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The Cost of Unchecked Anger

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When anger becomes habitual, it can be harmful.

When used repeatedly as our typical response to things that irritate us, we end up with an anger problem that can be catastrophic over time. That’s because, when we’re angry, we tend to be reactive. We no longer think rationally.

The price of staying angry

Do you find yourself responding more and more with anger to annoying situations?

  • When a car cuts you off on the freeway, do you want to get even?
  • When your spouse does not acknowledge appreciation for the things you do, or people at work keep taking advantage of you, do you want to retaliate?

There continues to be that child in us that wants revenge when life isn’t fair.

Anger, like all emotions, has a purpose.

Like fear, it can help us survive, can motivate us to take action and make appropriate and necessary changes. It protects us when life threatens us psychologically or physically.

Anger is a survival mechanism because it mobilizes us into action. There is an adrenaline rush – a powerful, strong, energizing force in response to what is happening around us.

Anger can be either constructive or destructive.

Thoughts associated with anger usually include perceived injustices, perceived rights and assumed lack of responsibility in others. It can become a habit and our favorite mode of communication. Left unchecked, anger becomes toxic and corrosive.

Sometimes we feel more in control and less vulnerable when we find fault with others and deflect from our own errors of judgment or behaviors. When we react without restraint to that powerful rush of energy or without identifying the problem connected to it, we not only inflict pain on others, but also on ourselves.

It is our responsibility to discover the underlying reason associated with an anger problem.

When anger is our first response to things we don’t like, it often has its roots in our past. Children often experience angry outbursts from troubled parents and are unable to express their own anger. Anything they have done right is dismissed as unimportant.

Wounds from childhood run deep. While buried in our sub-conscious, we continue to be influenced by them.

If you find yourself constantly feeling angry, ask yourself:

  • What were you told about anger when you were little?
  • List the times in your past when your anger was not expressed or acknowledged.
  • Where do you direct your anger: toward yourself, others, your parents, boss, etc.
  • When you feel angry, does the situation warrant that feeling?

When we allow ourselves to become a victim, we will experience an underlying level of anger. Being a victim takes away our personal power to make changes and choices.

We can use anger to motivate necessary and appropriate change without inflicting harm.

Here are some suggestions to try if you constantly get angry:

  • Keep an anger diary. When are you feeling angry? What are the thoughts or beliefs associated with those feelings? Are there events that constantly trigger your anger? After a week recording, you will see a pattern emerge of when, why and how long.
  • What alternative behaviors can you use when feeling angry, giving you time to readjust your thinking and response?
  • What situations could you avoid, knowing they trigger anger?
  • When your anger is triggered, count to ten – then count again if necessary to delay that initial anger response.
  • Practice expressing anger assertively instead of aggressively.
  • Replace irrational beliefs such as, “life should be fair” with rational thinking.
  • Write yourself a self-management contract. Include commitments you are making and affirmations to keep yourself on track.

Unchecked anger can move to resentment.

Conflict – “He Said – She Said” | FocusWithMarlene.com

Sometimes we believe that all anger is not good, and that good people shouldn’t get angry. But when we ascribe to that philosophy, we fail to address the underlying issues associated with it and keep denying or burying it until we develop an ongoing internal bitter resentment. We have then added to the problem.

Anger, like all our emotions, has a purpose, and we need to acknowledge and listen to what it is trying to tell us. It is not to be ignored, stuffed, or suppressed. It won’t go away by itself.

When denied, anger will re-appear in the form of illness, depression, rage and even ending of one’s own life or that of another. It has an energy that, when turned inward, will gradually eat us up from the inside out or becomes self-hatred and self-loathing.

So, what can we do?

First, STOP.

  • Stop avoiding
  • Stop rationalizing
  • Stop pushing it away
  • Stop medicating with drugs or alcohol to dull its pain and underlying fear

Second, ALLOW yourself to feel your emotions.

Ask yourself:

  • Why do I feel so angry all the time?
  • What is it trying to tell me?
  • What am I supposed to learn?

Third, IDENTIFY the problem and look for solutions.

  • What constructive options do I have?
  • What responsible behaviors can I apply?
  • What positive changes do I want to have happen?
  • What problem solving strategies can I use to bring about a positive outcome?

Anger has a purpose.

Connect with its message and all the other emotions that are often buried with it: fear, guilt, pain. Work through them to healing.

If you have an ongoing problem with anger, please seek out a good professional mental health counselor or therapist to help you work through underlying long-held issues attached to it.

Helpful books:


The Dance of Anger, A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships, Harriet Goldhor Lerner, Ph.D.

Anger: How to Live With and Without It, Albert Ellis, Ph.D.

