Fox Psychology

Hope and Healing for Anxiety and Depression


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Lesson 8 – The Sun is Always Shining behind the Clouds 

Jerry walked into the MacDonald’s, went to the counter and ordered himself a big mac meal with a large bottle of Coke Zero. He waited while his food was being prepared and looked around at the other customers coming and going. There were some mothers with their little ones jumping up and down with excitement asking for a Happy Meal because (as he knew all too well) they wanted the toy more than the meal. He thought, so clever those buggers in the marketing department at MacDonald’s. He had read somewhere that their marketing strategy for decades had been called “from the cradle to the grave” and he could see how it was working like a charm. With his own children though both he and his now estranged wife at least agreed on something and that was to avoid junk food as much as possible even though they still allowed it as a treat on occasion.

Jerry had recently turned 27 and was feeling very frustrated with where life had taken him so far. He had tried to get into studying after high school and had enrolled in a college course in electronics but had found that he just couldn’t make sense of all the diagrams and mathematics needed to pass the course. He knew he was intelligent and had enjoyed maths at school (much to the surprise of both his parents and his friends), but when it came to the college course and studying electricity, he just wasn’t getting it or just not inspired enough to really focus himself into succeeding. This had all occurred between the ages of 19 and 21. After that, Jerry had drifted into doing some construction work and had enjoyed the physical aspect of it and it was then that he had met his wife – April.

They met at a barbeque one evening at a mutual friend’s house and starting talking about some of their favourite movies and found that they had many similarities. The chemistry was certainly there and so they agreed to exchange numbers and went on their first date which was remarkable because he had never felt so at ease talking to a woman and they ended up talking on a bench overlooking the sea until 1am in the morning. He felt his excitement growing as each date passed and was somewhat concerned about whether she felt the same as he did and he didn’t want to open up too quickly because he had been hurt in the past. However, after a few dates he decided to tell her how he felt and to his amazement she said she felt the same. His heart exploded with joy. They continued to date for another few months and then moved in together. After another year, which was mixed with a few up and down experiences, he proposed and they were married soon after. A number of his friends and family had asked him, “aren’t you a bit young to be getting married?”, but Jerry knew how he felt about April. He knew she was the one he wanted to be with for the rest of his life.

Today, as he sat eating his MacDonald’s meal, thinking how he should be following his own advice to his children but not really caring at the moment, he found himself in a state of misery and frustration. Over the past few months, things between himself and April had been quickly sliding down a slippery slope towards marriage failure. He couldn’t quite believe that she was the same person that he had met and in addition, he didn’t recognise the person he had become when they were having an argument. Jerry really didn’t like conflict and did as much as he could to do the right thing by April but it just seemed to him that nothing he ever did was quite good enough.

As their arguments became more frequent, the negative feelings became more intense and it seemed to Jerry that every minor incident now seemed to flare up in way that got out of proportion very quickly.

In addition to this, Jerry was being bullied at work by a few of the bricklayers on the construction site. He was not the tallest or strongest man around although he was very lean and muscular. However, Jerry was never one to engage in silly childish arguments like it was a school playground and he had been using his intellect and wit to try to avert the behaviour of the bullies and he had had some success but things just seemed to getting worse.

Financially, Jerry and April were not in the best position either. His wages weren’t that bad, and she worked as a nurse doing rotating shifts but together they were still struggling to make ends meet. This additional pressure was not helping their relationship and neither was the fact that they often worked different hours and so did not seem to spend much quality time together. These days, when they did have time off at the same time they would invariably end up in an argument. It had gotten to the point where Jerry was starting to feel very depressed about his situation and was struggling at times to get up and go to work. He had even had some ideas of just ending it all and that had scared the living daylights out of him as he had never contemplated such a thing in his life before.

Jerry stirred when he heard some teenagers laughing while they ate their meals at a nearby table and felt irritation flowing through his mind and body. They have no respect for the people around them he thought. He was dimly aware however that teenagers having fun and making a noise at a fast food outlet would never have bothered him in the past and he started to wonder if he was losing his mind altogether.

He picked up the remains of his meal, which he had hardly eaten, and threw them in the bin on his way back to his truck in the parking lot. He had never had problems with appetite before but he was not feeling much like eating lately and had realised that he had begun to lose weight and he wasn’t even exercising at the gym anymore.

