Thursday, July 12, 2007

Back On Track

I was going to delete the previous post as it was only intended to be a test post. But then I thought better of deleting it. I think this is because I slowly realised that it was about something more than just saying: "Hello, I'm back!"

One reason for my not posting for so long was to do with the fact that I was reluctant to upgrade my blog. I had steadfastly ignored all the prompts from over the months to do this. I’m always inherently suspicious of upgrades. It’s been my experience that along with all the blandishments they usually come with all sorts of unforeseen “challenges”. I didn’t want to know. I was happy with the old version thank you very much. But of course, as is the way with technological change, the inevitable happened. I was no longer given a choice. I could no longer log on to the system.

The only trouble was that I quickly realised I was out of depth and couldn’t manage to navigate my way to realise my brave new blog. So I didn’t bother. For three months.

But then my good friend, Kim Ayres, aka, the rambling, bearded one, came to the rescue and talked me through the whole process. It was like a scene from Airplane but we got there in the end.

Kim is also the person who got me started with my blog in the first place and introduced me to the seductive and addictive arena of the blog universe.

So the previous post will stay. This is partly because it symbolises my “long awaited return” but also, more importantly, because for me it encapsulates one outcome of a very positive and much valued friendship.

Monday, June 11, 2007

I'm Back

I'm back with blogger




and Happier!!!!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Change Journal

One of the activities I adopted once I'd started on the self help track, was keeping a journal. I know that strictly speaking a journal is a daily recording but I don't think it's necessary for you to do this. It can be quite intermittent, as mine was at first. These days, however, I do literally write in my journal every day. It's a habit I've developed, a good one I think, and one I couldn't not now do. I would no sooner skip my journal than skip brushing my teeth. For me it's like inputting the numbers in Lost; my world would start to implode! Though this could have something to do with my somewhat obssessive nature.

So what are the benefits of keeping a journal? Firstly, it's a way of recording progress on your path to self improvement. It's easy to lose track of this. You can look back and see how far you've come.

It's useful to remind yourself of this when you feel that you've taken several steps backwards. It's also a useful way to highlight the temporary nature of problems that you have to face and how you have come through them in the past. The present has a way of expanding so that it feels like it's always been like this. That feeds into our tendency to eternalise situations: "This is always happening to me!"

You can use your journal to set goals: long term, short term and daily. This is a good way to stay focused. If you're stuck for things to write about, just write some positive affirmations over and over. There is a power to writing them down in addition to speaking them aloud, feeding as it does your motor memory.

A journal is a great outlet for giving vent, a vehicle for your emotions and to explore dilemmas. Sometimes when you're writing you can pose questions for guidance and sometimes get an answer, especially if you imagine a sort of higher self, a wise friend, who will step in with advice, even though it is still yourself writing!

Looking back through journal entries for time to time, you will also start to perceive recurrent themes, even blind spots, that perhaps you wouldn't otherwise be aware of. So the journal provides a feedback mechanism.

Finally, it can be a means to take control of your life to a greater extent, as you start to sense that you can write your script, becoming more conscious of your own narrative. What sort of day would you like to have? Get scribbling now. It's cheap, easy and accessible. All you need is a pen and a notebook.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

I've got the Power!

My daughter, Meredith, takes the credit for this one.

A couple of years ago I was preparing to sit my driving test practical. The hardest part of this for me was getting over the self-belief that I was never supposed to be a driver. I'd had a block about it all my adult life. It was only when we moved from London to a rural area of Scotland that I realised I couldn't put it off any longer and that I would have to address it. Dumfries and Galloway is a region of 2500 square miles and the public transport system is very limited. I would have to to reinvent myself as a driver finally. One of the most difficult aspects of passing the test was the mental preparation. My belief about myself as being a non-driver for life was impacting on my confidence.

Meredith suggested a strategy to me at the time which I took up because it's so simple yet very effective. She proposed that to boost my confidence and give me a burst of energy, I should keep playing in my head the refrain from that song that goes: "I've got the power!" I don't know the rest of the song, what it's called or even who sings it. It's used in the film Bruce Almighty starring Jim Carrey, which is where Meredith came across it.

I took it up enthusiastically and found it worked for me really well. It's just so gleeful, empowering and slightly crazy - a bit manic to be honest, but it so charges you up. The great thing too is no-one, of course, can hear this going on as you don't have to do it aloud! It's like those annoying tunes that get stuck in your head from time to time, that you can't seem to shake off. The effect of this one is that it boosts you mentally very quickly but also has an impact on your physiology. You automatically walk with more of a spring in your step. This creates a positive loop as it further reinforces a positive mental state. (By the way, I also passed my driving test first time - though this wasn't the only strategy I used to get throught that particular ordeal.)

I've not been using the technique for some time but it came back to me recently and I decided to use it again. For the last couple of weeks I've not been sleeping that well and also working long hours, so felt the need to recharge myself. It certainly helped.

