mardi 19 décembre 2006

Good enough!

That afternoon, 4.45 p.m.
‘Hello, Chris, good to see you again,’ began Steve, extending a
hand to his old university friend.
‘And you, Steve,’ Chris replied, pulling up a seat. ‘Well, have you
had a chance to talk all this over with Lynn?’
‘More than that,’ replied Steve. ‘We’ve decided together it’s the
right move for me.’
‘That’s great. You can even live with the lower basic salary then?’
Chris probed.
‘Absolutely,’ laughed Steve. ‘And I’ve told Lynn we’ll be going on
a Caribbean cruise next Christmas when I get the first big bonus
‘Well, I’m sure you’ll be looking out the Panama hat before the
year’s out,’ joked Chris. ‘And we’d review your salary for the New
Year. So you can start in a month’s time then?’
‘Yes, my resignation is in and I’m free to start then,’ replied
‘That’s great,’ began Chris. ‘Oh, just one thing. The car we give
to our Sales Director is a Ford Mondeo.’
‘A Mondeo?’ asked Steve, hesitatingly.
‘A Mondeo Ghia. Is that OK?’ enquired Chris.
‘That’s absolutely fine,’ smiled Steve, adding to himself: ‘For
Saturday 18 February, 11.15 a.m.
Steve put another round of toast in front of Lynn as they sat at
the breakfast bar.
‘You know, this flat’s getting a bit small for us,’ began Lynn, ‘es-
pecially if we want a little brother or sister for Nicky to play with
sometime soon.’
Steve freeze-framed his bite on a piece of toast for dramatic ef-
‘Well, if I don’t get this promotion, there’s nothing to stop me – is
there?’ Lynn continued.
‘Do I sense a little hint of defeatism?’ suggested Steve.
‘Just being realistic,’ replied Lynn. ‘There were several other good
candidates in for the job and I thought I’d have heard by now if
I’d got it.’
The sound of the letterbox rattling stopped the conversation.
Steve returned from the hallway with several envelopes in his
‘This, I believe, is for you, Lynn,’ he said. ‘Looks as if it’s from the
training department.’
‘You open it, Steve,’ she suggested.
‘Come on, it’s your moment,’ retorted Steve.
Hesitatingly, Lynn lifted a knife and slit the letter open. She read
the first two lines and shrieked in delight, throwing her arms
round her husband.
‘I take it you’re the new Head of Training?’ Steve asked, grinning
widely. ‘And that any thoughts of an addition to the family are
on hold?’
‘I suppose so,’ replied Lynn. ‘Unless I find within a few months
that I can’t …’
‘Stop it,’ interrupted Steve. ‘You’ll be just fine.’
‘It is a very responsible post,’ replied Lynn.
‘And you’re a very capable person,’ countered Steve.
‘You’re right. I realize that now,’ said Lynn.
‘Yeah, you’ve come quite a way in the past few months,’ sug-
gested Steve.
‘We both have,’ replied Lynn. ‘But what’s been so different re-
‘We’ve talked a lot more, Lynn,’ said Steve. ‘Sometimes argued
– but we’ve worked things out.’
‘So what got us talking?’ asked Lynn.
‘Well those bizarre texts stirred things up a bit, didn’t they?’ re-
plied Steve.
‘Now there’s a thing,’ continued Lynn. ‘Remember how we
couldn’t delete them? Well I looked through my texts yesterday
and there was no sign of them.’
‘Strange,’ said Steve. ‘I’ll check mine.’
After repeatedly scrolling through his texts, Steve reported back:
‘No, they’ve gone!’
‘Damn! And I’d promised Helena that I’d show her all the ques-
tions when we meet for coffee next week,’ began Lynn. ‘What
on earth were they now?’
Steve opened a kitchen drawer and pulled out a paper and pen.
‘I’m sure we’ll remember them, if we just go through them one
by one,’ he said. ‘You got the first one. What was it?’
‘ARE YOU HUNGRY FOR LOVE?’ replied Lynn.
‘And how did you respond to that?’ asked Steve.
‘Well, at first I really didn’t think I was comfort eating – but I
was,’ began Lynn. ‘I felt lonely in the evenings and we were both
caught up in our own worlds and had drifted apart. But it made
me realize that I was using food as a substitute – and what I
needed was to feel better about myself – and us – rather than try
to feel better by snacking.
‘I needed to satisfy my emotional hunger – and now I feel better
about myself and us.’
‘What was your first text?’ she asked.
‘ARE YOU GOOD ENOUGH?’ he replied.
‘And what did you do about that?’ she asked.
‘Well, at first I was really hacked off,’ he replied. ‘It came when
all the problems with the Bulldog were getting out of hand. I was
feeling bad enough already without that nonsense.’
‘But didn’t it make you start to think about the causes of that?’
asked Lynn.
‘Sure,’ he replied. ‘I started to realize I was far too hard on myself.
I’d always looked for my dad’s approval – but never got it. So I
suppose I began to understand that I only need to approve of
myself – and value myself for being a worthy human being.
‘What other people think of me has become far less important.
It’s what I think of myself that really counts.’
‘That’s so true,’ said Lynn. ‘And my next text got me thinking
along similar lines. Do you remember, it was: IS YOUR EMOTION-
AL BANK BALANCE IN THE RED? At first, it really upset me. But
I was allowing myself to be used by everybody and couldn’t say
no to anybody.’
‘Remember we looked at the pizzas,’ recalled Steve, ‘and re-di-
vided your time to leave some left over for you?’
‘Yes,’ began Lynn. ‘I hadn’t realized how much I needed to feel
liked by everybody – but, I just needed to like myself more. And
funnily enough, I feel so much better for having more time for
‘You’ve really got to keep your emotional bank balance in credit –
by investing enough time and energy in looking after yourself.’
‘Quite right!’ said Steve. ‘And you’re looking so much happier
since you started doing that.’
‘Your next text was something about bullies, wasn’t it?’ asked
began to realize that I was being bullied by the Bulldog – and
was still being bullied by my dad, in a way. I’d never challenged
Dad’s criticism. In fact, I’d adopted it and come to believe it. I even
realized I was bullying myself!
‘Once I’d realized who the bullies were, I could challenge them
for the first time in my life.’
‘Hey, Steve, remember that time we were getting stuck into the
garden and that message came through: WHO ARE YOU PRUN-
‘Of course,’ began Steve, ‘the day Helena and Jim were pruned
back and Andrea and Bob were weeded out.’
‘Yeah, that was a laugh,’ began Lynn, ‘but our friendships had
really become far too cluttered. And we’ve now given ourselves
room to breathe – and grow. I was expecting a backlash, but
some of them probably feel the benefit too.
‘Ultimately, you have to keep all relationships balanced, healthy
– and under review. That’s how to flourish and grow with the
people you choose to have in your life.’
Steve fell quiet.
‘What’s up?’ asked Lynn.
‘Oh nothing,’ said Steve. ‘It’s just that I was in a bad way at the
time I got the next message: HAVE YOU LOST YOUR BEARINGS?
It was the day I’d had a bust-up with the Bulldog. I went for a
few drinks too many – and I thought about driving the car into
a brick wall.’
‘You thought about killing yourself?’ Lynn gasped.
‘I was just feeling sorry for myself,’ retreated Steve. ‘I’d had too
much to drink.’
‘Steve, promise me you’ll never bottle things up like that again,’
pleaded Lynn.
‘No, I won’t,’ he began. ‘But, you know, it was a turning point
for me. I really had been feeling lost and heading nowhere. But
that Confidence Compass you’d found pointed me in the right
direction. I really had no idea how “driven” I was – constantly
working harder to feel better about myself. And the truth is, I was
on a downward spiral.
‘I now feel I’m heading in the right direction – balancing all the
hard work with a much greater belief in myself.’
‘I was having an awful day myself,’ said Lynn, ‘when my next text
came through. I’d fallen out with Mum – and Nicky was playing
up in the supermarket when I got a message: WHO ARE YOUR
ROLE MODELS? It got me thinking about Dad and all his broken
promises – and Mum had a dig at me for paying too much atten-
tion to celebrities and their lifestyles.’
‘She had a point, Lynn’ suggested Steve.
‘I know she did,’ replied Lynn. ‘I just wasn’t ready to admit it. But
I now pay far less attention to who people are – and far more at-
tention to what they believe and what they do.
‘I now choose my role models for their depth of character, rather
than their superficial image.’
‘Your mum had a pop at your parenting skills that day, as I recall,’
said Steve, ‘and that’s what my next message was about: WHO
ARE YOU PARENTING? When we talked about it – or argued
about it, to be more accurate – you accused me of being too hard
on Nicky and I accused you of being too soft. In the end, we just
had to learn to be firm – and set clear boundaries. We were guilty
of sending him mixed messages. So we both had to sing from the
same song sheet.
‘I certainly didn’t realize that I was being so critical of him. And I
now make a point of telling him how much I love him. I now also
know that I can be a parent to myself – and treat myself in the
way any good parent would treat their child.’
‘It was New Year’s Day when I got the next message,’ said Lynn,
‘So it was,’ said Steve. ‘The day I heard that Mum had died.’
‘We were driving to Irene and Ian’s,’ said Lynn. ‘And worried
about whether they’d be put out by us seeing less of them – and
we arrived to hear that awful news.
‘I think I’d been rather afraid of change in the past. But now I
realize you have to swim with the tide of change – rather than
against the current.
‘In fact, I’d always thought that I would make changes ONCE
I felt more confident. But it’s the other way round. I feel more
confident BECAUSE I’ve made changes.’
‘Well, the big change I made around that time was to my lan-
guage,’ said Steve. ‘I had been so negative about Mum’s funeral
– but that message WHAT DO YOUR WORDS SAY ABOUT YOU?
certainly addressed that.’
‘And I was being unfair to myself by watering down my attributes
whenever I spoke,’ added Lynn.
‘And you would never accept a compliment,’ continued Steve.
‘Do you still think it’s phoney to say “I’m good” instead of “Not
bad” when people ask how you are, Steve?’ asked Lynn.
‘No, I’ve just got used to it – and I feel I’m being more positive
with Nicky,’ said Steve.
‘It’s easy to change your words as the first step to thinking, feeling
and acting more positively. Positive words also help to challenge
that critical voice in your head.’
‘Remember we used role play to practise your positive responses
to the Bulldog?’ asked Lynn. ‘That worked a treat. But what was
the message that prompted it?’
‘Of course,’ continued Lynn. ‘And we addressed your biggest
problem by working out a plan to deal with Dave face to face
without him beating you down.’
‘I reckon I’d been running away from the problem until then,’
confessed Steve. ‘It was only when I faced up to it and under-
stood it that I could start to deal with it.
‘It’s only when you ask yourself the right questions that you can
bring the problem into sharp focus – and you can find a way
‘Then I got the message asking ARE YOU ACTING AS IF?’ said
Lynn. ‘And I had no idea what it was about. By that time, you’d
had to act as if you were really confident going into the meeting
with Dave – but then you’d prepared well and you pulled off a
good performance.’
‘You’re forgetting one thing,’ teased Steve.
‘What?’ asked Lynn.
‘A confident manner!’ Steve reminded her. ‘You have to look as
if you’re confident to feel as if you are.’
‘Well, I certainly used that when I went for the new job,’ said
Lynn. ‘And it worked a treat.
‘And if you keep on looking and acting more confident, you be-
come more confident. And when you feel more confident, you
look and act more confident. It’s an upward spiral.’
‘Well, your confidence certainly took an upward turn this week
with the way you handled that job interview,’ said Steve. ‘But
it was a strange message you got before it: DOES YOUR MIND
‘Yes, by the time I got there,’ said Lynn, ‘the only person who
had to be convinced that I had a good chance of getting the job
was me.’
‘So what made the difference?’ asked Steve.
‘I just silenced my “goblin” and started saying what I believed to
be true,’ she replied. ‘I suppose I put my mind to work for me,
rather than against me.
‘You really do have to make your mind your best friend if you
want to find peace of mind.’
‘I wonder about your mind sometimes,’ said Steve, ‘given that
you saw the interviewers with Mickey Mouse ears and in their
‘You’re one to mock,’ said Lynn. ‘You saw Dave in his boxer shorts
and with huge ears.’
‘Which he has anyway!’ they said in unison.
‘Well, you won’t have to look at them for much longer,’ sug-
gested Lynn as the laughter subsided.
‘True,’ said Steve. ‘I’ll miss Dave – but not much!’
‘Will anything happen to him when Craig reacts to your letter?’
asked Lynn.
‘Who knows?’ said Steve. ‘But if everybody else in the sales team
is spared his bullying, that would be a good thing.’
Lynn paused.
‘So why have the text messages disappeared?’ she asked. ‘And
does that mean they’ve stopped?’
‘I don’t know,’ said Steve. ‘I really don’t know.’
Monday 20 March, 8.50 a.m.
Dave the Bulldog trudged wearily into the hotel foyer and scanned
the conference board to find the right suite.
He and four others would be spending the next six hours on an
‘Effective Communications’ course, organized by Craig for ‘se-
lected’ managers.
Craig had looked closely at his senior management team and
decided that some would benefit from a few reminders on how
to communicate positively with staff.
Dave went to switch off his mobile, but a bleep indicated he had
one new message to check first.

