Bronnie and Pearl

When Bronnie was caring for cheerful Pearl, a 60 plus widow with a terminal illness, she learned of Pearl’stwo women positive approach to life.  Pearl had lost her husband through a workplace incident and her only child to leukemia at 8 years of age.  Now, she was accepting of her life ending soon.  Pearl, who had  experienced enough tragedy, was never a victim.   This short piece relates to regret number 2; “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”

Many people facing end of life can experience initial denial before processing a range of emotions leading to eventual acceptance of the inevitable.  For Pearl her acceptance was grounded in her belief that she would be reunited with her family.

For Bronnie, Pearl’s wisdom lay in her refusal to entertain victimhood.  Pearl’s perspective on making the most of the gift of life helped Bronnie see how, at times, she herself would be caught up in her sense of being wounded by others, how hard her own life had been.

Noting the fine line between compassion and victimhood.  Entertaining feeling the victim is toxic and repugnant to any experience of happiness.  Compassion calls for gentleness with self and is a healing experience without indulgence in the pain of a victim.  Many people lean into sometimes harsh challenges to find happiness while others persist in complaining without awareness of the many blessings in their life.

Pearl devoted her life to community work after realizing her one of her life purposes lay there.  Her position around money was clear.  She regarded money as curiously misunderstood by most people.  It can hold people in unfulfilling jobs when they could be doing what they truly love.  For Pearl, acting on life purpose affords opening to the flow of money as well as experiencing more true happiness.

Her regrets, which she shared with Bronnie near her last days were that she spent so many years in an ‘average’ less fulfilling job before taking up her life purposes in Community work helping others.

Complexity and simplicity

butterfly in automnal grassThere can be considerable complexity around a person’s passing.  Loving families of the dying experience differing  emotions and feelings.  Fear, born of an unpreparedness to face the fact of death, in Bronnie’s experience, has severely affected some relatives of the dying.  The dying frequently make peace with the inevitable.

Families can express certain challenging behaviors as confusion around next steps surfaces.  One taking control of everything, another feeling excluded, one resenting equal shares of an estate irrespective of the help afforded to the dying parent.  Siblings squabbling over shares at the bedside of a dying parent.  For Bronnie, it was hard work at times but her priority was her patient.

The carer’s perception proved cathartic in several instances.  Questioning a dying father as to whether he had ever declared his love for his son ( as distinct from gratitude for jobs done around the place), Bronnie encouraged particular insight.

Deciding to lead a life of greater simplicity meant practicing meditation, decluttering, recycling, and downsizing.  Simplicity, for Bronnie Ware, included separating out a person from their un-resourceful, even toxic, behaviours.  Leading wisely and with compassion promoted clearer perspectives on strained relationships within her own circle of relationships.

Messages for us all abound in her book; ‘The top 5 regrets of the dying’.    Stop by again for more posts informed by her contribution.





Top 5 regrets of the dying

Bronnie Ware, artist, free spirit and palliative carer, has written a fine book; ‘The top 5 regretshand holding elder of the dying’.   Here, she describes both her own journey of surrender to living purposefully and the lessons to be learned from stories of those near death.   She tells how she left her “steady” job in a bank to embrace an uncertain path that led to profound enlightenment and growth.

Along the way, and with very little formal palliative care training, she made very special human connections with people close to their end of life.  She summarizes her experiences as a woman who is very comfortable in solitude, a meditative seeker, and yoga practitioner.  Her personal ethical conflicts and challenges influenced her path as positive learning opportunities.

Bronnie Ware’s recounting of her experiences as a palliative carer, took her to the authentic, abject honesty, of the dying.  The top 5 regrets as Bronnie describes them are:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish I had let myself be happier.

Bronnie’s engagement with one dying patient Grace, and Grace’s family was an important, endearing experience.  Grace coming to terms with the loss of dignity in having another person help with toilet proved very challenging irrespective of assurances provided by Bronnie.  Grace had raised her children and was enjoying her grandchildren as the end of life approached.  Grace’s married life was not all happiness and domestic bliss.  Her husband is described as a dictator and tyrant.  Grace’s desire for independence, for travel, for happiness, were all subordinated to decade after decade of her husband’s tyranny.

Shortly after her husband, a long-term smoker, was hospitalised Grace became ill very quickly.  She realised her own dreams would remain just that, dreams never to be realised.  This caused Grace great anguish.  She became very angry with herself, continuously questioning why she had not stood up against her husband’s dominance.

