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Part 4--The Curriculum of The Forum


An excerpt from "The Children of EST: A study of the Experience and Perceived Effects of a Large Group Awareness Training (The Forum)"


Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Denver, 1994
By Charles Wayne Denison

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Table of Contents


Part 1--The process and ecology of the Forum
Part 2--The Structure: First Sights Of The Forum
Part 3--The Forum Begins: The Curriculum and Pedagogy
Part 4--The Curriculum of The Forum
Part 5--The Pedagogy of The Forum

The Curriculum of The Forum

A definite group of ideas or concepts-- a Curriculum-was found to exist in the training program. This curriculum was found to be foundationally consistent in all of the researcher's observations. Several of the major ones are presented here, along with subjects' descriptions and experience of them. What stands out in the data is that several individuals may be presented with a concept, yet come away with a clearly different interpretation and evaluation of it.

Early in the first day several concepts are presented for the group's consideration. The Forum leader suggests that they are not "concepts" at all; rather, they are "distinctions." A distinction is what you get when you "distinguish" one thing from another. One Forum leader explained that fine wine or jazz music is appreciated through distinctions. In The Forum it is, more or less. a cognitive vehicle which helps participants distinguish reality from illusion, the past from the future, the floor from the ceiling, and so forth.

In the course of the informal conversation, distinctions of "Already Always Listening" and Past/Present/Future have been introduced. People begin to notice how their preconceived ideas influence their experience. What they don't get resolved (the Forum term is "completed") from the past will stay with them and influence the present. Even more, that same past will dictate the person's future. The distinguishing participant may begin to see that the whole concept of time as a linear phenomenon is questionable.

The curriculum of The Forum appears to be comprehended at various levels. Two people who report positive results may have had completely different experiences of the curriculum. An analysis of the interview data provides some understanding of participants' experience.

The Distinction of "What Happened" and "The Story About What Happened"

When the Forum leader asked where we "withhold" ourselves in life. it led to quite a stir. People argued that, sure, they may hold back or react negatively to certain things, but you would too if you knew their background.

A woman is upset by the leader's suggestion that "what happens in life" is not really a problem-rather, says the leader, it is the interpretation, the meaning you add to it, that is hurting you. The woman stands to argue against this presumption. She is clearly, emotionally-invested in this debate.

With tears in her eyes this trainee begins to relate that she is a victim of sexual abuse as a child, and a victim of multiple relationships gone bad as an adult. The abuse has left her dirty, worthless. and with no chance of developing healthy romantic relationships today.

The leader takes the chalk and diagrams a simple distinction on the board:

There are the simple facts of what happens in life, and there is a whole domain of meanings and interpretations that we add to the world. They are separate. "What happens" and "Interpretation."

What we humans do, it is explained, is take the simple facts (reality) and combine them with the meanings and interpretations we make up in life, and then begin to relate to the interpretations as though they were the reality. In less than gentle terms, the leader presses the woman to place her experience into this model-to see that the sexual experience was what happened, and that the "dirty, worthless victim. unable to develop relationships" is her story about what happened.

"You made that up! It is not true! It's a story! And now you live in this soap opera that you call your life. And you made it up! You want to get that!"

Although the woman is in tears and furious, the leader does not afford her any sympathy.

We take what we made up, we live as though it were real, and finally we begin to make things happen out of the stories which have come to believe are reality. Example: I may be denied a starting position on the high school football team (what happened). I make up a story that the event means that I am an inferior person. Then I start to live and behave as an inferior person; therefore I may tend to fulfill my own interpretations,. thus making them into a reality for myself.

And soon "you have collapsed the vicious circle." There is no longer a distinction between what happened and the meaning you gave it.

And thus everything that happens to you in life is loaded with meaning. Nothing can just be as it is: and you can no longer see anything the way it is. And you know what that means about you! (Actually, it means "nothing" about you, but that comes later.)

Using the language introduced by this distinction, willing trainees begin to tell about the things in their lives -that aren't working. Life is a conversation, remember-maybe you didn't make up what happened, but you certainly made up your explanations, reasons, and soap operas about reality. And that's what you're complaining about!

The philosophy and its presentation smacks of Martin Heidegger, Humberto Maturana, and Albert Ellis **--all rolled up into one.

