Monthly Archives: December 2016

Let’s take a Christmas break.

Last Saturday I went shopping in a big store (Target) in Redwood City quite early in the morning.

2016-12-23

It was a good time to be there, as things were pretty quiet before the inevitable rush later in the day.

It was also really warming to see a few young kids (with their early-bird parents) bright-eyed and excited about Christmas.

It made me think, of course, that as we grow up, this time of year can take on many colours, particularly when you’re someone who is susceptible to the slings and arrows of outrageous emotion.

When I look back through my diaries, I remember that there have been some good Christmases, but I’ve also my fair share of blue ones.

Fortunately I find myself in a good place just now, but that doesn’t stop me recalling less happy years.

So if I could send a message back in time, what might “OK Jon” say to “Blue Jon” of Christmases past?

I think I’d want to reassure him but there’s always light at the end of the tunnel.

I think I’d want to remind him that he is loved and needed.

And I think I’d want to reason with him that Christmas week *is* just a week, and Christmas Day *is* just a day.

So if you’re not feeling so great right now, please try to let it pass, and it will.

Here’s to a peaceful, gentle, and calm time for you.

Try to find moments to just live in the moment.

Let it be.

OK, I’m going to give us both a break from emails over the next week – you a break from reading them, and me a break from writing and posting them, if you don’t mind.

Let’s agree therefore, to meet again next year. Normal service will be resumed on Wednesday January 4th, 2017.

Until then, here’s to you.

Have a happy Christmas.

And, let’s all hope, a happier new year.

Asking for assistance.

If you needed to move a heavy item of furniture, you probably wouldn’t attempt to do so on your own.

There are some tasks which clearly require more than one pair of hands.

It’s pretty obvious to ask for help when the work is of a physical nature.
Then why doesn’t it seem equally sensible to do so when the heavy lifting is more cerebral?

2016-12-21

When you’ve got too much to think about, too much to worry about, it can be tempting to keep it all to yourself.

But that’s not good.

In many situations, a problem shared is a problem halved.

(Not always of course, but it’s a rule that holds good a great deal of the time.)

Sometimes the simple act of talking through your concerns, worries and anxieties can help you get them into perspective.

Then of course there may be other times when you really can ask someone else to take the load off your shoulders.

You’re human, not super-human.

If you’re carrying a heavy load, there’s nearly always someone who will help.

But usually you need to ask.

And that’s fine.

Losing track.

I do my best, I really do.

But try as I may to keep track of things that friends and family tell me are upcoming for them (medical appointments for example), all too often I forget.

2016-12-19

Then of course I kick myself when they subsequently tell me how they got on, when I’d far rather have been in the position of remembering to ask them in the first place.

It’ll make me feel a little better if I know it’s something which also happens to you now and then.

But if it is, I don’t think you or I should beat ourselves up about it.

Much more importantly we shouldn’t feel offended when someone forgets something about us.

You’d need a brain like a super-computer to keep track of everything around you, but that’s just not possible.

But simple practical systems can help.

For me, it’s time to start sticking those Post-It notes on the fridge door again.

I like it when I remember things about people.

They do too.

Sowing. And reaping.

It came in a plain white sleeve with stark black typography.

John Lennon’s ‘Instant Karma’ was one of the first singles my brother and I owned.

I don’t think either of us would have thought much about the meaning of the word ‘karma’ in those days, but it seems to make good sense to live your life according to the broad principle that you get what you give.

And what goes around comes around.

2016-12-18

If you want to be listened to, it makes sense to listen to others first.

To be loved, love others.

In general, to receive, first give.

When you make a mark in the sand, perhaps it starts the ball rolling?

It feels good when people are kind to you, so today could be a good time to sow a little kindness around you.

Then hopefully reap some too.

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.

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But that’s not always the case.

I’m sure we’ve all experienced the ear-splitting howl that 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 that 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.

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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 realism.

I’m not sure about you, but on a bad day I can find myself taking a 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 you and I face in life aren’t usually as clear-cut as this.

Often we have are many potential solutions.

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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 often have 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 does my book compare to antidepressants? We put it to the test.

It’s about six months since I put the finishing touches to my book “Nudge Your Way To Happiness,” which many Moodnudges readers have bought. I’m grateful.

Right now, though, I’d like to tell you about a fascinating research project that’s been running in the background.

