This article suggests lots of things that can improve quality of life, from doing more pleasurable things and doing lots of small things that can make the home and workplace more pleasant to be in, to ways of relieving stress, to things that can help a person work towards a brighter future, to methods of improving relationships with loved ones.
Skip past the following quotes if you'd like to get straight down to reading the article contents and self-help article.
Plant your own garden and decorate your own soul, instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.
--Veronica A. Shoffstall, (After a While, 1971)
If you must love your neighbor as yourself, it is at least as fair to love yourself as your neighbor.
--Nicholas de Chamfort
Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.
Put your future in good hands - your own.
Things turn out best for the people who make the best out of the way things turn out.
I'll look through this self-help book and see if it's worthwhile. Maybe it'll help me improve my life.
One thing it says is that when we're feeling a bit down, looking after our physical needs and pampering ourselves can help. It says it can sometimes feel like too much bother to do that kind of thing in times of stress, but it can make us feel better.
It says eating a decent meal when stressed can make people feel a bit better, especially if it's healthy food.
It says it's tempting to eat sugary food and drink alcohol then, but after initially making people feel better, it can sometimes make feelings worse.
Really? This book sounds more like a killjoy than a help! Still, maybe there's something in that. I know someone who used to be an alcoholic, and he said he's tried alcohol again when he's been feeling depressed, and it's just made him worse. And I did once see a programme on the television where two people swapped their eating habits; one had eaten mainly sugary fatty foods, and one had eaten a lot of salads. When they swapped, the one who'd started eating more healthily said he'd started feeling much more energetic instead of tired and lethargic like he used to on his old diet.
So maybe eating healthily could improve my mood.
I'll think about what healthy foods I might enjoy. The thing is, they'll probably take longer to prepare, and I can't be bothered to do that kind of thing when I'm feeling depressed. But then, I know that sometimes, when I've done an activity like that, it has boosted my mood. Lying around doing nothing makes me feel worse. So it might be good to spend longer on food preparation, and then getting good food inside me might well make me feel better.
The book says that getting enough rest's important as well, because sleep deprivation can also lower mood.
It says it's important to take breaks from work during the day as well, or stress can build up.
It says sometimes, a warm leisurely bath can be soothing.
Not in the breaks we're going to take at work, surely! Ha ha! No, I'm sure it means later on.
It says exercise can raise the mood as well as being physically healthy, and help people sleep better because it works off nervous energy. It says it releases endorphins, which are like the body's antidepressants.
It says some people think they haven't got time to exercise, but often if they put things off to do some, afterwards, they find they get things done more quickly, because exercise can make people more alert and clear the mind.
Well, I've got time for exercise; I just don't like it! But maybe there are exercises I could do that I would like that I haven't thought of. Or maybe exercising with a companion would be more enjoyable. I'll look into it.
It says doing something energetic can also be good for people to do when they're angry, because it can help to get some of the anger out of the system. It says sometimes, doing things around the house can have that effect, like scrubbing things or digging in the garden.
I don't like housework either! Still, I'll think about that.
It says calling a friend can be a good thing to do when we're depressed, even if we don't really feel like it, because some will be willing to listen, and some can help take our minds off our troubles.
But I haven't got any friends! Well, maybe I could look at whether it might be possible to get back in touch with the few old ones I had.
It suggests we get more of the music we like, since listening to that can be soothing.
Thinking about it, yes, I do like some types of music. It's expensive to buy though! Still, buying a few of my favourites might be nice.
It says taking up a new hobby can be a good thing, giving us more interest in life. So that could be learning something new like a language, dancing, a sport, or craftwork, and so on.
Hey, I might make some friends if I did that, I never know!
It is folly for a man to pray to the gods for that which he has the power to obtain by himself.
You can clutch the past so tightly to your chest that it leaves your arms too full to embrace the present.
The robbed that smiles, steals something from the thief.
--William Shakespeare, (Othello)
One thing the book suggests we do is to think back over the past year, thinking of all the things we enjoy, and then resolve to do them more.
I think that sounds difficult! I know I have enjoyed some things over the past year, but I just can't think what! I'm not very good at thinking backwards. And I don't feel as if I'm enjoying anything right now, so it's even harder for me to think of things!
But Kate said she thought about it for some time, and then came up with a few ideas of what she's enjoyed. The book says they don't have to be big things. Kate came up with several things in the end:
Pass the sick bowl! ... No, that's not a nice thing to say about the things my sister likes! And actually, thinking about it, some of those things could be nice for me to do more of.
The book suggests we take fifteen minutes every so often to think about the things we enjoy, saying that just thinking about them is enjoyable to some extent.
Well, I don't do a lot of the things Kate does. But I'll really try to have a think about things I enjoy. The trouble is that I'm worried that thinking about them will make me feel worse, because it'll make me more aware that I'm not doing them. For instance, thinking about the summer when it's winter might just upset me that it's not summer now. But then, knowing I probably have another Summer to look forward to will probably help. So I'll give it quite a lot of thought.
