Tony de Gouveia - Psychologist

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New Year???s Resolutions & Goal Setting

Posted by [email protected] on February 1, 2016 at 12:30 AM Comments comments (0)

As we approach the end of the old year and the beginning of the new year we become painfully aware of our deficiencies, shortcomings and failures over the year that was. We look in the mirror and it hits us- we are overwhelmed by a wave of enthusiasm-yes - we can lose 5 kgs, give up smoking, drinking or even gambling! We will have usually just come back from vacation, enthused, inspired and then make some initial uncoordinated attempts at changing; a few days later, we give up- despondent and disillusioned. Is this your pattern of year end euphoria and then despair? Have you just become another victim of the failed New Year’s resolution attempt- that widely understated and ignored statistic ?

What causes this widespread failure of such well-meaning good intentions? The answer lies in a lack of understanding as to how people change, particularly the role of habits. That well known guru of personal change, the late Steven Covey gave us a clue to the importance of habitual behaviour when he authored the book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” . The use of the word “habits”in the title is no accident. The reason is simple- 90% of our normal behaviour is based on our habits. We are creatures of habits- good, successful ones and bad, unsuccessful ones. So how long does it take to change a bad habit? The common response is 21 days or approximately 3 to 4 weeks; the problem is that most people give up before then.

Ok, you may be saying, so what? How do we get to develop good successful habits? The short answer is goal setting. To achieve we need a well defined set of goals. A goal is the real-time pursuit of a worthy objective until it is achieved. Goals create the necessary direction and purpose and focus our attention and thereby increase our motivation. It(Goal setting) is like a magnet that pulls us towards the target(s). Much has been written about Goal-setting and numerous acronyms abound which are meant to help us maximise the goal setting process. Since South Africa is a sport mad country, let’s use a SPORT Goal setting acronym.

S refers to Specific: our goals cannot be too general or vague; they need to be focussed on a specific area(eg weight, smoking etc). and essentially should be measurable(Kgs, centimetres, etc) with targets specified eg ideal weight. You need to remember that a goal without a number is just a slogan.

P refers to Personal: we need to take personal accountability and responsibility for our goals and they should be personally challenging and meaningful. No-one should be setting your goals and you shouldn’t be setting goals to please others. You need to create your definition of success and stop worrying about what everyone else thinks. Your most important goals need to be yours, aligned to your values; there is ideally a synergy and flow between them.

O refers to Overlearning(Practice). Like in the gym, you have to do your “reps”; “no strain no gain. It reminds us to keep working and persisting until we are through the 3 – 4 week window before a goal ie success behaviour becomes a habit. Persistence, a core feature of Resilience(discussed in a previous issue), is key

R refers to Realistic. This usually refers to the time-frame; There are no unrealistic goals- only unrealistic time-frames eg to lose 5 kgs in 5 days will never work. R also stands for recorded: when we write our goals down on paper they are far more motivational than when we say them silently to our selves.

T refers to the Time-frame. Unless a Time-frame is specified, there is no sense of urgency and the goal invariably doesn’t happen or gets postponed often indefinitely.

To conclude, there is an underlying factor that needs to be high-lighted, namely Confidence. Confidence is the enabler which allows us to carry out any goal, no matter how difficult it may be. This is elegantly illustrated in an extract from a quote* by Nelson Mandela at his inaugural speech:


“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that frightens us.

We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?

Actually, who are we not to be?...

We were born to manifest the glory of God that is within us.

It’s not just in some of us, it’s in everyone.”

A Return to Love by Marianne Williamson


Discovering your Meaning and Purpose in Life

Posted by [email protected] on February 1, 2016 at 12:10 AM Comments comments (0)

Discovering your Meaning and Purpose in Life

By Tony de Gouveia*

“The meaning of life is to give life meaning”

“Ever more people have the means to live but no meaning to live for”

Viktor Frankl, Psychiatrist and Auschwitz survivor

“What’s it all about, Alfie?” was the title/theme song of a popular 1960’s movie starring Micheal Caine.

