Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, or watch on YouTube

In this second episode with special guest Dr. Jim Herrington, Eric & Rob explore crucial steps to kickstarting your healing. Discover how owning your story, improving your meaning-making, and interrupting your autopilot can help you overcome childhood trauma and become the best version of yourself. Get ready for life-changing insights in this thought-provoking conversation!

 You can watch the videos of all of the Living Richly Podcast episodes on the Living Richly YouTube Channel.

Show Notes for Episode 33

Jim Herrington has been a pastor for 45 years. He has served as a denominational executive and pastor to pastors since 1989 where he first began coaching leaders. He has worked with hundreds of congregations from a variety of traditions around the challenges of personal and congregational transformation. In 1998 he became the founding Executive Director of Mission Houston, a ministry that works to build unity in the body of Christ across lines that would normally divide. In 2007 he co-founded Faithwalking, a spiritual formation ministry that equips people and congregations to live missionally. Today Faithwalking is an active ministry in the U.S., Canada, and Central America.

Jim speaks regularly in conferences on the topics of spiritual formation, adaptive leadership, family systems, and missional theology. He holds a D.Min in spiritual direction and spiritual formation from Houston Graduate School of Theology. He is the co-author of three books – Leading Congregational Change: A Practical Guide to the Transformational Journey, The Leader’s Journey: Accepting the Call to Personal and Congregational TransformationLearning Change: Congregational Transformation Fueled by Personal Renewal

Jim lives in Houston and has been married to his best friend, Betty, for 46 years. They have five children and six grandchildren.

Connect with Jim Herrington…

The Leader’s Journey Website




Books mentioned in the episode…

The Leader’s Journey by Jim Herrington

Growing Yourself Up by Jenny Brown

The Games People Play by Eric Berne

Extraordinary Relationships by Roberta Gilbert

Extraordinary Leadership by Roberta Gilbert

Key Concepts from Episode 33: Unlocking Life’s Potential Using Mental Models with Dr. Jim Herrington

In episode 33 of The Living Richly Podcast, hosts Eric Deschamps and Rob Dale are joined by special guest Jim Herrington, who shares his insights on the importance of nurturing the inner life and embracing personal growth. Jim uses the four elements – fire, water, air, and earth – to describe the human personality and how they are applied in the richly living methodology.

Jim explains that these elements represent different aspects of the self, such as the heart (emotional life), mind (thought life), spirit (spirituality), and body. He emphasizes the significance of all four elements working together harmoniously to create something greater than the sum of its parts. Drawing inspiration from ancient alchemy, Jim suggests that true magic happens when these elements converge and intertwine.

A central theme discussed in this episode is the concept of mental models, which are sets of beliefs and assumptions about how the world works and how to take action effectively. Jim explains that mental models develop unconsciously as children are incapable of abstract thinking. He provides an example from his own life, where he automatically behaves in a certain way based on his mental models.
Mental models exist for various aspects of life, such as being a good spouse, parent, or employee or even knowing how to tie shoes. They guide our behaviours and actions without conscious thought. Having a coach or mentor is crucial in the early stages of personal development. Jim emphasizes the importance of working with a coach who can help individuals identify their pain points, encourage small actions for improvement, and envision their best selves in different situations.

The conversation takes a deeper dive into the idea of awareness and practice. Jim discusses the first step of growing awareness and becoming more present. It is important to fully own one’s personal stories and the painful moments that have shaped them. Reflective work after an initial interaction or reaction is necessary, and discussing and unpacking these experiences with others can be beneficial.

Jim highlights the value of practicing and reflecting on better choices and decisions, which helps build a “muscle” for improvement. Over time, these better versions of ourselves become more accessible in the present moment. He cites Edwin Friedman’s emphasis on growing emotional maturity, which requires increasing pain tolerance, even though it contradicts our natural inclination to avoid pain.

The episode also explores the concept of safe and challenging growth, where individuals have control over the pace of their development. Jim shares a personal experience from their time as a chaplain at a cancer hospital, where a peer group helped them gain valuable insight into how others perceive them. This demonstrates the importance of emotional intelligence, specifically understanding and managing one’s feelings and how they impact others.

Throughout the conversation, Jim encourages listeners to embrace discomfort and slow progress, as this can lead to transformation and a different approach to life. They suggest that the education system should prioritize teaching concepts like emotional intelligence and personal growth.

In conclusion, episode 33 of The Living Richly Podcast provides profound insights into nurturing the inner life and embracing personal growth. Listeners are encouraged to develop self-awareness, reflect on their personal stories, and practice making better choices and decisions. By embracing discomfort and slow progress, individuals can experience profound transformation and create a fulfilling life.

Episode 33 Transcript

Unlocking Life’s Potential Using Mental Models with Jim Herrington

Eric Deschamps [00:00:00]:

So you’ve decided to take the plunge and start the healing process. How do you do it and where do you start? Find out next on today’s show.

