Recently, I identified a new psychological syndrome. I call it the Pig Pen Phenomenon after the diminutive character in the Peanuts cartoon script. Pig Pen is the one with dust and dirt always swirling around him like the fallout from a nuclear blast. Wherever Pig Pen goes, airborne debris follows.

I observed this phenomenon one-day while talking with a client who had become depressed over a recent divorce. In his emotional blues, he quit exercising and gained thirty pounds. My friend became lethargic and his lethargy made his situation worse. It had gotten so bad that this twenty-eight year old started to doubt his ability to find anyone with whom to build a relationship. After all, he believed that his wife had left him because he wasn't good enough. Now, when he looks at himself in a mirror, he concludes that she was correct. Before this science teacher married, he worked-out daily at a local gym and was solid as a rock. However, he was now flabby and in an emotional malaise. Who would ever love him? Because of his feeling of unattractiveness and his general negative attitude about life, he wasn't dating. His image of himself became a self-fulfilling prophecy. He saw himself as a loser and was in the process of becoming one.

I pointed out to him that he was compounding a tragic divorce by his response to it. He ate too much, didn't exercise, and carried around a mantle of failure. Then I added that it wouldn't be long before his negative attitude would soon affect other areas of his life: his teaching, his family, and friends. I concluded by saying, "You are like Pig Pen bringing your cloud of dust and despair to everywhere you go." Granted, my friend's life hadn't always been fair, but he was going to depress even the sunny areas of his life with his clouds of his divorce-induced despair. Failure in one area of life bred additional failures in others. My depressed client agreed with my conclusion about his life and my concerns for his future. In response, he asked, "Well, how do I reverse this slide into total hopelessness?"

We made a list of his areas of concern: weight, exercise, and dating. Next, we set realistic goals for each area. His weight goal was to return to his pre-divorce weight. He gave himself three months to accomplish this task. We also talked about his body rebuilding goals. He set measurement targets for legs, arms, waist, and chest. This would take at least six months. The final objective had to do with finding people to date. I suggested networking with his friends to get suggestions from them for potential dates.

At this point, my client started to become negative again. "I already tried that method of finding a date, and it didn't work." I told him to try again-this time with a positive attitude. I explained that it was critical to work for success in one area of life and then go on to the next. If failure yields failure, then success will yield success. For example, when he starts to see progress on this weight goal, he will feel more capable of success in his body building efforts. This process of moving from one area to another area will build momentum so that he will soon be able to attack even larger tasks in the future. I told him that we would soon notice that his cloud of despair that had plagued him for so long would start to dissipate bringing brighter and sunnier days.

It wasn't long before my friend was looking a lot better. Within three months, he reached his target-weight. During that time, he went out on several dates although nothing has developed as of yet. However, the momentum of getting one of his goals realized has caused him to complete other languishing projects. He signed up for a refresher course in science and has plans to go backpacking in the Rockies next summer. In addition, he had revamped his budget and has new goals for his retirement plan. Even though Ms. Right hasn't come along yet, my friend has a far more positive mental attitude about himself. He is able to face unresolved issues better now because he has handled some of his other problems. My client's positive momentum about his life was beginning to pay big dividends for him.

Is the Pig Pen Phenomenon a part of your life? If so, you can use this prescription to cure the problem.