** NOTE: See discussions of these philosophies and psychotherapies--and how they are relevant to LGATs-- in Chapter 2.

"What Happened and Interpretation" was the single most talked-about distinction among the interviewees. Alice gave a personal example:

Alice: One of the most useful things was separating events from interpretation. I liked the diagram. It was clean. He had nice examples. I was going through my mind. putting my examples in--

Chuck: Can you give an example?

Alice: Of what I was thinking? Of course, yeah. That my mother died, and she had a funeral, and she was buried. And that's what happened. My impression was that no one told me she was gonna die; everybody knew but me. She didn't say good-bye. The family was acting cold-heartedly and unfeeling about the funeral. I refused to ever go out to the graveside, because I didn't like the idea of visiting a body. To everyone in my family that was a big deal, to go out and visit the graveside--to take flowers. And I thought it was just a total waste of flowers and time-and angst!

What happened was they did everything the way they had always done it, and that's the way it was. It didn't seem bad to them. My interpretation that I have been living with for 31 years and feeling bad about, said all these things about these being bad people because they handled it that way. And the wonderful thing was to pull it out and say "this is what happened." I've been making myself feel bad, and making them wrong all these years, and I don't need to. That was just the way it was. And I will always view it that way, but I don't have to feel bad about it, because they certainly didn't mean it that way. And I was able to pull those two circles apart and say. "OK. that happened. This is what I feel. I'm not going to continue to feel badly about it,. because I don't have to.- If I were to sit back and look at it. that's the way it is.

Luanne also recalled the process of coming to an understanding of the vicious circle of What Happened and Interpretation:

Luanne: [The leader] made me talk about exactly what-it was hard, hard to pull it out. But I finally started saying. -It's my mother, my mother, she shuts me down. She calls me a bitch. She calls me -a sneak, a liar, a snake.

Chuck: That was you that said that? I remember that very well. Darcy kept going back to that: "You bitch, sneak, liar!"

Luanne: Right! And then she says. "Anybody in here been called a bitch before?" And everybody raises their hand. And I'm like all humble and shit. It was so powerful for me to stand up and have her talk to me that way. And just dig. dig. dig. -What does it look like to you? Really, what are the facts?" And the facts were a lot less than the story was. The "story" was that my mother hated me. That she thought I was a slut, a bitch, a sneak, a snake. But that was my story.

Chuck: The facts are simpler than the story?

Luanne: Yes! So she did that distinction of "collapsing the vicious circle."

The interviews suggest that nearly all of the subjects do grasp this concept. and have sought to apply it to their lives beyond The Forum. Jim and Mary, the two subjects who considered The Forum a negative experience, assigned no value to the distinction. Gerald. who describes The Forum as having minimal (yet positive) value for him. is unclear about this distinction 13 and "did not necessarily agree with that (distinction, in general)."

13 The conclusion that Gerald was "unclear- about the distinction was based on the researcher's evaluation of Gerald's discussion. He did not define or discuss the distinction in a manner that suggested he had ever understood it in the way other subjects and the researcher understood it.

Others called the distinction "helpful," "life-changing," and "the most important concept in The Forum."

Janice: The minute you separate what happened from your interpretation. you automatically quit thinking of yourself as a victim. And rather you just say "this is what happened.- You can kind of see, get some distance from that notion of being the effect of the world.

That opens up the possibility of being "cause"--yourself as cause. The Forum is powerful because it convinces you that ... YOU generated your life.

Cheryl was molested as a child and raped as a young woman:

The fact that you are not what has happened to you was the biggest thing that I got out of The Forum. Bad things happen to everybody, and it's not who I am. it's just something that happened to me ... [I realized this] during The Forum...

The Distinction of "Empty and Meaningless"

The distinguishing of what happened from the interpretation (about what happened) was presented early in The Forum. It was developed to its climax on Sunday afternoon, when the leader presented the conversation that "life is empty and meaningless." The diagram of the two circles continued to be used, but the conversation around it was pushed to a new plane. During this conversation, the observer noted what appeared to be a variety of confused, frustrated, excited, and numb responses among participants. Some verbally resisted the notion of Empty and Meaningless; others described it as a breakthrough in freedom, and still others appeared not to "get it."

