Honesty – Is it really the best policy?

honestyA lot of us have grown careless in what we say. “It wasn’t my fault we lost the game, I didn’t hear the whistle.” or “I was pushed over and my foot hurt.” Who has never made up an excuse to stop feeling embarrassed?

This covering up may seem harmless enough but over time a pattern of making up excuses can become an ingrained habit, a way of defending oneself against any inconvenient fact that might otherwise expose mistakes, greed, or failure.

As a way of avoiding criticism sometimes people unfairly blame others.

So if telling lies gets you off the hook why is honesty the best policy?

1. Honesty involves no wasted time and energy

Only a spurious conscience would worry about telling the odd white lie spoken to pull someone’s leg, or to give a needed compliment. However, lies that are used to defend yourself can grow and multiply and there can be a lot of nervous energy involved in not getting found out. You have got to make sure it’s a credible story that hangs together and remember what was told to whom at various times.

2. Honesty means connecting with others

Who doesn’t get irritated from time to time by other people? Like with a neighbour who has not returned your garden tool or a relative who won’t take no for an answer. Sometimes one ends up saying nothing, or saying “it’s just fine” and pretending not to mind when really one does.

Not being honest actually takes away the chance of connecting with others authentically and experiencing the satisfaction of true friendship.  On the other hand sometimes people assume that being honest means giving vent to their feelings without restraint and of course this can do much harm to a relationship.

What does work is to be firm with someone about your point of view without going over the top and without taking a blaming attitude. Honest communication can be clear and to the point, yet tactful and kindly meant.

3. Honesty can lead to a sense of forgiveness

If you don’t confess to someone anything you have done wrong that affects the person, how can you hope to find their forgiveness? It is difficult to forgive yourself without a sense of the other person’s forgiveness.

4. Causing harm by gossip

We have all probably enjoyed telling tales about someone behind their back when they are not around to defend themself. Sometimes what we say is true but often we give a biased version, slanting the truth to bring out an unhelpful meaning.

Unfortunately a spirit of antagonism rather than harmony develops. Chinese whispers come into play as what we say is repeated and perhaps further exaggerated along the way and our put-downs have maligned the person.

5. Honesty and reputation

Honesty in business and professional life means being true to one’s word, honouring commitments, and keeping promises. Twisting the truth, exaggerating details, deliberately changing a word or leaving out aspects of a story in order to prove one’s point, are all kinds of dishonesty.

When someone’s dishonesty gets found out they lose their reputation for being trustworthy. And once lost, a reputation is very hard to recover. This loss can even affect their livelihood. Who is going to ask for professional advice that is suspected of being unreliable or who is going to deal with a dishonest trader?

6. Honesty with yourself

When reflecting on a mistake you have made or something wrong you have done, it is tempting to believe the rationalisations that come to mind.   It is easier to secretly but unfairly blame someone else than acknowledge one’s own mistakes; nicer to indulge feelings of self-justification and even self-pity.

But self-deception means living a lie and results in all sorts of anxiety because one is not in touch with one’s inner self. What is needed is an honest self-examination to acknowledge one’s errors as well as one’s strengths.

7. Honesty with God

Adam and Eve in the biblical story, after eating the forbidden fruit, tried to evade personal responsibility by dishonestly blaming God and blaming the serpent. Just think how such an attitude might affect the authenticity of one’s relationship with God. According to religion, prayer just doesn’t work without honesty: for the truth will make us free.

8. Honesty prevents distorted thinking

The truth is often sidestepped when we are experiencing a dark mood, or a feeling of anxiety, anger, or guilt.  A distortion of what is reasonable can be an exaggerated way of seeing what is going on, or an over-generalisation unwarranted by the facts. “The plane will crash”; “I will die in the operating theatre”; or “The future is completely without any hope.”

Distorted thinking like this can result in worsening feelings of fear, fury, or despair – emotions which often result in unwise actions such as panic attack, violence, or suicide.

Better to be helped to think rationally getting a more balanced view of how things really are. For what is true has a power to rebut such distorted thinking.

Copyright 2012 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

How do we stop life drifting by?

longer version

Some people drift aimlessly through life reacting to events and never making things happen for themselves. spiritually adrift However, whatever the personal problem, it is often necessary for us to take the initiative in doing something about it, rather than letting things drift. Otherwise, it is only when some crisis occurs that eventually the situation forces us to make decisions about say a job, home, or even a close relationship. Better to prevent difficulties getting out of hand than allow circumstances no longer under our control to push us into a corner.
Often and in various ways we may slide into letting life around us govern how we think and behave – in a way that enables us to blame ‘it’ if ever we feel criticised.  So it tends to be “someone else’s fault – not mine!” But spiritual healing may be needed.
Perhaps we are willing to be of help to others even when it is an inconvenience. It is good to be selfless and charitable. However, do we sometimes allow others to exploit our better nature? One sign of this is if we were to feel fed up with the way others take advantage of us or feel quietly resentful when sidelined, or put on.
It is not necessarily the fault of the other person. We may be adding to our troubles by the way we regularly give in to what someone wants. At times perhaps even acting like a doormat for them to wipe their feet on. Like when we find ourselves meekly submitting to what our family and friends demand; limply agreeing to go where someone asks us to go and doing whatever they suggest. We do not have a sense of our true selves because we are too busy meeting others expectations. Without thinking we fall in with what they say.
Adolf Hitler once said:

“What luck for the rulers that men do not think.”

