Karen Nimmo
Clinical psychologist, writer. Editor of On the Couch: Practical psychology for everyday life. karen@onthecouch.co.nz

The people who have a degree in handling stress.

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Photo by Martin Robles on Unsplash

What are you like under pressure?

Wired and panicky? Frozen to the spot, unable to act? Unflappable even if you’ve just been asked to detonate a bomb?

To be fair, it’s pretty hard to rate yourself until you’ve been there. And there are a lot of ways we can be put under the pump. Here are the three most common.

  • Anticipatory pressure like we feel sitting an exam, taking a driving test or competing in a major sports event. This may be the pressure of the situation — or the pressure we put on ourselves to succeed.
  • Shock events, like an accident, medical emergency or sudden death. …

The price of success — if you’re a decent person.

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Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

So you want to be successful?

You’re in good company. Half the world is dreaming of success, scrambling to improve their position in life, to make more, have more, be more.

But chasing success is hard: the higher you climb, the bigger the stakes, the harder the landing when you fall. And you WILL fall — at least temporarily.

Although successful people come in all sorts of packages, they tend to share a certain mindset. It includes deep focus, discipline, persistence and the ability to regroup quickly after setbacks.

But — if they are decent, self-aware people — they’ll also battle relentless internal conflicts as they strive to balance their lives and the needs of the people they care about. …

If you have this, you’re winning.

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Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay

“I love you — I am at rest with you — I have come home.”
Dorothy L. Sayers

Relationships are hard, everyone says.

And they seem particularly hard when you’re going through a rough patch with your partner or you’ve had your heart torn to shreds.

While it’s true that all relationships have their challenges it’s can skew your thinking; it can make you think that being in a relationship is harder than racing Bear Grylls up a mountain.

But a young man I worked with reminded me of this sign of a great relationship — which is often overlooked and definitely under-rated. …

The secret within reach of us all.

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Image by Andrew Martin from Pixabay

Wanna tap the secret of a kick-ass life?

Then read this: it’ll take you three minutes. It’s what I’ve learned in working with more than 1,000 people over the years. And it took me far too long to see it clearly.

  • It doesn’t matter how much money you make.
  • It doesn’t matter how many “cool” experiences you have.
  • It doesn’t matter if your weekend hustle turned to gold (or not).
  • It doesn’t matter if you stayed in the same job — or shopped yourself around.
  • It doesn’t matter if you’re single or have a partner or been married eight times.
  • It doesn’t matter if you are mega-ambitious or a regular coach potato.

Maybe the coolest ingredient of all.

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Photo by Aj Alao on Unsplash

“There is nothing like a gleam of humor to reassure you that a fellow human being is ticking inside a strange face.” –Eva Hoffman

Can your partner make you laugh?

Or, if you’ve been together a while, can your partner still make you laugh?

I’m talking about either of you running a stand-up routine. To be fair, when you’re both your neck in life stress it can be pretty hard to tap anyone’s funny bone.

Research shows humour can positively influence relationship satisfaction. As long as the humour is positive — not the aggressive, sarcastic, belittling kind.

When asked what people look for in a mate, nearly everyone cites humour. They’ll often rank it higher than more obvious choices, like intelligence and independence. (One man I worked with put it before personal hygiene. He was single. Just saying.) …

Who manage to be decent as well.

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Photo by Gabrielle Henderson on Unsplash

Are you ambitious?

If you’re nodding, all good, nothing wrong with wanting to push the boat out with your talents and make the most of your life.

But many people struggle with the question. Some fear admitting to having ambition will set them up for failure and looking a fool. What if I don’t achieve what I say I will?

But many others fear being seen as ruthless, someone who’ll use people as paving stones on their quest for money, power or fame.

Fair point. We all know what excessive ambition does: skews thinking and unleashes scary biases, damages reputations, relationships, mental health, companies, economies, countries — lives. …

Because once you fall in, it’s hard to get out.

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Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

Wouldn’t it be great if relationships got easier?

If, once the sizzle subsided, we just boarded a luxury train that took us on a journey to Happy Ever After. Especially if they served cocktails.

We all know it doesn’t work that way — far, far from it. That beyond the sizzle is where the “fun” really starts, the terrain gets more challenging (or more boringly predictable) and our relationships truly test us.

And sometimes the tests don’t come from us or our partners. …

6 golden rules of success.

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Image by Ulrike Leone from Pixabay

You want to live a great life?

Course you do. No shame in that. Everyone should strive to squeeze all the juice from life’s lemon, so to speak.

But where to start? The self-help world is full-to-bursting with ideas: find your passion, commit, have a morning routine, start a side hustle, set goals, take daily action, have a night routine, work out, eat healthy, SLEEP…

It’s all worthy stuff but it mostly serves to put pressure on people; to widen the gap between where they are now — and where they want to be.

And the size of that gap can be hugely depressing. Especially when the world is struggling with a global health crisis and its ongoing impact, whatever that might be. …

They don’t let themselves go there.

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Photo by Frida Aguilar Estrada on Unsplash

Self-awareness is gold.