It explored the life and loves of the very self-centered and egoistic lead character and ended up questioning what the meaning and purpose of his life was. It is a question we all have to face at some point in our lives. Nowadays people ask Google everything under the sun. One of the most commonly searched questions in the world is “What Is the Meaning of Life?” It was even on a more humourous note the title of a Monty Python movie(Mony Python and the Meaning of Life). If one looks for an answer on You-tube then many of the answers offered tend to come from a religious perspective.


Meaning is an issue that has challenged many philosophers and great intellectuals throughout the centuries and will continue to do so in the future. It is impossible in a short article like this one to do justice to the enormity of this issue and the volumes that have been written on it; one can only highlight and flag key aspects of the search.



The search for Meaning and Purpose- our “Why?” in life


This search(for meaning and purpose) requires discovering our “Why?” in life. Frankl(quoted above) is also known to have said “Those who have a ‘Why’ to live can bear almost any ‘How’ “ This painful truth is one he discovered through his very challenging and traumatic experience as the Camp doctor at Auschwitz concentration camp during the Second World War. Here he discovered from his role as a camp doctor that those who tended to survive(like he did) usually had a someone or something outside the camp that gave them a reason to live, to push themselves in an almost superhuman way to challenge the elements, weather and general camp circumstances and to beat the odds of surviving under such inhumane conditions.


Eventually Frankl combined many of his ideas into a new form of therapy called “Logotherapy” which used the whole concept of meaning(Logos) as a either a prime motivator in the positive sense when meaning is present in a person’s life or a prime de-motivator in the negative sense when meaning is absent.


So coming this all back to our personal reality, the question is- are YOU living a meaning centred/meaning oriented and purposeful life? When we look at the meaning of life we see two basic dimensions being looked at- ie whether it(meaning) is present or whether we are still searching for it. Most of us have no idea what we want to do with our lives. Even after we finish school. Even after we get a job. Even after we’re earning a salary or making money. So for many people the answer to this question is “still searching for it” and that’s ok, if you are 30 years old and under (matriculants and school-leavers take note!). If you are in your 40’s or 50’s, then this issue becomes more problematic.


Different approaches to finding Meaning


How do we find meaning and purpose when all our efforts in this regards have come to naught ?

Many different authors have different approaches; Some authors(Scott Peck, Steve Jobs and Kubler-Ross) have linked finding meaning in life by linking it with the concept of death by stating that when we contemplate our impending death, we come to the realization that our lives and what we do with the time we have is important .




Other authors(Suzy Welch) have come up with other techniques such as the 10 - 10 - 10 rule.

This rule is applied to whatever decision, action and project you are undertaking. It means that you analise the consequences of these decisions, actions and projects in 10 minutes, 10 months and 10 years from now. Another author(Mark Manson, 2014) reckons that we have mystified the concept of life purpose by making it special and unique instead of looking at it purely in terms of time usage

“ We exist on this earth for some undetermined period of time. During that time we do things. Some of these things are important. Some of them are unimportant. And those important things give our lives meaning and happiness. The unimportant ones basically just kill time.” According to him, when people say, “What should I do with my life?” or “What is my life purpose?” what they’re actually asking is: “What can I do with my time that is important?”


Some key Questions for determining the meaning in your life


Sometimes asking the right questions, much like the Greek and Roman Philosophers did, can provide a useful platform for discovering meaning and purpose in life.

Stephanie Wood(2014) posts 6 questions that can help in this regard:


1. As a child and back in my younger days, what experiences were the most memorable?

2. Who is my idol and why do I admire this person?

3. What are my core values and beliefs?

4. What causes are near and dear to my heart? And how can I use my professional credentials to help those causes?

5. What goals should I set for myself?

6. What do I want my legacy to be?


If, after contemplating these(and other) questions with the necessary time and diligence, you are still battling to find some direction, then it may be advisable for you to consult a professional Psychologist or Personal Coach/Counsellor in this regard.




