My attitudes # 6 Plan, plan, plan + Let it be

One of the most annoying parts of my personality is my requirement before starting out on anything to learn all about it, plan every decision, prioritize into importance, then before acting – break down each priority into infinitesimal minute manageable steps. Sometimes, it takes me forever to get started. However, once I do I am ‘A for away’ as I can go full steam ahead, knowing I only need to tackle one of those baby steps at a time and knowing I can handle each one of them.

Being thrown off my life’s direction with the separation was especially difficult because, apart from everything else associated with the trauma, it did not fit into my logical-thinking ‘must-have-a-plan’ brain. As the feelings of anger, fear and turmoil swirled around me; I was under a great deal of stress. After about three months of trying to cope with the stress and failing abysmally, I decided to go back to the basics of how I had coped with previous difficult periods by my motto ‘learn – plan – prioritise’; and try applying it to stress factors.


I decided as a first step I would learn all I could about stress. On the internet, I found a psychologists rating scale that rated stressful events with death of a spouse coming in highest at 100, divorce 73, personal injury 53 and so on down to vacation 13 and Christmas 12. I rated all that I was going through: divorce, business readjustment, daughter leaving home; change in finances, work responsibility, living conditions, personal habits, work hours, recreational habits, social habits, sleep habits, and family gatherings; holidays and Christmas; plus daily stress triggers not on the list of time management, work-related issues, and frustrating inconveniences. I scored 405 where supposedly over 150 puts you in the danger category for health problems.


With all I was going through, one would wonder how I could cope. However, to my logic brain reading all about this gave me a life-line as I was able to compartmentalise the stresses in my life into categories:

(1)    DARK EVENTS – death, divorce, disability, displacement, disaster, debt crisis, disease

(2)    LIFE’S MILESTONES – achievements, son or daughter leaving, moving home, retirement, changing jobs or work conditions or work responsibilities, taking out a major loan, living alone

(3)    CHRONIC PROBLEMS – ill-health, ill-health of family member, financial stress, hectic lifestyle, inability to accept situation as is, abuse, arguments, conflicts in the home or workplace,

(4)    LIFESTYLE – diet, exercise, sleep, attitude, alcohol or caffeine use; excess workload, time management, perfectionism, overflowing in-box, failure to take time-out and relax, boredom,

(5)     INTERRUPTIONS – social activities, holidays, Christmas, Family gatherings, travel

(6)    INCONVENIENCES – commuting, driving in traffic, stuck in traffic, interruptions, disrespectful people


I thought of those things I could control and those that I could not. For those things that I could control, I could choose to do this in a positive way. For those I could avoid, I would avoid or delay to reduce my overall stress levels. For those things that I could not control, I could control my attitude towards them.

The dark event I was facing was the divorce process which had arisen beyond my control. I changed my attitude and began looking on it as an annoying but temporary event in my life. I let it go (eventually).

Life’s milestones. I chose to enjoy life’s triumphs such as my daughter’s graduation.  I chose to delay the challenging event of moving home and selling the business. When other stresses in my life reduced, I could focus on these but not yet. That left only ‘living alone’ that I needed to work on.

For chronic problems; I had to face and deal with my financial situation, and some work conflicts. For obvious reasons, conflicts in the home were now zero – one positive.

Lifestyle was the area over which I could exert full control.

Interruptions particularly social events and holidays are generally the highlights of what makes life worthwhile. Some people view these as an escape from stress. It is important to recognise they can also add to stress levels. My aim would be to reduce these to a minimum. I chose to keep including family gatherings, Christmas and holidays; but I delayed or reduced other social gatherings and getting into a regular social group.

Inconveniences. My stress levels were so high, for a while irritations did push me over to ‘red alert’. As I reduced stress in my everyday life, I gave these inconveniences the attention they deserved – zero.

In summary, I managed to halve the stress factors in my life by;

1. I narrowed my initial overwhelming list down to a much shorter ‘top-priority’ list of family relationships, living alone, business and finances, and committing to a healthy lifestyle. My next step would be to look at each of those in turn in order to prioritise within them.

