Monthly Archive: February 2018

What to do when your plans go south

Imagine this: you plan for an event – say a workshop. You gather all the materials, secure the venue, the help and all needed resources. You practice and refine what you need to have in place.  Everyone’s committed. Sitters secured. Food ordered.


Everything is set. Then 24 hours before you all show up at the location, the location owner backs out.Now what? Well, whatever happens, guaranteed the result won’t be what you planned.  Those plans went south with the late venue cancellation.


You’ve probably experienced this first-hand.  Along with the gut-sinking disappointment and extreme need to gnash teeth and cry on a trusted friend’s shoulder.What now? Have you noticed that afterwards, looking back, it never seems as catastrophic as it did when it first happened? Life went on. All that planning and preparing that seems totally wasted in the moment ends up being put to good use in a different way. No one gets harmed beyond a minor inconvenience, and may even benefit from the change.  In fact, you might be the only one who notices.


And sometimes, better things happened because of how you responded to the unwanted change. To help you focus on the better possibilities of last-minute changes, here are 3 things to keep in mind for next time:


  1. Always expect the unexpected.  Any professional worth their salt does this; it’s what separates them from the newly trained arrival.  Anyone with training can deal with the every-day. Only a seasoned professional can deal with the unexpected last-minute surprise.

  3. Gain perspective. Most last-minute changes aren’t really earth-shattering. Even if they are, if you’ve done what you could to prepare, in the best way you could, then that’s the only thing that is truly under your control. The rest isn’t. Gaining this perspective helps to minimize pain and re-energize you for what you can do next.

  5. Look for the opportunity. Inside every change is a new opportunity. It might be a new learning, or a new way of doing what you were offering. Adding value and new interest. Sometimes, last-minute change highlights something that we hadn’t seen before that’s always been unnecessary. I had an aunt – fantastic cook – who always cut off the ends of a ham before baking it. Assuming this did something to enhance the flavor, I finally asked her why she did it. She thought about it and admitted she did it because he mother had.  As it happened, her Mom was there, and when asked, said it was because she only had one baking dish, and the hams were generally too big for it. So she cut them down at each end.

Life can be filled with adventure, if we let it. And adventure is always about venturing into unknown territory and learning from it. Seeing unwanted surprises as a kind of adventure can help to minimize the disappointment and get us going again soon after.

Saved by last-minute changes

Quote of the Week
Life is full of screwups. You’re supposed to fail sometimes. It’s a required part of the human existance. ― Sarah Dessen, Along for the Ride

At times we need more  – we know the logic, know what to do. And yet something is still blocking us.  I offer both one-on-one consultations and coaching packages.  For more information, visit my website or contact me directly at . Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist and Life Coach.  To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at .



Spread your wings

Spread your wings

I had a dream last night. In it a man is murdered. A second man is hounded and finally convicted of the murder – never any solid evidence but pretty sure he did it. He escapes with the help of his friends, and then I’m convicted (because they needed someone to pin this on). I begin many years of living under glass, in a house, constantly monitored, same regimen daily. No change. Until one day years later, when my hair has turned gray, he helps me escape back to normal life. We both end up in a community where we simply live out our lives, free of unwanted eyes.

I feel so sad and ashamed when I remember the dream.  I’ve always felt the outsider, convinced that I’d done something so terrible that I could never really belong.  For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be accepted. To belong.

If you know what I’m talking about, then you also know it isn’t true:  It isn’t true that you or I have done anything terrible, or that we in any way deserve to feel such shame. It’s something that was imposed on us by others who felt the same way. We know that. And yet, that feeling persists, causing unnecessary pain. It saps us of our life force energy, and our power.

This shame and pain makes us want to escape – through endless activity, or food, or drugs, alcohol … any thing or activity that numbs us to that unbearable feeling of pain and helplessness. Some of us never wake up to what we’re doing to ourselves. Those of you who are reading this – and who identify with it – you’re the lucky ones.  Because understanding what happened, and that you can free yourself of this fake myth, means that you can finally move on. You can take back that power you were born with.

Seth Godin’s blog Fake Wasabi  is a reminder of what we can miss if we buy into that fake myth. He notes that most sushi restaurants serve something that looks like wasabi, but is really a mixture of horse radish and other things. If you didn’t know this, and didn’t go in search of the real thing, you’d never know what you were missing.