Does your mind work for you?

Wednesday 15 February, 2.45 p.m.
Lynn sat in her car, parked outside the bank headquarters, fight-
ing conflicting emotions.
She had presented so well when asked to ‘go solo’ recently, in
front of 50 senior bank delegates. The Finance Director and Cor-
porate Banking boss had both spoken to her afterwards to con-
gratulate her on the excellent delivery.
So why did she always feel her stomach churning before her
personal assessment, or any job interview, for that matter? Was
it that she hid behind the mask of her job – until the spotlight was
on her as a person?
It was as if there were two Lynns. The woman who stood confi-
dently in front of a crowd, presenting on communication – and
the little girl who stood cowering in front of the head teacher,
waiting for a row.
Her mind drifted off to her childhood, looking for answers.
Her mum tried so hard to boost her confidence. She had always
praised her – regardless of how Lynn had done.
Perhaps that was the problem. Perhaps she had stopped believ-
ing her mum because there was never a moment when an im-
provement was suggested. Only praise.
Of course her dad never made it to the school performances or
her dancing shows. He seemed to be vaguely interested in her
progress, as if he were hearing reports about a distant relative.
So with nothing to judge her mother’s lavish praise against, it had
become much easier to be sceptical about all compliments. She
felt that way she could guard against being ‘taken in’.
Lynn had become so much better, though, at accepting compli-
ments about her business presentations. It was the personal ones
that still seemed difficult to believe.
And with her inability to ‘bank’ those, she still felt very exposed
when the conversation was about her, rather than the business.
As she locked up the car, Lynn went to remove the flyer on her
‘Does your mind work for you?’ it asked, suggesting that hypno-
therapy with Dr Dave DeSilva would help you overcome ‘drink-
ing, smoking and fear of flying’.
‘Doctor of what?’ asked Lynn to nobody in particular.
‘I’m so bad in interviews,’ she told herself, entering the lift to the
sixth floor – boardroom level.
‘No, Lynn – stop thinking negatively,’ she warned herself. ‘You are
good at these interviews.’
But the words were hollow. Lynn felt quite squeamish and wished
she was anywhere else, other than facing an interview for a pro-
moted post – Head of Training.
As the lift rose, a noise came from her handbag.
‘Damn! I meant to switch that off,’ she thought, reaching for her
Before silencing it, Lynn read the message:
Does your mind work for you?
‘Yes, but only with the help of a hypnotherapist, apparently,’ she
said mockingly, causing the young temp sharing the lift with her
to look at Lynn strangely.
When Lynn arrived outside the boardroom, one of her interview-
ers was waiting for her.
Jane Browning, retiring Head of Training, touched Lynn on the
arm in a friendly manner.
‘Now, I know you get nervous at these wretched interviews,’ she
said. ‘If you want to use a trick I learned a long time ago, think of
us all sitting in our pyjamas sporting big Mickey Mouse ears. If you
still felt nervous facing a panel like that, I’d eat my hat.’
‘Thanks, Jane,’ Lynn laughed. ‘I’ll bear that in mind.’
‘Go for it, Lynn. This is your big chance. Show them what I already
know,’ she said, departing into the boardroom.
It was 10 minutes later, once the other four panel members had
arrived, that Lynn was invited in.
She nodded to Jane and the other two she knew – and intro-
duced herself with a handshake to the two unknown to her.
‘Lynn, perhaps you can remind us all of what brings you here,’
opened the woman Lynn was looking to succeed.
‘Well, I was delighted to be asked to apply for this job – and at
first I was a little surprised,’ Lynn began, teetering on the edge of
talking herself out of the post.
‘However, having considered what I’ve been doing since return-
ing full-time last September, I now believe I’m ready for the chal-
‘Yes, it is only less than six months since you went full-time,’ sol-
emnly pointed out the panellist who, peering over his bi-focals,
resembled a High Court judge.
‘I wonder if you’re certain that you wish to remain full-time, or
whether you’ll want to return to part-time working.’
Lynn caught Jane’s eye before answering and noticed her sweep-
ing her hair behind her ears with both hands. She then cupped
her hands, to remind Lynn of the Mickey Mouse ears.
Lynn laughed, a little too obviously for her own liking.
‘Yes, I have to laugh when I remember dithering about return-
ing,’ she began, ‘ but now, weighing up on a Monday morning
whether I wish to breathe life into the presentations of my col-
leagues or debate with a five-year-old the pros – but mostly cons
– of “colouring in” my white bedroom carpet, the former wins
hands down each time.’
The ‘judge’ smiled. The other four laughed.
‘Good start, Lynn,’ she told herself. ‘Now just stay relaxed and
concentrate on the positives.’
Mind power
Our mind is the most powerful tool we have at our disposal to
understand the world about us and to deal with life. It’s therefore
vital that we make our mind our loyal ally.
In every moment, our own mind is either working for or against
us. The choice is ours.
Lynn thinks back to her childhood and how she struggled even then
to make sense of her family, her environment and her ‘world’.
She now realizes that, in so many ways, it didn’t add up at all.
Her mother praised her, irrespective of what she did – and her fa-
ther gave her no feedback whatsoever, neither good nor bad.
She recognizes how impossible it was, as a child growing up in that
specific setting, to construct a clear picture of a rational world.
Suddenly it dawns on her:
It’s impossible to build a sure sense of healthy self-worth on
the shifting sands of inconsistent and conflicting parental
No wonder Lynn has doubted herself so much and found com-
pliments from Steve and her colleagues hard to believe. She still
thinks, sometimes, that they are ‘just being nice’ to her by not
telling her the truth.
Revisiting, re-evaluating and reconstructing
Lynn is realizing how important it is for her now, as an adult, to
REVISIT the erroneous conclusions she came to about herself, as
a child.
Because, unwittingly, she’s been living her adult life based on the
opinion of herself that she formed as a child. And that is outdated
and inaccurate.
Lynn fashioned a misshapen view of herself and formed poor be-
liefs regarding her abilities, as a consequence of growing up in her
unique family environment – a result of living on ‘Planet Peter-
Her evaluation of herself was strongly influenced by the relation-
ships she had with her parents.
The exciting thing is that, after revisiting her childhood opinions
of herself, she is then in a powerful position to RE-EVALUATE
them in the light of evidence regarding herself that is now avail-
able to her.
Our family may have passed a sentence on us as a child, but we can
overturn that sentence in our own ‘Appeal Court’ – based on the
new evidence that has since come to light.
The evidence – that she is of greater worth and value than she pre-
viously thought – is all around her, if only she looks with a more
open mind and is prepared to take on board what she sees.
She can source the evidence and information she needs by asking
Steve, friends and work colleagues who clearly hold her in high
regard and appreciate her abilities and personal qualities – as a
woman, as a mother and as a professional.
By REVISITING her beliefs about herself and RE-EVALUATING
them, Lynn can begin to modify her poor view of herself and RE-
CONSTRUCT a set of healthier, more accurate and empowering
In this way, Lynn’s self-confidence can grow.
Positive self-talk
Replacing negative self-talk, in the form of unhelpful, disempow-
ering thoughts, with positive self-affirming ones, is an essential
life skill that builds self-confidence and increases our chances of
Lynn’s inner critic, her ‘goblin’ as she calls it, always goes into
overdrive whenever she’s under stress.
And she’s been worrying and obsessing over her approaching job
interview for days.
For the first time she can remember, Lynn courageously challeng-
es her ‘goblin’ when it begins its familiar critical monologue and
starts to ‘run her down’.
When the ‘goblin’ jibes that she is ‘so bad at interviews’, Lynn help-
fully replaces this negative false belief about herself with a more
positive alternative: ‘You are good at these interviews’.
Although Lynn may feel this is a bit strange and artificial at first,
the practice of substituting negative thoughts with empowering
alternatives is one she will need to cultivate.
This whole process requires it to become a habit before it feels ef-
fortless and natural.
As she becomes more aware of her unhelpful thinking style, Lynn
makes the choice to start initiating positive self-talk.
At the right time, and when it matters most, she’s able to give her-
self some accurate positive feedback and encouragement during
the interview itself:
‘Good start, Lynn,’ she tells herself, ‘now just stay relaxed and concen-
trate on the positives.’
By doing this, Lynn is immediately starting to make her mind work
for her rather than against her – and it pays off instantly.
Learning to make our mind our BEST FRIEND and LOYAL SUP-
PORTER is essential if we want to discover peace of mind.
Your Mind Map
As we go through each day, we’re constantly forming opinions and
views of what’s happening to us and around us.
And these views form the basis for what we call ‘reality’.
We believe that the information we collect from our senses is truly
objective. But really our mind is squeezing all the information it is
receiving from around us, through the filter of our personal beliefs
about ourselves and others, based on our past experiences.
This somewhat distorted perception then becomes a picture or ver-
sion of reality that is unique to each one of us.
In this way, moment by moment, we form our own personal rep-
resentation of our experience.
This is our personal Mind Map of the World.
It’s our Mind Map that we follow as we make our way through
each day – when we experience a conversation, an encounter, a
meeting, look in the mirror, read the newspaper or go on a jour-
The difficulty is that our Mind Map version of reality may not be
‘geographically’ accurate, because it’s only our personal represen-
tation and reconstruction of what we experience.
The Mind Map of the world that Steve forms and follows when
he’s in the presence of bullying Dave has been blurred by his child-
hood experiences at the hands of his critical father.
As a result, he did find himself acting as if Dave was his father, in
a way that was unhelpful to him.
Steve has now formed a much more accurate Mind Map of the
situation to follow, since he has become aware of this distortion.
One effective way to make our mind work for us in difficult situ-
ations, rather than against us, is to reframe our view of events so
that they empower us.
Lynn uses this device well during her job interview when she
imagines the panel wearing Mickey Mouse ears.
However, using her inaccurate Mind Map of the interview setting,
she also views one panel member in a distorted way.
She sees him in her mind as ‘the judge’ and therefore, by implica-
tion, out to sentence her – rather than assess her fairly and appreci-
ate her job qualities.
This is an unhelpful Mind Map to follow in an interview setting
but she uses a type of reframing, visual reframing, to get her past
this obstacle.
She visually reframes her picture of the panel in a way that robs
‘the judge’ of the power she’s already granted to him in her mind,
by viewing him in a ridiculous way, with huge protruding ears.
And it works a treat.
Visually reframing jolts her mind out of imagining an unhelpful
picture of the situation into working with an empowering one.
Lynn is grasping the enormous personal power at her disposal the
moment she starts to make her mind work for her.
That afternoon, 4.10 p.m.
‘Well, how did it go?’ asked Steve tentatively, as Lynn picked up
her office phone.
‘Actually, very well,’ answered Lynn, more positively than Steve
had expected.
‘Great,’ he said. ‘So what made the difference this time?’
Lynn took Steve through the conversation with Jane Browning,
her reminder of the Mickey Mouse ears, her confident start – and
the string of good answers she gave to searching questions.
‘Not a “quite” or “fairly” or “hopefully” in sight,’ she concluded
‘So do you reckon you’ll get the job?’ asked Steve.
‘Well, I have a great chance,’ replied Lynn.
‘I’m having an interesting day,’ said Steve.
‘Why, what’s happened?’ said Lynn.
‘Tell you when I get home,’ teased Steve – and hung up.
Tuesday, 7.30 p.m.
‘This had better be good,’ said Lynn, as her husband walked into
the kitchen of their flat.
‘Well it is, as a matter of fact,’ said Steve. ‘Do you remember
that advert that began “Are you good enough to lead our sales
‘Sure, but that was months ago,’ said Lynn.
‘Well, the original ad was back in September,’ said Steve. ‘I came
across it in the pocket of my old suit trousers last week and, for
some reason, decided to phone them. It turns out the appoint-
ment fell through because of a legal wrangle over compensation
– and so they’re needing a sales director in a hurry.’
‘They told you all this on the phone?’ asked Lynn, bemused.
‘No, the Chief Executive told me when I dropped in at five this
evening for a chat,’ said Steve, as Lynn’s eyes widened. ‘He turns
out to be an old university friend of mine – Chris Williamson.
Lynn, he’s offered me the job, based on what I achieved last year.
He told me he had thought of calling me when he read about
the award.’
Lynn was speechless. So many questions flooded though her
head, but only one came out her mouth.
‘How much does it pay?’
‘Five grand less than I’m on,’ said Steve. ‘But that would improve,
based on performance.’
‘Risky,’ said Lynn.
‘The only risk would be to ignore your gut instinct,’ said Steve.
‘You’re right,’ said Lynn. ‘So do you want to take it?’
‘I’ve said I’ll give him an answer by five tomorrow,’ said Steve. ‘But
first, I’m going to resolve some unfinished business with Dave.’
Thursday 16 February, 8.30 a.m.
‘Morning, Dave. Can I have a word?’ asked Steve.
‘A brief one,’ replied Dave, chewing on his breakfast blueberry
Steve drew up a seat.
‘There was something I omitted to say yesterday,’ began Steve.
‘Oh yeah,’ replied Dave, barely interested.
‘I’ve given my commitment to the job – but I require your com-
mitment also,’ Steve started.
‘My commitment to what?’ barked the Bulldog.
‘To stop bullying me and everybody else in this company,’ con-
tinued Steve.
‘Are you suggesting I’m a bully?’ snarled Dave, the crumbs of
blueberry muffin now flying in all directions.
‘I’m not suggesting it, Dave. I’m saying directly and unambigu-
ously that you are a bully.’
For once, Dave was confounded, so Steve continued.
‘Now, do I have your guarantee that the bullying will stop imme-
diately?’ asked Steve.
Dave was about to explode.
‘Well, do I?’ asked Steve.
‘Get out my office right away!’ shouted Dave.
‘With respect, that’s not an answer, Dave. Is the bullying going
to stop?’
‘Get out!’ screamed Dave. ‘And consider what you’re going to
say when I have you disciplined for gross misconduct.’
‘I’ve only asked you politely to stop bullying your staff,’ replied
Steve. ‘It’s your misconduct that’s gross. So I’ll ask a final time, can
you guarantee that the bullying will stop or do I have to report
your behaviour to the Chief Executive?’
‘You wouldn’t dare,’ snapped Dave.
‘Watch me!’ replied Steve.
‘You’ll leave this company before I do,’ hit back Dave.
‘Well, you’re probably right there,’ said Steve, pulling a white
envelope out of his jacket inside pocket, ‘because this is my res-
ignation letter. But I will make it my business to write a formal
complaint about your behaviour before I leave. Craig, being the
fair man he is, will undoubtedly take that very seriously indeed.
Good morning, Dave,’ concluded Steve, smiling as he closed the
door quietly behind him on the way out.
Twenty minutes later
‘No way!’ exclaimed Lynn, on hearing Steve’s report of the meet-
She pressed her mobile close to her ear, to make sure she caught
every word.
‘And you didn’t feel nervous?’ she asked.
‘I envisaged him in his boxer shorts with huge ears – which he has
anyway,’ replied Steve.
‘And what if the new job falls through?’ said Lynn, suddenly real-
izing the consequences of Steve’s actions.
‘Even if it did – and I’m convinced it’ll be confirmed this week
– even if it did, I’m still a good candidate for any similar job
going,’ said Steve. ‘And once Craig gets my letter tomorrow, it’s
Dave who should be concerned about his future.’