With the caring relationship developing, and trust deepening, Grace called upon Bronnie to promise she would never let anyone stop her doing what she wanted with her own life.

Lessons from Grace’s story

girl silhouette against sunriseSurrendering to cultural dogma which, at the time, stressed Grace must stay in marriage irrespective of disrespect experienced.  Keep up appearances, maintain the façade. Grace’s story is not unique even if her personal experiences were.  In her book, Bronnie reports numerous versions of the; ‘regret not having the courage to live a life true to self’ and says its the most common of the top 5.

Sometimes people choose to remain in stale, even painful relationships, or unsatisfying jobs, because it satisfies expectations of others.

Decades might even pass as people settle for what is familiar but not resourceful.  Internal conflict around awareness of what is, and what might have been, leads to unhelpful coping skills such as alcohol and other drug abuse.  People might even ‘succeed’ at careers (as Bronnie did in banking) and inside know a certain sense of being diminished or even diminished.

In breaking free, and learning to view life compassionately, Bronnie realised that people change because they want to, and when they are ready.

Breaking free meant refusing to accept others’ demands and expectations as well as embracing simple compassion for people who became disturbed by the changes freely adopted.  Giving up a banking job to go live on an island was Bronnie’s choice.  The disturbances experienced by family members became less and less impactful as she developed her sense of compassion.

The first compassion is self-compassion.  Cultivation of self-compassion is simple but not necessarily easy.  It can take years. Breaking with decades old, familiar if unresourceful, behavior patterns can be painstaking.

We are often harsh self-critics.  The dying have nothing to lose by being coy or calculating.  Grace was totally, earnestly, honest.

The desire (or need) to be accepted, loved, understood, can hold in place painful submission to others’ well-intentioned, if distressed, priorities.

So Grace was pleading with Bronnie to live life on Bronnie’s own terms.  Is there anything we can take from either Bronnie’s or Grace’s story so far?  I think so.  Please check back for more on the top 5 regrets of the dying.

Smoking skills kills

Smoking takes real skills

Today, less people are smoking cigarettes in Australia. The younger generation are also less impressed dangers of smokingwith getting intoxicated by alcohol.  It seems we are getting wiser, perhaps as the older generations teach the errors of their ways.  Smoking skills could well be a dying art!  A dying art.  The art work on cigarette packets have been depicting dying smokers who finally get to quit, for good.

When I ask people why they started in the first place, the answers invariably run to the satisfaction of need.  Not the need to feel the poisoned air assaulting airways but the need to fit in, to be accepted by peers, to look “cool”, more mature somehow.  It is a wonderful thing that poison can call forth associations of maturity, sexiness, even heroism.

retro image of lady smokingThe slender beauty on the cinema screen makes a poorly disguised overture to the movie’s hero.  Not by revealing even more flesh, but by asking the hero to light her cigarette.  The curious psychological associations between smoking, sexiness, the promise of intimacy have zero basis in reality but we don’t let that get in the way of buying poison and absorbing it.  Film stars are stars because they say words usually written by someone else in a manner and demeanour devised by someone else again.

They become stars because they take direction and wait their turn to be filmed.  When film stars smoked onscreen their skill as persuaders promoted an inclination to imitate.  Put simply, we wanted to be like our ‘heroes’.  We buy sports gear as worn by Reynaldo, want to smell like Brad Pitt, and drink Pepsi because a popular singer, like Beyoncé, drinks Pepsi.

The smoking skill kills

We learned to smoke and it takes great skill initially.  For many there has been an experience of dizziness, dehydration, even vomiting.  But persistence pays off and soon the skill becomes unconscious.  It is a smooth, effortless, even suave undertaking to release the tight-fitting cigarette from a pack and toss into the moth and click the stylish Zippo, or Ronson, or whatever ignition device is available and inhale the relaxing nectar.  More tar than nectar in fact.

But wait, there is a movement in community.  Questions as to the harmlessness of smoking are emerging.  Evidence of relationships far less seductive than screen romances abound.  Relationships between heart disease and smoking.  Relationships between lung cancer and smoking.  Bronchitis and emphysema are much more prevalent in smokers. The list of toxic relationships to smoking grows.  These are bad.  Real bad.

Denials, claims and counterclaims abound.  It seems the smoking skill kills.  Its time to stop.  To quit, for good.  But it seems hard, very hard, even harder than getting started at smoking skill 101 in the first place.  Must be addicted.

