Re-invent Yourself!

You might think that it’s not easy to re-invent yourself especially with the same DNA!  But in reality, it can be done with some determination and conviction.

I’ve found in my 25+ years work as an author, director, developer and clinical psychologists at the Smart Therapy Centre that people often fail to realise that they can change themselves psychologically even at very profound levels.

We don’t have to be boxed into old, obsolete categories and versions of ourselves.  In fact, whenever we want to, we can decide who we would most like to be, and this change can be achieved much more easily than might be imagined.

Interestingly, if you are determined to change who you are, then it is best done by working from the inside-out by changing your inner attributes (like making yourself more mentally tough or more willing to cry or be vulnerable).  These changes then clearly show on the ‘outside’ to others who ‘read’ them and respond to them by treating you differently.  The changes also register on the ‘inside’ making the person subjectively feel like a completely different person – creating a win-win for everyone!   

To do this, all you need do, is change your behaviour (physical and mental) by changing what it is you focus your attention upon.

Let me give a brief example. 

Let’s say that you often end up doing what other people want you to do rather than what you want to do for yourself.  You feel ‘owned’ by others, as though you are ‘powerless’ in relation to them and you have no freedom to really be yourself.   

Over time, feeling coerced and at the behest of others, makes you feel bitter, envious, blaming and angry that you’re not getting what you truly want in life.  This bitterness means that you struggle to be kind to others and often leaves you behaving cynically and with cruelty.

After a sudden insight, you decide that being bitter and angry is just driving other people away from you and leaving you feeling desolate and lonely.  You notice that you barely have any friends left and are feeling miserable.  So, as a result you make a commitment to change yourself and undertake finding a way to do it.

Now, we know from cutting-edge neuroscience that whatever we pay attention to we will consolidate and learn, and it will become a bigger and bigger part of our physical brain and of our sense of self (the person we ‘believe’ we are) if we continue to focus our attention upon it. 

On this basis, we know that the more we pay attention the more we will pop-up millions of dendritic spines in our brains, that release ‘attractor’ chemicals towards other neurones and build synapses (connections) ‘devoted’ to the exact theme to which we are paying attention.  Thus, physically changing our brain. 

In this example, you suddenly see that you are paying undue attention to your anger, envy, bitterness, cynicism, cruelty and blame by ‘replaying’ these themes over and over (ruminating) in your mind.  This means that over time you will ‘behave’ more and more in accordance with those nasty little well-practised themes towards others.

You reflect even more.  What has caused you to develop these angry themes?  Are you just a horrible person?  Then, all at once you realise that it is because you fail to assert yourself properly in the first place and then feel coerced into meeting other peoples’ demands.  This is what makes you resentful, mean and cruel.

At this point you note that it is NOT because you were born cruel, or that you are intrinsically a mean, bitter or cynical person, but rather the problem has been that you have spent decades ruminating on ‘revenge’ themes because you just never learnt how to get fair outcomes by asserting yourself in the first place.  Not by any means a hanging offence!

So, what do you do?

First you must make a committed decision to change who you are.

Second, you need to think about exactly what type of person you would like to become.  In other words, which precise attributes matter to you.  On this basis, you might decide you would like to become assertive, kind, friendly and never cruel or cynical.

Third, you must identify which of your (current) unique attributes lend themselves well to the new you and then develop, expand and flaunt those fantastic attributes.  You note that you have always been a keen learner with a very curious and open mind.  Also, when you are not being cynical you can be kind as well as hilariously funny and make others feel very warm and happy around you.  You decide to pay lots of attention to these attributes and really expand and flaunt them at every opportunity.

Fourth, you must identify the current aspects of yourself that are simply getting in the way of developing your new identity.  You note that being unassertive in your behaviour sets off the whole cycle, so you determine to learn the complex skills of assertion.  Your good learning skills and curiosity will help you with this.  

You also note that you often have the harsh body language (voice tone, facial expressions) that go with bitterness and hostility and are so easily ‘read’ by others, so you decide to change these into more friendly versions of yourself.  You undertake to smile more, release the jaw, unclench the fists, nod more, have a softer, kinder voice tone.  It doesn’t matter if you don’t yet ‘feel’ that way, because you soon will, so long as you keep practising!