Are you acting ‘as if’?

Tuesday 14 February, 11.40 a.m.
For someone whose ‘door is always open’, the Bulldog’s door had
remained tightly shut to Steve in the fortnight since he’d asked
for a chat.
The timing was ironic, Steve reckoned. He had a Valentine’s date
with a man in love – with himself.
As he walked towards Dave’s office, Steve pulled back his shoul-
ders, stiffened his back and began smiling. Dave’s secretary smiled
back, without realizing that Steve was only warming up on her.
Before entering the office, Steve ran through his bullet points one
more time in his head.
‘Regret, reason, remedy … refuse to rise to the bait … main-
tain eye contact … answer questions directly … keep my cool …
come out smiling,’ he rehearsed to himself.
His mind went back to the two evenings with Lynn in which she
had fired all Dave’s barbs at him and he had resisted the pres-
sure. He now had some protection against the hail of bullets he
expected to face.
He’d done the preparation. Now he just had to perform.
‘Come in!’ barked the Bulldog, a second after Steve knocked.
Dave remained seated behind his screen, feverishly knocking out
an email on the keyboard, as Steve stood in front of the desk.
After a few seconds of silence, Steve decided to sit.
‘This will take a couple of minutes,’ said Dave, still battering away.
With a triumphant flourish, he hit the send button.
‘That’ll give him something to think about,’ threatened Dave.
For just a second, Steve considered the possibility that it was all
an act and there was no lucky recipient.
‘Now, you wanted to see me,’ said Dave, leaning back in his
leather seat, placing both his hands behind his head and stretch-
ing his elbows out.
‘Yes indeed,’ began Steve confidently, ‘and thanks for making the
time. As you know, Dave, I’ve been disappointed with my figures
for the past few months …’
‘And you’re not the only one …’ interrupted Dave, preparing for
a monologue. But Steve pressed on:
‘And I acknowledge that’s put a strain on you and on my own
team, which is why I apologized to them last week – and now I
want you to know I’m sorry I’ve been underperforming.’
Dave hesitated and thought of offering words of consolation, but
instead opted for a snarl.
‘Well, there’s no point apologizing after the event,’ he began. ‘It’s
too late by then.’
‘On the contrary,’ began Steve. ‘It’s the only time. But I simply
wanted to explain what had happened and let you know what
I’ve done about it.’
The Bulldog sat impassively, waiting for the first flaw in the argu-
Steve continued. ‘For whatever reason, I feel I’ve lost ground
these last few months. I’ve worked as hard, but the results have
dried up. A bit like United really,’ he joked, weakly.
Dave drew breath, but Steve got in first.
‘Anyway, I’ve had a better fortnight – which will show in next
month’s figures – and you can rest assured the improvement will
be constant.’
So far, so good. The Bulldog seemed pacified, but Steve was still
on his guard.
‘So you can guarantee improved figures?’ was Dave’s calculating
‘No,’ Steve began.
‘No!’ interrupted Dave.
‘No, what I can guarantee,’ continued Steve, ‘is a commitment
to the job and to my team. I’m convinced the promising results of
the last two weeks will continue.’
‘So, no guarantee?’ toyed Dave.
‘My guarantee is one of commitment,’ hit back Steve, ‘and that
way I believe we’ll get the results.’
The Bulldog tried another line of attack.
‘And what if the results don’t come?’ he asked, barely able to
suppress a cruel smile.
‘I believe they will come,’ returned Steve.
‘But if they don’t,’ pressed Dave, ‘what then? Can I expect your
resignation on my desk?’
Steve hesitated.
‘Well?’ barked the Bulldog.
Steve resisted the temptation to fold like the child so bullied by
his father.
‘Absolutely not,’ replied Steve. ‘That’s too easy an option. I want
to fight to see the job done and turn things around. That is what
I believe I can do.’
‘Well, for your sake, I hope you’re right,’ concluded Dave.
‘For everybody’s sake, I want to get it right,’ concluded Steve.
‘And thanks again for your time, Dave.’
Steve reached out his right hand, offering Dave little alternative
but to accept the handshake. The Bulldog even found himself
offering a weak smile in reply to the broad one afforded him by
The former Regional Sales Director of the Year bounced to the car
park, greeting each employee he encountered on the way.
Safely inside the Mondeo, he pressed No. 1 on his mobile’s speed
dial list and waited for Lynn to answer.
After two rings, she duly did, recognizing Steve’s number.
‘Well?’ she asked in anticipation.
‘He’s an ignorant …’ Steve began.
‘Well we know that, but how did it go?’ she insisted.
‘Surprisingly well,’ began Steve. ‘He tried the “guarantee” ques-
tion we rehearsed and he pulled the old “will you resign?” stunt
– but the rehearsal paid off because I took the moral high ground
each time.’
‘Brilliant!’ shrieked Lynn. ‘But do you still have a job?’
‘Absolutely,’ replied Steve. ‘And it’s the first time I’ve stood up to
Dave and left the meeting feeling better than when I went in.’
‘That’s terrific!’ said Lynn. ‘I’ll hear more about it tonight, before
our candlelit dinner. What time will you be home?’
‘By seven,’ came the certain reply. ‘See you then – and thanks,
‘For what?’ she asked.
‘For believing in me when I didn’t,’ came the surprisingly frank
‘My pleasure,’ said Lynn. ‘See you tonight, handsome.’
As Lynn hung up, her mobile indicated a new message:
Are you acting as if …?
‘As if what?’ asked Lynn out loud.
Steve is determined to succeed in overcoming his problem with
the Bulldog.
And he’s going about it the right way.
At one time, it would have been so easy for him to have let this
situation bring him down even further than it already has, causing
him to ‘burn out’.
He could have done nothing, let the pattern of destructive bullying
continue and found himself ill or driven out of his job.
Even now, he could choose to let his fears overpower and paralyse
him. There are still mornings when he’s afraid to get out of bed
and days when he has to work up the courage to make the lonely
pilgrimage from his car to the office door.
But Steve’s beginning to change. His courage is becoming bigger
than his fear. Steve is developing self-belief.
Thinking about the text messages, in combination with his discus-
sions with Lynn, has increased his self-awareness. This increased
understanding of himself has made him more aware of the heart
of the problem he has with Dave.
In turn, this has enabled him to draw up a more effective problem-
solving plan in order to deal with it.
Steve has been empowered to take appropriate action.
When it comes to success in any new venture, a reasonable degree
of self-belief is essential because what we believe about ourselves
and our abilities affects the possible outcome in any given situa-
tion. In this sense, we create our own destiny.
Our power to solve problems is limited only by the strength of our
belief that we can.
If we believe that we can, then we’re more likely to succeed. If we
believe that we can’t, then we’ll also probably be right too.
The power of the mind is that it tends towards creating what it
But self-belief has to be soundly based on preparation, performance
and physiology, otherwise it is merely a false sense of security.
Facing a challenge unprepared would be like walking into the
gladiatorial arena without having mastered the skills of hand-to-
hand combat; or going to sit an examination without having stud-
ied adequately; or attending an interview without having done
our homework and honed our interview technique.
And yet we’ve all done this at one time or another and then been
surprised when things don’t work out!
Steve’s preparation has suddenly made him aware, for the first
time, of the personal buttons Dave’s been pressing – the legacy
of his relationship with his critical bullying father and his eternal
striving to please him.
Steve has been behaving towards Dave AS IF he were his father.
This is the ‘hook’ that Dave has had in Steve and explains why he
was brought to the edge of despair. Dave’s bullying has been such a
powerful and destructive weapon because it’s touched this painful
raw nerve in Steve.
Equally important for Steve was the need to perform well on the
day of his meeting with Dave.
And in order to build his belief that he could handle it, Steve need-
ed to practise how he would play it.
This is why Lynn’s suggestion of role playing his forthcoming
showdown with Dave was so helpful. The idea scared Steve wit-
less at first but the experience proved worth its weight in gold on
this, his first day of reckoning with Dave.
Practice enables us to connect up what we KNOW we have to do
with the actual DOING of it.
This is because practice creates the unique mind–body connections
essential for executing successfully the specific behaviour we want
to develop.
For example, even though a musician has memorized the melo-
dies, notes and musical arrangements of a piece, he would only go
on stage to perform having practised them over and over again on
the instrument – in private or, better still, on a stage without the
audience present.
These vital mind–body connections are the equivalent of power-
ful confidence motorways along which we can travel easily, effort-
lessly, confidently and with self-belief.
This is true of any behaviour pattern we may wish to develop or
reinforce, such as behaving more confidently, playing a musical in-
strument, speaking in public or, in Steve’s situation, the performance
strategy for his forthcoming encounter with Dave.
In this way, the whole ‘performance’ becomes confident, natural,
effortless and, ultimately, much more powerful.
Role playing with Lynn allowed Steve the opportunity to ‘hear
and see’ his own performance in advance. In addition, it provided
the benefit of external input and opinion from Lynn, who has the
advantage of being objective and only having Steve’s best interests
at heart.
If Lynn had not come up with the idea of role playing, then practis-
ing in front of a mirror or using a camera to record the ‘rehearsal’
would have been effective alternatives that Steve could have used.
Preparation and practice are important in creating confident be-
haviour, but developing a healthy physiology is also vital.
And both Steve and Lynn are beginning to improve their physiol-
ogy by enhancing their physical health and fitness.
Lynn has started yoga classes and Steve is back playing five-a-side
football and going to the gym. In addition to being fitter, they are
eating more healthily and drinking less alcohol. She feels calmer
and less stressed and his mood has lifted.
Their general sense of physical and emotional well-being has been
given a huge boost and they both wish that they had started being
more active much sooner.
For Steve, bringing a healthier body to the preparation, practice
and performance situations has powerfully enhanced the learning
process itself and ultimately the quality of the confident behaviour
and self-belief he has created.
This is because it helps to build the large and robust confidence
motorways between mind and body, necessary for the confident
behaviour to become ‘hard wired’.
Working with an unfit body and eating unhealthily is akin to en-
tering a standard saloon car in the Monaco Grand Prix, filling it
with low-grade fuel and then expecting it to perform well and
have a real chance of winning.
The confidence spiral
But Steve is also beginning to use his body language to enhance
his confidence and self-belief in another effective way – by acting
as if he feels confident.
This involves him using good body language to create a state of
confidence and self-belief by changing things like his facial expres-
sion, breathing, posture, stance and movement to those associated
with confident behaviour.
He walks into the meeting with Dave with his shoulders back and
smiles as he confidently and firmly shakes his hand. He speaks
clearly and loudly enough, while keeping good eye contact.
This behaviour sends powerful ‘confident messages’ to his brain
through the confidence motorways he’s been building during role
The more he acts as if he is confident, the more confidence he will
genuinely begin to experience.
Steve is experiencing the powerful connections between:
body and mind
physiology and feelings
behaving confidently and feeling confident
acting as if he’s confident and experiencing a state of confidence
This is the power of the mind–body connection – to create con-
fidence motorways between the way we behave and the way we
think and feel.
Acting as if we are confident puts us in a more confident state.
When we feel more confident we behave in a more confident man-
ner and, as we repeat this cycle, we send our confidence on an
upward spiral.