Rob Dale [00:00:16]:

Hi, I’m Rob Dale, and welcome to the Living Richly podcast. I am here with my great friend Eric Deshamp, and we have again this week as our guest, Jim Harrington has been so influential in our lives, in the shaping of Living Richly, in your life in particular. And certainly you were the one that first introduced Jim to my life and have had the opportunity to get to know him. We’re going to be talking today about getting really into some of the systems, the structure that has helped us shape us in how we kind of see things and view the world family systems dynamic, all kinds of different ideas in counseling that will be of benefit. This is going to be one of those episodes that I encourage you if you are in a place where you’re sitting and listening to grab a notebook, because you’re going to probably be taking some notes. And if it’s not in a place where if you’re driving or out in nature, you may want to come back and watch it a second time, listen to a second time with a notepad handy because there’s going to be some great learning lessons today.

Eric Deschamps [00:01:28]:

Absolutely. I think we ended last week’s show. I made the comment that I have had now hundreds of conversations with Jim over the years and spent several, several hours, so much time together, and yet there’s never a conversation, even to this day, that I don’t feel impacted in some powerful way. And that was certainly the case with last week’s show. So folks have not watched that episode. You’re going to want to just go back one show, watch that one first, where you hear all about Jim’s story and how he evolved into the work that he’s doing today with leaders right across North America and beyond, helping them overcome pain and unhealthy family ties and becoming the best victims themselves. And I’ll have to say, he’s the first guest on our show that made us both cry.

Rob Dale [00:02:19]:

Made you cry?

Eric Deschamps [00:02:20]:

I’m pretty sure you cried too, buddy.

Rob Dale [00:02:22]:

That was dust.

Eric Deschamps [00:02:23]:

Oh, that was dust.

Rob Dale [00:02:24]:

Yes, of course it was. Okay, Jim. Jim, I’m ready.

Eric Deschamps [00:02:31]:

Both ready.

Rob Dale [00:02:32]:

Heal me.

Jim Herrington [00:02:33]:


Rob Dale [00:02:34]:

Your turn.

Jim Herrington [00:02:35]:

Heal me. Your turn.

Eric Deschamps [00:02:35]:

Or to you?

Jim Herrington [00:02:38]:

Well, you guys are very kind and you have set the bar really high, so I hope we can deliver the goods today. But it is fun to be together and be able to have a conversation.

Rob Dale [00:02:51]:

Jim, I just said to you to heal me, and you went, wait a minute. You set the bar too high.

Jim Herrington [00:02:58]:

I can’t do that.

Rob Dale [00:03:01]:


Eric Deschamps [00:03:02]:


Jim Herrington [00:03:08]:

What’s the question? Where are we starting?

Rob Dale [00:03:12]:

That wasn’t really a question.

Eric Deschamps [00:03:14]:

Very good job.

Rob Dale [00:03:15]:

It’s not done really well. Really? I’m ready to start the journey. I’m on the journey. But imagine I am ready to someone’s listen. Ready to start the journey. Where do we start?

Jim Herrington [00:03:27]:

Yeah, I think you start by owning your story. You have a story, you have a first formation, you have a childhood and adolescence where adults peers outside influences like your culture had influence on shaping you. And the way I would say it is that they shaped how you came to see yourself and how you came to see the world. And there’s an illustration that helps you see the power of that. You can see a five year old who’s up on top of the Empire State Building looking down and he’ll say, look how small those people are. And then you’ll have a twelve year old who’s up there and will look down off the same place and say, look how small those people appear. In your first formation, like however you came to see yourself, that was just the truth. That wasn’t a perspective or a possibility or something you were considering. And until you can name that, describe that in some detail, then it’s going to be hard for you to make much progress. And so owning your story would be a beginning place. If somebody came to me, where I start is just say, tell me about your story. And I want to know where they were born and what their family of origin story is, what their mom and dad did, where they fell in the sibling order, what it was like to grow up in a home like that. Just as much of the detail of that as you can tell. And then based on that story, I began to in a safe, very slow, but steady pace, begin to explore the painful parts of that story.

Eric Deschamps [00:05:16]:


Jim Herrington [00:05:17]:

Because the painful parts of that story are the places where your first formation takes over in your adult life. Like to say it like this eric and I are in a conversation and things are going really well. All of a sudden he does something that I get really anxious about. Anxiety goes up, my thinking goes down. And what happens in that moment is I revert to what I learned in my first formation about what I had to do to be safe. I had to be funny, I had to be smart, I had to be mean, I had to be had to be quiet, I had to be shy. I mean, there’s a hundred ways that you can answer that. And we get to be adults and we can function in the adult world as long as things are smooth. But when anxiety shows up and they begin to get uncomfortable, like blinking or breathing and this is the power of this, like blinking or breathing.

Eric Deschamps [00:06:07]:


Jim Herrington [00:06:07]:

We revert to our first formation.

Eric Deschamps [00:06:09]:

Right. That’s so powerful. I read somewhere that often as young children, until we reach a certain age that we don’t have yet, the ability to process that our brain is for the most part, just recording it’s, capturing. Right. So you talk about, like, blinking or breathing. The program that gets set in those early stages of our lives and elsewhere, some of the research is showing that up to 95% of what we do on a day to day basis is from our subconscious mind. It’s program. I mean, that sounds like crazy stats when you think that we’re only perhaps choosing we’re only choosing our actions, choosing how we’re showing up like 5% of the time.

