Transformation is Exciting–Part One-The Start

Like so many of us, I go through a lot of phases when it comes to self-esteem. Sometimes,  I think I’m amazing,  and that I deserve to love myself. Other times I stand back, look at the darkest parts of my soul, and wonder how anything is ever going to turn out right. But there’s one concept that has given me a deep emotional stability throughout the years — that I can change; that ultimately I am the one who decides to be me. And I can consciously choose to be happy for most of every day.

The Darkness Almost Swallowed the Warrior

The darkness descended on the tough old warrior.  He wasn’t alert or even worried.  There had been other storms.  Some with lightning, torrents of rain, and waves of ominous black clouds.  He had always maneuvered his way through without even getting too wet.

He was stumbling around in a big wide circle after pulling over seconds after it almost got him. He glanced down the grade and saw the logging truck’s red taillights preparing for a tricky turn in the distance. The same rig that he had almost impulsively pulled his car in front of in a surprising move. A clear voice that sounded like his own had screamed: “Just do it!” He had jerked the wheel to the left and crossed one lane and was heading toward the giant metal creature that would have had no time to react and never could have stopped.

He saw his son’s face as if in a vision and that brought him back to this world. He took a turn at the next side road and scrambled out.

His legs gave out and he collapsed. He sat there stunned like a boxer who had taken a stiff left hook to the temple. What got him to a dark place like this? Well, the stress of another death may have been too much, but the answer was quite simple really.  Like the boxer, he had let down his defenses, the ones that had always worked.  In short, he gave up on the very coping skills that had always allowed him to let the cruelties and suffering he often witnessed roll off of him.  They had never stuck before.

The he was me.

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I shared the story of my near demise because I want to make it clear to those who find this transformation program that I am no sterile clinician spouting out advice from my office to those struggling. I am a humble traveler who has been given some knowledge. It is my mission to share such knowledge. Walk with me. We will stroll side-by-side as equal travelers not with me in the lead and you following. I am not exceptionally intelligent, or especially gifted and certainly do not think of myself as superior to anyone. What I do have is 41 years of experience working with children, families, sex offenders, foster kids, runaways, and the mentally ill. I taught and coached nearly two-thousand students, had over a hundred foster children and over 30,000 hours of direct, one-on-one contact with adult male clients and friends challenged with paranoid schizophrenia. I have a slideshow of memories and have developed a series of antics and activities that work to help people become happier.

“As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.”
Henry David Thoreau

In order for us to have a successful journey, I need you to accept certain premises. Henry David’s quote is the basis of my entire philosophy. It also shows that people have been thinking and experiencing such matters for many years. I am fascinated by the current and recent remarkable work that has been done on changing the brain’s structure and inner workings by the calibration of experienced Buddhist meditation experts and western neuroscience professionals. Those who seek change can do so with full confidence that the results are real and measurable. Things once thought of as “mystical” are now common knowledge in the neuroscience arena. This is tremendously exciting and provides a systematic way to make personal changes.

Marcus Aurelius: If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself but to your own estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”

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We can’t choose what happens to us in life, but we can choose how to respond to it. In fact, the possible responses are infinite. We run into trouble when our brain’s protector sends us messages that are not facts but opinions that alert us to possible danger. This trait was once necessary to keep us safe and alive but is now often mostly false alarms that cloud our thinking and negatively influence our behaviors. These messages are pathways and are familiar to us. The brain likes familiar as it has experience with it and can predict what will likely happen. The problem is that we will take familiar paths that lead us to unhappy places over and over again because our mind has determined this is the safest thing to do as we already know this particular danger, which is a false opinion or a cruel joke. We can make new paths and immediately.


We have a limited amount of attention available to us each day. One can think of  the brain’s attention center as a single glass of water and the rest of the brain as the Pacific Ocean. A cougar cannot focus its attention on hunting for food when his brain is engrossed with getting away from a nearby predator. When the human brain is consumed with other things, like perceived threats to common concerns like status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness (SCARF),  then this sucks water out of the attention glass. The result is less creativity, focus and productivity on important tasks. In order to keep from losing all the water in the glass, we can learn to regulate our brain’s  workings and emotions.

To understand this key to living a more successful, happy life, it is helpful to recognize that the logical, rational, Mr. Spock, part of our brains is way more limited than we think. Most insights and problem-solving happen elsewhere in the brain when things are quiet. The brain needs calm and silence to perform at its optimal level.

There is one major organizational principle at work at all times in the brain. It is the threat versus reward evaluations that are being performed constantly.

You are walking down the street and the brain is evaluating everyone who walks by, and its assumption is that every stranger is a potential foe or threat until proven otherwise. You see a book cover in the store window and make a judgment on that. You see a college student come racing by on his mountain bike on the sidewalk, then see a shop owner on a ladder a few steps away washing the windows. Your protector is scanning everybody and everything to make certain all is threat free. You see an attractive woman give you a smile and your brain pleasure (!) area is engaged for a few seconds before a siren goes off in the distance, which stops all that.

Here’s how it works:


 

AWAY————————————toward

THREAT——————————–reward

This protector, the limbic system, has a very active role and set rule of thumb. It is hypersensitive to threats to survival and is constantly out to minimize danger and maximize rewards. However, the threats are much more powerful than the potential rewards and thus are much, much more dominant. Bad gets way more attention than positive rewards. The brain’s default appears to be to focus on the bad or threats and pay way more attention to them.  These possible threats create a good deal of noise. But luckily, the front part of the brain can regulate these messages and transform them. Just as a weight-lifter can grow bigger and stronger with regular focus on specific muscle groups, the frontal lobe can be taught to make new pathways that will silence the noise of the threats. This is amazing and incredibly simple to learn to do.

Here is an example: You are walking down the street and see a good friend coming your way. Your brain assesses the situation and wants to move toward your friend as it will probably be pleasant and rewarding. You get a little dopamine hit which is pleasing. A block later you see a man who fired you unfairly at an agency where you both were working two years ago. You duck your head and turn down the alleyway to avoid him. Your heart is racing and you are breathing hard. If you have no skills you will be shook up for hours as the bad emotions have way more impact than delightful ones. In fact, you have totally forgotten about seeing your friend moments earlier.

This scenario can be completely changed with some knowledge and practice at Emotional Regulation- which is central to successful, happy living.

