Fox Psychology

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Lesson 7: Life is a Journey, not a Destination

You’ve heard it all before, life is about being in the moment. And you may be thinking: “Blah blah blah, and if one more person says ‘stop and the smell the roses’ to me I’m going to shoot them – including you Mr. Fox”.

But have you really contemplated what this means and what the saying “Life is a journey, not a destination” is all about? There is so much wisdom packed into those seven little words that if you were able to truly dig deep into their meaning and live by just that one saying every day of your life, your life would be transformed before your very eyes. As my favourite author and psychologist, Dr Wayne Dyer, used to say, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change”. Every time, without fail.

Our world is one of perception, interpretation and meaning. We first perceive something; whether it is a sound, a smell, a communication, an image, or our own thoughts and emotions. We then have to interpret these and finally provide meaning to them. When we are down and struggling with life and our minds are in anxiety or depression, our ability to objectively and rationally interpret the reality and experience of our lives becomes severely compromised. It is precisely at these times that we need to learn to disengage from our focus on the destination of life i.e. “where is this all going?”, and reengage with the experience and knowing that life is to be lived right now. And that if you can find something, anything to focus on – even if that focus is the blissful nothingness of meditation, then you will find the relief you are so desperately seeking from the pain and the struggle. Training the mind to find anything that will distract it from its own misery is a skill and something that we should all be practicing every single day of our lives. And the more we practice it, the more we find the great law of attraction bringing more thoughts, experiences and emotions like the ones we are deliberately trying to create. And as my new favourite inspirational speaker Esther Hicks would say: we are then building the kind of momentum that we would really want in our lives.

This is all certainly about our ability- or usually lack of it – to live in the now. To live peacefully with whatever is happening in our lives right now. I have often counselled people struggling with stress or anxiety to practice mindfulness. This word and practice is becoming as much as cliché to people these days as meditation but there is a reason that it has caught on and we now see endless adult colouring-in books in all the shops. It is because it works people! It is an eternal truth. We spend so much time looking at our lives analysing it to death that we completely miss the experiences we are having literally right before our eyes, ears and noses.

We live too much in the past and certainly too much in the future. We spend way way WAY too much time on the future in our minds. If what we are doing when thinking about the future is imagining a desired state or outcome then that is all well and good and it will lead you to what you want to be and where you want to go in life. However, where are most of us spending our mental time and energy? On pictures and words and imaginings of some terrible fate that may await us or our loved ones just around the corner or even in five, ten or twenty years from now. Can you see how unproductive and how “unwell” this can make you? Do you know that there are two specific distorted categories of thinking from cognitive behavioural therapy that are called “Fortune Telling” and “Catastrophising” and that we ALL get caught up in them? Yes, those with anxiety and depression get caught up in those mental traps more frequently and find it more difficult to break out of them or dispute those thoughts with more objective and positive reality. However, I know from my 40 years on this planet, and 17 years as a psychologist, that we ALL do it to some extent, every single day. And you know what, it doesn’t serve us one little bit.

I am not talking about thinking prudently ahead, watching for signs and perhaps taking some preemptive action to avoid an actual problem or danger. That is productive and what another author called “signal thoughts”. Thoughts about something that we actually need to do something about like complete our tax returns. But, what I am describing to you is more about what that same author called “noise”, every other thought that surrounds the reality. “Oh my God, what if I owe the tax office a huge amount of money?”, “What if I go bankrupt?” “What if I can’t make my mortgage payment or rent payment and land up on the streets?” “What if I can’t afford to send my kids to a good school?” “What if I end up lonely and alone for the rest of my life!?”

And I hear you saying, “But David, it COULD happen!” Yes, and you COULD also be knocked over by a bus in the street in an hour from now! And North Korea COULD decide to start a world war beginning with the invasion of South Korea and then they could launch nuclear missiles at all of us!

Okay, maybe that’s a bit dramatic for you. Well, how about this: “What if I stuff up at that interview next week and never end up getting a job?” “What if I go on a date with this woman or man and they don’t feel the same way I do and they reject me?” You get the point. The world is full of “what ifs” and I am here to tell you to CUT IT OUT OF YOUR LIFE! If you are going to play the “what if” game, why don’t you try something radical like: “What if he likes me and we hit it off and he ends up being the man of my dreams?” or “What if I just be myself at that interview and relax and feel confident that the job is mine and they see in me what they have been looking for and I get one of the best jobs I have ever had, working for amazing people!” or “What if I didn’t look at my age as a reason to stop this path I am on that isn’t working for me and head down a different road?” Meaning: a different career, a different relationship, or taking up a long held desire to learn to surf or study financial planning or whatever else you have felt you wanted to do deep inside you but just haven’t allowed? WHAT IF… you thought about, imagined and achieved those things? How would that make you feel? What would your life experience look and feel like then?

Enjoying your dreams and plans even before they have manifested and doing the best you can not to become disillusioned if they don’t happen “on time” when you expect them to is so important. You don’t plant seeds in the ground to grow a pumpkin and then immediately stamp on the ground demanding to see it grow and appear right now, because you know there is ALWAYS a time lag. And thank goodness for that because can you imagine what would happen if every thought and desire, good or bad, manifested immediately for you? One little thought of illness and you’re dead. One little thought of not enough money and you’re bankrupt! Of course it would be nice if you had one little thought of becoming a millionaire and then poof you’re a millionaire! That would be pretty amazing, but that is not how this Universe works. Somewhere deep down we already know that it is our own repeated patterns of thought and emotion that we practice, and have been practicing since you were young, that start to produce the outward manifestations of our lives. Haven’t you seen evidence of people who just seem to “attract” one calamity after another, one terrible relationship after another, one failure after another? And why is that? Are these poor souls so horribly unlucky that the source of all things decided they should live this way and others would thrive and be happy? How ridiculous! But, we somehow believe this don’t we? This nonsense that something is intrinsically wrong or “bad” about us and that is why we don’t get what we say we want.

Having goals is all good and well, but becoming a slave to your goals, or worse, not achieving something you had set down and then becoming frustrated and disillusioned will only hold it away from you even more. The key is truly to appreciate every moment, every step of the journey. It is in the process of creation that we find our greatest joy. To paraphrase Dr Wayne Dyer again, the point of dancing is not about where you end up on the dance floor, it’s about savouring that moment and enjoying your “beingness” with the person you are dancing with – even if the only person you are dancing and singing with is just you!

This doesn’t only have to apply to the fun things in life like dancing, singing, going on holiday or winning some great accolade for your work. Those are the obvious ones that would naturally make most people feel their enjoyment of life. However, it is in your moments of frustration when your path does not seem to be leading to the manifesting of your desires that you most need to learn to stop and refocus yourself into your NOW. We all have access to both what is wanted and what is not wanted. There is an abundance of negative things to focus on in your life or about the world around you or about the city you live in or your partner or your spouse, but there is a much greater and endless supply of things that are positive and just as real as the things that you perceive to be “bad” about your life experience. You truly have the most powerful capability in the world, the capability to choose what you focus on and what meaning you give to everything in your life. And in addition to this, you have the capability to choose to find something, anything to feel good about to help lift your emotional state upwards. And then just keep going and keep practicing that every single day. You cannot possibly do this and stay anxious. You cannot possibly do this and remain depressed. It defies law. You cannot simultaneously focus on two things at the same time. You may be able to flip very quickly between them but you cannot literally have two thoughts (good and bad) at the exact same moment. So choose which one you want to have. Do you want to feel good or bad?

Is it important to you to feel good? Then why aren’t you doing absolutely anything and everything to get you there? “Because I don’t deserve to feel good!” is what I hear you say. What a load of nonsense! You were born to feel good. God/Source/Spirit or whatever you want to call it did not manifest you into this world to feel bad. And if you have done things in your life that you are not proud of and are using that as a reason to withhold feeling good then you need to hear something and hear it well. NOBODY IS PERFECT. FORGIVE YOURSELF. Most of the saints started out doing things that we might refer to as “bad” or went down a path that was less than saintly and realised through their life experiences that they didn’t want to feel that way ever again and so they made up their minds to be “better than they used to be”. Dr Wayne Dyer himself stood up and apologised in public to his first wife for being less of a husband than he should have been. A man who I consider to have been one of the most advanced souls on this planet in our time – psychologically, spiritually and as a human being – and who has done more good through his books, talks and audio programs than we could possibly conceive, admitted to his own wrong doings earlier in his life. What would have become of Wayne Dyer if he had decided that he was inherently a bad person because of some past errors in his judgement? What if he chose to see himself as an unworthy person who didn’t deserve to be happy or successful? I will tell you what would have happened. Millions of people all around the world would have lost out on learning how to change their own lives for the better. They would never have been touched by his kindness, his generosity (he ended up donating millions), his amazing ability to write books that inspire and his talks and lectures that have elevated the lives of so many people. All of that good would have been lost if he had decided that he was not worthy. So, let us do our best to remove the “I am not good enough, worthy enough, smart enough, talented enough, good looking enough” from our lives forever.

It is also interesting to note how people like young Olympians can focus so intently and single-mindedly on a achieving a goal – winning the gold medal. And when they actually achieve it they find – at an age where most people are still trying to figure out who they are and what they want from life – that they are stuck because they believe they have achieved their greatest goal in life at the age of 17 or 18. This can happen anyone who achieves a significant life goal.  But if you can understand that there is always more to be done in life, and I am certainly not speaking about the achieving of material possessions but the eternal growth of who you are as a human being, then you would realise there is nothing to ever be bored about, nothing ever to be frustrated about due to the lack of something not having manifested in your life at this moment.

When you focus on this moment and make this moment the most enjoyable one that you can in whatever it is that you are CHOOSING to do, your life will become one of enjoyment of the ride and not so much about the destination. That doesn’t mean to wander around in circles aimlessly and not actually achieve anything that you deem to be worthwhile. It means set your intentions and ensure you remove the thoughts that would hold you back and enjoy this wonderful ride we call life. Enjoy it today, not tomorrow, or next week, or when you get that pay rise, or when you find that partner you have so desperately been wanting, or when you finally have a child or when you finally buy a house. ENJOY IT NOW. That’s all you really have anyway.