Why would anyone be so daft as constantly to do things that another person wants instead of thinking through their own views? It may be because we value ourselves less than we value others. This might show in conversation: “I’m sure you’re right.” “I’ll leave that up to you.” Some of us believe ourselves to be happy if we relate to others in this way but without our realising there is an inner assumption that what we want does not count, or that we do not really matter. Thinking so little of ourselves, the idea that we have any choice does not occur to us; in other words, tamely trying to please for fear of someone disliking us. We keep striving for the unobtainable, not realising that we can never gain everybody’s approval.

Inner Freedom
Just as we may need to be less passive with other people, so we also may need to learn to take the initiative in relation to ourselves. Having a healthy relationship with others also means having a healthy relationship with oneself.
In psychotherapy it is generally accepted that if patients persist in blaming some other person or thing for their problems of living, then no real therapy is possible. A therapist may ask such an individual whose partner keeps running him or her down or using violence why not do something about it like insisting on a trial separation to bring the other person to their senses. In not accepting the responsibility for the way they live their lives, they cannot start to take hold of their own self and destiny. Thus for such people any personal growth is delayed.
The trouble is that many people are told that they are not at liberty to change their ways and that human freedom is questionable. For example, psychoanalysis – a branch of psychotherapy that follows the writings of Sigmund Freud – says we are not free because we are unaware of our unconscious complexes. Moreover, many behaviourists argue that our freedom is illusory because we are conditioned by the world around us e.g. the rewards and punishments in the family or the workplace, that shape our attitudes and life choices.
There is some – albeit – limited truth in these viewpoints. None of us is free to change our inherited disposition and the home environment when we were young. Because of differences in for example types of temperament and parental attitudes, we need to individually travel on our own unique spiritual journey. How the individual develops will be limited according to his or her makeup and life circumstances. We start at different places. The role models to whom we happen to be exposed affect how we mature.

Both nature and nurture will both influence our development and affect in what ways we need to change and the opportunities for so doing. They will affect what lessons in life we may learn. You cannot so easily learn French without a foreign language teacher. However, you do not need special learning if French is your native tongue. In one sense, the whole of the explanatory findings of psychology studied as a science demonstrate the restrictions on, and handicaps to, our individual freedom. These could be for example from:
· Our beliefs and attitudes acquired conforming to the cultural norms of home and society
· Our levels of self-esteem and self-confidence due to the behaviour of others
· Our levels of talent and ability, emotional stability and physical strength, due to inherited constitution.

Our social, financial and physical circumstances affect the opportunities around us for personal growth. According to the situations they find themselves in, people vary in what they are obliged to do and thus what social roles others expect of them. The need for earned income, family home-making, care for sick and elderly, supervision of children, etc. will vary from one person and circumstance to another.
These are clear physical, economic, legal, social and moral limits as well as psychological restrictions on our freedom to do certain things and act in certain ways. There may be very real boundaries to what we can do in any set of circumstances.
Despite all these factors apparently determining our behaviour, we actually feel individually free to choose what we do and make up our own minds about things – including whether to believe that we are free to make up our own minds! In other words, we all tend to believe in our own free will.
Isaac Bashevis Singer once said:

“You must believe in free will; there is no choice”
This may seem like a paradox! However, unless we are free to reflect on things our thinking would lack any discernment. Many people recognize that being human, we do have many private choices in life; whether to try to read this book or give up thinking about what it says; whether to go along with the crowd or to do our own thing; whether to choose worldly or spiritual values. We may make decisions using so-called `enlightened self-interest’ or alternatively ethical ideas like what is fair or sincere. We can choose to travel on one road or on another.

