Monthly Archives: November 2014

How to stop spiralling negative thinking

In 1964, when John Lennon plucked a single guitar note at the beginning of The Beatles’ ‘I Feel Fine’, its sound issued from a loudspeaker where it was picked up once again by the guitar and returned to the speaker.

Round and round went the sound, causing distinctive ‘feedback’, the first time this phenomenon appeared on a commercial recording.


Thanks to producer George Martin, Lennon’s feedback was musical and under control.

But that’s not always the case. I’m sure we’ve all experienced the ear-splitting howl which results from a public address system whose volume is turned up to 11.

Now and then, a similar kind of behaviour can be exhibited by our thinking.

Thoughts go round and round, becoming amplified in the process.

If George Martin was at your controls, only the good stuff would be allowed in, and these circular thoughts would make you feel, well, fine.

In fact it’s you at the controls, of course, and if you’re anything like me, it may be the negative ideas which seem to resonate most.

An anxious view, a worried thought, can remain cascading with you for days if you’re not careful.

So quite simply don’t let it. Just as shielding a microphone, or turning the volume down, can prevent audio feedback, so you can deliberately tell yourself to Stop thinking those thoughts.

Nobody can tell you what to think.

But you can.

Pessimism, optimism, and the other more helpful -ism

What’s the point of pessimism?

One might imagine that it’s the optimists who will inherit the earth, leaving the pessimists to wallow in their general lack of hope and expectation.

After all, who’d want their glass half empty rather than half full?

Well. Let’s just stop and think about this for a second.


Imagine you and I were standing one side of a chasm. At its foot runs a piranha-infested river, and it’s – ooh – nine metres wide, a little over 29 feet 6 inches.

Your task? To jump to the other side.

As an eternal optimist you might declare ‘no problem’. ‘Go for it.’

This, however, would be foolish. In the extreme.

The world record for the men’s long jump currently stands at 8.95 metres (7.52 for the women’s) so even an Olympic athlete would end up as fish food.

The point about the confirmed pessimist is that he or she would probably shy away from the jump even if the gap was less than a metre.

But somewhere between these two extremes sits sensible behaviour, which I think we’d probably call being realistic.

I’m not sure about you, but on a bad day I find myself taking a very downcast view of the world, while longing to be the complete opposite, a total optimist.

Better, surely, to recognise that it’s being realistic about things which gives us the best hope of success.

Do you have more freedom than you imagine?

2 + 2 = ?

When you’re taught mathematics, you learn that there’s generally only one correct answer to a problem.


But the challenges we all face in life aren’t usually as clear-cut as this. Often we have are many potential solutions.

The trouble is, we frequently behave as if our options are severely limited.

We claim that we can’t change things. We moan that we have no choice. We grumble that we’re powerless.

That’s rarely the true case, though. You may have a lot more freedom than you think.

So the next time you feel a bit stuck or trapped, please try to bear this in mind.

Start small, by all means, but why not experiment with some different choices today?

How regular schedules can help your mood

I suppose you and I have a kind of unwritten deal, don’t we?

I’ll write these little posts every other day, and send them to you. Then you in turn will read them. Maybe think about their underlying meaning, too.

Not every post gets read by everyone, of course. But I know that a lot do.

I reckon it’s pretty important to have ‘anchoring’ events in your day-to-day life, particularly if you can be prone to the kind of ups and downs of mood that a lot of us contend with.


It’s probably helpful to have small events and behaviours on which you can depend. Stuff you do every day, regardless of the way you feel, that give your day structure and support – a kind of ‘scaffolding’ if you like.

So if you’ll be here the day after tomorrow, so will I.

We asked, you’re delivering

Our Moodnudges community never ceases to amaze Alex and me. On Tuesday I asked for some help with a brief survey designed to see how the WellBee test (on which our daily wellbeing measuring and tracking cards are based) compares with two other respected tests of wellbeing.