We manage emotions poorly and almost totally backward but by learning about what is going on in the brain we can get highly skilled at regulating them.

When we experience some stress (threat) we have three choices:

  1. Expression
  2. Suppression
  3. Reassessment or Reframing (Cognitive Therapy)

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We can learn how our brain works and it is important to learn that it is our brain responding to perceived threats not us. We can learn to say: “Oh, that’s just my brain trying to protect me.” We can go about expressing our emotions verbally but that is mostly maladaptive to most environments and may make us feel better briefly but will cause distress to those around us. It was once taught that we needed to not keep things bottled up but release our emotions. If we were angry it was once thought healthy to yell and release it.

However, this yelling simply reinforced the anger path and made it a deeper, more familiar, easier to use and a wider pathway in the brain. This technique did have a kernel of the truth. Suppression is ineffective, unpredictable and can be dangerous especially if one’s major goal is to be happy most of each day. If you suppress, like most do, then many others will feel intuitively that you are hiding something and perceive your behavior as a bit of a threat themselves. Suppression doesn’t work. If you try not to think of something then part of your brain keeps checking in to see if you are not thinking about it which makes you think of it! Suppression of emotions can cause attention to wander, memory loss and frustration. The body will respond with an increased pulse rate and other signs of stress.  It is the most commonly used method, that is true,  but certainly not the most effective.

What works when a stress or emotion pops up into your mind? Here are two simple things:

Labeling an emotion aloud will put on the brakes on the threat response, calm the brain and fill back up the glass of attention availability somewhat.

Reframing—You change the interpretation of the event, immediately. The brain becomes quieter, which is always a good thing.

Here’s a scenario to witness:

It’s three pm and I have got to drive down to this town 35 minutes away, pick up some brochures from the printer for tomorrow’s meeting, and be back by five pm to take my friend Rick, who uses a wheelchair, shopping that I promised to do a week ago. I am on the highway and about half-way there when, to my horror, a road construction crew has a line of cars stopped. I come to a stop. Now, here is where the content, wise and productive people show an advantage over the rest of us.

I am profoundly irritated at this point. I curse the universe for my bad luck, smack the steering wheel hard and start calling myself names. “You damn dummy! You always do this kind of thing. Why did you wait until the last minute? What a bonehead! Oh, shit, what about Rick? What am I going to do about breaking my promise? This is bullshit!”

Actually, I would never do such a thing anymore. ( I used to choose this type of option and did so many times) I have developed some other skills. I would reframe this, that would be my new choice.  I would immediately laugh at the minor dilemma and say something like: “Oh, well.  Everything is going to work out.  It always does. ”

I respect myself too much to become my own abuser. I would probably call Rick and tell him I was going to be a little late, find some music on the radio or kick back and close my eyes. The possible responses are infinite and all in my control. I have no obligation or requirement for being angry or even irritated. Will this matter in a week? How about a month? I am not going to get my way for a few moments. If one gains patience and learns to be calm then the next few moments of waiting could be relaxing and quite pleasant.

Or I could always choose to be miserable and talk nonsense to myself.  But why?

SKILL NUMBER ONE:

Change your self-talk this very minute and forever.


I have met too many people who call themselves names, have negative things they repeat over and over like a nasty, negative mantra and abuse themselves. I have seen too much abuse. You must make the commitment to stop repeating this ill-treatment. Are the words even yours? Or are they words from some abusive asshole from your childhood? When you make a mistake, say: “ That’s not like the new me. Oh, well. It isn’t the end of the world.” Then smile or laugh or clap your hands. Many people with negative self-talk habits will have deep pathways that are almost like river canyons and been traveled through too many times. Catch yourself doing this and stop it!

If you are going to assume more control over your inner environment and remake it into a more peaceful, happier place you must start here. Compliment yourself for good decisions and enjoyable times. Allow the poor decisions and mini-dilemmas to disappear like morning dew on the grass when hit by sunshine.  Wave at your reflection.  You do not need to be your own worst enemy. Enjoy who you are and try to improve things you don’t like about your behavior. Oh, I have another related question:

What was your big crime?


You were born into this world clean-handed, guiltless and sinless. So, what was the big crime you keep punishing yourself for with your negative words and basic unkindness to yourself? What was it? Now, take the stand and provide some evidence of your guilt. Little children are most often victims, not the criminals. Nobody cares what happened in the past anymore for nothing can be done about it other than setting yourself free from the prison you yourself built. The one with no keys; the door has never even been locked. Step out and walk to the sunshine. Perhaps, it is fear not a crime,  that has you worried.  Write it all out have someone analyze it with you.

I have a video to share.  In this video, she provides you with an activity that we will close this lesson with today.  You have a fun task to perform. Go to 31:36 to get it.


Finish this first session with the watching of the  Stonecutters Story at  22:40.  We are on the journey.  If you want more information this site is filled with videos to watch about many subjects.  I highly recommend the happy page at the top.  Until part two, remember, now and always:

ENJOY YOUR LIFE!

 

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Transformation is Exciting–Phase Two-Visualization

Transformation is Exciting-Part Two

Developing an Emotional Toolbox

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We finished our first stage of the journey with a video in which this profound statement was said: “We have a front row seat in life and we are sitting in that front row with our eyes closed.” The little journal activity in which you take ten minutes at the end of the day to review your day is not a soft, cute activity with no value. It is psychologically sophisticated and worth doing. I suggest making this journal activity a part of your daily routine. To review: You replay your day backwards in the evening and write down the answers to three basic questions which are: What surprised me today? What touched my heart today? What inspired me today? I have done this as a matter of habit for two years now and have a collection of the answers. If this doesn’t work for you, I can suggest an alternative to use or to add to it. Write down three positive things that happened to you today. I have added this to the three questions but doing the three positives alone could also help.

I have other things to add that I think most of you will enjoy. I am suggesting you develop an emotional toolbox with the goal being that you can pull out different tools depending on the thing troubling you, some stress of some sort, to change your thinking. The theory being that you need new ways and skills to respond to the world when you feel unsettled. You will enjoy these; I am confident.

Your favorite spots—I call them power spots but you can make up your own term. Let me show you.