Time to spread your wings!

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

-Mary Oliver, The Summer Day


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Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist.  To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at .

The Art of Intimacy

So often, I’m struck by a painting or poem that brings up a felt sense of some aspect of life that is deeply meaningful to me.

Rumi, when he speaks of two kinds of intelligence, speaks in my language, as if he were a contemporary instead of someone who lived several centuries ago. The Chess Players by Retzch, reminds me of times in my own life when I “innocently” made a deal with the devil. The friendship that develops between the female characters in Midsummer Night’s Dream turns what might otherwise be sordid and hopeless into light hearted and hopeful.

How often has that happened in your life? Where that intimate connection, of caring or consideration from a friend or stranger, turned pain into pleasure. Something to cherish and remember.

I know that when I’m feeling especially sad, or fearful, or anxious, I look for something in the world of art to remind me that someone else understands what I’m feeling, and that they turned this despair, or fear or sadness into something beautiful.

As a plug for a friend, a particularly intimate version of Midsummer Night’s Dream is playing in Toronto this month in Toronto.


Quote of the Week
I have a very, very good relationship with 10 percent of the audience. The only purpose of art is intimacy. That is the only point. -David Hare

At times we need more  – we know the logic, know what to do. And yet something is still blocking us. I offer both one-on-one consultations and coaching packages.  For more information, visit my website or contact me directly at

The Best We Can Do


Yesterday was my birthday. And, as is my custom, I spent the day in contemplation – how last year went, what I learned from last year, and what I’m dreaming for next year.

Last year I pushed myself – not as hard as I would have done, because I’d learned from the year before.  But, I still pushed myself. Why? Because I still don’t accept who I am. Still need to be better than who and what I am right now. Still self-judging, finding myself wanting.

I thought of the stories I tell myself about my past struggles, and focus on all the things I’ve tried that didn’t work.  Then I thought “What if I were a woman from a truly struggling part of the world – from the Congo, for instance – looking at my life and where I am in it.  What would she think and say to me?” I think she’d laugh in my face, and tell me with incredulity that I am so lucky! To rejoice in my good fortune!

I think of my friend Eric. He was a poet, and struggled most of his adult life, working at jobs that would feed and shelter him so he could spend of his time writing poetry and speaking at readings. He didn’t strive at being the best poet in the world.  He strived at being the best poet he could be in that moment.

I thought of my parents. They had their issues and in some ways never grew up. There were secrets and lies, favoritism and unfairness. I used to fantasize – like Gloria Steinem – that I was adopted, and that this somehow explained it.  Then one day as an adult, I noticed that I was doing what I swore I’d never do like my mother or father did. Shockingly, I was more like them than I ever imagined!

That’s the first time I got it: they were doing the best they could do.

It’s what inspired me to become a therapist.

When I come from knowing that I am doing the best I can, I become more accepting of me, and of everyone else around me.


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Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist.  To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at .

How to Negotiate the Peaks and Valleys of Life

Have you ever had a big setback?  If not, you will, because we all do if we’re living.  At the time, it’s painful, and it might feel devastating.  Then, a week, a month or a year later, life turns upside down; you finish a project, or win a game, or gain something you’ve been working towards. You experience that moment of being on top of the world. And it’s intoxicating!

Spencer Johnson calls these moments Peaks and Valleys, and wrote a book of that name.  Every major philosopher and spiritual leader spends most of their time guiding others through these peaks and valleys of life. Because we all have them. In fact, they’re unavoidable.

To understand this, think for a moment of the straight line. It’s what you see when a person’s heart stops.  What it represents is death. Not life. Life is change. And change is a natural process – a natural wave. Every wave movement has a peak and a valley.

This isn’t simply a metaphor. Because when you reduce anything to it’s basic form, what it is, is a form of energy. That includes us – we are, basically, energy. And whatever we do is energy. And as such, there will be high and low energy, wins and losses, trials and triumphs.

It helps me to remember this, and to also remember that we, as humans, need to try out things – sometimes several times – before we succeed in getting what we want. When I think of valleys like this, then I can see them as fertile ground – places where I have a chance to discover something new out of the ashes of something else that crashed and burned.

We rarely seek help when we’re on a peak, so here’s some tips from the world of experts for next time you find yourself in a valley.