Responses were anonymous so I can’t of course tell if you completed it yourself, but giant thanks if you did, along with hundreds of others. If you didn’t get round to it, and wouldn’t mind doing so, here’s one final reminder of the link. Completing it should take no longer than a couple of minutes:

We’ll report back on the scientific findings in due course, but I thought you might be interested in a little demographic snapshot, which may or may not be representative of the entire Moodnudges community – however this is what the age and gender breakdown of respondents looks like:

Age Percent
18-24 3.4%
25-34 12.1%
35-44 21.1%
45-54 29.7%
55-64 22.1%
65-74 9.2%
75+ 0.8%
Sex Percent
Female 81.8%
Male 17.2%

Perhaps the biggest surprise seems to be how under-represented my own gender is, although I know that women tend to be better than men at recognising their emotional ups and downs. I think women can also be more inclined to seek out ways to tackle their mood issues, while men all too often attempt to grin and bear it. Not always successfully (present company included at times in the past).

Food for thought. Most of all, though, thanks a million to those who’ve already completed our survey, and to anyone else who may do so today.

Sometimes moods change without any real cause

In the 1960s and 70s, Paul McCartney’s poet brother Mike (McGear) was a member of pop group The Scaffold, whose best-known hits were ‘Lily The Pink’, ‘Liverpool Lou’ and ‘Thank U Very Much’.

Judging by the last one, ‘txt-spk’ is nothing new, and it was actually a well-recalled line in it which drew me to an extraordinarily long online discussion thread the other day.


I knew that The Scaffold had sung ‘Thank you very much for the Aintree Iron’ and wondered idly what the Aintree Iron is or was.

In these Google-days you don’t have to wonder, you can search, so it was that I discovered a vast array of people’s suggestions as to its meaning, ranging from a Liverpool railway yard to others a bit too edgy for a Moodnudges post.

In the middle of this cascade of conjecture, however, came the real kicker. Mike McGear himself had pitched in, suggesting that as he’d written the song, he ought to know what he’d meant. And basically, he explained, ‘you’re all wrong’.

Frustratingly (and a little deliciously) he then refused to divulge its meaning. Perhaps there actually isn’t one, even. But we’ll probably never know.

To me, this is a brilliant example of the way in which we humans can be desperate to find reasons for everything, to understand and to classify. This is perhaps never truer than when we seek to understand ourselves, and in particular to find explanations for why our moods rise and fall.

Sometimes there’s a reason. But not always. Now and then your mood changes because, well, it just does.

There’s no harm in setting out to better understand yourself, but the very second that you begin to agonise over your bafflement, perhaps it’s better to shrug your shoulders and simply accept it?

Then (and here’s the important bit) just move on, thank u very much.

We all need to change course sometimes

Fifteen years ago in Sydney I traded a slap-up dinner for some priceless knowledge. The friend I met up with, Robin, had just been on a lateral thinking course based on the principles of Edward de Bono, and – keen to learn more about how to think – I plied my friend with food and drink in return for him passing on his learning.

Some time later I discovered that the ‘secrets’ he revealed were actually all contained in one of de Bono’s books but, hey, it was a delicious dinner (and it’s nearly always nicer to be taught in person rather than from the printed page).

Lateral Thinking - de Bono

I was reminded of this little experience the other day when I came across a copy of what I believe was Edward de Bono’s first book (‘The Use Of Lateral Thinking’) in a thrift store.

There’s a lovely line in it, which I have to pass on:

‘It is not possible to dig a hole in a different place by digging the same hole deeper.’

He’s talking about problem solving of course, and the desirability of thinking laterally rather than vertically, but I reckon his admonition is every bit as relevant to the juggling of emotions as it is to the tackling of challenges.

When your mood is frazzled, sometimes it’s all you can do to keep digging that hole deeper and deeper. However there’s much to be said for pausing for breath and taking a long hard look around you.

Might that lousy mood be telling you something? Maybe it’s suggesting that there could be a better digging location.

It’s a thought, isn’t it?

Spend time with people who’ll raise your spirits

‘Ever since you started hanging around with X, you’ve changed.’

It’s one of those allegations which may get levelled in relationships which are struggling through a rough patch, the insinuation being that the accused isn’t who he/she used to be.

The fact of the matter of course is that we do tend to take on the characteristics of the people we spend the most time with.

Socialising with optimists may give you a more half-full view of life, whilst being around those with a fundamentally pessimistic outlook might well drain your own glass.


Most of us have some around us who need to be there whatever the weather, but there’s nearly always an element of your social circle who are more discretionary – people you can choose to spend time with (or not).

I think life would quickly become bland if we opted to fill our lives entirely with ‘happy campers’. But isn’t it worth going a little out of your way to benefit from being with those who generally lift your spirits rather than dampen them?

You know who I mean. Why not arrange to catch up with them?