2. I delayed moving or making any major change to my work or lifestyle.

3. I avoided negative people, unimportant acquaintances, unnecessary events. I disregarded inconveniences.

4. I let go of the emotional upheaval of the separation. This was actually the hardest, yet most important first step. To ‘let go’ of the overwhelming sadness that I felt so that I could have the energy to focus on what was important in my new life. The underlying support to  ‘learn – plan – prioritise’ for the future, was being able to say “let it be” to the past.





My attitudes # 5 Be Pro-active

A few weeks after my husband abandoned our marriage, when anger started, I resolved that I did not want to become an angry person. I made a pact with myself that I would not let what was done to me destroy me as the person I was or take over my soul. I determined I would hold onto my beliefs, values and integrity. The last four lines of the poem Invictus by William Henley became my mantra.

“It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul”

In my journey of self-discovery, I have explored what my values and beliefs are and one by one reaffirmed that I will continue to live by them. I feel I have indeed become ‘captain of my soul’. Now it is time for the next step of my journey – to become ‘master of my fate’.

With an underlying spirit of positiveness and its components of hope, optimism and courage; it would seem I am set to move forward. I can now take control of my ship, choose which direction to steer it, start it up – then keep it going. Take control of my ship, my life. What does that mean?

Taking control means not blaming my genetics, my upbringing, my circumstances, society, the global financial crisis – or my divorce – for where I am today. Taking control is being able to say ‘I am here today because I took myself there’. I chose.

This is the next BIG step I need to take, to become pro-active. I need to stop putting the blame for where I am in my life onto the circumstances I was thrown into. This is hard. In my last post I spat out “I am where I am at this moment through no choice of my own” – as an excuse for remaining transfixed and immobilised.

But I do have a choice. I can forever blame my husband’s abandonment of me and the financial crisis it has thrown me in for my fate …… or I can choose to take back control. While it is true the separation was beyond my control, from that point onwards – without even knowing it – I have had choices. All my actions as well as my inactions have been my choice. I have no-one else to blame.

I have always been pro-active, never expecting anyone to do things for me. I have worked hard. I have taken responsibility for my actions. This time it is more difficult. There are so many aspects to consider, so many hurdles to jump over, so much mud in my path. It can be totally overwhelming to move a single step. However, it is still up to me to get going, to keep going. There is no knight in shining armour. There is no fairy godmother. There is no handsome prince. There is just me. It is up to me.

I remember clearly one of the first times I took control of one aspect of my life – that of my health. I was not overweight then but my parents both were and I resolved I would fight genetics and consciously began to control my own diet. I was about twelve at the time. I started by cutting out junk food and gradually moved on to cutting down fats when my father had a heart attack. As I grew older I constructed a complete healthy eating plan.

Since the separation I have steadily put on about six kilograms. I have blamed the stress I have been under for over-eating, the lack of time to exercise, being too bothered to cook proper healthy meals for myself when on my own. Excuses. Excuses.

Yes, the divorce mess is burdensome, my financial situation is overwhelming, and finding a life purpose is daunting.

But I can start at the beginning – with me. The two hands at the end of my arms are within my control. I can choose the foods they put in the shopping trolley. I can choose what and how much they put in my mouth.

This is where I will start again – with me, for me, for my health.

My attitudes # 4 – Courage

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy” Martin Luther King Jnr

In recent posts I spoke of hope – a belief in a positive outcome – and optimism – looking on the bright side of situations and overcoming fear by facing reality and responding positively.

To truly overcome fear, one requires courage. Courage is the attitude to act by ones own free will towards a meaningful goal despite a perceived threat, risk or challenge; despite feeling fear and apprehension; and despite an uncertain outcome. Courage is mastery over your fear. To me, the features of showing courage therefore are –

(a) being faced with a real or perceived risk, threat or challenge,
(b) feeling fear or apprehension because of that risk,
(c) facing an uncertain outcome, AND

despite the above …. you 
(1) make a deliberate choice
(2) towards a meaningful goal

That – to me – is courage.

Certainly I am able to say I can tick the first three boxes. I face real risks and challenges. I am feeling fearful and apprehensive. My outcome is absolutely uncertain. I definitely score quite high on the “fears to be overcome” side. Do I have the courage to face those fears and make a choice towards a meaningful goal?

