Long time no see

Not to give the game away or anything, but Happy New Year.

Yes, this is my first Moodnudges post of 2019.

It’s been a long time, right?

I hope your own year has got off to a good start, and thanks to a number of readers who have been kind enough to enquire about me in my absence.

Thankfully I’ve stayed healthy and in a pretty good state of mind.

So why the silence?

Well, back in December I wrote that I was looking into guided imagery as a possible emotional well-being tool, and it’s that which has kept me busy.

Actually, you can sample some of my progress a little down the page.

For the past couple of months, it’s felt best that I should work away at learning more about how to help people create “mind pictures,” allowing myself to make mistakes, then improvements, without exposing the world to my embarrassing attempts.

I can tell you, there have been more than a few of those.

My learning process has partly involved listening to experts’ recordings, then re-writing and re-recording some of them.

It’s turned out to be a great way to acquire knowledge from some highly talented practitioners.

An amusing side note: when I recorded an experimental piece designed to help with sleep, it took herculean efforts to get it edited, as it kept making me want to drop off.

Although I’ve come a long way, there’s still further to go. But I do feel somewhat comfortable about sharing a recent recording.

I’ll be delighted for you to try it out, and as ever will be super-grateful if you can leave me some feedback on the Moodnudges blog.

I can tell you, I learned a ton when many commented on my first attempt last November.

I promise you, I’ve improved since then.

Just to prepare you, the recording is 17 minutes long, and you’ll need to find the time to focus on it somewhere comfortable, hopefully where you won’t be disturbed.

Important: No listening while driving, please.

The theme of this session is about opening your mind to thinking differently.

I really hope you’ll find it of value.

And as I said, all feedback will be very gratefully received.

Here’s the recording.

Eek, five weeks of silence.

In the mid-1960s, then British Prime Minister Harold Wilson declared “a week is a long time in politics.”

With what’s currently happening on both sides of the Atlantic at the moment, that’s never been truer.

In fact you may even want to revise “week” down to “day.”

Don’t fret, however.

We’ve always kept Moodnudges a politics-free zone, and that’s not about to change.

I simply recalled Harold Wilson’s remark when I realised that to my considerable unease I haven’t written a Moodnudge since November 7th, and five weeks is an uncomfortably long time in emotional well-being.

First, therefore, an apology.

I’ve been religiously writing, and you’ve perhaps been religiously reading, my posts for a pretty long time.

Since this is the first time I’ve gone off the radar for such a lengthy period, I definitely should have had the courtesy to let you know that I was okay.

Rest assured, I am quite fine and definitely firing on all cylinders.

In fact, after our fascinating experiment with guided imagery back on November 7th, I’ve been doing a great deal of new work.

Just to remind us both, back then I invited readers to answer a brief questionnaire, then to listen to one of several tailored audio recordings of me delivering a session of guided imagery, designed to lift spirits.

Almost 250 readers tried it out, and dozens provided insightful feedback on the Moodnudges blog, which was overwhelmingly encouraging.

Karen said, “Amazing.”

Sue commented, “Fantastic. More please.”

Ingrid added, “Definitely like to do this on an ongoing basis.”

Marie spurred me on – “Glad you are coming up with new things.”

And Sonia quite frankly left me pretty flabbergasted by saying it had left her “with a feeling of relief (she had) not experienced since 2008.”

Since this seemed an uncommonly decisive vote of confidence (!) I decided to draw breath to properly consider where I should go next.

I saw that when I wrote and recorded the experimental guided imagery over a month ago, I’d done so as a somewhat naive beginner.

Before carrying on, therefore, I wanted to learn as much as possible about this fascinating area.

A psychologist friend here in California pointed me in an intriguing direction, leading me to spend some amazing hours among the miles of shelving in the Stanford University library exploring possible connections between guided imagery and hypnosis.

It’s really, really, interesting.

You’ll be relieved to hear that I certainly don’t plan to become the next Paul McKenna, but I do think there’s much to learn from the power of suggestion which lies close to the heart of hypnosis.