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Lesson 6: Rome wasn’t built in a day. 

Jesse Wolf had recently finished his last year of high school and had decided to take some time out before deciding which direction to go in life. During his second last year of high school he had played with the idea of being an accountant as he did enjoy working with numbers but overall his pull was towards working with people. Jesse found the world of psychology and helping others to be very appealing and he, as many who eventually become psychologists, had some of his own issues and demons that he wanted to overcome.

During this “gap year”, as some of his friends had called it, he had travelled to London and lived and worked there for a few months but had found the weather and people quite depressing and having being born and bred in the sunny climate of South Africa he had found it quite debilitating. It wasn’t so much the rain or the cold as it was the endless days and weeks of cloud cover during the winter where no one saw the sun. In the end, he had returned to Johannesburg earlier than expected and found himself searching for his next step in life. Coming back from overseas was quite an adjustment for him and having experienced what life was like in another country and culture for the first time, he had become somewhat anxious and this had also led into thoughts about his own future. Where was he going? Why did everyone else seem to be so clear about their direction in life and  halfway through their first year of either university or college? Jesse felt at a loss.

Being 19 years old, Jesse still lived at home with his parents and having only just got his license, he was loving the freedom of being able to drive around Johannesburg to go and see his friends and relatives. The use of the word “freedom” however was somewhat ironic when he thought about it. This was because he felt anything but free or more accurately “safe” living and driving around Johannesburg as a young 19 year old white male. Everyday felt like a game of Russian roulette to him. He would often wonder if today would be the day someone was going to smash his driver side window and point a gun at his head when he got to a traffic light. Or was he going to be attacked and hijacked from his car at night as he waited for the big black gate to open that led into his house. Jesse wanted to leave the country desperately but knew he had no hope of getting into another country without going as a skilled migrant and his parents certainly couldn’t afford for him to study at University in South Africa, let alone overseas. Be that as it may, he was determined to study further and dreamed of a career as a lawyer or psychologist someday.

Jesse decided to get a part time job as a waiter working for one of the local steakhouse chains, which had a notoriously difficult owner but he went for the interview and initial training anyway and got the job. Needless to say, it wasn’t easy work: the shifts were long, the boss lived up to his reputation of being a complete A hole and the tips were lousy but he stuck it out as he enjoyed the sense of independence it gave him to be able to buy the things he needed or to take a girl out on a date and not have to ask his parents for money.

Jesse also decided to enroll in studying economics via distance learning at the University of South Africa. However, after a month or two, he realised that distance learning was not for him and the only usefulness he found for his economics textbooks was to help put him to sleep at night . His parents were not thrilled that they had spent a little bit of money on a course that he was clearly disinterested in and he eventually told them he did not want to continue. This did, however have the positive outcome of completely dissuading him from the idea of studying a Bachelor of Commerce and he realised that he was much more passionate about the arts. Subjects such as psychology, literature, international relations, music and law seemed a closer fit and he started to think about applying to study at another University in Johannesburg the following year.

One evening he was out with some of his friends when his best friend – Guy –  mentioned that his older brother had come across a man who was starting a Taekwondo school not far from where they lived. All he knew was the man was a 5th Dan Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do and was only around 33 years old and that he had lived and trained in the East. He was a Frenchman who had also trained the French National Tae Kwon Do team for the 1992 Olympics. Jesse had long been interested in studying a martial art. He had always loved watching any martial arts movies and had large life size posters of Bruce Lee on his bedroom walls. He had tried Judo at a young age but had not continued for some reason he could not remember. He had tried Kung Fu when he was 13 years old but after 3 lessons, he was sparring with another kid from his school and he did a back kick which caught the kid by surprise who promptly stepped forward and punched Jesse in the nose. This was a completely illegal hit but the instructors didn’t seem too concerned about it so Jesse’s mother refused to let him return to the class.

Now, at the age of 19 years old and having not really followed through on any particular sport at school aside from tennis for a few years, Jesse felt ready to commit to something and achieve his dream of becoming a black belt in martial arts. At this time, he had not even heard of Taekwon do, but he was curious about the man his friend spoke about and wanted to go and see what the classes were like. His friend also told a story of how his brother had met the Taekwondo instructor. They had been out one night at a nightclub with some friends who had brought along this short, skinny looking man with dark features who they had recently met and befriended. Something had happened at the nightclub and the bouncers had tried to rough them up and when they approached the Frenchman – whose name was Fabio – he had apparently taken down two bouncers who were twice his size and weight in a matter of seconds. The bouncers didn’t know what had hit them. Jesse marveled at how a small man could do such a thing and became even more interested in meeting him.

And so, the next Saturday afternoon, Jesse and Guy went along to the sports field that was attached to an old country club. They walked up to a small group of people standing around underneath some willow trees and saw a diminutive character with dark eyes and olive skin smile and walk over to them. Guy introduced Jesse as he had already met Fabio before and Fabio bowed. Jesse was taken quite by surprised but bowed back out of respect. He didn’t actually like the idea of bowing to anyone as this was not a part of his own culture but this was the beginning of Jesse’s journey into understanding the eastern philosophy of martial arts. Fabio was very open and inviting and asked them to join the class for the afternoon to see if they liked it.

Jesse had not done any rigorous physical exercise for a few years since playing in his high school Rugby team when he was thirteen and fourteen years old. The class began with a 4-km run, barefoot on the streets, on a long circuit around the suburb and back to the sports field. When he was told to run barefoot, Jesse could hardly believe his ears because it was the middle of summer and the temperature was around 35 degrees celsius. The road itself would be even hotter. Jesse really struggled to make it past the first kilometer and had to take time out to walk between jogging. He couldn’t believe how unfit he had allowed himself to become.

After the 4km run, they came back to the sports field and continued with some other gruelling exercises including frog hopping across the field, doing forty situps and pushups and only then did the class begin. Everyone lined up from the highest ranked belt to the white belts. Jesse stood right at the end wearing his track suit pants and a white t-shirt. His feet were hurting from the run but he tried his best to ignore it and concentrate on what Master Fabio was talking about. Jesse loved not only the kicks but the discipline that seemed to be a core element of the way Master Fabio ran his classes. He was very firm with his instructions and Jesse was amazed at the dexterity and power he showed when demonstrating a kick to the class. Front kicks, sidekicks, spinning round house kicks and defensive back kicks. Towards the end, the class split up into groups to practice their “Poomse” or patterns which needed to be performed to perfection in order to progress to the next belt. The class had a mixture of young and old, males and females and everyone seemed to get along very well.

After the class, Jesse thanked Master Fabio and both Jesse and Guy said that they would like to attend the Monday evening class and begin training. Jesse knew he would have to pay for these classes out of his own money but he was happy to do it. He had found something that he could focus on and give him some purpose at least he thought for the year until he could begin studying at University.It would also help him feel a bit more confident that he could handle himself should he have to defend himself against a potential attacker, although he had no illusions that martial arts may not be a match for an AK-47 assault rifle! Nevertheless, should he find himself in danger, he would at least have some chance of survival.

The Monday night class, however, proved to be a large challenge for Jesse. The class ran from 7:30pm to 9:00pm in an unused Karate dojo not too far from where Jesse lived. Jesse made the mistake of eating dinner at 6:00pm and then going to the class which was even more intense and gruelling than the Saturday class. Half way through the class, Jesse had to run outside into the parking lot and he threw up what was left of his dinner into some nearby bushes. Guy eventually came out to check on him and Jesse said: “If I wanted to join the army, I would have joined the army! This is crazy!”

Doubts began to run through his mind whether he was going to be able to continue. He just wasn’t fit enough and the daunting task of going through such a gruelling physical regime and staying the course to eventually become a black belt seemed as reachable as climbing Kilimanjaro. He went back to finish the class, went home and fell asleep exhausted as soon as his head touched the pillow.

On reflection the next morning, Jesse decided that he wasn’t going to just quit at the first sign of trouble and so he returned again on Wednesday evening and found that he was able to handle the class a bit better and did not throw up this time having wisely decided to eat only a banana before attending class. He started enjoying the classes and getting himself to push beyond his boundaries with regards to his physical fitness – something which he had never really done before.

One day, as Jesse was walking down the passage in his house on his way to a Taekwondo lesson, he overheard his mother saying to some family friends in the lounge that her son, “never followed through or completed anything”. He waited a bit in the passage and then walked out of the house pretending he had not heard anything. Hearing this really upset him as it was often his mother who got in the way of him completing things either because of the costs involved or because she didn’t encourage him in any way to continue. Jesse made a resolution to himself that day that he was going to prove her wrong.

The year went by fairly quickly after this and Jesse applied for and got into the University of the Witwatersrand to study a Bachelor of Arts degree with his subjects being Psychology, Law, English and International Relations. He learned very early on that he did not like Law and so did not continue with it in his second year, electing to take additional psychology courses that were potentially required for him to go on to to do an honours and possibly master’s degree someday.

Jesse worked hard and loved learning about psychology. However, he did struggle with his first few exams in psychology and english and didn’t quite seem to understand what the teachers were after in the formatting of the essays. He began to get quite anxious about the possibility of failing his subjects and not being able to move on to second year. This was around the middle of the university year and after receiving his initial results he became quite despondent. The stress began to build.

By this stage he had become a green belt in Taekwondo and had been training with Master Fabio and the school for over a year and a half. He didn’t always look forward to going to classes every Monday and Wednesday night and every Saturday afternoon but he knew that he always felt less stressed, more focused and energised after the lessons. However, there were times when Jesse just felt like everything was too much. Attending university every day, going to Taekwondo and then having to complete essays and coursework in the evenings, not to mention all the reading that came with studying Psychology, English and International Relations. Sometimes he would see new people come into the Taekwondo class who seemed to have a natural athletic strength and ability which he did not seem to possess and who quickly became Master Fabio’s favourites. They would spend a lot of time together not just in the classes but socially as well. Next to them, Jesse felt that his own progress was very slow and he would become very frustrated at his inability to fight at the same levels that some of the newer students were able to.