Jim Herrington [00:06:54]:

But to increase, that the beginning place. You’ve got to learn to disrupt that first formation. And I believe you can’t disrupt what you can’t name and see. And so let me say what it is for me, and then you say what it is for you. For me, the way that I learned to see myself was that there was something fundamentally flawed in me. That the man who was supposed to love me the most hit me and hurt me. And so what’s wrong with me that he treats me this way? And the way that I learned to see the world was authority figures are dangerous, and they will use their authority to they’ll use you and they’ll hurt you and they’ll leave you. And those were not just perspectives. That was like the truth that I operated out of. What is it for you?

Eric Deschamps [00:07:35]:

It’s funny you use the word fundamentally flawed, and I think you’re the first person actually, you are the first person I ever uttered these words to that for me, it was fatally flawed. I used the language fatally flawed, and it was very much the same thing that something was terribly wrong with me and that much of what was going on in my life, in my relationships, in my career, was my doing. It was my fault. And when bad stuff showed up, that I deserved it and that the people closest to me, if they got to know me, they’d leave me. And so I wasn’t safe to be my real self. I had to be someone else. And Dance Monkey, Dance had put on a false self in order to feel love and acceptance and not be rejected.

Rob Dale [00:08:23]:

Yeah, I think for me, there was a couple of them, and one of them very similar to that was that the people closest to me would leave. And so for a lot of years, I was very careful not to let anyone get close, because if they got close, then eventually that meant they would leave. And if they weren’t close, then they were safe because they were on the outskirts. It didn’t matter if they left or not, because I wasn’t invested in them. And then the notion of that I was cursed, that the family was cursed, and that death, certainly we talk a lot about this in the episode Four around death Foul me. It’s this notion of the number of deaths and tragedy that happened in my life early on that that was just I’m cursed. And so I have to just accept that that’s just what’s going to happen is bad things are going to happen.

Eric Deschamps [00:09:09]:


Jim Herrington [00:09:11]:

Yeah. And the thing that your listeners need to hear is that happens to you not because you’re a bad person, but because you’re a human being. When somebody will tell me the painful parts of their story, the first thing I want to do is express my compassion. And the second thing that I want to do is say, welcome to the human race. This happens to all of us. And I think that matters because if I think there’s something wrong with me, if I bring shame into this work that we’re talking about, that just makes it another layer of stuff you have to work through.

Eric Deschamps [00:09:41]:


Jim Herrington [00:09:42]:

But I can actually turn loose to the shame and say, this happens to everybody. Mine is a unique story. It’s my story. But the process and the dynamics and how you move forward are the same for all of us. We all have a first formation, and we all have to learn how to take off the parts of that first formation that keep us from showing up as our best selves of our adult life. And then we have to learn the skills and the practices of what our best life looks like.

Rob Dale [00:10:09]:

Now, you’ve introduced to us this concept of mental models. Maybe talk to us, just introduce that idea to some of our listeners about some of the important mental models that we have.

Jim Herrington [00:10:24]:

That’s actually what we’ve been talking about. A mental model is just a set of beliefs and assumptions that you have about how the world works and what it looks like for you to take effective action. And that happens unconsciously. It emerges because children can’t think abstractly. It happens unconsciously as you develop ways of showing up in the world. I grew up in a world that I’ve described in the other episode, but where I come into a room and what I do this is not a thought out thing where I say, now dad is in the room. So I have to behave differently than I do in other places. But I just automatically walk in. I stand on the edge of the room. I do whatever I can to not call attention to myself. I look for where the exits are and I read the temperature of the room. And that’s just an automatic kind of behavior because I have a set of mental models. I had a set of beliefs and assumptions about who dad is and how life with dad works. And we have mental models about being a good husband or wife, parent or child, employee or employer. We have mental models about how to tie your shoes. I don’t wake up in the morning and say, now let’s see one bunny rabbit ear. Circle that around. Like you just do that automatically. You have a set of assumptions about how the world works, how to take effective action.

Eric Deschamps [00:11:48]:

Right? And some of those mental models serve us well. To your point. Tying our shoes, driving our car. At one point in time, riding a bike required focus on every aspect of the process. Program turns it into something that’s much easier to do. And, for example, learning to ride a bike, at first you had to focus on balance and the right push off and steering and not falling off, and your entire focus would have been on every aspect of that process until you mastered it and got good at it. Now, I haven’t ridden a bike in probably a couple of years, but I know if I went and grabbed my bike after the episode today and jumped on it, I wouldn’t have to think about how to ride it. It’s program. What we’re talking about here is unhealthy program, unhealthy mental models, perhaps, that actually work against us. What listener to the show today? What adult can’t relate to feeling confident and good and positive and then in walks their mum or in walks their sibling? All right? And the whole dynamic changes. And you go from one, you’re showing up a certain way, and you’re showing up completely differently.