As he got into his car to head back to the construction site, Jerry realised that he felt very alone. While he did have a circle of family and friends around him, when the issues had begun with April as well as the bullying at work, he had found himself withdrawing further and further from any social outings or offers by his friends to spend time together. Usually, he would have jumped at the opportunity to head to the golf range and hit a bucket of balls or to play soccer with his friends in the park after work. But lately he had just been going home, having a few beers and drifting off to sleep in front of the television. Sometimes he woke up at 2 or 3am and went to bed to find April turned over and sleeping away from his side of the bed. Realising that she didn’t bother to wake him or to try and engage him in conversation just made him feel worse. His friends had slowly stopped asking him and this made him feel even more isolated.

Jerry arrived back at the construction site, parked his car a block or two away and grabbed his hard hat and bright orange vest. He walked into the site having some images running through his mind of what it would be like if he was accidently crushed by one of the massive concrete slabs that were being hoisted above him by the huge cranes in the middle of the building site. He shook the thought off and headed to the lunch room or “mess hall” as his fellow workmates liked to call it. He wanted to grab a quick cup of coffee before heading back up to continue the installation of piping in the men’s toilets on the 7th level of the building.

When he walked into the lunch room he noticed one of his supervisors, Ed, standing making himself a cup of coffee at the counter. He tried his best to compose himself and headed over to the counter.

“Jerry, how’s it going mate?” asked Ed routinely.

Jerry didn’t know how to respond or what his voice was going to sound like but he just responded with, “Yeh, I’m ok thanks” as he grabbed a mug out of the cupboard, saw how dirty and disgusting it was and put it back and grabbed another one, hoping this one wouldn’t look like it was likely to give him a major case of gastro. He generally avoided having coffee in the lunch room for that very reason and he was not a big fan of instant coffee either but he just felt he needed more time to gather himself before heading up to work. He was also aware that he was going to have to walk past the bricklayers who had been calling him names and giving him grief over the past few months. He was worried that today he may actually snap and do something he would regret if they asked him one more time where Tom was and whether he was tired of the mean old cat chasing him around.

Jerry found a mug that looked relatively unlikely to cause major vomiting and made himself a cup of coffee with two spoons of coffee and two spoons of sugar. He felt like he needed a pick me up to feel better, even though he was aware that caffeine can make you feel more anxious.

Ed was watching him carefully out of the corner of his eye and when Jerry went to sit down at a bench on his own, Ed walked over to him and asked if he could sit down.

“Sure”, said Jerry, getting a little worried that he would have to engage in a conversation when that was the last thing he wanted to do right now.

“It’s been really hot these last few days, hasn’t it?” asked Ed.

Jerry looked up briefly and said, “Yeh I know, hasn’t been fun out there”.

Ed was a man in his mid-forties who had been working with the company for over ten years. He had been promoted to supervisor a few years before and although he could be really stern with the workers on site, he was also known for his ability to engage with staff at all levels. In addition, he had a strong interest in mental well-being at work and had requested training in how to support workers who were struggling as he had seen too many young men trying to self-medicate their problems away with alcohol and things generally ending up badly for them at home and at work.

Ed had been noticing that Jerry’s behaviours had changed over the past few weeks. He would usually walk around with a smile and was always ready with a joke or two. He enjoyed the banter with some of the other workers on site and was generally well liked. He generally prided himself on his appearance and would be clean shaven and yet Ed had noticed that there were quite a few occasions where his beard was starting to show and he looked like he hadn’t slept much. He was also one of the more reliable workers that Ed had worked with but Ed had noticed that Jerry had come to work late a few times in the past few weeks and was often trying to avoid talking to anyone, especially a senior.

“Mate, do you mind if we talk openly for a minute?” Ed asked.

“Um…yeh. Is everything alright? Hope I didn’t make a mistake with that piping this morning” said Jerry looking quite concerned as to why Ed was wanting to talk to him.

“No, the piping is fine. It’s just that I’ve noticed some changes in your behaviour lately. You don’t seem to be yourself mate. I’m just concerned that’s all”, Ed said. He had ensured that there was nobody within earshot who may overhear their conversation.

“I’m fine. Why wouldn’t I be?”, Jerry attempted to be relaxed and composed but something in Ed’s expression made him feel that he wasn’t going to be able to hold onto the façade for much longer.