I’m still not 100% clear what will happen next, but it seems to me that I should work on creating some new guided imagery sessions with the benefit of being more enlightened via my ongoing informal Stanford education.

These recordings will probably see the light of day early in 2019, but I’ll definitely keep in contact between now and then.

Who knows where the political world will be by then, though?

More positively, my very best to you at this rather odd time.

Let’s all keep going.

Can we talk?

There’ll be 144 packets of ten minutes in the next 24 hours.

Would you consider spending one of them with me?

Let me explain.

During the last year, I’ve poured a ton of time into learning as much as possible about the process of guided imagery.

This is where you’re encouraged as a listener to create pictures and experiences in your mind in response to words and music, aimed at bringing about some kind of positive outcome.

The process is also sometimes known as guided visualisation.

The claims for its effects are impressive.

It’s used to promote relaxation, lower blood pressure, and reduce stress.

Among other things, it also seems to help if people want to lose weight or stop smoking, for example.

Guided imagery can also be used as a way to manage pain and boost healing.

It therefore seemed to me that it might also have potential as a promoter of mental well-being, and that’s why I’m inviting you to join me for just one of your 144 ten-minute blocks today.

I think I’ve created something unique.

Clicking on the link below will take you to a short ten-item questionnaire. Check in with it, then you’ll be directly connected to a guided imagery session tailored to your answers.

It means I can give you pretty individualised support.

Now I know this kind of thing won’t necessarily suit everyone, but why don’t you at least give it a try?

You’ve nothing to lose except ten minutes of your day.

And you do have another 143 of those at your disposal.

One small request, though.

Guided imagery definitely works best when you relax as you listen to it, so you’ll need to be somewhere comfortable, where you can close your eyes, and not be disturbed.

You and our other Moodnudges readers have been completely brilliant at engaging with my many emotional well-being experiments over the past few years.

I do have a strong feeling that this one might just be particularly significant, though.

Let me know what you think of it, please.

Let’s get you started.

That spiky feeling in your shoe

I’ve been missing from Moodnudges for a couple of weeks, but all is well. I’ve just been a bit preoccupied with other things.

Sorry for the absence, although I promise I won’t be upset if you welcomed the break from one more thing to read.

To get us back on track, I’ve recorded a swift two-minute update I hope you’ll enjoy.

It was inspired by me taking out the trash the other night with socks, but no shoes, on.

What an image, eh?

Anyway, let me tell you more:

How to stop negative emotions defining who you are

In the ten or so years I’ve been writing posts for Moodscope, and then Moodnudges, I’ve almost never handed my blog keys to another driver.

A week ago, though, Cate – a loyal and long-term reader – emailed me a piece that her twenty-year-old son Jacob had written on the subject of emotions and behaviours.

I thought it was really special, so much so, that I asked Jacob for his permission to share it with you, and you’ll find it below.

Jacob Harvey grew up in Nottingham, and now lives in London, working in financial services.

He tells me that he spends a lot of time trying to understand how we human beings operate, and what makes us who we are.

I loved this, his very first post, and particularly enjoyed seeing things through the eyes of someone who has spent the greater part of his life living in the 21st century.

I’ll add a link to Jacob’s blog below, but here’s what he wrote:

I am vs I feel

I’ve been identifying too much with my emotions.

Quite a deep introduction, but hear me out…

I feel like I let my emotions define me. I can wake up in the morning and, for whatever reason, not feel good about things.

I might wake up and say to myself, ‘Today I am frustrated/upset/angry/anxious.’

Then I identify with those emotions and ultimately become them. Throughout the day, that’s me.

What a waste, right?!

I want to share a small trick I stumbled across that has really helped me feel better, reduced the power of my negative emotions, and stopped me overthinking and identifying with them.

I’ve called it ‘I am vs I feel,’ and it’s the art of disassociating.

It starts with a reframe.

I’m a strong believer that you are who you are. There’s nothing you can do to change that.