Smoking skills addiction?

woman staring
There are a number of ideas around smoking addiction. Anyway what’s the difference between habit and addiction?  One quick answer is; sleep.  We get, or should get, around 7 or 8 hours sleep a night.  People addicted, i.e. dependent upon, say, methamphetamine (“ice” to you and me) cannot enjoy the luxury of a good night’s sleep.  Heroin users have trouble with a full night’s sleep.  Smokers rarely report such sleep disruption.  smokers can even report good sleep patterns.

Smoking skills for stress

Smokers sometimes believe the drag on a cigarette can soothe the experience of stress.  Yes, we daily see congregations of workers smoking together at entrances to their sites.  It is possible that initial drags on a cigarette can persuade that there is benefit from smoking.  It is also true that taking a few deep breaths (without any toxic smoke involved) can be very relaxing indeed!

Smoking skills for weight loss

Sometimes people develop their smoking skills in order to suppress appetite and lose weight.  So, when its time to quit, they believe they’ll become gigantic, ugly things.  Truth is, tobacco leaves are soaked in sugar water in their preparation so inhaling tobacco involves inhaling sugar!  Weight gain on quitting does take place because moisture is returning to the skin cells which has been dehydrated by the smoke.

How to quit

Nicotine patches, chewing gum, sprays are very popular resources in helping people stay stopped.  Thend of cigarettee are replacement means of ingesting nicotine.  Hypnosis can be very useful (and quick) in helping people quit.  Usually (not always) just one session can do it.  It is drug-free and effectively administered suggestions help address residual cravings because smoking skills are after all, just habit.  Habits can be unlearned.

Money Money Money! Life Life Life!

Smoking can be pricey.  I have found people can spend over $5000.00 a year on cigarettes.  If saved, you’d have a quarter of a million in 5 years!  Smoking has been indicated in diminishing life expectancy too.  13 years for women, 14 for men.  How cool is it to practice smoking skills now?  Smoking is the main preventable cause of death.  Preventable! All you need to do is quit.  For good!

Scrooge’s therapy session…

Ghosts in the machine

In ‘A Christmas Carol’,  Charles Dickens’ famous tale of a cold-hearted, miserable debt collector Ebenezer Scrooge, there is the acting out of alternative scenarios in his future.  Scrooge’s life unaltered delivers dreadful if unsurprising damnation for all eternity.  A miserable adult life whose misery compounds over time and, in this tale, extends to absolute misery and pain after his death.   Scrooge has a mystical psychotherapy session facilitated by some ghosts.

Scrooge’s perception is subject to a profound reframe!  In his dream, future-hallucinations present possibilities.  Including the possibility of redemption.  Future redemption is only possible if there is major change.  Scrooge can avoid pain by adopting pain.  He must make change in order to live a good life.  Change often involves pain.

Happy endings

In much of Dickens’ work there are happy endings.  Ebenezer Scrooge is frightened into understanding and acknowledging his

cognitive distortions (“stinking thinking”) and making a total, transformative, recovery.  In a single session or three!  Tiny Tim benefits greatly as does the rest of his family and all is so well past misery is wiped away and the new era of blessings cover Scrooge-World.

A really scary obituary

in change-work, there is sometimes recourse to projection into the future in the absence of present-time shift from unhelpful behaviours.  This can prove disturbing for some clients and this is not the main game.  After all, they are clients because they want help to function well and live normally.  Or, as Freud set out to turn “hysterical misery into ordinary human unhappiness”.  The experience of ‘future pacing’ (imagining future consequences of unchanged patterns) can stimulate active reorientation.  New directions can be entertained and acted on.

Give it a try…

Of course, you may not need to change anything and on New Year you could proudly declare; “another 12 months since I didn’t need to become a better person!”

If however, like the rest of us, you may be exploring New Year’s resolutions or even some strategic planning, you may give the process some thought…


Imagine, pretend, even visualize yourself having successfully resisted any inclinations to change unhealthy behaviours.  Imagine how things get worse as you get older.  Imagine, just before you die, you’ re required to write your obituary.  Your most feared obituary.  Having lived a long life with no positive change in attitudes, values, expectations of self or others?

Now is the time to let your friends and family know all, as your obituary is read aloud to the congregation assembled for your farewell.  It may even reach a wider audience through social media!  What will they hear?  What will they learn?  What will the world know?


Imagine having made the choice to step into change-work!  You did this because it just makes sense to be the best you can be.  Imagine then, a life doing good, well lived, and a now imminent death.  You’ re invited to write your obituary.  What will the congregation hear as they participate in your farewell?

