Back To The Future

I remember well the impact this film had on my imagination back in 1985. Michael J. Fox appeared on ‘Wogan’ as an unknown young actor the day before the film premiered in the UK. Today he is well known for starring as ‘Marti’ in the epic time travelling trilogy alongside Christopher Lloyd as the unforgettable ‘Doc Brown’. He went on to star in numerous TV and film roles including Stuart Little and Spin City. In the midst of his sparkling career and at the tender age of only thirty, he was diagnosed with young-onset Parkinson’s disease. Having nursed elderly people suffering from the same condition, I can only say this must have come as devastating news. Being a progressive and debilitating disease, it can sap confidence and lead to depression and personality changes. Yet perhaps his greatest role lay ahead of him as he launched The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research in 2000. Whilst continuing to act and write, (Lucky Man published in 2002, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future published 2010, Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist, published in 2009) he primarily focused on raising awareness for Parkinson’s disease through the foundation he created.

By now, unless you have, or know someone with Parkinson’s, you’re probably wondering “what on earth has this to do with me?” In some ways, absolutely nothing! Yet Michael’s story reminds me of a tool I use with many of my clients. I call it the ‘Cycle of Success’. It has little to do with riding a bike and everything to do with making life work for you instead of against you. It works like this: there are four stages and each one determines the outcome of the next. Here’s how it works:

Stage One: Thought: leads to…

Stage Two: Emotion/Feeling: leading to…

Stage Three: Action: leading to…

Stage Four: The Result…

Which in turn leads to the next thought and the cycle continues.

For many of us this works negatively. However it is extremely effective when used positively. Let’s use Michael’s story as an example for both.

Negative example:

Thought: I’m thirty years old and have just been given a diagnosis which means the end of my career when it’s just taking off.

Emotion: Anger, sadness, grief, frustration, hopelessness, self pity

Action: Withdraws from the public eye, his family/friends

The Result: Becomes lonely, depressed, focusing on all that he has lost, including his dreams.

This result fuels the next thought which may go something like this ‘I might as well resign myself to being miserable. I can’t have an acting career like this.’

Ringing any bells for you?

Here’s the good news! This same cycle can help us have an amazing life despite what is thrown at us. Let’s look at what Michael actually did…

Thought: This diagnosis is so unfair. I’m thirty years old and in my prime. But do you know what? I’m still going to work on my career and focus on what I can do

Emotion/Feeling: Empowered, positive, hopeful, resourceful and uplifted

Action: Works through his frustration with his family/friends/doctor

Result: Continues to build his career moving into alternative directions, including writing

This result ultimately fuels his next thought about helping others through establishing the foundation. Ultimately he gets a career and positively impacts the lives of others.

Of course I have simplified the example with Michael. The reality is there are hundreds/thousands of cycles operating in our sub conscious and conscious minds. The trick is to become aware of what we are thinking, capture those thoughts and replace any negative thoughts with helpful ones. Only when we take control of our thinking can we steer our lives in the way we want to go. We cannot always help what happens to us but we can control how we respond to it. Use Michael’s story as a fabulous example of someone who has used the Cycle of Success to his advantage.  If he can, so can you!

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3 Responses to Back To The Future

  1. Tina Royles says:

    Excellent articel Alison, which also ties in with CBT with the thoughts – feelings – action, and also work with domestic violence victims/survivors around triggers, and perpetrator work also.
    Nice analogy with MJF – easy to understand and written with great insight. T

  2. Linda Larsen says:

    Hmmm. I know that cycle. Good application and example, Alison.

    • Alison says:

      Linda, you WROTE the cycle! As ever you are my inpsiration. I’m just thrilled to be able to put into practice some of what you taught me as a virtual mentor!

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