“Well, Jerry. I can tell you that I’ve been in this business a long time. I’ve seen how tough it can be on a young fellow, especially a married one with little ones like yourself. Sometimes, things can get overwhelming and we don’t know where to turn and in our environment, it can be even harder, can’t it? Because everyone here has got all their stuff together, right? Nobody here feels any emotions? That stuff is for weaklings. We’re all tough strong construction workers, we do it tough and we don’t complain. And if we do then we are weak right?”, Ed said.

Jerry was taken by surprise to hear Ed speak about emotions so openly and to acknowledge the exact thing that he – Jerry – had been concerned about. Others finding out and thinking there was something wrong with him and that he was weak. He wasn’t sure how to respond and so he just shrugged his shoulders and looked down at his coffee which he could feel had started to get cold.

“Look, Jerry. I know something is bugging you. You can’t deny it. You’ve been coming to work late and that’s not like you at all. You’ve stopped joining in for anything social at work and I’ve noticed you’re just staying in the background and that just isn’t you. I’m not saying you need to spill the beans to me right here and now and you certainly don’t need to tell me but I want you to tell someone. You know we have an employee assistance counselling service that is free and offers you six hours of counselling over the phone or face to face?” Ed asked, as he pulled a card out of his top pocket and it handed it to Jerry.

Jerry took the card as a tear started to roll down his cheek.

“It’s ok mate. We all go through rough times. We’re all human beings and anyone who pretends that they are just sailing through life with no downs and only ups are either lying or the luckiest bastards in the world”, Ed said with an encouraging smile.

Despite himself and even how he was feeling at that moment, Jerry found himself utter a brief laugh and immediately started to feel a little better when he realised that Ed was not judging him and was only showing genuine concern.

“Thanks Ed. I’m not sure if I will go to the counselling, I may call them to have a chat or maybe come and see you in your office at some stage”, said Jerry as he turned the card over to see the phone number and services being offered by the counselling service which he hadn’t even known existed.

“That’s great Jerry my door is always open… unless it’s closed,” said Ed with a wink as he got up to put his mug in the dishwasher. He turned around just before he got to the counter and said, “Remember mate, the sun is always shining behind the clouds”, and he put his mug in the dishwasher and walked out of the lunch room into the bright September afternoon.

Jerry thought he had heard that saying somewhere before and wondered why Ed had chosen to say that particular one to him at this moment. He didn’t quite understand the meaning of the saying. So what if the sun was shining behind the clouds? If we are stuck underneath them, what good does that do us?

Jerry got up, feeling a little more hopeful than he had when he woke up that morning, and headed to the 7th floor to complete his work for the day.

As he lay in bed that night with April once again turned over facing away from him, Jerry stared at the ceiling and went through his options in his mind. Either he could tell April that it was over and that he couldn’t stand feeling like this anymore or he could first try and talk to the employee assistance people. He also needed to talk about the bullying and see if there was a way to get that to stop. The main thing that he was struggling with was how his thinking had changed and how different he felt from who he knew himself to be. Being down, negative and not finding enjoyment in life was just not who he knew he was at the core but he was worried that he had somehow been fundamentally changed by the ongoing stresses and pressures of the past few months.

 

As he eventually drifted off to sleep he remembered Ed’s words and the saying seemed to play on a continuous loop in his mind, “The sun is always shining behind the clouds…the sun is always shining behind the clouds…”

Jerry slept but his sleep was fitful and full of nebulous people and “things” that seemed to be after him. Each dream he slipped into seemed to involve his need to defend himself against an attack and he called out and even kicked out once or twice in his sleep, which woke April up and gave her quite a fright. She still really loved Jerry with all her heart and had been feeling terrible about how things had disintegrated between them but she just hadn’t seemed able to find a way to allow her negative emotions to subside long enough to allow her feelings of love towards him to come back to the surface. She tried to soothe Jerry as he had another fitful moment and he seemed to calm down.

The next morning, when Jerry woke up, April was lying on his chest with her arm around him. He was quite surprised and gave her a hug. She stirred and looked at him, “You were yelling out and thrashing around a bit in your sleep”.

“Oh really? I’m sorry, I hope I didn’t disturb you too much” he said, feeling a bit guilty but very happy she was lying next to him and that their conversation seemed to be more gentle.

