13 Spiky Points of View on Emotional Health


I think about Peter Thiel’s question a lot:

What important truth do very few people agree with you on?

I also think a lot about Wes Kao’s concept of a spiky point of view:

A spiky point of view is a perspective others can disagree with. It’s a belief you feel strongly about and are willing to advocate for. It’s your thesis about topics in your realm of expertise.

As a psychologist, most of my beliefs about emotional health are pretty conventional. But a few are spiky in that I believe them strongly, most people don’t, and they’re debatable.

I hope you find them thought-provoking:

  1. Coping skills are a bad idea. You don’t need to regulate your emotions. You need a better relationship with them.
  2. Emotional intelligence is overrated. Emotional fitness matters much more.
  3. You are not responsible for how other people feel. You are only responsible for your behavior—including your mental behavior.
  4. There’s no such thing as a negative emotion. Some emotions are pleasant, others are not—none are bad.
  5. Don’t trust your emotions. Listen to them, but don’t take orders.
  6. Procrastination is a values problem. Your tendency to procrastinate is inversely proportional to the clarity of your values.
  7. Thoughts are the only direct cause of emotions. If you want to feel differently, practice thinking differently—or better yet, pay attention differently.
  8. Stress management is a waste of time. Manage your stressors, not your stress.
  9. Relationship problems are never about communication. Poor communication is the symptom, not the cause.
  10. Chronic anxiety comes from avoiding anxiety. To free yourself from anxiety, you must be willing to have it.
  11. The events of your past are less important than your habits in the present. Less processing more strength training.
  12. Therapy is often harmful. Like you would taking drugs or purchasing a house, consider the potential costs in addition to the expected benefits.
  13. Emotion management is the most important skill in life. Most people never learn even the basics, which is a tragedy for those who don’t and an incredible advantage for those who do.

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Thanks Nick for your “”spiky””points of view.
I agree and put them in practice in my day to day… They do work great for me.

I think about emotion management as how proficient you are at responding to difficult emotions in a healthy and productive way.

Emotional fitness mean the consistent exercises and practices you engage in to strengthen and maintain your emotional health.

Do you have any articles regarding the emotional fitness exercises and their practice? This is a fascinating viewpoint.

Sure. Here’s one really big one: Dependence.

Unintentionally, a lot of therapists end up reinforcing and strengthening their client’s unhelpful tendencies toward dependence and a lack of agency. The therapeutic relationship is very powerful, and because therapists like feeling helpful, it’s easy for that relationship to slip into an unhealthy one where the client increasingly feels that they need and rely on their therapist to manage their emotional health.

Also, the economic incentives are such that therapists benefit from their clients being “lifers” and remaining in therapy indefinitely. So there’s a strange way in which therapists can depend economically on their clients being dependent on them.

I’m not saying any of this is intentional. And there are definitely ways to avoid this. But it’s shocking how many therapists I talk to never even consider this…

It’s so interesting to hear Americans talk about how they go to therapy so often. I’ve been into therapy twice: once for my eating disorder (25-week program) and once to learn how to accept things as they are (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy; 8 sessions), and both have been very helpful to me. I’ve never heard anyone say in the Netherlands that they go to therapy consistently. I indeed think that these regular check-ins can do more harm than good, but specialized, structured programs can certainly help!

Sure. In my experience, we tend to scapegoat communication as the main cause of our relationship struggles because it’s a convenient and superficially plausible explanation that allows us to avoid much deeper and more uncomfortable explanations.

For example: Many chronic relationship struggles are fundamentally a values problem; that is, people got into a relationship without being clear about what their (or their partner’s) values really were.

Then, as the years go by, they have more and more conflict—not because they don’t communicate well (after all, most people who have “communication problems” in their relationship communicate perfectly well in other areas of their lives)—but because differences in core values are being exposed.

Unfortunately, it’s often too painful for people to openly acknowledge this, so again, they resort to scapegoating communication as the source of the problem, when in reality, the reason they fight all the time and don’t seem to communicate well is because of a deeper underlying issue—they’re just not compatible on some very fundamental things (i.e. they have very different core values).

Thank you for your thought provoking and succinct list of “spiky views” on emotional health, Nick. Having read many of your articles and attended some of your training courses, I have come to appreciate the transformational power and impact of your “spiky views” in how I engage with myself and others.

I love your distinction between emotional fitness and emotion management. Emotional fitness is the practical enabler for developing healthy emotion management.

Nick – so spot on with your spiky points. I shared them with my 23 yr. old son. I didn’t have this kind of knowledge/insights when I was his age and I think they can guide him well into his future!!

