Monthly Archives: December 2015

Why it makes sense to listen when your body talks

To what extent do you pay attention to your body?

Do you listen to the signals it sends you? More importantly, do you take action when it’s needed?


I was thinking about this the other morning, on my walk to go and have a cup of coffee, shivering a bit as the weather’s turned chilly.

Foolishly I’d only picked up a light jacket as I left home, and really should have gone for something with more insulation.

That’s what got me thinking about bodily signals, some of which I think we do generally act on.

You feel cold so you put on a sweater or coat.

You’re thirsty so you drink a glass of water.

You get hungry so you sneak a snack.

These actions are more or less automatic reflexes which we think little about.

Very often, however, it’s possible to turn a blind eye to other messages.

Maybe more important ones.

Perhaps you’ve an ache or pain which you just grin and bear.

Maybe your digestive system plays up from time to time.

Or it’s possible that a visit to the dentist is overdue.

It’s easy to forget that matters relating to mood can encompass not just the space between your ears, but just about every part of your body.

Taking care of everything on the outside can play a big part in looking after everything on the inside.

Just as a skilled motor mechanic can often diagnose problems simply by listening to a car’s engine running, you probably know more than you’re prepared to admit about what needs tweaking health-wise for you, and some of this action can be handled on a DIY basis.

I’m not of course advocating self-surgery (for a start, it’s not easy to concentrate after you’ve anaesthetised yourself, and jolly painful if you don’t), simply suggesting that today’s a great day to do something rather radical when your body talks: listen.

Almost everyone carries a load you may never see.

Before I left the UK to move to California, my landlord’s agents sent me an unfriendly letter arbitrarily increasing my rent from the following month.

It made me cross with the agents, and disappointed with the landlord: I’d always believed he and I had a cordial relationship, and it seemed on the face of it unfriendly of him to have used the agent to up the rent, without first letting me know himself.


However, we ended up talking on the phone, and all became clear.

The agents had apparently taken it upon themselves to increase the rents on all the properties they manage (which really isn’t their job), asking landlords to intervene only if they disagreed.

I guess they then started up their photocopier, produced scores of letters to tenants, and antagonised them (us) all in the process.

Then came the phone call.

‘Forget it,’ said the landlord, ‘we’ll keep things as they are.’ And that might have been the end of the conversation if we hadn’t chatted on a bit, allowing him to tell me of an unbelievably sad situation in which he and his wife had found themselves, purely by chance.

Once we’d started communicating properly, any earlier prickliness immediately disappeared.

I was able to empathise with him, and also to understand why, perhaps, his mind had been on other things when the agents clumsily attempted to claw themselves a tiny bit more commission.

All too often, I suspect we don’t really know what’s going on in the lives of those we have dealings with.

Perhaps when we get fed up with someone, or become exasperated by their behaviour, our views might change if we only knew what they were going through.

It’s easy to assume that others have no problems, that they act the way they do out of some odd sense of malevolence, bitterness or even vindictiveness.

Take the time to connect – to properly connect – and I’m pretty sure that this is rarely the case however.

If you want to be understood, doesn’t it make sense to first be an understander?

Can you find five ways to lend a hand today?

Type ‘helping others’ into Google Images, and you’ll see a lot of photos of hands: one hand reaching for another, one person pulling another up a steep hillside, a young hand placed tenderly on an old.

It’s no surprise, perhaps, because we often refer to helping someone in terms of lending them a hand.


When you do things for people, you also help yourself.

In fact, one study has shown that those who gave assistance to others felt stronger and more energetic after doing so – as well as becoming calmer, less depressed and gaining a higher sense of self-esteem.

In fact, in psychology it’s a well-known phenomenon, popularly known as the ‘helper’s high’.

But am I suggesting that you should only lend a hand to someone because of the good it will do you?

Of course not, I think virtually everyone who helps others does so out of a genuine desire to support a fellow human being, or perhaps to create a better social environment.

But the fact that you may feel better when you’ve helped someone is a rather handy side-effect.

A real win-win, if you like.

So why not think about what you can do for someone today?

Whether or not you’re busy, there are nearly always opportunities to be at least a little generous with your time.

At times, when my place is in dire need of housework but I can’t summon up the energy to carry out the total blitz it really needs, I’ll promise myself that I’ll perform five tasks, then stop.

Enough will be enough.

In the same way, then, maybe your mission today can be to deliver five small chunks of help to other people?

Simple actions are fine: holding doors open, helping to lift things – that kind of thing.

More involved ones are great too: baking someone an apple pie, tidying their garden.

So see if you can find five today, then think about your mood after you’ve done so.

Reflections? Please post them on the Moodnudges blog:

See you next time,


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Heartfelt Christmas greetings from me to you.

Merry Christmas.

Whatever you’re doing today, wherever you are, whoever you may be with (and for some, that may well be yourself) it’s my pleasure to wish you the warmest of days.


Christmas can be a good time of course, but it’s fair to say that it may also bring its challenges.