“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”
(Matt 6:24)

“One is the road to wealth, another the road that leads to Nirvana.”
(Dhammapada, 75. Buddhist tradition)

Psychotherapists who take an existential approach to therapy tend to believe that whatever the particular types of theoretical formulation, techniques employed and therapist’s personal style of conducting treatment, the client will only benefit if also the therapy influences the person’s will. The therapist can neither create nor infuse the individual  with a new will, but the therapist can help the patient to liberate will – to remove encumbrances from the bound, stifled will.
Although our choices may sometimes need to remain hidden until outward circumstances change, inwardly we are in a state of balance between for example  optimism and pessimism or honesty and self-deception, Which we turn to is our own choice.
Swedenborg’s view is that this balance is a state of equilibrium between good and bad influences on us from inside our minds. We have the option of directing ourselves towards higher or lower things. By deciding between two different ideas, or plans of action, we express our essential awareness of ourselves as an individual.
Yet, in so far as some of our attitudes are unconscious or conditioned then we are not free to tackle them. With increasing frequency, patients seek professional help with vague, ill-defined complaints. A first session may be finished with no clear picture of the patient’s problem. The fact that the patient cannot define the problem is the actual problem.
Psychotherapy and personal counselling can help throw light on these hidden processes. For example, the overweight person may feel anxious about leaving food on the plate because of parental disapproval concerning waste when the individual was a child. Arguably, clearer self-insight actually increases our inner freedom.

And in my experience if I asked patients about the aspects of therapy that they found particularly useful, they often cite the discovery and assumption of personal responsibility. However, readiness to accept responsibility varies considerably. For some individuals it is extraordinarily difficult and this issue is the main task of psychotherapy; once they assume responsibility they give spiritual healing a chance, and therapeutic change almost happens automatically without much further effort for the therapist.

Rationality and Freedom
I am suggesting we each have two spiritual faculties, which make us human. The first of these is the ability to think for ourselves; being able to see things in a rational way from a higher perspective. This could mean for example seeing some family squabble in a rational way without one side or the other unduly swaying us emotionally.
With reasoning comes increased freedom – the second faculty. Only when we are able to see things from a rational perspective do we become free to choose between more than one viewpoint.
It is when we appreciate what a newspaper article is really about, that we can then freely choose whether to read it to the end. We use our head to think about what the writer is saying and our hands to turn the pages. However, we also need a heartfelt interest in the truth about the subject if we are to really learn anything from the printed words. Otherwise, our response to it is just going through the motions based on a reflex habit. Then we may go to the shop, buy the newspaper and return home, settling down in the chair and reading whatever is written because this is what we do everyday.
Likewise, only when we really think about the consequences of a crowd’s behaviour, can we then freely decide whether to join in. The emotion of the moment may capture us. Everybody is shouting the same thing and focusing their attention on the same place. Therefore, we feel ourselves drawn to conform to what everybody is doing and saying. Yet, we are rational human beings. We can transcend the social pressure by using our ability to think about what is right in the situation. Is the crowd doing something in accord with what we value? What is the truth of the matter? In other words as Christ says “the truth will set you free.” Otherwise, we are simply reacting to the pressure of habit or social conformity.
Humanistic psychology is an approach in psychology that focuses on how people fulfil their individual potentials as a way of overcoming personal problems. Human freedom is said to be real, and must be consciously acknowledged, exercised and experienced for any authentic human existence. In other words a person within certain limits, may become whatever he wills to become. We can all choose to develop any aspect of our makeup that we please. The explorer has opted to develop his or her curious and adventurous spirit. Couples, in deciding on parenthood, have decided to focus on their caring and nurturing side. Conscientious objectors and protestors have chosen to act on principles and ideals learned in youth despite the risks involved. To my way of thinking, the opening up of the higher mind widens our inner freedom. This means seeing things from a higher perspective and acting on these insights. Until this happens I would argue, we will simply follow our natural tendencies and conditioning along the lines the psychoanalysts and behaviourists have indicated.
We can also point to the importance of wise teaching by parents in the formation of the higher mind in the child. They brought us up with good ideas that initially develop this level of mind. The spiritually minded think of those early beginnings as the foundation for the building of conscience – through which an inner light can allow us to see when we are going wrong. I believe it is divinely inspired into the hearts and minds of those who want to follow what is right and good.
It is for instance when we believe that people should keep to the civil and criminal law because it is based on principles of justice and social order. Another example is the belief that doctors, architects and other occupational groups should follow their codes of practice and professional ethics because these derive from the value of high standards of work done for the benefit of clients. Essentially a true conscience includes a caring attitude to others, tolerance of their imperfections and following what is right in life.
I believe a higher self within us is our link with the bright light of divine inspiration. This is the source of our understanding of rational considerations and spiritual principles. These create new horizons and new ways forward. All of us can actually hope to achieve this. If we do not pursue this path, our bodily-centred illusions will limit us. Such an illusion for example is the fallacy that the route to happiness is to `eat, drink and be merry’.  Actually, experience teaches us that such activities, of themselves, can bring no lasting contentment beyond the pleasure of the moment unless life also consists of things of the spirit – such as quality time with others or the deeper satisfaction that comes from being part of useful activity. Bodily-centred illusions come from the mere appearance of things according to the senses of the body uninspired by higher meaning.

