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.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


It is one thing to have your moment of enlightenment on the self improvement path, but what I've discovered on my own journey is that you have to maintain that vision. I find I need to do this on a daily basis otherwise I start losing the ground I've achieved.

If you've decided to dedicate your life to continuing improvement, then maintenance is an essential basic. I look upon it as keeping myself topped up. It isn't enough simply to have had your moment of satori. The epiphany has to be maintained. It's the same with physical fitness. You decide to go to the gym and within a few weeks you start to see and feel an improvement. However, as you will know if you have a lapse and stop going, you quickly get out of shape again. You can liken it to car maintenance too. Forget to check the oil and one day you'll find yourself with a seized up engine. Fortunately in this case there is such a thing as a warning light on the dashboard.

To ensure that I keep myself maintained, there are certain rituals I do every day, like thinking positive thoughts and affirming. I find that I can very easily get tripped up with my buttons suddenly getting pressed and I find that I have gone into self sabotage or fallen into a hole of my own making. Because of my maintenance work I can quickly extricate myself from these feelings and situations and recover in less time than it used to take. More usually I can prevent the negative feelings taking a hold in the first place. It doesn't do to get smug though and think that you are now invincible.

The thing to do when negativity takes a hold, when you feel you've taken a backward step, is not to beat yourself up about it. Learn from the experience and move on. Don't berate yourself or tell yourself that you've failed, otherwise you'll just end up digging yourself into a bigger hole. Simply make the commitment to maintaining your daily good habits, your self help strategies and routines and feel yourself gradually getting stronger.

I'll be talking about many more techniques you can use in future posts, techniques that I have put into practice and made into daily habits or use frequently in order to keep myself functioning well.

One final thought. Don't feel that you have to have a moment of vision like the one I described in my first post. If you adopt some of the changes that I've suggested like using affirmations and the flipside technique then you will see changes in your life regardless of whether you've had a life changing insight or not.