Yes, you can grow, and develop, and mature, but no matter what situation you are in, or what emotions you’re feeling, you’re still the same person.

You are you.

But, instead of identifying with emotions and letting them define you by telling yourself, ‘Today I am frustrated,’ say instead, ‘Right now I feel frustration.’

Accept the emotion is there, but don’t let it become you.

I am Jacob Harvey. That’s me. And sometimes I feel frustration. That’s fine!

But this doesn’t mean I am a frustrated person.

The power of You never goes away, but you can very easily let the You be blurred by emotion.

So try it now.

If you’re jealous about something, don’t say ‘I am jealous,’ say ‘I’m feeling jealousy.’

Don’t say ‘I am angry,’ say ‘I’m feeling anger.’

Don’t say ‘I am sad,’ say ‘I’m feeling sadness.’

Think of a negative emotion you’re feeling now, or have felt recently, then apply this concept and see how it makes you feel.

When I applied this to my own feelings, it almost immediately reduced the power of them. It made them feel temporary.

Now that they weren’t consuming my every thought, I could get some perspective, and think more rationally about them, and get along with my day-to-day life.

So keep the emotions in the box they deserve to be in. Don’t let them consume you, and don’t let them become you.

As I said above, you are who you are, emotions don’t change that.

We’ll never be able to prevent negative thoughts and feelings, but what we can do is try our best to work with them.

In the words of author Mark Manson, ‘Accept them. Defuse from them. And then act despite them.’

The great thing about changing from ‘I am frustrated’ to ‘I feel frustrated’ is that it helps us observe the emotion in a healthier way.

You’re still going to feel negative emotions and think negative thoughts, but this doesn’t need to change who you are.

Using the ‘I am vs I feel’ concept makes our emotions seem short-term, and disassociates us from them. It enables us to feel happier, not allowing those annoying emotion things ruin a whole day/week/lifetime.

I’m not saying it’s a one-time cure, but it’s a good start to get some perspective on how you’re feeling, and a great step to dealing with emotions in a happier and healthier way.

+ + + + + + + + +

Isn’t that good? A big thank you to Jacob Harvey for sharing this. Here’s a link to his new blog:


Lastly, in a break from tradition, if you have reflections on Jacob’s thoughts, please post them on his blog, rather than here on the Moodnudges site, maybe letting Jacob know that Moodnudges sent you:

I am vs I feel

Six themes for a very important letter to a very important person

There have certainly been times in my life when I’ve felt stuck. Trapped, even.

Now and then it has felt that no matter what I did, I couldn’t change things, which was both frustrating and demoralising.

However, it invariably helps to remind myself that even when I believe I can’t change situations, I do always have a real choice about how I think about them.

The American author and radio host Earl Nightingale summed up this concept nicely: “Control your thoughts. Decide about that which you will think and concentrate upon. You are you are in charge of your life to the degree to which you take charge of your thoughts.”

Having a sense of control and autonomy over your own life is one of six fundamental factors driving your psychological well-being, represented by Independence, the first “I” in our SPIRIT model.

So allow me, if you will, to propose a brief exercise that may help when you’re next feeling a lack of this.

Set aside 15 minutes, and not a second more, to write yourself a letter about a situation you’re unhappy about.

The twist is that you’ll get to choose one of six ways to “frame” this note. And you have complete freedom to select which you use.

When you write, do so in the second person, talking to yourself as *you*, imagining you’re writing a letter to a very dear friend.

For example, “I totally understand the way *you’re* feeling…”

Remember, it’s your choice which angle you’ll take. Here they are, then:

1. FORGIVENESS e.g. “You feel guilty about this thing, but I want you to know that I completely forgive you.”

2. CURIOSITY e.g. “I’m genuinely interested in better understanding why you’re thinking this way.”

3. COMPASSION e.g. “I just want you to know how very sorry I am that you’re feeling the way you do.”

4. SOLIDARITY e.g. “I totally stand with you on this. The way you acted/thought was and is entirely justified.”

5. ACCEPTANCE e.g. “Let’s agree to accept what’s happened (or is happening) and aim to move on.”

6. AMUSEMENT e.g. “Just for a minute, why don’t we look at the funny side of what’s happened, even if it is bittersweet?”

