You’re not that bright….

None of us are. We  like to think we’re smart, just how clever are we?  How many inspirational insights do we “tick” as being relevant, without really internalising them by absorbing them fully. 
One of my favourites is ‘do what you have always done, and you’ll get what you’ve always got.’ If you want a different outcome in life, you can’t keep doing the same things and expect a different result; I think Einstein defined this as insanity. But most of us keep doing what we’ve always done and wonder why we always get the same results.
 
An equally wise thinker, Aristotle, recognised that we are what we habitually do. And, of course, our thinking patterns are nothing if not habituated. We may think we are supremely intelligent, whether we attended the university of life, or other of hallowed halls of learning. But when it comes to thinking about our lives, what the hell happened to all those lofty dreams we had for ourselves when we were young?
The sad reality is that we rarely use our intelligence. Most of the time we live on autopilot; a classic example is driving somewhere without any conscious recollection of the journey. Far from being the personification of laser-focus, most of us often potter along life’s highway in a trance, most days.
 
One major misconception that what we believe is the result of long, continuous periods of careful, rational analysis. But the truth is that everything we encounter isn’t analysed. Instead we simply compare it to what we already know or believe: so it either confirms what we already know, or it’s rejected if it’s not in accord. We like being “right”, so we unconsciously seek out confirmation, and dismiss anything than contradicts our perceptions. And because we consistently do this, the older we are, the more entrenched our views tend to become.
 
We also do this retrospectively; we tend to revise memories to keep our view of how we used to be consistent with whom we believe ourselves to be now. How many times do we, or others, say “I knew that would happen” or “I had a feeling he was going to say that”? Both of these are examples of mental shortcuts, and they have influenced the way we think for most of our lives; the former is ‘confirmation bias’ and the latter is ‘hindsight bias. Have you ever noticed that politicians rarely if ever admit they were wrong in the past? Now you know why.
 
When it comes to deciding what we need to do, we all know what we SHOULD be doing. We all know what we NEED to be doing. We’re brilliantly effective at planning what we will do — tomorrow. Or next week. We’re crystal-clear in our mind about how to focused on what’s important and must be done. And, in our mind’s eye, we can visualise ourselves doing it. We have support mechanisms like post-it notes everywhere, and smart-phones programmed with reminders. We really know how to do what needs doing. When it’s in the future. A note to the wives: when your husband says he will do something, HE WILL DO IT. He doesn’t need reminding every six months!
 
How often have we delayed getting on with something important because we just need to check Facebook and want to know what our friends might be doing today? After all, that’s something we can get out of the way quite quickly. And we may well put the kettle on and have a cup of tea or coffee while we’re browsing what others are up to. And let’s just check our email why we’re at it, from where we find an irresistible news item about celebrity nipples, or “12 women that actually exit in real life (click here). And, of course, there are links to “five ways to beat procrastination” which might just come in useful. Although Google will also tempt us with 5, 11, 26, 17, or 8 scientifically proven ways to beat procrastination, or 6 ways celebrities beat procrastination, or the 8 best ways of wasting your time, or the 5 most revealing cleavages/budgie-smugglers EVER.  Needless to say (so why did I write it and why are you reading this) there are also all those productivity apps that enable us to have a list at our fingertips of things we really must get around to thinking about considering doing.
 
But let’s not rush into this. Let’s think about it for a moment, and explore some of the underlying issues. If you were today offered a choice of dessert for tomorrow, of fruit or ice-cream, which would you choose? The healthy option? If you were offered dessert now, what would you choose now? Chances are you may well opt for ice-cream.
 
Do you have a fridge crisper full of lettuce and green vegetables, which you piously bought, fully intending to eat, but somehow always got tempted by the lemon-drizzle cake instead, and eventually have to throw the lettuce away? The angel in you always suggests the healthy option tomorrow, but somehow the devil in you opts for naughty-but-nice….now. Have you ever noticed all that chocolate on sale at the supermarket check-out? You know why it’s there: impulse buying. If the kids are with us, we buy it for them. Naturally. When we’re on our own…?
 
We like to think we know ourselves. But we’re deluded again and again and again. How often do we practice testing whether something we think we know is actually true? We so often kid ourselves that the reason we can’t stick to a diet is because we’re weak-willed, so after a few attempts we give up and take solace in comfort food. We read articles that show most people put on weight after dieting, so this confirms our belief. We learn to live with what we become and learn not to try to become something else. We learn to stay stuck.
 
We learn to believe we can’t succeed. So we stop trying.
 
Or we can decide to stop thinking and just keep doing. Our minds will try and persuade us that we’ll never change. But now you know the insidious effects of confirmation bias, you now know it’s not real: it’s only a misperception.
 
After all, nothing succeeds like a parrot.

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.

Overthinking is over-rated

So much of our mental anguish seems to lead from overthinking and thoughts out of control. Can there be anything as troubling as the thoughts that take up residence in our heads and never leave?

Overthinking is particularly draining — going over the same issue again, and again, and again, and again… Why do we do this? If we lost our car keys and found them again after frisking ourselves a few times, and revisiting all the places we’d been to since leaving the car, we would never dream of repeating the search once the keys were safely to hand. So why would we spend time re-visiting thoughts that keep whirling around in our head? Do we imagine that we might somehow stumble on a detail that we have previously overlooked? Are we frenetically seeking a subtle omission? And supposing we indeed do find that missing element? How would we know? Chances are we’d look for something else as well.

Worry is not a friend. We might think that by being sensitive we’re keeping an important issue in the forefront of our mind. But show me someone who worries and I’ll bet your last Euro/dollar/pound/rouble that worry achieves nothing worth worrying about. We don’t trip over mountains. But little stones in the way seem to have a knack of destabilising us. Is that why worriers find it hard to get off to sleep? What better time for thoughts to race around in our heads when the lights and TV are switched off?

Do we think that we need to keep thinking because we need to keep thinking?

No. We need instead to stop thinking and let go. We also need to stop substituting analysing and planning for taking action: most of the time it’s far better to “ready, fire and then adjust the aim” rather than continually aiming. Doing is always better than thinking about wondering what we need to consider worrying about doing. But our minds often won’t let us let go. We revisit the past; we mentally stumble around in the future. One thing that perpetual overthinking seems to do is keep us locked into the past and the future, but rarely keep us focuses on the present. That’s thr power of uncertainty. Most of the time we let our thoughts do our thinking for us.

Why not learn how better to manage your thinking better and regain control?

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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Do you Overthink? Think about rumination…

Can you control your thoughts? Or do your thoughts control you? If you are hamstrung by a mind that is always on steroids, you might find some thoughts helpful.

I really don’t think we think very much about the way we think. Thoughts pop unbidden into our heads and we often tend just to accept them as being somehow “real”. Which is fine if we’re feeling great and on top of the proverbial world. But if our mind seems bound up with anxiety, worry, regret and angst, it’s time to think about … thinking.

It often starts with a trigger that starts you worrying. Then you worry so much that you can’t stop worrying. So you get annoyed with yourself and you get angry that you worry and can’t stop worrying. The racing mind goes into overdrive. One thought blurs into another, and another. And the fact that you can’t stop … worries you. And that’s the definition of anxiety.

Worrisome thoughts — endlessly playing in your head. They often seem to have a mind of their own, and our thinking turns into a vicious circle. We all worry, but women sometimes seem more prone to overthinking.

Someone may tell us that no amount of anxiety is EVER going to make any difference to anything that IS actually going to happen. Or not happen. So don’t worry! But the worry persists. So you continue to ….keep thinking about it.

So how do you stop?

You have to let go. “Easier said than done!” I hear you say. But perhaps it’s easier than you think. First, have a think about this.

The moment we are thinking, we become separate from what we are thinking about. Which is the conclusion drawn by the philosopher Descartes: “I think therefore I am.” He said that if he could reject each and every idea that could possibly be rejected, what he would always be left with is that he was a person who is doing the thinking. So Cogito ergo sum was coined (but his actual words (translated) were somewhat inelegant, but true none the less: “If I am thinking then I must be, somewhat.”)

What this means is that when it comes to thinking, there are two elements: You, the thinker and the thoughts you are thinking about. Let’s contrast that with another state of being, in which this separation doesn’t occur.

Do you ever remember a time when you were feeling so fantastic that you were inextricably bound up in the moment that you were part of what was happening? A blissful experience perhaps? Maybe you were so wrapped up in a movie or a book that you didn’t notice what is going on around you? Think about great experiences where you felt completely at one with what you were experiencing. A dream holiday. Being deeply in love. The most delicious meal you have ever eaten. Reaching level 25. We didn’t need to think about what was happening. We were there, in the zone. We were on fire. We were one with it. This is what some psychologists call “flow”. And children are great at this, aren’t they?

But us clever adults have brains and we learned to use them. So the instant we start thinking about an experience, we separate ourselves from that experience. We become the thinker AND the thing we are thinking about: a separate but connected unity.

That’s not a problem. Not until the thoughts start taking control. And when we can’t stop the thoughts buzzing around our head, we feel disconnected, disoriented, even dizzy. But when we try to stop thinking by thinking about stopping thinking, we keep worrying that we can’t stop thinking. And then we keep worrying about the worry that is worrying us. And we keep overthinking because we believe (wrongly) that if we think hard enough about something we will find the solution to what is worrying us.

At this point we have two choices. One is to keep doing what we have always done, in which case we get what we always got – a mind that won’t stop. Or we can do something different, and stop thinking.

We could go out for a walk on a windy day and wave our arms around to stop the wind blowing. Except that isn’t going to work. However, the wind will eventually die down of its own accord, whether or not you do anything.

The mind is a funny thing, but if you stop using it, it quietens down. So let it.

How many times have you seen people advise DISTRACTIONS? That’s good advice.

Go out for a walk and smell the flowers. Listen to the birds and just watch the clouds. Get into relaxed mode! Switch your phone off! Stop reading Facebook posts from people panicking or pretending their lives are awesome — unless you really do want to see a photo of their most recent meal. Do something you enjoy doing and don’t pay any attention to an inner demon telling you otherwise. NOT thinking is crucial. We don’t say we need to feel our feelings, so why do we need to keep thinking thoughts? Let go and you soon find you regain the control you lost.

Getting distracted is a great way to stop ruminating. And you will find that distractions do quieten down a galloping mind.

You may find it’s a temporary fix, and ruminators often do continue to overthink. That’s when you should take a close look at the Thrive Programme. When you have developed insights into your thinking style, and how your mind and your emotions link together, you will be in a much better position to control your thoughts — rather then letting your mind control you.

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.

Continue reading “Confused, conscious, and challenged”