A More Resilient You

Posted by [email protected] on January 31, 2016 at 11:35 AM Comments comments (0)

“A more Resilient You - Strategies for breaking Bad Habits and building Positive ones”

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit” Aristotle By Tony de Gouveia*

As mentioned in one of my previous “Born to Shine” articles, it is a known fact in the Psychology literature that Women, because of their role and position in society often experience higher levels of Stress than men. This puts them at higher risk for many stress ailments than their male counterparts. Resilience has been defined as the ability to “bounce back” from adversity, thrive on challenges, reach our full potential and have a positive impact on others. It suggests emerging from the adversity stronger and more resourceful. Interestingly, research conducted by the American Psychological Association(APA) into gender differences in men and women in the US Armed Forces have found that men and women do not differ when it comes to Resilience Resilience is linked to the ability to learn to live with ongoing fear and uncertainty, namely, the ability to show positive adaptation in spite of significant life adversities and the ability to adapt to difficult and challenging life experiences. In the current South Africa we live in, resilience has become a “rule of the game” if one wants to survive in our present business and social environment.

Enhancing your Resilience Core

According to Gail Wagnild, Phd, there are a number of actions one can take to strengthen what she terms your “resilience core”, which is made up a number of characteristics of resilience:


  1. A meaningful life(your purpose)
  2. Perseverance
  3. Self Reliance
  4. Equanimity(Balance)
  5. Acceptance of Existential Aloneness


Perserverance is the Key 

In this article we will focus on one of these characteristics namely Perseverance which in this author’s view is the key characteristic of Resilience. Perseverance refers to the ability to go on despite disappointment, difficulties and discouragement. Repeated failure and rejection can lead us to despondency and defeatism unless we master this key characteristic. It implies courage and emotional stamina which resilient women display in abundance.

The question then arises as to how we can build, develop and strengthen our perserverance? One of the key questions in this regard is: Am I able to stay focussed on my goals or am I easily distracted?

The Power of Habits

The answer to this question seems to lie, in this author’s view, in a common phenomenon known as our daily habits. Some of you may remember the classic Self Help Improvement guide entitled “The Seven Habits of Highly effective People” authored by the late Stephen Covey. In this book he highlighted the powerful role of habits in our lives, both positive and negative, because they are “...consistent, often unconscious patterns, they constantly, daily, express our character and produce our effectiveness...or ineffectiveness”. An example of this would be why do most of us go to work the same way every day? So it is habits that can keep up us on track and focussed on our goals.

Covey uses the metaphor(example) of the “pull” of gravity to explain the power of habits and that “lift off”(breaking out) of negative embedded habits such as criticalness, impatience, procrastination and selfishness will require a significant effort, much like a spaceship requires rocket power to get out of the orbit of a particular planet.In practical terms, it requires energy to kick us out of our orbit(comfort zone/bad habit) and to overcome the gravitational force(inertia) that keeps us there. Those of us who have tried to give up a bad habit like smoking, alcohol, drugs, or lose weight will know what is being referred to here. Those who have never had to do so, can try the following experiment: try wearing your wrist watch on the other arm for a few days and note how often you look at the wrong arm!

Thus habits both good and bad are formed, shaped maintained by repeated behaviour over a period of time(usually a minimum of 3- 6 weeks) until we do them automatically, without thinking and with little effort- like flying in auto-pilot. Once established, a habit can take weeks, even months to break, depending on the habit, so there is a saying ”Old habits die hard”.

Habit is a cable; we weave a thread of it

each day and it becomes so strong

we can not easily break it

Horace Mann

In this author’s counselling/coaching experience over 30 years, it is also important to provide a meaningful alternative habit to replace the negative one ie one must lay a positive foundation eg very often an alcoholic must create new supportive/friendship circle/lifestyle to replace his old “drinking buddies” circle/lifestyle centred around alcohol. This very action in and of itself can be daunting and the person may become “stuck” at this point. Thus in some instances the assistance of a therapist/counsellor/coach may be required.

In conclusion it is important to reflect on this process of habit change by remembering that nothing will change unless you have the drive to seriously follow through by forming and shaping the new habit until it becomes a true habit that is sustainable to the point that it becomes unconscious(ie without you consciously thinking of doing it eg driving a car). Also one needs to understand the role of repetition and persistence in creating new habits. If they can work in the classroom, they can work for you!