Everyone wants to get to know themselves better. Everyone wants to understand why they think and roll the way they do.

That’s why personality profiles, and assessment tools that file you in some kind of box (creative! extraverted! collaborative! great leadership potential!) are so popular.

The trouble is, they’re a sucker for confirmation bias. Which means they tend to confirm who we think we are (which is limiting) — rather than show us who we could be (which can be life-changing).

What does it mean to be self-aware?

“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” — Aristotle

Self-awareness is the ability to see yourself clearly and objectively — which is (way) easier said than done. It takes courage to reflect accurately on yourself — mostly because the truth can be scary. …

For someone worthy of you.

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Photo by Tamara Bellis on Unsplash

Everyone’s worth dating — until they prove otherwise, that is.

But when your heart’s been broken, or you’ve been unlucky in love, it can be pretty easy to lose sight of that — to have your confidence slowly ebb away.

I work with a lot of people on the other side of heartbreak. Often they’ll come in worried they’re broken, that they need to “fix” themselves before getting back in the dating game.

They don’t — people don’t need fixing. They just need help to understand what happened or what makes a healthy relationship and how to be in one.

And they need someone who will fully appreciate them. …

It’s a massive compliment in disguise.

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Photo by Marina Vitale on Unsplash

A single phrase can change your life.

In my early 20s I caught up with a friend from University days. We hung out, talking the weight we hadn’t lost, the men we hadn’t found. Then the future: work, our ambitions, a business idea I had.

At one point she turned to me, looking serious. “You’ve changed,” she said. “You’re all about making money. You never used to be like that.”

I filled up with shame — and promptly shut up. …

That’s why they’re successful.

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Photo by Tamara Bellis on Unsplash

Wildly successful people are often early rebels.

Their rebellion is not always obvious. Maybe they ate up their dinners and shared their toys and stayed in school and didn’t land in prison but — in their minds anyway — they were on a different path.

If you dip inside the worlds of successful people you’ll find they don’t bother to follow the rules of business — or life. If they’re like entrepreneur Richard Branson, they don’t even wait to find out what they are.

There’s no formula for success; there are a million ways to shine. The key is to figure out the one that resonates most closely with who you are and what you believe in. …

You won’t find these on the mental health checklists.

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Image by Gidon Pico from Pixabay

Your stress levels are rising.

For a while you’ve been feeling like a pot on the boil. Simmering, bubbling, not knowing how to turn down the heat — wondering when it’s all going to spill over the edge.

No need to panic. Humans are built to take a fair load. Stress can be good too — it can motivate us achieve our best work (or even more than we thought we could). And, if we never feel any heat, it may be a sign we’re not fully testing ourselves and our capabilities.

The trouble is it’s easy to know when we’re feeling under the pump — but hard to gauge the level of it. It’s particularly hard to pick the exact moment when too much has become Too Much. …

Maybe it’s not them — it’s you.

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Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash

“Blame is just a lazy person’s way of making sense of chaos.” — Douglas Coupland

A man was having problems in his relationship.

He and his partner couldn’t stop niggling at each other. The fights often escalated into yell-fests. It left them both unhappy, anxious and waiting for the next bomb to drop.

“There’s a bigger problem at stake here,” he said. I waited for the explanation. “I want to tell you my partner’s difficult. But the truth is….I think it’s me.”

I was surprised. None of us like to think we are the thorn in our relationships. …

Because everyone needs a way forward right now.

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Image by Marjon Besteman-Horn from Pixabay

“Change your thoughts and you change the world.” — Norman Vincent Peale

Do you groan inwardly at the mention of Positive Thinking?

Do you want to tell whoever said it to shove their Little-Miss-Sunshine thoughts so you can get on with the high art of being miserable?

Fair call. The reality of life in 2020 has made it pretty challenging to stay on the optimistic side of the line — even for those who would normally do so.

But we’re at a crossroads for our mental health. In difficult times, we can’t afford to let negative thoughts swamp us, because they drain us of energy, they drown out all sense of hope. …

Even when it’s hard.

“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” — Maya Angelou

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Photo by Dušan Smetana on Unsplash

Life feels pretty hard, sometimes.

I don’t know many people who bound out of bed every day charged with excitement about the day ahead. Most of us groan when the alarm sounds — and scramble out of bed because We Have To.

Even without Covid hanging all around, there are so many ways life can challenge us. …

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” ― Oscar Wilde

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Photo by Etty Fidele on Unsplash

It’s hard not to get sucked into the void, right now.

It’s hard to keep seeing the “glass half full” when we’re being bombarded with stories of sadness, negativity, conflict, even madness.

But in a pandemic-ravaged world, it’s more important than ever to hang onto a sense of optimism, of hope. Because when hope dissolves, it offers despair a seat at the main table.

Blind optimism is folly — it stops you from seeing the reality of life as it is now, and from fully empathising with the plight of others. …

Be careful — the bomber is probably a narcissist.

“Love loves to love love.” — James Joyce

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Photo by Kamil Feczko on Unsplash

Woah, you think.