When Anger Hurts: Quieting the Storm Within, Matthew McKay, Ph.D., Peter D. Rogers, Ph.D., Judith McKay, R.N.

Legitimate Fears vs Paper Dragons

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Many years ago, an intruder invaded my home. But angels were there also, and I escaped without harm. (You can read my personal story in Heaven Touching Earth: True Stories of Angels, Miracles and Heavenly Encounters, a book of stories compiled by James Stuart Bell, available on Amazon.)

Fear is a critical survival warning system.

It triggers our fight/flight response system to meet any threat by fleeing, fighting, or remaining frozen in place.

When you have experienced fear, it becomes a reminder to put preventive measures in place, such as locks on our doors or avoiding parking in dark places at night.

Perception of danger of any kind will trigger fear. It can be an internal gut feeling that tells you something is not right or a heightened awareness of what is going on around you.

Healthy fear not only prepares us to respond but also reminds us to be careful and cautious when in unfamiliar territory. Healthy fear is based on what is happening in the moment. It prepares us mentally and physically to take action when and if required.

After my home break-in, we purchased a German Shepherd who became a very reliable deterrent, allowing me to relax at home without any heightened fear.

Creating paper dragons

Fear can be our friend, or it can be our enemy. It can prepare, instruct, and keep us safe; or it can become a huge threatening shadow that keeps us locked in doubt, worry, uncertainty, and helplessness.

Ongoing fear replayed over and over in our mind will create unending anxiety.

We can allow fear to so monopolize our lives that we are constantly playing the “what if” game.

  • What if I can no longer live alone…
  • What if my money runs out as I get older…
  • What if I can’t pay my mortgage…
  • What if I get a serious illness…
  • What if I have trouble making new friends…
  • What if I’m not good enough…
  • What if…

The list of what ifs can go on forever.

When times get tough, this kind of internal dialogue can become pervasive and dominate our thinking. The what ifs become so real that we defend their existence and refuse to think positively about anything we can do or are capable of doing. We become consumed by the terror of what might happen without adequately checking out whether they are realistic fears.

This is called creating a fear dragon or paper dragon. The problem with paper dragons is just that – they are created – they are not real.

paper dragon

The fear is the fear of being inadequate. We become fearful of making wrong decisions.

Understanding the beliefs and thoughts that maintain that fear can be liberating. If we can create them, we can replace them.

Healthy fear

Healthy fear can be the precursor to putting in place preventive measures. Pay attention to that niggling doubt or feeling of fear.

Pay attention to your intuition.

Check out troubling symptoms that just don’t seem right. That includes relationships, changes in behaviors in your teens or children or health symptoms that keep recurring (ones you don’t want to address). It may be an underlying concern about aging parents. It may be that infer voice telling you to watch your spending habits.

We need to pay attention.

What fears are you experiencing?

What can you do if you have ongoing anxiety, fear, or even feelings of panic?

First, ask yourself:

  • What is creating this fear?
  • Is it legitimate and real?

Are you fearful of physical danger? Check the locks on your windows and doors and replace them if old. Be sure doors and windows are locked before going to bed at night. If shopping at night, park where there is adequate light and be sure your car is locked. If you love to go hiking, go with a companion. You can develop the habit of being aware of your surroundings without being in constant fear.

Maybe you have a good job and are constantly in fear of making a mistake and losing that job. That underlying fear can become a deterrent to doing the best you can. We are not perfect. We will make mistakes. But we can focus on doing the best we can and relax into that.  

If you are a worrier and find yourself asking, what if… more often than you want, remember that what ifs are future events that you are worrying about in the moment.

Put in place a preventive.

Get additional information. For example, what if the economy tanks and I don’t have enough money? First, do a review. What do I currently have? How can I spend less money? How can I create a larger reserve account? Read some books on the subject or talk with a financial planner – one who is honest and respected. It might be money well spent.

Financial Peace RevisitedA good book on the subject, Financial Peace Revisited, by Dave Ramsey, was written for the average person to apply the principles of managing money.

What if you are worried about becoming seriously ill as you age? Put in place a healthy lifestyle right now. Do what you can to eat healthier, exercise, etc. Anybody can get a serious illness at any time in life. None of us are immune. But we can do more to create a healthier lifestyle. And constant worry and anxiety can become an illness.

Make a list of your strengths.

Include the times when you made good decisions. Evaluate the pros and cons of your decision-making. Which can help you eliminate or reduce many of the what if fears?

Whether you are worried about the high cost of living or having enough finances, or if you are experiencing undefined, ongoing anxiety, confront it.

  • What actions can I take now to feel more secure and protect me in the future?
  • How can I better understand myself so I can confront my fears?

Anxiety and ongoing fear can lead to panic attacks.