Playing Life’s Cards
As we gain a reasonable appreciation of our own character, we then become free to choose whether to leave behind our personal hang-ups and instead develop our natural talents and personal potential. Such self-insight usually happens in counselling and psychotherapy.
A form of psychotherapy known as Reality Therapy, assumes that people develop psychiatric problems because of an inability to fulfil their needs and that fulfilling needs means taking on an attitude of responsibility for others as well as self. If a cure is to be effected the patient must be involved with other people or at least with one other person. Therefore, one cannot completely lock up oneself in oneself and one’s own needs if therapy is to make any progress.
Yet, most of us do not need professional help. We can all choose to make better use of the opportunities that life presents to us. The more we put into the things we do the more we are likely to get back – whether it is an occupational training course, a friendship, or a business.
Personal responsibility comes from our freedom to react to what life throws at us in the way we choose. In other words, it is not the hand of cards that life deals us that determine our destiny but rather the way we play those cards. We are responsible for whether we take hold of life or not.
A man sat in a bar in New York. He was homeless, friendless and penniless having pawned or sold everything he owned for alcohol. He had not eaten for four days. He sat there thinking. He had often said that he would never let himself be cornered and when the time came, he would find a home at the bottom of the river. However, he was too ill to walk even a quarter of the way to the river. As he sat there thinking, he seemed to feel some uplifting presence. He did not know what it was. He walked up to the bar and pounded it with his fist making the glasses rattle. Those who stood by drinking looked on with scornful curiosity. He said he would never take another drink. However, the thought immediately came that if he wanted to keep this promise he had better go and get himself locked up. Therefore, that is exactly what he did. He went to the nearest police station and the officer placed him in a narrow cell. He said it seemed as though all the demons that could find room came in that place with him. However, he prayed to his God and, although he did not feel any great help, carried on praying. When finally released he found his way to his brother’s house where he was looked after. The next day he went to a local outdoor religious meeting and with great difficulty made his way to the space near the platform. There was a huge conflict going on within him but as he listened to the testimony of other alcoholics, he made up his mind that he would grasp the nettle and completely give up drink with help from a higher power. He promised God that if he were to take away his appetite for strong drink he would work for him all his life. The man’s name was S. H. Hadley who became an active and useful helper of alcoholics in America.

Taking the Bull by the Horns
Not all of us get ourselves into such dire straights but at some point in our lives, we all need to change something important. Human nature being what it is – a mixture of positive and negative traits – there are things in all of us that we need to face up to. The bad habits, attitudes and desires that we have confirmed in our daily living for which we are culpable. For no one else but us has chosen to remain in our negative patterns of behaviour. These elements of our heart, head and hands need reversing if we are to grow in maturity and spirituality. It is not enough to acknowledge our difficulties and opportunities; not sufficient to see things in rational light. We also need to accept in our hearts that personal amendment is necessary if we are to find personal growth. This means paying attention to the issues and making a conscious effort with clear intention to change.
In other words, an act of will freely made is required. The spirit of truth will hold us responsible for how we act. When we better understand the problems we are causing ourselves and our families, we may then either do nothing about it or we may actually then resolve to change for example, our addiction to work, our avoidance of some personal issue or our emotional dependence on some particular person etc. We need to make a decision to take hold of our life rather than drift on as before. If psychotherapy is about anything, it is about personal change and spiritual healing. The same goes for religious affiliation. It applies to all of us. It means acknowledging the truth about something, resolving to do something about it and then acting. Our destiny is in our own hands – whether we stay sober, put our financial affairs into good order, are fair and honest in our dealings with others, or change our passive attitude to life. Reaping as one sows is the law of karma.
“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows”
(Galatians 6:7)

“Whoever has qualities is the doer of deeds that bring recompense; and of such action surely he experiences the consequence.”
(Svetasvatara Upanishad, v, 7. – Hindu tradition)