Maybe I could do more of the things Kate does as well.
I'll make myself something nice to eat and have a think about what I've enjoyed and would like to do some more of or day-dream about from time to time.
The book recommends we spend a few moments thinking about each experience, relishing what we most enjoy about it in our imagination, and making a mental note of what particularly appeals to us about it, so perhaps we could recreate something that includes the elements of it we most like.
It recommends that when we've thought of several things we enjoy and would like to repeat, we write down a list of them, so we can comfort ourselves with it whenever we're a bit stressed or overworked. We'll know we have things to look forward to, and we can maybe take a bit of time out to imagine doing nice things for a few minutes, till we have time to do them for real.
The book suggests we spend fifteen minutes thinking about and writing down all our positive qualities, and all our achievements in life.
Well, I must have some, but I'm sure I wouldn't be able to think of them if I just sat down now and tried. I'll give it some thought over the next few days.
It asks us to imagine what a kind friend who'd known us all our lives, seen how we coped with difficulties, and witnessed our successes, would say.
It says that if we can think of our achievements in life, and anything good about our personalities, it'll give our mood a lift and encourage us. It says that if we can learn to love ourselves, we'll be able to love others better.
I'll try to think back to see if I can think of any compliments I've been given. Some people have said so many bad things about me that it'll be hard for me to think of anything good. And even if anyone said good things about me once, it doesn't mean they're still true. Still, I probably do have some good qualities.
It asks us a question to help us think of them:
Which of our positive personality traits would we like to continue to influence us in the future, and which of our values or beliefs do we want to carry on having?
Kate said she had to think about the question for a while, but in the end, she came up with several positive things about herself. She imagined a friend who'd been with her all her life might say:
I think one or two of those are true for me. I'll try to think of some others.
It does feel a bit conceited though, dwelling on good things about myself.
But Kate said it isn't really, because it's not as if we're thinking more highly of ourselves than of other people. And we can use this kind of thing to reassure ourselves that we're not all bad and give ourselves more confidence.
The book recommends we write down all the positive things we can think of about ourselves, adding to it when we think of more, and that we read what we've written whenever we think we need cheering up or encouraging. It says we can take pride in knowing our good qualities are part of our true self.
If you hear a voice within you say "you cannot paint," then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.
--Vincent Van Gogh
The book suggests we draw some pictures, just improvising, of what we're interested in. It says we don't have to have a clear idea of what we want to draw when we start, but we can just draw what comes into our heads. So it might be half-remembered hobbies, or places we'd like to visit again, or things or people we identify ourselves with, like people in certain jobs, for example, that might give us some ideas about new directions our lives could take.
It suggests we just let our imaginations bring into our minds everything we'd like to do or be if we could, or that we feel represents us in some way, like an animal, other things from nature, pictures in particular colours, or whatever.
It says that when we've drawn what we like the idea of, we should think about what it means to us, and why those things are important to us. Then, we can use them to give us ideas about things we can do that'll be enjoyable and interesting for us, and that'll help us get in touch with the person we'd really like to be more.
So, for instance, if we find ourselves drawing particular scenes from a place we once went to on holiday, we could perhaps consider going back there. Or an attraction to bright colours might make us think of getting some brightly-coloured things for our home, or decorating it in brighter colours next time.
I suppose this must be for if we find it difficult to think of things just by telling ourselves to think of them. It is a bit difficult being put on the spot like that. But maybe if I just sat down to draw a picture of anything I liked the idea of drawing that just floated into my imagination, I'd find it easier to think of things. Well, I'm not convinced I'll find it any easier. But it might be worth trying.
Or maybe this is meant to encourage us to dwell for more time on what we want from life so we can improve it, or to give us more confidence that we matter as individuals who are worth devoting time to, and to help us start thinking of ourselves as individuals with all these interesting tastes and preferences, instead of just as victims who haven't got enough control over life to make it nice for ourselves. Perhaps these things are meant to motivate us to go for what we'd really like out of life as far as possible. I know I could do more. I have a lot more freedom to do things now.
I'll get some coloured pens or something like that and see what comes into my head.
An animal? I don't like the idea of being represented by an animal!
Kate said she liked it though. She said she imagined that the animal that could be a symbol representing what she's like could be a rabbit. That's probably typical of her, since she keeps pet rabbits! Even her children love rabbits. Their favourite toy is a big cardboard box, and they pretend it's a rabbit hutch. One goes in it, and the other one feeds them little sweets from outside, and opens the box and strokes them sometimes.
But Kate said she thought it was appropriate for her to think of a rabbit symbol as representing herself because rabbits are quite timid and shy, but when they have to, they'll defend themselves, like if they're protecting their babies or something, and they can run fast. And they're usually vegetarian, like her. So she says she quite likes the idea of identifying with a rabbit.
She said keeping a toy rabbit or a picture of a rabbit on her desk will remind her of the characteristics about her that she likes or that she feels represent her true self. She's quite good at drawing, so she drew a nice rabbit she could keep.