When you sense your fear rising, take some slow calming breaths and remind yourself that you are okay – you are not in physical danger. Then identify the underlying cause of your fear.

When fear and anxiety levels are lowered, we can think rationally, problem solve, conceptualize options, and formulate new plans of action.

When we accept the least pleasing aspect of ourselves, it no longer creates an unreasonable fear of making mistakes or looking foolish. Becoming proactive is using fear to our advantage.

Challenge Irrational Thinking

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What does it mean to challenge thoughts and beliefs?

It means making an assumption or hypothesis and testing its validity through objective analysis.

  • How accurate is my thinking?
  • How can I prove or disprove that?
  • Can my thoughts be modified or expanded?
  • What are the underlying beliefs?

Unchallenged, our first automatic thoughts to potential catastrophes can keep us in a fear, anxiety, or panic mode.

Challenging our thoughts allows us to get out of highly charged emotions while affirming our ability to be flexible, roll with the punches and believe in ourselves.

Crises will happen. Knowing how to go beyond our initial response allows us to think more appropriately.

Here is an example of someone worrying about their future:

Situation: You are close to retirement, the economy has tanked, and you are experiencing health problems.

Fear and anxiety escalate as uncertainty about the future mounts.

Your savings and pension are smaller than anticipated. Thoughts like: What will I do if I can’t pay my bills or remain in my home, or do some traveling I had hoped to do?

Challenged: I have a savings account. My pension may be small, but I can begin right now to budget, curb my spending, and pay off all my credit cards, thus reducing my debt. I can start right now putting more money into my savings or pension plan. I will start to improve my health by watching my diet and by exercising every day. I have managed in the past and can manage again. If I need to, after retirement, I can get a part-time job to help. My focus needs to be on what I can do right now.

When we challenge those first automatic thoughts that focus only on the worst possible scenario, we can temper them with more positive, alternative possibilities and constructive thinking. It doesn’t mean things won’t get tough. It means we are taking charge so we can be prepared to meet those challenges.

Think of a situation you’re going through.

Using the example above, challenge any negative thinking that keeps you focused only on the worst possible outcome.

Or choose one of your entries from your tracking last week. Before you challenge, identify all the emotions being triggered so you can address each of them.

Challenging thoughts basically asks the questions:

  • Why do I believe this to be true?
  • Who says it is true?
  • Are my thoughts limiting me from finding alternative solutions?
  • Could I reframe the situation to gather more information?
  • What beliefs do I hold about myself?

Can you see yourself as competent and capable? Or do old habits of thinking keep you believing you are incapable? Challenge that belief.

Where did it come from and who says it is accurate?

Old messages from the past can reduce our ability to feel competent to make appropriate choices in the here and now.

Believing you are capable does not mean you won’t make mistakes or have to learn new ways or that you are better than anyone else. It just means you recognize your ability to grow and learn and accomplish.

Review your tracking entries from last week.

Is there a pattern of negative emotional responses to many situations? Were they appropriate for the circumstances?

Reflect on the situation again – on the emotions you had – and challenge the thinking.  Ask yourself:

  • How can I look at this differently?
  • What can I do to reduce my worry and anxiety about life in general?
  • How do I affirm my abilities?
  • Do a further exploration by asking yourself, “Why am I feeling this way?

Worst-case scenario

Our minds like to create the worst scenario possible, and we have a tendency to dwell on that to the exclusion of anything positive. When our focus is narrow, we are usually excluding a lot of relevant information that could be helpful.

Adjust Your Focus: Reframe Your Circumstances | FocusWithMarlene.com

Reframe it.

Reframing takes a situation, pattern of thinking, or rigid belief and expands the view or interpretation of it. It is like replacing a telephoto lens on your camera with a wide-angle lens so you can see more. This expanded view helps you understand better all the elements of your life in order to rise above or work through difficult times.

As you become familiar with challenging irrational thinking, you will begin to identify and address personal distortions as soon as they are happening. These distortions will continue to pop up and sidetrack you until you recognize them.

Correct them immediately. “Oh, oh, I am blaming again,” or “Wait, I am not listening,” or “I am falling into the trap of “should” instead of “choice.”   

Remove the words “should, have to and must” from your everyday language. Replace with need or choose.

The car needs to be taken in for a checkup. I will do it on Wednesday.

When you become aware of the stress perpetrated by the pressure of “have to” or “must,” replace with, “I can choose to do this or choose not to do this.”

Now your choices are tied to a thoughtful understanding of what you want and what needs to be done along with consequences associated with them.

You will be required to make difficult decisions throughout your lifetime. Some are as simple as choosing whether to wash your dishes after dinner or wait until morning. You can think through both options and make a choice that you are willing to live with, along with the consequences.