So while I wholeheartedly encourage you to think of others today, I’d also suggest you don’t lose sight of the benefits of being kind to yourself.

See if you can find a tiny corner of the day to give yourself the gift of self-care.

It could be getting out for a brief but brisk walk. It might be five minutes in a favourite armchair. Maybe even a short but sweet phone conversation with someone who means a lot.

Take care of yourself please. You deserve it, and the world needs you in good shape.

You’re in my thoughts.

Why life on a desert island may not be so great.

Sometimes, when things get overwhelming, I fantasise about being Robinson Crusoe.

For a few minutes, I’ll dream of what great joy it would be to get away from everything.


No responsibilities.

Nobody else’s problems.

Peace and quiet.

Then, of course, common sense kicks in.

It wasn’t exactly a barrel of laughs for Mr Crusoe, who feared for his life at times and every day hoped to be rescued.

And there was that rather odd triangular fur hat to be worn, too.

He did, eventually, make the acquaintance of an escaped prisoner, who he called Friday – so wasn’t completely alone for the entire duration of his enforced stay on the island off the coast of Trinidad – but imagining life as a castaway is a helpful reminder that we’re all better off when we’re part of something bigger.

Sadly, low mood and depression can lead to an understandable desire to shut yourself away from life, perhaps partly out of the legitimate belief that things will eventually get better if you simply allow yourself time on your own.

While there may be some logic in this, I’ve generally found that during gloomy spells it has helped to feel that I’m connected in some way to some big idea or another.

Organised religion can fill this need for some, but for me it seems to be the knowledge that I belong to various groups, and that I have distinct roles with certain people in my life.

Together, those connections make me feel I have a purpose in life.

So how about you?

Who looks forward to your company?

Who enjoys (or might do if you let them) looking after you?

Who depends on your help?

Is there some place you go to where everybody remembers your name?

I think in some ways we all have these important connections, and it really does make sense to nurture them – at the very least to be conscious of them.

For now, however, I’ll leave you with the two flies who landed on Robinson Crusoe’s back.

As one of them prepared to leave, he said to the other: ‘I’ve got to go now. But I’ll see you on Friday.’

Which in the case of you and me is indeed the case.

Just between you and me, I’m never going to win a Nobel prize.

Imagine if you will a graph whose horizontal axis represents your life.

On the left, the day you were born, on the extreme right, your last day here on planet Earth – a long time in the future, we all hope.

Let’s now add a vertical axis which indicates the likelihood of you winning a Nobel Prize.

I know, I know, but just bear with me on this one please.


Back at that y-axis, its lower end represents no chance, while its upper stands for ‘quite a big probability, actually’.

Finally, let’s add the data – a line representing the way your Nobel Prize chances vary through your life.

Now, it’s said that children are born with infinite potential, and while you could pick holes in this principle along the lines of nature and nurture probably having a say in a youngster’s opportunities, it may well have been the case that if things had panned out differently it might have been you getting that magic phone call later on today.

For those who do actually go on to become Nobel Laureates, the line would rise over time as their work leads them towards recognition, then perhaps steadily fall away as they head into retirement.

For the likes of you and me, however, the graph (being generous to ourselves) might go from high at the left end, to zero at the right.

If you’re not currently engaged in cutting edge research in Chemistry, Physics or Medicine, nor do you pass your days brokering important Peace deals, it is (and I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s the truth) rather unlikely that you’ll be picking up a Nobel Prize.

Hoping without due reason that you might would be a rather extreme example of wanting to be something that you’re not.

But I think we can all be inclined, at times, to feel dissatisfied with our lot: to believe that if things were somehow very different, we’d be fifty times happier, say.

It’s true, big changes are sometimes possible but, more often than not, tomorrow is likely to be only marginally different from today.

So maybe it makes sense, if necessary, to shrug your shoulders and be comfortable with who you are.

I’ll go first if you like: I’m Jon Cousins and I’m never going to win a Nobel Prize.

(The closest I’ll ever get is that Carmelo, who cuts my hair at Stanford University, has also tended the locks of Nobel laureates.)


Who’s charting your course? Are you?

Early sailing ships often had a small, precarious platform attached to the top of their main mast called a crow’s nest in which one or more unfortunate sailors would sit, acting as look-outs.


The view was better up there, of course, but the movements of the vessel were also greatly amplified, leading it to be associated with sea-sickness in all but the most hardy of men.

(Perhaps this was actually the real reason that those on the decks below were wise to wear oilskins and sou’westers?)

When you’re piloting a ship, it’s important to know what’s ahead of you.

For one thing, it means you can avoid obstacles such as icebergs, but it’s also how you know when you’re getting close to your destination – when you’re near to reaching your goal.

I can’t imagine many early ships set off on voyages simply for the hell of it, pleasure cruises being a later invention.

Instead, there would have always been an intention: to get somewhere, to get home, or perhaps to engage in bloody battle.

On days when you feel ropey, I think it’s understandable (perfectly excusable in fact) to lose sight of your own goals and objectives: the things you may have to look forward to.