Another suggestion in the book is that we make cloth dolls that represent ourselves, and stick things on them that symbolise significant things for us or what make us who we really are, and also who we were in the past and would like to be in the future. It says we can make one that represents us at all those times, or one for each of those times.
It says it doesn't matter what size they are.
It recommends we sew the doll or dolls by machine or by hand, and then stick little things on them like beads or paper, or anything we think symbolises something about us in some way. It says that it doesn't matter if they don't look perfect, because little mistakes in the handiwork might even add to the charm, and they're for us, not for other people.
It says we can get books with instructions on doll making from fabric or craft shops or libraries to help us.
I can't imagine being able to do that or really wanting to, but Kate's made some. She was always more creative than me, and liked art better. She said she's made three dolls, one to represent the past, one to represent the present and one to represent the future. She showed me the ones for the past and present, and she told me about what she plans to make for the future. I suppose they're quite sweet in some ways.
She said that at first, she thought it would be selfish of her to devote so much time to doing things just for herself.
But the book says that doing things for ourselves that help us love ourselves will help us love other people as well, because the more we respect ourselves and think we're important enough to devote care and attention to, the better we'll treat other people.
Kate says that making the dolls has made her feel as if she cherishes herself more, and she does think that's rubbed off on the way she treats other people, because she's more cheerful with them and feels kinder towards them.
She told me about some of the things she did when she was making the dolls, and why she did them.
She said she put some dried leaves in the stuffing of the first doll that represented her past, to represent the garden where she used to love to play. She sewed a bit of cloth on one of the knees to look like a big scar that was left after she was walking along the top of a wall once and fell off and was in hospital over Christmas. She drew marks on its head to symbolise the emotional abuse she suffered that played with her mind, and she drew marks on her body to symbolise where she'd suffered physical abuse. I thought that sounded a bit morbid. But she said it helped her to acknowledge that those things had happened, but that they were part of her past.
She tied a little picture of a fairground ride on the doll to symbolise her love of holidays by the sea, and stuck a yellow bead on it to symbolise the sun shining. She stuck a bit of blue paper there to symbolise the sea, that she used to fantasize about sailing away on.
She says that sometimes, she cuddles that doll and caresses it, and she imagines she's giving herself as a child all the love she never had then and soothing it, and it makes her feel better.
In the doll she made to symbolise who she is nowadays, she's made it bigger, and she said that was because she's better able to stand up for herself and not so vulnerable now. She didn't draw a mouth on the doll she made as a child, to symbolise not being able to have a say in what happened to her at first; but she has drawn one on this one. She says she's going to draw a mouth on the child one to symbolise that things are getting better.
She's sewn a little bit of cloth on one of the hands on this one to look a bit like a wedding ring, and tied a miniature book onto one of the hands with her children's names and birth dates in it. She cut out words from magazines and glued them on the doll to describe the good and bad qualities of her personality at the moment. And she stuck things on it to represent the things she enjoys doing nowadays, like a dried flower to represent her love of gardening, and a miniature plaque with a few words on it that she once got from a train museum, to symbolise her love of the railways.
She says that in her doll that symbolises the future, she'll draw a few wrinkles on its face that don't look too bad with a bit of grey chalk, and use white string for its hair instead of the string she's used on her other ones. She thinks she'll dip the cloth left over from the other dolls that she'll use to make her future one in strong brewed tea to make it look older.
She says she'll tie a little bag around its waist with little bits of paper in it with things written on them that she thinks she'd like to do when she's got more time, like going around the country photographing nature scenes and wildlife, and finding out more about local history.
She says she'll put a miniature book in one of the doll's hands labelled "Memories of Good Times with the Children", that she hopes will comfort her by reminding her to think of the fun she had when the children were growing up.
She read a poem that made her smile about how people can get away with doing more when they're old, like looking eccentric by wearing all kinds of unusual clothes, and she thinks that would be fun for her to do. So she's going to look around a toy shop for a really brightly-coloured doll's hat, and stick dried flowers in it, and look for brightly-coloured doll's clothes and stick a few glittery things on them.
She said she might keep adding things to that doll for years, on any occasion when she feels inspired to put something new on it. She said if it gets full of things, she'll make a bigger doll and put that one inside it before she stuffs it, to symbolise that it's still her. She said she might stick some of the things from the old doll on the new one instead, or just leave them on the old one, since even though she won't be able to see it any more, she'll know it's there.
Well, I'm glad she enjoys doing that. I can't get into all this imagery stuff myself, but it must be good for people to do if they're creative enough in that kind of way. She seems enthusiastic, so I wish her all the best.
The book makes other suggestions as to creative things we could do, like dancing, painting, drawing, embroidery or other craftwork, writing poetry ...
writing poetry? Ugh! But then my brother likes it, and his poems are actually good. So there must be some good poetry around, and some people must get something out of it. Actually, Kate's written a couple of good poems as well. And come to think of it, I have read other ones. I think it was just the poems we had to read at school that put me off. But not all poems are like that. Actually, I've heard that some people get a lot out of writing poetry because it's a way they can express themselves and a handy outlet for their feelings.
