New Year’s Resolution: Don’t let Anxiety Drive your Behaviour

This Year it's going to happen....

This Year it’s going to happen….

The hi-pitched scream brought Linda running. The unfamiliar bedroom and pitch blackness were both confusing. Somewhere in the dark, I could hear her shouting: “Are you ok? Are you OK?”

Lying on the floor at the side of the bed, my knees and the side of my head hurt from a hard landing. But, the dented pride was worse than anything physical. I’d woken abruptly from a nightmare – then fallen out of bed. It was in the middle of playing soccer for Ireland in the Aviva Stadium. Given my athletic ability, that’s some leap of faith. While I actually have a couple of soccer medals, they were a reward for telling jokes on the bus, rather than any prowess on the pitch. Earlier that evening, I’d watched the Irish soccer team on TV. Shortly after falling asleep, I managed to secure a place on the Irish team, took a full volley shot at an open goal in front of 50,000 people, completely missed the ball and tumbled from a high mattress onto a tiled floor. Try explaining that to a wife who thinks you are having an acute myocardial infarction. The next morning, she almost had a heart attack herself, laughing, as I explained the dream. Yes, it’s hard to be a hero in my house.

Dream Interpretation: Typically, dreams are the way we ‘work out’ anxiety. The central messages can be easy enough to unravel and often relate to inner turmoil occurring in your life at the point in time. In this specific case, the issue was anxiety, the potential embarrassment of screwing up in public. As part of my job, I regularly make presentations to large audiences. But I was wrestling with a forthcoming ‘pitch’ – where we had to sell a difficult message to a particularly hostile group. To help work all of this out, my unconscious mind signed me up for the boys in green (#COYBIG). It was all going well, until I missed that ‘sitter’ and the crowd started jeering…. That’s how the day started…

Road Trip: Later that morning we took a road trip across Spain. About a million years ago, I’d learned a couple of hundred Portuguese words. Reckoning that this is ‘close’ to Spanish (not), I was confident of finding my way to a particular train station in the heart of Seville and then making the rest of the journey by bullet train to Madrid. Buy a map? No way, Jose. Not for someone with my language expertise! At a truck stop, located exactly in the middle of nowhere, no-one spoke English and they couldn’t understand a single word of my pigeon Portuguese. So, I resorted to sign language. Have you ever tried to mime a train going through a tunnel without appearing as a social deviant? It’s becoming clearer to me why I’ve never won the Christmas Charades Contest. On my third attempt at saying “Chu Chu” with a Spanish accent, Linda and Nicole (my youngest) staggered outside, doubled over, bursting out laughing. Here’s a good book title I’m thinking of working on: ‘How to amuse your family by making yourself look like a complete dope’. The anxiety:  Perhaps getting lost in the wild – ending our days as slaves on some Bull Farm in the Spanish prairies?  It’s probably because being ‘lost’ (even in a civilized place) makes us feel out of control.

Tattoo Parlor: Last weekend Nicole got her 1st tattoo, the Chinese symbol for ‘sisters’. She’s very close to her sister from County Meath, who was adopted at the same time. We found a tattoo artist in Bray whose claim to fame was ‘inking’ Brittany Spears. Hey, if it’s good enough for Brittany – it’s good enough for me. Yes, hit me baby one more time! Sounds like a slogan for a Donald Trump rally. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t persuade Nicole to avoid tattoos. So, I deployed the killer argument, rolling up my sleeves and showing off the scars. When I was a teenager there was a single tattoo artist in Dublin – a guy called Johnny Eagle operating in Bolton Street. By the age of 16, I’d accumulated 5 stupid tattoos – running down both forearms. One of them declared ‘Paul’, perhaps guarding against a future bout of Alzheimer’s when I’d forget my own name. Nicole’s anxiety? She wants to ‘grow up’ and appear as an adult, not a child. That concern underpinned her wish to get a tattoo (I’m trying to make the same point again i.e. anxiety is a huge driver of behaviour for all of us).

Hiding Shame: It seems like ancient history now, but when I secured my first managerial role, the tattoos protruding from the bottom of my shirt cuffs seemed incongruous. The solution was quirky. I bought 12 sets of tennis wrist-bands and single handedly invented the medical condition of ‘weak wrists.’ That behaviour was driven by shame/anxiety about those tattoos and what they signified at that time (working class, tough image). Some years later I bit the bullet and had the tattoos removed by skin graft and now ‘have the scars to prove it’. So, why relate these episodes? Because the first step in controlling your own behaviour, is to understand its cause.

