The Next Right Thing

David Krueger, M.D.

John Paul Sartre tells a story about a young married couple who have breakfast together each morning.  After breakfast, the wife kisses her husband goodbye and sits by the window all day to cry until he returns.  When he does, she perks up.  The psychologically minded might see this young woman as suffering from separation anxiety.  Consider that she actually suffers from a fear of freedom.  As soon as her husband leaves, she is free to do whatever she wants, but this freedom terrifies her – paralyzes her. 
People are often experts about what is missing in their lives, about experiences they haven’t had, and what their lives would be like if they were to have them.  Yet they also have a very limited repertoire of possibilities of how their lives would be better if these missing things were to actually happen.

While everyone wants more money, “more” has no end point (How Much Is Enough?).  And beyond the initial flurry of the fantasy purchases, how would more money make your life different? What problems would it actually solve?

Alfred Adler, one of Freud’s earlier followers, told a story of an initial interview with a patient.  He did a comprehensive evaluation, a detailed family history, and got an elaborate account of what the man was suffering from.  At the end of the consultation, Adler asked the man, “What would you do if you were cured?”  The man answered him, and Adler said, “Well, go and do it then.”
That was the treatment.  This man did not need psychoanalytic interpretation, to mourn missed opportunities, or to understand the dynamics of uncompleted action.  Since his problem was initiating action, when he did that, he had no more problem.

All we have to do in life is the next right thing.  At times, it may not be clear what the next right thing is, but you can almost always know what it isn’t.