Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Just Do It!

The main reason I've experienced change in my life on the self-improvement track is the result of putting what I've learned over the years into practice. It can be very minimal at first. It doesn't have to be a great leap forward. If you were only to use one affirmation, for instance, but use it every day, you would notice a difference. The important thing is to stick to it. Make it a habit or daily action you would never think of not doing, like brushing your teeth.

When I used to deliver self-help courses, I always gave the participants a warning. This was that if they didn't act on what was covered on the course, then it would have been a complete waste of time for them. People would always nod their heads sagely, agreeing with me but I suspect it didn't really sink in for everyone.

Too often, though, people think that it has to be all or nothing. They don't do anything because they get overwhelmed with where to start or feel that they should immediately incorporate loads of changes into their life. I would say that it's better to do one thing, however slight. If you're learning to drive or swim, you wouldn't expect to learn it all in one go. Give it time. Start with just one action and build upon it. Many people who get interested in self-help do so entirely passively. They read the books, they go on the courses, take it all in but do nothing about applying what they've learned. That's such a waste.

Above all ,though, don't be hard on yourself if you feel these words apply to you. Just remember that it's never too late to start. I didn't really get going on this until I was in my 40s and even then it's been a long process. What got me started was the intial vision but what has maintained that vision is the daily application.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


In my previous post I think I overstated the case for living each day as if it were your last. I'm indebted to a comment from a visitor to this blog who points out that you also need to factor hope for the future into the equation and to acknowledge negative experiences in order to be able to learn from them.

I came across the technique of living each day as if it were your last in the lovely book by Richard Carlson called Don't Sweat The Small Stuff. It's one of my favourites and one I keep going back to it for inspiration and ideas. The pay off of this perspective is that it makes you appreciate each moment more fully. It's so easy to take the gift of life for granted.

However, beyond appreciation of the present moment, we also need to have aspirations and to think positively about the future. We need to live in hope, which is what setting goals is all about. Goals and dreams are what give our lives momentum and direction. I like the definition of a goal as a "dream with a deadline".

I've delivered courses on goal setting on many occasions, and what became apparent to me from meeting people who needed help in this area was that they had no problem knowing what they wanted to achieve and in setting goals. What was more difficult for them was to actually get started on achieving their goals. It's here that a double perspective is necessary. You need the vision of a goal to motivate you. But you also need to break the goal down into short term goals so that you can move towards it. Goals are achieved in the present through small steps. Each day it's necessary to check in with yourself to see how you're doing. A good affirmation in this respect to say daily is: "I make today my masterpiece". This doesn't mean that you have to do fantastic things every day. Sometimes what is most important is what is very ordinary.

It's easy to get deflected from your goals when things go wrong. When that happens it's essential to learn from the experience. Ask yourself: what's the lesson here? Otherwise the tendency is just to give up altogether.

A trait of successful people is that they take responsibility for their mistakes but recover quickly. That's because they analyse what went wrong, learn from it and then move on. It's important to be flexible though and it's OK, I think, to change your goals when perhaps you realise you're on the wrong track. This isn't giving in. It's being adaptable.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Have a nice day

One of the things I do every morning to try to ensure that I have a good day is to affirm that I am going to have one.

On waking each morning, while I am waiting for the kettle to boil for my coffee, I say aloud ten times: "Something wonderful will happen for me today." Now that doesn't mean that bad things don't happen to me but it does mean that I am approaching each day in the right frame of mind so that I am more likely to attract good luck. Even when things go wrong, I am more able to put a positive spin on the event because I have programmed myself with this expectation.

It also means that I notice more that is already right with my life, things that I might otherwise take for granted. It does make you more likely to count your blessings.

Each evening, I review my day and there is invariably something wonderful to be acknowledged, no matter how "ordinary". Sometimes it is simply the gift of still being alive. Something that can be taken away in an instant. A few years back, a colleague of mine died while working at her PC at home. She was found sitting in her chair, a cup of coffee at her side. Death is not always something you can prepare for.

Perhaps we should all live every day as if it were going to be our last, providing that doesn't lead to our being selfish or inconsiderate.

Friday, August 18, 2006

In the affirmative

I first started using affirmations several years ago and they are now part of my daily routine. I like them a lot because they're simple. They require little effort too which appeals to me greatly. It's the fast happiness approach.

There are some basic "rules" required to using affirmations. They have to be positive (of course). So you wouldn't affirm: "I wish I wasn't so tired". Better to say instead: "I have abundant energy." The reason for this is that your subconscious doesn't understand negative commands. If you say: "I am not a smoker", your subconsious will hear "I am a smoker" and you're stuck.

The other rule is that your affirmation should be in the present tense. If you wish for something in the future then what you're trying to affirm will always dangle before you, out of reach, like the proverbial carrot. So you affirm in the now. It doesn't matter if you don't believe consciously what you're saying. Your subconscious will take it in and start reprogramming how you operate. This is because the subconscious doesn't have a sense of irony or humour, and will interpret everything you say literally. That's why you have to be very careful what you tell yourself. I try not to use the expression "pain in the arse" for instance, for this very reason.

I first came across the affirmation method in the book You Can Heal your Life by Louise Hay. The most powerful and fundamental affirmation she recommends that you say to yourself every day is: "I love and approve of myself." It's more powerful if you say it aloud. It's even more powerful if you look at yourself in the mirror when you say it. What you're doing is taping over all the negative messages that have tended to become habitual. I work with a woman who is a wonderful person but I have heard her say so many times to herself when she makes a mistake: "Oh, you stupid woman!" We all tend to be like that, being our own harshest critic when we should be supporting ourselves.

Don't worry that you'll become arrogant or narcisstic in loving yourself. People who are like that are actually insecure and covering it up. By working on yourself through positive afirmations you'll actually come across in a more positive light to others because you'll feel better about yourself and people will pick up on that.

I worked with a recovering drug addict who used the Louise Hay book, telling himself over and over again: "I love and approve of myself," even though at the time, as he put it, he felt "like a sack of shit". Eventually though, this process helped him stay off drugs and he was able to start a new life. He didn't need to believe in the technique every step of the way for it to work.

The thing is to be patient, allow the process time to work, make it a daily habit and you will see changes.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Flipside Technique

After my moment of enlightenment in the bath (in Zen Buddhism this is known as "satori" - a sudden illumination; in Western culture, an epiphany), I decided to look around for books to help me build upon this perspective.

The first one I came across was How To Develop A Positive Attitude by Elwood N Chapman (I loved the name of the author - for me it conjures up a thin, dapper guy with a reedy voice, wearing spectacles and sporting a spotted bow tie).

It's a great little book, portable at only 77 pages and with a number of very effective but accesible techniques. The one I immediately locked into was what Mr Chapman calls the Flipside Technique, that is taking any situation, no matter how painful, and trying to see something positive in it. You flip the problem over, as it were, like a coin. This is obviously hard when the situation is tragic although people do wrest comfort from the most dire circumstances. I guess this what we try to do at funerals when we attempt to focus on celebrating the life of the person we have lost even when the pain of loss is uppermost.

This technique is sometimes referred to as "reframing". It's a creative approach to the negativity that trips us up daily. It helps us deal with the imperfections of life.

Basically, it comes down to the choice between empowering yourself (trying to find the positive) or caving in to situations and disempowering yourself (why does this shit always happen to me!).

Sometimes all that's required to use the flipside technique is to be able to laugh at yourself more. This immediately defuses any situation where you feel you've messed up. It's all too easy to start beating yourself up about it. Reframing nips that in the bud.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Change your life in seven seconds

I told a friend of mine about the book by Paul McKenna called How To Change Your Life In 7 Days. Her response was that this wasn't possible. It was just too quick.

I make no claims about Paul Mckenna's book other than it is worth getting hold of if you're new to the self-help field as it's a really good synthesis of material that you'd have to trawl through a lot of other books to find. In other words, it's not that original but a good, accessible introduction.

What I said to my friend, however, is that you can change your life even more rapidly than in 7 days. In seven seconds to be precise. The change is simply having the realisation that happiness is a choice you make regardless of circumstances. Victor Frankl, the Nazi concentration camp survivor, called this "the last of the human freedoms" which is about deciding "to choose one's way."

I came to this insight one evening while I was having a bath (very Zen). In the moment of stepping out of the bath and drying myself off, it felt like stepping into a positive, new life - a rebirth. All I had done was decide to be happy. I went on from then to discover more about positive thinking and to develop the happiness habit.