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.
When we get anxious or panicky, our breath changes.
Instead of regular breaths in, and regular breaths out, the rhythm changes.
We take a loooooong breath in, and a tiny breath out. Then we repeat.
Look at someone in real distress. That’s what their breath is doing. Long breath in, tiny breath out. Over and over again. It looks like they may hyperventilate.
You’re at a party. You’ve been here for three hours. Bob was there when you arrived. So he’s been here the whole time too.
Yet he’s not spoken a word to you.
You’ve watched him mingle around the others, and he seems to have spoken to everyone else.
But not to you.
Imagine someone you care about was about to walk into traffic.
You are not close enough to grab them back.
And if they carry on walking, they’d get hit.
What kind of voice would you use to alert them to the danger?
Would you be timid and polite?
As a writer, I know that telling a story isn’t about saying everything.
Telling a story is about picking tiny aspects from the mass of everything. Then linking them together in a way that kind of matches up.
Telling the story of ourself works the same way. We pick out some things, but we leave out almost everything.
When people come for counselling or therapy, they will naturally want different things. But always at the heart of it is the desire for some kind of change.
It may be a desire to change aspects of their life. It may be a desire to change aspects of themselves.
So they want the therapy to be some kind of “Change Machine.”