That Damned Pendulum

It has often been said that when things are going well we cannot imagine a time when things will go badly. Likewise, when things are going badly, we cannot imagine them going well again. I think we all have seen evidence of this. How many people, when times are good, stack away reserves, saving for a rainy day? And how many people, when times are tough, see that as the time to push the boat out, take a chance, and embrace change? Instead, when times are good we celebrate and when times are bad we circle the wagons and burn the furniture.

It is easy to forget that when all boats are rising, so too are the cost of boats. It is also easy to forget that opportunity costs are often much lower in down economies. Down economies are often the very best time to test business ideas that have been ruminating during the good times but never acted upon because time was such a scarce resource. As sure as the sun rises in the morning, so too the economic pendulum will eventually swing the other way. But instead of allowing a down economy to stifle your growth, use it to accelerate it. Our frustration is poorly aimed if we just focus on the fact that the pendulum exists as there is nothing we can do about that. Our frustration is also poorly aimed if we focus just on when the pendulum might swing next — again, it is not something we can easily influence, but keeping an eye on this is smart. Our focus will always be best employed in thinking about how we can best use the current pendulum state to our best advantage. And every pendulum state offers opportunity.

How to Avoid DIY and Anything Else

So now you have some idea of what I mean by life’s hammer. More than likely you have already experienced it. To reiterate, it is not just what we might call catastrophic loss (but it could be). It could be any setback in life. But what really defines life’s hammer is how you react to the setback. So, it’s not the setback itself that gives the hammer its power of impact — it is how we perceive the setback that gives it the power. let me explain…


I consider myself pretty capable when doing DIY projects, but like may people, I procrastinate doing them. I’ve struggled to know exactly why because I so appreciate a job well done. But the answer is in that last sentence. You see, without knowing it, I am setting myself up for the blow of life’s hammer each and every time I undertake a DIY job, even before I get started! I watch the YouTube videos and read the online posts to prepare myself for whatever the job is. So I have an image in my mind of how I expect the job to proceed. I know what tools and bits and pieces I will need to do the job. And I visualise what the outcome should be. So expectations are running high before I even get started.

And then I begin…
First, I don’t have all the right parts but think I can substitute something I do have or can modify something or riff on the original plan in some way. This seldom works out well. Then I find I do not have the right tools for the job so I try using other tools to fill in the gaps, or fashion something out of a coat hanger etc. Then I start injuring myself and then I break or damage something. Then I manage to get the job completed but it doesn’t look anything like what it did in the YouTube video. At each step of the way I am getting more and more frustrated at the job, the tools, the pieces, the weather, myself. I step back at the end and am relieved the job is over and disappointed in the result and in myself. I have failed to meet my own standard. This sequence happens every. single. time. Well, it used to.


As a coach I should know better. This is classic territory for rational emotive behavioural therapy (REBT). The core tenet here is that it is not the stimulus event that is the problem, it is how we perceive and respond to the problem. We can, as in my DIY example, have irrational beliefs about how things in life should go. These irrational beliefs create irrational expectations which then create self-defeating thoughts and behaviours. Self defeating thoughts can lead to all sorts of issues from procrastination to full-on depression. While this may all sound a bit daunting, there is good news in this — it can be fixed!

The most common symptom of avoidance is procrastination — be easiest way to avoid doing something is to avoid doing pretty much anything or everything. Why take a risk doing something that might end up in catastrophe when you can simply not do the something in the first place. It is not a stretch from that to not doing much of anything just in case anything might end in catastrophe too. One of the most effective ways of addressing the root cause of chronic avoidance, including procrastination, is to engage in some form of REBT within a relational coaching scenario. We’ll talk about that soon…

Life’s Hammer

There’s no avoiding it — it’s like death and taxes — sooner or later the shit will hit the fan and something unpleasant will enter your life. It’s as sure as they day you were born. And while we can undertake a life of mitigation and risk avoidance, sometimes it just feels like it was going to happen no matter what we did. Spending one’s life finding ways to avoid life’s hammer seems sensible enough and we all do it to varying degrees. But if we accept that the hammer is coming for us all eventually regardless of what we do to avoid it, shouldn’t we at least be doing something to prepare for it? And when it does hit, what should we do to recover from the blow? These are worthy questions. These are the questions I explore with clients each and every day.

The hammer comes in many forms — getting passed over for promotion,  not getting that dream job, being made redundant, watching your industry being reduced by an emerging one, sickness, marital problems, death. Some of these blows, and other blows are likely to strike us all at least once in our lives. So what can we do? Anything?

Well, yes and no. There are avoidance strategies that we all undertake in the hope of avoiding these and other potential blows. But we must accept that we cannot avoid all of life’s hardships. So we must do more to prepare ourselves for them. We will talk more about that later. For now it is good for us to be mindful of what I’ve just described. Between now and when you die there will be some unpleasantness entering your life. I’m sorry, but that’s just the way life is. What we need to do is embrace that reality and begin to think about how much of your life you wish to invest in avoidance. How much of your income do you want to spend on insurances, how many things do you want to turn down because of the risk of unpleasantness? How much of life’s possibilities will you deny yourself in the name of playing it safe? We all draw these lines in different places. Where do you want to draw yours? And while you think about ho wmuch of yourself you wish to invest in avoidance, think too about how prepared for the impact of life’s little disasters you really are. How do you respond when things don’t go to plan? Would you like to make some changes there?

A Deathly Quiet

Who knows when it all started, this notion that there must be no sonic gaps in a life, that silence is not only not golden, but it is in fact awkward and therefore unseemly? We have even gone so far as to attach the word and notion of death to silence. We have turned our backs on quiet and embraced a never-ending wall of sound.

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My Silent Brother, Cosmo

I found myself sat in a small, wooden chair within a good sized cage. Behind me, sat outside the cage were three dogs eyeing me intently. Inside the cage in front of me was small wooden box with an opening facing me. Through that opening, by the light of a bulb lit within, I could see pieces of newspapers spread like a kind of carpet on the floor. Resting in a heap to one side was a seething mass of puppies, making those funny chirping sounds that fat, contented puppies make. Then, from one side of the opening came a single puppy. He was about the length of my hand, unsteadyish on his feet still. His eyes were a beautiful shade of blue. He tumbled out of the box, regained his composure and walked over to me. He gently took the end of one of my shoe laces into his teeth and stepped back until he had successfully untied my shoe. He then walked back over between my feet, sat down, curled up, and went to sleep. This was my first encounter with my future brother, Cosmo.

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The Dark Gifts

Long before all living memory, and even beyond the reach of history, there existed a time of what today we might call magic. It was not adolescents waving sticks and speaking incantations. It was not old hags burning candles in front of cauldrons filled with eyes of newts and toes of frogs. Neither was is prehistoric hippies chanting to trees. It was a dark magic, that sometimes granted dark gifts. The magic is gone, but these dark gifts still present themselves even to this day.
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