We’re going to keep on with the concept of how. I just think, yes, it is that important.

Let’s set the framework a bit with an analogy. Picture a staircase.


Now, how do you climb the staircase? Obvious answer – you climb the staircase. But that is what to do, not how to do it.

Let’s try again. You progressively step up to each higher step, thereby, ascending the staircase. The case can be made, I think, that this is still what the action is and not how it’s being accomplished.

There may be two distinctions here – one of the observer the other of the doer. Perhaps the semantic difference is that the perspective of the observer can only determine what is being done, not how, and that there is some special sense of how-ness possessed only by the doer. This may be a fair point, but not where I’m going. So, I’m choosing to ignore it.

The other distinction is one of granularity – breaking down the macro to the micro until the what becomes a how. WTFAITA? (what the fuck am I talking about)?

Right, if we assume that we’ve never climbed a staircase before, it doesn’t make sense to say that we know how to do it. We may hold the concept of climbing a staircase, perhaps playing it out in mental imagery. But, this all seems like what to do. Even if we’ve seen others do it, this can provide a more detailed conception of what, but doesn’t elicit a how.

By being more granular maybe we can reach the how. If I were to suggest that a staircase is to be climbed beginning with lifting up one foot to place it on the next elevated step, then bear your weight onto that foot as you lift and place your other foot up on to the next elevated step, we now begin to understand the how. But perhaps this doesn’t even make sense and that we’ve never traversed a step before. Therefore, we’d still be in the what category.

So we take a step back (pun intended) and get more granular. Begin by shifting your weight to one side, then, contract the muscles of the other leg in such a way as to raise your foot. Ah-ha! I’ve done that before. Finally, we have the how. At this point the conceptual what has become a known how. Now we can progress further by adding a real-world step and adapt the body mechanics as needed.

This may seem ridiculous, but so often the how is just assumed, at least in psycho-therapy work. Take Cognitive Behavior Therapy for example: how do I experience more pleasant feelings/responses or at least less disturbing ones. Well, you change what you think and these more desired feelings will result. Ok, great – how? This must actually be broken down until it becomes obvious. Start with stopping yourself and being able to think about your feelings and thoughts. Internally say to yourself, “Self, what am I feeling, what am I thinking?”

Next, identify the current feelings and underlying thoughts. Specifically, what are they? Then, think of a different thought – any other thought that can be applied to a person – does the feeling change? Ok, think of a different thought – different feeling? If your identified thought is, “That dude’s an asshole”, what is a different thought? Maybe, “That dude is having a bad day.” Or, “That dude must be crazy.” Often changing adjectives can be the difference in the thought – this is an easy place to start. And notice, we’re not even at the level of believability or correctness of the various thoughts, but just the process of how to have a different thought.


Granularity is a key.

By getting to the nitty-gritty, we can begin to dissect the change process, and not just make macro assumptions about knowledge of how something is done. Have you had the thought before that someone is having a bad day? Or that someone is crazy, sad, on drugs, stupid, etc.? If so, then you know how to have different thoughts for different people. Can you direct one of these other thoughts to the person in question? Make this person in front of you the subject of a different adjective? If so, then that is the beginning of the how.

So now you know how to stop or pause. You know how to identify a current thought/feeling. You know how to entertain a different thought about someone. You know how to apply that different thought to the person in question. Do you know how to consider ramifications and potential and possibility or outcomes based on various behavior? Do you know how to identify obstacles preventing you from choosing the better thought and behavior (ego, discomfort, short-term thinking, etc.)? These are all steps along the way to how to ‘reframe’ a situation and help alleviate whatever distressing state you’re experiencing.

A lot of work?