One Monday evening, after a particularly frustrating training session, Jesse decided this would be his last lesson and that it just wasn’t worth it. Once again, the goal of becoming a black belt, especially within Master Fabio’s school, seemed like just a pipe dream. As the class were saying their goodbyes, Jesse asked Master Fabio if he could have a word and they went off to the side of the Dojo.

“I don’t think I can continue with Taekwondo anymore” said Jesse, feeling extremely nervous at the reaction that he might get from Master Fabio. He had seen him have a go at other students who had done something that displeased him and Jesse had tried to avoid such a fate for himself.

Master Fabio looked at him with what seemed to be genuine surprise in his dark eyes and said, “You cannot stop Taekwondo. Why do you want to stop?”, with an even tone in his voice.

“Because it’s all just too much. I’m not as good as the others and not even as good as some of them who have only been here a few months. I have so much work to do with university and it just doesn’t seem like I will ever get to black belt anyway, so what’s the point?” asked Jesse, trying his best not to let any emotion come through in his voice.

Master Fabio studied Jesse for a moment and then said, “Did you think that anything worth achieving in life was going to be easy? Everybody achieves at different paces and at different levels. Why do you compare yourself with others instead of comparing yourself to yourself?”

Jesse just looked down and shrugged his shoulders.

“Let me ask you something: are you better than you were when you first started here? You couldn’t even keep up with the class remember? You may not have the natural strength and flexibility of some of the others but aren’t your kicks becoming more accurate and powerful than they used to be?” asked Master Fabio.

Jesse reflected on this for a bit and then replied, “Yes, I can tell that I am much fitter than I have ever been in my life and I do have some really good kicks but there are others who have moved much quicker to grading to higher belts than me. There are others who are better at fighting than I am who have been here for much less time” he said.

Master Fabio studied Jesse’s expression and then said, “Rome wasn’t built in a day, Jesse”

“Yes, but it’s just a silly saying”, said Jesse, clearly not in the mood for hearing a lecture from Master Fabio about Rome taking forever to be built. But he knew that he had to at least hear him out, possibly have his ear chewed off for a bit and then he would go home and not come back anyway.

“Many of these sayings have been around a long time and they may seem silly because we have heard them so many times but we should never forget that they have been around so long because they are essential truths. There were many times when I was growing up when I wanted to quit Taekwondo” he admitted.

“Really?”, asked Jesse with a look of surprise, as he had never imagined that Master Fabio would have ever let the thought cross his mind to quit Taekwondo at any stage in his life because he always seemed so passionate about it.

“I learned from my own Master that one of the greatest lessons we learn in martial arts is not how to kick hard but to stay committed to the process and prove to ourselves that we have what it takes to see it through. Of course we must also enjoy the journey along the way. It is not the fastest or the strongest who succeed in the end, it is the ones who stick to it, who keep going even though there are many reasons to quit, who eventually become the best martial artists in the world”, said Master Fabio.

This was not the blasting that Jesse had been expecting to receive from Master Fabio and he found that despite how he had been feeling even just a few short minutes ago, he was now seeing things in a slightly different way. His emotions had subsided a bit and he was able to reflect a little more clearly on the journey and what his intentions had been at the start. He reminded himself that he started off trying to prove to himself that he could undertake a large endeavour and see it through to completion. Learning how to kick really hard and fast and becoming fit were actually just the amazing by products of what his real intention was and that was to prove to himself (and to his mother if he was being honest) that he could do it. Yet, even now he realised that doing it for someone else or trying to prove something to anyone else but yourself was a waste of time and energy. In the end it wouldn’t really matter what his mother thought or whether she approved of it or not. It was Jesse proving to himself that he was worth the effort, that he deserved success and that he had it in him to reach the goal.

“I see what you are saying and I know that I need to prove this to myself but it has been overwhelming lately and I don’t seem to have any time for anything besides studying and Taekwondo” said Jesse, with a little less conviction in his voice this time.

“And what else do you need time for?” asked Master Fabio with a faint smile.

“Finding a girlfriend?” said Jesse with a smile.

“Plenty of time for girlfriends later…much later. Waste of valuable time and money now” said Master Fabio only half-joking.

“I suppose so”, said Jesse. He was still thinking it would be nice to have a girlfriend and he wasn’t going to give up looking for one but maybe he didn’t need to worry about it too much right now. Jesse remembered many evenings spent talking to one of his favourite aunties in her kitchen about the woes of his love life over a mug of hot chocolate and this made him smile again.

“I know I can be hard on some of the students sometimes, but some of them need it. Did you notice that I was never that hard on you?” asked Master Fabio.

Jesse had thought he had just been very good at not getting into trouble but he had also wondered on occasion why Master Fabio didn’t pay him more attention, even if that attention was getting yelled at.

“It is because I respond to each student differently. I know which ones I need to push and how far I can push them and I know which ones don’t need pushing but need to learn at their own pace. I know exactly how far you have come and I have watched your improvements with great satisfaction. If you quit now, you will always wonder. You will always look back and think, “what if I had just seen it through?” And if you do decide to keep going and you get your black belt, it will forever be a reminder of your ability to achieve any goal that you set your mind to no matter how hard it seems and how long it seems to be taking to get there. You are a tortoise, Jesse. That is not a bad thing and it’s just the way you are but you know the story and you know how it ends when the tortoise just kept on walking to the finish line”, said Master Fabio.

In that moment, Jesse had a flash of an image of himself standing at the front of the class and bowing to Master Fabio as he was handed his black belt and what this triumph would feel like. This image and feeling was very powerful and it became clear to Jesse that he wanted this more than anything.

“I will do it”, he said.

“I know you will, now get out of my Dojo”, said Master Fabio smiling.

Jesse laughed, picked up his tote bag and walked to the entrance of the Dojo, turned around, bowed (as was customary) and headed home with a renewed determination to succeed.

Over the next few years, Jesse had a few other moments where he came very close to quitting. He also had some very stressful times as he worked his way through his Bachelor’s Degree and then moved on to study Honours and Masters in Psychology. But, he always remembered his talk with Master Fabio and he held onto his vision of one day wearing the black belt and then one sunny afternoon, 6 years after starting Taekwondo, Jesse found himself standing before Master Fabio and the class and bowing to receive his black belt just as he had imagined.

As he tied the black belt around his waist and stood proudly with the whole class applauding, he felt the pride and conviction that can only come with having been through the ups and downs of striving towards a goal, falling down every now and then but getting back up, dusting yourself off and trying again and again until life can only yield to you what you have set as your intention to achieve.

David Fox is a psychologist and author of the book Change your Life! Hope and Healing for Anxiety and Depression. He is currently working on his second book called The Top 10 Sayings that can Change your Life!

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What are you ready to let go of? — Thriving Under Pressure

This post was inspired by a stressful situation that I couldn’t let go of, long beyond its solution. No matter how hard I tried. Day in day out. The worry would reappear. Then someone close to me suggested “I shed the stress”. And a lightbulb went off. Each time the repetitive thought appeared, I imagined […]

via What are you ready to let go of? — Thriving Under Pressure

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The 7 Ways to a Successful Relationship

Relationships can be very rewarding and challenging at the same time. There are very few people who could say that their relationship has been nothing but bliss and smooth sailing. All couples run into trouble. More often than not the trouble is not resolved and continues to build up over time. This can lead to a breakdown in what was once an exciting, thrilling and wonderful experience. Through my own research, experience and working with couples over the last few years, I have devised The 7 Ways to a Successful Relationship. By following these 7 ways any couple can significantly improve and take their relationship to a level that they never believed possible.

1.       The First Way involves being open and honest with yourself and each other and is one of the most critical ways that couples can ensure that their relationship remains strong and that they stay connected. Without this ability on the part of both people in the relationship, it becomes highly probable that issues start to get buried. Over many years, this can lead to a major barrier between the two people. Being truly “intimate” with your romantic partner is not only about sexual intimacy; it also requires the ability to say what you really think and feel. This idea would seem very daunting to most people as they are afraid that if their partner knew what they were really thinking and/or feeling they would be in BIG trouble. They may worry that their partner will get angry or judge them harshly and so they keep their innermost thoughts and desires to themselves. The inevitable consequence of this is that one day they just can’t pretend any longer. And they walk out the door when they might have been able to salvage the relationship by opening up to their partner about their concerns, fears, resentments, wishes, and desires much sooner. If, after speaking their truth, their partner is not receptive or is out right aggressive, the person may end up walking away but at least the chance to make that relationship work was attempted before all hope was lost. So, in order to keep your relationship alive and healthy and ensure that any resentments are dealt with, it is critically important to check in with each other on a fairly regular basis and open up about how you are really feeling about things. You may find, as did the couple further in this article that you reach a new level of intimacy and connection with your partner that you have never experienced before.

2.      Whilst it may seem obvious, each partner has a responsibility to monitor how he or she is reacting to their other half. Primarily, I am speaking about the Second Way which is the need to ensure that respect for each other is always considered of the highest priority. John Gottman – the guru of successful relationships and marriages – highlights that a lack of respect or one partner being dismissive towards the other can often spell doom for a relationship.

Having said that, I am often astounded at how many people will remain in a relationship long after their partner has shown significant and ongoing signs of a lack of respect for them. I am not saying that the usual trials and tribulations that occur in a relationship where couples can sometimes be mean to each other is cause for major alarm or walking out. We all get a bit cranky with our partners and we may say things we don’t mean and later regret. No, I am speaking about a much more fundamental issue of one partner showing a partial or complete lack of respect for the other through his or her words or actions or both. It is often friends or family who will notice this and sometimes be brave enough to mention something to their friend or family member. “Why do you let her talk to you like that?” is something that may be mentioned. Each person in a relationship needs to monitor how he or she feels towards their partner and to talk about any changes that occur over time. No relationship is perfect and no couple could possibly stay together for any significant period of time without having to deal with some major life challenges and stressors. It is how the couple pulls together (or not) during these times that will determine the longevity and success of their relationship.