feeling confident
behaving confidently
feeling confident
behaving confidently
feeling confident

That evening
As good as his word, Steve was in the flat at 6.45, carrying a large
bouquet of flowers.
‘These are magnificent,’ gasped Lynn.
‘If only they were for you,’ Steve teased, putting them behind his
back. ‘Happy Valentine’s Day!’
With Nicky at his gran’s house for the night, there was nobody to
interrupt their lengthy embrace.
‘I just wish I didn’t have that interview tomorrow to put me off my
food tonight,’ said Lynn.
‘We’ll rehearse it over dinner,’ suggested Steve.
‘How romantic!’ replied Lynn.
‘Well, you have to be positive,’ said Steve. ‘You have to act as if
the job’s got your name written on it.’
‘Act as if …?’ asked Lynn.
‘Sure, if you’re uncertain, just act as if you were confident,’ re-
plied Steve.
‘I got a text with these words this afternoon,’ said Lynn.
‘Ah, the Phantom of the Soap Opera,’ suggested Steve.
Twenty minutes later, Lynn was in her black dress and standing in
front of the full-length mirror in the bedroom.
‘I can just see a horrible bump where my tummy used to be,’ she
groaned, holding her hand on her stomach.
Steve stood behind her and put his arms round her, looking at
them both in the mirror.
His paunch had reduced and the double chin was back to a single.
His regular five-a-side football nights were also now supplement-
ed by a once-a-week trip to the gym.
‘I can just see an incredibly attractive woman with a great per-
sonality, a bundle load of compassion who’s a terrific wife and
mother – whom I love to bits,’ he said, squeezing her tight.
They were the kind of words that, until recently, she had expected
never to hear from him again.

How are you at solving problems?

