As With thinking, so also with behaviour: we can and we must sometimes unlearn problem and negative behaviour and replace it with something better, more productive. Indeed, it is the application of just such a proposition that leads the sports psychologist’s to encourage his/her client to, “walk the walk” and “talk the talk”. In other words, to appear as and behave like a winner and a formidable opponent who must be taken seriously. Thus by supplying ourselves (or by being supplied by trustworthy others) with convincing grounds to modify a given process of thought or disposition and adapting our behaviour accordingly, we can – sometimes at little more than ‘a stroke’ – amend and even radically alter the way we feel and behave, on a more permanent basis. The following account should make this (quite possibly at present hazy) paragraph crystal clear.
I once had a patient who – because of his advanced (and by now terminal) disease – was permanently housebound. Hospice and community nurses were in daily attendance and I also called to see him at regular intervals. My patient and his wife also had access to my home telephone number and knew that they could contact me there, out of clinic hours, on the basis of need. It never ceases to amaze me how even the smallest contribution to care is not uncommonly perceived by the patient and his/her family members, to be of huge significance and is almost invariably highly valued. When one day I visited the home in question, it was just prior to our annual vacation and so I mentioned this fact in the course of our conversation together. It was only then that I came to realized just how much my regular visits and the freedom to contact me as and whenever, had come to mean to them.
Although they had on only one previous occasion contacted me via my home telephone number, contemplation of my absence from the scene for the next three weeks was undoubtedly now posing a major concern for both of them. Just before I left the house that day, my patient and his wife told me; “We knew you would be going away on holiday at some point and have talked about it. Over the past few weeks especially, although we’ve tried to cope – both for our own and for each other’s sakes – just the knowledge of possible access to and contact you as someone who we both know and can talk to freely has been such a support”. “But then”, they added, “we’re being selfish and we know how much you and your family must need a break from things”. At that, I did no more than write down the telephone number of our holiday farmhouse in North Wales. There were protests, of course, to which I responded that the offer was there for them to take – or leave – as they saw fit. I further explained that during the daytime we would most probably be out, “sunning ourselves” (or whatever). However, they should feel free to contact me on the same basis as before, if need arose.
The holiday came and went and there were no telephone calls. During the first week of my return to duty, I paid my patient and his wife a visit. As I entered the house, she took my forearm and with some urgency led me, not to the sitting room or bedroom, but to their kitchenette. There she pointed triumphantly to a small shelf above the cooker. “There it is!” she exclaimed “and it has seen us through”. On the shelf was the white 9 x 4.5 cms card bearing our North Wales telephone number which I had given them more than three weeks earlier. She explained, “That card has been there since you left and what a comfort it has been!” She continued, “There was one really difficult time when I almost telephoned,” adding, “Well in fact, I did…but during the daytime it was, when I hoped you would be out. Somehow or other that day, I needed to hear the telephone ring…just two or three times…and that was all the contact I needed”. “It did the trick and I just got on with things here”. What is that line from Shakespeare’s Henry V spoken just before the battle of Agincourt? “We are all ready if our minds be so”. (Hopefully, that somewhat “hazy” paragraph to which I referred earlier in this letter isn’t hazy any more).
In my next blog, I want to move on to consider other variations on the theme of “thinking our way out of trouble” and to illustrate simple but effective ways of applying it.