Each week our minister, Michael Dowling, will put up a “Word for the Week” that we hope you will find thought-provoking and/or helpful… even if not overtly “religious”.

Please remember to check back to catch the new ones or scroll through some of the earlier ones.


Between stimulus and response…
Monday 20th May 2019

A quote from an anonymous book, as reported by the author Stephen Covey…

Between stimulus and response is a space.

In this space lies our freedom to choose our response.

In these choices lie our growth and our happiness.

Learned Optimism…

Monday 22nd April 2019

Is the glass half-full or half-empty?

This is the classic metaphorical question that speaks to the differing mindsets of optimism and pessimism. Optimism focusses more upon the positives in the situation, more upon the possibilities for positive change. Pessimism, in contrast, focusses more on the negatives, more upon the intractable difficulties.

None of us sees the world as it is. In a sense, it is more accurate to say that we see the world as we are. Those of a more negative and pessimistic mindset tend to ‘see’ more of the negativity in situations, in their life, in the world. In contrast, optimists ‘see’ more of the positive in situations; the world and life seems, to them, lighter and more hopeful.

“How’s that working out for you?”

This is really a better question than, “Which out of optimism and pessimism is more realistic?”

Neither optimism nor pessimism are truly ‘realistic.’

None of us have a direct interpretational access to ‘reality.’

Whether my mindset is habitually positive (optimistic) or negative (pessimistic), the key question is: “How’s that working out for me?”

If you happen to be habitually pessimistic, yet find that particular mindset empowering, enriching and life-giving, then go for it!

More often, however, if we are truly honest with ourselves, we can detect within the pessimistic mindset – and we can all be pessimistic from time to time – a strong tendency toward disempowerment and inertia. If we always see the negative in situations, then we tend to view any possible solution to the present problem in a negative light: “Why bother? That won’t work. There’s no use trying.” As pessimists, we often end up stuck, because we see no way out.

In fact, as a pessimist, I can become pretty darn pessimistic about ever becoming optimistic! I was born a pessimist, and I’m destined to die a pessimist… or am I?


The psychologist, Martin Seligman, is one of the founders of the so-called ‘Positive Psychology’ movement, where the focus shifts away from the myriad psychological ‘problems’ that beset people, to focus instead upon sources of strength and resilience, and approaches that allow us to flourish as human beings.

Seligman is famous for, early in his career, discovering and defining something called ‘Learned Helplessness,’ where early negative life experiences can cause us to lose hope in later situations; based on past experiences, where we had limited or no control, we then generalise this experience to other situations, where we stop looking for solutions to problems. We give up, because there is no way out. We have learned to be ‘helpless’; we have learned to be pessimistic of our ability to change things for the better.

Rather wonderfully, Seligman later followed up this unpleasant discovery of learned helplessness with a solution which he termed Learned Optimism. He has discovered, through empirically tested research, that it is actually possible to overcome learned helplessness. It is possible to change one’s mindset from pessimism to optimism. He has even created a catchy, easy-to-remember approach: the 3Ps and the 3Ds.

THE 3Ps OF PESSIMISM: Personal, Pervasive and Permanent

The pessimistic mindset is characterised by three ways of looking at the situation.


The present situation isn’t merely something that has happened, and which can, from time to time, happen to anyone. Instead, the present situation represents a personal failing. The situation is like it is (bad) because I am personally deficient in some way.


The present problem isn’t seen in isolation. (“I have a problem in this area of my life, and at this time.”) Instead, we ‘extrapolate’ and come to see this as illustrating how everything is problematic in some way. (“This is a stuff-up, just like everything else in life!”)


The present problem isn’t seen as temporary, as something that can and will change. Instead, it will forever remain a problem and there’s nothing that will change this.

THE 3Ds AS AN ANTIDOTE TO PESSIMISM: Dispute, Distance, and Distract


Pay attention! Notice the unconscious or semi-conscious habitual thought processes you engage in. Catch yourself when you start thinking negative or pessimistic thoughts. Challenge yourself and dispute these thought processes! “Where’s your evidence that everything is bad?!” “How do you know for a fact that nothing can be done about it?”


When you notice your thoughts habitually going down a negative track, you can shake up this thought pattern. Slap the wall or a table and yell “STOP!” to break the pattern. If the ‘negative situation’ you’re thinking about can be worked on and fixed, then work out when you can work on it and then resolve to attend to it at that time. In the meantime, don’t waste your time thinking about it!  One of the best ways to silence habitually negative unconscious or semi-conscious thought patterns is to focus your mind upon something else, ideally something that requires your full attention. When our mind is consciously focussed upon something specific and attention-demanding, it has less scope to go off with the fairies down some negative, pessimistic trail.


Psychologically ‘step outside yourself’ and watch your negative, pessimistic thought processes. This can be a very powerful thing to do, as it can induce a psychological shift whereby you are, in a sense, no longer a pessimistic thinker, but rather someone who is observing and witnessing pessimistic thinking, and contemplating its validity. This can activate our awareness that what we think about is actually a choice, rather than it being some automated, semi-conscious and self-destructive habit we have gotten into.

Book Reference:
Learned Optimism, Martin Seligman

Putting the ‘Big Rocks’ in first…
Monday 15th April 2019

The author Stephen Covey, in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, offers a powerful image to illustrate the importance of not only identifying that which is most important in our life, but also to ensure that this is given the attention that it deserves.

Consider a glass jar which you intend to fill with a variety of ‘things’: sand, small pebbles, larger pebbles, and also some big rocks. If we begin by first adding sand to the jar, and then the smaller pebbles, then the larger pebbles, by the time we get to the big rocks, there remains no space for them to fit. In contrast, if we put the Big Rocks in first, we discover that the pebbles and the sand can ‘fit in’ between the spaces around the big rocks. The key to using the space is that we simply must put the Big Rocks in first!

Unless we wish the important things (Big Rocks) in our life to be squeezed out by the unimportant (the pebbles, the sand), we simply must put the Big Rocks in first!

On Success & Happiness
Monday 8th April 2019

Some of us spend our lives in search of success, or perhaps in search of an elusive happiness. The great Viktor Frankl, Jewish psychiatrist and survivor of the horrors of Auschwitz, has a very different take on these two goals.

“Again and again I admonish my students, both in Europe and America: ‘Don’t aim at success – the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself, or as a by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to do what your conscious commands you to do, and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run – in the long run, I say! – success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it.'”

Preface to the 1991 edition of Man’s Search for Meaning.