The researcher likens the curriculum of Empty and Meaningless to an emotionalIy-charged. personalIy-applied course in Radical Constructivism (Watzfawick, 1984; Maturana & Varela, 1987). Radical Constructivism holds that all reality is given existence by our language, through the individual's process of meaning-making. Without the vehicle of language/communication, a person has no "problems" in the psychological sense (Rosengard & Chinsky, 1992). Problems only become a reality in the conversation which invents them. **

** NOTE: For the reader not versed in the philosophy of Constructivism. I recommend the short book chapter by Rosengard and Chinsky (1992) for an introduction to Constructivism from a psychological/therapeutic point of view.

Furthermore, the "possibility that your life is" is also created in your language. The opportunity in Forum, then. is to first "get" that all that has happened in one's life is empty and witnout any inherent meaning. Abuse, failures, personal losses, poor decisions, and many other experiences often lead to anxiety, self-debasement, and guilt. If the individual can re-frame those events as void of all meaning, implies the Forum curriculum, then he or she will be transformed in a new relationship to reality-- a "profound relationship with how it ( really) is", which frees the person from the burden of old interpretations. Free from these burdens of the past, the trainee is left with the possibility of "reinventing oneself" and one's future. **

** NOTE: This system of thinking is conveyed in The Forum through the language familiar to Constructivism. However. the entire body of thinking goes beyond Constructivism. The basic teachings about emptines, and freedom from attachments. found throughout Eastern thought (Suzuki. 1970) and Christian mysticism (deMello. 1987), are very much compatible with The Forum's curriculum.

The overall movement of the curriculum, then, may be conceptualized as a process of separating events from their meanings; moving into an awareness that life's events have no inherent meaning at all: and finally using that freedom (emptiness) to speak (and thus create) one's future out of nothing!

The researcher notes that this process in The Forum is much more than a simple, intellectual debate. Resistance to the conversation was common in all observations; a variety of affective expression was observed (including "Aha!"s, tears, confusion. and laughing). The environment of the room appeared highly charged during the process, and numerous personal examples were plugged into the concept by the group.

In the researcher's observations, The Forum focused an making negative events "empty and meaningless." In Zen and Christian mysticism (e.g.. deMello. 1997), there is also an emphasis on the meaninglessness of "positive" events such as flattery,achievements, etc.

While there was a high degree of similar understanding in the distinction of the "what happened and interpretation" curriculum. the level of common understanding about Empty and Meaningless is very low among the interviewees.

Leo (an attorney) and Alice (a physician) were both able to articulate their experiences of The Forum in great detail. Both have doctoral levels of education. They were in separate Forums, and the researcher was present for the "conversation" of Empty and Meaningless in both of their trainings. Although the concept was presented comparably in both Forums, the experience of the two participants was very different:

Leo: I would say that there is one essential idea. that is the basis for The Forum. I think it's like the nut, the kernel. the philosophy of the whole thing. And when I describe it to people, I can say what it is in relatively few words. What the Forum leaders say is, this idea that events in your life are actually "Empty and Meaningless." And the way to control your life, and your emotions, and be guided in a more productive way is to realize that the events that happen to you, and around you and etceteras, do not necessarily have the meaning-they are essentially empty and meaningless. To me, that's the core, kernel idea of The Forum.

Chuck: So Empty and Meaningless obviously stands out for you.

Leo: Yeah,. oh yeah.. It takes three days of fifteen hours a day, 45 hours of work. to understand profoundly what that means. And when you come out after those three days. you do understand in the deepest sense what that means.

Now, obviously what I've said-- the theme of The Forum is that life is empty and meaningless and that the events in life do not have ... meanings. You can say that in one or two sentences, maybe 30 words. But what that actually means, and the full significance of that concept or idea. is much. much more complicated than that, I think. There are many, many aspects to it.... It shows up in a variety of ways if you start looking around in your life. What The Forum did for those three days, that was the end result, the end philosophy, that came out of it for me. By going through what you go through to get there, it gave me a deep understanding of it. My understanding may be different from other people. but whatever my understanding is, I feel like it's a very complex, profound deep understanding of that theory. It's really pretty simple when you put it that way. But the truth is that that has big ramifications, a lot of meaning, it means a lot of things in your life.

The distinction was not so profound for Alice:

Chuck: There was the concept of Empty and Meaningless.

