When I was a little boy there was a TV show with a baggy old cloth cat who was a little loose at the seams. This cat told stories with various friends. ‘Bagpuss’ was supposed to be innocent entertainment.

Not in my mind.

Bagpuss scared the s**t out of me. I was convinced that this gentle, thickset toy cat was real and lived in our airing cupboard under the stairs.

I would walk by this cupboard, no, run by it, with a whirlwind of thoughts rushing through my mind about how this cat was going to ‘get me’.

I believed this based on the best thinking I had available to me at the time.

This thinking got me to a place where I believed a children’s TV character was in my house and out to get me.

I shared this story with my son earlier this week because he has a fear playing out at home and doesn’t want to go into certain rooms without someone else being around.

One of the benefits of being a professional coach is that the skills I have created over the years allow me to approach areas of my own life differently. Like these small parental challenges that come up regularly. And, as a parent, I have a few choices in terms of how to work with his fear.

I could ignore it.

I could chastise him, shame him, tell him to ‘sort it out’, try and punish him by threatening to take something he loves away unless he changes … all these tactics may get a result, but, they probably have a higher likelihood of closing him down and not helping him overcome his wonky thinking.

I didn’t want that. It’s not who I want to ‘be’ in the world.

I wanted to open him and his thinking up to other possibilities and tap into the infinite creativity that’s available to all of us all the time … once we get beyond our thinking.

So, my approach was to open, not close.

I don’t see his fear as a problem. It’s more of an opportunity for him to learn how to manage his mind.

We sat down and our conversation went something like this.

“Tell me what you think is in the toy room?”

“Well, it’s a granny with big red eyes.”

“Hmm, okay, where is she?”

“Well, I think she’s behind the dark windows in the playhouse.”

“Okay, have you ever seen her, in real life?”

“No. It’s a character from Minecraft, and she makes a scary noise.”

“Okay, so what do you think is happening in your mind?”

“I know, I know, dad, you’ve told me before that they’re only thoughts. I understand it’s my thinking.”

“Okay, if you understand that it’s just your thinking, then tell me why you won’t go in the room.”

“Well, I know it’s my thinking but just like when I have a dream and I’m asleep, but it feels so real that I get scared and think it’s going to get me.”

“I understand. And, as I’ve said before all our feelings come from our thinking. I’m exactly the same.”

“I’m bored now dad, can we stop now?”

“In a moment. You know, when I was a little boy there was a TV show I used to watch with a cat in it. I was convinced there was this big fat cat in one of the cupboards in the house. It was called Bagpuss. Every time I walked by the cupboard I would get scared and sometimes run by it if nobody was around because I was worried it might come out and attack me.”

“Really, a cat, called Bagpuss?”

“Yep, it seems so silly to me now. But, the reason I’m telling you this is because it’s really normal to be scared and actually believe our thoughts. So, don’t worry, there’s nothing wrong with you because you’re scared of going in that room.”

“Okay, dad.”

“Good. So, how about we do some practice.”

“Practice what?”

“Practice going into the room on your own. I’ll be right behind you and you can start to tell me when you get scared, take a moment to stop, and let me know what thoughts you’re having. Then, we can slow down and see if they are true and walk a little bit more. Maybe you can take a few deep breaths and concentrate on feeling your breathing in your tummy. How does that sound?”

“It sounds boring … but, okay, we can try.”

“Even though it sounds boring I’m sure we can have some fun with it, are you up for trying? Can we make an agreement that we can work on this and practice together? Anything is possible with practice, just like when you started riding your bike, remember?”

“Yes, I’ll give it a go. I promise. Can I go now?”

“Yes, darling, you can.”

Because I shared my own, and very human, personal experience of being scared as a child it opened him up to see things a different way.

Since we had this chat we have been practising, and he’s making progress. He’s not suddenly going to ‘get it’ 100% overnight but even 1% daily progress adds up to massive gains.

These situations are happening to everyone, all the time.

Our reality is actually one big made up story, based on how we ‘think’ things really are. It’s all perception. Just like when you’re asleep and dreaming and it feels real.

But yet, because we’re adults, the majority of us never stop to challenge those stories. We close ourselves, and others, down. We blame, get angry, point the finger, and run away — all driven by fear.

If we slow things down, just like I did with my son, and start to analyse the thoughts we’re having that feel really, really real, you start to change your experience of life. This works in any context.

You could be having a frustrating experience with a member of your team, or a disagreement with your partner or a friend.

If you slowed it right down and spent time talking with the person to find out what they’re thinking that’s instigating their actions it could open up a whole new dimension to your relationship and help both of you, forever.

You could explore creating some agreements, and practice developing things you’d like to change.

Slowing things down … being vulnerable by sharing an example of how you’ve felt the same, or done the same thing that’s annoying you … realising you are both humans doing the best you can in life … hold a loving, caring, and curious space for an authentic conversation to emerge from beyond the limited thinking … creating agreements … and practising.

And, be okay that it might take a little time. This morning I was on the running machine and had to stop after a few minutes to go to the loo. My son was in another room and, when he realised I wasn’t on the running machine, he panicked, ran to the bathroom door and opened it to find me in rather a compromising position. This is how our conversation went.

“What are you doing in here, daddy?”

“I’m on the toilet … what are you doing?”

“I, erm, didn’t know where you were.”

“Okay, well, I wouldn’t leave you. What kind of thoughts did you have before you ran to find me.”

“I dunno …”

“You do, slow down and tell me.”

“Well, I, thought you’d left me and I got scared.”

“Is that true, that I would leave you without telling you? Have I ever done that?”

“No, and you haven’t”

“Okay, good, so what could it be then?”

“My thinking … just like you and Bagpuss, right?”

“You got it, just like Bagpuss.”

“Oh, okay, see you in a minute.”

As I reflected afterwards, it felt like something landed inside him that was now playing out in the present moment. He was starting to ‘get’ how to manage his thoughts.

He’s not there yet, wherever there is, but he is making progress … and progress beats perfection each and every time.

Love and wellness,

David.

Ps. If you want to find out more about Bagpuss you can read this https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bagpuss and if you want to watch an actual show (be warned, it’s scary!) here’s a link to a YouTube video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a-ky9bRFG24

Picture courtesy of Bradford Museums and Galleries.

“There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.”
— William Shakespeare

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