3.      The Third Way of successful relationships lies in the actions we take. Not the words we say. I cannot say I love my children, yet pay no interest to their lives or their world or not even bother to teach them about life. Every parent has a responsibility to teach their children what they have learned to be true about the world and how to operate in it. Similarly, in romantic relationships, we cannot say we love our partner or spouse and then – through our actions or inactions – behave in a way that shows a lack of love. For example, the husband who is constantly saying sorry to his wife for being abusive and yet the abuse continues or the wife who tells her husband how much she loves him and yet constantly finds fault with everything he does. Love is action. Doing things for each other, not in protest but because we genuinely want to make our partner’s life a little easier. Little gestures – romantic or otherwise – tell the story of love much more than all the “I Love You’s” in the world.

4.      Real and meaningful communication is the Fourth Way. There are so many books written on communication. Not just for couples but in all walks of life. However, being able to communicate on the level that is required for romantic relationships to survive and thrive is a unique skill set in itself. A skill set that very few couples ever learn or cultivate or even seek out from a counsellor. Typically, it’s the men who don’t believe it is necessary to the survival of their relationship.  I had a woman come to see me recently whose husband had strayed and had a one night stand with a woman he knew through work. My client, being very understanding and mature of mind, tried to understand why this devastating situation had occurred. Whilst she did not take the blame and did not in any way condone his actions, she did understand that she had somehow played a part. That part was uncovered through counselling and involved her being sexually abused as a child and therefore having some major impacts on the quantity and quality of their sex life.  After two counselling sessions she agreed that she and her husband needed to lay absolutely everything on the table. It was now or never. And so, one Saturday afternoon they sat on their bed and spoke (in a way, she said they had probably never spoken in over 20 years of marriage) and the barriers came crumbling down. The conversation was deep and powerfully significant with them both sharing intimate thoughts, long-held resentments and deep personal issues. After 3 hours of this, they suddenly embraced and had the most intimate and gratifying sex they had ever had. And – she told me in a follow up session – they haven’t stopped since. This is the power of a real conversation.

5.      Standing together but far enough apart is the Fifth Way. Each person in a relationship MUST maintain their own identity and interests. Many couples become too co-dependent and rely on each other for everything whilst simultaneously blocking each other from maintaining their passions and interest in outside events, people and hobbies. When this persists over a long period of time, one or both people may start to resent their partner for holding them back from doing the things they used to love doing when they were single. Now, I am not talking about the man going to the pub every night and getting drunk whilst his wife stays at home watching the TV. I am talking about each person giving the other permission to pursue their interests, their talents and their passions in life. With this freedom to explore who we are and what we love within the circle of an intimate relationship, love and continue to blossom and grow. But when the circle becomes a prison, eventually someone is going to try to escape. As one of my favourite author’s and speakers – Esther Hicks – would day: Freedom is the ultimate desire and calling of the human spirit.

6.      The Sixth Way is Supporting Aspirations. This one is an unusual one in some ways and not something that most people would think would have a major impact on a relationship. However, understanding what your partner does for a living and supporting him or her in their career and other aspirations is something that brilliant couples intuitively understand and just do. This one rings a very personal bell for me as I know that this was a major issue for me in my marriage and relationship to my ex-wife of 10 years. Over the years we were together, I supported her in many ways to achieve her aspirations and career goals. I constantly looked for ways to improve both of our lives individually and together, professionally and financially, but I never got the support in return. Not just the support, the belief in me and what I was capable of. She would explain it away as my own issue and that I needed to “learn to encourage and support myself”. It just didn’t add up for me. And the resentment that it built inside me became larger and larger as the years went by. This related to my drive to take the risk of starting a human resources consultancy practice as well as starting a private practice in counselling. From a personal hobby point of view – I love music and singing. I always have since I was a child. It is a huge part of my self-expression, joy and inspiration in life.  My ex-wife, however, never supported me in this. And again, I was not expecting her to do anything other than take an interest and maybe encourage me a little here and there to actually do something with my singing. However, over 10 years of being together and 7 years of marriage, I cannot even count on one hand how many times she wanted to hear me sing or made a suggestion about my singing. And so, I let it fade. And yes I take full responsibility for letting it fade and allowing a part of myself that was so important to me to lie dormant for 10 years. However, what I know, not just from personal experience but from counselling countless of couples and from researching and understanding what makes people successful, is that nearly every successful man or woman has behind them someone who loves and believes in them. Someone who encourages and supports and actually cares about who their partner is and where it is they want to go in life. So, the Sixth Way is actually easy. Take an interest. Talk about your dreams and goals together. Find ways to support each other to become the best version of yourselves that you can be and your relationship will be one of fairy tales that people don’t seem to think exists these days.

7.      The 7th way is keeping Sex and Passion alive. No discussion on romantic relationships and what makes them mutually satisfying and lasting would be complete without a discussion on sex and intimacy. After all, if we don’t have that in our romantic relationships then what are we really? Just friends? Room-mates? Co-parents? People who live together and barely tolerate each other? I am often astounded when I hear clients say they haven’t had sex for a few months or even a few years! I understand completely that couples who have recently had a baby would struggle with this. Whilst it’s not a guarantee that having a baby will ruin your sex life, unless you put in the effort and remain conscious of keeping it alive, it is highly probable that there will be a major kink in your sex life in the first few months after having a baby. However, this is not a fait accompli. You can make the effort and put some thought into ensuring your sex life returns to normal as soon as possible. What is normal I hear you say? Ah, good question. Well, we don’t know really.

Regardless of this however, maintaining a healthy adult relationship entails maintaining a healthy sexual relationship as well. If one or both partners is not getting their needs met through the relationship they are going to seek it outside the relationship. Let me repeat that. They WILL seek it outside the relationship. When couples come to me for counselling and there is currently a lack of intimacy and sex in the relationship I always ask them to go back to when they first met and tell me WHY they got together in the first place. Then I ask them to tell me when it all changed. Invariably and dishearteningly, they say it all changed when the kids came along. Other reasons include fighting, financial pressures, lack of support, lack of romance, losing touch with each other through holding onto past resentments and a range of other issues. The point is not that it happens. It happens to all of us at some stage in a relationship. The point is: when we notice that the sex and intimacy are leaving the relationship, why do we just wave goodbye and close the door? It doesn’t have to be this way!

Another element that contributes to sex and intimacy falling further away and which is often not resolved effectively by couples is health and body image. Health and body image has its own category in my couples questionnaire and relationship report for that very reason. If we do not take care of our appearance, our bodies and our overall well-being and health, our sex life is going to suffer. Most partners will not tell you – for fear of massive retribution and pain of death – that they are starting to lose attraction for you. I am often amazed at women (and men in some cases) who will go through a huge amount of time and effort to lose weight and look good to either attract a mate or look good for their wedding and then when they have the person in their lives and are in the relationship or marriage they supposedly fought so hard for – just let themselves go! This could very well be one of the top three reasons people stray from their partners. Why is it okay to let ourselves go physically and to risk the loss of attraction of our partner but it’s not okay to talk about it and tell our partners: “I am starting to lose my attraction towards you”. So, the way of keeping sex and passion alive involves a number of things. Primarily, it involves being conscious and aware that one needs to spend a little time looking after ourselves and our appearance as much for our partner as we tend to do for approval of others. Sex and attraction require both a physical and a mental maintenance programme. We need to stimulate our partner’s attraction and desire for us both physically and mentally. Little gestures like a little squeeze here and there, a kiss on the neck, a touching word or text message, all go a long way to keeping things in the bedroom (and out the bedroom) spicy.

In conclusion, I would say that these things are not rocket science folks. I would also say as I so often have that relationships “shouldn’t be so hard” – and I still stand by that today. Overall, your relationship should feel easy, joyful and full of love and appreciation for each other. There will be obstacles and there will be cloudy days but those couples who follow the 7 ways to a successful relationship are going to find that there is always sun behind the clouds and the clouds don’t last for very long.

 

 

 

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Poker and the Spirit – Part One

Now this would seem to be an odd title for a blog by a psychologist and one might wonder, what on earth poker has to do with life lessons or wisdom of any kind. Let me begin by saying that one of my favourite authors in the field of psychology and self-help was M. Scott Peck who wrote the extraordinary book called “The Road Less Travelled”. If you haven’t yet read this classic, I highly recommend it.

Another book that M. Scott Peck wrote was a much lesser known book called “Golf and the Spirit”. It was a book that led the reader through a 9 hole golf course, with the actual layout of the courses created by M. Scott Peck and his son (who was a graphic designer). Each course provided a range of life lessons which M. Scott Peck described with his usual incredible wisdom. He obviously loved the game of golf and saw many parallels between his experiences playing the game and his work with people in his private practice as well as in his own life.

I have found very much the same thing happening to me when it comes to the game of Texas Hold’Em Poker (I will also refer to it as just Poker but I will always be referring to Texas Hold’Em as there are many other variations around today). This game has now become a major worldwide phenomenon. It is a game that finds young and old, male and female and every race, religion and nationality playing together and I would go so far as to say that it has become a worldwide sport. Some of this has been due to the incredible amounts of money people have won playing in events such as the World Series of Poker (WSOP)  and some of it is due to the way it is now shown on television with viewers being able to see the cards that the players have while the game is happening which makes for a much more exciting experience of watching the game unfold.

