From Confusion to Clarity.

Life can be so confusing.

Those living happy lives invariably have clarity.

They’re clear on what life is generally all about, and they’re also clear how they fit in. They’re not perfectionists — getting 80% is pretty good for most assessments. But they have a good idea.

OK — that’s them — we all know there are people happy with their lot in life. But that may not be you. You may well want to be like that, or more like that. Maybe 60% certainty is a good interim aim for you. Especially if you’re not even 20% sure about life and how to get the best out of it.

Or perhaps even that is optimistic: maybe you’re someone who, when asked to score the quality of your life from 1-10, would say…. “ -1”. 

But even though the score is low, you’re not stupid. You’re not going to change from -1 to 8/10 overnight. But you do know one thing. You’re not happy with your current score! So how can things improve? It’s not as though you haven’t tried. You know you tried so many times to get fit, lose weight, manage personal finances better, find a loving relationship — and everything just fell apart.

Which, if you think about it,  is good  — because if you are honest —  you may not know how to get a great life — but you do know what didn’t work before!  So why not use that?

You know you want change. And if change is to bring about a better quality of life, it has to be a change that lasts. Everyone who wants to lose weight can lose weight. Keeping it off is the key. Anyone who wants to be more secure financially can save some money. But can they do that consistently?

So how to proceed?

One of the best ways to start to bring about a change for the better is to start by asking a question.

If you’re not happy with your life, why is that? If you lost something or someone, what do you take from that? If you’re overwhelmed, what can you do to get clarity? If you are fearful, how can you stop the fear paralysing you?

Once you start asking questions, you start to get answers.

But here’s the thing.

If the question is not a great question, the answer won’t be all that good. For example…

“Why can’t I lose weight??” might elicit the answer:

Because you’re a slob who eats junk food

It’s not a great answer, but it’s an ANSWER. It’s a starting point.

You want to improve the quality of your life. Well, why not begin by trying to get a better quality question.

Instead of “Why am I always so overweight?” why not ask “how could I lose weight AND enjoy the process??

Ask a better question, and what happens?  You get a better answer!

And, with a better answer, does that show you a path you could follow.

Questions produce clarity.

So ask a question. But if you don’t like the answer, aim for a better question.

Of course, it takes practice.

But so does the quality of life

What’s the question you could ask….?

First Aid when you are feeling low.

There are times when life catches us out, and our mood plummets. I’ve been thinking about some easy tips that can help deflect us from gloomy thoughts and low mood. I hope these three first-aid tips may help…

 
(1) Physiological control:
Stress is physical and its effects are actual physical consequence. Agitation, shallow breathing, raised pulse – the hormone adrenaline is flowing – and is physically felt.
 
Taking physiological control helps to calm, soothe, and slow down overthinking and racing thoughts, as well as pacify bodily systems hyped up by stress.
 
Breathe deeply and exhale shallow de-oxygenated air held in the lungs. Getting fresh air inside you will invigorate you. Ground yourself by naming and touching things around you, talk to yourself by naming what you can see and touch nearby, and even smell, if you have flowers or other aromatics nearby. This all deflects the mind — and as your mind can only deal with one thought at a time, intentional distractions shift the focus away from what was causing you stress and lessens their effect on you..
 
 
(2) Relate to someone
If you have a supportive partner, family member or friend, do tell them you are feeling low – they don’t need to know the details, only that you’re just feeling a bit low and would appreciate them being there for you, even for just a moment. Distractions through conversations also shift your focus away from stress. Everyone gets stressed out now and again, and everyone knows what it’s like. So, as we do far more for others we care about than we ever do for ourselves, just ask! Most will be grateful to you for calling on their support — even though your social anxiety may be sky-high and you may be reluctant to “burden” others; but the truth is that we like to be asked for help as it makes us feel valued, and gives us a shot of dopamine, the feel-good hormone.
 
Not convinced? A great way to “test” this is to try it out when you are NOT stressed. You can just say you’re feeling a bit down and could do with some support: nothing major, just a bit fed up — and see what happens. This is not to suggest trying it with everyone in the office! But trying it once or twice when you’re NOT feeling too deflated — or perhaps when you feel it might happen soon, and you may well be surprised just how supportive people can be. So when you really DO need help, you will know it’s literally there for the asking, rather than your inner critic telling you that you’re best not to bother anyone because no-one really cares.
(3) Regain your perspective: what has worked for you?
Do remember the words of Michael Montaigne: “My life has been full of misfortunes, most of which never happened.” If you can anticipate a worst-case scenario and know you can deal with that – you’ve massively empowered yourself. You KNOW you can cope. This deflects pressures and stresses from getting to you. Also, recall great moments in your life – really get fully back there to that fantastic time/joyful moment, and chest-bursting moment of pride. We’ve all had them, even though you may have forgotten! We don’t recall happy memories so much as re-create them. So make a conscious effort to recreate happier times. And, as you can only focus on one thought at a time, you take control and choose the thoughts you DO want to focus on, rather than the ones you don’t.
These aren’t intended as anything other than a “quick fix” to deflect those gloomy thoughts and deflated feelings. But hopefully they will give you ideas of practical steps you can take to move from thoughts controlling you, to you taking control of your thoughts.