Alice: That was on Sunday? (Looking pensive] Yeah. There was a period that I got a little drowsy. I didn't actually fall asleep, but it might have been during Empty and Meaningless. because there was a period that I thought, "Gee, this is just kind of mental masturbation for these guys. They are trying to get the rest of the audience to think the way they do, and another one of these jargon sort of things, like the one and not-one sort of stuff." And I wished they would get on to something else that is not as "empty and meaningless" to me. [small laugh]

Chuck: That. as a concept. didn't have a great impact on you.

Alice: No.

Based on reviews of the researcher's observations, it was concluded that Empty and Meaningless was, indeed, preeminent among the curriculum distinctions of The Forum. The interviewees, however, do not have a consistent experience of that part of the curriculum. It may be the case, then, that the perceived value of The Forum does not lie in any specific aspect of its curriculum. That is, there may not be any single distinction or pivotal experience that produces the overall result. (This is discussed further in Chapter 5.)

The researcher noted that the discussion around Empty and Meaningless during every observation was energetic, controversial, and apparently emotional for many trainees. Yet many of the research subjects said little about it in the interviews. A possible interpretation of this observation is that the distinction of Empty and Meaningless strikes some participants as more powerful during the experiential process than it does in the long-term outcome. On the other hand. the researcher also noted some participants alluding to the concept without mentioning it outright; Sandy, Lillian, Karen, Victor, Brent. and Cheryl all made comments about some event "not meaning anything" (or similar wording), although they did not say it in the context of the Empty and Meaningless distinction. Another interpretation of the minimal referral to Empty and Meaningless is that it was integrated on subconscious level; that participants may, in fact. be influenced by it, but do not recall it in a conscious manner.

The Distinction "Racket"

A major task in The Forum is to identify and relate to a certain "way of being" that one has, which is called one's "Racket" This curriculum is introduced on Friday afternoon of every Forum. An "official" definition is that a Racket is "some persistent way of being, doing, or having, plus a complaint." That is. there is something that one does, or perhaps some attitude that one holds. that he/she persistently uses to respond to life. "Not only do you do it, you also complain about it, or question whether it is a positive thing for you to do. Still. you seem to automatically and predictably act this way." ** Basically, "Your Racket runs your life so you don't have to."

** NOTE: This distinction sounds much like a "bad habit" in non-Forum language. Racket, however, is presented as being a more elaborate concept-- an example of how The Forum seeks to use a different, and perhaps more descriptive, type of language. The Forum leader would not say that racket and bad habit are synonymous.

A person may carry a judgmental attitude toward others. A person may procrastinate or act in a passive-aggressive manner. Or a person may go through life playing out a "poor me" or "suffering servant" victim role. If a person is unsatisfied by these behaviors/attitudes, yet continues to do them, then he or she can identify that way of being as a Racket.

Rackets are problematic--they cause life to "not work well"-in that there is a cost in keeping them active. There are universal costs to all Rackets. in four areas of life:


  1. Love
  2. Health/vitality
  3. Satisfaction/fulfillment
  4. Self-expression

Given these costs. we might choose to drop the Racket from our lives; however, there is also 'always, always, always" something Present that keeps the Racket vital: payoffs. Among the payoffs are some universal characteristics:


  1. They make me right (or they sometimes work by making another person wrong, or by protecting me from being wrong)
  2. They help me dominate others (or perhaps avoid domination by others)
  3. I use them to justify myself (which may involve invalidating others)

Even in the case of a simple Racket, such as procrastination, it is postulated that one of these payoffs is operating. In some cases it takes an interaction with the Forum leader for a person to really "get" how his or her "way of being, doing, or having" is really a Racket.

The goal in The Forum is not to be cured of one's Racket, but to discover it and recognize when you are "running your Racket." It can also help us to be less judgmental when we simply realize that others are also "running their Rackets."

In every observation of The Forum, the Forum leader said that there is technically no such thing as a Racket- "It's not true. We made it up. It means nothing." It exists only as a distinction to help its users come to a more profound understanding of what it is like to be human. (It might be said that Racket exists in the same way that the ego or the Oedipal complex exists.)


Rackets and the research participants

Every participant in The Forum is encouraged to identify and give consideration to their own, specific Racket. Since this is a very specific task for trainees. the chart below portrays every interviewee and his or her discussion of Racket. Since this is such a highly emphasized distinction in The Forum, the researcher was specifically interested in determining whether subjects had identified, and could currently recall, what their Rackets were.**

** NOTE: For the same reason I have also presented a chart which includes every interviewee in the distinction (called Winning Formula) which follows this one.