Personal Psychology: Most people are fascinated by their own psychology. Yet we don’t always know why/how we’ve come to develop particular traits or ways of thinking/behaving. Many times we are following a sort-of invisible train track that guides our behaviour without conscious awareness. Now, here’s the deal for 2017. My New Years resolution is not something new. It’s the continuing goal of working on myself. By understanding myself better, I have a better chance of improving my interaction skills with others and monitoring my ‘self-talk’ to keep this positive and mentally healthy. In short, I want my behaviour to be driven by choice – not by anxiety. Not by fears, concerns or elements of a negative self-image which was laid down (like those train tracks), when I was much younger. We all need to repeat the mantra: “I’m the Chief Executive of my own life.” Hey, this year I’m even going to prove it.

Warm Regards to you and your family for the coming year.


PS:  Had a conversation during the week with Turlough O’Sullivan (formerly Director-General of IBEC, now CEO of Resolve). Commenting on the Reference Checking blog he said: “If I had to sum up 25+ years of business experience in 2 words it would be this: ‘Check References'” 

Funny Santa Stories: They run a Santa party for the members kids in St Annes’ golf club. Our ‘local Santa’ asked one young girl: “And what would you like for Christmas?” She said: “I told you yesterday in Arnott’s” (Dublin Department store which also has a Santa). I told that story to Dermot Murray who relayed the following. At a kids Christmas party  run by the Bank of Ireland, the person designated as Santa (now, that’s one job you never want to be deemed suitable for) was conscientious. He asked Dermot the name of his cat (Monty). At the party, Santa said to Dermot’s son: “If you are leaving some treats for Santa, keep them up high because last year Monty ate them all.” The reply: “We only got him in August!” Now, from a 6-year-old, that’s really magic.

PPS: Lighter Moment: Feeling Sluggish. On a recent golf trip, Joe Bell, told exactly 417 jokes. Most of them were ‘unprintable’; this one was certainly memorable. It might even help you with that New Year’s diet resolution. Look away immediately if you are of a sensitive disposition….

Guy goes to the doctor and complains that he’s feeling a bit sluggish. The Doctor takes down some general details and then asks him to describe his diet:

“My day kicks off great when I have a full Irish. Brown toast, 6 slices, mushrooms, beans and 3 eggs over easy. And, whatever else is in the fridge. I can’t stand waste.”

“Then, around 10, I’m normally a bit peckish. So, I have a small sandwich, ham, cheese, a yogurt, sometimes a few chicken wings. They make a great snack.”

“What do you do for lunch?” the doctor asked:

“Oh, the boss has recently installed a new canteen in work. It’s the business. I can’t walk past those chips without getting a bag. Maybe a cheeseburger with bacon and a lighter dessert – a mousse or something like that. You don’t want to ‘do the dog’ on it.”

“Mid afternoon, I usually get an energy dip. So, I go for something healthy – maybe nuts – in a Snickers Bar with a couple of packets of Salt ‘n Vinegar Tayto in a sandwich. Easy on the butter.”

The doctors eyes opened wider: “What would you typically eat for the evening meal?”

“I have to tell you, the wife is some cook. She puts on a terrific spread. Every evening at 6, I horse into a full 3-course roast dinner. Gravy, onion rings, the full nine yards. You can’t beat a small bowl of ice-cream to get that fully satisfied feeling along with a bottle of real lemonade to wash it down.”

“And, that would be it for the day?”

“No, no. After a few hours of TV, my stomach’s starting to rumble. Some nights I give herself a break and slip down to the chipper for a long Ray or a Batter Burger and chips with mushy peas. You need to get the greens in.”  

The Doctor Says: “Slip over to the coach and take off your clothes. I want to conduct a physical examination.”

As the doctor is walking across the consulting room he says to the patient. “Ah, I can see the problem straight away. You only have 1 Arse!”

Ease into the New Year with this story….a guy attended one of our music gigs just before Christmas. He was impressed by the fact that a group of ‘oul fellas’ were playing some modern music. Told me about a group in a small town in Kerry who are all in their late 70’s and early 80’s and still going strong. Their local ‘nickname’:  One Erection.

Check our website or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.



About Tandem Consulting

Paul Mooney holds a Ph.D. and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Industrial Sociology from Trinity College, along with a National Diploma in Industrial Relations (NCI). He has a post-Graduate Diploma and a Masters in Coaching from UCD. Paul, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, is widely recognised as an expert on organisation and individual change. He began his working life as a butcher in Dublin before moving into production management. He subsequently held a number of human resource positions in Ireland and Asia - with General Electric and Sterling Drug. Between 2007 and 2010, Paul held the position of President, National College of Ireland. Paul is currently Managing Partner of Tandem Consulting, a team of senior OD and change specialists. He has run consulting assignments in 20+ countries and is the author of 12 books. Areas of expertise include: • Organisational Development/Change & conflict resolution • Leadership Development/Executive Coaching • Human Resource Management/employee engagement
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One Response to New Year’s Resolution: Don’t let Anxiety Drive your Behaviour

  1. laurencemcgivern says:

    Lots of food for thought there as I too am still a work in progress . Happy new year to you and all the family

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