Monday 30 January, 7 a.m.
The alarm clock’s persistent ring gave Steve little option. He had
to get up.
As he pushed the bedroom curtain aside, he could see steady
rain piercing the darkness, illuminated by the amber hue of the
fluorescent street lighting.
‘Oh God,’ he mumbled, still half-asleep. ‘What a miserable morn-
He was surprised to find the kitchen light on and Lynn sitting at
the breakfast bar, already dressed. She had paperwork scattered
in front of her.
‘Why are you up so early?’ he asked, screwing up his eyes against
the harsh light.
‘Oh, I’m delivering that new internal communications course
today – alone!’ Lynn replied. ‘I’m just wanting to read through it
again before I set off.’
‘Are you worried about it?’ Steve enquired.
‘No, I just want to feel well prepared,’ she replied. ‘But I’m feeling
Steve had been reaching for the milk in the fridge, but stopped
in his tracks.
‘You’re feeling what?’ he asked.
‘Confident,’ replied Lynn.
‘Not reasonably confident?’ probed Steve.
Lynn laughed. ‘No, confident – based on good preparation and a
healthy level of self-belief!’
‘You’re going to beat me in the race to become a north-easterner
on that compass, aren’t you?’ suggested Steve.
‘Who said it was a race?’ replied Lynn. ‘I thought it was a jour-
‘Well, you seem a lot happier these days,’ observed Steve. ‘If it’s
a journey, I feel I’m dragging my feet – because the prospect of
going to work right now holds little attraction, especially on a wet
Monday morning in January.’
‘I do feel better,’ said Lynn. ‘It feels as if the changes I’ve made
are reaping benefits.’
‘Wish I could say the same,’ said Steve.
That morning, 7.45 a.m.
As he drove through the gloom – both of the winter’s morning
and of his state of mind – a light brightened the inside of the car.
It was his mobile phone with a message:
Steve placed the phone back down and sighed wearily.
‘Apparently not very good,’ he answered.
His thoughts turned to which particular problems he had had to
solve recently.
Top of his list was his over-indulgence in drink. But, in fairness, he
had made a commitment to Lynn four weeks ago and had stuck
to his side of the bargain. Only once had he gone to the pub on
the way home – but that was for a colleague’s farewell drink.
Then there was the issue of his mother’s funeral. He had gone to
the funeral and received a surprisingly warm reception from rela-
tives who had last seen him some years before.
In fact, they’d shared Steve’s views on his father – but admit-
ted openly that they had lacked the courage to voice their opin-
ions. A cousin had also said that she had found Steve’s mum very
abrasive in her latter years and blamed her for causing friction
throughout the family.
Steve had enjoyed seeing some of his family so much that he’d
asked several of them to dinner next month.
Then there was his work. Well, what a contrast between the
spring in Lynn’s step and the ball and chain round his ankles.
The more he thought about it, however, the more he remem-
bered how uncertain Lynn had been about returning to work and
the pressures of being a working mum. Yet she had got through
these doubts and now felt confident – for the first time in her
working life.
‘If I could only sort out the Bulldog,’ Steve considered, ‘my life
would be so different.’
That evening, 6.30 p.m.
‘Hi, Gorgeous!’ greeted Steve, as he gave Lynn a lingering hug.
‘How’s my boy?’ he asked, lifting up Nicky to embrace them both
together, warmly.
‘You seem unusually bright,’ observed Lynn. ‘At least, compared
to your mood this morning.’
‘Well, I got a text today,’ said Steve. ‘How are you at solving
‘I’d say you’re good,’ offered Lynn.
‘And I’d agree,’ replied Steve. ‘But I’ve been dodging the biggest
problem in my life and today I decided I’m going to resolve it one
way or the other.’
‘You’re leaving me for another woman?’ joked Lynn.
‘Beggars can’t be choosers,’ fired back Steve.
‘So what are you going to do?’ asked Lynn. ‘Poison the Bulldog’s
blueberry muffin?’
‘No, I’m going to speak to him about it,’ replied Steve. ‘But, first,
I’m going to call my team together – apologize for being over-
bearing – and motivate them to roll up their sleeves and pull
together. Second, I’m going to work my butt off this next month
to get some sales in. Finally, I’m going to ask for a meeting with
Dave, demonstrate the improvement and tell him to cut me some
‘Wow!’ said Lynn. ‘Have you been swallowing the bravery pills?’
‘No,’ replied Steve, ‘I’ve just worked out how to deal with my
biggest problem.’
‘And what if he tells you to bugger off?’ asked Lynn.
‘I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.’
‘Well, you certainly look a lot happier tonight,’ Lynn suggested.
‘I feel better,’ he replied. ‘But anyway, how did your course go?’
‘Really well,’ said Lynn. ‘I felt good when I stood up and I reckon
the group fed off how I was feeling.’
‘So, no panic attacks, no hot flushes, no stuttering with nerves?’
Steve asked.
‘No, I’d even go as far as to say that I enjoyed it,’ concluded
Recognizing the problem
Problems are part of life and Lynn and Steve, just like every one of
us, have their fair share.
Everyone has problems to deal with, but successful and confident
people handle them better. Learning to solve problems has the
potential to build confidence and coping skills.
Problems in themselves are neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad’. It’s how we
deal with them that really matters.
How we RESPOND to the problems is what REALLY matters.
For some time now, they’ve both been struggling along, doing the
best that they can and it’s only recently that they’ve begun to open
up and to communicate together in a meaningful way about the
difficulties they’ve been hiding from one another.
In other words, their self-awareness is increasing.
More important still, they are each coming to realize the individual
problems that they’ve been keeping secret even from themselves.
Admittedly, at the beginning, opening up to one another was a
very scary experience, particularly for Steve. This increased self-
awareness caused him to recognize specific problems for the first
time in his life.
Initially, it felt as if he was developing new problems – that things
were getting worse rather than better.
However, once he understood the difficulties and saw the big pic-
ture more clearly, things rapidly improved.
Increasing self-awareness initially makes us feel uncomfortable,
but it is the gateway to change and personal growth.
It was Lynn who pointed out that his problems with his father,
his family, his driven-ness, his drinking, with Dave the Bulldog,
and even in his relationship with Lynn herself, had been there all
along. He had just not stopped long enough to notice.
In relation to some problems, though, Steve had been in denial.
Other problems he simply chose to ignore, hoping they might dis-
But denial and ignoring are methods of coping that rarely work for
long. They certainly fail in solving problems, building confidence
and finding personal happiness. In the long term, they are disem-
powering rather than enabling.
In a sense, Steve has been protecting himself by refusing to accept
some of the difficulties, or to appreciate their full extent and the
detrimental effect they are having on his family and colleagues.
As long as he stayed in that state of ‘blindness’, however, there was
little to no chance of him solving any problems whatsoever.
Before we can begin to solve a problem, we first have to recognize
and accept its existence.
Although glaringly obvious, this is often surprisingly difficult to
All along, the clues to the fact they had problems were there, if
Lynn and Steve were only willing to pause long enough and look
with open minds.
Sometimes, though, it takes a personal crisis to occur to stop us in
our tracks and to cause us to question our lives deeply enough.
Sometimes we need to stop and take stock, to examine our behav-
iour and our deepest feelings in order to discover where we are and
what’s happening in our lives.
Understanding the problem
Understanding problems can be a challenge, particularly when
they first present themselves.
Lynn and Steve had each started to think about their problems
when on their own. However, there’s a limit to the usefulness of
this personal reflection as a way of solving problems. Sometimes
things just go round and round inside our heads and do not take
us any further forward.
The best progress Steve and Lynn have made so far in problem
solving has come when they started to talk together.
Although, at first, opening up to one another felt ‘risky’, it has
been an exciting breakthrough in their relationship and they sense
it as they laugh and joke together more than they have in a long
And it’s clearly getting easier for them to practise, especially now
that they are beginning to appreciate the benefits.
Lynn is definitely feeling happier and more confident, particularly
at work. And Steve is feeling more hopeful about the future as he
begins to see a possible way forward.
One secret to understanding a problem is to ask ourselves the right
Steve and Lynn are learning this skill from the mysterious text
messages they are receiving in the form of searching questions.
They’re beginning to appreciate that asking the right questions is
the way to start solving their problems.
The best questions produce the best kind of answers.
One of the difficulties has been that, for some time now, Lynn has
been asking herself poor-quality questions, such as:
What’s wrong with me?
Why can’t I lose weight?
Who’s to blame?
Similarly, Steve has been asking himself unhelpful questions:
What’s the point in trying any more?
Why me?
How could he do this to me?
Lynn and Steve need to focus their minds on asking meaningful
questions that will lead them forward towards possible meaning-
ful solutions.
And they are starting to do it now.
Questions such as:
What exactly is the problem here?
Where is the ‘up’ side to this problem?
What is the ‘down’ side to this problem?
What do I want from this situation?
How could I make this situation work for me?
How can I turn things around for the better?
What – and who – matters most to me in my life right
What am I ready to do right now to improve things?
What am I prepared to consider doing in the future to
improve things?
What should I refuse to put up with any more?
What do I have to change about my thinking and be-
haviour to empower me?
Asking the right questions will help Steve and Lynn to understand
the true nature of their difficulties, and enable them to start for-
mulating a plan for dealing with them.
Meaningful questions bring the problem into sharper focus.
Developing an action plan
Recognizing their problems and understanding the nature of them
are moving Steve and Lynn forwards towards solving them.
Steve has already given his work problem with Dave some thought
and has devised a plan.
He’s been asking himself some searching questions and is clearer
in his mind about the situation:
What does he want? – To get Dave off his back.
What should he refuse to put up with any longer? – Dave’s
persistent bullying, which is eroding his self-worth and confidence.
What he is prepared to do next? – He has put together a provi-
sional action plan.
Later that evening
‘You know, it’s almost the reverse for me,’ began Lynn, as Steve
watched the highlights of another inglorious United failure in
the league.
Steve hit the Live Pause button on his Sky Plus and turned to Lynn,
giving her his full attention.
‘Sorry, what were you saying?’
‘My situation’s the reverse of yours, as far as problem-solving is
concerned,’ began Lynn again, ‘because I’m much happier at
work, but I’m still struggling with guilt.’
‘Guilt about what?’ asked Steve.
‘Guilt about being firmer with mum, guilt about having less time
with Nicky, guilt about pruning back my friends,’ Lynn expand-
‘Well, your mum is getting her shopping online and you now
pop in at weekends,’ said Steve. ‘And she’s seeing more of Nicky
when you leave him there while you’re at yoga. Nicky’s seeing
more of his doting gran – and really enjoying school. And your
pals are now aware that friendship involves listening as well as
talking, which, for them, is a newly acquired skill!’
‘I suppose it sounds reasonable when you put it that way,’ re-
flected Lynn.
‘Lynn, you had to find time for yourself – and look how you’re en-
joying yoga,’ continued Steve. ‘And, if you don’t mind me saying,
you’re looking rather tasty and well toned these days.’
‘As opposed to what?’ asked Lynn in fake indignation.
‘As opposed to being rather tasty … but less well toned,’ replied
Steve, thinking quickly.
‘Right,’ said Lynn, ‘seeing as my muscle groups meet your ap-
proval, how about improving your mental muscle?’
‘What do you suggest?’ asked Steve.
‘Let’s get your brain in shape for a meeting with Dave by rehears-
ing your chat with him,’ she continued. ‘You tell me how he’ll
behave and I’ll play his part in a role play.’
‘Mmm,’ said Steve sceptically.
‘We do role plays all the time at work,’ insisted Lynn. ‘You’ll really
benefit from thinking this conversation through.’
‘OK,’ said Steve. ‘But you’ll have to put on 10 stone to look the
‘Enough nonsense,’ said Lynn. ‘Sit down and write down all the
points he’ll try to score against you. Start with Regret, Reason
and Remedy.’
‘What’s that?’ asked Steve, perplexed.
‘Well, you want to take the moral high ground in the conversa-
tion with Dave to ensure he doesn’t start picking off your weak
arguments. So start by saying you’re sorry he’s been disappointed
in your performance – go through the reasons as to why it’s been
difficult – and tell him how you’ll sort it out. It’s a technique called
Regret, Reason and Remedy.’
‘He’ll just pounce on an apology as a sign of weakness,’ said
‘It’s a sign of strength,’ replied Lynn. ‘It’s weak people who can
never bring themselves to apologize. We all have failings. Only
strong people recognize them.’
‘Regret, reason, remedy,’ reiterated Steve. ‘I’ll remember that.’
‘Of course, you’ll have to practise getting that word “sorry”
across your lips in the first place,’ she added.
‘Cheeky!’ concluded Steve.
Lynn’s right to put some brakes on Steve’s enthusiasm.
She senses Steve could rush ahead too hastily, before he has suf-
ficiently thought through all the different solutions and their pos-
sible consequences.
She recognizes that they need to do some brainstorming together
on the possible solutions and draw up a more detailed final plan
before putting it into action.
Her role-playing idea is one excellent way of achieving both these
aims simultaneously.
The problems are not yet solved and the plan may not yet be per-
fected but it’s certainly taking shape. This brings a feeling of relief
and some immediate benefits.
Both Lynn and Steve are feeling a lot happier, less confused and
more in control of their lives.

What do your words say about you?

