Monthly Archives: April 2017

Lights, cameras, action. Time for a mind movie.

I guess it’s human nature.

We tend to dwell on those things which have gone wrong, often completely failing to recall those which were successful, happy and exciting.

Sometimes it seems we believe that constantly replaying the sadder, badder stuff might will it all away, whereas it often just assumes more and more importance, usually far in excess of its actual significance.

If you’re anything like me you’ve probably got quite good at chewing over negative events, seeing the pictures in your mind just as clearly as they were when whatever it was first happened.

Often, however, a distorting filter gets placed in front of the lens, so the pictures you see are actually a misinterpretation of what really took place.

It may be difficult, but there’s a lot to be said for thinking like a detective when the nasties show up in your head time after time.

Was it truly and honestly as awful as you think? Was everything about it as bleak as you remember?

And most important of all, is there honestly any value in playing it back as often as you do?

So here’s a thought. If you’ve become an expert at creating these remembered images, why not put your skills to better use now and then by re-running memories of an especially good and happy event?

Visualise the sights and sounds. Concentrate hard on re-imagining the thoughts you had at the time.

It’s surprising how quickly this can work, and how swiftly it can bring a small smile to your lips.

Let go.

I get down, you perhaps get down, we all get down.

Sometimes though, getting down can feel less traumatic than it might. In my case this is often the result of not getting down about being down.

(This is starting to feel like one of those halls of mirrors where you see reflections of reflections of reflections.)

It’s when you get down about being down that things can spiral, well, down.

There seems to be a lot of sense instead in doing your darndest to simply accept that you’re not feeling so great.

It happens.

We may not always remember it, but we generally do have a choice about how we’ll react to life’s wobbles. And there are no prizes for guessing what happens when we choose to see things bleakly.

Perhaps you’ll have a perfect day today. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

But in the more likely event that at least something doesn’t quite go your way, why not see if you can choose to simply accept it rather than letting it get to you?

Although when things do go right, you have every right to feel good about feeling good.

Need a hand? We all do sometimes.

The concept of a Help Desk is well-understood in the IT world.

Encounter a problem with your hardware or software and you’ll generally find someone somewhere (albeit often on a different continent) who’ll tell you how to fix it.

OK, there’s usually no actual desk involved, but it’s easy to understand the idea. Have problem, call desk, get help.

Wouldn’t it be great if a similar service existed for the trials and tribulations of life?

Feeling anxious or blue? Just call our Help Desk.

Hmm. Trouble is, that’s not the way it works. True, there are counselling services. Generally, though, it can seem as though there’s no easy answer when you feel as if you’re tying yourself in knots.

All too often, you end up on your own.

But it really doesn’t need to be like this, you know.

I’m guessing that you quite like it when someone seeks out your help, right?

You, on the other hand, may be reluctant to ask when it’s your turn to need it.

Please don’t be.

Asking for help is much better than trying to struggle on without it. And the person you ask will more than likely get a kick from doing it.

Acceptance.

I wonder if anyone is truly comfortable in their own skin?

It’s an odd phrase which describes, I guess, the idea that you’re happy with who you are. Perhaps also happy with the way you look.

And it’s all too easy to think ‘I’d be all right if only I weighed a bit less, or didn’t get so anxious, or didn’t suffer from low moods’.

The thing is, there are some things you can change, but others you can’t.

No matter how hard you might try.

No matter how much you’d like them to change.

It’s over stuff like this that I’m sure it helps to practise acceptance. To take them as they are, and to build from this foundation rather than wishing and praying for change that’s unlikely to happen.

By all means plan, expect and work towards changing those things that you can and probably should re-jig.

But maybe it makes sense to simply accept with good grace those that you can’t?

The surprising way to boost your mood as you brush your teeth.

When I drive from my place to get coffee, there are two stop signs, then two sets of traffic lights.

This morning, though, when I got to the first set of lights, I felt absolutely certain that I’d only seen one stop sign.

So what had happened?

Did I stop at both signs, but only remember one of them?

Or — much worse — did I sail past the second sign, straight across the junction?

I’m pretty sure it was the first of these two, and I’m also pretty confident that it wasn’t some kind of memory problem, but just that thing where you do something routine and enter that kind of auto-pilot state.

It can often happen if you’re driving along a very familiar route.

Fortunately, minute-by-minute, part of your brain is indeed engaged with what you’re doing.

Another part of it, however, may be occupied with thinking what it believes are deep(ish) thoughts.

I suspect that if something out of the ordinary happened, like a child or animal running into the road, you’d instantly react.

But doesn’t it make you think about how much of your day can be spent behaving automatically, though?

And, don’t forget, this is time you’ll never get back.

Valuable time.

So here’s my suggestion for today, then.

At the risk of upsetting your dentist (and I won’t tell her or him if you don’t) next time you clean your teeth, do it with the “other” hand.

Left if you’re right-handed, right if you’re left.