This is a place I visited on the Florida Panhandle, Destin, where I had an invigorating experience that stuck with me. I swam in that water in the early morning and a circle of dolphins swam around me. I can still feel the water as I floated out there. I can make this place and the experience of floating and then seeing the dolphins near me come alive in many ways. When I need a break, I call upon this memory and am able to relive this experience. I have been there over and over again in my mind many times. The visualization is always immediately comforting. I have three other ones too.

This is my single favorite spot in the Puget Sound area. It is an isolated inn and restaurant called Captain Whidbey’s Inn. The place is right on the water; in fact, I can hear the seagulls and hear the nearby lighthouse horns right this minute by glazing at this picture. On the back of this remarkable building, made of red madrona logs,  are four rocking chairs that are on the deck looking over the water. I can feel myself rocking there. The memory of this place always calms me.

I can still relive the experience of canoeing in front of this place surrounded by all the beauty.

This is my favorite city power spot called Waterfall Park in the Pioneer Square section of downtown Seattle. It is on a corner and I have sat there many times letting the water sound fill up my soul. I can hear it and feel the spray as I sit in one of the chairs there in the front. This is remarkable place. I have shown you four of my spots but I have many more. If I am waiting for a bus or feeling stressed about something, I can visit one of these four spots with my eyes closed for a few seconds or minutes and get a grand sense of peace. It stills the mind, doing this.

LESSON FOR TODAY: Pick out a few power spots through photos. Go to Google Images if you don’t want to dig around for photos and grab a shot or two. Find a few, I picked four to share. Put them on a sheet of paper, write about them if you want but at a minimum relive and replay the experience of the places you pick. When you feel unsettled or have a few minutes to fill up, travel there in your mind. Rock in the chair, feel the sun on your face, see the reflection from the water or whatever senses were provoked. This will release dopamine in the brain and calm you. It is a simple form of mediation. I think you will enjoy this and it can have great benefits. Make this a part of your toolbox and use this.

I want to share an experience I had with visualization. I was playing golf by myself one day on an empty golf course. I was the only player in sight. In this sport, the better players must learn to visualize and see every aspect of the shot before they attempt it. It is in all the literature on golf but only the very best players can do it regularly. Since I was working on becoming good, I was practicing this visualization on each shot. I had to hit a shot over a stand of tall trees that were blocking my way to the green in the distance. I imagined my ball flying up over this one specific tree and just slightly clipping the top branch with a slight right to left spin on the ball. I saw this happening before the shot in total clarity. I took the swing and up the ball went, EXACTLY like I had envisioned it. It clipped the branch and drew gently from right to left. I stood there stunned and amazed. It was like I had seen something happen in my mind before I made it happen. The snapshot became real. In fact, while writing this I can see the ball, feel the small breeze and my feeling of awe. Now, this took place in a recreational activity but I translated the concept into my regular life. It can be done—visualizing—and is a wonderful skill to have available to you.

The last concept in today’s leg of our journey is this one. I call it: Stop the World. It goes like this. We all walk around as if in a bubble or like a racehorse with blinders on. Our attention is focused on only things in our limited view. Every so often during the day, stop moving. Look up at the sky; if there are clouds follow them for a moment or two. Sit down on a bench and observe people and how they are moving around. Drop a pebble in a pond or creek or bay. Look out in the distance. Close your eyes and merely listen to sounds you were probably filtering out. Take in smells, feel the wind or breeze. Stop the World for a moment or two and join into the things of which you are unaware. If you are walking somewhere, notice your pace and then slow way down for a bit. Walk really slowly and take some deep breaths and suck in some calmness. If you make such moments habitual, you will approach and experience each day with more awareness, peace, and appreciation. These are not difficult skills.

This is the end of this particular lesson. Move onto to others at your own pace. I am creating a menu for you and you can take in as much or as little as you want. The next step of this journey we will continue on with some more tools. But for now, as always, remember:

ENJOY YOUR LIFE!

 

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Transformation is Exciting-Phase Three–The Big Three

Transformation is Exciting-Phase Three–

I hope you grabbed some value from the last lesson on creating an emotional toolbox. Let’s add some more tools in today’s lesson.

You need movement; we all do. Walking is great for all things. I like walking as a daily habit because it takes no real preplanning or special clothing. Walk in the mall in bad weather; walk around the city streets or nature or around the block. If you are more physical, jogging or biking (my personal favorite), can become positive daily habits. If you enjoy or have enjoyed physical activities then go lift weights at a gym, take a sauna, a yoga class or whatever appeals to you. If you have some aversion to exercise, then just walk. It helps with mood and thinking. Nearly every great writer was a diligent walker. Start out with making it around the block and go from there.

Diet—Nobody likes to be lectured to about eating properly so I will only mention that blood sugar influences moods so take that into consideration. It is very important that one eliminate possible physical contributors to mood problems. Eating breakfast is something I nag my clients about constantly. So, you can’t fully escape from this particular lecture. Some juice, an egg, some cereal or oatmeal after going hours and hours with no fuel is important to all health. Make the adjustment and don’t start each day with a bunch of coffee or wait until your body is screaming for some nourishment. Keep the blood sugar stable and avoid spikes. You know this but depressed or unsettled people will often neglect this aspect of their life. This may take force on your part. How about a blender drink? Take some fruit, some milk, a little honey and ice cubes and make a smoothie. Feeding yourself properly is one of the first steps to being your own best friend. I could give you all the reasons but if I go on past this sentence, I will lose you so I will stop.

Sleep—

If there is one single common denominator in mood swings, depressive days, irritability and those struggling with the most severe of mental challenges it is erratic sleep patterns. You must get the necessary sleep or everything else we try will have less impact on transforming. In fact, if you do not develop a good sleep routine and schedule and make a commitment to follow forever such a schedule then you might as well stop following my words and go elsewhere for help and guidance. I will not be able to help you.

I know this from deep personal experience as I have struggled with sleep difficulties for two full decades now. It started for me when I first got divorced. I couldn’t sleep properly in a bed alone. It was too emotional. I started parking myself on the couch in front of the television until I passed out. I never went into a deep state of sleep as my mind was processing the sounds and scenes from the television. It became a habit. Finally, I was on vacation in the Canadian Rockies and rented a condo with my buddies in a spectacular mountain setting. I crawled into bed and had the most glorious sleep of all time. I woke up with more energy, and happiness then I had experienced in years. It was so profound of an experience and insightful that when I got home I made changes because I had felt so much better in all ways up in the mountains. Now here is a case, perhaps the only case, that I allow negative self-talk. I would catch myself staying up and have to order myself to bed. I demanded I got into bed also. No more sleeping with the television on.  I wasn’t always successful but did learn to put my TV on a timer at least so it shut itself off which eliminated the background noise which was an improvement.