This. Relationship. Is. Incredible. Where did this person come from? How did I get so lucky? Are they actually for real?

Hmm. That may be the best question you could ever ask. But, up to your neck in the excitement of a new relationship, you won’t ask it: you won’t consider that it may not be for real. You’ll be too busy revelling in the attention.

And why not? That is often how great relationships start. But, on the flip side, it’s often how toxic relationships begin too.

What’s Love-Bombing?

Love-bombing is a manipulation technique straight out of the narcissist’s playbook. They deploy it in the early stages of securing their latest conquest. …

Six psychology strategies for wading through the mud.

“Only those you trust can betray you.” ― Terry Goodkind

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Photo by Godisable Jacob from Pexels

A woman described her post-betrayal feelings as “blah”.

She was a year out of her relationship after her partner of six years had cheated on her with a friend of hers, which was a double blow to her trust.

“I’m all over the place,” she said. “Okay one day, then furious, then bawling my eyes out, then terrified I’ll run into them — but mostly I’m just in a state of blah.”

One of the toughest outcomes of betrayal is that it forces you to a crossroads. It forces you to make choices you didn’t want to make. …

They know the dangers of getting stuck.

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Image by Med Ahabchane from Pixabay

Mental strength is a hot commodity.

And it’s set to be even hotter in the years ahead, as people try to resurrect their lives from the debris of pandemic-stricken 2020.

Mental strength is defined by how we respond and perform under pressure, stress and adversity. It’s what we do with the sh*t life inevitably throws at us; it’s what often propels people to greatness.

Some people’s genetics, temperament, history and experiences set them up with a stronger foundation. But the great thing about mental muscle is that it can be built, ripped and toned from wherever you are.

If you study mentally strong people their skill is as much about what they don’t do as what they do. Here are the key traps they cleverly avoid. …

“No matter how bad things are, you can always make things worse.” ― Randy Pausch

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Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Are you easy to live with?

One of the trademark signs of happy couples is their ease in each other’s company.

None of us is perfect: we all get grumpy, anxious, and stressed. We all have our bad days. But the key is to recognise (or accept) when you are doing something habitually annoying AND try to do something about it.

The hardest people to be with are those who know they’re difficult (usually because they’ve been told repeatedly)— but roll on, regardless.

It’s not okay to adopt a that’s just who I am persona— we all need to be aware of the impact our behaviours are having on others, especially those we live with. …

#2. You have a mildly embarrassing passion.

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Image by Mabel Amber from Pixabay

We’ve all done it — seen the life force drain from someone we’re talking to.

We’ve had those uncomfortable moments when we’ve seen someone’s eyes glaze over at our words or scan over our shoulders for someone Cooler, Hotter or More Helpful to Their Career.

That’s okay. It’s a good reminder that not everything that drops from our lips is gold. That we can’t just walk around Being Fully Ourselves, that we need to keep an eye on how we’re affecting those around us.

Charismatic, extraverted people are thought to be more fun to be around. But those traits don’t discount you from being boring: the most confident person in the room is often the one you most want to run away from. …

These are the games you don’t want to play.

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Photo by Bruno Gomiero on Unsplash

Are they in? Or out?

Do they want to see me? Or not?

Am I wasting my time? Or do I need to hang in there?

Let’s be honest, a little game playing goes on at the start of most relationships as you test the water, gauge interest and try to figure out what’s going on.

But ongoing mind games can drive you crazy with frustration. Because when the ground beneath you keeps shifting, it can feed an anxiety that never quite goes away.

My partner plays games is a phrase you hear often in therapy. And it’s always struck me as a weirdly light-hearted term for the (often dark) psychological manipulation going on underneath. …

“Life is short. Break the rules.” — James Dean

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Photo by Aziz Acharki on Unsplash

It starts early, the rule thing.

Look both ways when crossing the road. Don’t leave the table until everyone’s done. Stand with your shoulders back. Say please and thank you. Don’t talk with your mouth full.

That’s fine, we have to start somewhere. We have to play by some rules so that we can function non-dysfunctionally in an often dysfunctional world.

But some rules just don’t apply to adulting in 2020 — or perhaps they never did?

Here’s my take on them. See what you think.

10 Rules of Life You Need to Break — Or Ignore

“By all means, break the rules, and break them beautifully, deliberately, and well.”

Why going all-in won’t work right now.

“Don’t give up before the miracle happens.” — Fannie Flagg

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Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

You know the keys to success: Desire. Commitment. Persistence.

Sigh. Me too. I’ve read all the books. Napoleon Hill. Dale Carnegie. Og Mandino. Norman Vincent Peale. And all the later self-help gurus too.

And I get it. Their advice was — is — sound. It’s just that it was rolled out in a way different world than the one we’re living in now.

It wasn’t designed for people living in pandemic-slammed 2020, the global legacy of which is set to dog us for years to come.

Let’s not be naive: we’ll need to do things differently in the years ahead. We’ll have to play smart just to keep our mental health stable, let alone live good-to-great lives. …

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