Jim Herrington [00:13:08]:

Yeah, exactly. And again, that’s just what it means to be human. And so in my own journey, I didn’t know this language until maybe 15 years ago, but in my own journey, I began to recognize that all of that activity that you’re describing, mom walks in the room and something changes. That’s not in my hand. It’s not in my eyes. It’s not in my ears. It’s in my inner life. So I have this inner life that is maybe more real than my physical body, that drives so much of what I do. And so a lot of my work over the years has been in the arena of what today called spiritual formation. And that sounds like a religious term. In the religious world, they use spiritual sometimes to mean the opposite. They use it to mean religious, or they use it to mean not secular. But when I use the word spiritual, what I’m saying is you’ve got an inner life. And in fact, the way that helps me to think about that your human body has several subsystems. I can’t name all of them, but it’s got the cardiovascular and the muscular and the nervous subsystem. And every subsystem is supposed to function at a high level, and they interact with each other in a way that they produce things that no part can produce.

Eric Deschamps [00:14:25]:


Jim Herrington [00:14:26]:

And so when I think about my inner life, I think about my I have four categories. I think about my thinking, my feeling, my passion, and my will. And so with my thinking, I can memorize poem. With my feeling, I have some sense of where threat is and where it comes from. With my passion, I have some sense of what it means for me to, like, what really lights me up and helps me to be alive. And with my will, I can set goals and work to achieve stuff. Does that make sense when I talk about my inner life in that way?

Eric Deschamps [00:15:02]:

Absolutely. Part of the journey for us, part of sort of an awakening that I described last year was applying the four elements that have been used throughout the centuries to describe human personality. Fire, speaking of heart, water speaking of mind, air, speaking of spirit, and earth speaking of body. And we actually use it in the living richly methodology to help people. Imagine yourself with your mind at its best, your thought life, your thinking, your will, so to speak. Imagine your heart at its best, right? That’s your emotional life, your relationships, your passion. What does spirituality mean to you? And at its best, what would that look like? And then again, one that many can relate to. And we often say when folks often begin to want to make changes in their lives, often where they go to is the earth element. I want to lose ten pounds. I want to go to the gym. I want to eat better. But it’s to your point, I love how you talk about those four things. When those four things are working together, it produces something greater than the sum of its parts it releases. And actually, in the ancient world of Alchemy, it’s when the four elements came together, that magic took place. And I think that’s what we’re talking about here.

Jim Herrington [00:16:25]:

Yeah. If your listeners hadn’t listened to that episode, it was a great episode that you’re describing. With those four parts, there’s no neuroscientist or no magician who’s cut our bodies open and said, oh, here’s the feeling and here’s the thinking. Your brain is just so multitudinously complex, but the way that I’m describing, it gives me access to something that I don’t have access to. You can describe it differently, but it’s important for you to have some language that helps you to name and to see what’s happening in your inner life. And so we wrote the book The Leader’s Journey, and in that book, I think it’s in the very first sentence, but for sure it’s in the first paragraph. It says, have you ever known the right thing to do but been unable to do the right thing? Hell, yeah.

Eric Deschamps [00:17:19]:


Jim Herrington [00:17:19]:

Anybody on the call who says they haven’t done that check their pulse, because that’s just, like, true for all of them.

Eric Deschamps [00:17:27]:

Well, I mean, that’s the very essence of New Year’s resolutions, isn’t it? I mean, every year, people around the world make these decisions to better themselves, and yet by the third week of January, the vast majority have already abandoned them. It’s not clarity. Often it’s not clarity about what I want that is lacking. It’s the ability to follow through.

Jim Herrington [00:17:48]:

It is. And I think there’s two things to say about that. One is there are habits to disrupt and there are habits to create, and those habits show up in all four of them I’m describing. And so I can have a habit of saying, well, I’m really passionate about this, and I’ve set a goal to do this. But in the leader’s journey, what we mostly focus on is emotional maturity because your feelings get stirred up, your thinking shuts down, and you don’t have access to all of that stuff. But all four of those are critical. And so often what happens is either when I’m working with people pretty early on, I want to know, is your lack of growth and development because of some wounding or is it some lack of skill development?

Eric Deschamps [00:18:39]:


Jim Herrington [00:18:40]:

So if it’s some wounding, you’re not going to make much progress until you deal with that. You can get some short term progress, but that wounding is going to be like a game of whack a mold. It’s just going to come back over and over again. And so you do that work, you tell your story, you get in a safe place where somebody listens to you thoughtfully and compassionately and empathically, and there’s something that happens in the telling of our story and that kind of safe space that helps healing to come. When you’ve done enough of that work, then what’s the skill development that needs to be done? And so your mom walks into the room and you you go crazy and can’t think anymore. Well, let’s do some practice. Let’s let’s get you around your mom.

Eric Deschamps [00:19:22]:

Which is which is probably the last thing we want to do.

Jim Herrington [00:19:25]:

Exactly. Exactly. I was with my coach one day, and I was talking about how impatient I was with this person in my life. And my coach said, jim, if you want to grow your patience, go hang out with somebody who makes you impatience and practice. And I literally held my hands up and said, no, Virginia, you don’t understand. I’m looking for a book to read.

Eric Deschamps [00:19:47]:

That’s so good, though, because I think that’s so true. I think we’re looking for the easy button. We’re looking for someone to give us a formula. I first heard it from you, and it’s come out, I’m sure, jim, as you’re listening to the episodes of the show, you’re hearing your influence all over them, and we give you credit a bunch of times. Other times it’s like it’s just so part of, at least for me, so part of my thinking now that it feels intertwined, but this whole notion of it’s not awareness that transforms, right? Awareness informs, but it doesn’t transform. Remember, you saying this to us, but what transforms us is practice, is you want to develop patients, go hang around with somebody who pushes all your buttons. Right, but how does someone do that?