In the interview data, there is a mixed response regarding participants' understanding, accepting. and appreciating the distinction of Racket. Many subjects were able to present what their Rackets are. and to explain why they think that item is a Racket.


Janince(Discussed the concept. and said she had one. but didn't identify it in the interview)

Name Statement about Racket
Sandy I had a million of them. Why aren't I organized! Why is the' kitchen messy? Why don't I have enough time? I think my "mother Racket" is Why don't I have enough time?
Tom I think one Racket I had had to do with competition: that I saw the world in competitive terms.
Gerald (He elected not to self-disclose a personal Racket. but gave a definition:) Racket is simply the noise that's going On in our heads,where we're telling ourselves how things are and how things will be.
Leo (did not identify a Racket in the interview)
Jill I am perfectionistic: I am a procrastinator.
Lillian I was complaining about my family to other parties. rather than go to the party I was complaining about.
Jim (Identified Racket/Act in est. but did not make a direct statement about it in relation to The Forum)
Karen Terrible habit of putting too many things into one day. Sometimes I'm late.
Victor Labeling people. Being inflexible and judgmental.
Alice (Discussed the concept. but did not specifically identify one in theinterview.)
Bill (Racket was not covered in the interview)
Leah Using excuses for why I haven't gone on to be whatever I wanted to be.
Jerry (Cannot remember what Racket he identified)
Mary (Could not remember the definition, or anything beyond the term itself)
Brent (He takes things that people do personally. and gets "pissed off" over it.)
Cheryl (Could not remember hers during the interview)
Gina (Did not discuss Racket in personal terms)
Luanne Mine ... was what I call "The Victim."Why me? Why do I always have to have this shit happen to me?
Ben (Cannot remember his during the interview)

Less than one-half of the interviewees reported specific Rackets discovered in The Forum. Each of the nine who did report it indicated that it is a helpful concept. Five interviewees reported that they could not remember what Rackets they identified, and in some cases could not even remember the distinction itself. Four of the participants who did not report their own Rackets in the interviews were able to point out that they saw Rackets in other people.

Although Racket is a major distinction in The Forum, the present data suggests that it had a limited lasting impact upon the memories of these participants. Those who remembered it seemed to be the ones who found the distinction most helpful. Several subjects who reported that The Forum had a highly positive effect on them were the same ones who could not remember their Rackets. Likewise. some who reported The Forum as modestly effective in their lives did remember their Rackets. Therefore, there does not appear to be relationship between a strong recall of the distinction and a stronger effect of the overall experience; nor is there a relationship between forgetting the distinction and reporting a weak effect from the training. Two exceptions are Jim and Mary. Neither believed The Forum was positively effective for them, and neither of them remembered or identified much about Racket (or any of the other distinctions).


The Distinction "Winning -Formula"

On Saturday the process of self-awareness moves from the conversation of Racket to a new conversation: Winning Formula. Winning Formula is a distinction that is given emphasis tantamount to Racket. It appears antithetical to Racket in that it is a seemingly positive trait; it does, however, have a negative impact on the overall quality of life. In psychology terms. it is similar to a " negative coping mechanism" (The Forum never uses such a term). Like a Racket, one's Winning Formula is an automatic response to a threat or stressor.

Winning Formula has a formal definition and presentation. The definition has three parts. which are presented in The Forum.**

** NOTE: The characteristics of Rackets and Winning Formulas. which I have listed in these data, are presented at both The Forum and The Advanced Course (a follow-up course to The Forum). In the Advanced Course note-taking is allowed; therefore, I was able to document exact definitions of these distinctions.


A Winning Formula:

Is a way of being you depend on for success

Compensates for "there is something wrong here"

Is not satisfying, fulfilling, or nurturing

The Winning Formula is supposed to have come into being when a person is young, probably before puberty. Its "genesis" is a moment in life when "you couldn't be X. so you had to be Y." It is created as a response to "something is wrong" or "I can't be something else." A key question in discovering one's own Winning Formula is to identify that stressful occurrence from childhood and ask. "What could I not be at that moment?" Since you were young at the time, suggests the Forum leader, "You want to see that Winning Formula cannot be a complex statement."