What is important in any decision-making is taking the time to think through your options and choices along with their consequences.

Information Emotions Give Us

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Imagine not being able to experience the joy of holding your baby, or that feeling of confidence over a job well done, or the excitement you feel cheering your favorite sports team. Life would be dull and robotic if it weren’t for those wonderful moments of joy and excitement and contentment.

Every day we experience emotions enabling us to enjoy life.

Emotions help us respond appropriately. They warn us of danger as well as bringing us incredible joy. There is a large body of research, such as RET (Rational Emotive Theory) and CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Theory) that help us understand how emotions and thinking affect our life.

The research indicates it’s not situations themselves that create our responses so much as it is our interpretations of what is happening.

Interpretations >> Core beliefs >> Habits >> Rules & Expectations

Throughout life, starting in childhood, we are ascribing meaning to life. These interpretations become the core beliefs that we live by.

They become habits used in thinking and making judgments about everything.

From those early interpretations we establish rules, expectations, assumptions, and attitudes that we live by and insist others live by as well.

Unless examined and assessed, these beliefs can become rigid and uncompromising, global in scope and over-generalized.

In the example below, I have combined the stories of many people into the person of Suzie. Suzie illustrates how early core beliefs about her ability to do anything well enough keeps her from recognizing her qualifications, abilities, and successes.

Susie was taunted at school because she was bright and was more interested in learning than following the crowd. She had few friends, was overweight and the other girls called her geek, fatty and ugly.

She longed to have pretty clothes, but her family was poor. Her dad drank and her mom didn’t give her encouragement.

As she grew up, she worked harder and harder, but believed that she was stupid and worthless. When things went wrong, the labels leveled at her as a kid rang in her ears as confirmation.

Her core beliefs became global – she believed she had no worth or value – and those beliefs applied to everything she did. Even when she tried to believe otherwise, old thoughts reminded her that she would never be any different no matter how hard she tried.

Deep down she believed the labels were true. Only when she went into counseling did she understand that those core beliefs were biased and false.

Automatic thoughts occur quickly, usually without our awareness. In the blink of an eye, circumstances trigger a habitual response and emotional reaction. When our reactions are based on faulty beliefs and perceptions from the past, the outcomes, while predictable, will not always serve us.

Think back to a time when you were in a new situation, given a promotion, got your dream job, or held a management position.

  • How did you feel overall? Did you feel confident or apprehensive?
  • What were your thoughts about your capabilities?
  • Were feelings of insecurity replaced with confidence over time or did you continue to struggle to feel good about your abilities?
  • When things went wrong, did you immediately blame yourself?
  • When things went well, did you congratulate yourself or give the credit to others?

Identify, Challenge and Replace


The following exercise will help you identify patterns of emotional thinking and responses that might be working against you.

To challenge the logic and reliability of your automatic thoughts, you must first recognize them.

Emotions based on biased or inaccurate thinking often include excessive feelings of fear, anxiety, anger, helplessness, and hopelessness.

While we are aware of the emotions, the thoughts associated with them often remain obscured until we deliberately look for them. To alter our emotional responses, we must recognize and challenge the thoughts and beliefs connected to them.

To identify your patterns, make three columns on a piece of paper or on an electronic device with these headings:

Situation (Who, what, when, where)

Emotions (What you felt)

Automatic Thoughts (What thoughts or beliefs went through your mind)

For one week, record events that trigger repetitive, habitual, or upsetting emotions.

On your tracking sheet, “Situations” refer to whatever circumstances you find yourself in that trigger a stressful emotion. Jot down what is happening: who, what, when and where.

In the next column, “Emotions,” note all the feelings you had, how strong or intense they were, and how they affected you physically as well as emotionally.

Under “Automatic Thoughts,” record what you were thinking when feeling these emotions. It may have been a stream of thoughts, beliefs, or recollections… even images.

Here are some typical automatic thoughts you might experience:

  • There I go again.
  • I always say something stupid.
  • Won’t I ever learn.
  • Nothing I do is ever good enough

After recording all the information for a week, go back and evaluate your thoughts.

  • What thoughts did you have that you were unaware of at first?
  • How accurate or rational were your thoughts in relation to what was happening in the moment?
  • What messages from the past might be generating these thoughts or beliefs?

You will begin to see an emerging pattern. You can then challenge the validity and accuracy of those thoughts as they correspond to the situation and replace them with more rational and realistic thinking.

Remember, emotions are neither good nor bad.

They give us valuable and important information so we can respond appropriately to situations.

That first instantaneous reaction might not be helpful. Understanding that those initial reactionary reactions can be altered puts you in charge.

