We remain open for in-person counselling sessions

Phone: (905) 518-0210
Monthly Archives

October 2014

Coping With the Death of a Loved One

By | Blog, Psychology & Relationships | 3 Comments

Coping with the death of a loved one is one of the most difficult things you’ll ever experience. There are a bunch of different strategies taught to help people coping with death and grief, usually involving several stages.

I’ve never liked busting out theories and models; I find it lame and ineffective as a counsellor, and frustrating as a client. People don’t want a guidebook, they want another person who has been through it to relate with them and show them the way forward.

My old man died a few years back. Sudden, unexpected, and young – he was 51. I was totally unprepared, and I had no idea how to cope with it.

I tried a doctor and a couple counsellors… the first counsellor was a douche, so he was out. The doctor was super old school and told me more or less to suck it up; that was strike two. The third guy was a counsellor and was actually pretty good, but he got fired. Go figure.

I got frustrated and decided to help myself out. I discovered that for me, coping with death was about accepting it and developing healthy attitudes about it. I spent a lot of time thinking about this, and here are a few things I came up with. Hopefully it helps a few of you work through some of your pain.


It’s Not Death Itself That Makes You Sad


I was working with a married couple, and one of the issues affecting their relationship was the death of a loved one. As I listened to them explain their history with this person, how she died, and the months preceding her death, I noticed something very interesting.

There were no tears shed when she died, only relief (and a tremendous amount of guilt for feeling relieved). Their expectations of this person’s lifespan were changed when they received her terminal diagnosis, and it was at this point that they cried and made peace with things. When she actually died, it aligned with their expectations and didn’t cause much of an emotional response at all.

This was one of those epiphany moments in life when my outlook was changed in a big way.


Emotions = Expectations vs Reality


When your expectations are greater than what you actually experience, you feel disappointment. When disappointment is severe enough, it becomes sadness. To a certain extent, this is a healthy, normal phenomenon.

Sometimes, emotions become extreme and problematic. For example, if I was counselling someone with road rage, I would ask them about their expectations of other drivers. Typically, they expect to never be cut off, never hit red lights, and so on. Their unrealistically high expectations will rarely be met, and as a result they will rarely feel calm while driving.


Most People Have Unrealistic Expectations About Death


People see death as evil, cruel, and unfair. Most of us hate talking about it – I hear more conversations about religion and politics than I do about death. In fact, I can’t remember a single time I had a conversation with someone about death and dying, aside from something like “Man, death sucks. It’d be cool if we could live forever.”

If you’re like most people, you hope the people you love will never die, despite the fact that they will. Another common expectation is that most people die of old age, despite the fact that one in ten people in Western society die before 55.

A big part of being OK with death is overcoming the idea that it’s unfair, cruel, evil, or bad, and accepting that there isn’t anything wrong with it. This is especially true if you’re coping with the death of a loved one resulting from unnatural or preventable causes.

Death is natural. It happens. It will happen to me and everyone I know, and that’s OK. Knowing the clock is ticking on my only shot at life makes every moment all the more valuable. I wake up every day appreciative that I’ve been given a shot, and motivated to make it count.

There are as many ways of coping as there are people, and if you have something you think would help or you’d like to share your story, let me know in the comments below.

How to Save a Failing Relationship

By | Blog, Psychology & Relationships | 3 Comments

When someone says they need help to save their failing relationship, usually they mean avoiding a break up. I’ve written about why equating break-up with failure is a really bad idea.

Sometimes the best decision two people can make is to separate, and if you look at breaking up as failing it prevents you from making that decision.

If you think it makes sense to stay together but things aren’t working out, here’s how to save a failing relationship:


Step 1) Break the Awkward Silence


Generally, people are both aware of when things aren’t working out. Every relationship hits rough patches, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s only a problem if neither person is willing to talk about it.

If your partner agrees that the relationship is failing and you both want to save it, set a time to talk about it. Have dinner together at home, sit together after on the same couch, and follow the next three steps to figure it out.


