7 Locked Doors to Un-Doing Problem Behavior
Bill Cottringer

“A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.” ~Mark Twain.

For most of us, we spend half our lives trying to carry a cat by the tail and the other half trying to change the results we get from our own chosen “problem behavior.” The main challenge in life is how to unlock the doors keeping us from making the transformational change we already know needs to happen to stop the problem behavior of carrying the cat by its tail. This challenge confronts us all personally and any professional development helpers trying to orchestrate a successful intervention with a person fighting problem behavior.

Here are the 7 doors that keep us from making the transformational change needed to becoming who we really want to be—a person with enough happiness, success and peace of mind to feel life is mostly worthwhile as opposed to being on the downside of the opposite point of view. We all want to learn how to carry a cat properly, without the results we get from improper carrying.


The kinds of problem behaviors that need personal transformational changes to overcome are the ones that reinforce the brain with the most powerful intoxicant there is—a whole combination of positive pleasure (reward) and negative pain (“punishment”), which are both physical and psychological in nature. This double-double whammy is what keeps a problem behavior, like substance abuse, toxic bullying, anger, physical abuse, anxiety, depression, marital discord, criminal behavior or other similar dysfunctional problem behaviors, locked in a vicious circle to nowhere with no way out. This door cannot possibly be unlocked without unlocking all these other doors one at a time.

To understand how a vicious circle occurs before we realize it, picture something unwanted happening to you, like a difficult divorce, your kid in trouble at school, financial hardship or unemployment. This will make you depressed and anxious. When that happens, your mind takes it to another level and you start becoming depressed and anxious about being depressed and anxious, and more depressed and anxious about that. You are then left with a dreaded feeling of permanent hopelessness without any desire or energy to do anything about it. Things just go downhill after that. The door is shut and locked and it is impossible to see things any other way.


The real key to unlocking the awesome positive energy necessary to facilitate transformational change, is realizing the importance of shifting fundamental perspectives, which are either entirely false (delusions) or just alluring half-truths (illusions), in order to apply Mark Twain’s earlier definition of common sense being “the simple knack of seeing something the way it is and doing something the way it should be done.” The needed paradigm shifts to start the transformational change process involve all these 7 doors in ways we are all eventually required to figure out. Unfortunately this can’t be thought or taught, just experienced. First, we have to be willing to accept the possibility that we really don’t know anything we think we do, for sure. This is one belief itself well worth questioning, though, which is a good start.


The beliefs about important things like reality and truth, which we develop and protect in our own unique ways, can either hold us hostage with our chosen problem behavior or set us free. Only each one of us alone can find the whole truth of what it takes to know the extent of our own power and ability to know the real truth about life and create our own desirable realities leading to enough success, happiness and peace of mind that we are seeking in this life. And this is the way it is for individuals on their own trying to stop problem behavior or the professionals trying to apply their helping interventions. Most importantly, this belief itself controls its own power. What do you believe about this belief?


Both internal and external miscommunication keeps transformational change from proceeding on schedule. This miscommunication is a mess because of the messy interaction with the “communicators” within and between—a tangled pretzel of thoughts, feelings, intuitions, beliefs and behaviors. It takes a level of discipline and perseverance that is hard to come by, to begin to see where one stops and the other starts or which causes which, in order to get better results other than the problem behavior we want to undo. Most often, to untangle this messy pretzel-like communication, we have to re-engineer things from the results backwards and start all over again to learn what to do to get the results we want. Unfortunately, since we have foolishly allowed our psychological consciences to out-speak our true inner voices, the solution to the problem behavior is out of hearing range.


We are all born with a silent voice inside that immediately lets us know right from wrong with nothing in between. This moral conscience only speaks in the stark digital terms of yes or no with nothing in the middle or anything confusing which is which. However, it doesn’t take us very long to fill the gap with unclear content from our growing psychological consciences, which soon drown out our silent “yes-no” voices with a lot of “maybes” or “it depends.” Before long our moral consciences become hoarse from trying to be heard above our noisy psychological explanations and rationalizations. Without being able to hear and follow our silent voice within, we become lost, wandering and wondering what’s wrong.


Empathy is the only way to understand the wisdom of Mark Twain’s quote above. But empathy never comes from imagination or thinking, only from the good judgment that comes from the experiences of bad judgment. In becoming successful at anything, including unlocking the doors to transformational change so we can stop carrying the cat by its tail, it seems to take an awful lot of failures to finally learn how to punch in the right combination to open the door. This correct combination is hidden in empathy.

If you are an individual trying to do this on your own, you have to have the courage and perseverance to seek out experiences like trying to carry a cat by its tail. If you are a professional trying to implement a successful intervention for other people to undo problem behavior, then you have to seek out the wisdom to know how to orchestrate experiences for these people to experience the needed empathy from their “victims” of the problem behavior. But either way, you can’t think your way out of problem behavior that was behaved into.


The final locked door keeping us from making the needed transformational change to undo problem behavior is the lack of results we generally see or what we experience from our own efforts. The only results we do see tend to be of three limited varieties: (a) the systematic efforts to understand how all these 7 doors work together to keep us from becoming who we really want to be and applying all this understanding with enough intention, self-discipline and focus to make progress one step at a time (b) the force of pure inspirational will-power that overcomes something to achieve success against all the odds, or (c) what we commonly call “divine intervention.”

Fortunately these success results do happen just enough to let us know it is possible to beat the uphill challenge, just not necessarily as easy or quick as we would prefer. But, that particular preference is invented by our psychological consciences, because we like to surprise ourselves by rising to the occasion. As long as we don’t play the hide and seek game too well, we can eventually unlock all these doors and make the transformational changes needed to stop trying to carry the cat by its tail.

“There is no such thing as failure. There are only results.” ~Tony Robbins

Author's Bio: 

William Cottringer, Ph.D. is Executive Vice-President for Employee Relations for Puget Sound Security, Inc. in Bellevue, WA, along with his hobbies in being a Sport Psychologist, Business Success Coach, Photographer and Writer living in the peaceful but invigorating mountains and rivers of North Bend. He is author of several business and self-development books, including, “You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too” (Executive Excellence), “The Bow-Wow Secrets” (Wisdom Tree), “Do What Matters Most” and “P” Point Management” (Atlantic Book Publishers), “Reality Repair” (Global Vision Press), Reality Repair Rx (Authorsden), and “If Pictures Could Talk,” coming soon. Bill can be reached for comments or questions at (425) 454-5011 or ckuretdoc@comcast.net