You are responsible for all your responses and have a great deal of influence over what you feel and think.

Next week, I will take you through the steps to challenge automatic thoughts.

Empower Your Life with Resolve

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After surgery to fuse my lower back, I was required to wear a brace for three months. During that time, I walked every day, up to two miles a day to help heal and strengthen my back.

We understand that it takes time to recover from broken bones or surgeries, and that the healing process requires physical therapy.

It takes time to recover from emotional and spiritual wounds, as well.

Making that transition to a new life is never straightforward – there will be ups and downs and sometimes detours.

I love to tell the true story of two individuals in the prime of their life who were injured in separate accidents, met in physical therapy, and got married. Both were paraplegics with no feeling from the chest down. They wanted to prove to themselves that their handicaps would not keep them from living a full life. So, they had a boat built for them and set out to meet a challenge few of us with whole bodies would do – sail across the Atlantic Ocean – by themselves.

Accidents happen. Tragedy strikes.

There might be times when we feel that everything has been taken away from us that we thought we couldn’t live without. And we are left wondering what hit us.

The world changes; and so does our life. It will never be the same. Those that survive catastrophic life events or just personal crises will be faced with making life-changing decisions they never wanted to make. Sometimes there isn’t even time to grieve their loss.

At such times, what we say to ourselves is critical. Like the two paraplegics who told themselves, “Yes, we can,” and proceeded to make it happen.

We will encounter obstacles that seem to make it impossible to reach our goals. Sometimes, we abandon our goals because the obstacles seem too daunting and overwhelming. We might feel intimidated or unwilling to alter our goals to match new realities.

What is important is remembering that it isn’t what happens in life that makes us successful – it is what we do with it.

Success is the journey of taking what life hands us and making something positive out of it.

I believe that deep within us lies the resources we need to meet any crisis, adversity, or unwanted change. These resources are often buried beneath doubts and old destructive messages. We just need to uncover those resources and alter our thinking to accommodate what is happening in our world.

Remember the first time you said to yourself, if so and so can do it, then so can I? When I was going through my adversities, after the initial slam of harsh reality, I reminded myself that people had endured far greater challenges than I and had weathered the storms of life. If others could, then so could I.

No matter how strong our determination and resolve, however, we can’t do it alone. We need the support and love of others. And even more important, we need to know that we have a God who will give us strength and courage.

We are not alone. God is with us.

It is where we find the faith and grace and hope needed to take that next step.

Determining how you will respond to life may be the biggest and most important lifestyle change you ever make.

Do a quick inventory of how you have handled difficulties in the past.

  • What did you do?
  • How did you feel?
  • What would you do differently?
  • What would you do again?

We are never sure what we will do when faced with a crisis. But if we have learned how to stop and think vs. just reacting, we will be prepared to handle most any unexpected calamity.

Endings can be scary.

To walk a new path requires expanding your horizon and trying new things.

  • Are there things in your past that keep you stuck?
  • What fears keep interfering?
  • What old beliefs, lifestyles, life scripts, assumptions, expectations, etc. are keeping you from exploring new options?

Give yourself permission to explore more of who you are.

Life Is a Dance of Letting Go and Taking Control

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Life is a dance – a process – that requires flexibility while we learn how to change position and location and still maintain our balance.

Life is movement – we are going somewhere.

Life is never static – never the same but constantly changing and evolving. We can learn the music of life; we can adjust our movements and take charge of change and our responses to it or simply be swept along with no direction or purpose.

Every day we have the opportunity to start fresh, to let go of what isn’t working, and to focus on new possibilities. Every day we have the opportunity to reach out to God and to others. Every day we can begin anew with grace, forgiveness, and love.

Years ago, I was part of a team that developed a class for people in chronic illness and pain. The following was one of the handouts I developed. I share it with you now as it speaks to life in general.

Letting Go – Taking Control

“If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.”
Victor Frankl

To experience freedom and create meaning in our lives, we must let go of the past while taking control of the present and future.

Letting go means:

  • Removing my masks – becoming honest with myself and others
  • I can laugh – I can cry – I can feel my pain – and it’s okay
  • Transcending my fears: facing death, disability, hardships, disappointments
  • Grieving my losses
  • Asking for and receiving help
  • Accepting things I cannot change

Taking control means:

  • Discovering the real, genuine, authentic me
  • Spending time with myself
  • Focusing on what I can do – not what I can’t do
  • Choosing hope over despair – the positive versus the negative
  • Soaring like an eagle
  • Believing I have choices and that I am making those choices every day
  • Enjoying each step forward – there is no step too small or too large
  • Looking for and finding opportunities within every situation

dancerProblems, disappointment, life situations CANNOT keep me from:

  • Exploring new options
  • Setting new priorities and goals
  • Living life to the fullest
  • Developing a better quality of life

Problems, tragedies, and losses CAN help me:

  • Discover great, hidden strengths and determination
  • Create new and exciting meaning for my life
  • Transform “who I was” to “who I am becoming”
  • Develop awareness and appreciation for myself and my world

Building a Bridge

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A bridge takes you from one side of a divide to another.