At times, it may even feel as though there’s nothing on the horizon for you – that you’re drifting along with no particular place to go.

While this can work for short periods, it’s not a great way to live, and I say this from past personal experience.

Having even quite modest goals to look forward to can help you keep out of the doldrums.

Bigger goals are even better, but be content to plan really quite simple objectives for yourself to help you get through those less-good days.

Land ahoy?

Seven fascinating facts that prove the value of learning

It’s said that one key to maintaining a positive state of mind is to keep learning, so let’s try a brief experiment.


1. When clocks and watches are shown in advertisements, their time is nearly always set to 10:10.

2. The city of Los Angeles developed from a settlement originally known as ‘El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de los Angeles de Porciuncula’.

3. One historical definition of the informal time unit, a ‘jiffy’, was how long it takes light to travel one centimetre in a vacuum.

4. In the 1980s, American Airlines saved $40,000 by eliminating one olive from each salad served in First-Class.

5. On a QWERTY keyboard, the word ‘typewriter’ can be formed using only keys in the top row.

6. Among many others, William Shakespeare invented the words ‘luggage’ and ‘advertising’.

7. If you were to stretch an original Slinky toy to its full length, it would be approximately 67 feet long.

Seven pieces of trivia: how did you feel as you read them?

You may have been a little intrigued.

You might have seen some before, but perhaps not all.

Although I did my best to check them, you might have questioned their integrity

At worst (and I hope not) you may have wondered why I was wasting your time.

If nothing else, though, for the 25 seconds or so it took you to scan them, you’ll not have been concentrating on other matters which might be on your mind at the moment – perhaps things which are getting to you.

So it’s given you a brief respite from your troubles and – just maybe – demonstrated that there really is value in keeping up with your learning.

A useful ‘hint’ perhaps (another Shakespearian word invention).

Why it’s good to remember you can only think one thing at a time

Although we may sometimes believe otherwise, psychologists who know about these things tell us that our brains are only capable of holding one single thought at a time.

When you’ve ‘a lot on your mind’, you almost certainly have a series of thoughts tumbling over themselves in your head, one after the other.

But at any one moment, your attention can only be focused on any one thing.


Think of it like a public transport journey across a big city.

The entire trip could involve you taking two different trains, three buses and a tram – but stop the clock at one particular moment and you’ll see that you can’t be on a bus and train at the same time.

It’s an effect you may be aware of if you manage to become engrossed in a movie during a period when you’re going through a rough patch.

It doesn’t always happen, of course, but now and then you may just surprise yourself by realising that you’ve gone through a brief spell when you’ve not thought about the stuff that’s troubling you.

Is this ‘cheating’ somehow?

Are you in some way managing to deceive yourself?

I don’t think so.

Negative thoughts can be all-consuming, meaning that when things are bad for you, all you seem to do is focus on the gloom.

So think of the brief respite you get when your mind is distracted as a little vacation, or like having a snooze.

The trouble is, it’s not always possible to engage with a movie or TV show when you’re feeling under the weather, and I think that it’s at times like these that it can help to properly notice the world around you as you go about your day.

Instead of mooching along, ruminating about all that’s wrong with your world (I speak from experience), really focus on your surroundings: a good tip can be to imagine you are about to draw or paint whatever it is you see.

Deeply study colours and shapes.

Intently follow movements.

Thoroughly observe textures and contrasts.

True, the relief from undesirable thoughts may only be short-lived, but when a wave of all-pervasive glumness is threatening to engulf you, every little opportunity to breathe can help.

Why it can sometimes help to share feelings, even when it feels scary

People wear high-visibility jackets for a reason. Often they’re engaged in work in a hazardous environment in which they might be clobbered by someone (a driver, say) who didn’t see them. Sometimes they’re acting in some sort of official capacity which requires them to be readily identified by the rest of us. Or, of course, it could simply mean they got up and got dressed in the dark.

The thing is, it’s hard to ignore someone when they’re wearing a fluorescent yellow jacket, but does this mean that the only important people, the only interesting people, are dressed in this way? Of course not. It’s just that the high-vis apparel is the first thing you notice.


So how do you ‘wear’ your mood? Do you go round believing that everyone can see it at an instant – the equivalent of pulling on that luminous jacket? Or do you keep it to yourself – rather like wearing a navy-blue coat on a moonless night? Perhaps for you the truth lies somewhere between these two extremes.

The point is, others will only react to what they are able to see. If you find ways to completely hide your feelings from people (from yourself, too, perhaps) it’s likely that you’ll get little help or sympathy. However, those who broadcast their mood to everyone around them (and it’s terrible, but sometimes true) may be avoided by the very people who might help them.

An answer may be to find one or two trusted people with whom you can be honest about your feelings (perhaps this will be easier if the traffic is two-way, so they regard you as someone they can open up to, also), then resolve to be relatively neutral (to the extent that you can be) with the wider world.

Maybe it’s just a very few who need to know you’re wearing the high-vis jacket under your overcoat?