This is intensely personal and idiosyncratic of course.  It can be quite helpful also.  Imagine both scenarios.  A life lived with little or no concern for personal improvement or, a life lived with frequent, even daily, challenges to be your best.  An imminent death with a kind of inventory report at the end.  At one level, there is nothing of importance here.  Consequences are the same.  Death comes to us all.  This is certain.  Whether we might be assessed, then rewarded or punished afterwards, is not.

So why bother?

 If the outcome is the same why bother with inconvenient change?  After all, by definition, change means a form of departure from our normal self.  It usually means work and even pain.

Eric Maisel among others has argued we have freedom to choose.  Stay the same and lead a life that has it’s moments of joy, grief, and a substantial bit of bland in between.  In his ‘Life Purpose Boot Camp’, Maisel suggests that making the effort is a  more worthy choice.

Freedom to choose

Once made, the free choice to decide to find meaning in day to day activities can reframe daily experience.  Making meaning, deciding to have the psychological experience of meaning, then deciding to live a live of purpose, is a worthy undertaking.  To live a life where there are options to decide on a number of life purposes and to hold these purposes as a sort of compass guiding and directing us on our path to our end.

And, at the end, there has been a life of value, contribution, goodness even.

A life of meaning.

A life of purpose.

A life well lived.

Bye Rita, and thanks for all you taught me.

Respect to  Rita Keogh, RIP.

My sister, whose recent passing involved a both release from pain and sad loss.

















Karpman’s Drama Triangle

Dr Stephen Karpman’s triangle, aka; the ‘drama triangle’ is a useful model for explaining dysfunctional conflict in relationships.  In use since the late 1960s, it is also an expedient therapeutic aid. It assists clients reach awareness of just what is going on in toxic interpersonal conflicts. The model highlights, with great simplicity, the alternating roles of victim, persecutor and rescuer.  Karpman’s use of triangles proved to be a very simple path in assisting understanding of the, often unaware, ‘games people play’ in conflict situations.

In essence, the Karpman drama triangle maps out roles occupied in toxic conflict relationships.  People may enter into committed relationships based on apparent ‘compatibility’.  People who learned to feel like a victim may find the attentions of a rescuer very appealing; someone to take care of things, someone to watch over me…

Take a look at the diagram above.  The arrows indicate a certain rotation of roles.  The victim may become a persecutor when they ‘turn’ in frustration and criticise the rescuer for their excessive, even stifling, attentions.  The rescuer now becomes the victim.  Or, the critical, controlling persecutor is stopped in their tracks by a reactionary victim and they in turn become the victim feeling disempowered through the imbalance in unconsciously expected power relations.

triangle suggestive of rotating roles in dysfunctional power relationshipsInternal drama triangle

Karpman  points out that these roles (victim, persecutor, and rescuer) can rotate within a single individual as their negative experiences are assessed in different ways at different times.  For one example, a person may feel like a victim of life itself, feel unappreciated, or generally unfulfilled.  They may come to find the refrigerator a great rescuer!  Copious amounts of gelato and chocolate chip cookies can imbue the victim with a sense of comfort and even reassurance!

Internal dialogue

Alternatively, an individual’s internal dialogue may be persistently persecuting.  Self-criticism via ‘auto-pilot’ can be as damaging as any external critique.

Motivations to stay stuck

Such experiences, victim, persecutor, or rescuer, are not resourceful.  So why do they persist? What’s the pay-off?  Sometimes people remain in such states because they are familiar to the point of seeming absolute.  There is not way out.  ‘Victims’ may realise what’s happening but believe they’ll stay until things improve and things will only improve when someone else does something.  “Improvement” may mean; “until I get more of my needs met”, until there are even more considerations offered to me.

The rescuer may stay put because of felt needs of responsibility.  “If I don’t give my addicted son money for heroin, he’ll hate me.”  Alternatively, the rescuer might run an internal dialogue such as; “I can’t let my child down, that would be awful. What kind of awful parent would do such a thing?”

Rather getting than fretting

Within such stuck states it appears, by definition, choice is absent. Truth is, there are a lot of ways out of this triangular pathology.  Karpman suggests simple shorthand phrases that have some merit.  As far as internal dialogue improvements go, the victim considers; “I’d rather be getting than fretting”.  This is where the victim has been fretting for such a long time that they come to the conclusion that their needs must be met by other means.  Change is now seen as not just necessary but possible.