A fullfilling life is not just an option: it’s there for everyone.

Life will always be challenging at times and we’ve all had setbacks. But these present a choice: they can lead us to survive, or they can challenge us to strive for something more than mere survival, or settling for the status quo. Those who flourish have learned to live beyond, not with stress, worry and anxiety.

But real though the experiences of the past were, what causes current stress, anxiety and despair is often us actively keeping the pain of the past very much alive in the present.

It may be tempting to assume that anxiety-related conditions are somehow medical disorders, for which there are two options: medication and therapy. There is also advice from well-meaning friends and family to ‘pull yourself together’. None of the options seem very effective.

Medication artificially alters brain chemistry and is not without side effects. Therapy can be protracted, expensive, and is often ineffective; if benefits do materialise, it is usually down to the particular skills of the individual therapist, rather than a particular therapeutic method per se. Well-meant advice to ‘deal with it’ and ‘get over it‘ is often as effective a way to eradicate depression and anxiety as asking a deaf person to listen more carefully.

But there is now overwhelming evidence that lives blighted by low mood and pessimism have more to do with the beliefs we hold today, about what happened in the past. Time heals, they say. But not when we actively maintain unpleasant experiences and keep them current. And, of course, because they figure prominently in our perceptions, particularly if they make us feel “worthless,” they continually influence how we perceive things today.

But it’s relatively easy to learn to let go. By learning how to relate our thinking styles to our behaviour, it’s much easier than many believe to abandon unhelpful perspectives, negative limiting beliefs and overly-critical self-talk, and to move beyond despair, so we blossom and flourish, living a full and happy life devoid of angst but replete with optomisim and resilience to deal with whatever life may throw our way.

If want to overcome the limitations that have held you back, you can learn how how to do that in just six-eight weekly or bi-weekly sessions.

Why not contact me to arrange a free no-obligation 40 minute consultation? It can literally set you up for life, no matter what happened in the past. Why not ask me how?

What can you DO when you’re depressed? Nothing? Maybe. Then again…

We’ve all been there. In a state of sadness. Sometimes we literally despair. Next day we might get over it, particularly if the sun is shining. But sometimes it doesn’t just go away. And when it persists, low mood can become so deeply depressing. One of the most debilitating effects of low mood – as typified by persistent worry, deep anxiety and depression – leads the mind to stay firmly focused on “what’s wrong”; this cognitive version of tunnel vision literally loses sight of “what’s right”. The psychological imbalance also seems highly resistant to what can be done to minimise the feeling of despair and gloominess.

But we can challenge our thoughts. We really can. Who said our thoughts always serve our best interests? Where is that written? Indeed, there is considerable evidence to show that it is precisely because we DO NOT challenge negative thoughts that they become more and more entrenched and deeply rooted. And don’t forget, our rational mind – for all the education it had – can’t overrule how we feel. Ask any regular dieter.

Perhaps the most debilitating effect of pathological worry, deep anxiety and the pit of cerebral despair itself–depression–is that soulless, cheerless feeling of anger without enthusiasm, leading the mind to stay firmly locked onto “what’s wrong”. This cognitive version of tunnel-vision literally loses sight of “what’s right”. Not only is it an imbalance; it’s highly resistant to any remotely positive perspectives. When challenged by any optimistic attempts to diminish the insidious feeling of mental angst and gloom, the mind can be downright bigoted.

Persistent low mood inexorably takes root within the deepest recesses of our mind, from whence it becomes a gloomy-grey filter, literally clouding out all other perspectives.  Most sufferers will know that only too well. And everyone would agree it is so difficult to feel motivated to challenge our morose thinking when we are in low mood mode. Which, for some, is all the time. Especially if we feel powerless in the downward spiral as our spirits plunge. So our self-esteem drops to the point where we feel worthless  as well as helpless. But there is an alternative to challenging our thinking, given that our rational mind is not all that strong when it comes to challenging how we feel. So…

Stop thinking.