When you write, aim to do so in a continuous flow, paying no attention to grammar or spelling. Simply pour your heart into a 15 minute letter to yourself, but with unceasing reference to the theme you chose.

Although a quarter of an hour really isn’t a long time, you should find this to be a powerful mood nudger.

Once you’ve experimented with deliberately choosing the theme of your letter, a twist on the technique (for another occasion, perhaps) is to throw a dice to randomly select one of the six. This, too, can work.

Through it all, however, the real value is in remembering that you truly do have a choice about how you think.

In the words of Pink Floyd, we don’t need no thought control.

And nobody can take this away from us, thank goodness.

Could your life have a Michelangelo-grade sense of purpose?

Early on this very morning (September 13th) 517 years ago, Michelangelo began chipping away at a block of marble, more than 17 feet tall.

Just under three years later, it had been turned into the work of art most regard as Michelangelo’s masterpiece: his statue of David immediately before his battle with Goliath.

To have turned over six tons of marble into one of the world’s most iconic sculptures in only 33 months, Michelangelo was clearly a man with a mission, living a life of true purpose.

However, rather than Michelangelo finding this sense of purpose himself in 1501, it’s more the case that the purpose found him.

You see, for the whole of the artist’s 26-year life, that marble block had been more or less abandoned in the yard of the cathedral workshop in Florence.

In fact, the sculptor Agostino had actually started rudimentary work, later abandoned, on the stone eleven years before Michelangelo was even born.

I wonder. Do you feel your own life has a sense of purpose?

Of course, it doesn’t need to be one with the monumental scale of Michelangelo’s.

But having something to live for—that gives your life meaning—is an incredibly potent force.

In fact, a recent report in the New Scientist suggests that a sense of purpose “helps prevent heart attack and stroke, staves off dementia, enables people to sleep better, have better sex, and live longer.”

Seriously, what’s not to like about that?

Of course, there are likely to be times in your life, as there have been in mine, when life’s purposefulness may seem wanting.

However, while there might not be a six ton block of marble waiting with your name on it, I firmly believe that looking around you can reveal opportunities for you to make a difference – to carve out your own meaning.

Keep your eyes, ears, and mind open for worthwhile causes or projects.

Perhaps they will involve connection to another person, or to a group.

They might even entail caring for a garden, riverbank bank, or urban environment.

The thing is, you don’t need to start big.

Putting a toe in the water can make a lot of sense.

So, on Michelangelo’s timescale, what could you start today that might bear fruit in, say, 33 months?

That would be June 2021, not that far away actually.

Why not celebrate Michelangelo today, then, and look around you for your own version of his marble block?

Address your weaknesses by thinking like a mirror

If you take a selfie, have you noticed that your phone plays a trick on you?

When you use its front-facing camera, the image on the phone’s screen is flipped, as it would be if you see your reflection in a mirror.

Click the button to take a photo, though, and the image stored by the camera is generally unmirrored.

Sometimes people feel dissatisfied with photos of themselves, especially if selfie-taking is a somewhat infrequent activity. It turns out that this is partly because we often unconsciously favour self-images that have been flipped, mirror-like.

In 1977, long before the invention of smartphones, researchers at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, demonstrated this in a fascinating experiment.

They asked participants to choose their favourite photo when presented with both their true image and their mirror image.

The majority chose the mirror image, even though they claimed they did so because the lighting was better or it was a more flattering angle.

Most simply didn’t realise that one image had been flipped.

Another intriguing aspect of the research was that participants’ romantic partners tended to favour the unflipped images.

Of course, at the heart of this is that people prefer pictures that match up to what they see most frequently.

We see ourselves in the mirror all the time when we brush teeth, put on make-up, or shave. So that’s the picture we carry.

However, we tend to see people we’re close to face-to-face, not in the mirror, therefore favouring unflipped images.