Step 2) Forget About Getting Everything You Want


Everyone wants to save their failing relationship, but no one wants to compromise. In most cases, a lack of compromise is what strains a relationship in the first place.

Make a list of all the things that bother you. Now pick your top three – these will be the issues you try to work through. If you try to talk out more than three big issues each, it starts to feel like you’re negotiating for hostages.


Step 3) Cut the Shit and Be Real


This isn’t about a power struggle. It’s not about showing that you don’t change for anyone. It’s not about being wrong or right. You have to be willing to say you’re sorry, admit your mistakes, and make changes to yourself and your lifestyle to keep the relationship going.

Spend some time alone thinking about what you’re willing to sacrifice to keep the relationship from failing. Don’t agree to change if deep down it isn’t worth it to you; you’ll feel resentful and in the long run it will only make things worse.


Step 4) Keep Your Psychological Bias in Check


Remember how cool it was when you got your driving license? You appreciated it so much because it provided such a big change from the way your life used to be. Over time though, you adjust to driving and it doesn’t seem like such a big deal anymore.

This is because of a psychological phenomenon called normalization, and the same thing happens in relationships. Although you appreciate each other and see one another very positively at first, you become normalized to one another and forget all the cool things about your partner.

When you’re normalized to all the positives and don’t make a conscious effort to remind yourself of them, the only thing left to notice are the negatives. If you’re not aware of this, it can create the illusion that the relationship has gone downhill, or that your partner sucks all of a sudden.

Remind yourself of what you appreciate about your partner, be mindful on a daily basis of the things they do for you, and make an effort to show more appreciation for one another. Decide what needs to change for you to be happy, and talk it out.

Good luck!

PS – If your relationship is in serious trouble and you need help ASAP, contact me.

4 Easy Ways to Be More Productive

By | Blog, Psychology & Relationships | No Comments

1) Use Lists Consistently

Ever feel like you have a hundred things to do, and even though you’ve been running around all day, somehow none of them got done?

Our brains simply aren’t capable of juggling the amount of
information necessary to stay organized.
Phone numbers, for example, are seven digits largely because we can only retain seven pieces of information at one time. Even if you ‘only’ accomplish four tasks per day, you’ll notice results within a month of consistent use of lists.

If you’re only going to take one thing away from this article, it should be this. Making an inventory of things you’d like to accomplish each day is, by far, the best way to be more productive.

2) Do Little Things First

Once you have your list of things you’d like to accomplish, prioritize them based on how long you think they’ll take to get done.

To be more productive, you have to leverage the built-in features of your brain. Mainly that it wants to do more of what feels good, and less of what feels bad.
If you try to tackle the biggest thing first and it takes you longer than expected, you get bogged down and lose momentum. You feel drained and demoralized.

When you start your day by accomplishing something, even if it only takes a few minutes to do, you immediately receive a spike of positive emotion. Your brain essentially goes “Hey! That feels good, I want more of that!”

3) Check Things Off As You Accomplish Them

Think about the most addictive mobile games out there, the ones with millions and millions of downloads – ever wondered why they’re so successful?

Well, besides being fun, they leverage certain psychological tricks.

Today I’m going to expose one, and tell you how to use it to your advantage.
The biggest is called the goal gradient effect. Sounds fascinating, I know. Basically, it’s a phenomenon where people get more and more motivated as they get closer to accomplishing something.

This is why you’ll constantly be “leveling up”, receiving points, unlocking new items and features, and see meters and gauges showing you how close you are to the next reward. Even though there are always more things to do, it tricks your mind into thinking “Almost done! Just a few more games!”

Checking things off your list has the same effect. As you get closer to completing your list for the day, your motivation grows, and you in turn become more productive.

4) Manage Your Expectations

The opposite of the goal gradient effect is… the reverse goal gradient effect. Scientists are an exciting, creative bunch aren’t we?