Matt Damon, John Malkovich, and Edward Norton starred in a movie called Rounders in 1998 which popularised the then little known variation of poker (Texas Hold’Em) which was about to take the world by storm. I did watch the movie around the time it came out but it wasn’t until 2008 that a friend of mine introduced me to the game and gave me a book to read about Poker strategy by Dan Harrington that opened up this incredible game to me and I have never looked back. Since that time I have played in hundreds of games. Home games with friends, pub games, poker league games including the APL (Australian Poker League) State Championships where I have played against a field of over 500 people to come 16th.  I have also honed my skills by playing hundreds of online games which recently saw me coming 4th in the 888 100K guaranteed weekly tournament out of a field of 650 players from all over the world. My fascination with Poker is as strong as my fascination about people and life and I guess you can see how these all come together and why I am writing a blog about it.

One of the first things I can imagine (or mind read) you are thinking right now is: Isn’t poker gambling? This is a question I have pondered very often and when I recently watched Rounders again I was amused to see that Matt Damon’s character tries to explain to his then fiancé the difference between the game of Texas Hold’Em Poker and gambling. I do not want to get into the whole debate as it is not of importance in this blog however I will just say one thing: If poker was truly gambling, how would it be possible for the same people to keep ending up towards the end of the major tournaments or for a range of them to consistently end up at the final table and winning money? There is only one reason and that is incredible amounts of skill. Some of the skills involved in this game are a combination of mathematical skill, emotional intelligence, perseverance, intellectual curiosity and the ability to take calculated risks. I personally have read over 15 books on Texas Hold’Em tournament strategy. What I didn’t see in these books however was the very obvious lessons that can and need to be learned in order to become a really good player in terms of psychology and indeed how these same lessons could then be applied to help you improve your life in general.

With that introduction,  I would now like to take you on a short journey into some of the aspects of playing the game and see if we can find some insights or correlations between playing the game of poker and playing the game of life.

You are unlikely to succeed in the game of poker or life without taking some risks

As I mentioned earlier, many people (including my ex-wife) believe that playing poker is gambling. And I might agree with that but only from the point of view that you are putting down some money and playing a game with the possibility of either losing that money or winning more money. And I will also concede that you generally cannot win without some luck. That is where the comparison ends.

My philosophy and belief about poker (and life) is that you will never get anywhere without taking some calculated risks. You take calculated risks every single day of your life. You know that when you walk out your front door there is a risk that you will get knocked down by a car, hit by lightning, mugged or any other manner of wonderful things that could happen to you. But, do you let these “risks” stop you from leaving your home each morning? Admittedly, depending on where you live of course, these risks may be very low and negligible, however there is still a risk.

Some people are very focused on “risks” and in psychological terms this can become what we refer to as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and as well as a range of other phobias. People with OCD and other phobias really struggle with pushing past these perceived risks. They may fear things like germs, being in wide open spaces or enclosed spaces, spiders, flying in an aeroplane, driving a car, public speaking or any other range of perceived “at risk” situations. Most of us, whilst we are aware on some level that these risks exist, do not allow them to stop us from living our lives.

In the game of poker, you may start out with a higher risk (luck) to skill ratio when you begin. I always say that when you first begin to play in order to win you would need 80% luck and 20% skill. However, as you learn more and more about the game, as you study the concepts involved and as your experience in playing the game against a range of different competitors increases, so does your skill to risk (luck) ratio. I believe that you can keep moving this ratio up and that you could possibly (if you were absolutely brilliant at the game) turn the ratio into 70% skill and 30% risk (luck).

Part of the reason I say this is different to gambling is that you are not playing against a casino or a machine, you are playing against other human beings. And other human beings can make mistakes! You may be dealt (in terms of luck) a really bad hand but your ability to read the situation around you and the people you are playing against allows you to force your competitor to “lay down” (meaning fold their cards) to a well-timed bluff by you. So here you have won the pot (the chips in the middle) without needing luck to help you do it. However, you have taken a calculated risk believing that if you bluff them in that moment they will fold their cards.

Cannot the same be said of life? If human beings never took any risks I believe the whole world as we know it would come to a grinding halt. No-one would every get married or have kids. No-one would ever start a business or invest in anything. No-one would ever try and create something. Thomas Edison took 10 000 risks before creating the light bulb. He “failed” 10 000 times but without his willingness to take risks and try we would all still be sitting in the dark – literally!

Sometimes you have to gamble and “bet” all you have on trying something new. For example, it could be leaving a job where you are being bullied or taken advantage of or it could be going to live in another country because the one you live in now is full of crime and corruption or it could be leaving your current partner because the relationship doesn’t serve you anymore.

What are the risks involved? In the first and third examples it’s that you won’t find another job or partner. In the second example the risk is that you will find it hard to assimilate and you will suffer setbacks due to having to start again from scratch in a new country.

So the question is: Do you take the risk or don’t you? “To be or not to be, that is the question” is the famous line that Hamlet asked. How do you make that decision? You certainly don’t know what the outcome will be…you don’t have a crystal ball do you? But what do you know right now for sure? Maybe it’s that you are unhappy. Maybe you are depressed. Maybe you don’t feel motivated in life or you just have this feeling that something isn’t right and something inside of you is urging you to take a risk and make a change but the only thing holding you back – the only thing holding any of us back is what?…. Fear of course. Fear that it won’t work out. Fear that you will lose everything you have. Maybe by that you mean your money, or your possessions, or your feeling of comfort and security. But as we continue to stay stuck where we are, we may start to investigate or at least contemplate our options. We would start to think about the pros and the cons,  weighing up the risks versus the rewards of taking action. Very much similar to what happens in every poker hand that you play. You have to assess the situation, use all the available information that you have as well as your own intuitive wisdom from your past experiences and then make a decision to take the risk or not. Your decision is a calculated one yes, but will it ever be a fool proof one or provide you with absolute certainty in terms of the outcome? No. However, people who succeed at Poker and in life in general are willing to take that chance because they know that the reward has the potential to outweigh the risk many times over and they also know how they will feel if they back themselves and win.

It was apparently Albert Einstein who said that in the Universe nothing happens until something moves. So, are you going to just sit there or are you going to move?

A chip and a chair

In Poker, there is a saying that most people who play the game are aware of and it is that you only need a chip and chair to win the game. I have been in that situation myself in a poker tournament on many occasions when I have taken a heavy loss and ended up with a very small amount of chips which – by all accounts – should have led to me being knocked out of the tournament. However, through sheer determination and taking a risk at the right time, I have come back to win the tournament. This would be something that most seasoned poker players would have experienced and hence why there is actually a saying about it.

I have often thought about this and loved the very real and clear connection it has to us in real life. I can certainly attest to this from my own personal life experience.

When life knocks us down and we get “a bad beat” – another Poker saying meaning when you do all the right things and someone ends up getting ridiculously lucky against you – we have two choices. Give up and throw the towel in and moan about how unfair it is or how unlucky we are or realise that as long as you are still in the game (alive) and you have the ability to think and act, you also have the opportunity to turn things around.

This reminds me of a book I read many years ago which speaks to this topic which was called “Tough times don’t last but tough people do!” by Dr. Robert Schuller. I think one of the most powerful attitudes to have in life is the attitude of never giving up. In that spirit, I would like to share with you one of my absolute favourite poems on the subject which I first came across at the age of 10 or 11 years old. It was a page in my homework diary that all kids were given at my school and it had a daily calendar and quotes of inspiration dotted throughout its pages. However, the poem called Don’t Quit was right at the front and I loved it so much that I cut out and pasted it into the very front of what later became my personal quote scrapbook. The poem was not attributed to an author, it just said “unknown’ but I eventually found out that it was written by Edgar A. Guest. Here it is:

DON’T QUIT

When Things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,
When the funds are low and debts are high,
And you want to Smile but have to sigh.
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest, if you must, but don’t you quit.

Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As everyone of us sometimes learns,
And many a failure turns about,
When he might have won had he stuck it out,
Don’t give up though the pace seems slow,
You might succeed with another blow.

Often the struggler has given up,
When he might captured the victor’s cup.
And he learned too late, when the night slipped down,
How close he was to the golden crown,

Success is failure turned inside out,
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems afar,
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit,
It’s when things seem worst that you mustn’t quit.

I still have that scrapbook of quotes today and at various times in my life when things have been particularly tough I would print out a copy of Don’t Quit and place it on my refrigerator or next to my mirror in the bathroom. I have never read this poem and not felt some relief, some peace of mind and also the resulting increase in motivation to take a breath and keep going.

Let me provide another example from my own life in terms of this attitude of not quitting. I practiced Tae Kwon Do for 7 years in South Africa from the age of 19. I had a coach who was like Mr. Miyagi from the movie Karate Kid but about ten times tougher on us. His name was Master Fabio Ghobadi and he was, at the age of 30 at that time, already a 5th Dan Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do.  He had also been the trainer of the French National Team. He had come from France to South Africa through a range of difficult and interesting life experiences and started a Tae Kwon Do school. He was very unorthodox and whilst he was a very caring and empathic human being, he was also a very hard task master and sometimes played favourites. There were many times that I thought of quitting Tae Kwon Do. Right at the beginning it was more from the tortuous physical training regimens we had to undertake. I’ll never forget my first lesson in the dojo where we had to run up and down, do push ups and sit ups as well as so many frog marches that I left the class, went outside into the parking lot, and threw up. My friend who had introduced me to the class came out and asked me if I was okay and I said “If I wanted to join the army I would have joined the army!” I wasn’t going to return but something inside me told me not to quit and so I did return for the next lesson and for the next 7 years. There were many times I wanted to quit throughout those years. Sometimes it was due to what I felt was the mistreatment and unfairness I received from Master Fabio but I knew that even though he always seemed to be delaying the achievement of my black belt, there was probably a method in his madness and I was continuing to improve anyway.