Jim Herrington [00:20:41]:

Well, in the early stages, you need a coach. I mean, that can sound very self serving because I am a coach and you are coaches. But in the early stages, you need someone like an AA. You don’t have to be completely done, but you have to be far enough along in the steps that somebody is coming along behind you. You can help them with that. In the early stages, it’s almost impossible to do it without a coach. And I have a like, it’s not a rigid kind of approach, but I have you tell your story, and sometimes that takes several sessions, depending on what’s going on in your life. And then I begin to ask them to name the pain points. Where does the brokenness and the dysfunction show up? And then almost in every call, there’s, okay, so do you see an opening for action? Like, we’ve talked about this. We’ve seen where you get stuck or stopped. I’m not asking you to dive into the deep end of the fool after this conversation, but do you see something you could do between now and the next time we meet that would give you just a little practice in this? And often they will be able to name something. Sometimes I have to name it for them. And we just then grow our capacity over time for them to do that. As we get into that a little bit, then the next and kind of final question is, okay, you’ve gotten pretty good at naming your old self, your first formation self, and your automatic habitual self when you get anxious. Now, let’s take the conversation we just had about you and your mom, and let’s talk about how you if you’d shown up as your best self, how would you have shown up? Not some esoteric, theological, big picture thing, but in that moment, how would your best self have shown up? And you begin to get a vision for that so that you can practice your way into that.

Rob Dale [00:22:35]:

You’ve used the word name. You said kind of the phrase or the verb of naming these things a number of times. We’ve been talking about that already on the episode The Power. I know for me, when I began to not just name my feelings, but name situations, name experiences, whatever it might be, by putting a name to it. In many ways, that step alone removed the power or the influence it had over me, at least to some degree, right? It was just this idea of being able to finally put a name to whatever. Again, that feeling, that emotion, that situation allowed me to. Now, okay, now I can address it because I’m able. And I remember the first time, and it was Sherry that did this, where when she named some of the trauma of the death of my daughter and then the suicide of an individual in the church that I was pastoring at the time. And she talked about she asked me if I’d ever been diagnosed with PTSD. And I looked at her like, what are you talking about? But once I was able to identify that, say, oh, there’s a trauma there, I named it, I was able to now start to address it.

Eric Deschamps [00:23:55]:


Jim Herrington [00:23:56]:

It’s sort of like physically you’re sick and you don’t know what it is. And even if you go to the doctor and the doctor says you have cancer, when they name that that kind of pain is more bearable than the pain of there’s something foundationally wrong with my body and I don’t know what it is.

Eric Deschamps [00:24:13]:


Jim Herrington [00:24:14]:

And so learning to name that first formation is a really powerful step.

Eric Deschamps [00:24:19]:

And I remember you having this conversation with you, Jim, years ago, and I use it all the time now with clients when we talk about awareness and practice. So first, the first step is growing your awareness. Right. So becoming more present to your point, owning your story, owning those moments in your life that have really shaped you. Probably starting out with those pain moments. Rather than hiding from them or locking them up in a box somewhere, you start getting present to how they’ve shaped you and then beginning the work of practicing the new way that you want to show up. And I remember you saying to me that most of the work in the early stages of that, you’re going to be doing that reflective work after the fact. In other words, that interaction will happen. You’ll probably show up like you’ll go on autopilot. Chances are your habits will kick in when you’re in that moment, faced with that very similar situation, you’ve lived 100 times or 1000 times and you’re going to do it again. But then in the reflective work, especially having the opportunity to unpack that with someone else, we can discuss this whole how, how would you have liked to show up, how would you do that differently next time? And the more you practice that and the more you reflect on it again, it is truly like building a muscle. The more that those better choices, those better decisions, that better version of you, the more readily that becomes accessible to you in time, in the moment.

Jim Herrington [00:25:47]:

Right. Exactly. Your best self is formed the same way your first formation was formed. You have a set of experiences and you practice, practice, practice showing up. And over time, like riding the bicycle, the stuff you’re practicing in your best self will increasingly become automatic behavior.

Eric Deschamps [00:26:05]:

Right. You’re replacing the program with program that serves you well.

Jim Herrington [00:26:09]:


Eric Deschamps [00:26:10]:


Jim Herrington [00:26:12]:

