, we are selling the clients short.

When I talk to addiction professionals and family members about what is unique about Sunshine Coast I often sum it up by saying we work with clients so that they have a reason to quit their addiction. Over time, we believe, clients who find a reason to quit will stop, not because someone pressured them to quit or not because it was ruining their life, but because drugs and alcohol no longer fit into their plans for a better, more satisfying life. Motivation is a critical piece of the recovery puzzle so that’s why we spend so much time talking about finding meaning and purpose. The ‘how-to’ books can come later.

Perhaps the great existential thinker, Friedrich Nietzsche said it best: “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”

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