After 6 years, I did my black belt grading. It was a very proud moment however, very soon after that Master Fabio left the country and never sent my grading off to South Korea so that I could be officially listed as a Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do. After 6 years with him – and then carrying on teaching classes with another black belt for another year after that – I never received my official black belt or certificate. In 2004, I was told by one of the other black belts that Master Fabio had suddenly passed away from stomach cancer. I was deeply shocked to hear this and very saddened by his passing because even though I had struggled with some of his ways, he had been like a father figure to me for 6 years of my life and I had learned so much from him not only in terms of Tae Kwon Do but of his philosophy of life. What this meant was that I would not be able to get my official black belt. However, I continued to practice my Tae Kwon Do on my own when I emigrated to Australia and eventually, in 2008, I joined a Tae Kwon Do school near my work and had to regrade through each of the belts in order to prove I could do it and eventually after a year the Master of that school graded me to black and I finally received my official black belt certificate and designation from Korea. This was a very proud moment for me and as I think back to it now I can see that it indicated to me that not only was I was capable of achieving my goals but more importantly it showed me how very important it is to live by the philosophy of not quitting.

As I said, life can sometimes really throw you a curve ball and knock you off your feet. But, as Sylvester Stallone says to his son in Rocky Balbo – the final Rocky movie – “you, me or no one is going to hit harder than life, but it’s not how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward, how much you can take and keep moving forward…that’s how winning is done!”

And so, when you get knocked down by life or suffer a setback always remember: All you need is a chip and a chair and the determination to keep moving forward and you can make it back, you can change your life around and get back into the game and succeed.

In the next part I will talk about something called Going on Tilt or how detrimental it can be to allow emotion to control our thoughts and behaviours.

David Fox is a psychologist and author of the book Change your Life! Hope and Healing for Anxiety and Depression. He is currently working on his second book called The Top 10 Sayings that can Change your Life!

Get his first book by clicking on any of the links below.

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Birds of a Feather Flock Together


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Lesson 5: Birds of a Feather Flock Together

NOTE: This is the 5th and final FREE chapter from David’s upcoming book called “The Top 10 Sayings that can Change your life! – Life Lessons for teens and young adults”

To receive notification of when the final eBook with all 10 sayings/lessons becomes available please email me at david@foxpsychology.com.au. I hope you enjoyed the stories and welcome your feedback!

Angela

Angela swiped her access card and walked into the call center at exactly 7:55am and was at her desk and logged in by 7:59am and the day’s work began. She was now in her second month at her new job in a call center and was starting to enjoy her new environment and getting to know some her new colleagues.

At the age of 22, it hadn’t been an easy life and she had been through quite a few harrowing experiences including child abuse, experimenting with and struggling with illicit drugs as well as a few failed and abusive relationships. Some of these has been physical, some emotional – but either way it just seemed to her that life just didn’t want to give her a break or allow her to find a decent guy, who didn’t either end up constantly putting her down, cheating on her, or abusing her in some way.

She had also been struggling financially with some credit card debts and had done a few jobs as a waitress but had decided she wanted something more permanent and a career which could offer her some more financial stability and independence in her life. Her father had left her mother when she was very young and she did not know much about him or whether he was in fact living or not. At the moment she still lived at home with her mother and things between them weren’t going particularly well either. Either it was constant bickering or her mother would often moan and complain about her various physical ailments, how terrible her estranged sister was – Angela’s aunty who Angela was actually quite fond of – and in general how men could not be trusted and so she should be very wary of them. And, up to this point in time it did seem that her mother was indeed right – although Angela was aware in the back of her mind that she didn’t really want this to become her own belief system too about men.

Coming into work was generally something Angela looked forward to each day. She was learning new skills and she enjoyed the interaction with customers over the phone, even though she sometimes really struggled with the ones who would get really rude or abusive.

The call center that she worked at was a debt collection call center in the Western Suburbs of Sydney. This was not an easy environment to work in, and you needed to have the gift of thick skin to handle not only the customers but some of the staff and team leaders who worked there too. Typically, if an employee got rattled by a customer some of the more abrasive staff would mock them and Angela had seen that happen so many times that she would try and not show her emotions and would sometimes have to run off to the toilets to cry in solitude.

Aside from these difficult issues, Angela had started to make friends with some of the employees and they would on occasion go out together for a drink after work. She wanted to be popular and well liked and so she would often go out with some of the women and men who seemed to be very outgoing, exciting and who often seemed to win favour with the team leaders.

Invariably, after a typical night of excessive drinking, someone in the group would pull out some ecstasy or cocaine and pressure the others to have some.

Angela had been clean for the past year and it had taken her going into a drug rehabilitation center to get her back onto the path she was now trying to go down. However, the temptation was just too great – and wanting so much to fit in and be well liked – she would often give in. Needless to say, this started to affect her emotional well-being, her relationship with her mum deteriorated, and then her performance at work started to suffer too.

She found it harder and harder to handle the difficult customers. However, she was a very attractive woman and had caught the eye of one of the team leaders and he had been covering for her with management when she didn’t handle a call well or if she came late. Angela had become anxious and concerned as she moved closer to the end of her three month probation period as this was a crucial time for her because she could obviously lose the job if her performance or conduct was not satisfactory.

At the same time that Angela had started in the job, a new human resources manager had also taken up his new position overseeing the 100 or so employees at the call centre. Word had it that the previous HR Manager had left after only a few months because she couldn’t handle the culture in the company. The new HR Manager, Ray, had said hello to Angela and chatted briefly to her every now and then when they were in the office lunch area and he seemed to her to be a genuine and caring person.

One morning, after another long night out with her new circle of friends, Angela was late for work yet again and when she sat down at her desk at 8:30am, she was chastised by Brett – a team leader who she was not very familiar with. Brett took his role as a team leader seriously. He was known by others in the team as someone who was firm but fair and who would be willing to support you as long as you were open with him and put your best effort in.

Already feeling quite rough from the night before, with a headache and the stress brewing from her tardiness and then the dressing down by Brett, Angela was starting to feel quite anxious and emotional, and felt her confidence and insecurities began to unravel.

Thoughts started to rumble in her mind about how her life once again seemed to be moving in the exact opposite direction from the one she had intended herself to go down.

She had made such a firm commitment to herself after coming out of the drug rehabilitation clinic that she was going to turn her life around. Now, she started mentally beating herself up for being so weak and stupid. She couldn’t believe how quickly she had let herself go sliding down the old familiar pathway. As these thoughts began to swarm around inside her mind, she found it almost impossible to focus on her work or concentrate on what she had to say to the clients.

When an angry customer call came in at 10:30, she simply couldn’t handle it anymore. Angela cut the angry customer off mid-sentence, put her head-set down and ran off in the direction of the ladies toilets, barely able to hold back the river of tears.

Brett, immediately noticed her running off and went over to an older female team leader named Tahnee and asked if she wouldn’t mind going to have a check on Angela. Tahnee gave it a few minutes and then went into the toilets. She could see one stall door closed and could hear muffled sobs coming from the cubicle.

“Angela? Are you okay?” she asked.

“Yes, I’m… fine… thanks. I will be out in a second”, said Angela trying as hard as she could to sound confident but not doing a very good job of it.

“It’s okay if you’re upset about something honey, you don’t have to hide in the cubicle. Come on out”, Tahnee said, hoping Angela would hear that she was being sincere and trust her enough to come out.

Angela decided it didn’t matter now, if she was going to get fired then too bad. That’s just the way her fate-filled life always seemed go, no matter what she did. She wiped her blotchy eyes with some toilet paper, stood up and slowly exited the cubicle.

Tahnee could see immediately the sadness and fear in Angela’s eyes as she opened the door and stepped into the main area of the toilets.

“What’s going on honey? Brett and I are concerned about you” she said.

“It’s nothing. Just something going on at home that has put me off today”, she Angela.

“We all have things that affect us that we bring with to work sometimes. We’re only human. Brett and I have noticed that you started off so well and seemed to be enjoying it here but then something changed and you have been coming in late a few times and also running off to the toilets every now and then” said Tahnee.

Angela recognised the genuineness of the look of concern on Tahnee’s face and made a snap decision that she would trust her.

Tears again welled up in her eyes and she told her a bit about what had been going on. She didn’t say anything about the drugs but told her of the late nights drinking, trying to fit in and struggling with the myriad of rude customers.

When she was finished, Tahnee gave her a quick hug and advised her to take the rest of the day off but that she must first ensure that she made an appointment to speak to Ray, the HR Manager.

Tahnee explained that she had had a few discussions with Ray since he started and was very impressed with his way of handling people and situations. She also felt he would be a good source of support for Angela.

Still feeling embarrassed, Angela said “If it’s okay with you I will try and stay at least until lunch time. I don’t want the team thinking there is something wrong and then we can say that I had to go home because I wasn’t feeling well?”

“That’s fine. I will let Brett know. But just pop past Ray’s office. I am sure he was free when I walked past earlier” said Tahnee and she turned and went out of the toilets.

Angela felt quite relieved and surprised at the response she had gotten. She was really thinking that she was going to lose her job and was still very worried that this would be the case given her recent drop in performance and now admitting to Tahnee that she had been going out drinking with the others quite often.

Angela went out of the toilets and walked straight to Ray’s office.

Ray was focused on his computer screen when Angela walked into the office. The office had a bookshelf filled with human resource and psychology books and an L-shaped desk with two chairs in front of it.

“Hi Ray. Tahnee suggested I come and talk to you. Can I chat to you for a minute… or make a time to come and see you?” she said.

Ray noticed her demeanor and immediately got up and motioned her to sit down as he closed the office door. “Of course Angela, that’s what I’m here for. Have a seat”.

“Thank you” said Angela and sat down in one of the chairs while Ray went back around and sat in his chair.

“What’s happening?” asked Ray.

Angela hesitated for a moment, looking down at her hands and twisting the tissue she had been holding around and around. “I am struggling with a few things at the moment and I’m worried about passing probation. Some things have been happening and I’m not sure how to handle them or change them” she said.

“Well, why don’t we talk about it? I will keep everything confidential and between us unless there is something illegal happening at work in which case I have a responsibility to take action. Is that ok?” he asked.

“Yes, that’s fine. It’s more personal and outside of work, but as I said it’s impacting on my emotional state and my performance” she said.