When you are transitioning from a loss, you need to build a bridge from your ending to a new beginning.

Making a transition from unwanted endings is never easy. In fact, it can be very painful at times.

After the death of my husband at a time when our professional careers were diminishing, my loss created enormous changes in my life. Yet, as difficult and unwelcome as this loss was, I made some important discoveries about myself that resulted in new meaning and enjoyment for life again.

You might think the time spent here can only be repetitive and unproductive. You just want to move on. But the work done during this time can be invaluable. It can keep you from repeating the same mistakes or continuing to apply outdated and outlived information to your life. This is a time when new options pop up that you would never have thought of or considered before.

Making a transition is never a linear path.

It goes back and forth from what was to what is today and continues the process of acceptance and letting go and rebuilding.

Change is as important to our health ­– mental, spiritual and physical – as the air we breathe. Yet I am constantly amazed at the deep resistance we have to change.

We can’t go back and glue the pieces of our life together again. But we can pick up the pieces we need and find a new way to connect them.

At a workshop I gave a number of years ago, “Turn Your Gravel Pit into a Beautiful Garden,” I described how we can take the ugliness of our lives and turn it into something beautiful and positive. I used the example of the Butchart Gardens in Canada.

Turn Your Gravel Pit into A Beautiful Garden | focuswithmarlene.com

Those of you who have visited the site will remember the awe of that incredible garden that was once a huge gravel pit. You would never have thought it possible until you viewed the before and after pictures posted by their gift shop. It took an idea, turned into a vision and then a plan to make it happen.

No matter how bad the past, no matter what was destroyed, in the rubble that remains are the materials to create something beautiful and new. You are the architect and designer.

The same is true when we have suffered a great loss.

What we see in the moment is our whole life turned into rubble. But out of the remains comes a new beginning if we are willing to make it happen.

As you reflect on the ending you are completing and building that bridge to a new beginning, tell yourself that you are making some wonderful discoveries about yourself while exploring possibilities and potential for your future.

While experiencing distress you will feel anxious and sometimes angry. But you do not have to stay in that emotional space. You can choose to respond differently. You can use your emotions to work for important change.

However, if you think you MUST change something in order to feel better, you can get caught up in an emotional cycle of hurt, frustration, anger and resentment.

It is liberating to know that you have the ability to change how you think and respond to all of life’s circumstances.

Yes, you will get angry.

Yes, you will get disappointed.

Yes, you will at times want revenge.

But remaining in any of the states is not beneficial. Choose instead responses that move you forward.

  • Choice gives us freedom and responsibility
  • Choice gives us options
  • Choice requires awareness, acknowledgement, and acceptance
  • We choose our attitudes and the way we want to respond to life
  • We choose our behaviors – how we treat other people – we do not have to treat others like they treat us
  • We choose how we want to believe about ourselves and our world.

5 bridge-building questions

Hilly old bridge

Here are some questions you can ask to help you build that bridge. As you review and reflect, you’ll gain a better understanding of yourself, your abilities and possibilities.

  1. What part of the past is keeping you stuck, preventing you from moving forward?
  2. What fears are keeping you from crossing the bridge to a new life?
  3. What old beliefs, lifestyles, life scripts, assumptions, expectations, etc. are prohibiting you from exploring new options? (Life scripts tell us what we should do, have to do or must do.)
  4. Who do you want to become? Give yourself permission to explore.
  5. What new vistas and opportunities can you envision? Start making a list and expand it every day.

Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comIf you want more information about healing and moving forward from loss, you can find step-by-step ways to make that journey in my book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, available on Amazon.

Also, review my blog posts on that topic.

6 Tips for Making Successful Transitions

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“What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning.

The end is where we start from.”

— T.S. Eliot

We leave something of ourselves behind in our endings as we reach forward to a new beginning.

When endings are not adequately completed, it will be difficult to make a successful new beginning. We no longer feel pleasure or satisfaction in the things we used to do, and we get discouraged and disheartened with this uncertainty. We wonder, Can I have a meaningful life again?

Years ago, I attended a weekend college class led by guest lecturer, William Bridges, who wrote the book, Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change. In his book, he addressed the everyday transitions we make but seldom think about: getting married, becoming a parent, retirement, etc.

Each transition requires leaving behind who you were in order to embrace a new identity.