When the language of self-talk has become all-or-nothing/black and white – “you’re a total failure” and “you can’t do anything right” – leading us to focus on all the things that went wrong, totally ignoring anything remotely positive, our emotional low becomes our “reality”. So we really do feel like a total failure.

Not only that, we become telepathic and imagine everyone can see our inner flaws. And, of course, we believe this will never change, and that we will remain useless and desperately sad for ever.

Wow! What a lot of … labelling … has taken place.

When we realise that our inner voice has become persistently pessimistic, it is definitely time to stop listening. If we become embroiled in a weary argument with errant friends and family, we often say “I’ve heard enough!!” So why not say this to ourselves?

Time to stop listening and stop thinking. Literally. Just telling ourselves we have “had ENOUGH!” can quieten our mind. So do that, and be ready to fill the moment, before your inner voice does.

Tempting though it is to take up permanent residence on the couch in front of mindless TV programmes, get up and move around, preferably vigorously! Feel the difference, but stop listening to what your mind may be telling you. If you feel tired and want to flop, just try this: no matter how exhausted you feel, tell yourself you WILL get up and take ten steps. A tired mind can never EVER prevent leg muscles from working. Try it! Just ten steps.  Don’t even think about it. If you’re doubtful, just test out the theory that you can get off the sofa. Test yourself. Take ten steps. That’s all.  Just to prove you can. What have you got to lose? There is nothing worth watching on TV, after all. So get up and take ten step.  Once you have taken ten, you have beaten inertia.

And that’s the time when it’s time to go for a walk. Don’t think about not wanting to. This is really important. It’s not time for a deeply introspective debate. It’s certainly not time to listen to your inner voice telling you that you really are going to be so much happier back on the sofa, channel-hopping for the least mind-numbingand tedious TV programme. Trust your long-subdued real-you to get some fresh air. If the sun is shining, so much the better – take the sun glasses, but hang them fashionably from the neck of your shirt, and feel the rays on your face. If it’s raining, just remember Billy Connolly’s wise observation that there is no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes. So dress accordingly. You won’t dissolve in rain.

While out, remember not to think, but do look around. Listen. The brain can only cope with a very limited number of stimuli (maybe only five or six) so tune into what your senses are alert to – listen for bird song, look for plants and trees, clouds, touch walls, windows (only your own!), feel the buzz of the city or the peace of the countryside. Do not even think of judging what you do or do not see.

Quicken your pace. It’s virtually impossible to stay gloomy while walking briskly. Feel what’s happening – your feet landing, arms swinging, head up, looking around. You are starting to get back in touch with feelings that you may have mislaid! Pay attention to what you can hear around you and the feelings of mud squelching under foot or the soft scuff of soles on the sidewalk/pavement.

After fifteen minutes or so you WILL feel better. That’s the time to realise you have literally taken the first steps back to the-real-you, that – deep down – you really do want to be. Again.

There is so much more you can do. Eat better for example. When we’re feeling low we may only feel like sugar-rich junk ‘food’. But healthier food fights fatigue. And makes us feel better. The trigger of the Golden Arches may momentarily make you drool, but do those chemical-laden fast-food burgers really ever make anyone feel great inside? Get some vitamins and Omega-3 oils (found in fish) inside you. They will make you feel better. They can’t not.

There are other things you can do. Key word here is “DOING”.

Do things you enjoy – or used to enjoy doing. Don’t think about whether or not it’s a good idea – just think Nike and JUST DO IT. Tell yourself you will assess whether or not it was worthwhile AFTER you’ve done it; not before.

Connect with people – a smile, a friendly greeting, or something you know you will be appreciated, like resuming contact with someone with whom we’ve been remiss at keeping in touch – we all have someone who would appreciate a call. Try a random act of kindness – there are lots of opportunities to help someone. The key thing here is to remember to not even think about NOT doing. Just do it and see if it helps. Do NOT imagine you can predict how you will feel. Although your inner voice will do just that.

I’m not so naive to imagine this is all some magic wand that will turn your life around. Only you can do that. But if you suspend your gloomy thoughts and negative self-talk for one morning or one afternoon, and do as many of these activities as you can, there is no way you won’t start feeling better. The more vigorously you engage in doing things that make you feel better, the more you start to undermine your feelings of powerlessness and despair. And who knows where that might lead you?

 

Is The Thrive Programme therapy, or counselling… ? NO!

People often ask us if the Thrive Programme is therapy, or like CBT, NLP, or Mindfulness or psychotherapy?  It isn’t any of these and is genuinely unique. So what sets the Thrive Programme apart?