The book says we could write stories or plays as well if we want.
No, I don't think I could be bothered. I had enough of writing stories at school. But then, actually, I think some people are good at it and get a lot out of it. I know someone who's in a drama group, and the person who runs it writes the plays they do herself. And the person I know loves it. So I suppose if you're good at writing stories and plays, you can probably get a lot out of it.
Well, none of that really appeals to me. But then, I haven't tried several of those things, so I might like them if I did.
The book recommends that we find other creative things that appeal to us and just do what we enjoy most. It suggests that if we can't think of what to do but think we would love to do something if we could find something we like, we set aside about an hour and a half or longer a week and call it our creativity date, where we do things we wouldn't normally think of doing, like taking a craft class, visiting museums or exhibitions, or dreaming up something creative we think we'd like to do.
Well, all that sounds boring! But thinking about it, I think I might have just picked that attitude up from other people at school, years ago. It might be worth visiting somewhere like that to see what I thought. But I don't think I'd want to do any of those things on my own. I'd be happier if someone went with me. Maybe I could ask Kate, but I know she's busy with the children. But then, thinking about it, it might not be too bad if I tried something like that on my own. I could try seeing if there's a craft class that doesn't go on for many weeks and see how I feel. After all, maybe no one will know each other, and we might all be learning.
Or maybe I could start by just taking one day to visit a museum I like the sound of, and if I don't expect too much from the day, I won't be disappointed if it doesn't go well; but if I enjoy myself, that'll be a bonus and might make me want to go to places like that more. Perhaps there's a creative side of me that I might like if I knew it better, but I don't know about it much yet because I've never given it a chance to grow so far.
Maybe part of the reason I'm not feeling keen on doing much in this book is because I'm depressed at the moment. Perhaps once I start to cheer up a bit, I'll get more enthusiastic about some of the ideas. Maybe if I go through them and pick out the ones I like best, and then start to do them little by little, maybe just one by one, I'll gradually cheer up and become keener to do more of them.
I know: I think I'll write down the ideas I like the sound of, and then put them in order of the ones I like best, and try the one I like the very best first, and then do the one I like second best, and so on. If I gradually do more and more things I like, my life might have changed quite a bit this time in six months or so.
But there does seem to be a lot of stuff in this book! I can't imagine being able to take it all in at once. And it might be difficult to know what to do first. Maybe people are supposed to just read one section that appeals to them per week or something, and then write down any ideas they get from it, plan what to do about them, and then start doing what they've planned; and only read another section when they've got used to doing the new things they've decided to do.
Or maybe it'll be good to browse several sections in one go to work out which ones are the most appealing. Then maybe we could do them in order of what we like the idea of best.
Or perhaps we could first just get a few little ideas from a few sections, write them down and try them out, and then do a few more and a few more over time. I'll think about it.
The book says that if we're criticizing ourselves because we try something and don't do it all that well at first, we shouldn't take too much notice of what the criticism says, because people are bound to need practice before they can do things that well. And taking time out and doing other things to enjoy ourselves will make us happier, and if we're happier, we'll make people around us happier as well, so we don't have to think it's a waste of time or anything like that.
How beautiful it is to do nothing, and then to rest afterward.
Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer's day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.
The book says that it's important to take time to rest and relax, and it maybe nice to take time to unwind and contemplate the events of the day.
Well, rest and relaxation sound nice, but if I took extra time to just sit and think about things, I might just worry more, or start dwelling on things that make me angry and put myself in a bad mood. But it might be nice to just try to think through the events of the day without dwelling on any I'm starting to worry or feel angry about, if I can work out how to do that.
The book says one thing we can do to help ourselves rest and relax is to try to work out what part of our body feels most comfortable, and imagine the comfort spreading to all of it.
Well, I can't imagine doing that, since I get muscle cramps in my legs sometimes and I get backache and headaches sometimes. And I've tried focusing my mind on other parts of my body, but it just makes me notice sensations in them that I begin to worry about, like my fingers feeling a bit tingly and restless.
But maybe I don't need to worry about those things nearly as much as I think. Actually, I've heard anxiety can bring sensations like some of those on. I've heard that people can get muscle pain and headaches because of tension, and that anxiety can cause tingling sensations in the fingers. So maybe worrying about them makes them worse, until I worry more, whereas if I didn't worry, they wouldn't really bother me. Maybe if I focused harder on the idea of every part of me relaxing, I might feel different. I'm not sure.
I wouldn't want to go to sleep though. But perhaps I'll try the relaxation idea near bedtime or in bed, so it won't matter if I do.
Kate said she's tried it and she gets some benefit out of it. So that's good. So I'll see if I can.
The book says it can be good sometimes to take a mini break, just relaxing for several hours.
The author says she sometimes used to feel as if she didn't have any energy so she couldn't be bothered to do anything much, and she thought she was just being lazy or depressed. So she would write out a list of things to do that day and discipline herself to get moving and do them, which is something she says helps with laziness and depression. But she found that the next day, she'd always feel ill with flu symptoms that kept her in bed for a day or more.