Angela’s eyes happened to look behind Ray for a moment to some of the certificates on his wall and she saw that one showed he had a degree in psychology. She immediately started to worry about how much to say.

Ray noticed where her eyes had gone and smiled, “Don’t worry I’m not going to psycho-analyse you or ask you to lie down on my couch. As you can see, I don’t even have a couch”.

Angela smiled for the first time that day. She relaxed a little more and again decided she would trust that talking about what was happening would be better than trying to pretend everything was alright.

“Well, things haven’t been easy for me in my life so far. I’ve been through a few things and the last few years I have been trying my best to straighten things out and get my life back on track. Getting this job was a huge step in the right direction for me and I was so excited when I got the offer. I  don’t have a lot of friends and so I also liked the idea of making friends with some of the others here and I did and started to join them socially when they would go for drinks after work. I have been trying to avoid alcohol and to exercise and stay healthy and fit but it all seems to be unravelling now. This has impacted on me at work. I’ve come late a few times and my performance hasn’t been what I know I’m capable of plus I have been struggling with some of the clients when they react badly” she said. She couldn’t bring herself to mention anything about the drugs at this stage.

“Well, firstly let me just say that this isn’t an easy work environment Angela. So number one, don’t be too hard on yourself. It takes quite a thick skin to not be affected by how some of the customers can react to the work we do. We do suffer from high turnover rates in the call center, it’s something that I was asked to address as part of my role here. Second, this is new for you and it will take time for you to get the hang of how to deal with these situations. We can definitely look into getting you onto a course on how to deal with difficult customers if you’re interested?” he asked.

“Thanks, that would help” said Angela.

“Okay I will speak to your team leader about it. So, what do you feel might be the best thing to help start turning things around for you, especially in terms of this group of employees you are spending time with after work?” asked Ray.

“I don’t know Ray, I want to make this work but I also want people here to like me and I have enjoyed being social again after withdrawing from people for a while” said Angela.

“Well, I get that. But here’s the thing; birds of a feather flock together and sometimes we need to take a closer look at the people that we are spending time with and think more carefully about whether they are the right sort of people we want to associate with. Does that make sense?” said Ray.

“Yes, it does. But I always seem to gravitate to people who aren’t good for me somehow. Even when I am trying to change my life, it seems these people keep showing up who at first seem right and then I end up in a bad situation” she said, looking a bit defeated.

“Well, I know this may sound weird but you know this is a very common occurrence that we keep attracting the same kinds of people into our lives because maybe we haven’t learnt a lesson from before about who we are and what we really want and deserve. Sometimes it is because we have some belief that we can only attract certain kinds of people into our lives” said Ray, wondering if Angela was now thinking he was the one who should be analysed.

“I guess I have heard stories about women who keep leaving one abusive relationship and think they have found someone different but that person ends up being abusive too. Or people attracting partners with similar character traits”, said Angela. She had read a bit about these kinds of cycles after having gone through her previous relationships.

“Exactly. So it becomes really important as we go through life and start to understand more about ourselves and who and what we seem to be attracting that we think and believe about ourselves is a big part of who and what keeps showing up.

“In some way, we are attracting or even just allowing those kinds of people into our lives. Sometimes, we think we have figured it out and then someone shows up and we start to see, or mostly refuse to see, the same issues we had with someone else before. But we still allow those people to be in our lives or for a relationship or friendship to develop with them. And somewhere down the track we realize we are right back where we started or we are living the same relationship over again” said Ray.

Ray continued watching Angela closely – he suspected there was more to her story and it was not merely friendships she was concerned with, but potentially impacts from a negative or abusive relationship from the past. Angela continued to listen intently to what he was saying and he could see she was relating it to her own experience.

“So are you saying I need to end the friendships with the group that goes out drinking?” she asked.

“Well, I’m not saying you have to do anything. I am saying that you need to think about the kinds of people who may be good for you and who can support you on the new path you say you want to go down and also the kinds of people who are likely to be the opposite of that. I’m not saying you have to just cut them off, you could still be friendly to them at work but maybe not go out with them too often. Cut back on it and start to look around and see if there may be others in the call center you can start to build friendships with” said Ray.

“Yeah, I guess you’re right. It’s going to be hard though and some of them might start to avoid me or treat me differently” said Angela, thinking about the team leader who liked her and had been covering for her.

“I know it won’t be easy but you have support here too. You have Brett and Tahnee and you have me too. I have the feeling this might apply not just to your work but other parts of your life too. So maybe it’s a good lesson to learn now that will stand you in good stead for the future. Especially in terms of your work and career” said Ray.

“Yes, but I don’t want to feel uncomfortable at work. What if they say something to me or do something to me?” she asked.

Ray considered her question for a moment.

“You know, we all want to be liked – well most of us anyway. Most people want to be accepted and liked and this is why high school can be such a difficult time for so many people. Trying to find out exactly who you are, going through changes and moving from your youth through your childhood to an independent adult is challenging. Throw in trying to deal with peer pressure and fitting in and you have a recipe for disaster for many people’s self-esteem and ability to be individuals” said Ray.

Ray continued, “Seems to me that once people leave high school and go on to other environments they come into their own and feel much more able to just be who they are. University or College is usually a good place for that. But sometimes, people go into work environments and the same dynamics play out. You can’t avoid the dynamics of human interactions in groups. Hierarchies, politics, who is seen as “popular”, unfortunately this does still happen in the workplace. But you don’t have to conform to this Angela. There was a famous psychologist named Abraham Maslow who studied people who were seen to be very successful in their chosen fields. He called these people ‘self actualisers’ and said that those people who self-actualise in life – in other words they become the full potential of who they can be – are mostly people who are ‘independent of the good opinion of other people’. Notice he said, the good opinion of other people because they don’t even care if people think they are good or right in what they are doing and they certainly don’t care if people think negatively about them. This is not an easy thing to achieve but you can see examples of these types of people all over. Steve Jobs was one of them” said Ray with a smile, lifting up his iPhone.

Angela was absorbing all that Ray had been saying to her and felt a lot better about herself and the relief now showed in her face. She could see how she had fallen into the trap of wanting others to approve of her and how that had often just led to frustration, heartbreak or worse. She also realised that if it’s true that birds of a feather flock together then she should probably think more carefully about what kind of bird she was or wanted to be.

“Thanks Ray. I really appreciate your help. Going to try my best to think about what you have said and start implementing it more in my life” she said.

“You’re welcome Angela. I’m here if you need moral support while you make these changes. You have potential and talent. Brett and Tahnee have both said this to me” he said.

Angela looked quite surprised and she smiled. “That’s really nice to hear, thanks again. And thanks for not judging or analysing me Ray – God knows I’ve had enough of that in my life”.

“Like I said, no couch to lie on here and besides if there was I may end up on it myself and you may have to counsel me so best I stick to a desk and chairs”.

Angela smiled and walked out of the office with a feeling of hope that maybe, just maybe, things could finally start to work out for her.

 

David Fox is a psychologist and the author of Change your Life! Hope and Healing for Anxiety and Depression.

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Lesson 4: Where there is smoke there is (usually) fire. 

Twenty year old Sheri Dyer walked into her apartment sobbing. She threw down her back pack and ran into her bedroom, slamming the door closed.

Layla, her older sister by 5 years, looked up from the book she was reading in the lounge with surprise. Sheri and Layla had always been close and had been living together in an apartment while they did their studies in Sydney’s eastern suburbs so that they would be closer to the university they both went to. Layla was finishing her degree in veterinary science and Sheri was studying sociology and psychology.

Layla put her book down and went to see what may have gotten Sheri so upset. She wondered if it was one of the results of the exams she had recently taken. She knocked on Sheri’s door gently.

“Sheri, are you okay? Can I come in?” she asked, hearing the muffled sounds of Sheri crying.

“Yes” came the almost inaudible reply from inside.

Layla opened the door and stepped into Sheri’s room which was a bright and sunny east facing bedroom. Sheri’s study desk was on the right-hand side of the room with some of her books and trinkets lying on it and in front of it she had a white board with various pictures, sayings and timetables attached with colourful magnets. Layla noticed that some of the photos had been taken off the whiteboard and lay torn up on the desk. She started to realise what may have caused Sheri to be so upset.

“Is it Gary? Did something happen?” she said as she sat down on the bed next to Sheri. Sheri was lying on the bed weeping into her pillow face down. She was wearing her gym outfit as she usually went for a gym workout after her lectures at the university gym. Her auburn hair was tied up in a ponytail.

“Yes”, came the muffled reply.

Layla sat there, rubbing Sheri on the back to comfort her. “Tell me what happened. Do you want a cup of tea or something and then we can talk about it?”. Sheri and Layla’s grandmother would always offer cups of tea in times of distress to anyone. This had now become their own little tradition that Sheri and Layla had continued since living on their own together and seemed to always lighten the load a bit.

Again a muffled, “Yes”.

“Okay, I’m going to make us some tea but I will need you to remove yourself from that cushion so I can actually hear what you say and not have to interpret it through your Emoji pillow”, said Layla, trying to lighten the mood a bit. Sheri had recently bought the Emoji pillow with the smiley face and tears of laughter coming out of its eyes which she was currently sobbing into. Layla had a quick thought of that being somewhat ironic as she went to make two cups of tea.

When Layla came back into the room five minutes later with the two cups of tea, Sheri was sitting up on her bed cross legged with the Emoji pillow on her lap. She was blowing her nose with a tissue.

Layla set Sheri’s cup of tea next to her on the bedside table and then sat down next to her blowing into her own tea to cool it down.

“Okay girl, give it up. What’s happened between you two?” Layla asked.
Sheri threw the tissue into the wastepaper basket next to the bed and grabbed a few more tissues from her bedside table. “He’s cheated on me”, Sheri said and broke into tears again.

“Oh no sweetie, that’s terrible.” said Layla and put her own cup of tea down on the side table so that she could give Sheri a hug. Sheri cried for a little while longer and then pulled away to blow her nose and wipe her eyes again.