Transpersonal psychology is a new approach in psychology that is interested in aspects of people that go beyond ordinary experience to matters of ultimate meaning studying for example meditative and mystical experiences. Man books by writers in this field echo the idea of a mature stage of human growth when we start to take responsibility for our own development. Just a few or many may achieve this but, although individual transformation is necessary, it is an opportunity open to all. They say it involves pain and discomfort. This is because it means questioning all the roles one has been playing. Yet, there is more to us than just the roles we play. We are not just a spouse, member of an occupational group, or sportsperson. If we identify solely with our role, we risk an identity crisis if we are compelled to lose it for example when our circumstances change and our role is no longer needed or viable.
Many therapists, who are concerned with their clients’ well-being, try to help them to explore and work through any inner conflicts between different roles or feelings about which they were often not fully aware e.g. between being a parent and a worker, or between a fear of, and desire for, an intimate close relationship. In this way, the various parts of the personality can start to work in greater harmony together.
Psychologists often mention the notion of integration as a help to understanding personal growth. The various diverse desires, fears, ideas, hopes and aspirations become compatible with each other as the individual starts to resolve conflicts, choose priorities and find over-arching values. However to find this level of integration of the various sides to our makeup requires not just our hearts and minds but also bodily actions to be in harmony.
Taking the bull by the horns seems scary at first. After all it is easy to imagine the bull may turn round and gore us to death. But if we take courage we find that it is not so dangerous as we thought. We may have had no suspicion that there was any courage within us to be found. Yet my experience with many anxious clients shows that courage arises within when they started to take responsibility for their own development; rather than passively allowing themselves to be swayed this way and that by the events of our lives; rather than complacently drifting through life. Having the deeply human faculties of reason and freedom, we can all take the initiative in creating our own world; not the world that society has tried to pre-ordain for us but rather the unique world of experience that we want for ourselves. That way we find our true self.

“Everyone has what is truly human from rationality, in that he can see and know, if he will, what is true and what is good, and also that he can from liberty will, think, speak and do it.”
(Swedenborg. Divine Providence section 227:5)

Extracted from the book Heart, Head & Hands

Self-control – How to exercise it?

Many of us have developed at least one way of acting that can hurt ourselves, annoy others or damage relationships. Something is lacking self-control. Examples include over-eating, self-controluntidiness, nagging, and telling lies. If we keep doing these things they become ingrained in our behaviour and may seem impossible to change.

The Basics of Self-Control

Yet we weren’t born with these actions and what is learned can be unlearned. Gaining better self-control over our behaviour can be done but requires a conscious effort and persistence.

To stand any chance of gaining self-control we need to be completely clear about why we want to change. Often our family and friends are more aware of our problem behaviour than we ourselves. We may not always realise when, and to what extent, we are at fault.

It might help to find out from somebody else at what times and in what situations where we are going wrong. What harm am I doing? What is embarrassing, upsetting or irritating for me or for others?

Our Free Choice

It’s never too late to stop a bad habit. When we have dug ourselves into a hole, the best policy is to stop digging! After all no-one is compelled to be untidy, to nag, be argumentative, tell a lie or get drunk. It just seems that way at the time.

We need to be especially on guard at the times when we are most at risk of relapsing into our old ways. We have reached a choice between yielding to, or exercising self-control over undesirable impulses. Having a sense of freedom in choosing between alternative actions is a familiar experience. It confirms out ability to make real choices.

Many self-indulgent desires are represented in images we remember seeing in the mass media. Because we merely have some connection with them, we need not allow ourselves to become enslaved by them but are free to ignore them. Because these impulses are not entirely part of us we can disown them.


For many moral issues call us to a deeper conflict. The tension is not just between indulging self and exercising self-control. Neither is it just about doing what is thought by others to be right or wrong. It is also about choosing to follow our inner conscience or not. When we try to have self-control over what is bad in our lives because it goes against our inner conscience, then temptation combat becomes inevitable.

Religion says to gain self-control we need the spiritual help of a higher power. Many alcoholics feel they have failed, despite doing all they can, to overcome the ‘demon drink’ and so many members of Alcoholics Anonymous surrender themselves to a higher power, many call God, believing that only with the strength of this force for good can they stay sober.

Having a belief that we are not fighting alone means a huge sense of confidence that the battle can be won. The problem drinker also has a part to play – it would be no good believing in a higher power without acting on that belief for example by resisting the temptation to buy alcohol at a shop or visit a drinking establishment.

The spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg makes an important distinction between on the one hand the notion of resisting bad impulses by our own efforts alone and on the other hand resisting them in God’s strength ‘as of ourselves’. In other words we need both God’s strength and our own effort to turn away from what is wrong about our living and instead embrace what would be right.

In line with this teaching he criticised the orthodox Christian doctrine of ‘justification by faith alone’ that gives the only emphasis on belief in God at the expense of our additional responsibility to gain control over our own behaviour.

Importance of Our Own Efforts

The bad news is that if we make no effort to resist our own demons, no attempt to stop pandering to our baser instincts at the expense of our higher impulses, then we have taken a backward step towards gaining any control over our faults. What is bad in us will have acquired power over what is good in us. On the other hand if we do try hard to take control over the selfish and greedy desires, in God’s strength, then the divine spirit can then give us a new direction. This means self-restraint as well as enlightenment and inner happiness to replace the illusion that we are enslaved to self-indulgence.

Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Putting things off – Why do I do it?