Eventually, she started taking time off for a few hours to treat herself to relaxing things she enjoyed, and then she stopped feeling ill the day afterwards, so she concluded that she must have been exhausted and needing a rest. She said it had happened just a few days ago, and after doing essential things like washing, feeding her pets and returning a few phone calls, she'd sat down by her fireplace and relaxed with a cup of tea. She allowed herself to doze, listened to some of her favourite music, embroidered the face on a rag doll, did some reading she wanted to catch up on, phoned several friends, and ended with a long luxurious bubble bath. She said that after a few hours, she felt refreshed, and her energy had returned. And the day after, she wasn't ill.
So she recommends that everyone take a break to do relaxing things they enjoy when they feel like that, unless they haven't got much to do with their lives, in which case, they could take a break by trying something fun and active if possible.
Well, it's allright for her to say that! She's probably self-employed. Most people probably couldn't just take a break when they wanted. I can imagine what would happen if most of us phoned into work every so often saying we weren't coming in because we didn't feel very energetic! Still, maybe we can adapt her ideas to suit us better. In fact, the author does say we can adapt them all to suit us. Kate says when she feels a bit down, she buys something special for tea, and when the kids have gone to bed, she has a long bath or sits relaxing in a chair with a good book, leaving any housework that isn't essential till the next day. And she says she spends afternoons doing that at weekends nowadays if she can and she feels like a rest. So I think I'll try treating myself more like that.
The book says we can relax by focusing our attention on something in the present, wondering at the way it's made or its beauty or scent or something. It says that young children do that, but our minds become so cluttered with things over the years that we can forget.
Actually, Kate told me that when her son was about 18 months old, she saw him looking in awe one morning at a rose that had been a bud but had opened up into a flower just a few hours before. She said it made her realise how much beauty and wonder around us we take for granted.
So she's started taking little bits of time out now and again to look around her and really appreciate the things she sees, like flowers and trees, or even things like electrical equipment and wardrobes and other furniture in her home, thinking about how each thing must have been made, wondering at the sophistication of some of the things, and being thankful that people had the know-how to make things like that. And she said she deliberately slows down now sometimes, like when she's shopping, so she can notice things like the beauty of the colours and shapes of the fruit and vegetables, smelling the aromas of things like apples and peaches, along with freshly-baked bread.
Well, I'll have a go at focusing my mind more on things like that.
The book says there's a relaxation technique where we make a deliberate attempt to focus on the present. It says that it can be quite effective or distracting, so people shouldn't try it when they're using machinery or driving. But it says if we're free to, we can take several minutes out of our day for it. It says it can be a good way to relax during or after a busy day or to calm our minds, or to help us enjoy what's going on around us more, or help us sleep better.
It says it's best if we find a comfortable position where our body feels well-supported so we can relax without thinking about it.
Hmmm! Actually, if I'm busy thinking about whether my body's well-supported enough, I won't be able to relax! I'll just keep thinking about any sensations in it that indicate that it isn't relaxed enough. That's happened before when I've tried to do relaxation techniques. But maybe that's just me! Maybe I won't concentrate too hard on that, just as long as I'm comfortable.
The book says the idea is that we focus on any pleasant or restful scene around us we can see, or if there aren't any around, on a postcard or picture of something nice, like a nature scene or something, or anything we enjoy looking at. It says it can be an object rather than a picture if we like, anything we enjoy looking at. It just mustn't be disturbing. It can even be a bare wall.
It says that after that, we should make an effort to concentrate only on what we're looking at, and name five things in it that we can see.
Surely we couldn't do that with a bare wall! Well, maybe we'll have to look around us at other things if we do that.
Anyway, it says that after that, the idea is that we name five things we can hear; and then five things we can touch or that are touching us in some way, like the ground beneath our feet, the chair under us, the sensation of a breeze blowing, the feel of any picture we're holding or any objects around us, the feeling of our clothes on us or our hair around our head, the texture of the floor or carpet as we move our feet on it, the feel of something rubbing against our hand as we move it along it, or anything like that.
It says it doesn't matter if we can't think of five things we can see or hear or feel. We can just name some things more than once, perhaps saying things like, "I can hear a train. ... I can still hear a train".
I can imagine it might get a bit irritating if we can only hear one thing the whole time though. But perhaps we can just miss the hearing category out if we can't hear enough to make it relaxing to think about it.
It says that when we've thought of five things in each category, or as many as we can think of, we should move on to thinking of four in each, starting with four things we can see, then four we can hear, then four we can feel. Then after that, we should move on to three, two, and then one in each category. It doesn't matter if we have to count the same thing more than once.
It says that when we've finished, we can either go back to thinking of five, the same five if we can't think of others, and then work our way back to one again, or we can just stop and enjoy thinking about what's around us.
It says that if we get confused before we've finished, maybe because we're forgetting which numbers we've counted up to, we can just stop and just enjoy the things around us as well.