Smarter than martyr

Karpman, when addressing a brief therapy workshop in 2008, referred to some shorthand phrases that can prove useful.  The rescuer can say; “I’d rather be smarter than martyr.”  The rescuer realises the sacrifices are far too great and it’s time to get out of this role.  Getting out can mean significant change to life itself as subtle and even overt pressures to maintain status quo can be powerful.

The persecutor is blaming and critical.  They accuse the other of failing in some ways.  “You’re the reason our son is lazy.” Or “it’s all your fault that our families don’t get on.”  To get out of this role, the persecutor must have compassion for self as well as others in the drama triangle.  This usually comes as a result of a powerful reframe.  for one example, when the child who has been subject to sustained control, criticism and bullying from a parent suddenly turns and asserts their rights, their power and personal resourcefulness.

In therapy, much good can come of using this very simple tool provided a long time ago now by one of the members of a broad school known as Transactional Analysis.

Drama triangle in the festive season

I mention the now well-worn drama triangle at this festive season as I notice the media commercials showing brightly lit beaming joyous families enjoying whatever product is advertised to make their Christmas complete.  Domestic violence shelters are brimming, if not beaming, at this time also

Brene Brown

Brene Brown’s TED talk may appear to have little to do with what has gone before but understanding compassion is also to  understand vulnerability and the reality that many problems are attempted solutions.  Intoxication is an attempt to solve the problem of emotional pain.  Hostile, defensive outbursts, are sometimes attempts to protect a terrified private self.  And, as Brown says somewhere in the TED; “you cannot selectively numb pain”.  Take a look here…


Remembering Arthur Janov

Remembering Arthur

Arthur Janov, founder of a therapeutic approach known as; ‘Primal Therapy’ died on October 1st, 2017.   It is worth remembering Arthur Janov because of his proposition that neuroses are the result of repressed childhood trauma.  The basic premise of primal therapy is that these childhood traumas could be accessed and addressed in present time through expression of unexpressed emotion.  Healing would then eventuate and normal functioning would ensue for the liberated adult.

Freedom of expression, janov style

In a therapeutic setting (with a trained psychotherapist) the adult is encouraged to access memories and express

primal scream

painful and disturbing past experiences releasing repressed anger for example.  The loudness of screams and apparent hysteria gave the therapy a certain dramatic effect in 1970s America first.  Furniture could come off second best as the client expressed unresolved rage.  There was greater emphasis on physical enactments rather than intellectual understanding of underlying causes of current unresourceful behaviour in the adult who should know better.

The Primal Scream

After Janov’s first publication of the “Primal Scream’ there was considerable popularity of this somewhat spectacular if controversial approach and once adherence from celebrities such as John Lennon, Yoko Ono, and others gathered it received wider popularity.

The problem of pain

Janov’s ‘Primal Scream’ contained numerous example of cases where people claimed to be healed of childhood trauma and even images of scars emerging on adult bodies relating to childhood injuries which were only permitted to be presented in adult life through primal therapy.  For Janov, “pain” is a consequence of unmet needs and the child has many needs.

The scream silenced?

The abundance of criticism of Janov’s work during his career as ‘unscientific’ have been met by his assertion that the real test of validity of such therapy lies in the feeling state changes of clients.  Eminent psychiatrists and psychologists have criticised his simplicity questioning the assertion that childhood trauma necessarily leads to adult neurosis.  Others have asserted that many clients were faking their primal experiences in therapy.  Ultimately, there appears to be considerable support for the therapy’s status as; ‘discredited’.

Key factors in successful therapy

Therapies are coming and going as frequently as fashion statements.  Important considerations in terms of efficacy lie in the quality of the relationship between therapist and client as well as the expectations of both for positive lasting change.  Transactional analysis (TA), Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT), solution focused brief therapy (SFBT), neurolinguistic programming (NLP), mindfulness based stress reduction therapy (MBSRT) are all examples of a wave of approaches that produce positive outcomes, except when they don’t!

Ingredients of successful therapy

In considering the ingredients of a successful therapy it appears certain elements are critical to lasting change for the client:

  • Therapist’s competence. Of course, qualifications are just one part if the therapeutic equation. We all know people who are very well educated, but more than a little thick! Competence is born of education, aptitude, and experience.
  • Client orientation. It sometimes happens that clients say they would, ‘like’ to stop taking drugs, but in truth, they would rather not be nagged by loved ones about their taking drugs. One is not the same as the other and both effect motivation to change. Another element of client orientation to any form of therapy; ‘magical thinking’. When a client presents with some long-standing issues, such as anxiety, they may hold an expectation that such long-standing matters will be terminated in a couple of “mentalist” sessions.  A sort of, “here I am, now fix me”, attitude.  Yet another dimension of client orientation to the work can emerge if the client has been sent by someone else to be ‘fixed’. This usually requires a substantial shift of attitude if success is to be achieved.
  • The therapeutic partnership. The truth is, in any therapeutic relationship there are requirements on all concerned. The therapist must behave with complete congruence and professionalism, adapting and applying their skills to best meet the needs of the client. The client can eventually come to full participation in the process even after initial skepticism in some cases. After all, if people are trying several approaches and have been disappointed up ‘til now, some skepticism is understandable. So, whether the therapy involves wrecked furniture, wailing screams, gentle sobs, laughter, throat singing, or intellectual awareness, if it works it works.





Alright or RUOK?

RUOK Day is on Thursday September 14th. 

The official site explains the significant beginnings in 1995, of Gavin Larkin’s initiative, based around one simple but powerful question; Are you OK?  This was the very start of what has

sad demeanour on countenance

woman considering change

become a fixture in both calendars and minds across Australia and beyond.  September 14th Even though Gavin is no longer alive, his proud legacy continues as ‘RUOK Day’ approaches once again.  concern for people with suicidal thoughts calls for courage to ask the question; “RUOK?”  and the skills to handle the answer.

A simple question many conversations

The simple question continually delivers many conversations.  The RUOK teams travel to public venues like shopping malls across Australia with a simple but powerful resource; how to ask the question and then have the conversation.

Conversation with both purpose and structure

The RUOK official site makes the important point that, ibn order to be well placed to support someone else, you must be OK yourself.  Self-care then, is the starting point relating to any initiative around concern for people who may be struggling with life.  And, just because you may not be the best person to ask someone you’re concerned about if they’re OK, perhaps there’s someone else who might ask the important question and even have a vital conversation.

Not being ready or able to ask the question; RUOK, can simply mean you don’t have the time to spend on a conversation that could be very important for someone’s wellness.

What if the answer is NO!

The question as the RYOK site suggests is the beginning.  Most questions generate answers.  What if that answer to this one is “no”?  It is important then, to know what to do (and what not to) if someone answers; “no”, they are not ok.  Maybe it is not the best time for them to discuss their challenges right now, or privacy might be an issue, or the timing is not right somehow.  These are all important considerations for any important conversation. Especially this one.

Useful attitudes

If asking such a question as; RUOK? is uncomfortable for you, consider rehearsing until you get easier with the implications of the possible response.  Ask open question to encourage them to speak more and you also show the specific things that caused you to be concerned in the first place.  For example, “I notice you didn’t seem yourself at the match yesterday, and I’m just wondering how you’re doing?

Avoid confrontation

Even if you’ve prepared and said your piece, asked your questions, started the conversation, this does not always mean they’re ready to open up and talk.  This does not mean you’ve failed or are in any way responsible for their behaviour.  Leaving the door open for talk later on is still worthwhile.  Checking if they’d like to talk to someone else, reminding them that you still care, are still worthwhile.

The art of listening

Listening is an art. Listening well and paying good attention can be powerful resources in attempts to support someone in pain.  Avoid finishes their sentences, rushing them with head-nods or other gestures and don’t judge.  Silence itself is golden sometimes.  Giving ‘space’ to someone so they can process their understanding of their experience before they speak about how they feel can be powerfully supportive.  Encouraging elaboration on something they’ve said can also communicate that you’ve been listening well and paying respectful attention.

Professional help

Sometimes, the problem just might require professional help.  This reality implies no criticism of anybody.  If it is too hard or complex to address, contacting professionals is just a next logical step.  The official RUOK site encourages people to contact professionals. They suggest a range of services including; the family doctor, Helpline (131114), Suicide Call Back Service (1300 659 467), Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800), Grief Line (1300 845 745).  The official site for the RUOK? Day link is

Personal circumstances and life purpose

fit in puzzle

last piece to fit in

Personal circumstances are important considerations when exploring life’s meaning and purpose.  In this short series, I am referring to content from Dr Eric Maisel’s book; ‘Life Purpose Boot Camp’.  Maisel drives home some important points. One, meaning is a psychological experience and, as such, it is fickle and unpredictable. We can try and find meaning and even try unsuccessfully. We can make meaning investments, seize meaning opportunities. We can take charge.

More than one purpose!
Another important point is that notions of a single life purpose are fraught with risk of disappointment.  Here, I want to point to what Maisel calls the ‘crucible of reality’, your own reality.  Your own personal circumstances.  Some of which may be need a little attention, or a lot!

