How to Have a Happy New Year

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Each year, a friend of mine, when wishing family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances a “Happy New Year,” almost always follows it up with the rather dour postface of “let’s hope it’s better than the last one.” Sometimes they even run through some of the lower points from their preceding 12 months.

 

It’s not surprising that they do that as most human beings have a tendency to focus on the negative. It’s biological and innate; it’s hardwired into us. It’s habitual. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be changed. It’s possible to build a habit of thinking more positively, even if you’re currently the most negative person you know.

 

Positive psychology contains a vast range of tools, exercises, tips and tricks to help you do just that. Whereas most forms of psychotherapy focus on mental illness, positive psychology firmly fixes its gaze on mental wellness. “What can be done to make you feel happier and more fulfilled in your day-to-day life?” it asks. “How can you learn to flourish?”

 

One of its many, many laboratory tested exercises (i.e., a bunch of researchers have made people undertake these things and then rated their mood and physiology in a variety of ways) is one specifically designed to help you reflect upon events in a more positive way. And it does so by getting you to review the day, or the week, or even the month.

 

On a bad day, something nice will have happened (but it’s usually the bad thing you focus on) and, on a rotten week, several good things will also have happened (but it’s usually the rotten things that you reflect upon). But, by ignoring the bad in favour of good, despite your natural inclination, by writing them down in a diary or notebook, you are slowly and steadily building that habit of thinking more positively.

 

But, what does this mean for the new year and your happiness? Well, why not review your whole year? News and current affairs (and pop music) shows do it all the time.

 

So, another positive psychology exercise builds on the above by asking you to get hold of a bell jar, or some such similar receptacle. And, for a sense of occasion it asks that you get it in time for New Year’s Day. Then, over the coming 12 months, whenever something nice happens, you write that event or situation down on a piece of paper and pop it into the bell jar.

 

Note by note, nice thing by nice thing, into the jar it goes. A compliment here, a bonus there; a trip on a sunny day, a night out with friends, you name it. Large or small, any and all events go in the jar. And then, on New Year’s Eve next year, you can gather around the jar with family and friends, or simply on your own if you enjoy being solitary and introspective, and then reflect on what a lovely year you’ve had.

 

“Happy New Year,” you’ll say. “I hope it’s as good as this one was.”

 

You’re not denying that bad things have happened; you’re just choosing to ignore them for once, in favour of the good.

 

Won’t that be nice?

 

 

If You Only Buy One Book This Christmas

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So, I wrote a book. It’s available to buy right now as you’re reading this and it would be awfully remiss of me if I didn’t blog about my book in my own actual blog so, here it is.

 

It’s called The Four Thoughts That F*ck You Up (and how to fix them) and it’s a hopefully humorous and insightful (I leave that for you to decide) book about rational emotive behaviour therapy (REBT).

 

REBT was invented in the mid 1950s by a psychotherapist called Albert Ellis. It’s actually considered to be the first form of cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) to be developed. And it’s brilliant.

 

REBT is the form of CBT that I practice and promote. It follows the philosophy that it is not the events in life that disturb you, but what you tell yourself about those events that disturbs you. So if you are thinking, feeling and acting in ways that you don’t like, but don’t seem to be able to change, it’s not because of the thing, but down to what you tell yourself about the thing, change what it is that you tell yourself and you get to change how you think, feel and act.

 

Now, it’s not saying when stuff happens, that it doesn’t have an influence, because it does but, it’s only an influence. So, even in the face of something difficult, or challenging, or downright negative, you can still remain in control (or regain control if you think you’ve lost it) by looking at what you tell yourself in the face of that difficult, challenging or negative thing.

 

This means that nobody makes you angry, nothing makes you anxious, and nobody and nothing can drive you to drink, drugs, distraction, despair or doughnuts. It’s what you tell yourself about those things and people that does that.

 

REBT says that there is always a thing (or an activating event) and a reaction to that thing (a consequence) but, between the thing and the reaction there will be a specific thought process (known as a belief) that drive the reaction about the thing.

 

So, REBT is all about beliefs. My book is all about the four beliefs that REBT says lie at the heart of psychological disturbance (i.e., that f*ck you up) and the four healthy equivalents that can help keep you calm and rational. It also has a step-by-step guide to help you work on a specific problem

 

Someone recently asked me why I wrote it. That answer could be a whole blog in itself but, briefly, I’ve been in practice now for over 15 years and just for once, when I was finishing therapy with someone and they asked if there is any reading material I could suggest, I wanted to be able to say, “why yes, there is this very book right here.”

 

And now I can.

 

It’s available on Amazon and Waterstones and WHSmith, or directly from the Penguin Random House website and it’s available from all good online bookshops in your country, area and/or territory (so it’s not just available in the UK).