It says that if we're very tired when we do the technique, it might send us to sleep. It says it can actually be a good way of sending us to sleep if that's what we want to do, going through it until we drift off.
It says that if we're doing the technique to get ourselves to sleep in a dark room, we could just repeat, "I see the dark in front of me" for the sights category, or just shut our eyes and miss that category out altogether.
It says that at any time when we're counting things during the relaxation exercise, we should feel free to stop and enjoy what we're focusing our attention on.
Well, I'll have to think of something nice to use to focus it on. I'll try this technique.
It suggests that after doing the relaxation exercise, we take some time just to relax and enjoy the moment.
It says that if we want to become more alert after the relaxation exercise, standing up and walking around can help us do that. Or we can get our brains used to the idea by counting and telling ourselves we're getting more and more alert, like saying:
"1. I'm feeling more alert.
2. I'm feeling even more alert.
3. I'm feeling refreshed and alert.
4. I'm feeling even more refreshed and alert.
5. I'm feeling fully refreshed and alert."
Think big thoughts but relish small pleasures.
--H. Jackson Brown, Jr., (Life's Little Instruction Book)
The book suggests we make our house as cosy as possible, and do lots of things we enjoy and that refresh us, including some things we make a habit of doing every day. It gives us ideas of what other people have done that might give us some ideas of our own.
It says that devoting attention to doing things every day just to make ourselves feel good might seem frivolous or even selfish at first, but if we feel better, the chances are that we'll treat other people better.
Actually, Kate said she's started doing some of the suggestions in the book, and she says she feels more refreshed and happy, and doesn't shout at the children so often or snap at her husband so much. She says she's more willing to help the children with things because she feels more patient.
The book says that kind of thing can happen.
The author of the book says that when she was growing up, her mother would always have a cup of tea at 4.00 PM, before beginning to cook the dinner, and she would often sit with her. She says they moved house quite a lot, but they would always sit down for a cup of tea at the same time whatever house they were in, and she thinks it gave them reassurance that although some things might change, there would always be some things they knew they could look forward to because they'd stay the same. She says she now takes time at 4.00 PM to enjoy looking at a herd of animals that always seem to go by at that time.
She gives examples of other things people do every day that make them feel good:
She says she knows someone who always looks at her garden before she goes to work and decides what needs doing to it, and then looks forward to working on it all day. She says she finds working on it soothing, and it helps her deal with her problems, because she works out what to do about them as she's digging the soil.
Well, I haven't got a garden, but I know Kate enjoys working in hers, although she tends to do that at weekends rather than every day. But she said she enjoys doing a "tour" of her garden every day to see what new things have happened, like what new flowers have come out. She's got some gardening books out of the library to help give her some new ideas about things to grow and how to grow them. She's getting quite enthusiastic. In fact, the other day, I phoned her up, and she told me off, because it was in the middle of a gardening programme on television about how to grow raspberries and other soft fruits properly. I never thought she'd get that enthusiastic! I thought she'd probably find gardening programmes boring. So it's good really that she's got so keen on it and enjoys it so much.
The author of the book says that one person she knows always likes to have a cup of fragrant tea every morning, so that's something he knows he can look forward to.
Well, I'm not keen on fancy tea myself, but I do enjoy ordinary tea, when it's weak. Kate said she might experiment with trying different types of herbal teas.
The author says that a couple she knows go for a walk in the hills every morning before they go to work.
Wow, they must be dedicated early risers! Still, I know some people really enjoy walking at a more usual time of day, especially in the countryside.
The author says she knows someone else who goes for a walk just before bedtime.
Perhaps he lives in a country area where there are nice places to walk and not much crime. Still, they do say exercise is good for you, so walking somewhere every day, especially if we can find somewhere we enjoy going, is probably a good idea, and might be relaxing.
The author says someone she knows goes for a run every morning before work, and he's sure it makes him more alert all day.
Well, I wouldn't fancy running, but a good walk might be nice, maybe even just around the block, or around the park a few times. Not that early though! But maybe I'm just turning into a grumpy old thing.
She says someone she knows goes with friends every month for a long walk in a forest in the mountains. She says they always feel good afterwards, because it helps them appreciate the wonders of nature and enjoy their friendship more.
Well, I wouldn't fancy doing anything that strenuous myself. Kate might. But I'd prefer walks that were nowhere near any mountains, preferably ones that ended up outside cafes where I could have something refreshing to eat and drink! Perhaps there are groups who do that kind of thing. Maybe I could go to the library and investigate. Well, I'd better not simply ask if they have walkers' groups that end up outside cafes. Maybe I'll find something that sounds promising though. Or maybe I could just find a friend or two to go with, if I ever make any friends, of course, and any of them want to go.
The author says she knows someone who takes flowers from his garden to work every morning, and that gives him a sense of peacefulness during the day.
