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Seize the day

Ever just jumped on a bus or a train on a whim? Remember the delicious feeling of bunking out of school for the afternoon? Misbehaving, breaking a rule or doing something you would never normally do is good for the soul.

Stephen Whelan used to work on a production line in a factory. He remembers one wintry Monday morning when he, his girlfriend and their little girl were setting out through a thin fall of snow to head to work.

"We had got as far as Janis's mam to drop off Roisin before we went to work. I had my bike to cycle to the factory and Janis was heading to the bus stop to go into town. We were moaning about how brutal it was going to work and leaving Roisin on a snowy day -- there wasn't a lot of snow, just enough to make snowballs. We had just left Roisin and were walking away and I said, 'I proclaim a family day off. Let's get Roisin and head back home.' The happiness I felt having made the decision and knowing work wasn't gonna happen that day was cool. Two phonecalls later and a little white lie about some ailment and we were free."

The great thing about that day, he says, is that all three of them, even Roisin, still remember it. They still talk about it. "When Roisin and Janis went to the shops and arrived back, I opened the door and Roisin got me with a snowball. To this day, when it snows she cracks up laughing about the time she got me with a snowball."

Taking a break from the old routine makes you feel more alive and makes for better memories. But it goes a lot deeper than that. Psychologist Ann Marie McMahon points out that while living a life without restraint isn't a good thing, nor is it good to be overly constrained, to never walk on the grass.

"It could be bound up in fear. If you're over fearful . . . if you're punished too much you will be afraid to break out into a new area for fear that you'll be punished for something ridiculous."

Nor does it have to be a fear of violence. "It could be to do with an over-controlling parent who has constantly taught a child to be afraid of everything, or a parent who was always worrying saying, 'Do you not realise how worried I am because you came in so late? Do you not realise the effect that had on me? Do you never think about me?' As you get older, those little voices will ring in your ear and you won't have the confidence to break out."

It's not all about giving yourself a one-off experience or a quick fix of freedom either. Exposing yourself to new things and taking risks can open the door to life-changing experiences.

Jane Downes, of Clearview Coaching Group, puts it like this: "If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you always got." If you're not happy, she says, your comfort zone is a lethal place to be.

"Fears build up beyond belief, because you're not stretching yourself, so then you become risk averse around everything in your life."

Unhappiness in one part of your life doesn't take long to spill over into the rest of it. "If your career isn't making you happy -- and don't get me wrong, every job has its tough days -- that energy is going to transfer into the rest of your life. You're going to feel low, so you're not going to have fun; it might affect family and romantic relationships. It's all inter-related."

When Trish Mahon was made redundant from her job as purchasing manager for a high-end furniture manufacturer in Dublin last year, her first thought was to try and get a similar job as quickly as possible. At 50, her priority

was to rack up a few more years and secure a pension ahead of retirement.

"I started out with this panic about restoring what was lost." She says. "It took a few months for me to realise that I could go for something that was really, well, passion based." She had trained as a veterinary nurse 25 years earlier and in

recent years had become a big fan of Jan Fennell -- a dog trainer based in Britain. Fennell pioneered a new way of dealing with man's best friend, and called it 'dog listening'. This, Trish decided, was what she wanted to do. Not everybody was supportive.

"My sister thought I had lost my marbles. She thought people wouldn't pay for remedial work with dogs."

Undaunted, Trish travelled to Britain to do a specialist training course to kickstart her new career. Things did not go well at first.

"When I landed in Scunthorpe, I thought what have I done? I've just put down a few thousand on this, and it just didn't look promising, and it didn't get any better when I got to the hotel."


Two days into the course, she changed her mind. "It just really hit me that this was it, that I was never going to do anything else. This is it for me."

She came home and set up About Your Dog -- Dog Training with Compassion. It's been a roaring success. She gets most of her business from people coming up to her in the park to ask who trained her dogs as they are so well behaved.

"If I hadn't taken the chance," says Trish, "it would never have happened."