The thing that I would add to this conversation is in addition to really becoming a student of and doing my doctoral work in spiritual formation, spiritual direction, as we’ve been defining it here, the other thing that happened to me was I got introduced to family systems theory, and the two just go so hand in hand for me. In family systems theory, the primary way that I would describe the difference is that all the way back to Freud. When somebody had a problem, what you did was you got them out of so whoever had the problem was the problem, and you got them out of the family, and you got them into a counselor’s office or a coach’s office or a spiritual director’s office, and you worked on fixing them. And then you’d send them back into the system. Mary Bowen was a psychiatrist who in the began to hypothesize that it’s not the individual who’s the molecule of human existence, but it’s the group, the family, the business, the small group. Wherever you’re emotionally connected to people is the molecule of human existence. And when there’s some presenting issue that shows up, what that’s an indicator of is an indicator of there being anxiety in that system. And they’re often the most immature, emotionally immature person and so the symptoms show up with them. Here’s the thing about that that was so profound for me. My brain is wired and all of my education taught me to do cause and effect thinking. And so I’m the leader. And what I do is I’ve got something that I’m leading, whether it’s myself, my family, my work. And I’ve got goals that I’m at for things I’m trying to accomplish. And when I don’t reach them, there’s breakdowns or we don’t achieve what we want to achieve. But what I do is I begin to look out there to say what’s going on? Whose fault is this and how do we fix them? Systems thinking has a fundamentally different assumption. It is that anything that shows up in a system, both the good things and the bad things, everybody in the system is contributing to whatever that is. And while I might be able to use my authority over you as your boss as a paycheck paycheck, I might be able to get you to comply with me. You’re not going to change me. Where I have real power is in focusing on what my contribution is and then focusing on changing myself. Does that distinction clear?

Eric Deschamps [00:28:52]:

Yeah. I often describe it as everything is connected right in a relational system of any sort, whether it be family, whether it be a working group at the office. Wherever humans interact for any length of time, there’s a connection there. And if a problem shows up so if it’s a pond, let’s say we walk up to the edge of the pond and I heave a cinder block as far as I can into the water. Well, the greatest splash will be at the point of impact, of course, but the ripples will travel throughout the entire pond and touch everything in the pond right to the shoreline. And so often we’re so focused on just the splash that we forget about the ripple. I’m not sure if that is proper explanation of systems to that thinking.

Jim Herrington [00:29:42]:

Yeah, I was the chairman of the board and a friend named Steve was the. President of an organization here in Houston. And we were very successful and felt really good about the work we were doing, but just decided we were going to get a consultant to come and help us improve our communication skills with the board and with the rest of our staff. And the consultant’s name was Robert. Robert came in one day and he had done like Myers, Briggs and Enneagram had done several tests, and he’d interviewed us and interviewed some other people around us. He came in and he had two little square pieces of paper that were about four by four. And he drew with a pencil, he drew two pictures. The first one was a picture of me, and I’m five seven, and Steve is about six four. And so there’s this picture of me talking to Steve and the words coming out of my mouth and blowing past his hair, blowing his hair back. And then there’s a picture of Steve talking to me where the words were coming out of his mouth and they were falling on the ground before they got to. And he said, Steve often walks away from conversations with you saying, I don’t know what he was just talking about, but I sure am glad to be out of the face of all that passion. Jim walks away a lot of times saying, I don’t know what that conversation was about. I kept trying to figure out what he was wanting to say, but I couldn’t get him to say it. And then he looked at me and he said, jim, you’re going to have to learn to be kinder in your communication. And he said, Steve, you’re going to have to learn to be more courageous. So who was contributing to the lack of full effectiveness in our work?

Eric Deschamps [00:31:19]:

Both of us, right. It’s that dance you describe, right? I remember you describing it as a dance where, again, where human beings are in relationship for any like the time we develop this dance, I break left and you break right. And in the work, as you begin to change because people are used to you showing up a certain way, when you do begin to show up differently, it can produce a lot of anxiety for people because I think I described it on a recent episode. It’s like we’ve been practicing for this dance competition where we’re supposed to do a tango, and the night before I just decide in my mind, tomorrow on the floor I’m going to waltz. And that causes all kinds of disruption. Jim, you’ve talked about owning your story. You’ve talked about finding a safe place to talk about it in a supporting environment. You’ve talked about growing your awareness, breaking your autopilot right through practice. What are some other key principles that you would say are absolutely fundamental for someone who is wanting to lean in more deliberately to their healing journey?

Jim Herrington [00:32:31]:

I don’t know the thing that comes to mind and I laugh because nobody wants to hear this. Edwin Friedman is a family systems guy who said, if you want to grow your emotional maturity, you got to grow your pain tolerance. And nobody wants to hear that. I don’t wake up in the morning and say, I hope I get to do something today that’s a little more painful than I’m accustomed to. There is. I mean, if you’ve been listening as your listeners have been listening, we talk about safe and challenging. We talk about starting in the shallow end of the pool, and you’re in charge of how fast you move. But ultimately, what you’ve got to have is somebody who will help you see what you can’t see. When I was doing my clinical pastoral education at MD. Anderson hospital, I was a chaplain at a cancer hospital. And part of that work was, you do chaplains in the morning, and you’re in a peer group in the afternoon. And the primary function of the peer group is to try to help you see how other people see you. If you know anything about emotional intelligence, they talk about, I know my feelings. I can manage my feelings. I know how my feelings impact other people, and I can manage my feelings in social settings. And I was pretty clueless. So everybody had a day. My day was thirsty. You bring a case study of something that you’ve done with the patient, and I brought my case study, and you give it to them a day in advance. They read it, and then they come to give you feedback. Like, the first or second guy who was given feedback said, harrington, you seem really angry to me. And before I could say anything, the second guy said, yeah, when I was reading the thing, I was thinking the same thing. You seem really angry. And the third guy jumped in and that I promised I did. I said angry.