Every day? Well, it might be possible to grow a range of things so some were flowering at all different times of the year. But even midwinter? Maybe it doesn't really mean every day of the year. But it might be worth investigating how possible it is to organise it so you could have plants that flower at as many times of the year as possible. Kate might be interested in doing that. I did know someone once who said he managed to create a garden with different shrubs in it, arranging it so at least one was scented at any one time in the year. That sounds nice. Perhaps I could see if I like being around natural things more. I suppose I could buy a few plants for my house.
The author says that someone else she knows takes a few minutes out of his working day every now and then to play a game on his computer. But he ends up feeling relaxed and refreshed, so he puts more effort into his work afterwards.
She says that someone else she knows listens to classical music every Sunday morning while ironing his shirts for the week.
Well, I can't imagine wanting to make ironing a looked-forward-to part of my weekly routine! And I don't like classical music. But listening to music I like or perhaps a story tape while doing the ironing would likely make it less boring. Possibly more enjoyable even. I know sometimes when I've been doing boring things, I've had music I like on, and actually stopped being bored and enjoyed myself. I'll try it more.
The author says that some people enjoy cleaning their houses and sorting through things that need tidying up and putting them in order.
I don't enjoy that kind of thing myself at all.
but she says some people find it relaxing, because it gives them something constructive to do while they're thinking things through and developing new ideas in their minds.
The author says her husband likes to feed the birds in his garden every morning and then spend a few minutes drinking coffee and watching and listening to them.
Well, I wouldn't fancy feeding the birds around my house a lot because of the mess they'd probably start making. But I did used to enjoy feeding the ducks on the pond in the park, so it might be nice to do that again sometimes. And I did used to enjoy listening to birds singing in the evening. Perhaps I'll think of places I could go for walks in the Summer where I could do that, maybe with someone if I can find someone to go with me.
The author says another person she knows finds needlework relaxing.
Well, I don't enjoy things like that, but I do remember going to a craft class once where there were a small group of us and we made different things we sold afterwards. It was nice for the companionship, and it was nice to think we were making something useful while we were chatting. Perhaps I'll investigate whether I could find something like that again.
The author says another person she knows burns a stick of "delicately-perfumed" sandalwood incense every night, careful to keep it contained in a safe holder. She loves to drift off to sleep and wake up to the scent of its fragrance.
It might be nice to think of things that smell nice to enjoy having around my house.
The author says another person she knows finds doing a bit of embroidery each evening relaxing, and manages to make time for it even though she's got several children to take care of. She says she's often too tired to relax enough to just enjoy sitting quietly resting, even though she knows it would do her good. But she finds working with a needle and thread helps her wind down from intense activity to peacefulness.
The author says another person she knows finds that reading a novel every night helps her do the same thing. In fact, she says several people she knows find it difficult to make a deliberate effort to relax enough to get to sleep at night because when they're stressed, trying to relax just makes them more restless; but reading for a few minutes every night helps them calm down.
The book says we ought to carefully select what we read or watch on television at night, since it can affect our dreams. Also, things that stimulate our imaginations too much might stop us from getting to sleep.
She says someone else she knows does stretching exercises for several minutes every night before she goes to bed, and it quietens her mind as well as being good for her and relaxing her physically. She says she used to wake up in the morning with stiff muscles, but now she does the exercises before bed, she doesn't any more.
I've heard that vigorous exercise late in the evening can stop you getting to sleep; but maybe gentle exercise is allright.
The author says that for herself, expressing her feelings in a journal is important, because it helps her get more in touch with them and contemplate things around her so she appreciates them more, and that makes her feel more peaceful.
She suggests we pick one of the things that sounds appealing from her suggestions or think of something else we'd like to do, maybe something we've seen other people doing and that we like the idea of doing ourselves, and start off by trying it, gradually building up to doing more things if we like.
The author says that it can be good to eat comfort food when we're stressed.
Well, it's the first time I've heard that. How nice! I would have thought that was dubious advice in these days of obesity. Still, I know that some days, I just feel like eating "feel good" meals, things high in carbohydrates, I think, and I can feel more cheerful afterwards. I don't suppose there's any harm in doing that now and again.
The book recommends that people think back to see if they can remember any food they particularly associate with enjoyment, or with warmth and friendship or security because of who they were with when they ate it. It recommends we cook more of the meals that make us feel good in some way, especially in times of stress.
It suggests we make any food on special occasions as well that we associate with good times, if it'll comfort us or give us a sense of well-being. Or it says that if we can't think of any foods like that, we could start our own traditions, making foods at times of celebration year after year that we'll hopefully come to associate with good times. It says that if they're healthy foods, we might even be doing any descendants we have a favour, because they might come to associate them with good times if they enjoyed our celebrations, and cook them more often.
It says that if the food we already associate with family celebrations makes us unhappy because of bad memories, starting a tradition of cooking new foods of our choice at celebrations can be especially helpful, because it can symbolise breaking with the past and starting anew, looking to the future.
It suggests that if we need ideas for new foods to start cooking every year to start a tradition, we could go and investigate cook books, maybe books of ethnic recipes if we want variety, or we could ask friends if they've got any good recipes for foods we can cook at times of celebration.
