The Power of Living With Intensity
Q: Can you give an example of what it’s like to live without intensity?
Phil: When you live without intensity, you do things without really doing them—you try without really trying. I played basketball in school and there was always the issue of running back on defense once your team lost the ball. Even if it’s the end of the game and they can hardly breathe, those with true intensity will still run back on defense as hard as they possibly can. Most people live lives of the guys who don’t exert themselves when they run back. These people walk through their lives. Then you have a select few who bring intensity to everything. Barry’s a good example—he’s obsessively intense. This inspires other people.
Barry: When I was a young shrink coming out of school, I wouldn’t have used the word “intensity” in connection with psychotherapy. But I knew something was missing from the psychotherapy I’d been taught. When I met Phil, what made him different from any shrink I’d met was that he had so much intensity. Frankly, it intimidated me at first, but I was also drawn to it. This was a guy who was so determined to help you with your problems he was willing to pretty much say or do anything to get you to change.
Q: Can you give a specific example [of what Phil was willing to say or do]?
Barry: Yeah, I’ll never forget this. I met Phil at a seminar he was giving and he asked everybody to identify a problem we wanted to work on. My problem, at that time, was that I felt like a failure. This was completely irrational—I had graduated with honors from Harvard, then from one of the best law schools in the country, and I’d practiced law at a prestigious law firm. In no way could my life be called a failure. But despite my accomplishments, I still felt like a failure. So I stood up and tried to describe these feelings of failure, and at the end I laughed and said, “You know, this is a perfect illustration—I feel like I failed to explain my problem as well as I should have.” And Phil looked at me in a way that no one’s ever looked at me before, with the utmost seriousness, and said, “Don’t ever do that again.”
I knew exactly what he meant. I shouldn’t have put myself down like that. I said to myself, “That’s it … I’m not doing that anymore.” It wasn’t his words that reached me; it was the intensity with which he said them. What he was really saying was, “You’re in a war with an inner enemy who's getting you to turn against yourself ... and at that moment you sided with the enemy.” It was a very powerful experience for me. It was the beginning of me breaking the habit of thinking of myself as a failure.