Walk the Thought

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Top 5 tips for healthier thinking

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Peace of mind.

I really enjoy researching and learning about what it takes to develop healthier thinking and have been privileged to have listened to some very inspiring and motivating speakers from various areas of psychology this year. As it is the last day of 2013, many of you will be reflecting on your year and what changes you would like to make in 2014. So in my final post of 2013, I would like to share with you the most helpful advice I have learnt and which I have found the most beneficial myself (they are by no means in order of priority).

1. Take personal responsibility: Who do you blame when things go wrong? If you look deep down, does your critic have a valid point? Insensitive words may have a good intention behind them. If so, swallow your pride and ask their advice on how to improve. If they are in fact a complete idiot that is not worthy of your time, then set about changing your situation. Yes, this may mean some temporary discomfort if you have to leave a job or a relationship you’re in, but nothing worth having comes without some sort of sacrifice.

2. Develop a flexible attitude: Many of our negative emotions come from inflexible expectations that we hold; usually over how other’s should behave around us. Have you ever been left feeling irritated because someone has pushed their way onto the train without letting you off first? We are all guilty of holding rigid expectations, ‘how dare they not wait for me to get off the train, everyone knows it’s polite to let people off first!’. Yes, in an ideal world, everyone would be polite and considerate but unfortunately there is no law that enforces this. Getting angry isn’t going to make your feel any better about it. Practice thinking in a more flexible way, ‘I really would have preferred it if that person/idiot had been polite and let me off first but they didn’t have too’.

3. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket: How many friends do you have (if you’re not guilty of it yourself) that pin all their happiness on their relationship or career? All their happiness is dependent on one factor and one factor only; you hear them say that without it, they just couldn’t bear it? Well that’s a recipe for disaster! Call me negative, but there are no certainties in life. If that one thing were to be taken away, they would have nothing and they would feel miserable. For your mental health, if nothing else, have a variety of goals or interests that give you an equal amount of satisfaction. You may be left feeling sad without one but at least your life will not feel empty and meaningless.

4. Don’t let anger fester and certainly don’t feed it: One of the most absurd things I’ve heard all year is that in Argentina, people (especially women) go to places where they can smash up office equipment to ‘relieve’ their anger. Upon first inspection this may sound like a good idea. I feel angry so I’ll take my anger out on something and then I’ll feel better. Fantastic but does that actually solve the problem or does it just treat the symptom? That amounts to taking painkillers to treat a whole in your head. How many of you when angry, instead of trying to resolve the issue, swept it under the carpet but went away and replayed the scenario in your head over and over again? Did it make you feel better or did it just feed your anger? Did it solve the problem? Do what you can to resolve the issue by talking about it to those concerned. If it can’t be resolved then change your attitude or your situation.

5. Recognise the difference between fact and prediction: Hands up if you’re a worrier. Hands up if you’re worried about something that hasn’t happened yet. You’ve probably heard this before, but I’ll say it again. The vast majority of our worries are based on something that we predict will happen, but in fact, never does. If you’re worried, write a list of all the evidence that you have to support that this worry will actually happen. How far did you get? Now write a list of all the ways that worrying is helping you? I bet that list was shorter than the first. Now think back to the last time you were worried, and the time before that. Did the thing you were worrying about actually happen as you imagined it? I bet not.

Have a wonderful New Year’s Eve: celebrate the good you’ve experienced this year, learn from the bad and do wonderful things in 2014!

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Talking of personal responsibility…

“[…] everything can be taken from a man but one last thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s own attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

(Frankl: 2008)

I first read this quote a few years ago. I had bought myself a book called, ‘Water Off a Duck’s Back: How to Deal with Frustrating Situations, Awkward, Exasperating and Manipulative People and… Keep Smiling!’ by Jon Lavelle. I bought this book because I had a boss at the time that I found awkward, exasperating, and definitely manipulative so this book seemed quite a find! The book was okay, but it was Viktor Frankl’s quote that the book referenced which set me on a path to a new way of thinking.

For those of you who might be unfamiliar with his work, Viktor Frankl was an Austrian Psychiatrist who survived imprisonment in concentration camps during WWII. The above quote is from his book, ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ (I really suggest you read it) and it concentrates on mapping the different stages of the prisoners’ mental states whilst being held in camps. In his book, Frankl talks of the men in his hut, who despite losing everything – possessions, family, health, physical freedom and who had faced daily and relentless degradation, continued to comfort others and share what little food they had.