An example of winning formula


One Forum participant was able to identify her Winning Formula, and to interpret its beginning:

I try to create an atmosphere where I can be a nice, moderate person for everyone ... The background of it is that I somehow came to believe that it's wrong to make people mad or to be pushy. I was to be a nice thing for my mother to parade around and be proud of. Now I just can't be straightforward with people. I trade that (being straightforward) for "looking good."

Since this person gets the payoff of acceptance by not "rocking the boat," she has become stuck in this way of responding to many life situations. She says she is "a moderate" in most situations, which is positive in that it wins her acceptance and genuinely gives her some control in most relational situations. It began when she was not allowed to be "X" (straightforward about her feelings) by her mother, and so she compensated by becoming "Y" (moderate and less honest in expressing herself). This is not a fulfilling way to be,"because there is no power for living in it."

This description represents the identification and personal understanding of The Forum's curriculum around Winning Formula. It is relevant to know that. as the Forum leader works through the process with the group, it is made clear that the individual is not supposed to conclude that the Winning Formula is someone else's fault, and thus lay blame upon others. In the example above, the trainee would be encouraged to declare responsibility for the continuation of her Winning Formula as an adult. She would not be encouraged to pass negative judgments either on herself or her mother for the presence of the Winning Formula.


Winning formula and research participants

The researcher noted that. in working through the curricula of Rackets and Winning Formulas, dozens of people in each Forum experienced it as more than an intellectual exercise. It appeared that some trainees were emotionally struck by insights and self-discoveries during the presentation of the curriculum.

The Forum suggests that. behind one's Rackets and Winning Formula, there is the reality of the person. One Forum leader said it this way:

"If you actually get in the presence of who you are. then you' ll be moved to tears. You've got to trust yourself. knowing that the work will take you toward authenticity" (paraphrased).

Interviewees were given the opportunity to speak about what they remembered of the concept. and to identify their own if they could. Overall, they spoke in much more detail about Winning Formula than they did about Racket. The chart below exemplifies the participants' identification and interpretation of Winning Formulas:


Janice(She does not speak personally of her Winning Formula. but describes the concept from a sociological observer's point of view-see below)

Name Statement About Winning Formula
Sandy It's that which you do that is giving you success in life. but it's also what keeps you from success... (For me.] I think it's charm and friendliness and good cheer. But I think I let it compensate for (i.e.. use it in lieu of) hard work ... It's so easy for me, I'm so good at it. that I can hide behind it...Here's what I thought was fascinating-that out of a moment of angst. a distinguishable, definable moment in your past, the Winning Formula is born. I couldn't find that moment in my past. But the claim was that it's there.
Tom Winning Formula. Of course. that's tied to the Racket. One Winning Formula I have is that I just go to my competitive spirit: when the going gets tough. the tough get going. and stuff like that. I had that kind of success formula work for me. and get reinforced.

I've had other Winning Formulas of being a kind of nice. engaging therapeutic person. So. that's a kind of Winning Formula that I put together. I traced that part back to childhood. as to how that all worked.

My mother used to tell me how "mature" I was. and how "tuned in" I was, and stuff like that. I think I got that as part of a behavior pattern which was designed to make myself more intimate with my mother. draw her towards mein a competitive circumstance. I see all of the three boys as being constantly competing for love and attention. from both her and my father.

My father was a physician. away a lot and not really "there."Wonderful when he was there. but not there very much. And so I think we all got into struggling for attention and love and validation. stuff like that.

Gerald (Did not discuss the concept in his interview)
Leo (Did not identify a personal Winning Formula) I see Racket and Winning Formula as just a sub-part of Empty and Meaningless... Those were all just things that led up to, to explain, that life is empty and meaningless, to me.
Jill (She describes a tendency toward feeling) responsible for having to "fix it" when friends, family, patients and coworkers arc distressed about aspects of their personal lives. or about other problems that don't directly involve me.
Lillian (Has no memory of this concept in The Forum)
Jim (Did not discuss this concept in relation to The Forum. but talked about similar concepts in est)
Karen Karen (In the interview Karen explained that her mother died when Karen was young; just before her death. the mother told Karen to "take care of" the younger siblings. In The Forum Karen discovered that she "started mothering people ... as a way of being." What she learned about this. as a Winning Formula. is) ... that was just one way of being. and that I didn't have to be that way.
Victor Victor Winning Formula and Racket didn't make much sense to me until I hit the Advanced class. Because we identified them with a lot more repetition [in the Advanced Course], then I started to understand a hide bit more about what I was doing. and that made more sense.
Alice I do [remember Winning Formula]. And I'm not sure I agree with it. If your Winning Formula is working. you don't necessarily have to change it. If there is something dishonest about it. or something that you don't like about it. then it's very important to look at it, and make sure it's not an act that you're putting on for somebody. But if the way you are is genuine, and you like the way you are. and people like the way you are, that by definition is a Winning Formula-and it's not a bad thing. I think it was important for people to assess that. and I imagine there are people who recognize that there is something they don't like about what they are doing, that attracts people. I didn't feel that way. I don't think I have to change what I am doing.
Bill My winning formula. yeah, I discovered that what that was It was pretty obvious to me that I was always running around helping people ... My winning formula was to be this watchtower, this person that would solve everyone else's problems. And I totally focused on that in my career.