Try it today. Try it right now! I guarantee you'll feel better. By the way it doesn't have to be this particular song. Pick any one that has a good energy feel to it but R&B is probably the right genre, especially if you sing it from the perspective of someone with the energy level of the late James Brown!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Asking the right questions

One way to make a difference to each day is to ask yourself the right questions as soon as you get up in the morning.

This is especially true if you wake up feeling low, anxious or generally out of sorts. I ask myself two questions:

  • What are you happy about in your life right now?
  • What can you do today to make things even better?

If you can't think of anything that makes you happy, qualify the first question with a "could". What the first question does is make you take a positive perspective. It forces you to look at what is right with your life. The result for me, even if I have been feeling negative beforehand, is to change my state, making me appreciate things I might otherwise have overlooked or taken for granted.

The second question builds upon that positive take and gets you into action mode, moving into your day with a plan.

I came across this technique in a book by Anthony Robbins called Notes from a Friend. He suggests using 7 questions that he calls the Morning Power questions but I think that's too many. I can't be doing with anything too complicated. He also has a set of Evening Power questions. I've simplified these too.

At the end of each day I ask myself:

What went well today?

What did I learn today?

Again this forces you to review your day in a positive light, even when you've had a really bad day on the surface. Try this out for yourselves and see if it makes a difference.

I had forgotten about this technique of using questions but started using it again when I dusted off my copy of the Anthony Robbins book a couple of months ago. It's such a simple thing to do but I've found that it is having a positive impact for me, especially when I'm feeling overwhelmed with life or otherwise not in a good state.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Kentucky Fried Persistence

I was feeling disheartened the other day about my lack of progress in attaining one of my goals, which is to be become a published poet. My sole strategy at the moment is to enter poetry competitions. So far I have had no success with this. What got me over feeling discouraged was when I recalled the example of Colonel Sanders, yes he of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame.

Now until I came across his story, I had always assumed that the good Colonel was merely an invented icon, to supply a folksy, avuncular aura for flogging greasy fast food. I was wrong. He actually existed. He was a hard-up, 65 year old on social security and the only thing he had of value was a recipe for, yes you guessed it, chicken. His bright idea was to try and get a restaurant interested in using his recipe which he would demonstrate and in return get a percentage of the profits. He travelled all over America trying this out on restaurant owners. They didn't want to know. He got rejection after rejection. But he never gave up. He just kept doggedly on until he found someone who said yes. What is amazing is that he was rejected 1009 times before he got a yes. It took him two years but he got there in the end. I know that some of you are probably thinking that maybe the world would have been a better place if he hadn't succeeded! However, that said, as an example of sheer dogged determination the Colonel is a great inspiration. So many people give up on their dreams after just a few attempts. Perhaps if they'd kept going they'd have got where they wanted to be in the end.

To date, I've probably entered about 10 poetry competitions, so that's really not that many. I've still got a way to go before I'm up to the Sanders level of effort. Even after entering thousands of competitions and still not succeeding, I would like to think that I'll still keep on plugging away and not give up on my dream.

Monday, October 02, 2006


It's very easy to become discouraged when you're on the self-help path, trying to make changes in your life, to achieve certain goals or to make changes in the way you behave. When you get discouraged, it's all too easy to give up altogether. My advice at those times is simply to be patient. Growth isn't always perceptible or sometimes it can be very slow. This is particularly the case with changing aspects of your personality or how you interact with others.

It's worth remembering the 80/20 rule when you are feeling disheartened. In any endeavour, 80 per cent of your efforts produce only 20 per cent of the results. However, if you stick with it and are patient, then you will reap 80 per cent of the results from just 20 per cent of the effort. Most people who give up on a goal do so when they're actually within reach of it.

I found when I was learning to drive that I seemed to be making no progress at all at times. I was on the proverbial plateau. It seemed to be all effort but no results. I was focusing too narrowly on the skills I needed to master at that point in the learning process. What I found helpful at those times was to review how far I'd already travelled in terms of where I'd started, which was not being able to drive at all. So from that perspective I'd made enormous progress.

Be patient too if you seem to backtrack. Be kind and gentle with yourself if you make a mistake. I used to beat myself up all the time for the most trivial things. Recently I thought I'd forgotten to pay my credit card bill for the month. Discovering this in the past would have set me off on a spiral of self hatred about being disorganised, a self-directed anger out of all proportion to the original cause. I noted though, with satisfaction, that I didn't this time get annoyed with myself. I took this as a measure of progress. Then I discovered that I had paid the bill after all!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Unreasonable Happiness

Today I am fighting mad. I took a dip at the weekend and fell into one of those treacherous depressions that sneak up on me from time to time, seemingly despite all my efforts at self-improvement. It was quite bad but only lasted a day. In that time, however, I snapped at my daughter and made her cry. I did, however, apologise to her and made it up with her, which offered some redress. I started to worry though that perhaps I had everlastingly damaged our relationship but my wife reassured me that this was not the case. The relationship I have with my daughter is firmly secured on very strong foundations. Not that I take it for granted. One of my progressive goals is to be and remain a loving, supportive father. The same goes for my role as husband too.

