8 Tips to increase happiness and optimism

 

optimism photo

 

8 Tips to increase happiness and optimism

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”-Eleanor Roosevelt

I love the above quote as it suggests that no matter what negativity is aimed your way, you still get to choose whether to acknowledge the negativity and believe it, take it on board or whether to dismiss it as nonsense. I deal with many teenagers who are bullied at school and the constant daily nitpicking damages self-esteem and confidence. I often tell these clients that no one else can define them, only they get to define themselves. Whilst it is not easy to remain positive when you are bombarded with negative messages, you still get to choose whether to believe these messages or not. Positivity and happiness are within your reach.

1) Freedom to choose

We are born and eventually we die. In between we can choose exactly what we want to believe about ourselves. We can, and have the right, reject pressure from others, media and society and follow our own paths. Tuning into the essential part of ourselves, that person who existed before others tried to shape and mould us into what they wanted us to be is an important step in finding peace and contentment. It is not easy to resist pressure from others but continually ask yourself whether you are doing things for them or for yourself.

2) Be true to yourself

Positivity and happiness begins to emerge when we stop comparing ourselves to others and we honour our own wishes, needs and desires. I always thought that there was something wrong with me because, at school, I resisted the idea of an office job. The thought of being stuck behind a desk for eight hours every day filled me with dread. Instead of accepting the fact that I was a free spirit and working with that, I tried to fit myself into a mould that was of other people’s making. I ended up miserable and eventually realised when I was older, that it was okay to be different and not want what everybody else seemed to want. Only when I honoured my true inclinations did I begin to find my essential self again.

3) Gratitude

We are a planet of anxiety ridden communities. The very nature of our brains allows us to empathise with others as well as anticipate the future, unlike other mammals. If we’re not careful, our thoughts can run riot and create all sorts of catastrophes in our minds that may never happen. When we hone our thinking and start focusing on what is good in our lives, it is almost as if the brain begins to operate on a different wavelength. We start to notice more acts of kindness and begin to see the world in a more positive way. Try writing a gratitude journal every day. This is a simple process of writing down 3 to 5 examples of things that made you happy that day. It could be as simple as the sun shining or a stranger smiling at you. If you find that you are gravitating towards negative thoughts about your spouse or romantic partner, force yourself to think about their positive attributes. This jolts us out of our negative spiral of thoughts and increases positivity and happiness.

4) We receive what we expect

When we sit and fester about all that is wrong in our lives or in the world for that matter, it is like marinating in poison. We begin to only notice the negatives in life and the suffering of others. This serves us well in an ironic way as it confirms our beliefs about the world. When we expect negative things to happen it can become a self fulfilling prophecy. What are your views about your future? Do you anticipate good things happening or are you fearful of the future? Ask yourself how it helps you to maintain a fearful and negative attitude about your future It doesn’t. Make a conscious effort to look for the good in the world and to expect the best for yourself for greater levels of positivity and happiness.

5) Egocentrism

To a degree we are all egocentric. We do not experience the world directly, rather we see the world through our individual filters. This is made up of our past experiences, how our parents treated us and early life lessons. Most of the time we worry far too much about what others might think of us. The funny thing is, that others are  thinking about us far less than we realise. We are all more worried about ourselves than about how others appear. Whilst we are sitting there worrying about whether our bums look big in our outfits or whether we have spinach in our teeth, the people we are with are probably also worrying about their own issues-the cellulite they spotted whilst getting dressed that morning or the argument they had with their partner before leaving the house. I recently visited a friend unexpectedly and found her house to be in disarray. Instead of judging her, I realised that the fact that her house was untidy had served to bolster my view of my own home which was also messy but slightly less messy than hers. What I’m getting at is that I did not judge her for being an untidy slovenly person. Instead I used this experience to feel better about myself. Learn to let go of your fears about what other people think.

6) Reduce rigidity

So often I have clients come to me in great distress. The problems occur when there is a difference between the way life is unfolding and the way they wanted it to, or expected it to unfold. We create endless stress unnecessarily. It is common sense that if you have many rigid rules about life they are more likely to be broken thus causing anxiety. Learn to pick your battles in life and ask yourself how important it is that certain rules are adhered to. The more rules we have, the harder it is to maintain positivity and happiness. The more flexible, tolerant and open minded we are, the happier we tend to be.

A good example of this relates to me and my teenage son who is now 18 years old. I watch parents engaged in daily battles with their teenagers over untidy bedrooms, spending too much time on their computers and not doing as they are told (for example not contributing to household chores). Initially I was like every other parent-trying to do what I thought would make me look like a ‘good’ parent. The emphasis was on me and my expectations rather than on the bigger picture of how this was affecting my son. Parents often mistakenly believe that they can instil their rules on to their children. This is a misconception. The only way a teenager, or adult for that matter, will successfully adopt certain rules is when they consider the rules to be important for themselves. As a result I gave up counting on my son to clean his room constantly and I also let him choose the hours that he would like to spend on his computer and Xbox. Perhaps this may not work with every teenager but in my son’s case it has taught him to self regulate and he is more likely to compromise and negotiate with me rather than display anger or resentment. In fact, he takes responsibility for his own actions as he hasn’t been forced into adopting my priorities. As he matures, he naturally begins to adopt priorities for himself.

If you find that you have black-and-white thinking about life, consider areas where it may benefit you to live life more in the moment and spontaneously. Often rigidity is a “safety behaviour” in that it helps us to falsely believe that we are in control of our lives and acts as a maintaining factor. Take small steps towards reducing the rules that you have in life and you will soon see that you will feel freer.

7) Happiness and Internal Dialogue

Realise that your happiness starts with you. Your happiness is not dependent upon your relationship status, your job, your car, your accommodation or money. Happiness is an inside job. It may sometimes feel impossible to find happiness within yourself but trying to find happiness through external means is definitely impossible. Irrespective of your circumstances, you can still choose your attitude. (Read Viktor Frankl’s book – Man’s Search for Meaning for a good example of what I am referring to). Your thoughts are incredibly powerful and they can make or break your life. Make a habit of choosing thoughts that work for you not against you. You really can choose to believe anything that you want to about yourself and your life. If you really want to, you can think of yourself as a loser. I am not sure how that will benefit you in any way but you are free to do this. You can also choose to see yourself as someone who has good values, who is good to others and who lives a life that they are proud of-this includes making mistakes, feeling stupid and not feeling good enough at times. Don’t be hard on yourself, you are human just like the rest of us.

8) Limiting beliefs

The past does not make you who you are today. You can reinvent yourself at any time. We all have baggage, yes all of us, and this is what makes us part of the human race. No one has all the answers and we are all learning as each day passes. It is time to give up the beliefs and habits that are holding you back. Respect yourself enough to let go of anything that no longer works for you. Listen to your intuition and not your ego. Life is not linear, we can be successful (whatever success means to you personally) and lose it all. At times we can renew that success, at times not. I have also witnessed couples get married in their 20s and divorce in their 30s. I have  had clients come to me in their 20s explaining how they feel inadequate because they are not yet married with children. When we delve a little deeper it often turns out that rigid beliefs and limiting beliefs have choreographed this person’s views. When we let go of preconceived ideas and accept our lives as they are, we often feel as if a huge weight has been lifted off our shoulders. We can be happy with the way our lives are turning out rather than constantly be comparing our lives to something we imagined we would have had. Examine your beliefs and get rid of any that hold you back in anyway. Sometimes it takes a while to even begin to identify these beliefs but when you are aware that you have them they begin to crawl out of the woodwork.

It may seem that there are many things in life that detract from our positivity and happiness. It is okay to have down days, I still have “duvet days” and I’m getting better at enjoying them rather than feeling guilt all day long. Life is odd, life is weird. Never lose your sense of humour and always remember that this world is a crazy tapestry where one size definitely does not fit all.

Mandy X

What is experiential avoidance?

 

avoidance photo

What is experiential avoidance?

Photo by tropical.pete

Experiential avoidance is an attempt to avoid situations that make us feel stressed or anxious. The problem with avoidance is that the threat remains ‘untouched’ and we never learn the skills needed to work through the problem. Avoidance only works in the short term until another similar challenge presents itself.

Anxiety/stress  =   overestimation of the threat and underestimation of our ability to cope

We never learn how able we are to cope if we never confront the scary issues in life. The key to getting ahead in life and developing resilience is to approach those things that we fear. We develop greater psychological flexibility when we face our fears and see it though. Experiencing the outcome is essential for our personal development and growth. Either the outcome is good and that boosts us but even if the outcome is not as successful as we’d hoped, we still learn that we are able to cope.

The bottom line: do what you fear. It improves confidence (even if it goes wrong!) and makes you feel braver in life.

Mandy X

 

 

 

 

Reframing – the power of perspective

perspective photo

Reframing – the power of perspective

There are many ways to look at a single experience/event. It’s important to remember that our perceptions create our reality. If we see something as negative, our brains will use this message and create a state that makes it our reality. We see things through a ‘mental filter’ coloured by our past experiences. If we change our frame of reference by looking for an alternative story, we automatically change the way we respond to life.

Thoughts  –   Feelings  – Behaviour

Thoughts create feelings and feeling then influence our behaviour. Take a neutral situation. You come into work in the morning, say “hello” to a colleague who ignores you. We could have various thoughts from this encounter:

  1. We have upset this person and they are ignoring us deliberately
  2. They are tired and didn’t register that we said “hello”

 

There are many possible thoughts we could have about this situation and the one we settle on will create a feeling (either anger or sadness or frustration etc) and then this will influence what we do. If we feel angry we may confront the colleague or ignore them in the future. If we consider they may just not have heard us, we may carry on being friendly as before.

Our past experiences regularly influence what we think in the present – be aware of this as past experience create trigger points for us where we are more likely to be hyper vigilant and react.

Reframing in its simplest form is changing a negative statement (thought) into a more neutral or positive one by changing our frame of reference. Reframing is all about changing the meaning you have assigned to something in order to lessen it’s negative emotional impact and it’s a great skill to learn.

The first basic principle is that events or situations do not have inherent meaning; rather, you assign them a meaning based on how you interpret the event.

The second principle is that every thought has a hidden “frame” behind it. The frame is your underlying beliefs and assumptions that are implied by your thought.

The final principle is that there is a positive intention behind every negative thought.

That inner voice of yours that expresses negativity is only doing so because it wants to help you in some way. That doesn’t make the thoughts right or acceptable of course, but it does mean that your inner voice is not an enemy to be resisted.

Tips for reframing

Keep a thought journal and learn to look for evidence of your thinking. If you have a thought, “No one will ever love me”, ask yourself where is the evidence? You can’t predict the future and the past doesn’t always equal the future. It’s an irrational thought.

Use a pie chart – draw a pie chart and include as many alternatives to explain a possible issue. For example – as above, the colleague that ‘ignored’ you. What other reasons could there be for them not responding apart from the possibility that they don’t like you? Are you mind reading?

Be aware of unhelpful thinking errors – these always need reframing. Overgeneralising, personalising, all or nothing thinking, catastrophising, mind reading etc – these are all irrational, there is no evidence and they will create unhappy feelings.

Reframing is a great mental skill, you create your quality of life through your thoughts and perceptions – get into the habit of reframing and challenging your thinking regularly. Improve your ‘mental diet’ and you will lead a more contented life.

Mandy X

 

Keep your chin up

 

smiling photo

Photo by Teeejayy

Keep your chin up

Life can be a tough old game. I try to get through the tricky times by being philosophical and one of my favourite sayings is “Keep your chin up”. Don’t let life wear you down. We are all in this together despite often feeling alone and isolated. I love it when people share their experiences instead of trying to pretend that their lives are perfect.

Being a therapist, I get to see the ‘under belly’ of society and I can assure you that, without exception, everyone has something that they are struggling with to varying degrees.

Instead of judging others, I always try to have empathy and understand why someone has chosen to act in a specific way – it usually comes from lack of love, feeling misunderstood or poor problem solving skills. Whatever the reason, remember we can all help each other out and show empathy to other people’s distress, Maybe that sounds to idealistic but the world would be wonderful if there was more love, kindness and tolerance.

When life feels hard, don’t isolate yourself, reach out to others – there are many who care and who can help. Keep the faith and never give up hope. Hope can pull your though many difficult situations. easier said than done, I get that but worth trying to achieve nonetheless.

That’s partly why I write this blog, when I get one person writing to me to tell me a post has inspired them or helped them in a small way, it fills me with a wonderful feeling of hope and contentment.

Tomorrow is another day and if you feel at rock bottom, remember that the only way is up! Life is a series of trial and error, ups and downs. Put fear aside and hope in your pocket…reach out to others and above all keep your chin up.

Mandy X