It’s been fun and illuminating to put the book to the test, by getting a group of Moodnudges readers to work their way through it for 30 days, and also to take a standard test of depression before and after doing so.

By asking people to take the same depression test twice, we were able to see what effect the book had.2016-12-11

The test we used was a measure called the PHQ-9 (the nine-item Patient Health Questionnaire), often used by health professionals.

The PHQ-9 produces a score between 0 and 27 by having someone answer questions based on what might be considered the “official” symptoms of clinical depression.

The higher someone scores, the more depressed they are, and the rule of thumb for doctors, therapists, and psychiatrists is that a reduction in score of 5 points or more over a period of four weeks is an indication that a treatment such as psychotherapy or medication is working.

So how did the book do when we tested it with the same measure that’s used to judge traditional treatments?

Well, we began with 31 participants who had at least moderate depression, and an average PHQ-9 score of 14.

After 30 days, their average score had fallen to 7.1, a reduction of 6.9 points, placing it on a par with the best that might be expected from antidepressants.

For me, this was encouraging news.

What I hadn’t anticipated, however, was that those in the sample who started out most seriously depressed did even better than average.

Their scores were reduced by 10 points – twice what would would be regarded as a good outcome for antidepressants or psychotherapy.

The research comes with a few caveats, of course.

It was a small sample. There was no control group. And, the study was led by me, the author, when it’s better for research to be run by an independent third party.

For a pilot study, however, I believe it demonstrates that the book shows great promise.

Who knows, perhaps this will inspire researchers elsewhere to run their own independent research?

I’d welcome that.

In the meantime, I’m keen to share the results, so I asked my good friend, the journalist Tony Rocca, to write a one-page story about the work.

You can download Tony’s piece here:

http://bit.ly/2hnyIVB

I’ll also paste the text at the foot of this message.

Please feel very free to pass Tony’s article onto others – perhaps people who might benefit from the book themselves, or those who could be interested for other reasons.

They might be a therapist, for example, or could be caring for someone who may benefit from the book.

This would help me, and I think it will help others too.

Finally, there are also some nice in-depth reviews of “Nudge Your Way To Happiness” on the Amazon website, where you can also order a copy of the book –

https://www.amazon.com/dp/1530042607
https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1530042607

It might even make a good Christmas present for someone.

PS – The PDF version of Tony Rocca’s piece about the book includes images and a helpful graph, but if you’re in a rush, here’s the text that’s contained in it:

Overcoming depression remains one of healthcare’s greatest chall-enges, with no magic bullet in sight for a condition affecting 350 million people globally, according to the World Health Organization. Therefore anything approaching a new, effective, treatment is to be welcomed – especially one not linked to medication.

Such a prospect now exists. A breakthrough idea has brought remarkable improvements to sufferers on a par with the best they might expect from taking antidepressants. Tests made over a 30-day period using exactly the same techniques as those monitoring the effectiveness of drugs show:

• Recovery began immediately whereas it commonly takes up to six weeks with medication.

• The most seriously depressed experienced the biggest lift of all.

Participants in a pilot study followed a new self-help book that takes an ingenious approach to the age-old problem. Each day over 30 days they tested their own sense of well-being, tracking progress on a graph.

They were then directed to a specific mood “nudge” to match their feelings (one of three immediate actions based on proven psychology, offered daily). “So, on days when they might be feeling pretty good, their nudge would suggest a relatively ambitious mood-building activity,” says the book’s creator, Jon Cousins. “On less-good days they’d be encouraged to take some more gently appropriate action.”

Cousins started working in the mental health field to beat depression he’d suffered for three decades. He has been innovating in emotional well-being after a successful career in advertising in Britain and is now respected as a credible pioneer by healthcare professionals in both the UK and USA.

When the British government recently called for new ideas for health apps to help patients make informed decisions about their care it received more than 500 nominations.

The standout winner was an online service he invented, Moodscope, that has over 30,000 users today.

Following these early tests the world can only wish him the same success for his recently published book, Nudge Your Way To Happiness.

Cousins is not of course suggesting that someone with serious depression shouldn’t consult a professional.

But doesn’t it make sense to at least try an immediate self-administered fix?

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.

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 a lot do.

2016-12-09

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.

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’.

2016-12-07

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 I 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.