Friday, 18 July 2014

Lessons to learn to make life easier.

This is the extended column from the York Press - June 30th 2014

In the previous column, I used the eleven life lessons that the actor, Bob Hoskins, had given to his daughter, Rosa.

There wasn’t space in the column to elaborate on any of the lessons, but two of them jumped out at me. Lessons which, if used regularly, could reduce the incident of emotional health problems in society.

Lesson 4: Don’t worry about other people’s opinions. Everyone’s a critic, but ultimately what they say only matters if you let it. Don’t believe your own press. People can just as easily sing your praises as they can tear you down. Don’t waste your time on things you can’t change. Let it slide off you like water off a duck’s back.

Not an easy rule to believe in and needs a degree of balance. If someone dislikes a meal I prepare, that’s okay. Food can’t possibly be to everyone’s taste. It doesn’t mean I’m a hopeless cook. But if someone was to point out that my driving was dangerous, then perhaps I should think about who and why they were saying that. They haven’t…yet. 

*Blog extra: When we doubt ourselves, we generally 'hear' two sides to the argument. There will be the positive remarks  and internal self-belief, while on the opposite side will be the negative comments and internal self-doubt. This is where I love the story of the Two Wolves:

An old Cherokee told his grandson: “My son, there is a battle between two wolves inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, jealousy, greed, and resentment, inferiority, lies and ego. The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy, and truth.”
The boy thought about it, and asked, “Grandfather, which wolf wins?
The old man quietly replied, “The one you feed.”

I have found through life and in work as a therapist, that a sizable majority of people with emotional health problems are not making their own decisions or holding their own opinions. 

Sometimes it doesn't appear particularly serious, just about the newspaper they read, "Dad always said the others were rubbish." or social niceties, "Mum said, we mustn't..." Though I wonder why they feel unable to have their own grown-up opinions.

Then there are the more serious consequences. Some people appear to be a puppet, with someone else holding the strings. Usually a person from the past,a parent or teacher, but not always. In the worst cases and in my experience the most challenging to treat, were people with Obsessional Compulsive Disorder (OCD). No sooner were a few strings cut, but others were pulled instead. The problems were always about control. The person with OCD appears to have someone in their lives trying to control them. Often this person had been with them through their upbringing and could still have the power to control. Fear is ever present.

If we have doubts about ourselves, we need to examine their root cause. Why don't we feel good enough? Where did those doubts come from? What's their root? Can we have another view? Is it just as valid? 

My father could be challenging. He was dogmatic in his beliefs, with disastrous results. I learnt to stand up to him. He never stopped professing his belief that he was right, but towards the end of his life, I managed to get him to preface his comments with a "In my opinion...", even if he said it sarcastically and with a wry smile.

I experienced some heavy criticism about the ideas in my book, from people I respected and who mattered in my working life. I was knocked back and voices from the past about my inadequacies surfaced. Eventually, the passion to write and and publish the book became strong again. I let the good wolf take over my thinking. I don't think the people who opposed me were evil, but I do think that they had they had their own wolves too.

Lesson 6: Whatever you do, always give it a good go. Don’t be afraid of failure and disappointment. If you fall flat on your face then get straight back up. You’ll always regret not trying. Disappointment is temporary, regret is forever.

A man, Ron, in his fifties, was in a workshop audience. He explained that I had just made sense of his life. At school, a teacher had stood behind him one day and said, “Collins, you are slow, but sure. Slow to learn and sure to fail.” Ron said that whenever he thought of changing his job or taking up a new interest, he would believe that he was sure to fail, so hadn’t bothered to try anything new. Ron was a frustrated and unfulfilled man. He hadn’t realised where his self belief had originated and told us that he was going to change his thinking immediately. I hope he did. 

Teachers can’t win. An intelligent, young girl, Mandy, took her work to show the teacher. “Oh I don’t even have to look at it, to know it’s good” and gave her a good mark. The girl gave up making an effort in class, as she thought the teacher didn’t care enough to look at her work.


When we were babies and toddlers, we failed at everything we tried. Eating, sitting, walking, talking, dressing, writing and reading. With perseverance, we learnt to master these skills and learn many more.

As we mature, we can discover our individual natural skills and talents and those that perhaps don’t come so naturally. But we should always keep learning.

*Blog extra: I was listening to Peter Jones CBE, the entrepreneur, on the radio. He's 48 and the longest serving member of the TV business ideas programme, Dragon's Den. He was asked about his worst decision. It said it was a financial one when he was in his mid twenties. He went from being a successful business man to a man who had lost everything. Business, home, car, everything. 

Success is not built on success. It's built on failure. It's built on frustration. Sometimes its built on catastrophe.  Summer Redstone


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