Also, as part of this step, you acknowledge that you must stop your ‘habitual’ mental behaviours of paying attention to thoughts, feelings, sensations images or memories that are in any way related to anger, blame, cruelty, envy and bitterness.  Give these themes absolutely no air-play time and simply make the decision to stop paying them any attention whatsoever, instead focussing your attention onto the new and constructive skills you are building in order to change yourself.     

There is an old saying that says you must kill the person you were in order to become the person you want to be.  This has a faint glimmer of truth, but the reality is much less violent!  Just spend lots of time paying attention to the inner attributes you would like to develop, making them a larger and larger part of your brain, and pay absolutely no attention to the things you would like to be rid of, allowing your unwanted synapses to break apart with ease.

Keep in mind that neural synapses break apart very quickly when they are no longer used and they correspondingly lose their input capacity – so changes (even large scale ones) can occur very quickly.  Before you know it, you will be thinking and behaving quite differently and you will subjectively ‘feel’ and, be treated by others, like a completely different person.  Your life outcomes will significantly improve.

If, at any stage, you would like assistance with this work, our ‘behavioural change experts’ at the Smart Therapy Centre in Fitzroy North  will be more than happy to help guide you in this process.

Let Your Vulnerability Shine Through

Over the decades in my work as a clinical psychologist at the Smart Therapy Centre, I have often seen people who have been put on medication for anxiety or depression following stressful life events (SLEs) like separation, divorce, job loss or exam failure.

Luckily most people don’t experience SLEs often in life, but sadly, sometimes things do go wrong. 

Still it is important to remember that SLEs occur for everyone, and as such they need to be viewed as a completely normal part of our lives even though they are distressing at the time.  In other words, there is no pathology present that actually requires medication.   

When we experience SLEs, all of us become physiologically agitated (due to increases in the brain neuromodulator called CRF), often resulting in increased anxiety, poor sleep and loss of appetite.  We may also feel more ‘fragile’ and unconfident or become demoralised and depressed (especially) if we cannot find solutions to our SLE.

I find in my work that the answer to this reaction is not to reach for medication (which can sometimes ‘numb’ the brain and make us less likely to seek effective solutions!), but rather to build new skills that improve our real-life situation, including the SLE.

There are usually many skills that need to be built following such an event.  One of these is the ability to be sad and cry about the SLE (and other distressing aspects of our lives) rather than ‘deflect’ into anxiety or depressive rumination. 

We are all inclined to deflect (and NOT cry) in the very moments where we actually need to come forward and face our devastation. 

This happens because letting ourselves ‘feel’ our sadness can seem very frightening – like it might never stop. But believe it or not, crying is one of the best ways to make our distress go away.  

Yet, crying can be a hard skill to develop for people who have been raised to believe it is ‘weak’ to cry.  Contrary to this weakness view, crying tends to reflect real inner strength and the courage to confront our vulnerability. 

Besides, it may be necessary for humans to cry.  This is because humans have very large brains that give rise to highly complex emotional states – that require some resolution (achieved during crying) if we are to stay emotionally open, robust and responsive throughout life.

When we cry, our brains hold us in a state of ‘sustained attention’ with our intense sadness while we release oxytocin and leucine-enkephalin, which are endorphins that reduce pain and elevate mood. 

As a result, our large neural networks devoted to the sadness theme(s) are activated while at the same time hormonally influenced to become less agitated and to feel less fraught and intense.  This makes us feel subjectively more open and better able to cope after a good cry.

Interestingly though, there is no need to actually ‘shed’ tears.  Some people have been so rigorously trained not to cry that they can no longer produce tears.  Other people are so sad (but desperately trying to pretend they are not sad) that they have ‘blocked’ their own ability to cry. 

In either case, to solve these problems you can just privately go through the ‘motions’ of crying without tears and very soon with practice, the healing tears will flow again.

Sometimes, when people suffer profound sadness they may need to cry very often for many months, but most distressed people only need to cry for a few minutes daily or a few minutes a few times a week (depending on the intrinsic grief at the heart of their SLE) to help resolve their sadness.   

What’s more, you don’t even need to know exactly why you are crying in order for your brain to calm your distress.  Sometimes people cry without this conscious knowledge and their brains nonetheless simply take care of their grief and hormonal responses, and they feel so much more relaxed and able to cope afterwards.

