Fox Psychology

Hope and Healing for Anxiety and Depression


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

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.

book-cover

Get_it_on_iBooks_Badge_US_1114

The eBook on Kindle

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

The softcover Book on Amazon

 


Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes” came the almost inaudible reply from inside.

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

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

“Yes”, came the muffled reply.

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

Again a muffled, “Yes”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you mean learning?” asked Sheri.

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

“Yeah, I remember.” said Sheri.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

book-cover

Get_it_on_iBooks_Badge_US_1114

The eBook on ibooks

The eBook on Kindle

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

The softcover Book on Amazon


Leave a comment

Lesson 2: Let’s cross that bridge when we get to it

Reece wandered into his psychology 101 class, looked around at the theatre like room with the hundred or so chairs leading upwards to the ceiling and smiled as he reflected for the umpteenth time how much the room looked much more like a movie theatre than a classroom. He walked up a few flights of stairs to the middle row and excused himself as he passed a few of the other students and finally sat down next to Rachel.

“Hey, how was the weekend?” asked Rachel.

“Not bad, how was yours?”, asked Reece, trying to act as nonchalant as he could in front of the woman he had had a crush on for the past 6 months. He tried to remain calm and slow his breathing a little. He was so attracted to this woman and was so scared of letting her know how he felt in case she rejected him outright and his mind would race picturing how awful that would be, how utterly mortified he would feel if she didn’t feel the same way and how he may lose her as a friend in the process. He hoped she couldn’t see any signs of his anxiety and kept facing forward.

“Mine was good thanks. Spent some time with the family and went with Eva to see Love Actually 3. Wasn’t as good as the first two”.

“Yeah, sometimes they need to leave a good thing alone hey” smiled Reece.

Rachel laughed out loud and jabbed him in the ribs playfully.

“Ouch, crazy woman”, Reece pretended to be shocked. His mind racing with images and ideas. Did she like him more than a friend? Did the poke and physical contact mean that she may be keen for something more? How on earth would he find the courage or the right time and place to make it obvious to her that he would like to date her and not just meet up in class and spend time cramming for exams together in the library? His thoughts trailed off as their lecturer walked into the room.

Professor Fisher walked into the room with the usual hustle of a man who had too many things to do and not enough time to do them in. He was a middle aged man, in his mid to late forties with a full beard that was beginning to show some grey. He was about 5ft8 with light brown hair and wore rimless glasses. The class would always be intrigued by what he might turn up wearing that day. He appeared to have an endless supply of checkered shirts and sleeveless pullovers that he would invariably wear to his lessons. The university students loved Professor Fisher’s lectures. He had a way of bringing the history of psychology to life. When he spoke about Freud and Jung it was as if he had known them personally and his own person centered approach to dealing with people shone through in how he described the process of therapy. Many of the students would go to him for advice either right after the lecture or they would make an appointment to see him and he always made time for them, no matter how busy he appeared to be.

Reece had also gone to see Professor Fisher on a few occasions when he had been struggling with some of the course work or a particularly difficult essay. In his first few weeks in psych 101, Reece had felt quite overwhelmed and had given serious consideration to dropping out of University and becoming a beach bum. He could see himself living the life of Bodhi from Point Break played by Patrick Swayze, surfing all day and robbing banks behind the mask of a US President for cash and living expenses. Reece’s imagination would sometimes get the better of him!

“Morning class, I hope you all had a good weekend and you are ready for another wonderful week in the land of intellectualism and all things psychological”, said Professor Fisher with a wide smile as he scanned the lecture hall to see who had decided to attend the early morning class. Many of his students would often skip the first lesson on a Monday morning for various reasons he could only too easily imagine. They would often ask their fellow class mates to either record the lesson on their smart phone or to take notes for them and make copies. Reece had never had anyone ask for his notes once they had seen his hand writing. Everyone told him he should be studying to become a doctor.

“As we are nearing the end of term as well as the end of your first year in psychology, I thought it would be a good idea to let you know about some of your options for next year. As you know, you will need a pass mark of at least 70% average in your psych 101 class in order to take Psychology again next year. There are actually quite a few electives next year within psychology and those who are seriously considering making a career out of this will need to do most of these electives as well as their other major for their degree. As part of the requirement to become a psychologist and complete your undergraduate in psychology, you will all be required to complete Psych 202 – Research Design and Analysis which include Psych 202A – which is statistics…” the Professor continued but at this stage Reece’s face had gone white.

Reece, stared at his Professor in an uncomprehending way for a minute before whispering to Rachel, “What the hell? Statistics?!”

Rachel turned to look at Reece and noticed that he looked a distinct shade of pale as she confirmed, “yes, didn’t you know that it was required?” She looked at him with concern, wondering why he was looking like he had just been told he had 3 months to live.