“I saw some messages on his phone today while we were having a drink at the juice bar next to the gym. He had gone back into the gym to ask some questions about putting a hold on his membership and left his phone behind. While I was sitting there his phone beeped and I saw a message from a girl I haven’t seen before on his Facebook messenger. I didn’t want to pry or invade his privacy but the message was right there in my face, so I clicked on it and then I saw the whole history. She’s someone from his philosophy class. They have been chatting for the past two months and it’s clear that something is going on between them. Some of the messages are very explicit” Sheri said.

“I’m so sorry”, said Layla. She wondered whether this may not come as a complete surprise to Sheri based on some of the things Sheri had been telling Layla she had noticed about Gary all along since they first met about six months ago.

“I’m such an idiot,” said Sheri, throwing the tissues she had in her hand forcefully into the bin. “Why did I believe him when he said that he wasn’t interested in someone else? I told you three months ago I had noticed changes in his behaviour and that I had a feeling something was up. Why didn’t I listen to my own intuition?” Sheri said in frustration.

“You’re not an idiot! Do you know how many people do exactly the same thing as you? Do you know how many couples get into a relationship for the wrong reasons and ignore their intuition? We all know the saying where there is smoke there is fire Sheri, but we choose not to notice those signs or if we do notice them we rationalize them away. We all do it sweetheart so I don’t want to hear you say that you’re an idiot or any other self-blaming label okay? This has everything to do with who he is and nothing to do with you, okay?” Layla said.

Sheri picked up her cup of tea – a South African herbal tea called Rooibos – and took a sip of it. It did seem to calm her down a little. She took another sip and then held it in her hands on top of the smiling Emoji pillow.

“Yes, where there is smoke there is usually fire, so why didn’t I pick it up earlier? Why did I stay in the relationship when I felt so insecure so much of the time? He was always looking at other women when we were together and when I would confront him about it he would just make excuses or say that everyone looks at the opposite sex. I know we all do but he was clearly doing more than just noticing, he was fixating on some of them and his head would literally turn sometimes while I was with him. I mean it’s one thing to do that when I’m not around but with me right there! And I ignored it so much of the time, telling myself it was normal and that maybe I was overreacting to it. Even my counsellor was trying to help me work through the thoughts and make sure I wasn’t just reading into everything”, said Sheri.

“I know. But you cannot blame yourself. If you take responsibility for the behaviours of others or what happens outside of your own control then you are doing something called personalising. Have you covered that in your psych classes yet?” asked Layla. She had come across something called “the ten distortions of thinking” in her elective study of psychology as part of her degree and had found the use of cognitive behaviour therapy concepts to be very helpful in her life. She had been practicing the use of CBT ever since.

“No, we haven’t come to that yet”, said Sheri.

“Well, personalising just means that sometimes we take on too much personal responsibility for things that we did not have any actual personal control over. You couldn’t control his thought processes or how he chose to behave. Yes, you could bring to his attention what you didn’t like about his behaviour and ask him to not look at those other women the way he did but that’s all you could have done, aside from breaking it off with him”, Layla said.

“There were other signs as well,” said Sheri, thinking about a few other instances where she had noticed something about what Gary had said or done that she had felt was out of place or just struck a chord of discomfort in her.

“What other signs?” Layla asked. She had known about some of the issues Sheri had raised but there were clearly more she hadn’t mentioned.

“Well, he would sometimes do things that I felt uneasy about. He would walk out of a store sometimes holding something that he forgot to pay for and when I said we should go back he would laugh and say that it doesn’t matter and that it happened to stores every day. I always felt uneasy about that and always tried to get him to go back but he would just look at me like I was mad”, said Sheri.

“Wow, okay you never told me that one. Definitely a bit worrying in terms of his moral compass for sure”, said Layla looking quite surprised at this new revelation. She had spent some time with Sheri and Gary together over the past few months and had also had a strange feeling about him that she just couldn’t put her finger on. She also hadn’t wanted to alarm Sheri unnecessarily and felt that it was best for Sheri to make her own decisions and come to her if she wanted to talk about anything that was bothering her. They had always promised to be there for each other and this was no different.

“You knew that I shouldn’t have stayed with him didn’t you?” said Sheri as more of a statement than a question.

“Well, no that’s not true. I didn’t know anything for sure and you are the only one who is living your own life and who knows how you feel about what is going on in a relationship. Of course, others might be able to see things more objectively but not always. Family and friends will usually back you up anyway in what your own thinking is. That’s why I suggested you go see the counsellor a few months ago so that you could hopefully get a clearer and more objective view from someone who is not involved emotionally in your life”, Layla said. She finished her tea and then set it down on the bedside table.
Sheri looked down at her own tea which she had hardly drank but she was enjoying the warmth of the cup in her hands.

“Why didn’t I listen to my own intuition? I noticed these behaviours, I even saw how often he commented on other girl’s Facebook posts and how we would often comment that they looked nice and I would get upset about that and tell him. He would tell me I was just overreacting. Yeah, right! I just want to punch him in the face!” she said, picking the Emoji pillow up and punching it.

“Don’t take it out on poor Emoji! He didn’t do anything wrong,” said Layla with a smile. “Actually on second thought, maybe punching a pillow is not a bad thing, get that anger out a bit”.

Sheri laughed a little at this. “Yeh, maybe I need to enrol in the boxing class at the gym for a few weeks” she said.

“Not a bad idea, and if he happens to be at the gym he would see you in there and probably realise if he knew what’s good for him he should not be around when you come out of that class!” said Layla.

“Yes!” said Sheri with a look of defiance and glee in her eyes.

“Well, anger is certainly a more powerful emotion than despair so feeling that is okay. Just don’t stay in anger too long gorgeous because in the end it will be you who continues to feel the pain and suffer the consequences of maintaining your anger and not him”.

“What do you mean? I need to hold onto this anger! I can’t just let him get away with it and be all Zen about it like nothing happened!” said Sheri.

“Well, think about it. What good does anger do you? Will it solve anything for you? Will it make the relationship repair itself or make Gary a better person if you take out your anger on him? Most importantly, will it make you feel good about yourself?” Layla asked.

“I guess not,” said Sheri, contemplating what her sister was saying to her, “but I still prefer feeling angry at him for now. What he did was wrong”.

“I’m not saying what he did wasn’t wrong. I’m not condoning his behaviour but I’m trying to get you to a place of acceptance of what has happened and also to a place of learning.” said Layla.

Layla had been through two significant relationships in her life and had done a lot of reading around the subject as well. She was fascinated by the way people came together, what attracted them to each other and what made for significant and long lasting relationships. Having seen how some relationships seemed to be full of conflict and how some people seemed to stay together regardless of how bad the relationship seemed for them, she wanted to make sure that she never made that same mistake. She had decided she would never settle for anything less than a relationship she felt was perfect for her. She wasn’t looking for a perfect person, just someone who was perfect for her.

“What do you mean learning?” asked Sheri.

“Well, I mean it has taken me a long time to work through some of this stuff about relationships and like I said earlier I have come to really understand what it means – in terms of relationships – that where there is smoke there is usually fire. I say usually because it’s not always the case and we need to monitor our own issues and triggers to make sure we are not overreacting to things. But, I also know that when we start to notice things about someone we are dating or looking at getting into a relationship with and we start to try and minimize those things or rationalize them away, then we may be getting ourselves into trouble. Remember when I was dating Justin and we kept butting heads and fighting about so many different issues?” asked Layla.

“Yeah, I remember.” said Sheri.

“Well, I kept telling myself that we were just two very strong personalities and that the attraction we had for each other was more important. I hadn’t felt that kind of attraction before with a guy and although we clashed and fought nearly every other day, I rationalized it away and said that we would eventually iron out all our differences and see eye to eye. I thought that if we could just do that, then it would be the perfect relationship. Not that I think any relationship is perfect but I really thought he would change. I also thought I would be able to change myself and adapt myself to him so that we could be the perfect couple. But, as you know, it just didn’t work out that way. He wanted what he wanted and was not really willing to adapt his behaviours. He said he wanted to and at times he seemed to get it right and change his behaviours but in the end he always reverted back. And you know what, for the most part so did I. After we broke up I had to come to the acceptance that what we wanted in a relationship and who we were as people just didn’t match. I have also had to learn that I need to pay more attention to my warning signals earlier into dating someone and not try to squash them down or ignore them because every time I do that it doesn’t seem to go well” said Layla.

“Yes, I guess I can now definitely relate to that one. It’s so hard isn’t it? It makes me wonder why we do that so often in life as human beings” Sheri remarked.

“Well, we are certainly complicated creatures! Our ability to think rationally can so often conflict with what we feel emotionally and even spiritually at times. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to know which part of ourselves we need to listen to. But, little sis, one more thing I can say I am starting to understand is that our emotions are our greatest guidance system. I guess people who are struggling with anxiety or depression may need to realise their emotional system may be completely off and should not believe what they are feeling is reality. However, if we are doing well emotionally and we sense something in our emotional reaction to a situation, a thought or a person – we should listen more intently. If what we really feel is good then we can act on our good feeling with trust. If what we feel is discomfort, fear or frustration – we should probably think more carefully about what it is we are truly feeling so uncomfortable about and then do something about it.”

“I guess I learned my lesson!” said Sheri.

“You may have a few more goes at it before it’s truly learned, it’s certainly not an overnight skill you can magically develop. But then again, what important skill is?” said Layla.

“Thanks sis. You know, for a 25 year old Loskop (Afrikaans slang for someone who is a bit ditsy), you’re pretty wise”.
Layla stood up, smiled as she went to leave the room and said in the best imitation voice she could, “Much to learn you have, little Jedi”.
Sheri smiled and threw the Emoji pillow at her. “Whatever, Yoda”.

David Fox is a psychologist and the author of Change your Life! Hope and Healing for Anxiety and Depression.

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The eBook on ibooks

The eBook on Kindle

The softcover book on Book Depository (free world wide delivery)

The softcover Book on Amazon