Monthly Archive: August 2014

Train Your Enthusiasm!

I have  a plan, and a lot of energy and enthusiasm to get going on it. Getting started is easy. Finishing with what I envisioned sometimes seems impossible.

For instance, I want to write a book, or booklet, on scapegoating. I have a lot of enthusiasm around this topic – it’s important to me to get this out there. I began this project 2 years ago: did a lot of research and thinking, interviewing and writing. And then got overwhelmed with possibilities that began to form some months in.  After a while, I felt more frustrated than enthused, and eventually decided to give my brain a break and let it go for a while.

If you’ve gone through this kind of scenario, you probably ended up feeling frustrated – like me – and begin to lose confidence in yourself. So the question is – how can you and I train our enthusiasm to get things done?Brain-training-297x300


First, learn to appreciate your enthusiasm. Give it room to engage in whatever it fancies. But also set up bounds to that engagement. Freedom isn’t truly freedom until you can control your urges and give them something to aim for.

How do we do that? Cognitive Control. This is a term created by Dr. Adam Gazzaley from the University of California, and he means by it the ability to manage your attention. He argues that this ability predicts our success and happiness in life – and teaches us how to get things done.

What is Cognitive Control? He maintains there are three aspects to it – meditation, completion, and focus.

  1. Meditation –Gazzaley calls meditation a cognitive control exercise that enhances our ability to self-regulate internal distractions. It’s a way of not only clearing our mind, but placing our mind and our true intentions in the driver’s seat. We don’t have to meditate that long to gain a positive effect. 5 minutes is a lot better than not meditating at all.
  2. Completion, or more specifically, determine what completion looks like or means for you – is it attainable? Finishing a book you’ve been working on by the end of the week is likely a lot less attainable than finishing a chapter of the book. Reaching for the unattainable isn’t helpful or even useful – it makes us feel bad when we fail to achieve it and, really, it undermines our real abilities and genuine enthusiasm.
  3. Focus – practice wearing blinders to stay focused. Tunnel vision can be a good thing when it successfully helps us block out all the enticing distractions that interfere with staying on track. Again, make it doable – set a period of time when we choose no distractions. It could be 10 minutes, half an hour, 1 hour. See how it goes.

And that’s how you finish what you’ve started!

Try it out! I would love to hear how it works for you, how you’ve learned to train your enthusiasm.

Maryanne Nicholls is a Toronto based, certified Psychotherapist offering a balanced approach to mental health. Please visit for information on her services, or contact her directly to find out how she can help you reclaim the joy of living.


How to be a Leader

I spent 10 days in the wilderness last week on a how to be a leader. Those of us who participated worked hard, had very little sleep, and were expected to be there for others no matter how well or badly our day (or evening) was going.

We lived out of tents, ate whenever we got a moment free of duties, and tried hard to remember not to take ourselves too seriously.

At the end of 10 days, I made my way home, fell into bed and didn’t move a lot for the next day and a half. Did I learn how to be a leader?

How to be a Leader

How to be a Leader

Sun Tzu writes in “The Art of War”, “The masterful leader cultivates the moral law, and strictly adheres to proper methods and discipline; thus it is in his power to control success”.

  1. Cultivates the moral law. To me, this means serving as a power of example. Sometimes it’s hard to be that – so much easier to pull the covers over our head and sink into sweet oblivion rather than face something possibly unpleasant – like, oh, diverse and contradictory opinions, the need to come up with something original in no time and with no sleep, collaborating within an atmosphere of tension.
  2. Strictly adheres to proper methods and discipline. This is a tough one, because how often have we seen the TV hero and leader NOT doing this? The hero who throws caution away and saves the day. The maverick who, if he uses method at all, is not obvious to anyone besides himself. Yet, if we are to be a power of example, then we need to provide a way that others can learn and follow. It reminds me of a child hugging it’s mother’s skirts, thereby finding the courage and security to venture out. We all need the security of method, and the discipline to carry that method out.
  3. Thus it is in his power to control success: This is why I would follow someone – if I believed she could control success, and thereby take all of us to where we need to get to. And really, that would mean she solidly believes in herself, in what she is doing, and where she is headed. Equally as important is that she has skill and experience, so that I can be sure she can act quickly and decisively when she needs to.

During those 10 days, I had to occasionally remind myself to grow up, and that I really did have to get up and be somewhere at 3 am. My power to control success depended on how I determined success. If it was based on a wish list of all the things I imagined I might fit in that week, then my power to control anything was very limited; it would mean that everyone else’s lists had to merge perfectly with mine. If it was based on maintaining a good attitude throughout and doing what I could, what I knew and what I knew I could reach for, then my power to control success on that basis was really pretty great.

I don’t know if I managed to inspire others as I processed my way through the week, but I emerged much better than I had imagined I would, exhaustion excepted.

Would I do it again? Perhaps. I learned something about how to be a leader, and if I do it again I’ll take with me what I learned this time around.

Maryanne Nicholls is a Toronto based, certified Psychotherapist offering a balanced approach to mental health. Please visit for information on her services, or contact her directly to find out how she can help you reclaim the joy of living.