I looked back to see if I had ever shown courage in the past …..

Firstly, there have been many times I have shown courage to meet challenges; starting a new career, despite the risk of not knowing exactly what it would be like; moving to a new area, despite the challenge of knowing no-one and starting again; taking part in sporting or public-speaking competitions, despite the risk of possible failure. I have done all of these.

Secondly, there are times when I have shown courage to overcome difficulties. My second son (a ‘failure to thrive’) was able to enjoy a healthy happy childhood because I had the courage to pursue an unconventional solution for him through dietary means. My third son (with learning difficulties) survived academically as I had the courage to push for structured learning programmes for him at school. He went on to obtain a Masters degree. It took courage to stand up to doctors and teachers and insist from them what I knew to be best for my children, despite an uncertain outcome, and despite a degree of ridicule.

The first examples are ones of taking risks and stepping out into the unknown. I am not wanting to put down these feats, as I believe they all took courage. However they were all choices made by me from a base level of comfort and security, towards wanted life-time goals. The second examples were of rising from difficult situations with uncertain outcomes. However, this time I had a meaningful goal – my children’s health and happiness – which I chose to put above my own discomfort.

Two of the things that I have battled with constantly since my separation is that I am where I am at this moment through no choice of my own. Choice was taken away from me. Secondly, I lost my life’s purpose and my striving towards meaningful goals. Yet somehow from somewhere, I am supposed to find some hidden courage, I am supposed to “choose” a meaningful path forward.

I keep getting blocked by these two obstacles, my lost choice and my loss of purpose. It is so easy to get swallowed up by the fear and apprehension that I feel, to forget about courage and to remain paralysed in a delayed sense of shock.

Yet I know that I have had the courage to face aloneness and discover the joy of solitude. Within that space it has taken much courage to face my inner self, my changing self and to keep striving towards the goal of having a life with meaning, purpose and authenticity.

My courage has been the light in the darkness of my despair.

My courage has been my willpower to survive, despite the darkness.

My courage has been to keep moving forward, despite the fear in my inner world.

My courage has given me the strength to put my thoughts down in my writing.

I now seek to apply that same courage to my external world with confidence and a sense of well being.

“Our most difficult experiences can become the crucibles that forge our character and develop the internal powers, the freedom to handle difficult circumstances. “ Stephen Covey. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.



My attitudes # 3 – As for those rose coloured glasses ……

My attitudes # 3 – Grace and Dignity

“Learn to be what you are, And learn to resign with a good grace,
all that you are not”
Henri Frederic Amiel

In my last post I spoke about optimism, in particular overcoming adversities by approaching difficult life events –  death of a loved one, divorce, disablement, disease, disasters – as challenges to overcome, rather than as obstacles to endure……… …

I left out some rather difficult situations …chronic situations involving another person ……  abusive situations, addiction in someone you care for, and chronic illness or disablement in someone you love. Is optimism in oneself enough to get one through any of these situations?

Herein lies the difficulty. Try as you might, as optimistic as you are yourself, you cannot change anyone else, or make someone do something, or make someone not do something. Even when someone is ill, you cannot make them see a doctor, take their medicine, rest, exercise, follow a diet or whatever it is that would be best for their situation. You can only keep loving and supporting them and encouraging them and helping them as much as you can. And you definitely cannot get inside their head and make them ‘look on the bright side’, or ‘make the best out of a bad situation’, or make them realise that ‘it could be much worse’. You can only do what you can do. You can only keep on keeping on and  keep telling them over and over that it will all work out and that you will be there for them always.

Then when they leave you suddenly with no choice or discussion and with blame cast at you – because somehow it is all your fault – you finally take off the rose-coloured glasses……………..

And you realise that by the action of abandonment, not only have you been betrayed, not only have you been denied a chance to speak; not only have you been treated with the utmost disrespect; not only have you had your love and care trampled on; but you have also – in your role as carer – been the victim of emotional exploitation.

And you didn’t even know.

So, Mrs Optimism, where is the upside?

Using the same acronym as in my last post turning F.E.A.R into positive action (Face Everything And Respond) …………

Sixteen months on, I now look at the ending of our marriage and the events leading up to it with full realisation I had no control over someone else’s choices, someone else’s actions, or over events that occurred; and I have dropped any remaining trace of self-blame for the marriage’s demise.