Understanding and even changing circumstances is crucial to living life purposes. Your personal circumstances are your constraints, or at least they can be.  It can be confronting to face reality squarely, preferring perhaps to avoid inconvenient truths. But the truth is; reality matters! It matters a lot. Making meaning that is based in your values is making meaning that is grounded in your circumstances.  The ones that help and the ones that get in the way of progress.

Importance of attitude

Attitude is one part of addressing circumstances. It is not just useful but sensible to face personal realities with an attitude of resourcefulness but attitude is just one part of the deal. Facing circumstances, armed with a resourceful mindset facilitates action that is resourceful also. And it is usual for circumstances to require action above mere awareness.

For example, the notion of making a difference in the world, as noble as that may seem, cannot be pursued meaningfully while personal devastation of addiction is a feature of daily life. You cannot adequately lead a principled life while avoiding responsibilities.

7 circumstantial questions

Maisel asks 7 questions in order to guide you through the challenges of facing up to circumstances>

  1. What, in fact, are my circumstances? How can I really know what parts of life require attention?
  2. What circumstances do I most avoid confronting?
  3. What aspects of my personal experiences might I reasonably forget about because they don’t impact my capacity to live my life purposes? A nuisance can be a nuisance without interfering with my path to purpose!
  4. Could I adopt a better attitude to my circumstances to help me live my life purposes? Do i approach my circumstances with a victim mentality.  “I cannot succeed with living my life purposes, I’m doomed…” does little to set the scene for great things to come.
  5. What actions can I take to repair circumstantial aspects of my life that are unhelpful?  Some things we can control some things we cannot.  Knowing the difference is a start. Knowledge is great, then comes the work!  Actions will be particular for particular circumstances.  Dealing with unhelpful habits can be a great start!
  6. What’s coming up ahead that I can prepare for?  It’s not always possible to see all the lies ahead in life.  But it is worthwhile to take a good look now and then.
  7. Can I make a simple way of keeping control of my realities?  Simple steps such as choosing to journal progress, marking obstacles, detours from your path and returning to basic principles of making meaning investments are all useful tools in holding a good path.

The answers to the 7 circumstantial questions encourages a proactive approach to managing personal circumstances. Living life purposes, making meaning informed by values and principles, can be powerfully impacted by circumstances. Improvements in one greatly improves prospects for both meaning and purpose.  If you stick to this short series I will have more soon.

Mental wellness, including freedom from anxiety and depression is greatly enhanced by connection to realistic goals, and a sense of meaning and purpose in life.  Maisel’s contribution can help.






Personality, meaning and life purpose: there must be some way outa here!

Personality, meaning and life purpose are very closely linked.  In an earlier post I discussed Dr Eric Maisel’s; ‘Life Purpose Boot Camp’ and his views on personality.  Here, I want to explore further some more practical steps that will, hopefully, support people willing to move beyond insight and into the work of naming, framing and living life purposes (yes, ‘purposes’ plural).  Personality for Maisel has three elements: ‘original’, ‘formed’, and ‘available’.  We use our available to make meaning adventures.

Maisel asks for two things prior to calling out life purposes.  Firstly, he suggests a personality upgrade.  For some this may prove irksome, at least initially.  Upgrading your personality simply means considering the relationship between your formed and available personalities, talking to yourself about what parts of your formed personality require attention, upgrade in Maisel’s terms.

The language of freedom

The language of freedom means noticing you have choice.  Many of us all too often use the language of obligation or necessity.  “I should be a better person”, “I must get my career sorted” which may be accurate are rarely helpful.  Saying; “I am free to choose to be a value-based actor in the world’.  Or, “I have many career options open, even in this economic climate”, are based in the language of freedom rather than the pressure of compulsion.

Facing defensiveness

We all refuse to face up to the realities of our own personal circumstances from time to time.  When it’s easier to deny unresourceful realities of our formed personalities, it’s also the case that we are refusing to access self-knowledge.  Do you have things you find difficult to face and accept and need changing?

Unresourceful thinking

Noticing familiar ways of thinking that you know are unhelpful is an important step in actualising your life purposes and being on the front foot in terms of making meaning.

Your available personality is a powerful resource in defeating unhelpful thinking patterns.  Regarding yourself as somehow ‘less than’ needs to be addressed as soon as possible.  Running an internal dialogue which is self-critical can prevent resourceful meaning making.  It can also provoke an inaccurate self-image.