When I started my traveling mental health counseling I noticed that all my clients had weird sleep patterns. Many of them would stay up until three or four am and get up around noon or one pm. I started gently persuading them to try going to bed an hour or two earlier and deliberately waking them up by visiting in the morning. As the years have gone by, I have gotten them all to adjust to a more normal schedule although they struggle. I monitor this every time I visit them. I always have them tell me about their last night’s sleep. The only client I have had in ten years who had to return to the hospital for any significant time had a time when his sleep got all messed up. Sleep is food for the brain and if you want to make cognitive changes then you must sleep on a proper schedule.

Here are the basic principles:

  • Your bedroom has to be comfortable and the bed itself comfy
  • No unnecessary light should enter the bedroom
  • Develop a bedtime routine-just like what is done with children
  • A beginning to that routine should be some liquid—herbal tea or milk or hot chocolate
  • Reading something as part of the routine-either in bed or in a cozy chair.
  • The same time schedule—I agreed with myself that one am was the latest time ever. I normally go to bed at midnight
  • I am old so I need less sleep so midnight to six am is perfect for me now
  • If I don’t go to sleep quickly I do a progressive muscle relaxation technique which I will explain in a moment
  • I have these play-lists on YouTube and play one to listen to as I head for bed. I am normally asleep by the third song or so. I also play comedy pieces on my comedy playlist which also works.
  • Consider taking a melatonin supplement-it works for many who have sleep problems. You don’t need a large dose of this 3mg is enough.  Studies have found anything over 20mg can be counterproductive.
  • Your mind and body cannot average sleep times. You can’t get four hours one night and twelve the next night- an average of eight and expect it to work. We need consistency.
  • If you can’t make the adjustments then talk with a pharmacist and get an over-the-counter sleep medication and take it on a schedule.
  • If your problem is too much sleep then really look at your schedule to see if it is consistent. Then analyze your activity level—it may need to be increased- and diet. Take a B-complex supplement. Get a blood test to see if you are deficient in vitamins or minerals. Force yourself to get up and hit the shower after eight hours and then immediately go eat. Do not allow yourself naps until you are on schedule.
  • See a doctor or go to the sleep clinic if things are very serious.

These are the Big Three of healthy living and the first place where people get themselves in trouble . Thus, it is also the first place to change habits that don’t work. Can you live successfully with an awful diet, little sleep and no exercise? Yeah, but not for long. If you saw a friend struggling with no sleep, living on sugar and whatever was near or convenient to eat and never even taking the time to get out of the house to walk around in the fresh air, I hope you would gently help. If you are not attending to these Big Three then you are really abusing yourself.

Come on give up all the arguments and rebellion and surrender. Here is a place where I do appeal to the rational or logical—These are simple things to do to take care of yourself and others. Be your own parent or best friend. Start a walking program—you will end up loving it, I promise. Eat a little something each day when getting up and quit sleeping like a meth-head. You can do it. Okay, I will take a break on the lecture and move on.

LESSON FOR THE DAY—PROGRESSIVE MUSCLE RELAXATION

Try this someday. Stretch out, close your eyes. Start with your toes—wiggle them a few time. Stretch your feet out several times. Move up and flex your calf muscles. Combine the calf flexing with the feet. Move up and rub your upper thighs and then flex them. Rub the back of the thighs and flex them several times and then relax them. Put your hands on your stomach and flex at least ten time and then relax. Do this slowly. Move your hands up to the chest and breathe in deeply five times. Put your arms out and and starting with the fingers, flex and then make a fist several times. Turn the hands from palms facing to palms pointing away from you. Make a fist several more times and flex and then relax the wrist muscles. To the same with the biceps and triceps. Flex from the fingers all the way up to the shoulders. Now go to the neck and rotate your head and then back and forth several times. Twist gently your left shoulder to even with your chin and then do the other shoulder to the same way. Stop and rest, taking deep breaths, as deeply as you can breathe. Move to your face and notice any tension. Squint your eyes, then look up. Grin and hold it several times. Rub your temples softly and breathe. Stretch yourself all the way out–making yourself as long as possible from the tips of the fingers to the toes a few times. Stop and breathe deeply and think of one of your power spots. Relax and feel like you are drifting on an air mattress in a lake on a hot summer day. Feel yourself drifting.

Those are many instructions but do not worry about following them precisely. Basically, start with the feet and slowly move up contracting and relaxing as you move up. Stretch yourself, especially the fingers. Rub you forehead and temples and breathe deeply. You are trying to relax everything is what this exercise is about. You will learn to do it your way. Get into the drifting and notice your breathing. Individualize this anyway you want. This is a good relaxation thing to add to your tool bag.

Watch too much caffeine and nicotine. Some is okay but be moderate.

If you have the money, go get a massage twice a month. You will love it!

This ends this lesson. Move onto others when you feel like it. And remember, now and always.

Myths of Sleep

ENJOY YOUR LIFE!

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Transformation is Exciting-Phase Four-Happiness

Transformation is Exciting-Phase Four

Happiness As a Major Goal?

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One of my pals, Dr. Susanne Freeborn, had this shot of a wall in her home in one of her posts. I love looking at this. It is such a positive thing. It is a good lead-in to the biggest and best tool that we need to add to our emotional toolbox. I need to explain.

When talking with folks, an infinite number of problems can come up. It could be difficulties with relationships be it with relatives, friends, parents, lovers or bosses. Problems could be spiritual or emotional battles with numerous roots to the causes. It could be of great benefit to go to each challenge and prescribe a remedy. Take every dispute and provide an antidote. But that would be both tedious and ineffective in the long-term as what would one do when new troubles arose? Hence, I am prescribing a general antidote to all problems, challenges, and troubles. It is making as your number one goal and top priority one thing: Be happy.

