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Hope and Healing for Anxiety and Depression


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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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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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