“I’m screwed, that’s it. It’s all over for me”, said Reece, staring once more at his Professor who had gone on to tell the students that they may also want to look at taking electives such as organizational psychology if they were interested in taking the path towards working as a psychologist in business. Reece didn’t even hear that part. He was so preoccupied with the thought that his dream, his vision of becoming a psychologist had just been blown out in one fell swoop. His mind raced with thoughts about how he had just wasted a year of his life, loving a subject and thinking of a career in psychology to only be thwarted by a subject that he couldn’t for the life of him see how it related to sitting down and counselling people through emotional difficulties. Yet, here it was as a prerequisite to becoming a psychologist.

“What are you talking about Reece, you will be fine. Everyone has to do it. I have heard that it’s hard going but you’ll be fine”, reassured Rachel. She rubbed his arm a little.

“You don’t understand, I almost failed maths in school. I hated it so much. When I wrote my last math’s exam, I was so overjoyed. I still have nightmares about having to write my final maths exam where I haven’t studied all year and completely forgot that I was going to have to write a final exam. I’m just no good at it. I’m right brained for God’s sake Rachel, aren’t most people who study the Arts? If we were left-brained people we would be studying accounting not psychology!” said Reece, becoming clearly more agitated by the minute.

“Calm down, maybe you should just go and talk to Professor Fisher about it. I’m sure he will give you a better idea of what’s involved”.

“Yeah, I think I will have to pay him a visit. I will chat to him after class to see when he is free”.

For the rest of the lecture, which was about Freud’s views on dreams and dream interpretation, Reece was there in body only. He tried to bring his concentration back at times and make some notes but eventually gave up and just hit record on his mobile phone. His mind was once again preoccupied with all the possible paths that now lay before him, including changing subjects, looking for another career path, leaving university and getting a job somewhere or taking a year off and heading to South America to reevaluate his life. He felt like a huge weight had been put on his chest and feelings of hopelessness and despondency fluttered through him as they had often done at many other times in his life.

Professor Fisher finished the lecture with a homework assignment for the class to keep a dream journal for one week, explaining how the students could best prepare their minds and their subconscious minds to remember their dreams each morning by keeping a pen and paper next to their beds and keeping very still just as they became aware of becoming awake. They would then need to mentally rehearse as many details of their dream as they could before moving and then go directly their pen and paper and just write whatever details of the dream they could remember without over thinking it. He then wanted to them to try and interpret what their dreams were indicating to them about what was going on in their lives and write a short five page essay on their dream interpretation.

As the last of the students left the lecture hall, Reece waited behind two other students who had some questions for the Professor. When they moved on, the Professor smiled when he saw Reece and then, noticing the look of consternation on Reece’s face, immediately asked him what was wrong.

“Can I come speak to you in your office either today or tomorrow please, Professor. I am really concerned about this statistics course we have to pass next year. I’m really worried this could be the end of me becoming a psychologist” said Reece with a look of dismay clearly showing.

“I know this probably doesn’t help to say right now but you will be fine Reece. But, yes come and see me first thing tomorrow morning. I have some time at 8:30 before my tutorial class”.

“Great, thanks Professor, appreciate it” said Reece as he hitched his backpack over his shoulder again and headed out the lecture hall.

That night, Reece struggled to fall asleep. He lay in bed going over in his mind all the possibilities for his future, none of which seems to be appealing outside of him pursuing his dream of becoming a psychologist. He just couldn’t imagine what else he would do with his life at this point. It taken him long enough to figure out that psychology was the road that he wanted to go down and then committing himself to at least 5 years of ongoing study. His mind also wandered to Rachel, thinking about how much he liked her and also rerunning how he had reacted to hearing about the statistics course. He was quite sure that she must think he is a total idiot now and there was no way she would go out with someone who was so terrified of completing a course in statistics. Rachel was very bright and he knew that she would ace the course with no problem. His thoughts rumbled around trying to convince him he was no good for her but he fought back, trying to use some of what he had learned through his own self-study about negative thoughts. He reminded himself that being highly intelligent from an IQ point of view wasn’t everything and that emotional intelligence counted just as much, if not more.  After a long time of tossing and turning he finally fell asleep entangled in the bed sheets.

The next morning, Reece was waiting on a chair outside Professor Fisher’s office looking at his phone, flipping through Facebook status updates. He heard steps coming up the foot well at the end of the corridor and looked up to see Professor Fisher step into the corridor with his leather briefcase in his left hand and a coffee that he usually got from the canteen in his right. He saw Reece and smiled. When he got to his office door he put his briefcase down and asked Reece if he wouldn’t mind holding his coffee while found his keys. Professor Fisher opened the office door and Reece followed him in. Professor Fisher asked him to take a seat on the couch as he put his briefcase down and then came to sit across from Reece on his high back chair that he often used for counselling students.