Putting things offI decided to write about the topic of putting things off. Yes, you’ve guessed right – I couldn’t get started, and kept delaying until the deadline almost passed me by. Of course I blamed this on ‘writers’ block’.

Then I remembered what Bill Watterson wrote:

“You can’t just turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood.
What mood is that?
Last-minute panic.”

Anyway I do feel that writing is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. Putting off things like getting started can be fatal.


Who hasn’t failed to take some action because they couldn’t be bothered ‘just now’? It’s so much nicer chatting with a friend on the phone or watching a tv programme than doing something that involves concentration and is a bit boring or unpleasant. When putting things off, it’s not really that you didn’t decide to do it – somehow it just didn’t happen.

Saying ‘I forgot’ to keep the important hospital appointment or ‘I never found the right time’ to renew the expired passport, starts to wear a bit thin and family members can get really exasperated. People tend to assume you are lazy or lack will power. So why can anyone be so tardy putting things off — even important things — when the disapproval of others is hard to take?

One possible reason might be that you have no updated ‘to do’ list.  Dealing with the complexity of life these days does require careful personal organisation: something like a personal planner to remind you what needs doing and by when. A stitch in time saves nine. You may not always have a pen to hand when you need one, so these days many people are using the organiser section of their mobile phone to make notes of names, times of buses, the name of the play group, a reminder to contact so and so about a booking, gifts you could buy etc. More difficult putting things off when you are better organised.

A reason for putting things off might also be because you find some tasks just add to your daily ration of stress and you are the sort of person who emotionally copes by not thinking about things that you don’t like. Put them out of mind and they may go away. Except that putting things off doesn’t mean they will go away, which you find out to your cost later.

“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”(Charles Dickens)

Another reason for putting things off might be a self-defeating mentality.  It is sometimes said ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going’. But you don’t feel tough — just pretty hopeless and demoralised by the whole thing. The more one says to oneself – ‘it isn’t easy,’ ‘I don’t want to have to think about it,’ ‘it needs a lot of time’ then it’s a strange thing how the task can become a burden. What started off as a little molehill gradually turns into something bigger. You found that the more you put the job off the more a mountain it felt you had to climb to get it done.

“There’s nothing so fatiguing as an uncompleted task” (William James)

Many procrastinators overestimate the unpleasantness of a task. If they give something a try they often find it wasn’t as difficult as they thought.

Having said that, carrying out one’s pledges is a challenge for everyone. Whether it be athletes or dancers keeping to their training programme or parents following through consistently threats made to naughty children. It’s not just politicians who make broken promises.

Actually doing what we plan to do is an issue that also applies to bigger personal changes: like adopting better habits of eating, moderating alcohol intake, and regular physical exercise. In fact any personal or spiritual goal that challenges our resolve comes to mind. Such a needed change can be a prime candidate as a reason for putting things off; such as setting aside time and energy for one’s children, keeping to a new spiritual discipline, or contributing to a good charitable cause.

But isn’t this what our human existence is all about? Is not our determination and resolve to tackle personal challenge, always being tested by life? Set backs, disappointments, extra demands, and other unforeseen circumstances seem to conspire to defeat our good intentions.

“It happens time and again, putting things off that we convince ourselves might be better, more meaningful, more appropriate for another time. So often that better time either never comes or really isn’t better or more appropriate after all. And then, sadly, the window of opportunity — to do something great — closes.” (Tim Tebow, Through My Eyes)

It is one thing to write down in one’s diary an important task but when you are still putting things off, quite another thing to carry it through.

Many religiously-minded people have wanted to be saved from their sense of personal inadequacy. They believe they cannot just in their own strength withstand this sort of temptation: the selfish or worldly attractions to put off accomplishing spiritual tasks and give up following a moral path.

Have they not found something greater than themselves working in them and helping them to carry out their pledges, their personal goals and their desire to change their conduct? Like members of Alcoholics Anonymous they have turned to their concept of a higher divine power and there have found hope and encouragement. After all their God is no procrastinator!

Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Generous — How can I be more like this?

I suppose it takes one to know one, but I admit giving my money away does not come easy to me. It never seems to occur to me to buy an unplanned gift for someone to mark a special occasion. Some of us are a bit stingy and penny-pinching whereas others seem to be naturally generous. generousMaybe you differ from others in the extent you give to people begging in the street or in whether you make out monthly direct-debits to deserving causes. So if you are a bit like me just how do you learn to become more generous?

How generous are you?

The first step I’ve discovered is to privately acknowledge the deficiency of spontaneous generosity of spirit in myself. I don’t just mean donating money. The definition of generosity is broader. It can be defined as the desire to make others’ lives easier or more pleasant. Mowing next door neighbour’s lawn when he or she is ill. Offering to look after someone’s pets when they are away on holiday.

