Updated: 4 days ago
“When you express your true self in the world, those around you not only come to understand you for who you are but are positively influenced by your authenticity. This transformation benefits everyone involved.” Keith Storace
Australian psychologist, consultant and writer Keith Storace shares his experience helping clients overcome limiting beliefs and focusing on the positive to create meaningful lives. Keith highlights the power of the poetic principle in shaping our reality and emphasizes the importance of authentic relationships in our personal and professional lives. In therapy and leadership, Keith emphasizes the importance of understanding others, embracing their strengths, and fostering meaningful connections.
Stephen Matini: We've crossed paths in this stage of our lives. Have you always possessed the qualities I now see in you – compassion and warmth?
Keith Storace: I hesitate to affirm that, as it might come across as self-aggrandizing. However, I can confidently say yes now.
I am this way because of the way my parents raised me and the people I encountered along the way, particularly some remarkable teachers during my formative years. There's one teacher in particular whom I recently reconnected with on Facebook. She either found me, or I found her, and it's been a delightful reunion. She was my sixth-grade teacher and had a deep understanding of me during a crucial phase of my life.
Maybe I wasn't as compassionate as I am now during childhood, as I was engrossed in the joys and challenges of being a child. However, I've always held a curious and compassionate outlook on things. It's not always an effortless endeavor, as true compassion often entails momentarily stepping out of one's own shoes and putting oneself in someone else's, however briefly.
My perspective has been profoundly influenced by the many remarkable individuals in my life. Somehow, I was paying close attention to the core of their messages, even though I can't quite explain why or how.
SM: When did you determine the focus of your career? Did this realization occur early on or later?
KS: It was a sequence of events, not a single moment. I didn't connect the dots until my mid to late twenties, when I realized I needed to pursue psychology. One of my earliest memories related to this was at the age of 14 when I read Kahlil Gibran's book, "The Prophet."
In it, there's a line where someone asks the prophet what work is. His response, or at least the version I remember, was "work is love made visible." I recall thinking at 14, "That's what I want in a job." I had no clear idea of what that meant at the time, but I loved the idea of work as a manifestation of love. I wondered what that could look like.
As I matured, I learned that this could be achieved through various paths, such as entering religious life, working as a counselor, psychologist, psychiatrist, or even as a pastry chef, depending on your passion. That's when I started pondering the kind of work I wanted to do, though I was still unaware of psychology. My introduction to psychology came a few years later during high school.
I had an excellent teacher who assigned a project related to life. We had the freedom to choose any life-related topic. My habit was to procrastinate, so I found myself on a Sunday, the day before the project was due, biking to the local library. Back then, we didn't have computers. I hurriedly searched through the index cards for a topic.
I remembered watching a Jacques Cousteau documentary about pearls a few weeks earlier, and I thought, "Pearls are about life." So, I asked the librarian for a book on pearls. She mentioned they had just received one. I borrowed the book and it began to rain so I sat under a tree and started reading. I quickly realized the book was not about pearls but about a man by the name of Fritz Perls who developed Gestalt Therapy.
I rode home and in disappointment threw my bicycle against the garage wall and went into the house only to later realize I had left the book in my bag outside, and it was soaked; I had my own pity party. I used my mother’s hairdryer to dry the book.
As I dried the book’s pages, I started reading. I didn’t understand much, but one thing stood out – the idea that our behavior and emotions aren’t isolated but parts of a whole. I somehow managed to write a project about people and Gestalt therapy, receiving an A+++ from my teacher, who added a few words from the Gestalt prayer, "I am me, and you are you. If we happen to meet and get along, that's great. If not, that's great as well.”
She had a hippie background, so she understood my assignment's message. This experience boosted my confidence and altered my perception of community and people. It was my first inkling that psychology was a field worth exploring, and the idea simmered in my mind.
SM: How did you become more closely involved with positive psychology? Last time we talked, you mentioned your reservations about the term "abnormal," which is no longer widely used in the field. Did your connection to positive psychology develop early or later in your career?
KS: I had heard of positive psychology, but it truly became clear to me while I was studying psychology, especially during that initial phase when everything was labeled under the umbrella of abnormal psychology.
While there is a place for that in the scientific world, I also encountered humanistic psychology. However, it was appreciative inquiry that introduced me to the concept of positive psychology in a profound way.
My discomfort with the term "abnormal" led to a conversation with my supervisor. I raised the concern that clients might feel labeled as abnormal, and she challenged me to suggest an alternative term.
It was during a moment in the university's student cafeteria when I overheard a fellow student expressing her appreciation for what she was learning. At that point, it struck me that "appreciation psychology" rather than "abnormal psychology" better aligned with my concerns. This realization predated my formal introduction to appreciative inquiry.
When I did delve into appreciative inquiry, it was through the exploration of its five core principles. It was through this lens that I started to grasp the essence of positive psychology. Many people inquire about the therapeutic aspect of positive psychology, wondering how it translates into therapy. I wrestled with this question as well.
Positive psychology, as people often understand it, revolves around feeling good, practicing gratitude, and reframing challenges as opportunities. The challenge was how to integrate these principles into therapy.
This is where the five core principles of appreciative inquiry, often referred to as classic principles, became particularly powerful. They led me to question whether I could adapt these principles from leadership settings into one-on-one therapy.
