The Importance of Attitude AND Actions - Vancouver Therapy

Posted on Mon, Apr 16, 2012

Depression requires action.

Free from Anxiety and Depression

I just read a great post by Danny Penman, Ph.D. (@DrDannyPenman) that I wanted to share and comment on:

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“Attitude Is More Important Than Your Actions - The spirit in which you do something is often as important as the act itself.

A traveller to a small Greek island once watched as a young boy tried to persuade the family donkey to move. The boy had vegetables to deliver and he’d carefully loaded up the animal’s panniers. But the donkey wasn’t in the mood for moving. The boy became more and more agitated and started to shout at the donkey, standing in front of him and pulling hard on the rope. The donkey dug in his hooves firmly. Very firmly.

This tug of war might have gone on a long time if it wasn’t for the boy’s grandfather. Hearing the commotion, he came out of the house and took in the familiar scene at a glance—the unequal battle between donkey and boy. Gently, he took the rope from his grandson. Smiling, he said, ‘When he’s in this mood, try it this way: take the rope loosely in your hand like this, then stand very close beside him, and look down the track in the direction you want to go. Then wait.’

The boy did as his grandfather had bade him, and after a few moments, the donkey started to walk forward. The boy giggled with delight, and the traveller watched as animal and boy trotted off happily, side by side, down the track and round the far bend.

How often in your life have you behaved like the small boy tugging on the donkey’s bridle? When things aren’t working out as you’d like them to, it’s tempting to try a little harder, to keep pushing and pulling in the direction you want to go. But is it always sensible to keep mindlessly pushing in one direction? Or should you follow the advice of the old man in the story and pause, before simply waiting for things to pan out as they will, spotting opportunities as they arise?

For most of us, this attitude is almost a cardinal sin because it suggests passivity—and yet, often as not, it might be the best course of action. Pushing too hard at a problem, at a stubborn donkey, might just make things far worse. It can close down the mind and prevent you from thinking creatively, all the while driving you round in ever-decreasing and exhausting circles.

For many years, psychologists have known that:

The spirit in which you do something is often as important as the act itself

So today, why not try approaching your difficulties at work or at home in a different way by adopting a different spirit?”

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I appreciated Dr. Penman’s argument and loved the donkey story.  I can easily think of times in my own life when I pushed forward with “an agenda and an old paradigm” to my own detriment.  When I have focused exclusively on the result and ignored the process, things don't always turn out so well.  

But it also made me think of some of my severely depressed clients whose mantra is manana: They tell themselves, “I’ll get out of bed when I feel like it.  I’ll have a shower when I feel like it.  I’ll make breakfast when I feel like it.”  The problem is that they may not “feel like it” for a very long time.  Although a shift in spirit is essential for the depressed client, often the activity (getting out of bed, having a shower, having breakfast) is the first step that helps create the potential for the positive change in spirit.  Without this shift towards doing, some people may stay stuck in rumination, and feelings of being overwhelmed, helpless, and / or hopeless.  Which comes first - the chicken or the egg ... or the donkey! 

Jeff Ross, MA RCC

Resonate Wellness

www.resonatewellness.ca

jross@resonatewellness.ca

Jeff is a Registered Clinical Counsellor and sees clients in Vancouver (Yaletown) and North Vancouver, BC, Canada.  He supports individuals with issues such as depression, anxiety, stress management, relationship issues, grief and bereavement, career and educational issues as well as growth and development.  In addition he also does couples counselling / marriage counselling.

If you have a comment or question about this post or any other, please feel free to join the discussion or send him a private and confidential email.  Let us know what Resonates with you!

Topics: Being Present, Depression, Courage, Mental Health, Overwhelmed, Mindfulness, Motivation