Reece put his backpack down and sank into the couch, looking fatigued and quite despondent.

Professor Fisher studied Reece’s demeanor and then said, “Ok young man, out with it then, what’s troubling you about the statistics course?”

“Professor, I all but failed maths in high school, I hated it with a passion. I still have nightmares about it. I’m just not intelligent enough and I don’t want to put myself through having to study something that I am just ultimately going to fail. I’ve been seriously thinking of needing to change courses or something” said Reece.

Professor Fisher studied the young man for a minute and then said, “Reece, you will just have to cross that bridge when you get to it”.

“But I really think I am just going to fail Professor so what is the point?”

“Reece, have you ever thought about what that saying really means in life and how you can apply it? Did you know that it directly relates to a psychological distortion of thinking in CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy) called Fortune Telling?”

Reece thought about this for a moment, remembering reading a book by Dr. David Burns that had discussed this distortion of thinking that causes anxiety and sometimes depression. He remembered thinking that the book was very good but he had never really tried to apply the practices in it.

“Yes, I think I remember it. It’s when we try to predict something in the future and we often worry about things that haven’t happened and aren’t likely to happen. Is that what you mean?” he said.

“Yes, that’s right. The saying ‘we will cross that bridge when we get to it’ is age old advice that has been handed down through the ages and has survived as a saying for a reason. As have many other sayings that we have heard so many times before but never really stopped to contemplate why they are still around and how to apply them effectively in our lives. Tell me something Reece, can you remember something in your past that you were worried about happening that eventually got resolved? Something where you were worried that things wouldn’t turn out but they somehow did?” asked Professor Fisher with a little bit of a smile showing in his eyes and lips.

Reece had to smile a little in response and thought back to a few events and occasions in his life where he had worried unnecessarily about things that had eventually worked themselves out. He remembered being worried about how he was going to pay for repairs to his car and imagining what would happen if he couldn’t manage to pay for it. His parents didn’t have much money and he had been working as a waiter to have some money to cover costs of his car and doing Tae Kwon Do, which he had only started the year before. But the repairs had ended up not costing as much as he had feared they would and he managed to arrange paying off the bill over 3 months with the mechanic. He remembered being awake for a few nights worrying about it and losing sleep over it.

“Yes, that has happened a few times Professor but this is different. This is huge. If I fail this course, I cannot become a psychologist which is one of my biggest dreams in life. That would be awful”.

“Well now Reece, what you’ve just said there is actually one of the other distortions of thinking! It’s called catastrophizing. You know, blowing things out of proportion. It may not be the way you saw things happening in your life, but I firmly believe that where there is a will there is a way. You may not take the traditional route but you will get there if you have enough desire and passion to keep going for what you want. And that’s assuming that you can’t pass the course. Reece, you’re an intelligent young man, if you need to go for extra lessons or support I’m sure we can arrange that. That’s IF you actually need the support. Statistics is quite different to mathematics. It is very much applied and if you concentrate in lectures and study hard I cannot see why you won’t get the 75% average that you need. And by the way, the minimum requirements is to complete Statistics 201 in the first half of next year but there is also a highly recommended Statistics 202, in the second half of the year”.

Reece looked a shade paler. “You can’t be serious Professor, this is a nightmare”.

“Reece, do you know what worry is?”

“Yes, it’s something I’m very skilled at!” exclaimed Reece, trying hard to maintain his look of dismay but cracking a smile anyway. He felt his state change a little as he was able to laugh at himself a bit.

Professor Fisher chuckled and said, “Well, that may be true Reece and certainly something you should be working on, but I have always loved the description of worry as paying the interest on a debt that you probably don’t owe”.

Reece reflected on this for a bit, realizing how true that had been in his life. How much energy and time he had spent worrying about things that never eventuated, or certainly didn’t turn out as bad as he feared. In fact, he could remember quite a few times when things worked out in ways he could never have imagined. How certain people or events had arrived in his life at just the right time to help him along his path.

“I like that description”, said Reece.