This leads to considering the way we do what we already are doing – whether it is domestic chores, visiting relatives, working at the office or factory floor. Some might view such activity as a time-filling grind whereas others may see it as useful service. For you is it boring toil or an opportunity to be constructively helpful?

Considering the benefits of being generous

Do you assume you have no power to positively affect the world around you? Yet even a small act of kindness like waiting to hold a door open may mean a lot for someone who is elderly or disabled. Arguably, a degree of self-absorption hinders us from noticing what others need. If so we could look for the potential benefits we can create. What the results might be if one performed allotted tasks in more of a spirit of generosity.

Thinking about self-sacrifice if generous

Giving can feel more like a hardship than an opportunity. Yet spiritual teachers say that giving doesn’t really entail sacrifice because you get more back than you put in e.g. a sense of usefulness, an uplift in mood, receiving thanks and appreciation.

Questioning one’s motivation to be generous

Sometimes people behave generously for self-centred reasons. However just because some people behave hypocritically does not mean everybody does. Psychological research shows that humans do sometimes genuinely want to help for the sake of others.  So, why not challenge the cynical view that people always help others in order to feel good about themselves.

Being more focused

You might write down two things you can give or do for three people you know. This entails thinking about genuine needs you are capable of meeting within your own means and time constraints and where you are not taking away from someone their responsibility to help themselves. For example I would suggest you think carefully before handing over money to someone you know. Being too generous might cause future difficulty in the relationship. If the person is asking you for money you might question what the cash is really for. An obvious example is money that is likely to be wasted on frivolous things.  Consider not only the intention about paying you back but how realistic he or she is about getting into a position to do so. Generosity is no use unless it is wise generosity.

Also I would like to add something about not forcing yourself into being generous. You could still be sensitive to and act on any kind impulses you have, albeit fleeting ones.

Working on your blocks

One block to watch out for I think is a grudging feeling when doing something helpful. It is all too easy for any weak inclination to help to be hindered by a penny pinching desire to get things for ourselves or by irritation with the other person who needs help. Buddhists talk about attachment to one’s material possessions which can only result in unhappiness.

Not depending on a generous nature

Religious people feel self-reliance isn’t powerful enough. This would mean not depending on your own strength to change yourself. The alternative is to seek help from whatever you believe to be the spiritual source of love. For many Christians this will be what they see as the divine human face of God. For others it will be some higher power greater than one’s own limitations.

Noticing the results of being generous

As you start to give more of yourself to people, you will probably find that others are doing more things for you. What goes around, comes around. Others may start to see you as a better person.

The spiritual philosopher, Emanuel Swedenborg, suggests that after death, if not in this life, we will be gifted with wisdom and joy. But this only happens if during life in the world one tries to live according to one’s spiritual beliefs and exercise a charitable attitude to others.

“Give to others, and God will give to you.” (Luke 6:38)

Copyright 2012 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Asking for help – Is it that difficult?.

asking for helpIs life giving us too many headaches? Or have our circumstances dramatically changed for the worse? We say that we are “fine” and that we are in control. But deep down we know we are not. The first step is to admit to ourselves when we actually do need help. So why not try asking for it? If we do not ask, how can we expect to get any advice or assistance?

Why asking for help can be difficult.

There may be embarrassment discussing a personal matter with someone we know. “I really ought to be able to manage my own life without troubling others with my difficulties.” “What will they think of me if I tell them my problems?”

We may assume we don’t matter enough for anyone to want to bother to do anything for us. “No-one will want to help me.”

Or we might think that no one would understand the problem or that there can be no solution possible. “My life is in far too great a mess to be saved.”

Asking for help is dangerous because actually accepting help is likely to involve our changing something — scary stuff if that sounds uncomfortable. No longer can we pursue easy solutions to the problem like for example engaging in comfort eating or retail therapy.

How to start asking for help 

If we do get round to asking for help, it is first useful to be clear what we think we need. Whether we need advice, encouragement, or practical help, we need to ask for it specifically.

At the same time, it is sensible to be flexible. What someone offers may be unexpected. Therefore, we need to be ready to explore alternatives. People tend to feel uncomfortable about helping the unprepared or the narrow-minded. This means being willing to listen carefully to what they suggest.

Asking who?

I saw a woman walking into a council refuse tip to get rid of a long florescent light tube. She unfortunately tripped over and dropped the tube that exploded in a puff of smoke. It looked and sounded dramatic. Her elderly friend was following on behind and at that moment seeing the prostrate woman and hearing the explosion, she exclaimed `Oh God, God’ and rushed forward. This friend may not have been religious but was she not asking for God’s help without even realising it? Perhaps he did answer her prayer for although she was a bit shocked, the fallen woman got up and dusted herself down. It turned out that she had suffered no injury.

