Here’s something weird.
Give someone a normal milkshake, but tell them that it’s a diet drink, and their gut behaves as if the drink is low fat. Even though it’s full fat.
Here’s something even more weird.
A patient wakes up from knee surgery. The doctor say that they’ve done the operation. The knee gets better even though the doctor only made an incision in the skin.
Human beings love stories.
We have been telling them for millions of years.
In prehistoric times, sitting around a fire telling stories was our Netflix.
Stories allow us to learn from new experiences without having to go through them.
As they unfold, we ask ourselves what we would do to overcome this.
I remembered recently that, when I was a little boy, I asked for a typewriter as my Christmas present.
I was very young. I don’t think I’d hit the age of ten yet.
Looking back, it seems an unusual gift request from a small child.
But I always enjoyed writing.
When the handle on my living room door stopped working, it was very frustrating.
I’d try to turn it but it wouldn’t shift.
I was locked out of my own living room.
I called a handyman.
When he arrived I told him what was wrong. When I turn the handle, nothing happens.
There are different ways of talking about problems.
We can talk of ourselves as having a problem. We hear this a lot.
“Jean has a problem.” “Neil has a problem.” “Arnold has a lot of problems.”
Or we can talk of wrestling with a problem.
“I’m wrestling with this problem at the moment.”
When I go shopping, I always have a shopping list. Quaint, I know.
Yet I store it on my phone, which is arguably cooler. Possibly not.
People sometimes think I’m dawdling in the aisle texing a friend, and get cross.
But I’m not. I’m checking my shopping list. Which is valid during a shopping trip.
We have good days and bad days. Or at least bad days and less bad days.
I’m always curious about the times when things are a little better.
I want to discover what we did to make things a little better.
Sometimes, people tell me that they’ve been down all week, but feel better today.
If I aim too high, or have too ambitious a thought, a voice inside me often scoffs: “Ha! Who the hell are you to do that?”
The result is that I’m often guilty of not aiming high enough. I can rule myself out of things. Even though the facts tell me I’m more than able.
Every day we choose to do things.
Even when it seems like we have to do them, we usually choose to. We are selecting this activity over that consequence.
We choose many other activities freely, just because we want to do them.
From time to time, situations arise that result in us feeling agitated and cross.
I was sat opposite the therapist. I started to tell him my stuff.
Ten seconds in, I noticed his eyes harden. It was subtle, but it was there.
He looked disinterested. I spotted a flash of contempt.
I paused and stuttered. I had to look away just to carry on. I didn’t much want to carry on at all.
There are times when we can’t make our minds up. Faced with a tough decision, we are torn by the options available.
Should I do this? Or should I do that?
We spend hours spinning round the options and getting nowhere.
We hear competing voices and arguments. It’s like we have several people inside us, jabbering away. It can feel like we are going crazy.
In a recent article (Why You Feel Down and What To Do About It), I made a link between feeling down and not getting our needs met.
To recap, when we don’t get our needs met, we feel a negative emotion. When we do get them met, we feel positive (or at least okay).
As we pass through life, we’ll encounter wise, helpful people.
They touch our life in some way.
Perhaps during a tough time, they helped us see things differently. Or gave some good advice.
They may be a loved one, or a professional, or even a kindly stranger we crossed paths with for a brief moment.
Even when we want change, another part of us can find it scary.
Better the devil you know, and all that.
The good news is that, often, change doesn’t need you to change. Weirdly, change tends to be about doing more of the same.
When we want things to be different, we don’t like how things are. We want something else instead.
Stan Lee was a creative genius. He built entire universes in his head. And he inhabited them with ordinary people who transformed into superheroes.
Take Peter Parker. One minute he was the shy, introvert news reporter.
The next? Spider-Man!
Imagine if you spent your day talking to people who you knew were superheroes.
A few years back, I was on an improv course in London. It was run by the world famous improv theatre group PGraph, from Texas.
They led exercise after exercise where we’d get on stage, and do scenes where everything was okay.
In drama there’s often conflict. But here, they wanted us to play characters who found everything fine.
When I browse through old posts in this blog, I often have a light bulb moment.
“Oh yeah!” I’ll say, as I remember an old strategy that I used to find useful.
I have forgotten my own advice. And when I read it again I recall that it’s super helpful.
There’s a town in Belgium called Geel. For centuries, its residents have opened their homes to people with severe mental health problems.
Over 200 people with mental health difficulties live there. They are in “foster relationships” with local families.
These boarders have good outcomes. Better than at the hospital they would otherwise be in. For instance, they take less medication.
I want to let you in on something. There’s a lot of score draws in therapy.
This approach works, but only as much as that approach.
This philosophy works, but only as much as that one.
This technique works, but only as much as that technique.
Forty years of research says so.