Just like you get more motivated the closer you get to achieving something, you tend to procrastinate when faced with a goal that seems distant and far from completion.

Whenever you think “I should do X” and feel resistance (like excuses popping into your head), revisit that goal and lower your expectations.

If you feel too lazy to go to the gym, reduce your expectations to putting your
shoes on and standing by the door with your gym bag.
Usually, momentum kicks in and you drag your sorry ass to the gym. Everyone knows once you get to the gym and work out you’re glad you did, and the same holds true for achieving your goals.

What if you do the new, reduced goal and still don’t feel like doing it? Well you completed your goal, so give yourself a break and relax.

Knowing that you don’t have to do the whole thing relieves the pressure holding most people back, and even if momentum only carries you through your task 8 times out of 10, you’ll still end up being more productive in the long run.

How to Never Fail at a Relationship Again

By | Blog, Psychology & Relationships | 2 Comments

“You don’t lose or fail at anything by ending a relationship that doesn’t build or benefit you. You fail by not letting go of those things. You fail yourself by not moving forward.”

The above quote is a reader comment that perfectly summarizes this article. Unfortunately, most people are blind to the truth contained in this quote.

Most people believe breaking up is a failure, but they don’t stop to consider what this implies about success.

How You Define Relationship Failure is Really Important

If break ups equal failure, it also implies that success means not breaking up. If you think about this, you’ll realize that there are two possible outcomes with this perspective:

1) You stay with someone until you die, or they die.
2) You fail.

I don’t know about you, but I think there miiiight be some flaws with this perspective.

The main thing is that people have a tendency to avoid failure at all costs, even if it means enduring enormous levels of pain. Even when it’s totally irrational. Defining failure as breaking up leads to a dangerous internal conflict – when is it acceptable to walk away? When is it giving up too early and “failing”?

After almost four years of relationship counselling, here’s what I’ve come up with:

“A successful relationship is two people contributing to each other’s lives in a meaningful way.”-Click to Tweet

Sometimes this will be a very brief period in your lives. Sometimes, it will be until death.

A failed relationship can be one that lasts for your entire life.

A successful relationship can be one that lasts for a single date.

As long as we continue to narrowly define the success or failure of a relationship based on togetherness or separation, we force one another into making decisions that don’t reflect our best interests or the best interests of our romantic partners.

Relationship Failure Has Nothing to Do With Breaking Up

The majority of people I ask tell me the goal of dating is to find the one. BIG PROBLEM!

If your goal is to find the one, your attachment is to the outcome of staying together rather than making a positive impact on the person you’re staying together with.

In other words, you’re going to focus on staying together instead of focusing on fulfilling your needs and your partner’s needs.

Figure out what you want from a relationship, and then date with that intent. Maybe you want adventure. Maybe you want great sex. Maybe you start out wanting one thing, and this changes to something else as you mature and develop as a person.

Realistically, most of your desires don’t take a lifetime to fulfill. A successful lifelong relationship will only work if both people are constantly changing to meet the changing needs and desires of their partner.

Dating is how you discover another person’s desires and if they align with yours, and you stop dating if you discover that they don’t. You wouldn’t call that a failure, would you?

A relationship is just dating over a long period of time.

Look what happens to married couples who stop dating – they end up in my office complaining that there’s no passion, no sex, and no intimacy. They say it feels like a friendship, and I can’t help but laugh. Of course it does… two people living together and not dating is a friendship.

Why is it that people who go on two dates and don’t continue haven’t failed, but those who go on two hundred and don’t continue have? Where is the line?

There isn’t one. Be with someone for as long as you fulfill each other’s needs and desires, or as long as you’re happy and willing to change so that you can.

If you want to change to meet each other’s developing needs, go for it. If you don’t want to or are incapable of doing so, don’t feel bad. You don’t lose or fail at anything by ending a relationship that doesn’t build or benefit you. You fail by not letting go of those things. You fail yourself by not moving forward.