Hey, I can feel things through the computer screen so I heard some of you sigh and think about heading elsewhere. Be happy sounds so pie in the sky and new age or unreasonable. “Yeah, I would be happy if I didn’t have a bunch of abusive dolts to deal with all the time. If I could find a good job and make some decent money then I could be happy.” In other words, the formula for many is this one:

I could be happy if………………..( fill in the blank)

  • My family hadn’t abused me
  • My wife was more understanding
  • People would quit lying to me all the time
  • The World was more peaceful
  • Society wasn’t moving so quickly
  • I had finished college
  • I hadn’t given up the best job I had for no reason
  • My husband would have supported my dreams
  • I could lose some weight
  • I ever, ever got a single break
  • my kids appreciated all I had done for them
  • I had become a professional of some sort
  • People would recognize my talents and give me a chance
  • My dog didn’t shed so much
  • My daughter wasn’t in the county jail again

We could all sit around and add to this list that has no end. I could make a list that would take up volumes of sheets. They all have a basic flaw which is that happiness is something that you find by searching greatly or that comes from external objects of pleasure or is in the hands of others. WRONG!

Happiness is a personal moment by moment, day-by-day decision and choice. I have had many debates with people who do not agree with that statement and provide arguments to counter it. They view happiness as gathering up articles of things and when you get enough of them they will make you happy. It is like happiness is this gigantic piece of jewelry that will become whole when enough trinkets are added to the chain. If that were the case, no millionaire would ever take his own life. Rich people would be constantly happy as would all their family members. Beautiful women would always feel good about themselves.

Make me happy is a fascinating term. Not-be happy- but make me happy, like you are a piece of clay that can be molded somehow. Many people will see through this argument and agree that material goods may provide momentary pleasure but not happiness. Pleasure is not happiness. Pleasure is fleeting. If you find a serving of delicious cheesecake to be pleasurable will you find eight pieces in a row to be eight times the original pleasure? Why not? If you listen to your favorite new CD and it is pleasing how about if you played it over and over again for three days straight? Will it still give you pleasure?

Okay, most will give in on the material goods makes me happy debate. Rather, they may want to attach themselves to the theory that others make them happy by their actions and treatment of them. Well, then the reverse must also be true. That is, that people can make one angry, make one frustrated, make one feel worthless, make one unhappy. Okay, I’ll play. I treat you wonderfully and you really like it.

According to the theory, I have made you happy. Then I turn on you and get critical and nasty and I have now made you unhappy. You had no choice in the matter one way or another. So, if that is true then I want you to howl like a dog.

What? I want you to howl like a dog. If I have control over you then I must have complete control so howl like a dog. Then roll over and here, go fetch this stick for me. You read such a thing and think that it is absurd. CORRECT! You are getting it! I don’t have control over you nor does anyone other than a police officer or a crook holding a gun to your head. That is an extreme example of your life being threatened. But most daily decisions are not so limiting. You have numerous ways to react to people, events, and circumstances. When you really believe it and transform your thinking in times of stress, then your inner world will change into a calmer, more peaceful, pleasant place.

“He makes me mad!” I have heard that thousands of times. Again, let’s analyze that common statement. How did he make you mad? “Well, he said I was lazy, extremely incompetent and stupid. Wouldn’t that make you mad, Mr. Know-It-All?” Not necessarily. I have a nearly infinite number of options from which to choose in reacting to such a statement:

  • I could laugh wildly
  • I could leave the area
  • I could return the insults
  • I could start crying
  • I could punch him in the face
  • I could accuse him of making a joke
  • I could accept the statement as true and thank him
  • I could plot future revenge
  • I could share his nasty words with others
  • I could collapse on the floor either crying, laughing or play dead
  • I could play along and get in a wild argument in public with him
  • I could mirror back his words in a calm manner with no emotion
  • I could smile and say nothing
  • I could tell him he had the wrong person
  • I could put my hand underneath my armpit and make farting noises
  • I could hire a hit-man

Granted, I am having some fun with this. Would I find such a statement troubling? Perhaps, but that depends on several variables. If I had a bunch of money and was not dependent on his opinion then I could simply walk away. I could quit on the spot if he was my boss because I don’t want to be around toxic, unhappy people who use such words. I am in control of how I react to things, words, deeds, and emotions in my life. And so are you. Nobody can make you do one damn thing in the normal course of daily life.

Don’t follow that sign. You will only get lost.

In the example, I know the nasty statement is not true. It is not a fact but one person’s opinion. Big deal, would be the healthiest response. There is no requirement that I have to react in a certain way to abuse or trouble. I am not obligated to meet conflict with conflict. I can’t be pushed into a fight without choosing to do so. There is not a manual of how to handle such things properly. But the fact remains. NOBODY CAN MAKE YOU DO ANYTHING AGAINST YOUR WILL!

Well, if I chose to kill him on the spot then there would be consequences that I wouldn’t enjoy that is for certain but he didn’t make me get violent.

If you have given others permission to make you feel terrible about yourself it is because you allowed it. Wait that can’t be true! What if someone physically attacks me? I didn’t choose for that to happen. Good point, that was the attacker’s choice to do such a thing. You had nothing to do with his choice, regardless of what he says, including statements like you made me do that by how you were acting, which abusive people like to use as an excuse. Everyone can see the flaw and dishonesty is such statements dealing with physical force so why can’t we also see the similar flaw in suggesting anyone made you do anything?

You once made me happy. Now you make me sad.

Therefore, if material things and people’s opinions and treatment of you don’t make you happy then what does? Your mind does. If the number one goal in life was to be happy then the world would be a better place and your inner world would definitely be a better, more peaceful place. But once again, there is a flaw in even that statement that an alert human would focus on. If I get happiness by watching others suffering or by lying, cheating and harming people then that is not going to add to the world’s overall happiness. Oh, very good spotting, my alert friends whoever suggested that.

Yeah, a psychopath could indeed be a very happy person. But that proves the point. Abhorrent, hurtful things would not be cause for celebration for the majority of us. But the perverted mind is somehow able to make such things pleasurable. Well, if you do not have an evil or diseased mind that loves spreading misery as fun then your healthy, compassionate mind can choose to be happy no matter what the circumstances for most of each day. I am not talking about happiness taken to the extreme. That is seeing everything as funny and laughing at everything. Anyone who behaves that way is either too drunk, scored some righteous bud or is a complete loon.

There are exceptions when being happy most days is tested, of course.

If you lose someone you may be overcome with grief. But once again how you react to the tragedy is up to you. Your seventeen-year-old daughter gets cancer and dies suddenly. You could crawl into bed and stay there crying for months, which would be understandable. But you don’t have to do so. You could be aware of the fact that you were given the 17-years of knowing her as a gift. You could look at it that way or react in a hundred other ways to get you through the tunnel of loss.

Happiness is a choice explains a thing that I always wondered about in this life. Why are some poor people who live in constant poverty and struggle still happy, jovial and laugh their way through life? Circumstances would seem to dictate that they be miserable, stoic and unhappy all the time. But some people in horrid environments are happy and others are angry and unhappy. Same set of experiences but the interpretations must be different is the only reasonable explanation.

I am taking much time with this one because choosing to be happy is the best armor for protecting one from the battles of life there is available. Nobody can strip it away from you, ever. It is now time to switch terms. I am going to substitute the term happy for what I think is a better term or terms. I think contentment or even well-being is a better concept.

Happiness is an overused word and has this connotation as living life while laughing all the time. The sky is filled with rainbows, always bright, vibrant blue with no clouds, and unicorns fly in the sky. Sunshine, lollipops and never a down moment. This is an unattainable goal. But being content is not. You can have a dominating way of thinking and a constant goal of being peaceful and mostly quietly which contentment describes. Just like happiness is distinct from pleasure, then contentment is a less loaded, more mature term. A happy person is thought of as one roaring with laughter; we see a content person as one with a small grin, a peaceful look, and few words. I would probably change the wall to read: Be Content- which I think is even a better thought and goal.

Your goal is to be content for most of every day. But I am not a purist at all. I am a realist. During a part of nearly every day, there are going to be moments, if not full hours, where other emotions demand our attention. But if you are wearing the armor of contentment then you will be able to lessen the impact of troubles that blow your way and have more pleasurable times. If you can finish each day with a statement like: Today was a good day or even: Today was a challenging day but I made it. Then you are on the way. String a series of these days together and given enough time, you will find yourself transformed.

Writing this was a struggle to get in enough information on this major tool. There is no greater, more valuable tool to have as your ultimate goal in this life. It is time for a song.

Did that song make you happy? That was a trick! You may have chosen to feel pleasure or maybe you hated it. It didn’t make you do a damn thing.

Here is a video on happiness this is very enlightening and you should watch when you have the energy.  Forget the robes and the fact that he is a Buddhist if that bothers you for some reason.  Listen to his words, for they are very profound and wise.

ENJOY YOUR LIFE!

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Transformation is Exciting-Phase Five-Music

Most of us believe that music is an enjoyable luxury. I think that statement underestimates the power of music on the mind. I insist that you add some music to your daily life. Suggesting what forms is like suggesting which foods to eat and is folly. I do not know what music you find inspiring, uplifting, calming or peaceful. I am going to throw out a bunch of samples and let you go from there. But first, please read this article and soak in the information given in it. It is not long or too involved.

click on picture for the article

Music is at least as old as language, if not older,  in the human experience. It has many benefits and is enjoyable. Movements go along with music and all cultures have them. It was once thought that the brain had one center for music and that it was primarily a right brain activity. New information now shows that responses to music are all over the different brain parts and integrated in a complex way that is only beginning to be understood. Add a music time to your toolbox and use it daily. Here are some places that you could visit that I have found many people enjoy.

click on picture to go to Pandora Radio where you can make your own radio stations. I have over a hundred and it is all free

Here are two other sites that you may enjoy.

The Music Wall

The Music Maze

Another thing I do to collect and enjoy music is making playlists on YouTube. I have dozens of these video playlists and play them all the time as I write. Go to YouTube, make an account, then make your own channel and start generating playlists. If you get lost while doing so, leave a message and I will help you navigate it. I cannot tell you how much enjoyment I get out of these videos. Of course, there are many other places to collect music like I-tunes, Rhapsody and such. There are many resources to take advantage of and you can have quite a grand collection in merely a few hours.

Note: If music from the past provokes melancholy, excessive sadness or regret then perhaps you need to go with instrumentals. Make a Bach or Beethoven or Mozart channel on Pandora for example. Try some of the new age things.

 

youtube.com/watch?v=TgKJaiJC0-4]Music is good food for the brain. Good luck in making up your collection. Oh, I suggest getting some headphones if you want an intense experience with the sounds. I got a decent pair for thirty bucks.

ENJOY YOUR LIFE!

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Transformation is Exciting-Phase six-The Flow

If you are following along and trying some of the things mentioned in previous lessons you now have some positives tools available to use to transform your brain and your outlook on the world.  I suggested you make up some power spots which could be real places or ones that you simply like the look of when you view the picture or photo.  You are monitoring the basics like sleep, diet, walking and have a journal activity to do at the end of each day or most days.  You may have more of an awareness at choosing happiness as a goal and a progressive muscle relaxation technique to use if it works for you.  Perhaps, you have made a point of listening to music more regularly.

You are an individual and some of these may stick with you and others may not right off.  Good ahead and use what works and put aside other things that are not beneficial for you.

Today, I want to present to you a few words on what I call The Flow. To do so I am going to present a visual.

Look at one of my favorite river spots.  I show you to give you a graphic to understand these next few words.  I am a realist and no matter how we try to smooth things out for us there is still going to be times when you are flowing through chopping waters.  Since we are impatient creatures and want results quickly, there can be a tendency to get frustrated when the water isn’t always calm.  That is to be expected and is not cause for concern.  If I try to swim upstream against the current in the picture, I will probably not make it without some real struggles.  I was taught by a river expert that if you were ever captured by a whirlpool and tried to fight it then you would be exhausted in no time and be sucked under.  You allow it to take you down while staying calm and not struggling until you feel the pulling lessen in intensity.  You then dive out the side of it and are free.

The mind is used to certain things and new thoughts and suggestions can be translated into potential danger.  Water will always take the path of least resistance downhill and the mind will travel using familiar paths as a default.  Hence, what I am saying is do not be discouraged when you have a particularly troubling day or part of the day and fall victim to saying negative things to yourself like:  “This stuff isn’t working. It never does.  I will always be this way.  I am just a miserable as I have always been. ” Nope, go with the flow, even when you go from still waters into a series of rapids for a time.  Nothing is permanent other than change.  You are not like a rock beside the road but rather like a droplet in that river above moving, constantly moving.  It has taken years to create your brain’s habits and thinking.  It will take, not years, but some time to feel better on most days.  Many of these changes will be subtle and few will be dramatic epiphany moments.  Be kind and patient to yourself as you work on these simple, yet meaningful items. Praise yourself for trying new things and allow your regressions to drip off.  You are not a perfect one and so be kind to yourself and encourage yourself.  The more you do positive things for yourself, the easier it becomes and eventually habitual.

I have experienced this, fellow traveler.  I am going through a week and having some very good days or part of days.  Suddenly, I find myself confused, irritated and frustrated.  These negative thoughts provoke disappointment and maybe even depression.  When this happens, I go with the flow. If somebody did something that provoked negativity in me and I can’t make myself choose a different interpretation of the event, then I give the negativity some time on the stage rather than ignore it. I may think negative thoughts or rehearse nasty words to the person and allow myself to get into it for a little while.  My hope is that I will return to choosing peace in  moments but knowing that other emotions may need their time to be spotlighted.  This is not a flaw.  It is part of being alive.

Events that are out of our control can influence us too.  I have a simple, mostly happy friend who has his way to deal with life’s ups and downs.  He uses this visual.

Around and around we go. Sometimes up and the view is great and sometimes down where the view is ugly. But we are always moving.

I will ask him, “How are things going?”

He will answer with either this:  ” Oh, Blackie, I am on the down bucket, man.  Lost a big contract which is going to make this a tough month.” Or he may say:  “Oh, I’m on the up bucket, man.  Made a bunch of cash this month and the wife got a new job.”

We can make the wheel turn around faster with our thinking, however.  It is always important to enjoy the view at the top and be patient on the down buckets.  You will go back up.  This is all I have to say, other than to mention:

ENJOY YOUR LIFE!

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Transformation is Exciting-Phase seven–Self-Sabotage

Self-Sabotage

Have you ever felt like you were driving in a vehicle that was taking you to a place you didn’t want to go? You can sense the danger, the anxiety, and notice the passing scenery. You know without a doubt where the trip will end. But you not only continue but push down the accelerator.

This is the single most befuddling, bewildering and bedazzling human behavior of all to me. Perhaps, some examples here will clarify.

I was out one night when I ran into a friend of mine, Chris, at the Indian Casino where self-sabotage is a constant visitor. No, that is not accurate. It is no visitor, rather a constant presence and the biggest reason these casinos rake in the money. Well, here is Chris, a single parent, working two jobs and taking college classes, sitting at a dollar slot machine and smacking the button over and over, at eight dollars a spin. I sat watching as she stuck in at least three hundred dollar bills and spun all the money off.

When I quizzed her, she informed me she had just hit eight out of nine numbers which paid her $8,800 dollars. I knew what was happening as I have won big before too. I tried like hell to get her to just take a break for a minute, knowing that a pause would free her from the hypnotic control these machines can have on someone. Winning a huge amount like she had, is unbelievably exciting and addicting. You want to experience that feeling again. So, one feeds the beast. I couldn’t reach her and took off for home. I saw her two days later in the restaurant she works at part-time and felt really bad when she told me she had stayed out there for over 36 straight hours until she had lost it all.

Now, this woman needed really needed the money, yet she stayed out there against all logic and blew it all.   You might say: “Oh, I would never do that!” I believe you. But have you ever done something just as illogical on a smaller scale? Let’s go visit Scott.

Scott has a big presentation due for tomorrow and is pretty well prepared. He just has a few details to put together and needs to practice a few times. If he does so he is confident he will do just fine. He starts to work on it but is interrupted by a phone call from one of his golf buddies. The next thing he knows,  he is down at the golf course, drinking beer, and telling stories. One thing leads to another and he finally falls into bed at 1am. His wife is pissed and turns away from him when he crawls into bed. He falls asleep. He wakes up with a dry mouth an hour later than normal. He jumps into the shower, stumbles around getting dressed, has to look for his keys, glasses, and wallet, which takes even more time. He has twenty minutes to piece together his presentation which he does a terrible and embarrassing job on in front of a group of knowledgeable peers. He notices the averted eyes when he takes his seat and wonders what in the fuck he was thinking last night. Does that one sound somewhat more familiar? Let’s see how Wendy is doing.

Wendy is determined to pay some attention to her health. She knows she is carrying too much weight and not getting enough exercise. She goes on a new schedule and for an entire month, makes it to the gym every day, adheres to a diet without a slip and is already noticing that her clothes are getting just slightly looser. She has to skip the gym for the first time in a month because she had to stay late at work. She is cruising home and decides on an impulse that a pizza would be a good idea after all hadn’t she earned a bit of a reward? She also stops at the store and grabs a gallon of ice cream and a bag of chips. She takes a piece of pizza and eats it slowly, feeling slightly guilty. She gets out a small bowl and adds one scoop of ice cream and savors the taste. She opens up the chips sometime later and is involved in this really good movie and doesn’t notice that the bag is totally gone until she is searching for the last remaining crumbs. She goes to the bathroom and catches a glimpse of herself in the mirror. “God, I am still too fat.”  And her resolve collapses. She wakes up to a kitchen table where sits a now empty pizza box and an empty container of ice cream. She tears up as she grabs her purse and car keys and heads out the door. Her abusive self-talk drowns out the radio as she says things like: “It will never work out for me. Maybe I should just accept who I am.”

Perhaps you are a smoker who has not had a cigarette for three days who somehow finds himself out with the smoker group puffing away without even knowing how it happened. Problem drinkers have all kinds of times they sabotage their efforts at controlling and quitting drinking. People on probation often find a way of doing something that is a violation and back to jail they go. What is this damn thing?

Is it a fear of success? Is it that we have long ago defined ourselves as having a certain lifestyle or a fixed set of abilities? Is it some deep subconscious limitation that makes certain our happiness or success only goes so far because we only deserve a certain amount? Is it some nasty haunting from a distant past that makes us procrastinate or makes us set up a feeling that we are not really in control? Does it cause some guy from putting off his notes for his clients that he is way behind on and blog instead?! It could be time for some answers; anyone got any?

I do have some possible answers that I will share next time.

ENJOY YOUR LIFE!

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Transformation is Exciting–Phase eight–Self-Abuse

In this lesson, we will discuss common things that we do to abuse and sabotage ourselves.  I will also provide some possible remedies to these inhibitors of growth.  These commonly experienced tactics seem to crop up out of nowhere or are habits we fail to recognize that are part of our daily thinking.  They are nothing to fear.  The remedies are things to embrace because they will help the growth of positive, calming thinking.


Stay in the proper tense. The past is over and nothing much can be done about it now other than make current decisions to either not repeat past errors, improve from past mistakes, or perhaps even rectify some of them with others. Slam the door on the past. Reliving past mistakes over and over again does not fit with the goal of being content. It only creates doubt and inhibits peace. In a future lesson, I will give you an activity to deal with this common pattern of replaying the past which will take the power and attraction of it away.

The future is something that you can certainly shape with your current thoughts but to worry about what the future holds is folly and a waste of time and energy. Planning is different because it is something you are doing now to influence the chance of positive outcomes in future days. But to sit around worrying about what is coming around the bend is simply distorted thinking. We all need to develop the confidence that we will be able to handle whatever event or circumstance comes bouncing our way. We need to trust ourselves and have faith in our decisions. My mother was the classic worrier. If she didn’t have something to worry about then she worried about that. Some of that rubbed off on me. But I was taught to recognize that worrying about the future actually suppressed my energy of living in the now. It did nothing to help. I now fight the worry as a demon of negativity and a foe to my contentment. The key to contentment is to stay in the now. Ram Dass wrote a book on the matter years ago entitled: Be Here Now.

It was and still is the best advice to follow. Living in the moment is positive and allows for enjoyment and personal growth. The future is impossible to predict and that is fantastic, not negative. Who knows what possibilities will be presented to you and what opportunities may blow your way? We tend to think in the opposite way, by focusing on what trouble or obstructions are possible. Once again, that is our nagging part of our brain playing the primitive tape of protection. But in the end, it is the very opposite of protection as it steals our energy from enjoying our day-by-day, hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute existence. Embrace the flow of life and if you come across a set of rapids around the corner then have the confidence that you will navigate through them just fine. Look around often and see the world working its magic around you. Yes, there is horror too but don’t ignore the magical things that are also present. You can train your mind to stay in the present tense. It will respond.

Watch the use of certain words and phrases such as “should”, “ought to”, and “I have (or need)  to…”–-These are negative words of fear and doubt and help nothing.  Let’s start with this one. Catch yourself saying something like:  “I have to go to work today.”  That simple, common message to yourself suggests that you have no choice and are being forced into doing something you dislike.  To counter this I suggest you think about someone who has been unemployed for a long length of time and finally scored a job.  It may not be the perfect job but it allows some money to flow into their lives so it is a blessing rather than a curse even if it is less than the ideal.  They might even say:  “I get to go to work today.” They are excited because it beats the alternative of sitting at home fretting about how to fill their time productively and wondering how to pay the bills.  Even if it is tedious, boring work for low pay, at least it is a start and better than the alternative of being unemployed.  I am not suggesting that you settle for some unstimulating work long-term but instead accept your current work and plan to expand your work goals in the future while choosing to enjoy what you are doing at the present time.  I know what I am saying here and will share an example.

I started a weekly newspaper from scratch at one point.  It was doing well and I was thrilled by making it happen. It was growing each week until I got sick with Hepatitis C and took the treatment.  The drugs prescribed to lower the enzyme levels had severe side effects. I became too sick to continue on with my newspaper, lost a bundle of money and found myself depressed and broke. As I healed and the energy came back to me, I was able make positive moves to improve my situation. I found an opportunity to deliver phone books for a quarter a piece. I grabbed the opportunity with gusto and delivered 10,000 of them in a two week period. It was tasking, physically challenging work and I look back in near amazement that I was able to pull it off. I was able to do so because of my thoughts, I am convinced. I did not once wake up thinking: “Oh, I have to deliver those damn books again today.” Rather, I jumped up knowing I was creating my future by gasping this simple work with gusto. My thoughts were that I got to deliver those damn books. I needed the seed money to start another dream. I made $2500 doing this which gave me enough to launch my mental health traveling counseling business which took off and has provided me with a fine living over the last decade. I have a masters degree and was out there delivering phone books. I am so proud I was able to swallow my ego and fight off the negative, discouraging thoughts and accomplish a goal. Of course, the example shared here is not a typical deal.

But it does illustrate a point that one could transfer into daily life. “I have to do……”fill in the blank is a terribly negative way of looking at the world. “I get to is much more empowering. It may seem a little naïve and new-aged but it isn’t. By dropping “I have too….” one can shape their thinking. Another example is “I should……”fill in the blank. I should go visit my daughter. I should be a happier person. I should show more patience. I should pay all my bills today. I should weed the garden. I should clean my house. I should eat more fresh fruit. On and on it can go. Think about it. ” I should” statements are negative. It makes one feel like a prisoner. Take the “should weed the garden” statement.

Well, if you don’t like weeding the garden then why have one? If you like the beauty of the garden but really do not like the weeding then why not hire someone to do it for you? The same with “I should clean the house.” If you enjoy being in a clean and tidy environment but don’t really enjoy doing what it takes to create one, then hire a housekeeper who will be glad to make some cash doing the cleaning tasks. The same thing can be said about “Ought to…”.statements. I ought to read some books this month. So negative and so unmotivating. Get rid of these self-abusive self-talk moments. Change all the statements to a positive. I get to read that one book that seems so interesting this month is a much more motivating and positive statement. I get to take a visit over to see my grand-baby is much more positive than “I should” or “ought to” go see her.

The negative statements ruin enjoyment and make everything seem like work. One could choose to be thrilled about the opportunity to play and visit with a new grandchild. It is not an obligation but a blessing. You can remedy your use of such terms by correcting yourself and doing so out loud. “No, that’s not right. I get to go visit the baby today.” You are creating a more positive worldview by replacing these killer phrases. Get them out of your world. They are forms of abuse.

In short, stay in the present tense and ditch the “I should and I have to….” statements. These are simple changes but profound ones and easy to do. Focus on these two concepts this week and start the move toward better thinking which will lead to more contentment which is the only real goal in this life.

In the next lesson, I will show you how to deal with the past in a fun activity. Until then, as always:

Enjoy your life!

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