If the help needed is beyond the capability of loved ones or friends, we may decide to ask God for assistance. When desperate, agnostics and even atheists have admitted to trying prayer. After all what had they got to lose?

Of course the religious and unreligious alike are all capable of trying to use God like some Father Christmas figure. We can even try bargaining with him. Give me what I want and I will always do this or that for you.

Motivation behind asking God for help

The psychologist William James reported on a man called David.  This fellow was someone with many problems. His religious worship and pleas for help were in vain. Then it came to him that it was self-interest behind his devotions rather than any respect for the wisdom of God. It was his own happiness and not the will of God that had pre-occupied his heart. He saw he had never done anything for God, only for himself. If we pray only for ourselves how can a God of love for all, hear such prayers?

When praying with a sincere heart it is useful to speak specifically about the issues that we require help with. We could then ask God to give us new purpose, a healthier frame of mind in facing our troubles, or more light on how we can better serve our family and community.

Perhaps praying is something we have rarely done before. So how can one go about this? Like David, we may feel that God is not answering our prayers. True, we may not be hearing a voice answering but I would suggest there will always be a response. Sometimes we may be unaware of an answer because it is not what we have expected. As we try to pray for help we may realise something about our own attitude e.g. like David that it is too orientated towards self rather than any concern for anyone else. Already the prayer is being responded to without our noticing.

If we do ask then we might well get an answer we understand – but this answer may not be what we would have wanted! Actually, many inwardly religious people believe that divine power can spiritually help all people, no matter into what terrible state they have got themselves into.

Copyright Stephen Russell-Lacy 2011
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Self-esteem – How to find it?

self-esteemPsychologists have found that self-esteem goes along with being confident and assertive, having good physical health, and pleasing relationships. Yet some people have low self-esteem. They feel bad about themselves. What do you think of yourself? Are you pleased with who you are or ashamed? When someone makes critical remarks about you, is it water off a duck’s back or do you fold inwardly?

How can one feel better about oneself? The answer depends on who you are.

A way for those feeling low self-esteem

Many people with low self-esteem may not necessarily think they are `worthless’ but nevertheless they do feel as if they do not matter much and have little to offer. As a child you may have had somewhat critical parents and taken on board their repeated judgments about you. Perhaps you rushed home from school proudly telling mum or dad `I came second in class’ only to be asked about who came first. How crushed a child would feel — especially if the parents found it hard to express warmth and affection.

If we have a poor sense of self-worth, we often experience an inner voice unfairly criticising our thoughts and actions.

This voice makes snap judgments and jumps to conclusions merely on the basis of superficial information. It prevents us from trying new things and puts us down. It compares us unfavourably with other people and attributes any success we may have merely to chance. Our failures are only to be expected. If we interpret what we do as a failure, then it is a short jump to saying `I am a failure’.

Cognitive-behavioural counselling might help those who are able to learn to recognise this unhelpful voice,  challenge it and find more realistic habits of thought.

A way for those feeling low self-esteem

Repeated abuse, whether verbal, emotional, physical or sexual, drums in a message that the child is inherently bad, and deserving of punishment. If this was your experience of childhood why not try to get some in-depth psychodynamic counselling to explore the roots of your problem?  You can be helped to see past experience through the eyes of an adult and find a more realistic and coherent narrative about yourself. You can’t change the past but you might be able with professional help to come to terms with it and learn to move on.

Self-esteem for Christians

If you are a Christian and do not feel good about yourself, you may be wary of self-esteem as promoting too much self-centredness or disguising the need for God. The trouble is a punitive idea of God is still around and some Christians have felt what they believe to be their basic sinful human nature deserves his condemnation.

If your relationship with God is undermining you then perhaps you could ask whether your image of God is at fault and needs ditching in favour of one that makes more sense. Why not replace him with a God who is not harsh like the one depicted in the Old Testament, and not one with anger appeased by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.

An alternative religious view sees us as being neither inherently good nor bad, instead, being born with both positive and negative inclinations. We recognise in the baby’s ignorance of right and wrong an innocence of all blame. We are surrounded by a complex interweaving of problematic situations, interpersonal difficulties and social wrongs that influence our behaviour. We cannot be personally responsible for everything that is wrong in life. We need to distinguish between unrealistic and realistic guilt.

According to this view, the justice of God can only hold us accountable for the things we intentionally do believing them to be wrong.

Self-esteem for the spiritual sensitive person

I would say to the spiritually sensitive person that feeling good about what you do is very different from feeling you are good. We can humbly acknowledge that all that we achieve that is good in our lives is due to a spiritual force which is greater than we ourselves.

Paradoxically the result of this is that we would experience a greater sense of worth. We would see that all the worthwhile things we do is a result of being a willing channel for the power of divine love and wisdom.

Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems