Monthly Archives: October 2014

Recovery from low moods is generally a gradual process

OK. Let’s suppose you’re having a bad day – a really bad day – and out of the blue someone tells you a joke, or you see something funny online or on TV.

You laugh.

Does this change your underlying mood? Is everything suddenly fine and dandy again?

No, of course it isn’t. But yes, perhaps it is a little.

If you’ve been eating a poor diet for too long, one slice of raw carrot isn’t suddenly going to improve your health. But multiply this effect into several days of food that’s better for you, and things will unquestionably improve.

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The trick, I think, is in not turning your back on that small first chink of light in the mistaken assumption that nothing (NOTHING) will help.

Building a better state of mind is hardly ever the result of one large intervention, but a gradual process building on a range of different inputs.

A laugh here, a hug there, little conversations everywhere.

So the next time you’re mired in the glums, don’t dismiss that involuntary chuckle as meaningless.

It, and other perhaps tiny slices of positivity, are what will conspire to lift you back to where you belong.

How small objectives will get you through a bad day

The other day a newspaper had an article about ‘To Do’ lists. No doubt about it, they can help you organise your thoughts and prioritise things.

But at times they can also loom over you like a scary monster.

There may sometimes be days when the very act of getting from morning to evening can seem a monumental effort.

Add to this the requirement that you’ll also be crossing things off a long To Do list and you’re virtually certain to set yourself up for disappointment.

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One thought I did like in the article was that there’s always sense in recognising that some items on your list can be actions, while others are simply intentions.

Good to have the latter, but not so great if they distract you from day to day priorities.

You may, for instance, want to learn a new language, but you also have bills to pay and wellbeing (your own especially) to take care of.

The language lessons can almost certainly wait. But the bills and wellbeing can’t.

So if things aren’t perfect for you anytime soon, please remember that it makes sense to focus on a very few genuine priorities.

For the rest, there’s always Google Translate.

Share others’ loads but don’t carry them

Although I’m personally not a prolific Tweeter or Facebooker, I check both sites on a pretty regular basis to see what friends and those I follow are up to.

It’s fascinating to recognise two very different styles amongst those who are prodigious in their content generation. It seems some people are overwhelmingly positive and light-hearted in their posts, while others dwell on the negative.

And I suppose this online behaviour just reflects real life. I’m sure we all know people who appear to radiate light wherever they go, and others who cast a sense of grey glumness over everything.

Social media makes it relatively easy to avoid seeing the posts of gloom-mongers, if you wish.

Not so simple in the real world however, particularly if they’re people with whom you need to have regular contact, for one reason or another.

Although emotions can be contagious (if you’re not careful, someone else’s misery can get through to you too) it seems to help if you’re determined to see someone else’s burden as something you can help with, rather than needing to take its full weight on your own shoulders.

Just as they seemingly can’t deal with it on their own, neither will you be able to.

Share the load, by all means, but don’t try to carry it for them.

Why it can help to put things away in boxes

You sometimes hear people say that they’re ‘closing the door’ on a certain incident, or a particular part of their life.

They’re putting it behind them, moving on from it.

Although closing the door is a figure of speech, it’s also something you physically do plenty of times a day.

Generally a good idea, too, if you want your valuables to be still there when you get home.

However I reckon you can link the physical action with its figure of speech meaning, whenever you need to.

It often makes sense to compartmentalise life so that certain parts are in certain boxes, and you’re not trying to cope with all your stuff all at once.

Gets tricky, that.

So if you’ve been worrying about something while you’ve been driving, literally tell yourself that you’ll leave it in the car as you shut the door.

If work’s getting to you, reassure yourself that you’re putting it behind you as the door closes at the end of the day.

Last one out? Lock it, and bolt it too.

What you can change, and what you can’t

Kermit had a point when he grumbled that it’s not easy being green.

His argument was that being green made him blend in with so many things, which sort of ignores the evolutionary benefits of camouflage, but we do get what he meant.

The big thing of course is that Kermit was, is, and always will be green.

You’re a frog for goodness’ sake, man.

It’s easy to believe that things would be different for you if they weren’t as they are.

You’d be happier if you did this or that. You’d be better off if things were different. You’d be more content if only, if only.

Sometimes, of course, change is possible. But only sometimes.

So if you can’t change something, isn’t it better to simply accept it?

If you’re a frog, you’re green, and that’s the way it’s always going to be.

Surely only a muppet could disagree with that.

When it’s important to ask for help

I like to think that when someone pauses forlornly at the foot of a long staircase in a railway station, loaded down with suitcases, it won’t be too long before a good Samaritan offers some help.

Perhaps it’s an idealistic way of viewing the world, but the bigger point I think is that when people can actually see you have a problem they’re more likely to come to your aid.

If it’s obvious that you’re struggling, it’s more or less human nature (or ought to be) for others to lend their support.

But whilst this theory may hold water, it only does so up to a point.

What happens, for instance, when you’re struggling inside? Heavy baggage doesn’t always take the form of suitcases.

When your load is mental rather than physical, it may not be evident to those around you.

And it’s at times like these that you may need to ask for help rather than simply expecting it to be offered to you on a plate.

Don’t struggle on alone when you need a hand. Do ask for it.

What to do when you’ve nothing to look forward to

As a kid, there’s always something to look forward to.

Christmas, your birthday, the weekend, summer, winter, spring, autumn. A new bike.

Generally a kid’s life is one big slice of anticipation, tinged with the frustration that nothing ever happens as quickly as you want it to.

But as the years pass by, it can sometimes seem that there’s less to look forward to. Life may feel humdrum, with a distinct absence of carrots dangling from the end of the stick.

However perhaps there’s a little, not unreasonable, trick that you can play on yourself.

Often we gain even more pleasure anticipating something than we do actually experiencing it.

So if it feels as though there are no big things to look forward to, actively anticipate the smaller.

When you’re working, imagine how good it will feel when you down tools at the end of the day.

Going to speak to a friend over the next few days? Visualise how warming this will be.

Reading a good book at the moment? Start to anticipate the feeling of getting stuck back into it before you do.

Even when you’re not a kid, there’s still always something to look forward to.

Sometimes, though, you have to seek it out.

Why it’s always a good day to be kind to others

Setting out just now to write a few words about kindness, I decided I’d first check the origin of the word ‘kind’.

Now I probably should have thought about this before, but there’s (I suppose obviously) shared heritage between the words ‘kind’ and ‘kin’. ‘Kin’ meaning family.

So technically if I tell you that you’ve been very kind to me, I’m letting you know that you’ve treated me as if we were both from the same family – which is all rather heartening, I reckon.

Although there’s probably not enough kindness in the world, it’s a resource that’s theoretically unlimited. Unlike coal, oil or gas it needn’t necessarily run out, as long as you and I keep generating it.

In general, kindness is contagious. If you’re kind to me, I’m more likely to be kind to someone else, and they’re more likely to pass it on to others too.

Even better, kindness is a gift that rewards the giver. When you show kindness to another person, your own reward system is also given a boost.

Great acts of kindness are fantastic. But lots of little acts build up to produce a similar effect too.

So why not be kind to yourself today, by being kind to others?

Tenacity is good but sometimes a different approach is called for

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

So suggested American educator Thomas Payne in his ‘Teacher’s Manual’ published in the first half of the 19th century.

Persistence, he argued, was the name of the game. Stick at things and you’ll get there, was his advice.

I reckon he was largely right.

But only largely.

Whilst there are times when tenacity clearly pays off, now and again it can also be the case that a different approach is called for.

It’ll take you a long time to bang nails in with a screwdriver, for instance, but switch to a hammer and the job will be done in a jiffy.

Someone (it may have been the author Rita Mae Brown, although some suggest it could have been dear old Albert Einstein) said that one definition of insanity is doing the same thing day after day and expecting a different result.

So which way is best? Well, both probably.

Focus and perseverance have a lot going for them.

But when things really aren’t working, so does stopping, thinking, and adopting a different approach.

How to become your own personal mood trainer

The other day I was pondering on how great it might be to have a personal mood trainer.

In much the same way that people appoint personal trainers to pep up their fitness, I love the idea of having a coach who’d encourage you each day to accomplish the things that can lead to a healthier and happier mind.

Any good fitness trainer begins by assessing their ‘client’, then day by day gets them doing more and more.

One more push-up. Another minute of jogging. Another length of the pool.

Over time these small steps become large leaps. Bit by bit seems the way to go.

I think a mood coach might encourage you to adopt a similar approach. I believe they’d gently push you to take one more, perhaps small, initiative today than you did yesterday. The same tomorrow.

It might be even slower than that, incremental change happening over weeks rather than days.

I reckon that the key focus should be on upping your game a little at a time.

So what small step might make you feel the tiniest bit better today?

Why not try it?

Then just a little more of the same tomorrow.