In any case, when you have finished crying, simply move your thinking onto something constructive in your life like an interesting hobby or new endeavours that might help propel you forward following your SLE like working on your CV or studying or joining various interest groups.

If you need any help with any of these skills, at the Smart Therapy Centre we are experts in behavioural change, so we can coach you and track your progress to make things a little easier.

You Can Do It, If You Really Want!


Diving in the first few times is hard, but after a while it just becomes fun!

In my decades of work as a director, developer, author and clinical psychologist at the Smart Therapy Centre I have found that it is not easy to get people to take the plunge into unknown waters! 

But if we want to survive life well and be the best we can, then taking the plunge and continually learning new skills is not just exciting but absolutely essential!

In fact, I would say that almost every person I have ever seen in my clinical work is there because they have experienced a life-changing event (big or small) that has moved them into unknown territory, and they no longer have the necessary skills to allow them to move forward in this new context. 

When we are in this holding pattern, unable to get the traction to progress, we often experience anxious and depressive emotions and thinking styles that are not helpful.  We may also employ many self-sabotaging behaviours like alcohol, drugs, over-eating, outbursts of rage or stubborn sulking as we try to cope.  But these old habits prove useless and only make matters worse.

Instead we must learn not to focus on our negative emotions, but rather simply treat them as a ‘signal’ that we need to learn new and better skills in order to regain the motivation to once again propel ourselves forward. 

In reality, when we lack skills we simply don’t know how to progress, and it is easy to feel defeated and unmotivated.  After all, we humans only have one brain and (unfortunately) we don’t know what we don’t know.

To get around this dilemma, we can often learn these skills by watching other people who are doing well and simply copying their behaviour.  We don’t necessarily need to be super-analytical about it, we can just decide to adopt a new useful behaviour that might give us a better outcome. 

For example, if we keep having outbursts of anger that keep driving other people away, leaving us isolated and alone – we can observe others who do not express anger and who instead always remain friendly and cooperative (especially when negotiating conflict). 

We can just decide to copy them and take any signs of our own anger (even the most subtle signs) off our repertoire.  For example, we simply make the decision to smile and approach others more and make our face and physical gestures friendly (even if we don’t initially feel it).  We can listen more and nod our heads and establish rapport, remaining calm no matter what the situation.  We rationally discuss the issues at hand, putting arguments and countering arguments – while always staying relaxed and friendly. 

We might ‘choose’ to never (even once) use the ‘anger’ strategy for maybe a year and then reassess ourselves and see whether things have improved as a result.  Have we stopped driving others away; are we less isolated now; are we developing a friendship network; are we resolving conflicts better?  If yes, keep going – if no, try something else.      

In any case, if you are feeling stuck and need assistance with these types of issues, then at the Smart Therapy Centre we can coach you to develop both the skills and the fortitude to thrive in your life.  We are ‘behavioural change’ experts and we can teach and enable you to propel yourself forward – so that you learn to swim powerfully on your own!

Show Your True Self


Sometimes it’s hard to be brave! 

In my 25+ years of work as a clinical psychologist at the Smart Therapy Centre I notice that people especially struggle when they have come from a difficult background that has eroded their confidence and led to self-doubt.

But the reality is that other people also have limitations (often severe) yet there are many who manage to achieve success despite their rocky start in life. 

It is because of our subjective experience of self-doubt (where we feel flat and unmotivated) that it is very easy to over-estimate our own limitations and hide away from the world telling ourselves that other people are better suited to success. 

The truth is though, if you choose to use them, you have a unique set of attributes that can be played out during your life, but you must use them unashamedly so long as they are good for other people as well.  For example, you would never use anger, violence or blame unashamedly.  On the other hand, you might use hidden ambition, vigilance, intensity, opportunism, high expectations and having an eye for detail freely and to your advantage.

Keep in mind that it is precisely the combination of your unique attributes that make you truly different (and stand out) from other people. 

Interestingly, it is often exactly the things we desperately want to hide from the world that will make us great!

To do this though we have to learn to really use and ‘flaunt’ our difference and turn our self-doubt into useful self-reflection to tell us where we need most to improve!


‘Own’ your True Power!

Since the 1970’s women are taking the reins of power much more frequently, but the process is slower than many of us would ever have anticipated and self-made women are still barely represented on ‘rich lists’ or company boards.