Monday 2 January, 10.25 a.m.
‘I just don’t want to be standing at the funeral in the front row
with everybody passing judgement on why I didn’t contact my
mother when she was dying.’
Steve was thinking aloud, but Lynn was doing all she could to
ease his troubled mind.
‘They’re more likely to talk about you if you stay away,’ she re-
‘And I’m not having my Aunt Pat lecture me about what a won-
derful man her brother was,’ Steve continued. ‘He may have been
a wonderful brother to her, but he was a lousy father to me.’
‘You need to be there, Steve,’ suggested Lynn. ‘You have to put
your differences behind you, otherwise you’ll be wracked with
guilt for the rest of your life.’
‘And I’ll tell you what else I don’t want to happen,’ began Steve,
but Lynn interrupted.
‘Steve, just concentrate on what you do want to happen.’
Steve stopped in his tracks. He looked perplexed by the chal-
‘You know, Lynn, I really don’t know what I want,’ he finally re-
Steve’s phone lit up with a message:
What do your words say about you?
‘Not helpful,’ said Steve. ‘I’ve got enough on my mind without
thinking about this nonsense.’
‘Well, perhaps it could be helpful, Steve,’ suggested Lynn. ‘Just
think about it for a minute. What do your words say about
‘Well, right now, my words say nothing about me – because I
don’t know what I want to do,’ he answered.
‘But you’re allowed to be unsure,’ replied Lynn. ‘It’s impossible to
know the answer to everything. In fact, I worry about people who
pretend to. So it’s OK if you don’t know.
‘But I would say you have to stop concentrating on what you
don’t want. That’s the problem. The solution can be found in
what you do want.’
‘OK,’ began Steve. ‘I want to have a clear conscience. I want
people to understand why we fell out. I don’t want any further
bad feeling.’
‘Well, two out of three’s OK,’ teased Lynn.
‘’What do you mean?’ asked Steve.
‘Firstly, you want a clear conscience and, secondly, you want peo-
ple to understand. But you don’t want bad feeling – so what do
you want?’
‘I just want to get on with what little family I have left,’ Steve
‘Right,’ said Lynn. ‘That’s three things you do want. So how can
you achieve that?’
‘Well, I’m not phoning Aunt Pat to grovel,’ snarled Steve.
‘You’re being negative again,’ corrected Lynn. ‘Tell me instead
what you will do.’
‘OK, I’ll phone her and say I’ll try to come to the funeral,’ started
Steve, ‘and explain that Mum refused to speak to me for the last
two years.’
‘Wait a minute, Steve,’ replied Lynn. ‘Are you going to the funeral
… or will you try to go?’
‘I’ll see,’ said Steve half-heartedly.
‘Steve, you must make a commitment,’ answered Lynn. ‘Decide
to go … or decide to stay away. But for goodness’ sake, don’t say
you’ll “try”!’
‘Well, that means I can decide at the last minute,’ said Steve.
‘That’s my point,’ fired back Lynn. ‘You’re refusing to commit
– which I have to say you do every time you phone me to say you’ll
“try” to be home by eight.’
‘Well, it’s the traffic, Lynn,’ Steve started. ‘You can never …
But Lynn interrupted. ‘No, it’s the pub Steve. You never know
how long you’ll be in the pub.’
Steve was stunned.
‘I really don’t mind if you stop off for a drink on the way home,
but for God’s sake be honest with me,’ said Lynn. ‘My father
would always hide behind weasel words like “try” and “do my
best” when he was unwilling to commit to me. In the end, I
refused to trust a word he said to me – and I’d hate us to reach
that stage, Steve.’
‘Lynn, I’m sorry,’ began Steve. ‘I’ve really struggled the last few
months and I haven’t really coped very well.’
Steve hesitated, attempting to prevent the tears – but they came
Lynn put her arms round his neck and hugged him tightly.
‘I understand, Steve,’ she said. ‘Really I do. I just want to help you,
rather than be pushed away by you. Let me in to your problems
and we’ll tackle them together.’
Steve just nodded, still unable to find the words.
That evening, 6.30 p.m.
A brisk walk on a cold, sunny afternoon had put the three of them
in good spirits.
Nicky was tired and ready for bed, so Steve looked after his son
while Lynn made dinner.
Over a chicken casserole, Lynn returned to the morning’s con-
‘That was an interesting question: What do your words say about
you?’ she began.
‘Well, I was going to make a point,’ replied Steve, ‘about what
your words say about you, Lynn.’
‘Oh yeah?’ she said apprehensively.
‘Well, you were on at me to be positive instead of negative about
the funeral – but you’re negative about yourself,’ he began. ‘I
mean, when I say I like your new jeans, you tell me they were half
price in Next.’
‘I just like a bargain,’ protested Lynn.
‘Hang on,’ Steve persisted. ‘When I say I like your new bracelet,
you tell me it was £6.99. And when I say I like your hair, you tell
me it needs a cut. What’s that all about?’
Lynn was stumped and simply shrugged her shoulders.
‘Well, I’ll tell you,’ said Steve. ‘It’s about feeling that you’re un-
worthy of the praise.’
Lynn was about to hit back, but instead paused: ‘Well, I get em-
barrassed when people heap praise on me and I feel it’s, well,
‘So when I don’t notice your new dress,’ asked Steve, ‘how do
you feel?’
‘Disappointed,’ she replied. ‘Sometimes hurt.’
‘And when I do notice?’ probed Steve. ‘You reject the compli-
ment. You have to accept sincere compliments. Bank them, as
you would money. Then, when you’re lacking confidence in your
appearance, you can draw on what you’ve banked.’
‘So what am I meant to say when you say, “Nice dress”?’ asked
‘You say, “Thank you”,’ replied Steve.
‘Mmm,’ acknowledged Lynn. ‘So who told you that?’
‘Craig told me the day he was appointed as my boss that when
he paid me a compliment, he meant it to be accepted,’ said Steve.
‘I was rather inclined before then to shrug off his praise. So he
asked me if he handed me a hundred quid for a job well done,
would I throw it back at him? I said that of course I wouldn’t. So
he then asked why I was so quick to throw back his compliments
for a job well done. I couldn’t explain it – but Craig could. He
said it was because, deep down, I still didn’t feel I was “good
enough”. And I reckon that goes for you, too, Lynn.’
‘OK, my turn,’ said Lynn. ‘Every time I ask how you are, you say,
“Not bad”.’
‘And your point is?’ said Steve.
‘”Not bad” is more of your negative thinking,’ said Lynn.
‘So what should I say?’ asked Steve.
‘You could say, “I’m good, thanks. How are you?’’’
‘Oh come on. Don’t go all “Californian” on me,’ said Steve in a
phoney mid-Atlantic accent. ‘Surely we don’t have to pretend
we’re “fantastic” all the time?’
‘Certainly not,’ replied Lynn. ‘When you’re tired, say you’re tired.
When you’re ill, say you’re ill. But when you’re good, for good-
ness’ sake say you’re good!’
‘OK then,’ volunteered Steve, ‘here’s another one for you. You
can never talk about your attributes without qualifying them.’
‘Like what?’ asked Lynn.
‘Well,’ explained Steve, ‘you’ll say you’re “fairly” experienced in
your job – or “relatively” confident when presenting – or “quite”
good on the computer.’
‘Well, I don’t want to appear arrogant,’ protested Lynn.
‘What’s arrogant about saying that you’re experienced in your
job – confident when presenting – and good on the computer?’
asked Steve. ‘You’re just stating fact. It’s as wrong to underplay
your ability as it is to overplay it. Just get rid of all these self-dep-
recating words!’
‘But don’t you think people will see me as a big-head?’ Lynn
‘No, they’ll see you as being capable and confident – which is
surely what any employer wants.’
The power of words
Everything we say is a reflection of our thoughts, feelings and be-
The specific language we use speaks volumes about how we view
ourselves, as well as the world around us.
Words have the power to influence whether we get what we want
from a situation and shape our destiny.
They can be used to wound, criticize and control or to encourage,
support and inspire ourselves and those who hear them.
Therefore, we need to choose our words wisely and with great
care for they are more powerful tools for change than we could
ever imagine.
The tool of talking together
Steve is in conflict over whether to attend his mother’s funeral.
Her sudden death has brought to the surface all sorts of unresolved
family issues.
He’s paralysed by doubt over what to do. As she talks with him,
Lynn realizes he’s struggling to decide what it is that he wants to
achieve out of this difficult family situation.
As they’ve recently started to do, Lynn and Steve engage in a deep-
er and more meaningful dialogue about their lives than the super-
ficial conversations of the past few years. This is great progress
in their relationship and they’re already beginning to reap the ben-
efits as they start to problem-solve together.
At the simplest level, talking things over with people whose views
and opinions we trust and value clarifies thinking and feelings.
Out of this, a plan of action can take shape.
Talking, as a means of conflict resolution, is a basic and essential
life skill.
After talking it through, Steve reaches a conclusion – the first deci-
sion in his new action plan.
To make lasting progress, they’ll need to make ‘talking things
through’ a habit.
Already, this process of improved communication at a deeper level
is helping them both to cope better and is building their self-con-
The importance of positive self-talk
The words we habitually use impact profoundly on our communi-
cation with ourselves.
They have the power to affect us positively or negatively. They
change the way we feel, make us feel good or bad, lower or raise
our mood, discourage or inspire us, build our self-confidence or
undermine it.
We must choose our words with great care as they have the ability
to empower or to disable us.
This principle holds true in all situations and operates constantly.
But it becomes particularly relevant when we are faced with a
problem to solve.
And Steve has one now.
The difficulty is that Steve is currently talking to himself – and to
Lynn – about the problem situation confronting them, using nega-
tive words and language.
He repeatedly uses negative talk:
‘I don’t want to …’
‘I’m not having …’
‘I’m not phoning …’
‘You can never …’
By talking in this way, Steve is sending his mind unhelpful mes-
Without realizing it, he’s downloading inferior software into his
mind’s computer.
The result is that he’s more likely to bring about the results he
wants to avoid and less likely to help him find the right solutions.
Empowering words
Steve needs to load the quality software of positive self-talk into
his mind’s computer.
Positive programming produces positive results.
Using positive words and language are part of the quality software
needed to help Steve reach clear decisions about what he wants to
achieve. It also helps him bring about the eventual fulfilment of his
wishes and contributes towards a successful outcome.
Focusing his mind on what he wants to happen and talking to
himself in language that supports his goals increases the chances
of success.
It will transform his thinking, feelings and behaviour by turning
Fear into anticipation;
Negative thoughts into positive thinking;
Disabling behaviour into empowering action.
Conquering the inner critic
Lynn’s inability to take a compliment is a reflection of her negative
self-talk and poor self-worth.
When Steve compliments her on her looks or on what she is wear-
ing or on her ability at work, she responds in a self-effacing man-
ner. Compliments just seem to make her feel even more uncom-
fortable about herself.
Sometimes she convinces herself that he’s just complimenting her
to be kind.
But why, when Steve is simply telling her the truth?
This is because praise from others clashes with her own negative
It does not ‘fit’ with the way in which she speaks to herself in-
wardly and with the poor image of herself she clings on to, because
her inner critic – or green goblin – talks to her in language that
constantly puts her down.
When she receives a compliment from the external world, her
goblin responds immediately, strongly and harshly sometimes, to
rubbish, negate and minimize the praise as quickly as possible.
As a consequence, the compliments have no time to take root and
allow self-worth to grow!
Lynn’s goblin causes her to underplay her abilities, misrepresent
herself, undersell herself, to constantly qualify, minimize and even
to dismiss her accomplishments altogether.
In addition, it plays a significant part in her dislike of and ongoing
dissatisfaction with her own body. It fuels her misperception of it
as being ‘unattractive’ – something Steve most certainly disagrees
Believing and banking
The way forward for Lynn and Steve is to become more aware of
the type of language they use when they communicate inwardly
with themselves, talk together or when they speak to others.
As Steve rightly suggests, they need to start believing and banking
positive self-talk, genuine compliments and praise.
This can be achieved by them:
Becoming more aware of their choice and use of negative words
Substituting them with positive alternatives
Replacing self-deprecating talk with life-affirming self-talk, and
Transforming disabling thinking into life-enhancing communica-
Lynn and Steve can start to use language that supports the positive
life-enhancing beliefs and confident behaviour that they want to
create in order to do this.
With Steve and Lynn both due to return to work the next day after
their New Year break – and tired from their long afternoon walk
– they decided to turn in early.
Steve felt he had resolved some key issues. He would go to his
mum’s funeral – and he would be happy to tell anybody that it
had been her decision to stop speaking to him.
There was, however, one piece of unfinished business.
‘Lynn, I’m sorry that I’ve been less than honest about going to the
pub,’ he began.
‘Steve …’ Lynn started.
‘No, hear me out,’ he continued. ‘It started as just a quick pint
to relax after a hard day, but it’s become a habit as the Bulldog’s
been snarling at me for months. But I’ve been thinking about
it this evening and I’m going to come straight home from now
on and stop making excuses. Quite frankly, if we can talk about
these things like we have been the last few weeks, then that’ll
do me much more good than drowning my sorrows. Hopefully,
I’ll try to play five-a-side more often instead of just slumping in
front of the TV.’
‘Hopefully you’ll try to play?’ teased Lynn. ‘Go on – make a com-
‘OK, I will play five-a-side more often.’ Steve smiled.
‘Then it’s a plan,’ concluded Lynn.

How are you coping with change?