When leaving one world to move towards another, we go through a transitional period.

As humans we want to move immediately from an ending to a new beginning. We don’t want to feel the anxiety or uncertainty of an unknown future. We are uncomfortable not knowing where we are going. We want to be doing something – anything. So, we quickly bundle up our “baggage” into our backpacks and head out the door to find what we had before.

Bridges defined three stages involved in making a successful transition: an ending, a neutral zone, and finally, a new beginning.

The task of endings is to clarify and express our feelings as we grieve our loss. Mental and emotional energy is focused on healing. We may be required to make necessary decisions for the moment while at the same time struggling to come to terms with our loss and saying goodbye to what we had.

During the next stage, the neutral zone, we do work that will lead to a more successful new beginning. It is a time for reflection and evaluation, spending time alone with ourselves and God.

  • Who was I before?
  • Who am I today?
  • Who do I want to become?

This can be a very unsettling time as we face the question of what we want to do with the rest of our life.

As we enter the neutral zone, we leave our old identity behind. It is a time to challenge old assumptions and outgrown expectations. As we stop and examine our beliefs, our journey becomes a spiritual one as well as a psychological one. We become aware of our strengths and weaknesses as never before. In the neutral zone we are able to develop new insight and perspective.

During this period of uncertainty, everything may seem unproductive because we feel we are not going anywhere. While it may seem like we are wasting time to stop and reflect, it is an opportunity to gain a better understanding of who we are.

It becomes a bridge between the old and the new, helping us make more careful and measured plans for our future.

bridge over stream

Throughout our lifetime, we will make many transitions from one stage of life to another. Someone has said it takes about 18 months to 4 years to complete a major life transition.

In today’s world of instant responses, we want answers immediately. But just like grieving, it is not a journey we can race through. There will be immediate decisions we will be required to make but we need to take time to do this transitional reflective work.

6 ways to use reflection during the transition time period

  1. Spend some quiet time recalling the dreams you had in the past. Is there anything you want to revisit? What obstacles need to be cleared away in order to construct a new path forward.
  2. Where are you in your grieving? Endings involve acceptance and letting go. It doesn’t happen overnight. It is a process that takes time and goes up and down. But when grief no longer takes center stage, we can begin to focus on making a meaningful transition.
  3. Write yourself a letter. Dear (insert your own name). What obstacles are keeping you tied to the past or keeping you from doing what you want to do in the present? What past and unfinished business is keeping you locked in the past?
  4. If you are struggling with ongoing pain because of guilt, anger, or bitterness, take some time to just sit with it for a while. Don’t try to alter or change how you feel. Simply sit with your pain and tell it you are listening. Write down the valuable insights you receive.
  5. What valuable information are you learning about yourself? You are more than your past.
  6. In “How to Replace Critical Self-Talk with Affirmations,” you learned the value of repeating affirmations every day. As we continue to repeat statements that affirm our worth and ability, we are drawn to looking for the ways to make things happen.

Remember: Any journey has a beginning that began with an ending. It is an opportunity to not only reflect but develop new tools of living that will take you farther than you had imagined.

Developing Your Personal Plan of Action

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Moving Beyond Survival series.

This month, we have reflected on and became aware of our habits, both habits of thinking and habits of behaviors.

Go back and review the answers you gave to the questions asked in each of the four previous blog posts:

Which habits grabbed your attention?

Which current habits are helpful, and which are not?

Look at your list of potential habit changes and prioritize them. Which one would benefit you the most?

Any habit change requires starting small.

You may have two or three habits you want to start working on. Choose one. If you work on more than one at a time, you can quickly find yourself struggling to be consistent.

Begin by establishing an easy-to-follow daily routine.

What habits do you currently have that make it easy to maintain that routine?

Now choose a habit you want to replace or start and find a slot in that routine where you will most likely follow through.

Set up your environment and a cue to get your attention. For example, you want to walk or run every day. Take your shoes out of the closet and put them somewhere where you see them. Your cue will be the time you have designated. The shoes are in the environment waiting to be put on.

As you plan, remind yourself of the rewards you will receive. Many of them will be long-term rewards, such as better health. But you will begin to experience more immediate rewards too. You will feel better and more positive and energetic.

I bundle easy-to-do tasks together with other things.

For example, while fixing my breakfast, I do other necessary routine tasks in the kitchen. Sometimes, while preparing a meal, I do simple exercises such as stretching, knee bends, etc. In bundling them together, they get done without a lot of special consideration or extra time.

When planning your routine, don’t forget to include time-outs and relaxation and recreation times. I have a morning ritual that allows me to have my cup of morning coffee before I go to work in my office.

Don’t underrate the importance of your environment.

