“P” Point Power
William Cottringer, Ph.D.

Experience is not what happens to you; it's what you do with what happens to you. ~Aldous Huxley.

Earlier on in my correctional career, an MIT math genius, Herb Gross, introduced me to an obscure engineering term, which he called perturbation point. This unique engineering term referred to the strategic stress points of a building structure where imploding was most effective and efficient. Back then we were teaching inmates advanced mathematics and calculus, because such information seemed to restore the lost sense of power needed to regain control over at least a small part of their uncontrolled lives.

Seeing all sorts of other applications of the this “P” point concept, I first adapted it for use in my own personal and professional growth as psychological power points, and later helped others become aware of the concept as a valid shortcut to achieve success in what they were doing. Common examples of “P” points include book and movie titles, newspaper headlines, political soundbites, clever proverbs or parables, motivational picture posters, intriguing little stories, and profound aphorisms, like Huxley’s quote above.

The process of achieving personal and professional excellence can be greatly accelerated once we start identifying and then managing important “P” points in our lives, relationships, and careers. “P” points are critical points in which small, well-timed, and well-placed strategic efforts can produce major results or gains. On the flip side of this, much problem behavior has a tipping point to get started. One example can be used to understand the dynamics of being a victim of a crime, personal abuse, or social marginalization. Although the perpetrator of these events is largely the cause for blame, the victims can never become heroes until they see and own a very small part of disregarding danger signs that got them in the way of becoming a victim. This takes great courage and brutal honesty, but it may be the only “P” point available to get going in the right direction. Below are ten specific mental perturbation points to identify and manage better:

1. Paradigms.

Paradigms are templates, or the a priori primary viewpoints which we believe is the best assumption to use to organize the apparent truths of how things are as an exemplar model. Changing these paradigms is not easy, but when we do take a chance and question their validity, creativity explodes and that is where all the great discoveries and inventions begin, like digital time, computers, nuclear energy, and a flat world becoming a round one. A critical “P” point regarding paradigms is the realization that they are only temporary road maps pointing the way toward something we need to know now, not necessarily forever. Another important “P” point is the flash of understanding that greatest liberation and the biggest changes occur when we can let go of obsolete paradigms or begin to question sacred ones. On the contrary, paradigm morphing, or over-identifying with a particular viewpoint we have, keeps us a slave to this perspective and restricts vision of other possibilities, thus stunting growth. We must learn to separate our critical thinking from these paradigms, so the tail is not wagging the dog.

2. Principles.

The volume of information which confronts us today requires us to work smart mentally. A valuable “P” point to help out here is the process of identifying useful principles which can guide us quickly and surely to where we need to be going. These principles are simple but powerful clues as to the way life really works, all the time in any situation. An example is understanding our mutually exclusive drives of wanting to belong and be dependent on something vs. wanting to be unique and independent from everything. Another example is the awareness of the amazing similarity between an individual’s micro evolution and that of an overall civilizations’ macro evolution. The trick is to apply these principles to get practical benefits. To accommodate our opposing drives, the wise leader provides structure for security and belonging, and opportunity for individualism and unique creativity. Smart individuals anticipate personal life cycles by knowing those that have already occurred in history. An quantum physics has revealed many universal principles that apply to human consciousness—especially the uncertainty principle.

3. Priorities.

We can’t ever begin to close the gaps between where we are and where we want to be until we get our priorities straight. A starting “P” point is to put our main purpose for being here and what we are doing now, as top priorities. Then we can refocus back onto the basic priorities we all share in common, such as meaning, security, freedom, competence, quality, and growth. This process then involves ordering the activities necessary to give life to the values which support these priorities. For instance, if competence is our top priority, then we should be learning everything there is to know about something from as many sources as we can get a hold of, and then building self-discipline to be able to practice the necessary skills until we get perfection, including resilience in bouncing back from setbacks and failures. If growth is our top priority, then we need to start shedding familiar ideas, beliefs, and habits and begin to open up to new opportunities, anywhere and everywhere.

Two important “P” points about perceptions are: (a) they produce realities which are very likely to be inaccurate due to typical perceptual distortions such as biases, incorrect information, and our closure tendency of filling the gaps on incomplete information, and (b) they are what people generally act on, and without knowing exactly what they are, we are not able to react appropriately. Slowing down to tune into important perceptions affecting us, can help improve personal relationships greatly. If we are perceived as having a “bragging” personality, our helping efforts may always be resisted as being imposed and not credible, rather than welcomed and valuable. Another key “P” point about perceptions is the reality we can’t outthink our brains. Our brains are quicker in perceiving something to approach that is rewarding or something to avoid which is harmful, than our thinking can explain in our minds.

4. Paradoxes.

A particularly challenging “P” point involves solving contradictory dilemmas or bisociations, such as, “you have to lose control before you gain control,” or “you can’t have your cake and eat it too.” Understanding these riddles can open a lot of other “P” point insights as to how life really works. The trick here is to slow down and listen to how such contradictions occur naturally in life and to comprehend how opposite appearing things may just be the flip side of the same thing, much like heads and tails on a quarter. Another trick is to avoid getting caught up in the language which holds us hostage. We can do this by separating what is actually being said by the content of the injunction, from what is being implied through connotative meaning and our personal interpretation. This is especially true in regard to our bad habit of trying to interpret non-verbal behavior, verbally. Wrong interpretations can stop communication and ruin relationships. Of course the most useful “P” point about paradoxes is that they often hide important principles, that just need to be unwrapped to understand.

5. Perfection Points.

It is easy to develop a bad habit of overdoing things and going past the point of perfection. An important art to learn in personal development is becoming more sensitive to when imperfection goes past perfection and turns back into imperfection again. The funny part about it is that we always seem to know just when this happens, after it happens. Unfortunately, the window of opportunity for this particular “P” point of perfection is fairly narrow and we just have to work hard at sharpening our senses to see and hear this delicate point when it comes, before it goes, as with the case of losing opportunity and facing danger. A visit to an antique car show and one glimpse of a white and turquoise classic 1963 Chevrolet Corvette, will bring this point to life for anyone. And for photography lovers, a trip to Ellis Island and viewing the spectacular black and white images, will do the same. Seeing when a connection between two things is first made, is often and enabling “P” point of perfection.

6. Polarizations.

The development of self-consciousness, or the compelling illusion we are separate from everything else, is probably what led to our divided minds. A particularly limiting bad habit we have which stunts our growth is the one of polarizing life into either-or opposites which we have to choose between. This yes-no, good-bad, right-wrong, okay-not okay habit causes us to exclude half of life from being experienced. That reduces all chances for genuine happiness, meaning and results by 50%. Rejoining these divisions is a bridge-building exercise which is contagious and can shorten the distance between here and there very quickly. The “P” point comes with the realization of the interconnectedness of “opposites,” such as the necessity of rain to appreciate sunshine, or ignorance allowing education. At the end of the day, all things are connected, and all the apparent yin and yang opposites turn out to only be different sides to the same coin. One main polarizing paradigm that seems to be changing for the better is the competitive, win-lose mentality shifting more towards a cooperative, win-win one.

7. Personalities.

The most important personality “P” point is that our personalities reflect our basic attitude towards life, so it is a good idea to have an attitude that works best for us. Research tells us it is leaning towards being positive, hopeful, and optimistic rather than negative, hopeless or cynical. A useful “P” point to help improve interpersonal relations is being likeable by behaving with honesty, agreeability, acceptance, humor, and good listening. This can be facilitated by communicating your likeability with supportive qualities such freedom, acceptance, tentativeness, empathy and equality. Another critical “P” point about attitudes in general, is that attitudes are everything. A small change in attitude almost always produces major results; and, this is always the “cheapest” solution to any problem, because it is always free, except for the effort. A critical discovery is the relationship between the things that happen to us and the resulting feelings we have from those events, which drive our reactions. In the end, it really isn’t the things that happen to us that bother us, so much as our thoughts about those things. For instance, negative feedback can be viewed as either criticism or instruction. Failure is either a disaster or an opportunity to start over again, with better information.

8. Prejudgments.

If we don’t take care, we can easily give into the tendency to approach new situations with an awful lot of unnecessary “excess baggage.” This unfortunate tendency to prejudge new ideas, people, places and things against past similar experiences or future expectations, spoils a lot of potential experiences of excitement, fun, stimulation, and growth. Furthermore, in our efforts to quickly understand things, we let this speed thing fool us into believing some of our quick judgments are actually correct. Judging a thing before all the facts are really in, can set up wrong paradigms which spread false realities. The “P” point is the practical knowledge we already have: We already know that no two situations can ever be exactly the same, and that the majority of things we expect to happen never come about in the exact way we anticipate them to. And the past is the past and doesn’t need to impact each new present moment. And another critical “P” Point about prejudgments is that our brains are built to get rewarded and avoid harm and do this function quite effectively, whereas it is our reflective thinking that gets in the way by imposing artificial, dualistic judgments.

9. Problems.

Problem situations are special “P” point opportunities to apply all the “P’ point solutions above. Creative problem-solving strategies use small, well-placed, and well-timed efforts to suspend prejudgments, solve paradoxes, change paradigms, avoid polarizations, and apply important principles and personality traits, in producing major results. And an important “P” point about a problem is our attitude about it. A “problem” is really a sign that something isn’t quite right and an opportunity to correct its wrongness, or at least manage it better. Another important problem “P” point involves timing. In any action, timing is everything. We have all probably lost out on marvelous opportunities because we didn’t “strike while the iron was hot.” Usually, the clues are right there in front of us, but these clues are hard to see and hear because we have an important priority mixed up: We are walking and talking, instead of looking and listening. Pausing to slow down in the middle of our instantaneous, nanosecond world helps us see and hear this critical “P” point—remembering what we already know and have just forgotten.

The beauty of finding and employing these and other “P” points, is that they are all connected, where learning one quickly leads to understanding another. A huge accumulation of “P” points, will always get major gains in learning, growing, and improving into our best selves.

Author's Bio: 

William Cottringer, Ph.D. is retired Executive Vice President of Puget Sound Security in Bellevue, WA, but still teaches criminal justice classes and practices business success coaching and sport psychology. He is also on the Board of Directors of the Because Organization, an intervention program in human trafficking and involved with volunteer work in the veteran’s and horse therapy program at NWNHC Family Fund. Bill is author of several business and self-development books, including, Re-Braining for 2000 (MJR Publishing); The Prosperity Zone (Authorlink Press); 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 (Publish America); Critical Thinking (Authorsden); Thoughts on Happiness, Pearls of Wisdom: A Dog’s Tale (Covenant Books, Inc.). Coming soon: A Cliché a day will keep the Vet Away and Christian Psychology for Everyday Use (Covenant Books, Inc.). Bill can be reached for comments or questions at (206)-914-1863 or ckuretdoc@comcast.net.