I remember I had a little picture of me-funny, you dig through old black-and-whites of yourself when you were a little kid. and I had a picture of me in a sailor suit. And I became a Navy guy. How that relates. I don't know. But it did. And I was also pointing at the police star on the police car when I was very young, and I later became a police officer. I look back at those things and I think. "No, I don't know if I had those as goals to do those things. but they ended up happening to me." In a quite different way it came around that I did those things. But my Winning Formula was to go and be this person to solve other people's problems.

I don't know whether that's because my mother was taken away at an early age, and that's just how I compensated for that event. But I saw myself getting involved in a lot of things: in college, I was a campus police chief ... I was always helping people solve their problems.

Where it was in excess to me, which was part of The Forum. to discover, was that I did not take care of me. I was so busy solving other peoples' problems... I was just really great at it. But I might be solving other people's crises and I may have a crisis of my own going on... my crisis never got necessarily attended to.

So one of the things I picked up out of The Forum was that. recognizing what my winning formula was. that I also needed to take care of me. I was spending all my time helping other people and I wasn't really looking out for me. So I did get that. That was a valuable thing.


Leah I had a hard time coming up with my Winning Formula. One thing I had decided through the course of it-- I was the kind of person who was always the nice guy. and I always had everything go right for me... So I'd always feel like I had been too sheltered. too much of a nice guy, always getting walked over because of that. I guess my Winning Formula was that I could take what I had and always turn it into positive things.
Jerry Jerry I had a really hard time coming up with a Winning Formula. When it flashed and came to me I didn't get a chance to share it. I listened to a whole bunch of other Winning Formulas, and when it came to ,me my Winning Formula was gone again. Still. to this point I'm not really sure... At one point in time there was one particular thing that I just absolutely knew was my Winning Formula, and I lost it.

I'd like to work on determining what my Winning Formula is. and what significance that has in the way I interact and react to other people. I remember that you were trying to come up with your Winning Formula by trying to remember an event that happened to you when you were very small...

Mary (Concept not discussed in the interview)
Brent When someone gets confronted, and they're getting ready to show their bad side. or their shadow side. the stuff they don't want you to know about-they start running that Winning Formula. For me, mine was 'be a good boy.' Just be a good boy and follow the rules. So if I started seeing that the stuff that I didn't want anybody to know about is getting exposed. I'll start trying to be a good boy. Try to do what they want me to do-whoever 'they' are at the time.

I found out very early in my life. that if I do what that authority figure wants me to do-- in this caw my parents-- then they'll leave me alone. They'll stop looking. They'll let it go. And that was reinforced through work. If I gave the boss what they wanted, and kept them happy, they never looked very closely at my work.

School-- really, Chuck. when I was in third or fourth grade-- I can remember coming to a realization that if I was very. very good and did everything right during the first quarter of the school year, then I could just slack off and do nothing. And it didn't matter. The teacher still thought of me as that good boy! 'And of course it couldn't be Brent-it had to be somebody else-because he's a good boy! It must be that guy behind him.'

I would get all kinds of slack. Maybe I didn't do so good on a test., but 'he's a good kid. he's trying hard.'... It was completely reinforced. and it became very strongly my Winning Formula. What made it even more nasty is that I was conscious of it- Iconsciously created it. particularly in school... It became a natural thing...

What I noticed in The Forum was that I got to the point where I do that mostly when I start being investigated. If someone is looking too closely at my work. or at who I am...


