Shoelaces Parable

LifeStoryLesson 1Lesson 2Lesson 3Lesson 4Why?QuotationsRelated Pages

4 Life Lessons that Use Tying Shoes for an Example

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” —Alvin Toffler

life is not the problem

The Story or Setup

  1. First, let us assume that you have a poor way of tying your shoelaces. In fact, it is so poor that you often trip on your shoelaces.
  2. Second, let us assume that you have come to counseling to deal with this self-defeating behavior.
  3. Third, let us postulate that you first want to know “why” you have this problem with your shoelaces.

  • Your counselor now teaches you four lessons.

Lesson 1 of 4

Why Is Not How

  • Even if we find out “why” you tie your shoelaces poorly, that will not change how you tie your shoelaces.
  • Even if we find out that it was your mother, father, sister, brother, cousin, aunt, uncle, grandmother, grandfather, teacher, coach, maid, nurse, babysitter, etc., who taught you to tie your shoelaces so poorly—that will not change how you tie your shoelaces.
  • Even if we remember the very first time you learned to tie your shoelaces wrongly, that will not change how you tie your shoelaces.
  • Even if you label all your feelings about tying your shoes, cry about tying your shoes, express feelings for hours about tying your shoes, get mad at people who taught you wrong, explore the deep meaning of tying your shoes, work out your conflicts about your parents, record and analyze your dreams, free associate, relive the first time, have a rebirthing experience, role-play responding to your teachers, learn new social skills, visualize your standing up to your trainers in the past, talk to different parts of yourself in therapy about how hard it all was, are reparented, have past life therapy, engage in dramas about tying your shoes, write endless journal notes about tying your shoes, explore your script issues, restructure your family, change your diet, get detoxed, move, change jobs, stop eating sugar, get divorced, have body work, have body massages, have an emotional enema, write letters, beat pillows, scream, reframe, rewrite your life story, get your chi rebalanced, tap different parts of your body, move your eyes left and right, or whatever current technique is fashionable—it will not be tying your shoes in a new more effective way.

How Is Not Why

  • We do not need to know “why” in order to know “how” you are doing what you are doing.
  • For instance, no one really knows “why” electricity works.
  • But since we know “how” it works, we can make use of electricity.
  • Even after we know exactly how you are tying your shoelaces—that will not change how you are tying your shoelaces.

Lesson 2 of 4

New Is Unnatural & Uncomfortable

  • Tying your shoelaces the way you are tying them now feels “natural” and “normal” because it is a habit—not because it is natural or normal.
  • Learning to tie your shoelaces a new way—no matter how much better or how perfect a way it is—will be uncomfortable and will take persistent practice and work.
  • The new more effective way of tying your shoelaces will feel “unnatural” and “abnormal,” not because it is wrong—but only because it is against your current habit.

Lesson 3 of 4

You Have 2 Jobs

  1. Unlearn the old ineffective way of tying your shoelace.
  2. Learn a new more effective way of tying your shoelaces.

  • This makes it harder, but that does not mean impossible. It only means that it is more work and will take more time than just learning from scratch.
  • Unlearning is harder than learning.
  • This is why many companies prefer to hire people who are not trained because now they can train them their way without having to fight or argue with their old training.
  • Some frame the problem with a question, “Are you teachable?”

Lesson 4 of 4

Practice Is the Only Magic

  • The only way you will switch the way that you are tying your shoelaces to a more productive way is—through persistent practice.
  • You have to think, feel, and act against the old way until the new way becomes your new habit.

Insight Is Insufficient

  • Thinking and insight alone will not do it.
  • Feeling and talking alone will not do it.
  • Trying and procrastinating will not do it.

  • You must recognize the wrong way and the right way, you must remove the wrong way by deciding to give it up, and you must replace the old way with the new way (3Rs).

You Need the 3Rs

  • Recognizing involves thinking and insight.
  • Removing involves feeling and motivation.
  • Replacing involves doing and creating new habits.

Practice Makes Natural

  • So you need to think, feel, and act against the old to make the new natural.
  • Now, let us begin to help you to recognize the poor way, to recognize a better way, to feel strongly enough to switch ways, and to learn how to practice the right way.

A “Why” Answer

  • Answers to “why” vary according to the preferences of the hunters as to which target to blame.
  • Targets can be grouped into being either of an inner or an outer nature.
  • Inner targets can be grouped either as responsibility or spirituality issues.
  • Outer targets can be grouped either as physical or social environment issues.
  • Hence, there are many permutations, many possible combinations of causes and so many possible explanations.


One answer that makes sense and can help has 3 parts:

  1. You are biologically prone to the negative (genetic).
  2. You are sociologically conditioned to the negative (conditioning or training).
  3. You are habitually drawn to the negative (habit).

Bottom Line

  • Work against your negative tendencies whether they are natural, social, or just a bad habit.

Quotations Various Sources

Listed Alphabetically

“A baby expects to be soothed, but a mature adult soothes themselves.” —Kevin Everett FitzMaurice

“A man’s as miserable as he thinks he is.” —Marcus Seneca

“A wise man will make more opportunities than he finds.” —Francis Bacon

“Adults are expert at self-disturbance and inept at self-soothing.” —Kevin Everett FitzMaurice

“Are you part of the problem or part of the solution?” —Anonymous

“But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.” —Galatians 6:4

“Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.” —Mark Twain

“Either do not attempt at all, or go through with it.” —Ovid

“God has entrusted me with myself.” —Epictetus

“Great works are performed not by strength, but by perseverance.” —Samuel Johnson

“If pleasure first, then pain second.” —Kevin Everett FitzMaurice

“If we have not peace within ourselves, it is in vain to seek it from outward sources.” —Francois de La Rochefoucauld

“It is not easy to find happiness in ourselves, and it is not possible to find it elsewhere.” —Agnes Repplier

“Luck is where preparation meets opportunity.” —Anonymous

“Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.” —Jean-Paul Sartre, 1905-1980

“No one has ever gotten to anyone.” —Kevin Everett FitzMaurice

“Nothing stops the man who desires to achieve. Every obstacle is simply a course to develop his achievement muscle. It’s a strengthening of his powers of accomplishment.” —Eric Butterworth

“Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.” —Michael Jordan

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” —Anonymous

“Teaching the principle of emotional responsibility can be one of the hardest tasks in REBT as clients may have habitually blamed others for their problems and now the therapist is pointing to the true source of their emotional problems–themselves.” —Michael Neenan and Windy Dryden, Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy: Advances in Theory and Practice, p. 43

“The only disability in life is a bad attitude.” —Scott Hamilton

“The willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life is the source from which self-respect springs.” —Joan Didion

“There is no man so low that the cure for his condition does not lie strictly within himself.” —Thomas L. Masson

“Whatever may be, I am still largely the creator and ruler of my emotional destiny.” —Albert Ellis and Robert A. Harper, A Guide to Rational Living, Third Edition, p. 252

“While they were saying among themselves it cannot be done, it was done.” —Helen Keller

“Why is it that people are willing to take responsibility for their happiness or mild sadness but not their severe disturbance or great unhappiness?–why ego of course!” —Kevin Everett FitzMaurice