Have you ever noticed that thriving seems like a force of nature?
When things are tough, nature finds a way to overcome adversity and flourish. Flowers grow in the cracks of sidewalks, foxes find a way to adjust to living in the city. In an article from 2015, the Guardian reported that there is a wealth of wildlife near Chernobyl, despite continuing high levels of radiation and original projections that the area would be devoid of life for generations to come. (1)
I see the same drive to thrive every day, in my family, my friends and my clients. I see that drive to thrive in my dogs.
My first dog Harry was the runt of the litter. He was afraid of EVERYTHING and failed every puppy test. He hid in the corner shaking and looking away. The entire litter had already been sold and poor Harry was the only one left and he was terrified. The seller told me I should wait for the next litter. I didn’t. I took him home and he LEARNED to thrive. He overcame his fear of people, noises, sudden movement and other dogs, and became the most sociable happy go lucky dog! Everybody who met him loved him. He even helped a little girl get over her fear of dogs and thrive too! A vet told me that he would not live past about 8 years old. At age 10 he became very ill, but good old determined Harry bounced back. He had other plans and lived until he was 14! (Harry was the master of the “sphinx” position.)
Sally, was my second dog. She was a rescue. She had lived cooped up in an apartment, was underfed and scared of everything. She gained confidence and learned to thrive. Despite vet warnings that she would always eat everything in sight and we would have to monitor her eating, never leave food out, and constantly watch her weight, she learned to manage her own appetite, only eating what she needed. She became an explorer and adventurer and was running in the snow and pouncing on her brothers until just a few days before she died. She lived every minute to the full! She was feisty, funny and confident. (That is Sally lying on her back begging for attention!)
Our current dog Milo has a checkered history. When we rescued him, he was living alone in a basement. Before that, he had been in a shelter. He was shy and we even believed he physically could not wag his tail. When he was sleeping, he would pant with nervousness and jump up at the slightest sound. But he learned to thrive. And six months after he moved in with us wagged his tale for the first time and slept on his back with his paws in the air. He is now a regular visitor at our local inn where he meets and greets the visitors and gives everyone his famous lean. He loves life and is full of energy and enthusiasm. (That is Milo running in the snow.)
On paper, none of these dogs would be expected to thrive. They were broken, damaged, less than perfect. And yet all of them learned to be the best that they could be! They have never been able to tell me about their early experiences, or their childhood, or any traumas they experienced. They moved to a new home and learned a new way of being. Whatever happened in the past was in the past and had little to do with now.
I see it in plants too. We had a raspberry bush that self-seeded in a plant pot that was long forgotten just sitting in the back yard only half full of already well-used soil. To call it a bush is an exaggeration as it was a long spindly prickly thing that had two berries the first year. It was not a fine specimen, but it came back the following year, still long and spindly, growing in unfavorable conditions. We cut it back and replanted it in the garden and it has flourished. It has taken what is on offer and made the most of it! Our morning glory plant started out life growing in a crack in the decking and once replanted has grown over 12 feet tall as it climbs its way up the back of the house!
What does this have to do with human thriving and anxiety? Well for a start, all my dogs were anxious when we got them. These plants were spindly until they found new ground.
Until a few years ago I suffered from anxiety too.
Digging into my dog’s childhood and finding out “the trigger” for their anxiety was not an option. Yet in therapy that is what I had done time and again.
Knowing a little about my dogs’ past helped us to somewhat tailor their training, but getting to the root of their issues was neither an option nor a necessity. They just had to learn how to live life to the full. They had to build confidence in us and themselves, they had to learn how to feel safe. They had to learn to cope with changes in routine, new members of the household, even new places to live. All three of them became sociable, warm, loving, energetic dogs. They learned to thrive.
When we learn to walk, we practice. Generally, someone holds our hands, or we grab onto a chair or table and we work first at standing up, then at taking tentative steps, then at being more adventurous and walking across the room. Our parents hopefully egg us on, cheering as we succeed and encouraging us to get up and try again when we fall – as we inevitably do. We practice and practice until walking steadily and evenly, and even running and jumping becomes natural and ordinary. We cultivate physical health by practicing, building up muscles and muscle memory. (First steps photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash)
Building Mental Health
But where is the training for mental health? We are often modeling ourselves on people who did not get any mental health training. Here are a couple of examples of conversations I have heard recently that while well intentioned, are probably not training children to have social confidence, self-esteem and a sense of control and an ability to cope:
Child (about 2 years old, sitting on his father’s knee, looking at my dog Milo): “I don’t like the dog daddy.”
Father: “Why not? Is he scary? Are you afraid? You don’t have to go near him.”
Child: “I just don’t like him.”
Father: “It’s OK, I used to be afraid of dogs when I was a child too.”
Child – running and jumping on the lawn at a concert, full of energy and enthusiasm, chasing his slightly older brother.
Mother – obviously exasperated with his exuberance: “Sit down and keep still. You are totally CRAZY! People will think you are insane. Look at everyone else just sitting quietly [the rest of the audience were an average of 65 years old]. You have to learn to be like them or people will not like you.” (Boy running – photo by Mi PHAM on Unsplash)
As children, we have all experienced that type of feedback. As parents, we have all inadvertently given it. My parents had issues with anxiety and modeled that for me and my sister. They did not want us to be anxious, they only wanted the best for us, but they hadn’t learned good coping skills to pass on to us.
Mental Health Training
So how do we learn to thrive? Well for a start we need to be aware of what beliefs we have and self-talk we use that gets in the way of us being the best we can be. Often, we need help from others to get a realistic sense of how we are being our own worst critic and to learn new ways of thinking.
For me personally, the secret was the Thrive Programme by Rob Kelly. I have told parts of my story on my website and in blog posts (see link). It is neither therapy nor counseling, it is an applied positive psychology coaching course that gives us the training that few of us get in childhood. It helps us relearn our thinking, and like other things in nature, find our drive to thrive by offering us the resources to learn to do so.
Before Rob Kelly created the program, he was a therapist. Over the years as he saw clients go through various forms of treatment, he started to recognize that whatever route successful clients took, a successful outcome always looked the same. A change in beliefs, an increase in self-confidence and self-esteem, and changes in the way of thinking and the way of processing experiences were common to all the successes.
He focused on the differences between those who appear to thrive and those who struggle. He looked at existing research and did some research of his own to see what it was that successful clients did differently from those who still struggled after therapy. Then he created a coaching program that focused on those skills and how to learn them!
When we have strong self-esteem and self-confidence, we believe in our ability to handle what life throws at us – not always with grace, but always with hope – and we recognize and challenging limiting beliefs, then we can do what nature intended and thrive! This does not just benefit us, it benefits those around us. It does not just benefit us in our personal lives, but also in our professional environment.
How do you build your self-esteem and self-confidence? How do you challenge your limiting beliefs and focus on positive self-talk? What do you do to help you be your best self? And what do you do to help others? How are you helping others to be their best selves?
If you or someone you know would like to know more about learning to thrive, book a FREE introductory session with me below:
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