 

I am reliably informed that it is both “super-wise” and “warm and funny.” And it wasn’t my friends that said that. It would make for a good Christmas stocking filler, or last-minute Christmas gift idea. And for those of you looking a little further ahead, it would be a great way of coming up with and sticking to any one of a number of New Year’s resolutions.

 

If you haven’t bought it yet, I hope you consider buying a copy. If you have already bought one, I thank you for doing so. And, either way, I hope you will enjoy it, are enjoying it and/or have enjoyed it.

 

Personally, as much as I enjoyed writing it, I will never forget the thrill of standing in the WHSmith bookshop in Paddington station on the day of publication and seeing out on the shelves already.

 

All the feels.

 

 

 

Life Lessons are not Always Appreciated

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It would appear that symbols of triumph over adversity are sadly lost on some people, even when said symbols are quite literally flourishing right in front of them.

 

I’m lucky in that the housing development I live in is built on the edge of what was once a churchyard. The church is long gone, but the grounds remain, and so what is now a lovely little park actually sits on my doorstep. It features a large lawn, a war memorial, several trees, squirrels galore, park benches and even a picnic table. It also often contains people walking their dogs or just chilling out in the space.

 

It’s certainly a beautiful view from my living room windows and one that I never fail to appreciate.

 

Sadly, in the four years that I’ve lived here several trees have been lost to the storms, felled by ferocious winds that are now a constant feature of the British weather.

 

One such tree was literally split in two by a particular violent episode about two years back. One half of it fell to the floor and one half remained. However, the remnants of its once proud boughs and trunk were, for safety’s sake, quickly chain sawed down to a mere stump that stood a little over waist height.

 

Undaunted by the spate of adversity it had faced, the tree stump decided to carry on regardless. The following spring, tiny shoots poked their way out from the reduced trunk and quickly grew into small branches. Each branch sprouted buds that blossomed and became leaves. For two whole summers, it wore those branches and leaves like a verdant, pagan crown. You can see the results in the picture at the top of this post.

 

I loved that tree stump; it was like a glorious “fuck you” and “bring it on!” to the challenges that life can chuck your way.

 

Sadly, as of today, that stump is no more. Bristol City Council in its infinite wisdom, or lack thereof, decided to butcher it, to take a chainsaw to that glorious symbol of fortitude and reduce it down to a mere plinth.

 

It will neither bud nor blossom again.

 

If asked for a comment, I’m sure some official at the council would say something bland and officious about health and safety.

 

You can survive any predicament in life, except for the things that kill you, and while that tree survived the storms, it could not survive officialdom.

 

Goodbye valiant little tree stump, I will always value the life lessons you taught me even if Bristol City Council will not.

Happy Talk, Keep Talking Happy Talk

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Almost all human beings have a tendency to focus on the negative. This is a bit of a bummer when you think about it. Enter then, positive psychology, which is the science of thinking, feeling and acting yourself into a happier state of mind. Want to know more? Read more

Men, Mental Health, Barbershops and Talking

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It’s good to talk, isn’t it? Male or female, young or old, it’s good to have someone to turn to in times of trouble, yes? And yet, despite the many inroads made in raising mental health issues, men still struggle with talking about their feelings, or reaching out if they’re in difficulty. Which is problematic to say the least. And, it needs to change, but how? Read more

Mental Health is Normal

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I think one of the most surprising things about psychotherapy is that, despite the many, many strides in mental health awareness, more than a fair few people are still loathe to admit that they just might have mental health issues. But, guess what? Having a mental health issue is completely normal. Read more

Stress: It’s out of control

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Stress is a big problem the world over but, here in the UK, we seem all seem to be that little bit extra stressed, and in ways that have nothing to do with Brexit. Read more

Travel in Time with Hypnotherapy

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Yes, you read that right.

 

With hypnosis and hypnotherapy, you can revisit the past and visit the future as often as is needed (therapeutically speaking) via regression techniques (to the past) and with what is known as pseudo orientation in time (to the future). But, why would you do so? Read more

Do You Want To Stop Drinking?

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In just a few short weeks Macmillan Cancer Support will be asking you to commit to 31 days of sobriety in their annual Go Sober for October campaign (click here). It’s a fun way to be healthy and helpful. But for some people, that commitment isn’t as easy as it sounds. What do you do if you think you have a problem with drink? What do you do if you don’t think you can stop? Read more

Think of a Therapist as a Mechanic for your Mind

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Some people are a little put off by psychotherapy, and so approach it with caution, while others are too scared to go for therapy at all, even though they know they need it. There’s still a lot of stigma attached to mental health issues, but therapy need not be such a scary thing. As the self-development guru, Wayne Dyer, once famously said, “when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” Read more