One of the main differences between the Thrive Programme and interventions such as therapy/ NLP/ CBT/ Psychotherapy and counselling is that they sometimes have a patchy success record, and may or may not work for individual clients. Success with these often comes down to just how good the individual therapist is. Also, they may often involve lengthy treatments and can be quite expensive — especially for the top-performing therapists.

It’s quite understandable if people are reluctant to pursue “psychological interventions” if they perceive a stigma with mental health issues. But mens sana in corpore sano – a healthy mind in a healthy body – is something to which we all happily aspire.

But the very concept of “therapy” assumes the client is somehow ‘broken’ and in need of putting back together. However, the Thrive Programme doesn’t use ‘medical’ assumption that you have a debilitating condition that needs to be treated by a medical professional.

We don’t usually offer hypnotherapy. Although it may be tempting to go into a trance and wake up knowing the hypnotherapist has ‘transplanted’ replaced a faulty mindset with an improved one. Under hypnosis,  the client is often only been a passive recipient of someone else’s suggested solutions. But the foundation of whatever the referring symptom will probably still remain in place in the form of established cognitive (“hard-wired”) patterns. And these can be so ingrained they can be incredibly resistant to change.

The Thrive Programme focuses on systems of beliefs, thinking styles, and the self-talk language we use: you develop insights into how you think, and develop skills and resources to bring about changes that serve you better. And if it seems we go past the initial problem – phobias or depression/anxiety/worry — yes indeed! The aim is to get you Thriving, and as such you will find the worrying issues that brought you here just seem to disappear. What you end up with literally set you up for life.

All the principles are firmly underpinned by empirically published psychological research and the exercises will enable you genuinely to thrive.

Need proof of the effectiveness of Thrive?  Do check out the video testimonials from many of the thrivers who went through The Thrive programme: http://www.thriveprogramme.org/thrivers/

There are over 100 Thrive Programme consultants who can take you through the The Thrive Programme. I am currently the only one in Munster, or indeed in southern Eire. Do get in touch on (+353) 08385 88283 to discuss how I can help you through a free no-obligation 30-minute consultation.

See www.thrivewithjohn.eu for more information.

What do you think about mental health?

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So are we destined to be unhappy?

Is it me, or is unhappiness becoming more and more widespread? Show me a street and I will show you gloomy people where a smile is as rare as integrity in politicians. When I lived near a rail station one hour’s commuting time from London, I would often be on my way back from the gym as the 7pm arrival brought in hundreds of gloomy-faced commuters. Heads down; shoulders’ hunched; grim-faced; trudgery in motion. You’d think they were on their way to their execution.
Although modern life, in the West, at least, has ticked more and more boxes of human endeavour  — better health care, greater longevity, higher standards of education, instant communication world-wide, access to more knowledge in one day than we will even need in an entire lifetime; we are more widely travelled, and, tellingly, generally enjoy far greater prosperity. We don’t have to make do with our parents’ choice of marriage partners from the neighbouring village; and if our relationship doesn’t work out, we can quickly move onto another. We can, and do, seek employment or business opportunities from a global choice of offerings, rather than be limited to what’s available in the local neighbourhood.

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Confused, conscious, and challenged

I’m confused. Which is not unusual for anyone trying to understand modern life.
But I was pondering a paradox. We prize intelligence. We regard ourselves as the most intelligent species on the planet. And we are better educated than ever before in human history. Yet if we have the biggest brains (only the Neanderthals had bigger, but that’s another story!) why are so many people unhappy? Most people are dissatisfied with their lives; more than a few are downright unhappy and only a very few feel fulfilled. The quest for sustained happiness eludes us.

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The Quest for Happiness

Is the quest for happiness the ultimate endeavour? Why is happiness so elusive? Is it feasible to assume happiness can be sustained?
Although some people are happy much of the time, most others are mostly sad. Some are downright gloomy. There’s a word for that: dysphoria.
Might it be that it’s less a case of unhappiness is inevitable; could it be depression is widespread. Why do so many people seem unable to achieve or sustain a state of happiness? After all we were not “given” a pervading sense of gloom. Similarly we don’t “get” depression; I really think we DO depression. We create it. Our body language slumps; our speech and mind slows; we focus on what keeps us miserable. And we sit down, feel sorry for ourselves, push friends and family away, and the deepening spiral looms, in which depressive thoughts lead to lower mood.
Of course,  that’s not to say anyone can be immune from the impact of a stressful or traumatic event. Such will inevitably be a factor in triggering sadness and anxiety.
But we may also be instrumental in maintaining that state.
Most people assume that some are “born” lucky and other’s weren’t.

Continue reading “The Quest for Happiness”