Your teeth may not get quite the clean they usually receive, but you may well find yourself being far more in the moment than you usually would be.

Changing routines is often a helpful mood-building idea, as is finding ways to be much more aware of what you’re doing.

Will changing hands change your life?

Probably not.

Will it be interesting?

Almost certainly.

It might even make you laugh.

7 helpful happiness boosts, an 8th by passing this on.

A little over two years ago, in January 2015, I wrote a post about the reward I felt from the warm feedback that was being regularly shared on the Moodnudges blog.

Nothing’s changed, and in fact yesterday (Easter Sunday) was no exception, so I thought it might be time to dust off that post and share it with you once again.

Here’s what I said:

The very act of knowing you’ve helped someone can give you, the helper, a glow of satisfaction. Wouldn’t it be nice, though, if I found a way to help you share in this glow? I think I may have done so. You see, this post is written with a two-fold objective.

First, I hope its contents will inspire you directly.

Secondly, it’s specifically designed for you to share with a friend or friends. And in hopefully helping them, you in turn stand a good chance of getting that delightful shot in the arm delivered by doing a good deed.

Once you’ve read today’s post, then, please do forward it to, and share it with, your friends, perhaps inviting them to sign up for my free four-times-a-week email. I’d love that. They can sign up here.

This post is quite a bit longer than usual, but I’d like to pack in a lot. Today’s theme? Seven modest ideas pretty certain to lift anyone’s mood. And they’re really not that difficult to implement. How about allocating one to each of the next seven days? Thanks to our great friends at Action for Happiness for inspiring this list, by the way.

1. Make contact with other people. You have precisely 1,440 minutes in each day of your life, and the more of those you spend in contact with others, the better you’re likely to feel. Of course, nothing compares to a nice long chat with a good friend, but this may not be possible every day. When it isn’t, look for as many small opportunities to connect with people as you can. Exchange a few words with shop assistants, brightening their day as well as yours. Send the briefest of hello emails/texts to a couple of people you’ve not heard from for a while. Smile and say hello to a stranger in the street. It all adds up.

2. Accept the person you are, and love yourself. Having spent rather too much of my own life doing the polar opposite of loving myself, I know how hard this is. But trust me. Next time you’re in the bathroom, look at yourself in the mirror and say this out loud. “I like you. I like you very much.” Then, if you dare, “I love you. I love you very much.” It’s making me teary-eyed just to think about you doing this: it can have huge power, if you’re brave enough to tell yourself.

3. Always have things to look forward to. When you’re feeling low, it may feel as if there’s nothing positive on the horizon. Tackle this by choosing to anticipate small things that are already coming, even if it’s the sandwich you’ll eat at lunchtime, or the drive you’ll take tomorrow. Make each of these routine events a bit more rewarding by choosing to read a favourite magazine with your lunch, or listen to some long-lost tunes while you drive. Turn routines into mini goals, and reward yourself.

4. Decide to take a positive view of life. You may have noticed that different people can share the same experience, yet see it in completely different ways. To some degree you have the power to view life in the way you choose. See everything gloomily, and that’s the way things will be. Alternatively, opt for a more positive outlook and – hey presto – your world may take on a rosier tint. Although it may sound fake, it really isn’t.

5. Learn something new every day. Acquiring new knowledge boosts your confidence and raises your spirits. But you can do this without registering for a college class. Why not tackle a recipe you’ve never tried before? Teach yourself the order of the planets in the solar system. Learn a few words of the language spoken by that person you often see, but only ever speak to in English. Keep learning, have fun.

6. Appreciate all that surrounds you. I’m sure you’ll have experienced that walking-around-in-a-fog feeling you get when your mood is low. It may seem as if your mental focus is directed entirely inwards. You can become oblivious to your environment. Doing the opposite, however, is a helpful way to lift your spirits. At any given moment shift your attention, using as many senses as possible, to drink in the richness that surrounds you – then find three things to be grateful for in your environment. That piece of furniture that’s stood you in such good stead. That sky. That tree. That squirrel. Look for the small details. Love them.

7. Look after that body of yours. That mind of yours is, of course, pretty closely connected to your body. You spend all day carrying it around with you, after all. It’s easy to forget how one affects the other. Low moods can be lifted by such simple actions as eating good food and drinking enough water. It nearly always helps to get a good night’s sleep. And taking exercise is a huge help too. So what can you do in the next 24 hours to treat your own body as you would any other cherished possession? Love your body and it will love you right back.

A life-savouring suggestion for Easter Sunday.

Gosh, we live in strange times. Political correctness means I find myself needing to think twice before even mentioning days of religious significance.

But, what the heck, being that it’s Easter Sunday, a very Happy Easter to you.

Something else I found myself thinking about this week was a kind of personal challenge to myself to better understand what gives me the “right” to write your Moodnudges four times a week.

As you know, I’m not a psychologist, nor a psychiatrist. I’m not a counsellor, nor a therapist.

And I’m definitely not a doctor.