Tony de Gouveia is a Clinical Psychologist in Private Practice at the Akeso Clinic in Alberton (011) 907-2811/ 082 4565046

50 Years of James Bond- the ultimate Resilience hero?

Posted by [email protected] on January 5, 2016 at 5:20 PM Comments comments (0)

50 Years of James Bond- the ultimate Resilience hero?

by Tony de Gouveia Psychologist & Personal Coach

In 2012 the ultimate Spy hero, James Bond 007, penned by author Ian Flemming celebrated 50 yrs since the first Bond movie was produced in 1962, namely Dr No with Sean Connery starring in the role of Bond. Over the next five decades the role of Bond and his persona which had been initially shaped by Fleming’s books was further expanded by the many Bond movies and actors such as Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and more recently Daniel Craig who have since become legendary and iconic.

While the Bond movies have come to be associated with various factors such as the musical theme tune, beautiful women and fancy cars, it is perhaps time to look at the character of Bond in more detail in order to see what he teaches us about Resilience.

Resilience, as previously mentioned, is the ability to “bounce back” from adversity. It is this “bounce-back-ability” which we all need in our daily lives to deal with the stressors, disappointment loss etc that we have to deal with. It is also a characteristic central to the Bond persona in all of the Bond movies. There are countless examples where the Bond character is literally “on the ropes” but manages through some means to come back and save the day. Who will forget classic episodes from “Goldfinger”, “The world is not enough” Die another Day”, “Casino Royale” and others where Bond is literally centimetres from death but miraculously manages to evade it by pulling off some strategic, resilient manoeuvre which brings him back on course.

So what are these characteristics which make Bond so resilient?

If we measure him up against the generally accepted criteria for promoting one’s “Resilience core” as suggested by Gail Wagnild Phd then we see he possesses the following:

1 . A meaningful life(purpose) In the James Bond movies, his purpose is clearly defined by the mission given to him by his superiors. His mission, usually to prevent some evil terrorist from threatening world safety and order, defines his every move from day to day. He is always certain about what his purpose is and sticks to it religiously to the point where he is prepared to sacrifice his life for it and the cause.

So we need to ask ourselves whether we are as clear as Bond is about what our purpose in life is and what gives true meaning to our lives?

2. Perseverance

This characteristic, which in the authors view is the essence of Resilience, comes through in every Bond movie. No matter how much resistance he faces and however depleted his resources both mental and physical, Bond will dig deep and keep coming back to pursue his purpose no matter how difficult or trying things may be. In a number of movies he stays on the case or mission although his superiors have for various reasons taken him off it.

The question we need to ask here is: do we give up to soon? and, if so, what can we do to strengthen our levels of perseverance and stay-ability. One key factor at play here is our commitment to whatever it is we are doing.

3. Self Reliance

In James Bond’s world of espionage, just like in real life, you are very often on your own without support. This can be a lonely place and as such you need to be equipped to deal with having to rely on your own resources. To this end Bond is ably supplied with the latest technology by “Q” who gives him the wherewithal to deal with any eventuality, whether it is the latest Aston Martin equipped with a plethora of gadgets or a Rolex watch that enables him to leave the room(literally) by climbing the wall. Coming back to our reality, are you self reliant and autonomous or are you overly dependent on your family and friends? Also are you overly concerned about what other people think of you, overly dependent on their approval and unable to formulate your own view of life and life issues?

4 Equanimity(Balance)

When we think of balance, the whole work-life balance issue comes into focus. In the modern era this is becoming a key factor in the new world of work where the lines between work and rest are becoming blurred. Do we punctuate periods of hard work with periods of R&R(rest and relaxation)? This is certainly one area that we can learn a trick or two from James Bond. In almost every Bond movie he spends some time at either a resort or centre where he convalesces either between assignments or sometimes in the middle of an assignment. Bond understands the essential role of rest in restoring one’s energy levels and that there needs to be an equal flow between work and rest.

5. Acceptance of Existential Aloneness

We are born alone and we die alone. It(lonelineness) is a condition of our existence as humans that we all have to come to terms with. It is a condition that spies like Bond have to accept as part of the job. There are many scenes from Bond movies where he is literally on his own in some remote part of the planet without any backup of any sort. He also operates on the understanding that if caught, he is on his own. The questions are therefore- are you comfortable in your own skin?; are you comfortable in your own company? Are you happy with yourself?

In conclusion, after 50 years of James Bond, let us acknowledge one of the true resilient heroes of our era.

Tony de Gouveia is a Clinical Psychologist in Private Practice at the Akeso Clinic in Alberton (011) 907-2811/ 082 4565046