Sixteen months on, I look on my values of kindness and empathy as virtues. I no longer see myself as a victim, or those virtues contributing to a supposed victim role. I realise that just because someone took advantage of my caring compassionate nature does not mean that I need to change those qualities in me in any way.

Sixteen months on, I can now face the razor-sharp ending to my marriage and be grateful that it saved me the pain of having to make a choice; that of trying to save my marriage after the betrayal. There is in regard to our personal relationship nothing left to lose so therefore nothing left to fear. There is no need to ask or expect an apology that will never come. The only response I need to make is to continue to act with grace and dignity.

“I wish grace and healing were more abracadabra kind of things. Also, that delicate silver bells would ring to announce grace’s arrival. But no, it’s clog and slog … on the floor, in the silence, in the dark”.  Anne Lamott

My attitudes # 2 – Next comes Optimism

My attitudes # 2 Optimism

“The goal we seek, and the good we hope for, comes not as some final reward but as the hidden companion to our quest. It is not what we find, but the reason we cannot stop looking and striving, that tells us why we are here”. Madeleine Albright

In my recent post on hope I wrote of that first spark, that first light, that vision of what you desire will eventuate. Optimism, whilst similar, is different.

Optimism is the capacity to look on the bright side of life, of making the best out of any situation.
Optimism is accepting some things will not change and learning to dance despite them.
Optimism is seeing the change that you want, and propelling yourself towards it
Optimism is seeing life’s adversities as challenges to overcome, rather than as hindrances getting in your way.

In our everyday life we have set-backs. When it is raining; you can grizzle and moan; you can hope for the rain to stop; or you can bake cakes and smile. Which do you choose?
If you are kept waiting for four hours because your plane is delayed, you can shout at the stewardess, you can hope they put on an earlier plane; or you can sit and be glad of the extra time to chill. Which do you choose?

I believe looking at the brighter side of such inconveniences prepares you for larger set-backs. Optimism is a huge asset when confronted with difficulties – death, divorce, disease, disablement, displacement, distress, or disaster. In these situations optimism is more than seeing a brighter side, optimism is more than anticipating the best outcome; optimism is a confidence in oneself to be able to chart a course of action, and to propel oneself to overcome the challenges set before you.

Three weeks ago I returned from a wonderful holiday then was hit with the reality of what I am soon to face; running a business on my own, with a reduced asset base, huge debt and risk. How could I cope?

Firstly, I found hope.

Then a post on overcoming FEAR Face Everything And Respond” gave me a clear optimistic vision, with a kind response by the author Ian to a comment I made that my metaphoric vision of seeing myself wading through mud was me positively seeing adversities as challenges to overcome rather than being frozen in an “it’s not fair” mentality.

I thought back to signs of this optimism in me the past sixteen months. There was evidence. I learned to enjoy each day. I looked on the value of my extra space, rather than seeing emptiness. I embraced solitude. There was my vision overcoming my fear of a mountain to climb by finding an easier path, and proceeding along that path step by step.

A poem posted by Dr Bill Wooten (copied below) earlier this week was a signal to me, a call for action. A similar sentiment was expressed in a poem by Clarabelle of finding the belief within yourself. I was now set. I knew that I had to face what I had to face. I knew that I had to do what I had to do.

So this week I have had meetings with my accountant, commercial lawyer, bank manager, and financial advisor. I have spent evenings feeding numbers into spreadsheets, making business plans, devising budgets, plotting a course of action. I believe I will overcome this challenge. I will survive. I will take the necessary steps towards and reach my own financial security.

Today you can

“Today you can choose to count your blessings
or you can count your troubles.
Today you can live each moment
or you can put in time.

Today you can take action towards your goals
or you can procrastinate.
Today you can plan for the future
or you can regret the past.

Today you can learn one new thing
or you can stay the same.
Today you can seek possibilities
or you can overwhelm yourself with the impossible.

Today you can continue to move forward
or you can quit.
Today you can take steps towards resolving your challenges
or you can procrastinate.

You see today the choices are up to you
in deciding what you do today.”

~ Catherine Pulsifer