Rob Dale [00:34:10]:

I’m not angry.

Jim Herrington [00:34:10]:

What do you mean, angry? I had a very wise supervisor in that meeting who helped manage that conversation and who came back to me and said, what do you think it means if everybody in that room experiences you as an angry guy and you don’t experience yourself in that way? And then he said something that changed my life. He said, rather than just rejecting that out of hand, I want to invite you just to sit with that a day or two, right? And as I sat with that a day or two, the blinders started to.

Eric Deschamps [00:34:47]:

Open up for me.

Jim Herrington [00:34:50]:

Increasing your pain tolerance, you don’t start there. That grows over time. But you have to be willing for some people to say some hard things to you and rather than rejecting them out of hand, like getting present to what the impact of that is. And when I talk to Steve with my blowing his hair back, am I more committed to blowing his hair back, or do I want to be heard and understood. Right. I think that would be the other.

Eric Deschamps [00:35:16]:

Thing, this old saying that if one person calls you a horse’s ass, you can probably ignore them. If two people call you a horse’s ass, you might want to start paying attention. If three people call you a horse’s ass, you might want to buy a saddle. I think that feedback is critical. I think it was Ken Blanchard years ago who wrote the phrase, feedback is the breakfast of champions. And we believe that in the realm of sport, we believe that in the world of business. Right. But when it comes to personal growth, when it comes to our healing journey, so many of us resist it. And I think also talk to me about the intersection, about hearing that feedback, getting feedback that can help you sort of wake up to a reality that you haven’t been seeing and making the mistake of then using that ammunition for your harshener critic, to use that as ammunition. Because there’s one thing about hearing feedback, but I know a lot of folks, they get feedback like that and it crushes them and they go it’s not that they’re resisting so much as it just sinks them.

Jim Herrington [00:36:27]:

Yeah. So there’s another whole arena that we could spend the rest of the podcast talking about, and that is the way the human brain works is we have experience. We make meaning of that experience, and that produces our feelings. Feelings don’t exist out in the universe somewhere that they just come fly in. And so I get feedback. I have an experience where I get feedback that I’m an angry guy and the meaning that I make is, this is not a safe place. Or the meaning I make is, there’s something really wrong with me. Or the meaning that I make is, those guys are a bunch of idiots. Anybody who knows anything would not think that I was angry. Whatever. The meaning that I make produces a set of feelings. And so, on the one hand, I’m learning to manage my feelings, but where I really become a master is where I learn to manage the meaning making. That’s why in the call last time, I said you got to remove shame from the conversation about there’s a gap here that I’m working on, because if shame is in there, then that just makes it so much harder.

Eric Deschamps [00:37:28]:


Jim Herrington [00:37:29]:

It’s like two layers of stuff to work through rather than one.

Eric Deschamps [00:37:32]:

Right. You’re already thinking that I’ve got all this stuff that’s wrong with me and now I just added more to the heat.

Jim Herrington [00:37:38]:

Exactly right. Boy, if you could change meaning making, like you flip a light switch, we’d all be geniuses. But the meaning that we make the meaning that we make is a deeply held way of thinking about ourselves and about the world that we function in. And so doing the work of learning to rob you, you talked about naming things, doing the work of naming the meaning that you’re making, then I will often ask the question, so if that’s the meaning you’re making, it’s important to say the meaning doesn’t exist out there. You make the meaning. So you’re making this disempowering meaning that there’s something wrong with me. What’s an empowering meaning that you can make about the same feedback? Somebody tells me I’m angry. Well, I could make the meaning that they’re idiots or that I’m a loser, or I could make the meaning that here’s a really empowering opportunity to learn to be a more whole human being. Same experience. But the meanings that I made produced two different emotional reactions.

Eric Deschamps [00:38:47]:

I remember Jim again. Back. Obviously the time I spent with you in Houston was the beginning of some major healing for me. So those three days where I had my first cigar ever was on your back porch with you.

Jim Herrington [00:39:03]:

I love that. I get credit for that.

Rob Dale [00:39:04]:

I know you do.

Eric Deschamps [00:39:05]:

We celebrate it every year on Facebook. The memory comes up and we celebrate it in honor it. So it’s been a while now, but I remember working through some of the stuff with my dad, and we would talk. You had me share about some of the more painful moments. And then what did I think that meant? And I still to this day, use this phrase now with others when I’m doing similar work with them, is you said to me, and I think the phrase you used over and over during that particular time was where in the universe. Is it written that this means that, in other words, you were naming the belief that I had formed around this saying? Who said that’s true? And how do you know it’s true? Right? So talk to us. Perhaps we’ve got a few minutes left here. Again, I know that we can’t do this justice, but what is the best way to other than getting present to the meaning that I’m making, what are some other things someone might do to improve their meaning making?

Jim Herrington [00:40:13]:

Well, the answer I began to sound like a guy who only has one record that he plays. The mental model that we use about how people learn is that you have experience, you get information. So you get information about meaning making. You have some experience, and then you reflect on the experience and you ask the question, so what meaning did I make there? And then you may have to ask the question, what would be a more empowering meaning? And often I’ll ask that question and people will say, kenny, I don’t know. That’s a hard question. So you have to work on that. You get a more empowering meaning, which gives you access to some more information, and then you go practice some more.