Mindfulness Approach to Managing Stress

I think this is worth repeating – How do you get from Stress to Living Well? The short answer is to change our relationship to stress, including our attitude. This is how you attain a mindful approach to managing stress.

Is the following familiar to you?  I find myself over-committed, or I have three days and a ton of things on my plate, or I have to care for my parents, husband and kids and am beginning to feel ragged …. . Whatever it is, it keeps us running both mentally and physically.  Then at some point we simply can’t do it anymore, so we blank out.  We watch whatever is on TV, play Solitaire, eat something comforting, have a few glasses of wine, take a pill.  Then after a few hours or a day (if we haven’t burned out), we launch back into frantic activity once more.

We know that a rest is good, even essential. We know that by getting proper rest, we are in fact, managing stress. We may have purchased a few months at a gym or a yoga studio; and when we go, we find it makes us feel good, relaxed even.  We know what is healthy and what isn’t, and we often are healthy.  But once we are into stress, anything truly healthy takes a back seat.

We’re mindful of what we need but we don’t have a mindful approach to managing stress.

Why?  Because we don’t have time for those things.  We don’t have time to prepare good food, to meditate, to go for a slow walk, to do yoga or work out.  Those precious hours involved in relaxing and healthy activity could be much better spent, we believe, checking off the next item on our list.  And because the list is really endless, we, in fact, spend a lot of days stressing and not really taking care of ourselves. We don’t take a mindful approach to managing stress!

Mindful Approach to Managing Stress

Knowing the Symptoms of Stress VS. “Symptoms” of Living Well – The Mindful Approach to Managing Stress











Stress – anxiety – is often about fear, specifically fear of what we anticipate.  It may be based on something that happened in the past; something we lost, some kind of trauma, or it may be based on our beliefs – what we believe we must do or accomplish.  When we periodically reach a place that gives us some peace, we want things to stay that way forever.  We know it won’t last, and that knowledge adds more stress.

What we need to change, in fact the key to overcoming stress and anxiety, is to change our own attitude and approach to our living. A tall order, but one that is attainable.

Our Choice – Stress or Joy

In 12-step programs, there is a saying: when we are sick and tired of being sick and tired, we will change. Paraphrasing this, we are ready to chosing to changecommit to changing our ways when we are truly sick and tired of being stressed.

The first step to real and permanent stress-free living is choosing to make that change, whatever it takes. Without making this personal choice (and commitment), nothing else is possible. We may get expert help, we may do hours of yoga and meditation, but without that choice, we will simply do what we’ve always done in a different way.

Once we make that choice, the next essential step is awareness – learning to be aware of when we are stressed – what triggers our stress, how it feels in our bodies. Meditation, yoga, learning to tune into our sensations and feelings, will bring this awareness.

These two acts on our part provide a foundation for changing our approach to stress and anxiety. Some of us are able to help ourselves back to a healthy way of living and responding to life, others need only a boost in the right direction. Some of us do well with guidance from a counselor.

Depending on the seriousness of your situation, you may choose to begin with a self-help approach, and see how that works for you.

  • Discover what kinds of events calm you and feed your body and soul. Long aromatic baths, slow walks in nature, playing with your pet, being with friends and loved ones, relaxing on a beach or in a park. Take time every day to include at least one of those events – even if all you feel you have is 10 minutes. Always fitting this time in means you are beginning to make joy a priority in your life.
  • Practice gratitude. Before bedtime, remember a few things that happened during that day that you are grateful for. You may want to keep a gratitude journal by your bed. Studies now show that training your mind on these kinds of positives calm us and give us a feeling of well-being.
  • Know that you always have a choice, and can chose to make this moment perfect just as it is. The opposite of stress is contentment – feeling that you’re ok as you are and that your life is wonderful just as it is at this moment. The moment may be brief, but it is real and eventually, can be life-changing.

There are practices you can add to your daily life that help –

  • Mindfulness meditation, learning to be present, learning self-acceptance. This often requires some training, but once acquired, it is a practice available to you whenever you need it.
  • Yoga – specifically yoga where poses are held. This is a form of active physical meditation, because our minds are focused on our breathing and our physical sensations.
  • Walking – and being in Nature. Plants and fresh air provide oxygen. The scents and sounds, sensations of sight and touch, can engage us, help us to reconnect with our own naturalness.

If you are still unable to break away from stress and anxiety, you may consider seeking professional help. Mindfulness-based stress reduction, or MBSR, is a proven cognitive approach to stress reduction. It generally requires a commitment of 8 weeks, and even if it isn’t the whole answer, it will greatly help, if you are willing.

There are a number of tools available to the professional counselor that she or he can offer in support, some of which are hypnotherapy, tapping, EMDR, art and music therapy, group activities, and individual interactive counseling.

A number of studies have shown that appropriate counseling helps people suffering from chronic emotional stress and anxiety significantly improve their quality of life.

If you are over-stressed and need someone to talk to about it, contact a professional counselor. Don’t be discouraged if the first counselor doesn’t work for you. The work you will be engaged in with this person is very personal, and is worth taking a little time to find that right “fit”.

Maryanne Nicholls is a Toronto based, certified Psychotherapist offering a balanced approach to mental health. Please visit for information on her services, or contact her directly to find out how she can help you reclaim the joy of living