I was annoyed with myself afterwards though. But I didn't fall into the trap of continuing to beat myself up about it. I've learned this much. You have to move on, learning from the experience. I feel I'm back on track now and ready to kick ass, as they say. I'm determined to head off these depression attacks at the pass, to take a preemptive strike - strange how I'm adopting a euphemism of modern warfare. A gentler metaphor would be that the way to overcome darkness is to hold up a light, and that is what I am determined to do from now. I have made such progress already, changing my life for the better, and that can continue. Every time from now on that I get even an inkling of a negative thought I'm going to blast it with what has now become my mantra: "I am very happy." Throughout the day I keep topping myself up with that thought. I do not want to fall into a black hole again if I can do anything about it.

I was reminded too of a concept that I came across in the writings of a self-improvement guru, Dan Millman. He coined the expression unreasonable happiness. What he means by this is that one of your main goals in life should be to be unreasonably happy, not basing your personal happiness on circumstances. Most of us measure happiness in this way and that's perfectly logical and reasonable. The trouble is though that circumstances are subject to the whims of "outrageous fortune" and can't be guaranteed. You're basing you happiness on something that is subject to change and loss. So the thing to do is rise above this and cultivate a perspective of unreasonable happiness.

This does not mean that you should become aloof, indifferent and uncaring. I think in fact that quite the opposite effect would happen. I think you would be better placed to be responsive to others because you would be operating in an empowered state and more able to give. Certainly, when I am suffering with depression I'm not much use to anyone, including myself.

I was very moved recently to read about the French poet, Robert Desnos. He died during the Second World War. He was an inmate at Buchenwald concentration camp. He refused to buckle and remained unreasonably happy until the end. He would go around the campsite, encouraging people who were bound for the gas chambers by opening their palms and predicting future happiness and a long life for each of them. A cynic might deride that as merely offering false hope and certainly it had no basis in reality but I can only applaud such strength of character, such courage and such unshelfishness, and hope that I might emulate that example to some degree.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Just Smile

I don't always remember to use the self-help techniques I've come across over the years. Some fall into disuse only to be suddenly resurrected. This was the case with one recently. It popped into my head again out of the blue and I've started using it once more. This is the smile technique. What I like about it is that it's so simple and easy.

All you have to do is first of all smile. While smiling, think or say a positive thought or affirmation. Then breathe in and out, focusing on your statement. This is very useful for any kind of block you might have or when you are facing a difficult or stressful situation. The beauty of this technique is that you can do it throughout the day, at any time, although there might be some situations where this might not be appropriate. You also don't want to unnerve people with a smile which is too fixed.

It's common knowledge that a positive mental attitude can affect your physical well being but it can also work the other way round. This is what the smile technique does. It employs a physiological stimulus to improve your psychological well-being.

I first came across the technique in an audio cassette course called Opti-Learning by Donna Cercone published by Nightingale Conant. It's well worth listening to if you can get hold of it.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


I've talked a lot about affirmations in previous posts. Affirmations are obviously an auditory technique, although it's sometimes a good idea to write affirmations down, over and over again, like doing lines at school!

Another, visual, strategy I've used a lot over the years is visualisation.

I first came across the technique in a book called Creative Visualisation by Shakti Gawain. It's the acknowledged classic in this field. You don't need to read any other book on the subject. I've been dipping into my copy for the last 8 years. It's beautifully written with admirable clarity.

I like creative visualisation because it is easy and simple. It employs an intuitive, imaginative approach to goal realisation rather than the logical, linear approaches favoured in business manuals. As Shakti Gawain explains: "Creative visualisation is the technique of using your imagination to create what you want in your life."

I've used the technique to prepare me for giving presentations and other situations which are potentially stressful and liable to pitfalls. What you do is go through the whole event in your mind, picturing it happening perfectly. This approach has been used a lot by athletes and sports people. It's sometimes called mental rehearsal. (A frequently cited study demonstrated the power of mental rehearsal when two basketball teams prepared for a competition. One team trained physically, whereas the other team could only use mental rehearsal. It was the latter team that performed best in the actual event.)

Visualisation is particularly good for mastering motor skills. I employed it when I decided to learn to drive, which I finally knuckled down to aged 50. It's the hardest thing I've ever done but I know that visualisation helped me enormously, particularly when it came to the test itself. I'm pleased to report that I passed first time.

I created a collage of images when I started to learn to drive. One image was of me driving a smart red sports car. I also had a picture showing a full driving licence with my name on it. This "treasure map" provided further visual reinforcement for my goal.

You can use this approach to picturing having a successful day when you first get up in the morning. Even when things do go wrong or don't work out as you intended, I find that this preparatory work gives you a quiet, inner strength which makes you more resilient and flexible.