Sunday 1 January, 11.30 a.m.
The roads were quiet as Steve, Lynn and Nicky set out to see Ian
and Irene Brown on New Year’s Day – as they had done each
January 1st for the past 10 years.
‘This is the first time in two months I’ll have seen Irene,’ pointed
out Lynn.
‘Quite,’ observed Steve. ‘And how has she taken to being pruned
back in our social garden?’
‘Well, she did ask a couple of weeks ago if she’d done anything
to upset me,’ replied Lynn.
‘Funnily enough, Ian stopped asking for United tickets when I
turned him down three times in a row,’ observed Steve.
‘And have you missed his company?’ asked Lynn.
‘Well, no – but, in a funny sort of way, I’m looking forward to
catching up today,’ he replied.
The Mondeo approached an unfamiliar road junction.
‘This is all different since we were here last,’ said Lynn.
‘Yep, look at the road sign,’ added Steve. ‘CHANGED PRIORITIES
AHEAD. Rather apt, given the conversation, don’t you think?’
Lynn’s phone bleeped with a new text message:
How are you coping with change?
‘This is weird,’ suggested Lynn, reading out the text.
‘It’s as if someone is playing games with us,’ said Steve. ‘Watching
our every move.’
‘So, how are we coping with change, Steve?’ asked Lynn.
‘Well, what change?’ asked Steve. ‘Seeing Ian and Irene less often?’
‘As a starter, yes,’ offered Lynn.
‘Well, that’s working out for the better,’ said Steve. ‘And so are
the other changes with our friends. I don’t particularly detect
many noses out of joint.’
‘Well, Mum’s was at first,’ replied Lynn. ‘She thought I just didn’t
want to see her as often. But in fairness, I see her when my time
allows – and she’s keeping Nicky when I’m at yoga.’
‘And on a couple of occasions when I’ve been playing football,’
added Steve.
‘What about the changes at work?’ asked Lynn.
‘Well, that’s just been a nightmare since the Bulldog replaced
Craig,’ said Steve. ‘I don’t know how anybody is meant to cope
with that.’
‘Perhaps you need to stand up to him,’ suggested Lynn.
‘And lose my job?’ replied Steve. ‘No thanks. Not with a mort-
gage, wife and child to support.’
‘Well, you’ve made positive changes with your staff,’ offered
‘True,’ replied Steve. ‘And in fairness, they’ve responded more
positively since I took a more “fatherly” approach this last fort-
night. Anyway, enough about me. What about you?’
‘What about me?’ came Lynn’s cautious reply.
‘Well, you’ve had to cope with a huge change since going back
to full-time work in September,’ prompted Steve.
‘Yes, and at the same time seeing Nicky start school and after-
school club, which made me feel terribly guilty,’ replied Lynn.
‘You don’t still feel guilty?’ asked Steve.
‘Sometimes I do,’ came her candid reply. ‘Especially when I get a
phone call to say he’s been sick in class, which happened in his
second week. Remember?’
‘I’d forgotten that,’ said Steve.
‘Well, I haven’t,’ replied Lynn. ‘It was terrible timing, as I was run-
ning my first seminar and was unable to go and pick him up.’
‘Oh, I remember,’ recalled Steve. ‘Your mum went to get him.’
‘On two buses,’ added Lynn. ‘Hence the guilt.’
Having been stuck behind a tractor for the previous three miles,
Steve put his foot down to overtake. But the car responded less
quickly than he anticipated and he was forced to abort the
‘Steve, be careful!’ screamed Lynn. ‘We’re not in the BMW
‘And that’s another thing,’ suggested Steve. ‘It’s been very diffi-
cult going from being Regional Sales Director of the Year – driving
a top-of-the-range car – to being an idiot, in Dave’s eyes, driving
a Ford Mondeo.’
‘You’re such a car snob,’ prodded Lynn. ‘I don’t care what car
you drive.’
‘Well I do,’ replied Steve.
‘So not coping too well with that change, Steve?’ teased Lynn.
‘Very funny,’ replied Steve, unamused. ‘Anyway, your job – how
are you dealing with it?’
‘It’s a bit scary,’ began Lynn. ‘I did feel very vulnerable going back
after almost five years away. Everything had changed: the com-
puters, the methods, some of the people. But I have to say, I have
felt much better about it the last month or so.’
‘More confident?’ asked Steve.
‘Yes, getting there,’ was Lynn’s less-than-confident reply.
‘So are you a north-easterner yet?’ he probed, referring to their
positioning on the Confidence Compass.
‘As I say, getting there,’ said Lynn. ‘I do feel as if I’m running after
people less and doing a bit more of what I want. And what about
you? Have you turned the corner yet?’
‘Well, I have played five-a-side a few times recently,’ Steve sug-
‘Still rather driven though,’ replied Lynn.
‘Come on, you can’t expect change overnight.’
‘No, but this year, Steve,’ pushed Lynn, ‘you should make that
your New Year’s Resolution.’
‘What – to be less driven?’ answered Steve. ‘Not much of a reso-
lution that.’
‘Well, if you’re less driven and more confident, you’ll find yourself
much happier,’ offered Lynn. ‘Surely it’s OK to resolve to be hap-
pier this year?’
‘It just sounds so pathetic. “I just want to be happy”,’ he mocked
in a feeble tone. ‘Sounds like the kind of thing your mum would
‘OK then,’ said Lynn, preparing herself for a challenge, ‘if you
were offered the choice of success at work or happiness, which
would you take?’
‘Success,’ replied Steve in an instant.
‘And if you were successful but unhappy, what would that make
you?’ she continued.
‘Successful!’ replied Steve triumphantly.
‘Successful yet unhappy,’ finished Lynn. ‘Now, if you were less
successful, yet happy, what would that make you?’ asked Lynn,
anticipating the same obtuse answer.
‘Less successful,’ came the predictable response.
‘Yet happy,’ finished Lynn, exasperated. ‘Whichever way you look
at it, Steve, if you’re happy, you’re happy – regardless of what life
throws at you. And that surely is real success.’
To change or not to change?
Being alive is really all about change.
This is because change is a central dynamic force in life itself.
Being at the core of the very process of living, it is therefore un-
avoidable and inescapable.
But how we perceive change, what meaning it holds for us and the
way in which we respond to it, is closely connected with how we
see ourselves and the world around us.
The extent to which change impacts upon us is related to our level
of self-worth and our sense of being able to cope with whatever
changes life brings our way.
Predictable change
Steve and Lynn are currently going through a series of significant
personal changes and they are occurring at a rate they have never
experienced before.
It’s all beginning to become a bit scary for them and out of their
For some years now, on the surface, their life together has just
been ticking along nicely, in the general way that we all tend to
expect and hope it will do. A few small glitches here and there,
interspersed with the odd significant life event such as the arrival
of Nicky, but nothing out of the ordinary run of the mill.
In recent times, the changes that Lynn and Steve have had to deal
with have been predictable if not actually planned.
They could choose if they wanted to make a change in their lives
and even when this would occur.
In other words, the nature and level of change they have experi-
enced to date has largely been under their own personal control.
They decided when to have a child together, if Lynn should return
to full-time work and, more recently, to see less of their friends
Ian and Irene, as well as to set some new clear boundaries in their
relationship with Lynn’s demanding mother.
Undoubtedly, this kind of predictable and planned change requires
some degree of personal adjustment. But most of the time it is rela-
tively straightforward and easy to deal with.
The challenge of unforeseeable change
By its very nature, life is unpredictable – it frequently involves
changes over which we have little or no control.
Unexpected and unforeseeable events occur to all of us, whether
we like them or not, and Steve and Lynn are no exception.
Steve had no influence over whether his old boss left or stayed
with the company and he was devastated when Craig moved on.
Until Craig actually left, he had no real idea of the astonishing con-
fidence-building effect his old boss had been having on him.
The dramatic arrival of Dave the Bulldog has been a great blow to
Steve and Dave is rapidly becoming a significant thorn in Steve’s
This, coupled with the replacement of his treasured BMW by the
Mondeo, has led to Steve’s self-confidence being given a massive
The more our confidence is built on external factors over which we
have little or no control, like they are with Steve, then the more
vulnerable we feel in the face of life’s changes.
Confidence is an inner state, rather than a set of circumstances.
The remarkable life of Christopher Reeve (the actor best known
for his role as Superman), who was paralysed from the neck down
following a horse riding accident, is a remarkable example of this
life truth.
How he coped with this tragedy was a reflection of his inner con-
fidence and positive attitude.
In the same way, how well Lynn and Steve cope with the changes
happening to them will be dependent to a large extent on the level
of their inner state of self-confidence.
If this inner core of confidence is strong then they will feel less
vulnerable to the ‘slings and arrows’ of ordinary life, because it
is less dependent on external factors and events over which they
have minimal influence.
Fear of change
Fear of change is one of the biggest confidence killers.
Given the choice, most people shy away from it; they prefer things
around them to be consistent and to have a feeling of familiarity
and sameness about them, since this offers a sense of security.
But there is actually no real security in sameness, since it goes
against the flow of life, the essential nature of which is built around
the principle of constant change and growth.
The ever-changing, developing and evolving natural world around
us provides ample evidence of this fact. Summer becomes autumn,
becomes winter, becomes spring … becomes summer. Change is
essential for renewal to take place.
The Message of Life is clear:
A real sense of security for Steve and Lynn will develop when their
confidence is based on a healthy inner sense of self-worth and self-
A belief that they will cope with the changes that are coming their
way, whatever they may be.
Our level of confidence is at the heart of how well we deal with the
prospect of change.
After some 20 minutes in the car, the Mondeo pulled into Ian and
Irene Brown’s driveway.
Unexpectedly, Ian was standing at the door, looking rather agi-
‘Good God, look at Ian,’ said Lynn, sensing something wrong.
‘He looks as if he’s dreading this visit. Maybe their noses are out
of joint.’
Ian stepped over to Steve’s car door and started to open it for
‘Hi, Ian, nice to see you,’ began Steve, overcompensating for the
atmosphere he sensed.
‘Steve, I’m afraid I’ve got some, some really bad news for you,
mate,’ Ian began, falteringly.
‘What’s that?’ asked Steve, completely baffled.
‘It’s your mum. I’m afraid she’s passed away.’
Steve’s head flooded with emotions:
Shock at news for which he was completely unprepared.
Bewilderment that his friend was telling him about the death of
his own mother.
Guilt that it had been two years since he had last spoken to her.
‘What happened?’ was all that he could manage to utter.
‘She died of cancer,’ replied Ian. ‘My mum just phoned me an
hour ago to tell me. They still kept in touch, as you know.’
‘Of course,’ said Steve, now numb, ‘which is more than I did.’
Steve and his mother had had a huge row after his father’s fu-
neral seven years earlier, when he had dared to say what he had
thought of him.
His mother had initially put the row aside, but refused point blank
to speak to Steve after Christmas dinner five years later, when
Steve again spoke out loudly against his father, after getting
He’d gone even further by accusing his mother of standing back
and failing to challenge his father’s bullying behaviour.
‘When did she die?’ asked Steve.
‘Just yesterday,’ came the reply.
Instead of feeling relieved at picking up the news quickly, Steve
now knew he would face a dilemma over whether to attend the
Responding to change
The sudden news of his mother’s death raises many issues for
It is a classic example of the way in which the message that life is
unpredictable and ever changing can be brought home so starkly.
And there is no greater example of change than the cycle of birth
and death itself.
These experiences are part of the human condition and touch us
to our core.
Steve is left reeling from the shocking news.
Just how he copes with his grief will be a test of his ability to pro-
cess his feelings of sadness, denial, loss, anger and guilt that are
part of mourning.
Perhaps he will find a way to express his emotions without turning
to alcohol and burying himself in his work, which might hinder
the healing process.
Grieving cannot be dodged if real recovery is to take place.
But perhaps his mother’s death will act as a catalyst for growth and
change if Steve can find the courage to explore the personal mean-
ings and emotional messages for him that are contained within this
painful experience.
Every life experience, positive or negative, provides a hidden
opportunity to grow in self-confidence.

lundi 18 décembre 2006

Who are you parenting?