Cheryl Cheryl I realized my Winning Formula and my Racket and how cleverly we use these. Your Winning Formula would be your smile. your charm. what you do to endear people to you. or to be able to get along and get close to people.
Gina (Did not discuss the concept in the interview)
Luanne I think it was the "independent woman." Let's see, Winning Formula is something that is good in you, but also runs you. A distinction that you got when you were a younger child. You swallowed it, and you decided that you were always gonna be this way, or never gonna be that way. I did get it. When I was a little girl my dad left my mother. I was the youngest out of five, and I was about 10 years old. And I can remember vividly sitting on a love seat. with my mother and a sister. My mother's arms were around both of us. And she said. "Girls, your father has left us." In The Forum they ask you to search for something that might have triggered this Winning Formula. So this came to mind. and it didn't Like too long to figure out. When I heard that my dad left us. I decided that I was never gonna allow that to happen again. I would never be dependent on a man. So I became very independent and very strong. Taking care of myself. Hence, no dependent relationships. Nothing dependent about anything in my life.

So that's a Winning Formula. And I don't think they give you a distinction to allow you to get rid of it, or to work with it. I think you just know what it is, and that's it.

I'm still keeping that in place. So I probably have something mom to be learning about that. Because I'm not committed in a relationship that's a traditional relationship. in any sense. And I think that's part of my Winning Formula.


Ben (Did not discuss the concept in the interview)

The participants' response to the Winning Formula concept was, overall, more in-depth than to the Racket concept. Still, only nine interviewees personally identified a Winning Formula in the interview. It is noted that the concept was not discussed at all in five of the interviews, and in those cases it cannot be assumed whether the interviewee did or did not understand the concept.

The following table documents the types of responses that subjects gave ont he topic of Winning Formula. Again. the reader is reminded that only 15 interviews actually addressed the topic:


Type Of response in interview on the topic of Winning Formula ("WF") # of interviews in which response was documented
Concept of WF was brought up in the interview 15
Subject identified his/her own WF 9
Described WF with a sense of personally understanding the distinction 8
Traced genesis of WF to his/her past 5
Didn't identify his/her own WF, but commented on the distinction 3
Could not remember anything significant about the distinction 2

The emotional connection that is made for many when considering their Winning Formula appears related to the negative self-judgment that the coping mechanism is compensating for. Janice comments on the universal and sociological aspects of the Winning Formula:

I've decided that. at some level. The Forum transcends gender and race. I'm convinced of that. It transcends gender and race. because you are talking about basic ways that human beings are. Especially when they talk about having a break in belonging: when they are working on your Winning Formula and you are deciding what your Winning Formula is compensating for. And underneath your Winning Formula is "I'm not good enough ." I'm not important" "I'm alone." "Im weak"--something like that.

And this last time I [reviewed] The Forum Richard had 30 people, one afterthe other, stand up and say what their Winning Formula is, and whatever it was that the Winning Formula compensated for. So it would be: "I'm not good enough- I stay cool in a crisis." "I'm not good enough- I work real hard." After you hear a whole bunch of them you realize that there is absolutely no connection between the two. It could be "I'm not good enough"... connected to "I organize things." "I stay cool in a crisis." "I make jokes." It could be anything connected to anything.

It could be three different people-- their underlying "break in belonging" was based on being left alone. So they felt abandoned. And then their Winning Formulas-- independence could be one person's; being popular, liked by everybody, could be another's.



The curriculum of The Forum is based on a well-defined group of concepts or vehicles for exploring one's life and oneself. These concepts are called "distinctions." The distinctions of Winning Formula, Racket, Empty and Meaningless, and What Happened/Story are the most highly emphasized distinctions of The Forum. There are also distinctions concerning the view of past/present/future enrollment, "Already Always Listening," and others which were not a focus of this study. Existential issues of responsibility, meaninglessness, and relationships are worked into these distinctions.

The observation and interview data suggest that these curricula have a varied impact on participants; some report a certain distinction as having personal impact, while other participants scarcely recall the concept. The structure and curriculum of The Forum, on their own, do not provide all the data that are relevant to understanding the phenomenon of the training. Attention now turns to the pedagogy of The Forum.

Table of Contents


Part 1--The process and ecology of the Forum
Part 2--The Structure: First Sights Of The Forum
Part 3--The Forum Begins: The Curriculum and Pedagogy
Part 4--The Curriculum of The Forum
Part 5--The Pedagogy of The Forum

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