Frankl’s quote resonated with me above everything else I read in Lavelle’s book. The idea that you could choose your attitude when confronted with adversity was a revelation to me (I feel a little embarrassed by this admission now), surely people make you feel a certain with how they treat you? In the situation I faced with my boss at the time, my emotions would range on a daily basis from anger, to anxiety, to depression and she was making me feel that way with how she treated me. At least that’s was I believed up until the point at which I read Frankl’s words; according to him I could choose my attitude and what better authority could I read those words from? It seemed easier said than done to me but I was determined to find out how I could learn to choose my reactions in a way that was more healthy for me.

It has been a journey learning to live Frankl’s philosophy. In response to the situation with my boss at the time, I decided to take Maya Angelou’s advise first which is, “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” I changed my situation and left my job as a teacher and undertook training in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). CBT teaches us that we are responsible for our emotions; not events or other people’s behaviour but our own beliefs that we can change with support and practice. So that’s was I do now, as a cognitive behavioural coach, I help people to take personal responsibility and change their attitude and at the same time, I have learnt to change mine.

Who do you blame when things go wrong?

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A few months ago, I attended a lecture given by Dr Raj Persaud, a Consultant Psychiatrist based in London. The subject of his lecture was motivation; a subject that links nicely to my post yesterday. Yesterday I spoke about the importance of considering the sacrifices you will need to make in the pursuit of your New Year’s resolution; if you want something badly enough, a good measure of your motivation is to think about what comforts you are willing to give up in order to achieve your goal.

Dr Persaud began his lecture by showing the audience a clip from Rocky Balboa (2006) in which Rocky’s son complains that sharing the ‘Balboa’ name has been difficult to live with and warns Rocky of the negative impact his impending fight will have on his own career. Rocky hits back at his son’s words with a humbling reminder of the virtues of personal responsibility and the importance of fighting on when things go wrong.

After we watched the clip, Dr Persaud explained that when it comes to motivation, there are two personality types: internalities and externalities. Individuals with internalities are those who are more likely to enjoy success in life because when something goes wrong, they will look first of all at what they could have done differently. Individuals with externalities are those who are less likely to enjoy success in life because when something goes wrong, they will look first of all at other individuals or events to blame.

Internalities, when exercising personal responsibility, have power.  They have power because if they find the fault with themselves, they can set about changing the fault, learn from their mistake and move forwards.

Externalities lack self awareness and the ability to exercise personal responsibility. By blaming other individuals or events, they are powerless as the ability to change these factors is outside their direct control. They will find themselves wallowing in self-pity and anger and will ultimately hold themselves back just as Rocky’s son would have done.

So when you face the first hurdle on your journey to fulfilling your New Year’s Resolution, or any goal for that matter (and you will face hurdles), think about which personality type you fit into: are you an internality or and externality?


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Something to Consider before you make your New Year’s Resolution

I don’t know about you but in the past, when it came to sticking to my New Year’s resolution, I’d usually come unstuck around February time (the beginning, not the end). Not great going really. I’d start the year with such enthusiasm for my new fitness regime with my plan of action all mapped out, only for it to fizzle out at when I realised just how much effort it required. I used all the usual excuses to justify giving up on my resolution, “I’ve got too much on at work”, “I’m too broke” or “I’m naturally more motivated in the summer, I’ll start then instead”.

The fact of the matter was, when it came to the inevitable sacrifices I would have to make to achieve my desired level of fitness: cutting back on socialising to pay for aerobics classes, getting up earlier to make time for a run or getting myself out of the house when it was dark and cold outside, I just wasn’t willing to tolerate the discomfort that sacrifice entails.

I’m not arguing that you shouldn’t commit to resolutions you don’t feel passionately about because I believe there are mitigating circumstances where you will commit to a New Year’s resolution you don’t feel particularly excited about. Giving up smoking is one example; you want to give up so that you’ll live long enough to see your children grow up but actually, you really enjoy it. It’s going to be tough.

My advice for staying on track with your New Year’s resolution is once you’ve established what your resolution will be, anticipating times of discomfort and planning for them are just as important as planning the steps you need to take to fulfil your goal. Think about the last time you achieved a goal and ask yourself these questions: Was it easy? What did you give up to achieve it? How did it feel to give those things up? How did you get through the discomfort? How did you feel when you achieved your goal? If you’re a very organised type who writes an action plan for how you’re going to achieve your New Year’s resolution, then include what comforts you anticipate giving up to achieve your goal and what will you do to help yourself tolerate them when confronted by them.

How about you? What past resolutions have you made and what tips would you give others for overcoming obstacles?

Good luck and remember:

“There is no failure except in no longer trying.”
– Elbert Hubbard