  • Take a moment. The first thing I’m tempted to do when I have a setback is immediately move towards trying to “fix” it.  But, whenever I do this, I miss out. I miss out on feeling and acknowledging the pain of the loss, and then truly letting it go.  That means it lingers. Even though I feel like I’m making progress and not letting this setback get in my way, it actually is, because I’m dragging along the unfinished business of grieving the loss.
  • Adjust my attitude. About setbacks. If they’re natural and to be expected, that means they are actually a part of the eventual triumph. If what I strive for – what gives meaning to my life – were easy, then it wouldn’t be worth much. And the more it’s worth to me, the bigger the challenge – and the bigger the chance of experiencing a setback.  So, the real choice is: either play it safe and never challenge yourself, or take a risk and experience failure.
  • Don’t give up. It’s like learning to ride a bike. I remember learning to ride a bike. It was my great-aunt’s bike; I was around 12, and my cousin Beverley volunteered to teach me. You probably know the drill. I’d get going, then wobble and fall. Then with her insistence, I’d get back on, eventually wobble and fall. Finally, she said she’d keep her hand on the seat so I wouldn’t fall. She did, for a few seconds, then I was on my own. Soaring!

Anything worthwhile – learning a new skill, gaining recognition in your field, building a meaningful relationship – takes time, patience, tenacity, and the wisdom of hanging in there until the magic happens.

Elizabeth Gilbert  another way of receiving success and failure

Quote of the Week
Success is sweet and sweeter if long delayed and gotten through many struggles and defeats.
-Amos Bronson Alcott

At times we need more  – we know the logic, know what to do. And yet something is still blocking us.  I offer both one-on-one consultations and coaching packages.  For more information, visit my website or contact me directly at . Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist and Life Coach.  To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at .

The Gift of “Negative” Emotions


I was with a friend I hadn’t seen for years, and after being with her for an hour, I remembered why. She was hopelessly positive about everything. She had one rule about life, and that was to look only to the positive.

I understand what motivated her life’s rule – she didn’t want to descend into feeling hopeless and negative, and she was afraid she would if she stopped clinging to the positive.  But what it did was alienate her from her own emotions, relegating some to bad and evil, and others to good.

Her rule also made it impossible for me to have a meaningful conversation with her; and I simply drifted away to more meaningful relationships.

In university, I learned that emotions represent our value judgments.  They’re neither bad nor good. They simply let us know when we judge something as good or bad for us.  When we feel pain, it’s because we’ve lost something or someone dear to us, or because we feel threatened by such a loss.  When we feel joy, it’s because something or someone we value has connected with us – like an unforgettable sunset, or the face of a loved one we haven’t seen for a long time.

Psychologist Susan David argues we need what she terms emotional agility to thrive in a complex world. Refusing to feel certain emotions that we judge as “bad” will eventually lead to a loss of control over our lives, and plunge us into depression.  Sometimes depression is expressed in a sense of hopelessness; most often is hides an unexpressed rage and anger. And so long as that anger is left locked down or bottled up, it will control us completely.

Research shows that when we ignore or bottle up an emotion, is simply gets stronger.  It’s what happens when we obsess over something – like burnt marshmallow ice cream, or French fries, or that perfect size 2 figure.  It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as we try to ignore it, it will begin to dominate our thoughts.  We’ll notice ice cream wherever we go, or anyone with the figure we want.

The same is true with any ignored emotion.  I can’t imagine bottling up good feelings – ignoring how my heart soars when I see that sunset – but I can imagine ignoring the pain of being disrespected. When I ignore such pain, I tend to get super “professional”, until one day in the near future I don’t want to get out of bed, or I can’t get to sleep.

Bottling up our emotions simply doesn’t work. It literally makes us sick.

Ms. David’s and other research shows that in today’s world, a third of us judge our emotions as “good” or “bad”, and that depression is now the number one cause of disability in the world.

Not dealing with all our emotions stops us from dealing with the world as it is and plunges us into a world of fantasy. It renders us ineffective and non-resilient, unable to effectively deal with what life gives us.

The truth is that the only way to living happy is accepting all our emotions. When we accurately identify what we feel, we can better understand what is causing us to feel as we do. And this understanding generates our ability to take effective steps to deal with that cause.