By the way, when Snapchat launched in 2011 (from a Stanford dorm room a few hundred yards from where I’m sitting) its founders capitalised on people’s love for their mirror image by not unflipping selfies when they were recorded. Interesting.

Incidentally, experts on selfie-taking suggest that a way to free yourself from preferring mirror images is simply to take plenty of selfies, so your brain gets used to true images.

So now you have an excuse.

Actually, though, my real mission in writing about mirror-image preference today is to get us thinking about the mental pictures we form of ourselves.

I’m well aware, perhaps you are too, that the self-image I carry in my head can bear little resemblance to the picture others have of me.

And I think this can be challenging, because self-acceptance is a key plank in our psychological well-being, and all too often we can be overly hard on ourselves when it comes to what we might view as our weaknesses.

Maybe, though, it’s possible to use the analogy of a mirror in order to reframe weaknesses?

Let’s see if I can demonstrate what I mean by revealing three of what I perceive to be my own shortcomings.

Off the top of my head, then, here are three (of rather too many):

1. Work-wise, I worry that I spread myself across too many different projects.

2. I don’t think I’m sufficiently motivated by making money.

3. I sometimes believe I fail to socialise enough with new people.

Let’s now, though, apply a mirror to those three issues:

1. By working on a wide range of ideas and projects, I’m able to apply learning from one area into another.

2. If I was ruthlessly and solely driven by earning money, I’d lose the undoubted joy of working on Moodnudges, which of course leads to my relationship with you.

3. Avoiding parties doesn’t mean I dislike the company of other people, far from it. But by focusing my attention on a smaller number of people, I believe I to get to know them, and care for them, in a deeper way.

Suddenly those weaknesses sound a little better, don’t they?

Of course this approach to self-acceptance shouldn’t prevent me, rightly, thinking about ways in which I could work on these weaknesses.

There would be nothing wrong, for example, in ensuring that I don’t take on so many projects that I lose focus. Perhaps one or two could go on the backburner.

A little (but just a little) more concentration on money matters might be no bad thing.

And, occasionally, it might do me good to step out of my comfort zone to meet new people.

What’s most important, however, is to gracefully accept that – like all people – I have my weaknesses.

It’s just that they may not be quite as destructive as they could appear to me at first glance.

Why not consider applying this mirror technique to what you believe may be your own weaknesses (whether or not others would agree)?

Remember, you’re looking for the positive, flipside of qualities you might wish you didn’t have.

If you try it and reach helpful conclusions, I know I’d love to hear about them, as I’m sure would our other readers.

Lessons in change, from the dead plant that wasn’t

After a full month away from home in July while I house-sat for a friend, I guess it wasn’t entirely surprising that the little sage plant outside my front door finally decided to call it a day.

When I left, it had been greenly abundant, but when I returned it was little more than a few scant twigs poking up from the wooden box of soil in which it had eked out its existence.

With nobody to water it, there was little hope of it surviving.

Or so you might think.

You see, I decided to not give up on that little plant.

As you can tell by me leaving a plant to fend for itself in the hot California sun for a month, I’m really not much of a gardener.

However, my instincts told me that, just maybe, a rescue mission might be possible.

Bending the plant’s dry stalks, I snapped off those that appeared dried out beyond repair, clearing the box so its only inhabitant was the stumpy little sage plant.

I then started watering it every day.

Not too much, but daily, like clockwork.

As you might expect, for several days nothing happened at all, beyond the soil starting to take on a healthier dark colour, in contrast to its former pallid ash-like appearance.

But then, miracle of miracles, after a week of watering, the tiniest, weeniest green leaves started sprouting from what had looked like a completely dead stem.

Another few days later, those microscopic leaves had grown, and had been joined by others.

While bringing the sage plant back to life feels like a genuine small win, perhaps the greatest value of this little experience has been to remind me of four important steps that enable transformation of some kind to happen.

I’m pretty sure that this can apply to people like you and me, just as well as it does to sage plants.

First, there needed it to be hope.