Eric Deschamps [00:40:50]:


Jim Herrington [00:40:50]:

And as you said a few moments ago, mostly in the early stages, that’s going to show up in the rearview mirror. You’re not going to say, oh, Eric, here’s the disempowering meaning that I’m making. And now I’m going to start making this empowering meaning and just magically go do that. But if you’ll do that in the rearview mirror, come back and talk to your coach and talk about what happened and where you got triggered and what got said and what didn’t get said, and how would you like to have shown up differently? How could you have disrupted that and made a more empowering meaning? And it’s just that long, slow, steady process of information practice reflection. Information practice reflection, information practice reflection, where over time you’ll move it from the rear view mirror into real time, and that’s when you really begin to make progress.

Eric Deschamps [00:41:44]:

I think for many folks listening, I know for me, when I first was exposed to these concepts and you and I started to have these conversations and I started doing this work, I remember there was so much like I was just hanging on a little bits of what was being presented because this was so foreign to the way that I’d lived my life up until that time. And in some ways it felt overwhelming. And yet if I fast forward just a couple of years later when I got back into shape, and I remember going to the gym and my trainer at the time, one of the first sentences he said to me was, eric, if you’re going to do this, get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Right. Embrace the discomfort was the first thing he said. And I still remember, although it was really hard at the beginning, right. And I didn’t have the stamina, I didn’t have the strength, but I kept at it. I kept at it. And then I began to surprise myself with my physical gains in terms of speed, stamina, and strength. And it’s no different, right, in this world. Embrace the discomfort little by little, slowly by slowly, and there will come moments in time where you look back, you go, oh my goodness, look at that. Look at the change, look at the transformation. Look at how I’m approaching that differently. But it can feel so foreign at the beginning because these are not concepts that the average human being is exposed to. I really do think they should change the education system and teach us shit that really matters. Like this stuff.

Rob Dale [00:43:10]:

Yeah, there is so much jim, maybe one last there’s so much we can do here, and I know we’d love to have you on again to dive in even more specifically, give maybe some more examples. I think of just there’s so many practical examples that we could give that people would relate to. There’s a great book that I think it was you that referred me to games People Play, in which it really does give a lot of those. There’s some real good examples of some of the way that that family systems plays out in those reactions.

Eric Deschamps [00:43:52]:

And another great one is growing yourself up.

Rob Dale [00:43:55]:

Growing yourself up.

Eric Deschamps [00:43:56]:

We’re going to put that in the show notes as well. Yeah.

Rob Dale [00:43:59]:

For someone who is looking to maybe start to dive into understanding family systems and all of that, other than those two books, what would be kind of a starting point for someone?

Jim Herrington [00:44:13]:

Yeah. Extraordinary leadership by our extraordinary relationships. Yes, two Extraordinary Relationships, extraordinary Leadership by Roberta Gilbert are kind of entry level books that help you begin to see that in some real practical, family and work kinds of context. That’d be the other that and Jenny Brown’s books would be the ones that I would and if you get Jenny’s book, be sure you get the second edition that’s only come out in the last maybe five or six months.

Eric Deschamps [00:44:43]:

Jim, final comments. If you’ve got one final well, it’s not final because we are going to have you back. But final for today. A word of encouragement to our listeners that are sitting here listening to this and are eager to get started. Wanting to get started from your heart to theirs, what would you say?

Jim Herrington [00:45:05]:

I believe that all of us are created to live what I call a fully human life, to be fully human and fully alive. And what I didn’t believe growing up that I believe today is that that’s available to anybody who’s willing to pay the price. And so get started. Find a coach, get a spiritual director, find a counselor, begin to do the work, naming your old self, getting clear about the first formation stuff, getting clear about the person you want to be. And then like, you’d go to the gym, have some kind of system that helps you be in training in an ongoing kind of way.

Eric Deschamps [00:45:45]:

Yeah. Fantastic. So good.

Rob Dale [00:45:48]:

We are going to make sure that we have available connections. Jim’s email, his LinkedIn profile will connect you if you want to reach out to Jim directly, if you want to get more information and even just have some of these books or other information sent to you. You can also email us info at livingrichley me. One of the things that we are certainly starting to talk about more and more on the podcast is the invitation for coaching. For those of you that maybe would like to begin this journey and have someone there with you, we’re happy to have that conversation with you to explore what that looks like, but we certainly invite you to take that step and reach out to find out more.

Eric Deschamps [00:46:33]:

And as always, we encourage you to like, share subscribe leave a Review this helps us get the message out to more people. In many ways, this is us trying to take the wisdom and the healing that we’ve experienced and the wisdom from the folks that have influenced us the most and to give it another platform to pay it forward to all our listeners. So help us get the word out by doing that. Jim, again, thank you so much for being on the show. This was so rich. And we look forward to our ongoing work together and having you back in the near future.

Jim Herrington [00:47:06]:

Yeah, you’re very kind. Thank you.

Rob Dale [00:47:08]:

Thank you, Jim. And for all of you that have taken the time to listen, we want to thank you. You really are the community. The reason we do this is to share this message with you. We hope that you’ll join us again next week.