As a man was passing elephants, he suddenly stopped, confused by the fact that these huge creatures were being held by only a small rope tied to their front leg. No chains, no cages. It was obvious that the elephants could, at anytime, break away from their bonds but for some reason, they did not.
He saw a trainer nearby and asked why these animals just stood there and made no attempt to get away. “Well,” trainer said, “when they are very young and much smaller we use the same size rope to tie them and, at that age, it’s enough to hold them. As they grow up, they are conditioned to believe they cannot break away. They believe the rope can still hold them, so they never try to break free.”
The man was amazed. These animals could at any time break free from their bonds but because they believed they couldn’t, they were stuck right where they were.
Like the elephants, how many of us go through life hanging onto a belief that we cannot do something, simply because we failed at it once before?
Failure is part of learning; we should never give up the struggle in life.
Maria was very upset. An old lady that she did not know kept banging at her door all day and night and would not leave. She was very stubborn and would come more than 10 times a day, asking to get inside the house. Maria was scared of her, so, at first, she tried to ignore her.
She put music loud and organized dinners with friends. She kept herself busy with activities she enjoyed like cooking and reading. She even went on vacation on a beautiful beach in the hope that the old lady will not be there when she returns. But whatever she did, the old woman always came back.
Then, Maria got angry at her, shout at her, told her not to come. But the old lady kept coming back, banging at the door in the middle of the night.
As nothing was working, Maria tried to bargain with her, “it’s ok you can come but only between 4 and 5 pm”. But the old lady kept coming anytime!
Finally, she decided to let the old woman in.
The old woman started to talk about her life, she had a lot of things to share.
At some point Maria felt she had listened enough but she did not know how to make the old woman stop.
She listened a bit more until she was sure she had listened to it all. Then, she took the old lady by the hand, thanked her and brought her back to the door.
The old lady never came back.
Everyone in life faces hardships and sadness. What happens if you don’t listen to your emotions? What happens if you get overwhelmed by them? Keep the picture of this old woman banging at the door whenever you deal with grief, sadness and anger. Express them fully but then bring them back to the door.
Practice emotional first aid to deal with rejection, failure, guilt and loss, and improve your mental health.
If you cut your finger while cooking, you would immediately clean the wound and apply a bandage. So why don’t we use first aid for our mental health?
Anyone who felt rejected, lonely or suffered the loss of a loved one knows that emotional injuries can be just as painful as physical ones.
Psychologist Guy Winch, author of Emotional First Aid, recommends 7 ways to practice emotional first aid.
1. First, know to recognize when you are in emotional pain and treat it before it gets worse. These are the common psychological injuries:
Rejection: by friends, partners, employers…
Failure: when we don’t reach our goals or make mistakes…
Loneliness: living abroad make us even more prone to loneliness but you can also feel lonely in your own home if you don’t feel connected to others.
Loss: when relatives pass away, a friend moves out of town. How we rebuild ourselves determine if we become emotionally stronger or weaker.
Brooding or Rumination: you keep having sad or angry feelings and find it difficult to think of anything else. But doing so doesn’t allow them to heal.
Guilt: Moderate guilt is normal but when it makes it difficult for us to concentrate on our work and responsibilities then it’s time to act.
Low Self-Esteem: this is also normal to feel low and critical about ourselves sometimes but if we always feel like this it’s like having a weak immune system: it makes us more vulnerable and more likely to sustain further psychological injury.
Just like physical diseases, emotional injuries get worse if they are not treated. Untreated rejection for example can cause a low self-esteem, which can make us be defensive and push people away, which can makes us become more lonely at which point we find ourselves ruminating about how our friends have stopped caring about us, which can lead to a full depression.
2. Regain control after a failure. Failures make our goals seem even more out of reach and lower our self-esteem and confidence.
Once we feel that we cannot succeed, we become demoralized and lose our motivation. Instead, make a list of what was in your control: effort, planning, alternatives you could have taken, etc. It will help your fight against misperceptions and improve your chances to succeed in the future.
3. Protect your self-esteem as you would protect your own child from aggression. Self-esteem is like an emotional immune system that protects you from depression.
It is very important to monitor it and avoid putting yourself down, particularly when you are already in pain after a failure or a rejection. Many of us become self-critical in these situations, kicking our self-esteem when we are already down. Don’t make it harder than it is already! You are only adding pain to pain…
When you’re feeling critical of yourself, imagine a dear friend or your own child is feeling bad about him or herself for similar reasons and write a letter expressing your support. Then read the letter to yourself.
To revive your self-worth after a rejection, you can also make a list of your positive qualities that you value and read them to yourself.
4. Break the cycle of brooding and ruminating negative thoughts with positive distraction. Negative only brings negative. When you keep having negative thoughts, it only leads you to deeper pain.
To stop ruminating, ask yourself this question: “Can I do something about it?”. If yes, then do it. If no, distract yourself to stop thinking of it. The best way is to engage in a task that requires concentration (like doing a breathing exercise, recalling the names of the children in your school for example or completing a crossword). Studies shows that only two minutes of distraction will reduce the need to have these negative thoughts (it’s true as well if you are trying to stop yourself from eating chocolate by the way – all our urges reduce dramatically after 2 minutes).
5. Find meaning in loss. Loss is a part of life, but it can keep us from moving forward if we don’t treat the emotional pain it creates.
Know the “normal cycle” of loss that psychologists have defined: 1. Denial and isolation; 2. Anger; 3. Bargaining; 4. Sadness and Depression; 5. Acceptance. Read more about it here: the 5 stages of loss and grief.