Wednesday 14 December, 8.30 a.m.
Steve felt he could ill-afford the time to see a doctor, especially
over such a stupid thing as indigestion.
Lynn had persuaded him, however, that he had had these bouts
too long and that he should visit the GP. She’d even made the
In front of him in the surgery waiting room sat the usual collection
of magazines: Woman’s Own, New Look, Cosmopolitan, Golf
World and Hello!
‘So, four out of five visitors to the doctor are women,’ mused
Steve, ‘and the only man is a golfer!’
As a non-golfer, he had little interest in picking up the magazine.
And while intrigued about the sex survey on the front page of
Cosmo, he felt too embarrassed to look at that, either.
Instead, his eyes scanned the walls: advice on bowel cancer, safe
sex and parenting skills.
‘Well, if you practised safe sex, you wouldn’t need to learn parent-
ing skills,’ Steve considered, frustrated there was no audience for
his humour.
His phone sounded with a message:
Who are you parenting?
‘Ah, our mystery phone pest,’ thought Steve. He scrolled down,
but that was the end of the message.
‘Well, that’s the easiest one so far,’ he considered. ‘One child.
Aged five. Next question.’
‘Steven Clark,’ announced the receptionist. He approached the
counter and was told to see Dr Davidson in room three.
‘Morning,’ said the doctor. ‘What’s troubling you?’
‘Nothing,’ said Steve, ‘but my indigestion is troubling my wife.’
For several minutes they exchanged questions and answers on
Steve’s eating habits, drinking pattern and lifestyle. He under-
played the late-night carry-out food and after-work drinks – and
overplayed his occasional game of five-a-side football.
‘Are you under a lot of pressure at work?’ asked Dr Davidson.
‘Goes with the territory,’ was Steve’s glib reply.
Driving to his first sales call, after leaving the surgery, Steve’s mo-
bile rang.
‘Well?’ enquired a friendly voice.
‘Oh, hi, Gorgeous!’ Steve replied.
‘Well, what did the doctor say?’ asked Lynn.
‘Oh, he just gave me a prescription to counter stomach acid and
suggested I exercise a bit to lose some weight, cheeky bugger!’
replied Steve. ‘You should see his beer belly!’
‘Did you tell him you’d been stressed out of your box at work?’
persisted Lynn.
‘Yes, we discussed that,’ fudged Steve. ‘Anyway, I’ll take that
stuff and that’ll sort it.’
‘Steve, you are awful when it comes to looking after your health!’
continued Lynn.
‘Now you’re sounding like my mum, Lynn,’ replied Steve in mock
‘Well, seeing she’s not speaking to you these days, somebody
needs to look after you since you won’t do it yourself,’ teased
‘Hey, I got another of these funny messages this morning,’ Steve
said, changing the subject.
‘What this time?’ enquired Lynn.
‘Who are you parenting?’ replied Steve.
‘And what do you think the answer is?’ asked Lynn.
‘Well, Nicky of course,’ offered Steve.
‘Mmm,’ came the surprising response.
‘What?’ asked Steve, a little hurt – but apprehensive of where
this was going.
‘I’m saying nothing,’ said Lynn.
‘Actually, you’re saying everything,’ said Steve. ‘Are you saying
I’m not parenting Nicky?’
‘Well, you’re sometimes there in body, but seldom in spirit,’ sug-
gested Lynn.
‘That’s so unfair, Lynn,’ shot back Steve. ‘You know I dote on
‘I know you do,’ replied Lynn. ‘But does he know that?’
‘Well, if you mean, do I smother him like you do in a you-can-
never-do-anything-wrong kind of way, well, no I don’t,’ hit back
Steve, now sounding more than a little irritated.
‘Steve, that’s so cruel,’ protested Lynn. ‘Look, we’ll talk about this
later. I have to go.’
The phone went dead. As Steve drove on, he swallowed hard
as his stomach burned. The indigestion was back with a venge-
That evening, 8.10 p.m.
Steve walked into the kitchen that night to find Lynn alone, hav-
ing put Nicky to bed.
‘Well, that was charming,’ hissed Steve.
‘What?’ asked Lynn, confused by his opening comment.
‘You hung up on me, that’s what,’ continued Steve.
‘No, I didn’t,’ defended Lynn. ‘I had a colleague walk in and I
didn’t want to share a personal conversation with her. I told you
I had to go.’
‘Well, you sounded miffed,’ continued Steve.
‘I was just being honest,’ protested Lynn. ‘Surely you want that,
rather than some insincere palm-off about you being a wonder-
ful father.’
‘Oh, I don’t know,’ began Steve, his mood softening. ‘I rather like
the sound of that.’
‘Look, Steve, I know you’re under the cosh at work just now, but
Nicky doesn’t and I just feel you could do with treating him the
way you used to,’ said Lynn, ‘… as if he was the most wonderful
child ever created.’
‘He knows I love him to bits,’ replied Steve.
‘When did you last tell him?’ asked Lynn.
‘I tell him all the time,’ offered Steve.
‘You used to,’ began Lynn. ‘But I doubt if I’ve heard you tell him
that in the last two years.’
‘Now hold on Lynn,’ came back Steve. ‘You go overboard to the
extent that you can never give Nicky a row.’
‘That’s not true,’ said Lynn.
‘But it’s so true,’ continued Steve. ‘I’ve watched you as you ask
him not to do things – he ignores you – then you fail to deal with
the consequences. No wonder he plays up with you.’
‘You just bark at him,’ she replied.
‘You just let him run wild,’ hit back Steve.
‘Well, I’d rather he knew I loved him unconditionally,’ replied
‘Well, I’d rather he knew when he’d overstepped the mark,’ came
back Steve.
‘Steve, you’ve complained for years about your critical father, but
more and more you can only point out what he’s doing wrong,’
complained Lynn.
‘Well, if that’s the case, you’ve become your mother,’ replied
Steve. ‘You’ll do anything rather than upset him, so you now
have a five-year-old running your life.’
‘Steve, what else am I meant to do? You’re never home till after
eight. You’re normally exhausted and I’m being left to bring him
up on my own,’ protested Lynn, now exasperated by the conver-
‘Well, try doing my job,’ suggested Steve, unhelpfully.
‘No, try doing my job … and raising a child on your own,’ was
Lynn’s match-winning point.
Your parenting style
Parenting is one of the few jobs in life that is acquired without any
And yet, arguably, it’s the most important job in the world.
The process through which a new personality and the identity of
another person is forged and then moulded into shape is the great
wonder of parenting.
Lynn’s well aware that effective parenting combines the skills and
art of both mothering and fathering, in equal amounts. She feels
that, when it comes to fathering Nicky, Steve is not pulling his
weight and so she reminds him of this truth.
However, to be fair, he has only his own experience of being
parented as a child to draw on. And that was far from perfect.
Steve’s mother did nearly all of his parenting, both the mothering
and the fathering.
His dad was an emotionally remote man and overcritical when-
ever he spoke. He seemed to think it was his job in life to keep
little Steven in his place, as it were, to put him down and to keep
him there.
A sort of variation on the old theme of ‘being seen but not heard’
but, from an emotional perspective, more like ‘allowed to exist but
not to thrive’.
Steve’s father needed to be ‘in charge’ or at least to feel that he was.
For him, parenting was all about power.
Fathering meant discipline, threatening punishment and dishing
out his unique acidic form of sarcastic criticism.
Encouragement was definitely not a part of his parenting reper-
toire and praise was seen as a foreign language that only occasion-
ally Steve’s mother was allowed to use.
Steve cannot recall his father ever telling him that he loved him at
any time in his life. It is therefore no surprise that he in turn now
struggles to tell Nicky he loves him.
As it was in his family of origin, so it is now in Steve’s own family.
In reality, Lynn does most of the parenting.
And this involves aspects of fathering as well as mothering. In-
creasingly, Lynn is feeling resentful at being overburdened in this
When she raises the issue with Steve, it makes him feel uncom-
fortable, anxious and even angry. He senses that he’s not getting
it quite right with Nicky but he has no idea just where he’s going
wrong or how to fix it.
Lynn, on the other hand, overcompensates for Steve’s critical
sharpness with Nicky and at times finds herself over-indulging him
as a result.
Being a people pleaser like her mother, she cannot bear witnessing
Nicky squirm when she occasionally scolds him. At a deeper level,
she fears that, if she does, he might end up disliking her.
And that would be a significant threat to her already fragile self-
worth that she cannot risk.
Healthy parenting practices
Lynn once read that there is a set of healthy principles underlying
good parenting. She knows that if she gets these right, enough of
the time, then Nicky should turn out OK.
She remembers them to be:
Loving the person your child is – unconditionally
Of course, she realizes this means that she does not need to love
or necessarily like all of Nicky’s behaviour – even if she loves all of
him as a person.
Setting clear, understandable and consistent boundaries
to behaviour
Without boundaries, Nicky will be ‘all over the place’ – both physi-
cally and emotionally.
Only when clear boundaries to behaviour are consistently upheld
will the outside world appear rational, predictable and safe to
him. Only then will it make ‘sense’ to him and bring security to his
inner world. Always eager to please Nicky, Lynn is aware that she
struggles to consistently deliver on this one.
Respecting a child’s individuality
Lynn knows that Nicky needs to be allowed to be himself – to
develop his own unique personality. But Steve has a need to see
Nicky conform to his own personal likes and dislikes, just as his
dad did with him.
Having high yet realistic expectations
Well, this is a tough one for Steve. He’s constantly niggling at Nicky
in a negative way, very similar to how his own father behaved
– always making him feel that he had somehow fallen short of the
mark and was never ‘good enough’ to win his approval.
High expectations will give Nicky confidence that his parents be-
lieve in him and therefore help him build real confidence in him-
Realistic expectations will ensure he avoids being set up to fail.
Instead, he’s primed for success.
Parenting styles
Lynn and Steve’s parenting styles are out of balance:
• Steve is too autocratic and Lynn too permissive.
• Lynn does most of the mothering and the fathering while Steve
opts out.
• Lynn is emotionally over-involved with Nicky and meets her
own emotional needs through him.
• Steve, on the other hand, is emotionally both under-involved
and remote.
Lynn and Steve need to work out their parenting issues together,
so that they are talking the same language and are consistent in the
way they relate to Nicky.
Currently, Lynn says one thing to Nicky – and a moment or two
later, Steve contradicts it.
More confusing still is the fact that Steve will often clearly express
his views on behaviour to Nicky and then do the opposite him-
As a result, congruence between what his parents say and what
they do is lost. And as a consequence, so is Nicky!
Having said that, it comes as no surprise that when Steve develops
some stomach symptoms, he’s reluctant to go to the GP. Somehow
he sees physical illness as a sign of weakness.
In addition, because he was never adequately nurtured and parent-
ed as a child himself, he finds it alien to take care of himself in a
loving way now, as an adult – in other words to ‘parent himself’.
The skill of self-parenting is one of the secrets of being able to cope
with life.
This is both the process and practice of relating to oneself in the
way that a good parent would – with love, self-respect, self-accept-
ance, boundaries to behaviour, care, support, a sense of personal
responsibility and with self-encouragement.
Although Lynn and Steve are doing the best they can at the mo-
ment, given their own experiences of being parented as children
themselves, they need to learn to parent Nicky, themselves and
each other in a more balanced and effective way.
As a consequence, the confidence-sapping cycle of unhelpful fam-
ily parenting can be broken and their family life greatly enriched.
The lamb chops were consumed with very few words spoken.
Lynn was upset at the row that had broken out and began, inter-
nally, to blame herself for escalating the discussion.
Steve was fuming, wondering how a text question had provoked
such a blazing row.
‘I’m going to the phone shop tomorrow to find out how to stop
these bloody text questions,’ he insisted.
‘It’s not the questions that cause the rows, Steve,’ offered Lynn
insightfully. ‘It’s the answers.’
‘Either way, I’m fed up with it,’ said Steve.
‘Well, surely it’s good to discuss these things,’ said Lynn. ‘As long
as we’re both reasonable about it.’
‘Agreed,’ admitted Steve, reluctantly.
‘OK then,’ ventured Lynn, ‘if the question was “Who are you
parenting?” have you asked yourself who else apart from Nicky
that could refer to?’
‘Nope,’ said Steve, still in an uninterested manner.
‘Well, there’s your sales staff,’ said Lynn.
‘They’re old enough to look after themselves,’ snapped back
‘You said you’d be reasonable,’ chastised Lynn.
‘OK, OK,’ replied Steve. ‘And your point is?’
‘My point is that you need to be a good “dad” to your staff,’
suggested Lynn.
‘And love them unconditionally?’ he queried.
‘No, just respect them unconditionally,’ answered Lynn. ‘You
already set them clear boundaries and targets. And you treat
them as individuals. If you showed them a bit more respect, Dave
couldn’t accuse you of bullying them.’
Steve stopped to consider Lynn’s point. He knew she was right.
‘And while we’re on the subject of parenting,’ she continued, ‘I
sometimes feel you and Nicky are both behaving like kids and I’m
the only parent.’
‘I feel that when I organize all your paperwork and you don’t take
responsibility for yourself,’ replied Steve. ‘And when I point it out,
you behave like a disgruntled teenager.’
‘And what did you tell me this morning?’ came back Lynn. ‘You
told me I was sounding like your mum because I wanted to know
what the doctor told you.’
‘Well, maybe we both act as each other’s parents at times,’ said
‘Perhaps we could both act as adults once in a while then,’ sug-
gested Lynn.
‘What … and start acting responsibly?’ teased Steve. ‘How un-
imaginably awful!’