I appreciate all of these. The one I can speak to from experience is #11 about events in one’s past being less important than habits in the present. The more I delved into why I was the way I was, the less interested I became about it. Most formational situations were long over, many actors in those scenarios dead or different because of the decades that had past. The work to change my behaviors was my own. One benefit of looking back; it gave me compassion for any and every one. We all have reasons for what we do; a lot of them are unknown and will stay that way. To have a vision of who you would like to become is more helpful and motivating. Thank you for sharing your expertise in envisioning and achieving an emotionally healthy potential despite the myriad of backgrounds of your readers.

I liked the list too. The only one I’m prepared to disagree with is “Procrastination is a values problem. Your tendency to procrastinate is inversely proportional to the clarity of your values.”. If I didn’t value something, it wouldn’t be on my todo list. I’m finding if an item sits on my list for a length of time, I can find hidden anxiety regarding something about the item.

Thanks Nadine. And you’re right, it wouldn’t be on the list if we didn’t value it at all.

The problem, in my experience, is that when we lack deep clarity and specificity about the values behind our goals and to-dos, we tend to not have much motivation for doing them (especially when there’s a lot of anxiety or other difficult emotions associated with them).

We all have values. Where we tend to need work is in clarifying those values.

OK if you’re quoting Peter Thiel I’m unsubscribing from your newsletter. I don’t *think* right-wing corporate overlords really are great for anyone’s mental health. “Spiky” is not quite the right word for your viewpoint. I’m wondering: what “important truths do very few people agree with Peter on”? Extra credit points if you get it.

You’re of course welcome to unsubscribe, Johey.

But regardless of Thiel’s political or economic beliefs, the question remains a useful one to reflect on, I think.

Wow! Johey: surely a sign of intelligence is to be open to the idea that we might have something to learn from anyone, no matter how different to us? And even, that the more different, the more enriching it can be to wrestle to understand where they are coming from?

Great post 🙂 Here is one I would add to the list: in order to overcome chronic insomnia, you have to learn to be OK with not sleeping. Of course, this applies to the type of chronic insomnia that is driven by anxiety about sleep.

Excellent list Nick, I agree with most of these, actually. I’m a bit confused and would love to read your take on number 9: “Relationship problems are never about communication. Poor communication is the symptom, not the cause.”

Could you expand it a little bit?

Also, for number 13, do you have a checklist or a reading list?

Thank you!

Thanks Tomas!

On 9, my observation is that many, many people scapegoat communication as the main problem in their relationship when really it is itself just a manifestation of a deeper issue (like having misaligned values, for example, or not being very good at managing their own emotions).

So you can try to improve your communication but if you’re not addressing the more fundamental issue, it’s never going to improve because that’s what’s making the communication hard in the first place.

On 13, I don’t. But I designed my course around it 🙂 https://moodmastery.com

Gottman has a much more optimistic view about relationships, though I’m not sure how much of his confidence is self-serving (people will throw praises if someone fixes their marriage) or evidence-backed. He says that as long as you’re able to accommodate your partner’s values/dreams and not have your own values/dreams squashed, and the partners put effort in making sure these happen, then the partners will be able to make it. But he did seem to imply that these core differences will always hurt a bit.

I’m curious what you make of his assertion.

Yours is the most common-sense information I have ever read. I am 91 yrs. old and an avid reader so I’m familiar with a lot of concepts and yours hits the proverbial nail. I have been a member of Medium for yrs. and am wondering why I don’t. get your columns.Thankyou, appreciative reader.

This was very thought provoking, thank you for your courage to write about unpopular thoughts. They feel truthful and authentic to me.
I am a licensed therapist and have recently been deconstructing what it means to run a group practice and mentor associates.
It feels painfully productive to explore how information on emotional well-being has changed with social media influence. I found you on Medium, thanks for the wise words!

If I may humbly recommend another:
14. Boundaries are bullshit. When your self-love, relational trust, and community belonging are aligned you won’t call your projections boundaries.

I am a retired clin psych/ therapist and i came across u in Medium- i luv ur emph on mindfulness and how u apply to practice. Great work!

Hi Nick,
I am having a hard time finding older articles on your website. There are only links to your most popular articles, but many of the ones I have referenced often are not on that list. i.e. I have a book mark for Ever Wonder Why Your So Judgemental but without the link I am not able to navigate to it on your website. Another I would often refer friends to was The Secret Life of Anger and I didn’t bookmark that one so I can’t upload.
I hate to see this work inaccessible to your readers, they have been such impactful articles in my life.

Hey Teresa, a good way to find anything I’ve written to just Google the article title or topic + my name. E.g.: “Secret life of anger + Nick Wignall”

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