Design it for success. Certain behaviors will repeat themselves in certain environmental conditions.

What we see, we reach for.

Visual cues are the greatest catalyst of our behavior. A small change in what we see can lead to a big shift in what we do. If you are constantly distracted by your phone, put it away and designate a time to review calls.

If the environment of your home or office is always messy and chaotic, take time to organize and find a place for things. Enjoy how nice it looks and the ease of finding what you want.

Setting up such an environment can be the motivation to put things away at the end of each day before it becomes a mess. That can soon become a habit.

When you begin to make the habit changes that free you from procrastination or wasted time, you will find yourself becoming energized and motivated.


Habits happen with repetition. At some point they become instinctive. But in the beginning, it is important to be consistent.

As you move further towards a new productive and exciting life, consider the following.

  1. Make a list of the expectations or prospects you had for your life when you left home. How many of them came to pass? What factors kept them from happening? What new habits will help you reestablish your earlier goals or make even greater ones?
  2. What expectations do you have for your future? What will you do to help bring that about? How will those expectations require adjustment when you hit roadblocks?
  3. Create a vision of yourself moving forward. Close your eyes and see yourself doing the things you want to do. Keep that image in the forefront every day.
  4. Believe that you can make it. Go back and listen to the podcast episode on your inner critic. Challenge it every day. Put in place critical thinking.
  5. Review your achievements every day. Congratulate yourself for every little step you make. Don’t minimize any of them. It takes courage and determination to put new productive habits in place.

The following are books you might like to read that speak to habit changes and the enormous difference it can have in your life.

How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where you Want to Be, by Katy Milkman and Angela Duckworth

Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, by James Clear

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg

    Atomic Habits    The Power of Habit

4 Ways Habits Are Created

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Moving Beyond Survival series.

Change is ongoing throughout life. We will experience many ups and downs, bumps and bruises, most of which we take for granted.

It is when we encounter major upheavals and setbacks that it takes longer to get back on our feet. At those times we have the opportunity to reflect on what is working and what is not and explore new ways to improve our life and make our goals happen.

This month, we have been reflecting on how current habits can either help or hinder us.

In How to Replace Bad Habits With Beneficial Habits, you made a list of how you spent your days and the habits that either got things done or got in the way.

In Changing Negative Habits Formed During Childhood, you explored the messages you heard as a kid that resulted in many of the habits you have today.

In How to Replace Critical Self-Talk with Affirmations, you learned about your internal critic and how to replace it with critical thinking.

This week, I want to summarize how habits are created.

Behaviors repeated over and over eventually become a habit.

After a habit is formed, you don’t think about it; you just do it. The habit becomes the activating behavior, not thought or willpower.

For example, you decide to run each day for exercise. You establish the time and when that time arrives, it becomes your cue to put on your running shoes and move.

You don’t focus on how you feel; you only focus on your decision. After a number of repetitions, a habit is formed, and you no longer think about it.

When establishing a routine, decision and time frame become the motivation.

Behavior change

Atomic HabitsIn his book, Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results, James Clear states that all behavior is driven by the desire to solve a problem.

“Sometimes the problem is something good you notice and want. Sometimes the problem is pain, and you want to relieve it.”

Either way, you solve problems through establishing productive habits.

In defining a behavior change of any kind, James Clear indicates there are 4 stages involved.

First, there is a cue – that gets your attention.

Second, there is a craving or desire – you want this.

Then you respond to both of these so you can get your reward.

In creating good habits, he suggests that the cue be obvious, the craving, attractive, your response, easy, and the reward, satisfying.

When I established my habit of walking or exercising in some way each day, my cue was the designated time I set. My reward for following through was how good I felt after going for my walk.

To break a habit, you hide or make the cue invisible, you make the craving “unattractive,” and you make responding difficult.

If you have a sweet tooth, always craving that cookie, you probably have cookies or sweets around that are easy grab and eat. When you want to break that habit, you remove all cookies or sweets from your home. That is hiding the cue.

You remember that eating cookies only adds to the pounds you want to shed, so you are making the craving unattractive.

You replace this craving habit with something else that is both healthy and satisfying.

Cues get our attention.

sticky note on bathroom mirror

They prompt us to do something. They are a signal for action of some kind.

Cues can be used as reminders of things you want to do. When I have my outdoor sprinklers on, I put a large note on my kitchen counter or in my office where it is highly visible. The note states: Water on (time). Shut off (time).

I do the same when I have something slow-cooking in the kitchen. I set a timer in my office to remind me to go check within 10 minutes or so.

When I need to be somewhere I put a reminder note on my bathroom mirror the night before.

When you have a busy schedule, these reminder cues are priceless. These are different than writing it in your day planner. These are visible and quickly capture your attention.