“It’s okay….” she said and after a pause, “what’s happened to us Jerry? Why can’t we be like this all the time? What’s been happening with you because you don’t seem to be the same person I married and I want my Jerry back” she said as her eyes became watery with tears.

“I know babe. I’m not sure either but all the pressure has been getting to me and I have been feeling very down. I just don’t know who I am anymore and it scares me”, he said as he stroked her arm. It felt good to be lying there together talking in a way they hadn’t for ages and he felt the stirring of how he truly felt about April returning.

“I remember one of my dreams last night”, he said.

“Tell me about it”, said April, enjoying the feel of Jerry’s arms around her.

“I was running away from something terrifying and it was during the middle of a storm. The rain was coming down pretty hard and I was getting soaked. There was lightning and thunder every couple of minutes and I couldn’t make out who or what it was but something was coming for me and so I was just running down different streets to get away. I tried to ask a couple of people for help who I passed but they didn’t seem able to see or hear me. It was late afternoon but the rain and wind was fierce. As I turned down one more street I stopped and for some reason had this feeling that if I wanted to, I could fly upwards. I felt the certainty of this inside myself and I just pushed off and flew straight up at such a speed that I was almost terrified as I looked down at the street falling away below me. I went into the storm clouds but kept going through them and then very suddenly I was above them and the sky was an absolutely brilliant clear blue and the sun was shining on me. I felt its warmth and the air was cool and crisp. It was such a contrast to what it was like below the clouds I couldn’t believe it. That was when I woke up and felt you lying with me” he said, tears now slowly rolling down his cheeks.

“Wow, that’s an amazing dream. What do you think it means?” she asked.

“Well, it’s funny because yesterday Ed came and had a chat to me in the lunch room and mentioned that he was worried about me. He gave me a card for the employee assistance programme and although I was very embarrassed that he had noticed how I had been feeling, I was relieved that he understood and was willing to help me. Before he left the lunch room he told me to remember that “the sun is always shining behind the clouds”. I know my dream was my mind playing around with that but it was such a real experience and I think I understand what the saying really means now”.

“What do you think it means?” April asked, very surprised but also very pleased to hear Jerry talking about himself more openly than he had in months.

“I think it means that sometimes in life we can get really bogged down by the events and situations we are faced with and that sometimes those situations can start to press down on us and even alter how we think, act and feel about ourselves and our lives. I know that is how I have been feeling a lot lately and I have even thought that maybe this is now my reality and that I was somehow changed forever because I was feeling so bad I couldn’t see a way out of it…” he trailed off at that moment realising that April was looking at him with a lot of worry in her eyes.

“It’s ok,” he said, “I wouldn’t do anything like that because I would never do that to you or the kids but yes the ideas had started to cross my mind. But what I guess I am starting to understand is that life can throw us a lot of curveballs all at once sometimes and that this can change how we are but it is temporary and our true selves, who we are deep down, is just waiting for the storm to pass and then it will come shining through again. What I felt in the dream when I broke through was a sense of coming home, of realising that who I am has not changed and it was only the clouds and the storm that was making me feel a bit hopeless. And you know what, it made me remember another saying I heard ages ago that even nature cannot create a storm that lasts forever”.

“I like that”, said April with a smile. “Maybe we just need to put up better umbrellas or try to rise above these clouds we have been living under for the past few months and do our best to go back to how we were before?”

“I would like that and I think that’s exactly what we need to do. I want to find myself again and be the best version of me that I can and I want to be that person again for you and the kids. I will call the employee assistance service and I am going to speak to Ed about the bullying at work. Enough is enough” said Jerry with a growing feeling of hope and conviction that things could and would be changing for the better. He felt his spirits lift and decided that he was going to really focus on the fact that he knew deep down that he was a good person and that he deserved to be happy. He resolved to not allow the storms of life to ever again make him feel that the sun wasn’t right there waiting for him to rise above the clouds.

April laughed and gave him a kiss on the cheek, “You got all that from a one silly saying and a dream?!”

“I guess so…who would have thought it hey?” he said smiling.

Jerry turned towards April and pulled her closer, holding onto her and not wanting the moment to end. “I love you”, he said.

“I love you too”, said April.

 

 

 

 


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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!

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

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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!

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