Sunday, 23 February 2014

The Half Full Glass

So many of the people who visit me for help in overcoming their difficulties have been struggling for years.

It’s not at all uncommon for someone to tell me: ‘I’ve had your telephone number for ages, but I didn’t call you. I just kept on hoping my problem would go away…’ But, of course, it didn’t. Often it simply got worse.

The fact is, the more we hold on to our problems, without doing something about them, the more they trouble us.

This puts me in mind of a story I heard some time ago. In this story, a therapist is walking around a room full of psychology students. In his hand is a glass half full of water.

Perhaps, like most of the people in the room, you think he will ask the students whether the glass is half full or half empty. No.

With a wry little smile he asked: ‘How heavy do you think this glass is?’

‘8 ounces’ said one. ‘220 grams’ guessed another, trying to appear a bit more sophisticated. ‘As heavy as half a glass of water’ suggested another, cleverly.

‘Well,’ said the therapist, ‘the actual weight doesn’t really matter that much, does it? What does matter is how long I hold it.’

He held the glass out in front of him, staring at it.

‘If I hold it for a short time, let’s say a minute or two, it really isn’t a problem. If I hold it for an hour, what’s going to happen? My arm will feel kind of numb. It will really begin to hurt.’

His smile was beginning to fade. It looked like his arm was already getting heavy.

‘What if I held if for longer? For a week, a month, a year? My arm would become paralyzed and the pain would be almost unbearable. I’d find it very difficult to function.’

There were smiles of recognition on some of the students’ faces.

‘Peoples’ problems and issues are a bit like that glass of water. Think about them for just a short time and nothing happens. Think about them for a day, a week, and they start to hurt.’

He paused to take a sip of water.

‘Think about them all day long, day in and day out. Keep holding onto them; let them weigh you down and you become paralyzed, incapable of functioning properly. It becomes hard to do anything.’

He lowered his arm, putting the glass down on a desk and his smile returned.

‘Our problems don’t go away by trying to ignore them, or by staring at them. We need to take action. When the glass gets too heavy then the person needs to put it down, to stop holding on to it.’

He took another sip of water.

‘The sooner they do that, the sooner they will feel better.’

'All the art of living lies in the fine mingling of letting go and holding on.' Henry Ellis

Monday, 10 February 2014

The Attraction of Yesterday

One of the attractions of nostalgia is that it appears to offer a way to escape the present and all of its difficulties. When times are tough, and life’s sea a bit stormy and uncertain, it’s tempting to travel back to a past that in comparison seems so rosy, so safe.

It’s easy to believe we were better off in the past and that we’ll never have it so good again.

If we believe, for example, that a previous relationship was better than our present situation, then we might be reluctant, at some level, to work on current relationship issues. Or, if we believe living in another area was preferable to the one we live in now, we may fail to socially connect and learn about the great activities that are available to us now.

Productive Ways to Look at Our History

A healthy way to reflect on our past is to harvest and store the good memories. None of us need leave positive feelings and life lessons on the table. If you’ve gone through a really difficult time, a difficult separation, for example, you might feel that the time you invested was completely wasted. But, if you make a list of all the positive things you experienced during those years, and focus on your learning and how you might now move forward in a wiser and better way, then you’re actually doing what, in psychological terms, is referred to as ‘reframing’ your past.

Even if you were involved with the wrong person, in the wrong job, or running in the wrong direction, you may be surprised to find that there are many good life lessons you were able to learn. 

It’s important to look back with the right, positive focus. So many people get stuck yearning for an old flame that stole their heart, a former job they loved, or an old home they once lived in. Looking back too often is like driving along the highway of life focusing only on the rear-view mirror. If you actually drove your car this way, you’d literally crash into the car in front of you, or meet with some other awful accident.

Focusing too much on the past means you’re just not navigating properly down the road of life. You’re driving with blinders on. Living like this is a good way to lose out on opportunities coming your way. It’s difficult to notice interesting people you might meet, or productive career or business opportunities, if you’ve tuned out the present in favour of the past.

Ask yourself if you’re spending too much time gazing back at yesterday. If the answer is 'yes' then it’s time to do something about it. Only when we allow ourselves to be present in the here and now can we become our authentic self.

In a future post we will conclude our discussion on nostalgia. Be sure to check back on a regular basis.

Stay well and shine!

‘Never let yesterday use up too much of today.’ – Will Rogers

Sunday, 26 January 2014

The Pitfalls of Nostalgia

Do you occasionally yearn to go back in time?

Most of us can feel emotionally attached to a particular era that we remember with great fondness, but dwelling too much on the past can make us lose the present and obscure our personal focus.

If we pause for a moment to consider, we might find that it takes as much energy to stay stuck as it does to move forward. Constantly gazing backwards can disturb our inner harmony, our passion for living. After all, it’s much more difficult to feel enthusiastic about new goals and dreams when we’re bogged down with complex emotions attached to the past.

Time is our most irreplaceable resource. We really can’t afford to waste a moment of it, because when that moment’s gone it will never come again.

Perhaps the biggest pitfall of nostalgia is that it can so easily turn into an over-extended process; one that can be enormously energy draining and time-consuming.

As we leave childhood and the past behind and begin to accept responsibility for our lives as independent adults, we may need to pass through a natural longing -- perhaps even a degree of grieving -- for what is no more. And this is perfectly healthy. It's a process that most of us go through on our journey to maturity and selfhood; one that can reoccur at any stage of our development.

There’s no denying that a certain degree of nostalgia is absolutely fine. It’s perfectly healthy to reflect now and then on days long ago, and to remember the beautiful experiences we were fortunate enough to have had. These memories create our emotional capital, something we can draw upon as we journey on through the valleys and the peaks of life.

If we find ourselves spending too much time looking back, then perhaps we need to consider whether we might not be stuck in the mourning phase. Is there something in the present that we are failing to address?

If this is the case, then maybe the question we really need to ask ourselves is: What meaningful experiences do we need to create now? The past is done and dusted. It’s what we do today that really determines the life we live.

In my next post I’ll be talking more about the pitfalls of nostalgia. Be sure to check back on a regular basis. Stay well!


‘The past changes the present. Looking back you do not find what you left behind.’
                                                                           – Kiran Desai