Ideas are great, except when they’re not!

Just because you have ideas, this doesn’t mean they’re to be acted on.  Feelings are not reliable guides to action.  Judicious evaluation of ideas, especially emotionally loaded  ones,  through your available personality can be a powerful means of holding a solid stable direction.  Your available personality is your greatest ally.

Notice, appreciate and enjoy your strengths

Your formed personality contains rigidities, rote ways of operating.  These are problems and also strengths in some contexts.  Rigid tenacity in the face of life’s difficulties can prove to be a great asset.  Your own personal unconscious style of conduct could well prove endearing to others.

Be a value-based meaning maker

Some values are very useful and worthy of upkeep, some values need to be evaluated!  Some people value working long hours to the detriment of home life and personal health.  Some people hold the value of ingesting drugs to enhance artistic creativity.  Re-evaluating values through your available personality can prove powerfully resourceful.  Your own values can be explored for example here:

Consider your identity

An important meaning opportunity is your own identity.  How you identify yourself is important.  If you identify yourself as a loser, a failure, or some such unhelpful type, you could well dissuade yourself from investing in yourself and therefore living your life purposes.  If you identify yourself as ‘broken’ in some way, or mentally ill, you could limit your options to a stifling degree.  Imagine yourself as self-assured, calm, confident, considerate, and also responsible for your own direction.  From this perspective, at very least, more good is

girl at sunrise

woman considering meaning and purpose

possible. Resourceful meaning investments can be made and action on life purposes is much more possible.

I’ve upgraded my personality, now what?

Following a personality upgrade, perhaps even in parallel with your personality upgrade, there is the vital
requirement for realism.  It is critical to operate in the real world, to face your circumstances, especially the ones we resist facing.  For more about facing up to your circumstances please visit my next post coming soon.

Mental wellness, freedom from anxiety and depression are all helped by realistic and positive life goals.  The setting of these goals and taking steps to achieve them means living life purposefully, investing in meaning, and taking personal leadership.  Wellness, happiness, and freedom are important life purposes!

Personal change work: a simple sequence

Any enduring personal change work usually follows a fairly predictable sequence…
1.   Awareness, 
2.   Ownership , 
3.   Strategy, 
4.   Action, 
5.   Self-compassion

1. Awareness
For any change work to be called for there has to be awareness of a need for change.  Awareness alone, while important, is not enough. Many of us are aware our diet needs changing or our internet browsing could do with a cutback, but we grab that muffin and log on anyway! Of course, change will not happen without awareness (unless we’re locked up and deprived of access) and awareness acts as the initial motivator.

2. Ownership
Many people started smoking to appear cool, present as more mature, or even appear sexually attractive! Smokers are aware of the harm their habit does but many continue anyway. Ownership of the solution is crucial to progress with any personal change work, smoking included. Ownership of the solution means adopting a wholehearted decision to quit. Wholehearted decision-making calls for squarely addressing circumstances, facing up to the rationalisations that help maintain unhelpful habits. Some people continue smoking believing they’ll gain weight, or be unable to cope with stress, or believing they’re so addicted change is not possible. Wholehearted ownership of the solution leads to resourceful strategy.

3. Strategy 
 In our smoking case, the strategy is simple; never, never, never, smoke again! This simple strategy calls for several important tactics. These involve preparing for risky contexts. Those risky contexts can be places, events, even times of day where smoking was a feature. The morning coffee, the night out, or invitations from a work colleague to step outside for a smoke and a chat. Tactics involve formulating replacement activities, polite refusals, even new undertakings such as exercise. Important tactics include urge management. One useful approach involves reframing the urge experience as cause for celebration! Imagine an urge experience being met with; “awesome, this is great! It means I’m succeeding!” Such a response can be a powerful affirmation and will power strengthener. Many people limp along for weeks or even months in the grip of a contest between the urge to smoke and the decision to refrain. 
 Reframing an urge experience is a powerful tool!

4. Action
Such formulations are great but require action. Massive action that supports the strategy. Hypnosis and even self-hypnosis can be a powerful resource especially in early stages of change. The relaxation involved in the hypnotic experience affords a great opportunity to access personal strengths and resourcefulness.

5. Self-Compassion
Self-compassion supports gentleness and is a powerful contradiction to unhelpful self-criticism. People undertaking change work (like quitting cigarettes for example) often criticise themselves for the mess they’re in. Practicing self-compassion implies self-acceptance, understanding that we are flawed but rising above our past to make the required change without recrimination of self or others.