Accepting, and honoring, all our feelings leads to resilience, and resilience leads to living a happy and contented life.

As Ms. David concludes, “discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life”.

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Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist.  To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at .


Hope is the place where joy meets struggle

This beautiful heading is a quote from Parker Palmer. When I let myself feel the impact it has on me, my heart feels lighter, and I experience a sense of hopefulness.

Let me explain. A dear friend (I’ll call her Wendy) has been struggling with a big decision – whether to move and begin again, or stay and face some old blocks that simply won’t budge.  There are big plusses and minuses either way:  If she moves, she’ll be starting all over again in an unknown area; if she stays she might end up moving or even dissolving those blocks, but miss out on other wonderful opportunities.  She’s really torn by it, especially on days when everything just isn’t working. Wrestling with this dilemma is frustrating, depressing, sometimes overwhelming.

But through all this, Wendy is hopeful she’ll work it out.  She hasn’t lost sight of why she’s in this dilemma, and what makes it all worthwhile for her. She sees it as a worthy challenge, because the only reason it’s important is because she loves what she does. It’s important to her, even in the current overwhelming situation.

Like the old cliché says, “Anything worth having is worth fighting for”.  Wendy knows this struggle is worth it, because her life and happiness is worth fighting for.

It’s not a done deal. There are risks – that’s why she’s struggling right now.  Wendy is stepping into unknown territory. Any time we step into a new and unfamiliar place, what carries us through is hope.
For Parker Palmer, hope keeps him alive and creatively engaged. For me, it keeps me moving forward, even when moving forward is painfully hard to do. It keeps Wendy in the struggle.

The one thing that Wendy was afraid of – and why she talked to me about it – was that she worried that she was fooling herself. That she was in some way not seeing the reality of the situation. She needed to talk to people she trusted to clear up any confusion and strengthen her determination, one way or the other.  Wendy said she chose who to share her dilemma with for 2 reasons: the person was honest, and the person was benevolent.

Wendy wanted the truth from her friends, not soothing platitudes. And she wanted to be with people who cared about her.

I can’t think of a better, more supportive way to make big decisions.

Now I’d love to hear from you about your own experiences, knowledge, opinions.  In the comments below, share one thing that you experienced as a mirror moment that changed your day, or even your life.

This newsletter is in three parts: the first part is my contribution; the second is a video I’ve found that relates to the topic in part 1; the third is a quote. I hope you enjoy the richness this brings to the topic of the week with all three parts.

Morley – Women of Hope



Quote of the Week
When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too. ― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist


At times we need more  – we know the logic, know what to do. And yet something is still blocking us. I offer both one-on-one consultations and coaching packages.  For more information, visit my website or contact me directly at


Hope – an encouragement and a refuge


Hope is something none of us can live without. Hope literally keeps us healthy and motivated, no matter what.  In fact, I’ve decided to write about this most important topic in both my blog and newsletter this week, because at this time of year, we can all use a little more hope.

Hope is both an encouragement and a refuge for us.

If I’ve had a bad week when everything I’ve attempted goes wrong, or when I feel rejected or ignored by someone who might have mattered to me, hope – the broader and perhaps deeper vision I carry inside myself – bolsters me.  It’s the light at the end of the tunnel that I can feel, even if I can’t see it. It reminds me that not everyone will agree with me, that not everything will work when tested in the real world. And that this is a fact that is part of living and striving for something I value, and doesn’t mean that what I value isn’t possible.

Hope reminds me of what is important. It helps me look forward with confidence.

Hope is what I work to bolster in clients who come to me for help and support.  No one comes to me because they’re feeling great; they seek me out when they’re losing hope and afraid they will remain in this hopeless state.  They don’t want that, and don’t really believe it either.  So, they seek someone like me out to help them clear their hopeless feelings and get back on track in their lives.

Hope is also a refuge. A safe place.  A place inside me – like a beautiful and safe room of my own – where I can feel good regardless of the circumstances.

It reminds me that all life is like a wave: there are natural ups and downs. There is no straight line in life – if everything is going wonderfully, there will come a time when that changes; and when everything seems to be going badly, that too will pass. In those down times that we all must meet and deal with, I tell myself and my clients that it’s temporary. It will pass. Just wait for it.

And that’s hope.