All I am is a fellow traveller. I’m someone who, perhaps like you, suffers from low mood now and then. But I’ve also had time over the last ten years to learn a lot about the things that can help — the actions that can make a difference to our moods. And it’s this knowledge that I try to pass on to you.

Think of it as a kind of peer support, therefore, from someone who’s been there, done that, and got the T-shirt.

For me, things are tons better than they were, as I think I’m now much better at recognising the times when the black dog appears at my door, and I seem to know more about what I should do to send it packing, hopefully with its tail between its legs.

This doesn’t mean I don’t have my darker days, though, and there have indeed been a couple of those this week, albeit just mildly gloomy.

So yesterday I got up, determined to take some gentle remedial action. I went out for a peaceful coffee, then got my hair cut — encouraging Kathy, who cuts it regularly, to do more of her own thing, so it’s shorter than normal. It felt good. (You be the judge, though. I’ve put a photo above.)

Anyway, walking away from the hairdresser’s, I stopped to sit on a sunny wall, to simply watch the world go by for a few minutes.

While this doesn’t sound like rocket science, it really worked – and reminded me of a study carried out by Californian psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky who said that participants who took the time to savour ordinary events that they normally hurried through showed significant increases in happiness and reductions in depression.

So, as your fellow traveller (and now with the confirmation of a psychologist) why not take a little time this Easter Sunday to do a bit of moment-savouring?

Let’s find a moment to sit, watch, and savour.

The mood hack that takes you back.

I’ve been thinking deeply about “mood hacks” — little actions designed to lift your mood, that you can take with almost immediate effect.

Recipes, almost. So here’s one I’m trying right now:

1. Think back to a time in your past that was particularly good for you, and pin down its month and year. I chose August 1979, when I got home after a year at art school in the US.

2. Head to Google, and type in “music from month, year” — so for me it was “music from august 1979.”

3. Follow a link from the results showing you the record charts for that month and year, in your country.

4. Looking down the list, pick a tune you can remember. Even better if it’s a “guilty pleasure,” as mine was.

5. Head over to YouTube, type in the song title and artist.

6. Then listen — intently — really trying to recall in rich detail how you felt when it was regularly on the radio, at a time when you were particularly enjoying life. I bet it can make you smile.

For example I’ve just been wigging out to Johnny Mathis doing his disco thing with Gone, Gone, Gone. And the memories have been flooding back.

You should find just about any piece of popular music on YouTube, and what a great way to give yourself a healthy dose of nostalgia.

It’s Message Received Day in the UK.

One of several differences I’ve been learning to manage since I moved to the US is the American custom of putting the month ahead of the day in dates, whereas (usually) it’s the other way around in the UK.

So my date of birth is 2/28/etc here in the US, but 28/2/etc in the US.

I say this, simply because today, April 10th, is 4/10 where I’m writing this, but 10/4 back in Blighty, which this is an admittedly rather convoluted way to bring up the “10-4” used by CB radio users.

You may be semi-aware, as I was, that 10-4 stands for “message received, or OK,” but where did the code originally come from?

Well, back in 1937 (very considerably before “etc,” if you were wondering) the US police introduced a system called “10 codes,” designed to streamline radio communications.

According to my research, there are over 100 different codes, including a “10-10” which means Fight In Progress, “10-20” indicating Location (what’s your 10-20?) and “10-82” for Reserve Lodging (presumably when a police officer decides it’s just too late to think about going home).

So today’s “message received” day in the UK, whereas we’ll have to wait until October 4th for the US equivalent.

All very complicated.

If you’re having a hard time, though, going through a period of wretched low mood, I think it might be helpful if there was the equivalent of a “10-4” for others to use when you tell them what you’re going through (if you’re brave enough to do so).

I suspect you don’t really want someone to tell you that it’ll all be better tomorrow. You almost certainly don’t want them to tell you about their own experiences of depression. And you definitely don’t need them to change the subject, ignoring what you’ve told them.

So what do you want? Well, a little understanding, a little gentle sympathy perhaps.

Most of all, though, you just want to know you’ve been heard, been understood.

Message received. 10-4.

(Good buddy.)

Feelings about feelings.

Knowing how you feel is one thing.

Knowing how you feel about how you feel is another.

(We’ll stop right there before this whole message begins to resemble one of those sets of nesting Russian dolls.)

Although whole (good) books have been written about mindfulness, an excellent and rapid start is to take a metaphorical step back from your thoughts to ask yourself (a) what they are, exactly, and (b) how those thoughts make you feel.

Neither task may come naturally at first, but the second can prove an excellent way of helping you come to terms with the idea that you may have more freedom than you think to actually choose how you feel about life’s trials and tribulations.

From the little (noisy neighbours, say) to the large (the loss of a loved one, perhaps) we may not always be able to control how we initially react.

But it can often be possible to steer your own feelings about your reaction in a more positive direction.

Perhaps, then, a little thinking about your thinking could be in order today?