To the extent that women have been successful, it is often attributed to their powerful communication skills and the fact that they are socialised to be excellent at the suite of ‘soft’ skills that are so necessary in management and leadership today.  Yet, women continue to struggle with the skills around mental toughness, initiative and autonomy that are more heavily socialised into men. 

On the other hand, the hierarchical, authoritarian and ‘hard’ management tools of the past are less valued than they once were, and men are now needing to learn how to be less authoritarian and instead learn how to collaborate, gently persuade and bring others with them.

In this climate of change many men and women are really struggling with how to move forward and build powerful careers.  

Added to this, there are many people who have come from difficult backgrounds and have been taught to severely doubt themselves and not trust their own judgement.  This can damage motivation and lead to years of anxious or depressive rumination, inaction and wasted opportunities.

Once we have many doubts and our brains are full of negative mentations, then it is often hard to have high motivation and see our pathway clearly and rationally as we are often overly focussed on those negative preoccupations. 

At this point it can be beneficial to recruit a ‘coach’ (or a brain outside our own brain!) to help ensure a more objective and systematic approach to our ambitions.

This coach could be a highly reliable partner, friend or a professional.  Whoever you choose must be clear about where you are heading and must be committed to you achieving systematic and daily incremental progress in your skills, including your perseverance skills. 

If this seems a bit difficult, you could engage an expert in ‘behavioural change’ at Dr Sallee McLaren’s Smart Therapy Centre and we can coach you to build the necessary motivation and skills, as well as teach you how to minimise your focus on anxiety and self-doubt, thereby allowing you to truly ‘own’ your power!

Muscle up to Success

Most people want to be successful.  We see celebrities 24/7 in the media, and it is easy to think that it just happens.

But this is rarely the case.  Success requires many skills and hard work.  While many people do the hard work, they will usually fail to progress if they lack essential skills.  The trouble is that it is not always obvious which skills are necessary and which pathways to take. 

One of my clients who wanted a powerful career but who had come from a difficult background said initially that she felt like she was ‘missing half the rule book’.  This missing information meant that (despite all her hard work) she had been struggling to make it on her own without the proper skill set.

At Dr Sallee McLaren’s Smart Therapy Centre we can give you the necessary support and if you want specific help and guidance to work out your pathway, the Smart Therapy Centre can provide it.  We can assist you to gain the ideas, skills and the muscle to make your success possible.  


Fight Back – HARD!

In my work as a clinical psychologist at the Smart Therapy Centre, I sometimes see women who have been attacked by men.  Mostly they are attacked by men they know well – usually in the privacy of their own homes.  This blog is not about these women.  However, occasionally violence against women occurs on the street and that is the topic of this blog. 

As well as my clinical work in the area, I was also once personally attacked on the street in an isolated area by a group of three young men.  While no one can ever give unequivocal advice for every situation, I believe the combination of my clinical and personal experience has given me some insights to share about this ‘street attack’ situation.

Firstly, research tells us that women who have learnt boxing or some form of self-defence are less likely to ever get attacked by men in the first place.  Perhaps these women exude more awareness and physical confidence. 

Certainly, when I was attacked, I had no training or skills whatsoever in self-defence.  Perhaps my lack of confidence was evident to others.  It is also worth noting that even though I have (for decades now) frequently walked around alone at night, I have never once felt even slightly threatened since I got my full-contact black belt in kick-boxing karate five years after the attack.  

Secondly, research is very clear that the outcome for attacked women is much better if they never allow themselves to get taken to the second location.  In other words, the fight needs to be had in the initial attack location where the perpetrator has less control over the situation.  This is where the perpetrator’s vulnerability can most easily be exploited, so even if threatened, don’t get in the boot of the car!

If attacked, the first location is where you need to ‘go for broke’ and give it everything you’ve got.  Run if you can, moving towards highly visible areas; behave unpredictably and super-ferociously – even if you are terrified; yell your head off continuously; disable the perpetrator by biting chunks of flesh, kneeing, punching, elbowing or kicking low.  Avoid at all costs being taken to the second location where the perpetrator has full-rein and can seriously do harm (or torture) in the privacy of his preferred location.

In my case, I was 7 months pregnant when I was attacked – so I was unable to run fast to escape.  My path was being blocked so I could not move through the hostile group.  I do remember yelling loudly and baring my teeth menacingly and ‘hissing’ intermittently like a ‘crazed’ animal in a display of aggression (despite being ABSOLUTELY terrified). 