If a lot of time has passed and you still can’t move forward, try to find meaning in the loss. It might be hard, but think of what you might have gained or understood from the loss (for instance, “I lost my husband but I’ve become much closer to my kids”). Think of how you can help others to appreciate life more, and the changes you can make in your own life to live more fully.
6. Avoid excessive guilt by repairing damaged relationships
We feel guilty when our action or inactions have hurt another person (often a friend or loved one) who has not forgiven us.
Often our apologies are not “good enough” for the other person to “let it go”. Apologies require “empathy”. The other person must feel that you totally understand how they felt and how they were badly impacted by you. (Read more about making effective apologies here).
7. Don’t think loneliness is your fate.
Loneliness is much more common then we realize – especially when living abroad as a migrant domestic worker. It has a negative impact on our emotional and physical health. The worse is that when we feel lonely, we often want to minimize the risk of rejection by ignoring opportunities to connect with people.
Make a list of excuses you’ve used to avoid taking initiative —I won’t know anyone so why go?; They don’t call me so why should I call them?; They’re probably too busy to meet up; I can’t just introduce myself to a stranger.
If this is not you, but your employer who doesn’t allow you to go out on your days off or calling friends or relatives outside of your working hours, look immediately for help from a NGO like Home in Singapore or Help in Hong Kong. This is not normal and it put yourself in a very vulnerable situation.
Now make a list of people whose company you’ve enjoyed in the past (go through your phone book, Facebook friends, and Email contacts) and reach out to one or two each day to initiate plans until your social calendar is full. Challenge yourself to avoid using excuses when you feel anxious.
“Mostly, get into the habit of taking note of your psychological health on a regular basis — and especially after a stressful, difficult, or emotionally painful situation. Yes, practicing emotional hygiene takes a little time and effort, but it will seriously elevate your entire quality of life. I promise.” Guy Winch
You can also watch this Ted Talk by Psychologist Guy Winch where he explains how he practices emotional first aid for himself.
Very often, we think no but say yes because we fear what other people may think of us… Read this story about an old man, his son and their donkey.
An old man and his grandson were living in a small village. They wanted to bring their donkey to the market.
First, both on them were walking and the donkey was not carrying anything. They could hear the neighbors talking: “Look at them, idiots, they have a donkey, feed it every day but don’t even use it…”
Then, the boy was on the donkey and the old man walking. The neighbors were loudly commenting: “Look at them, this boy is not respecting this old man, he lets him walk while he is resting on the donkey…”
So, they switched, the old man was on the donkey and the boy walking. The neighbors still made some comments: “Look at this poor boy walking while this man is resting…”
Then, they decided to both be on the donkey. They could hear the neighbors whispering: “Look at them, cruel and stupid people, they don’t realize this poor donkey is suffering and soon it will die because it gets too tired…
Finally, they did not know what to do and decided to carry the donkey on their backs! The neighbors laughed at them loudly and called them crazy. The donkey was uncomfortable and finally ran away.
The old man said to his grand-son: “We learned that when we try to please everyone, we please no one at the end. What do we care what other people think!
And they went back home with this valuable lesson in mind.
You can also watch this story on YouTube.
The fifth day, they stayed at home and the old man asked his son. “Son, what did you learn this week?” and the son replied “What do we care what other people think! Whatever we do, they will always find something to say about it…”
And you, do you sometimes pay too much attention to what other people may think of you?
Why people fail so often to achieve their objectives and end up doing nothing?
It’s often because they don’t know what SMART objectives are. SMART objectives are motivating because you can actually achieve them. And step after step you can make your dreams come true!
SMART is an acronym for
Small and specific objectives. It means that you need to break your objective in small actions. For example, if you want to start a business, your objective for next month can be to enroll in a business management class.
Measurable objectives – for example, your objective cannot be to just “save more” – it could be “save 1-month salary in 6 months”. Saving more is not measurable, you need to say how much. Otherwise, this is not motivating and you can never know if you achieved your objective or not.
Achievable – it has to be possible to do it. Actually make it even easier than you think you can do it! Often we fail because we get discouraged.
Resourced – list what you need to achieve your objective. Maybe you need to discuss with your family about money managing, maybe you need to make some research.
Time-Bound – your objective needs to have a deadline – choose if you want to do daily, weekly, by the end of the month, 6 months, 2 years, 5 years.
Here is an example of a SMART plan. The dream of this person is to open a business and she sets SMART objectives for that to achieve in one month, 6 months, 2 years and 5 years.
Review your plan and your objectives now and make sure they are SMART!
Who are the people who make their dreams come true? Are they more determined or intelligent? Do they have more luck? Or do they just have better techniques? Cognitive & behavioral psychologists found the best practices to help people achieve their objectives.
Instead of thinking of your fears and all that may go wrong, think of all you will miss and regret if you don’t try.
Have a plan and set SMART objectives.
Start small and if it’s still too hard, try even smaller but don’t give up. Starting small is also the way we learn naturally, look at babies: crawling then walking then running then jumping! If you start too big, you may put yourself in great difficulty and danger. For example before putting all your savings in a business, make sure to learn about business management first and start with a small venture.
Start NOW, don’t wait for tomorrow. If you start, it will make it easier for you to keep going.
Do something every day for your dream. Make it an habit so you don’t have to make an effort to think about it.
If you fail one day, don’t take it as an excuse to give up. Start again.
Cut your objective in small ones and give you rewards for each one that you achieve like a small inexpensive symbolic gift or a food that you enjoy.
Book regular appointments with yourself (every week and every month) to check your progress and adjust your objectives if they are too easy or too hard.
Ask for your friends support. Tell them about your objectives and ask them to ask you questions about your progress regularly. Their nice pressure will help you.
Have special tricks for difficult days like a playlist of your Power Songs that give you energy.
And read this short story about Mona and her dream!