This is when I embarked on the journey of developing the Appreciative Dialogue therapy program within the framework of positive psychology. My quest for utilizing positive psychology in therapy found its answer through the principles of appreciative inquiry.
SM: Do you have a particular attachment to any of the five principles of appreciative inquiry, or do they all hold equal significance for you?
KS: All five of the principles in appreciative inquiry are fantastic, brilliant, and powerful when used together. However, the one that stands out for me, both as a psychologist and based on my upbringing, is the poetic principle.
I used to wonder, especially during my early days of inquiry, what David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva were thinking when they developed appreciative inquiry in the eighties. It's exceptionally wonderful and not something I encountered in traditional psychology.
The poetic principle emphasizes that what we focus on becomes our reality. In simpler terms, what you keep in your mind eventually shapes your life. As a psychologist and a human being, I witness this in action daily. If you continuously think about something or work towards a dream, that dream becomes an integral part of you. It's almost like it works on you even in your sleep, compelling you to take deliberate actions to bring it to life in the world. That's the brilliance of it.
For me, the poetic principle is at the heart of the Appreciative Dialogue program. It's about bringing to life in the world what matters most to individuals. This has become particularly evident in the post-COVID era, where we're still feeling the ripple effects, especially in Melbourne, which endured a lengthy nine-month lockdown in total. During that time, I worked with clients, and the poetic principle was a guiding light.
In the wake of COVID and the so-called "great resignation" phenomenon, what people are really talking about is not merely leaving their jobs; it's a quest for personal revolution or evolution. They want to move forward authentically, embracing who they truly are. This is why I'm so passionate about the poetic principle because it encapsulates the idea that what we focus on becomes our reality.
Listen to anyone who has achieved what they genuinely aspire to in life, and they'll tell you that they can't believe they get paid for doing what they love, for doing what defines their very existence. They often refer to it as their purpose in life, but I see it as their bliss. Our life's purpose evolves over time, but at any given moment, that's where they find their bliss.
SM: How do limiting beliefs obstruct clarity and hinder people from pursuing what's important to them?
KS: Limiting beliefs are a good starting point. They often stem from how we interpret the world and how we believe the world perceives us. Let's consider a child running across the road, causing their parent to panic and scold them.
The child might incorrectly think the parent doesn't love them because they were scolded. In reality, the parent was genuinely concerned. Similar scenarios play out in the workplace when a colleague is disgruntled, and you might take it personally. These limiting beliefs are significant. However, my work primarily centers around core beliefs.
Negative core beliefs or limiting beliefs exist for a reason. I aim to help clients understand the significance of what they believe their core belief to be. We go through this process to identify seven core beliefs and then distill it to one. The challenge is to make the client agree they are not 100% unworthy.
Once we've established their core belief, I emphasize that beliefs, by nature, aren't facts; otherwise, they'd be truths. I get them to appreciate the power behind their belief. However, beliefs are powerful, and we often don't even realize what we believe, as they lurk in the background.
SM: How long does it take to someone to change a limiting belief?
KS: The time it takes can vary considerably. In the program I utilize, the duration depends on the specifics of the client's situation.
Typically, it can span from six to 12 weeks. However, it's crucial to understand that the goal isn't always complete eradication of the belief. Some individuals find it challenging to entirely let go of their limiting belief. In such cases, we shift the focus towards working with the belief, understanding it, and managing it.
There's a saying that goes, "We teach what we need to learn," and that certainly applies to me when it comes to dealing with my own self-doubt. Changing a belief is not inherently difficult, but it does demand patience and commitment. As I mentioned earlier, the therapeutic relationship is paramount.
You must genuinely want to support the client, empathize with their experiences, and walk in their shoes. While I may not have experienced everything my clients have, I bring my life experience to the table.
It's worth noting that I employ what I refer to as my "therapy triangle." This approach incorporates three distinct therapeutic modalities: existential therapy, solution-focused therapy, and cognitive-behavioral therapy. I don't explicitly mention this to clients, but I emphasize that we will explore these three aspects, each contributing to their personal growth.
Existential therapy underlines that individuals create their own meaning, highlighting the importance of personal agency. Solution-focused therapy reinforces that elements of the desired solution often exist in a person's life already, aligning with the "create change story" concept.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy focuses on how behavior change results from changes in thoughts and beliefs, with core beliefs being a significant focus. This combined approach equips clients with a versatile toolkit to navigate various life situations effectively.
SM: If you were to distill all this information into a single key takeaway for our listeners, what would you consider the most crucial starting point for them?
KS: The key takeaway from our conversation, which has really resonated with me, is the importance of immersing yourself in the things that matter most to you. This immersion leads to a deep sense of gratitude, affirming your true self.
When you express your true self in the world, those around you not only come to understand you for who you are but are positively influenced by your authenticity. This transformation benefits everyone involved.
From a leadership perspective, encouraging and supporting individuals to engage in work or education that aligns with their strengths, values, and passions empowers them to feel strong, valued, and motivated to excel. This, in turn, enhances their mental health and social relationships.
Ultimately, how you live your life has a profound impact on those around you, so strive to live a life that aligns with what matters most to you, as this is a path to true self-discovery and positive influence.
SM: Thank you, Keith. This has been wonderful.
KS: Good conversations appreciate over time, and this has certainly been one of them. Thank you.