If I’d believed I’d be wasting my time on the plant, I wouldn’t have begun its attempted rejuvenation.

Equally, if you want to experience a change of some kind in yourself, it seems important to believe that change is indeed possible.

The second step involved clearing away the dead growth.

Perhaps the parallel for us as humans is that we should do our level best to repress the negative thoughts that threaten to interfere with the change we desire.

Being aware of them is a good start. Saying no to them may be hard, but it’s not impossible.

Step three in Operation Sage involved consistently watering every day.

Human change demands much the same, I think.

Creating a new habit, for example, means doing something every day, showing determined persistence.

The final piece of the jigsaw with the sage bush was to be patient, not expecting to see immediate results.

I’m sure this is equally true when we want to experience some kind of change in our own lives.

Since it’s probably not going to happen overnight, it’s sensible to allow things to take their own due time.

What worked for the plant may also be a good approach for you and me, therefore:

1. Have hope.

2. Clear the way for change.

3. Be persistent.

4. Have patience.

Perhaps these four steps will prompt you to consider a transformation of your own?

Whatever happens, though, I’m happy to credit my plucky little plant for its, well, sage advice.

Reach out and touch someone.

Of course, there was no way it could have actually been a crime scene, but I certainly did a double-take as I walked across the Stanford campus just now.

For there, on the asphalt, were two life-size chalked human outlines, and although it was hard for me to tell if they’d been drawn around real people, they certainly had a kind of CSI look about them.

The outlines were positioned more or less head-to-head, but what particularly drew me to them was that the two individuals’ hands overlapped each other’s, giving the effect of them holding hands.

Just to avoid any misinterpretation, the artist had added a little heart and the initials “M+I.”

If you come across something like this, it’s no accident that you could use the word “touching” to describe it. Touch can be such an important part of our interconnections with others.

Although I guess that’s obvious in intimate relationships, that’s not the path I’m taking today.

No, I’m thinking more about small physical contacts that can gently enrich our connections with others.

Before we go anywhere, let’s acknowledge that some people definitely don’t enjoy any kind of touch, especially from anyone they don’t know well, so it’s important to be super-mindful of not offending or upsetting others by crossing their boundaries.

If you’re not sure exactly where those boundaries are drawn, it’s generally better to err on the side of caution. Although it might be tempting (you never know), probably best to avoid a full-on hug with the driver as you board the Number 27, for example.

But having said this, touch is such a powerful phenomenon.

It was, after all, the very first sense you acquired as a baby.

No wonder it has such strong associations, then. And it may help to explain why different kinds of touch can convey different kinds of emotions.

In 2009, psychologist Matthew Hertenstein ran an experiment in which volunteers were asked to communicate a list of eight emotions to a blindfolded stranger, solely using touch.

So, when prompted to communicate either anger, fear, disgust, love, gratitude, sympathy, happiness, or sadness, how did the volunteers do?

Remarkably, accuracy rates were as high as 78%, demonstrating that a simple touch can say a heck of a lot.

Another experiment in 1976 involved university librarians returning library cards either with or without briefly touching the student’s hand.

When interviewed shortly afterwards, students who’d been touched rated both librarian and library more favourably, even when they hadn’t noticed the touch.

Although – as we’ve said – some people dislike being touched, the right kind of contact can be welcome for many.

And it’s one of those areas of life where it doesn’t seem to matter who goes first.

Dr Tiffany Field, Director of the awesome-sounding Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine explains that a person giving a hug gets just as much benefit as the person being hugged.

What’s more, when there’s nobody within touching distance, experts say even self-touch can be a powerful calming mechanism.

Hugging yourself, massaging your forehead, rubbing your hands together, stroking your neck, can all feel good. In fact these kinds of self-soothing behaviours have been shown to slow heart rate and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Please keep other people’s boundaries in mind, of course, but maybe you’ll find opportunities in the next couple of days to add depth to your connections with others through the often-neglected power of touch?

It certainly appears to be working for M and I.

That’s “M+I,” of course. Not M and me.