“Yes, it’s quite good isn’t it? Like I said Reece, if you were walking along a pathway and someone told you that there was a bridge up ahead on your path that was difficult to cross and a little bit dangerous due to how old it was, you could do one of a number of things. You could stop in your tracks, imagine that bridge and what it would be like to fall to your death in the ravine far below and you wouldn’t take another step forward. You would give up on your goal of getting over that bridge and getting to where you were travelling to in the first place. You might try and immediately think of all other possible routes to get to your destination without having to cross the bridge, which in and of itself isn’t a bad thing as that is just problem solving, but the issue is that you haven’t even seen the bridge yet! It’s purely in your imagination as is the image of you falling to your untimely demise. None of it is real. That is why we call it Fortune Telling. You know, it is very much a human thing to do. We are geared to looking for danger and that comes from our very primitive beginnings and needing to be wary of our environment. It served a real purpose in keeping us alive in the days where we may have ended up some wild animal’s dinner if we didn’t keep our wits about us. But in today’s world, most of what we fear are our own mental creations and imaginings of some horrible misfortune happening to us. Sometimes these imaginings are based on real events that have happened to us, such as your previous experience with maths making you feel as if you will not be able to handle statistics. The same as someone who has lost their job in the past becoming quite fearful and worried about losing their job again if their organization announces a restructure or the economy takes a turn for the worst. But in most cases it is the fear of what may happen and not what has actually happened that causes so much angst for people. And we really all need to learn that trying to cross the bridge before we actually get to it serves no other purpose other than to make us afraid and prevent us from continuing down our path with the faith and belief that we will handle it when we get there. We have handled many other things in the past so why wouldn’t we be able to handle this too?”

Professor Fisher sat back in his chair, taking a sip of his now luke warm coffee, thinking he should warm it up in his little microwave he had bought for just such occasions. He monitored the look on Reece’s face, searching to see how his words had impacted the young man, hoping that they had actually made an impact. Reece certainly appeared more relax and more contemplative than when he had first seem him waiting outside the office.

“I hear what you are saying Professor. Makes sense I guess not to worry about things that haven’t happened yet. I guess I should try live one day at a time and not try and tackle my whole life at once”, Reece remarked.

“Now you’re getting it lad. And keep this in mind too, I am not saying that you shouldn’t think ahead and try to plan your life, set goals or reflect on the consequences of your actions. I am just trying to get you to see that there is a difference between thinking ahead in order to plan and worrying needlessly about things that may or may not happen”.

Reece felt a lot calmer and much more confident about continuing with his goal to become a psychologist. While he still had some concern about how he would cope with the statistics course, he realised that he had been overreacting and catastrophizing, thinking the worst and that this was not helpful. One more question flashes into his mind. He wasn’t sure whether it was appropriate to raise with the Professor but he felt comfortable enough and he had never had a father figure to talk to about such things.

“Professor, can I ask you something unrelated to my studies?”

“Of course you can, although I only have a few more minutes”

“There is this girl in the Psych 101 class…”

“You mean Rachel of course”, said Professor Fisher with a mischievous and knowing glint in his eye.

Reece looked very surprised and smiled, “Yes, how do you know?”

“I observe people for a living my boy, just because there is a class of 100 people doesn’t mean I don’t notice what’s going on in it. You like her but you don’t know if she feels the same way you do”.

“Yes! I’m really worried she just sees me as a friend and I worry that she will reject me or that I will lose her friendship. I also think that she’s maybe out of my league and thinks I am a bit of a dork”, said Reece.

“Well Reece, here is yet another example of thinking that can you wrong. What you are doing is something called Mind Reading as well as Fortune Telling. You are trying to imagine what she thinks of you rather than testing reality by asking her and then you are imagining what she may do if you told her how you feel, which is of course Fortune Telling. You know, you always have a choice about which way you imagine or predict things may go. You may be right on either count. She may respond negatively or she may respond positively. You may as well picture a positive outcome. Why scare yourself with all the negative possibilities? Just ask her out on a date.”

“But what if she says no?” asked Reece.

“I’ll give you one last gem I learnt many years ago. Playing the little game of ‘what if’ with yourself in life rarely leads to a good time and it certainly doesn’t achieve much. Sometimes, a better question to ask yourself is so what if? So what if she says no? Will your world come crashing down? Will you never find another woman you are attracted to? Will you never get married and have kids? You get my drift?” said the Professor as he stood up smiling broadly at Reece. He remembered well his own fears and insecurities about dating in his early twenties.

“I like that one too Professor”, said Reece as he stood up and slung his backpack over his shoulder. “Thanks Professor, you really helped me. Don’t know what I would do without you”.

“Well, you would either be fine or you wouldn’t, which one do you choose to think?” said the Professor.

Reece laughed and left the office with a noticeable spring in his step as he walked down the psychology unit hall and headed for the canteen where he knew Rachel would be having her first coffee of the day.

One year later, not only had Reece passed the statistics course with 75% for the first course and 76% for the second, he was asked by the psychology department to tutor first year students for one afternoon a week. Reece would often smile when he remembered his conversation with Professor Fisher and committed to doing everything he could to not cross any bridge until he got to it.

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

book-cover

 

Get_it_on_iBooks_Badge_US_1114

The eBook on Kindle

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

The softcover Book on Amazon