Then, as they were closing in, simply as a reflex (because I didn’t know I was supposed to do this), I remember turning side-on to the most threatening perpetrator and elbowing him with both fists joined and clenched into his abdomen (around his solar plexus) HARD with all the force and momentum I could muster.  It must have winded him because he hit the footpath instantaneously and he was struggling to breathe.  To my complete amazement, the others then ran away leaving him on the ground and leaving me to hobble off as quickly as I could!

Over the years, I have thought a lot about this type of situation, and it seems to me that women need to learn to fight hard and viciously as well as getting serious much faster.  In my experience in karate I observed over and over again that men got serious (and extremely vicious!) much more quickly than women – who often continued to try and do ballet-like ‘technique’ strikes but were often unwilling to go in hard and hostile to land the forceful punches and kicks that were necessary to win fights. 

Also, in my clinic work, I often hear that women (to their detriment) tried to talk or laugh their way out of situations when the perpetrators were deadly serious from the outset and clear about what they intended to achieve.  

It is important to remember that when women do manage to get serious fast (as I have sometimes seen in karate) they can do extremely well in fights against men, and despite the size difference they seem to win as many as they lose.  I guess both genders have advantages and disadvantages.

But keep in mind, that on the street, you don’t have to win the fight – just damage the perpetrator enough to shock him, put him off or draw attention.  His motivation is always going to be far less than yours when you have your own life on the line.  You’ve just got to make it feel ‘too hard’ for him to bother to continue.

There is an old fighting rule that says the person who lands the first hard hit has a huge advantage over the person who receives that hit and often wins the fight.  So, don’t be passive!  Make sure you use every part of your body as a weapon.  There is ALWAYS a vulnerable area exposed by the perpetrator if you look for it. 

Remember to ALWAYS be a powerful advocate for yourself.  While we all know that it is an unquestionable ‘right’ for women (or anyone) to never be attacked even if we are lying naked in the gutter in an alcohol-induced coma – not all opportunistic perpetrators respect that perspective.    

Make sure you learn how to box (best option) or do a serious self-defence course.  At night, always be alert on the street and equipped with all your senses (no earphones) and keep very large distances between yourself and men.  Frequently turn around and look 360 degrees. 

If you hear someone behind, then turn around and boldly face them full-on while they are a long distance away and if they start getting too close then cross the street and keep watching them – making sure they know you are watching them.  Always be ready to run (so avoid high or stiletto shoes as they make it almost impossible to move with agility – a great strength of women).  If you find yourself, inadvertently wearing high heels or being more alcohol-affected than you intended, then never leave the safety of a group.   

Of course, it is sad that this type of discussion is even necessary.  It would be so much better if women and men cooperated and cared for each other and were best of friends. 

But the reality is, that if we want to stop street attacks on women, then women need to give perpetrators much more than they bargained for!    

Particularly, don’t fall for the old advice (largely from men, but often repeated by women) that you’ll get more hurt if you fight back – research tells us clearly that if you fight back (even minimally) you are more likely to get a far better outcome than if you are passive.  Certainly, that was my experience when I was attacked.

No one can do it like you!

There are about 7 billion people on earth now, but no one has what you’ve got.  Your unique blend of attributes, quirks and intelligence belongs exclusively to you.

It’s time now to harness these unique characteristics and present them to the world.    

If you need help with that, the Smart Therapy Centre can coach you to play your own hand and make you the best you can be.

You’ve Got The Power!

We all have dreams, but we must find the power to implement them!

You have that power within you, but it has to be unearthed, controlled and harnessed.  Free-floating and uncontrolled ambition only leads to discontent and frustration.   

At the Smart Therapy Centre, we coach you to stand strong and believe in yourself.  We will stay with you every step of the way while you discover your unique qualities and how to use them to achieve success.   

It’s time for your success!

We all want to try to be our best! 

Sometimes achievement is hard though, especially if things have been difficult in your early life.  You may have been so busy surviving that it was near impossible to focus on your own hopes and aspirations.

But once you are an adult you are free to dream again and control your own life.  No one can tell you how to think or feel.  You are your own person with your own unique contribution to make to the world. 

At the Smart Therapy Centre, we help you to remember your dreams and coach you all the way to success!