The book recommends that we make our home as nice to look at as we possibly can. So it suggests we decorate it in our favourite colours and textures, and have favourite objects on display.
It asks us to consider what our favourite colours are, which ones we find soothing or uplifting, and whether we like different colours at different times of the year.
It says we don't just have to paint things to introduce new colours into our homes. We could get plants and flowers of different colours, for instance.
The author says someone got lots of fabric in her favourite colours and draped it over things in her house, and sewed it into clothing and other things. She put curtain rods up around her house in other parts of it as well as above the windows, and draped beautiful materials over them. And as well as giving her more privacy, they give her pleasure and bring more variety of colour and decoration into the home.
The author says that someone else found a lovely-looking piece of glass in her favourite colour on the beach that had had its edges rounded down by erosion. She took it home, and started looking for other bits on the beach. She found several over time, and now her house is decorated with lots of them.
The book mentions someone else who likes different colours with the changing seasons, so she puts different-coloured covers on her furniture at different times of the year.
But it's all very well for people to fill their houses with nice and breakable things if they haven't got children. Kate's children come here sometimes and play on everything.
But it says that someone else wanted brightly-painted furniture, but knew it wouldn't be wise to get expensive stuff because her children might ruin the paint on it by playing on it. So she bought cheap, decrepit-looking furniture, and painted it with different designs herself. It says as she got more skilled at painting and designing, she painted some of the first things she'd done again, till her house looked the way she'd always wished it would. And now, she doesn't worry about her children damaging the paint-work, because she can always re-do any damaged bits.
It says that someone painted little patterns in his favourite colours in unexpected parts of the house and on the outside, and now it looks really cheerful.
Working in the garden...gives me a profound feeling of inner peace.
The book suggests that if we like living things, we bring a bit of nature indoors, perhaps getting a pet, perhaps plants, or something symbolising somewhere we enjoyed going. For instance, a cactus plant could bring back memories of the desert for anyone who, (for some strange reason), enjoyed a holiday there, or likes the idea of visiting one. It says plants purify the air, and a leafy environment can be soothing.
That's when the green fly aren't infesting them, I expect. Ugh! But maybe they don't do that all that often. And there are probably ways of getting rid of them. Actually, I've never noticed insects on Kate's plants. So maybe plants don't all get them, or not all the time. So plants might be nice. I'll start looking more at plants I come across anyway.
The author says she knows a couple who have shelves in their bathroom covered in seashells of all sizes they've collected on holidays, and they remind them of times when they've enjoyed themselves.
Actually, Kate loves the sea. She's got little ornaments of fish in her home and seashells around the place. And she's got a fish tank, and she loves to watch the different types of fish swimming around. She says she finds it soothing.
The book says that someone else hung a picture on their wall at work of when they went swimming with dolphins, and it cheers them up because it reminds them of it.
It recommends we have a think about what we could bring in from outdoors or take pictures of out there to bring indoors that would make us feel happier, or what plant or animal life we think we'd enjoy more of around us.
The book says that textures can improve the quality of our lives as well. It suggests we contemplate which ones we like the feel of, and have some things in our home that we enjoy touching. For instance, it says some people like velvet or silk. It asks whether we prefer rough or smooth textures, and what type of material we'd like a favourite chair to be made out of. It's not suggesting we buy new ones just for the texture, but it suggests we could get covers for them in a texture we really like.
The author says someone she knew bought cotton fabrics to cover her chairs, because they felt nice and cool in the humid summers where she lived.
The author says she knew someone else who collected baskets and hung them on the wall, especially liking old worn ones, because of their look and feel.
She says someone else loves the feel of pottery cups and plates, especially over-sized or funny-shaped ones. Someone else loves to drink tea out of thin porcelain cups and wrap her fingers round them, and feels sure the tea tastes better that way.
The book says that if we're not sure what textures we'd like best, we could walk through a fabric shop or somewhere like that where we can run our fingers along the materials they've got and see what we like.
It says that creating nice textures to walk on can also give us a source of pleasure.
I know Kate says she loves walking barefoot through the long grass in her garden in the summer.
The book says someone put little round stones in his hallway so he could walk barefoot along them and enjoy the feeling of cobblestones under his feet.
Well, that might be a bit extreme for most people! But I know a family who bought a sheepskin on holiday and draped it over one of their chairs, and it feels lovely and soft. It feels thick and luxuriant.
The author suggests we take some time to imagine how we could put more of our favourite textures in our homes.
The author suggests we fill our homes with nice pictures. She says we can get them cheaply if we're inventive. She says you can get mass-produced replicas of paintings by famous artists, or it can be nice to have posters of nice things around the house. She said she used to stick colourful pictures on the wall that children in her extended family had painted or drawn.
She said one person built up a collection of postcards with nice pictures on them that he bought at art museums, and he sometimes found picture frames that were the right size in second-hand shops, and put the postcards in them, and people thought they looked really nice.
Actually, Kate's got lots of postcards with funny sayings on them on the door of her bedroom. I think I'd enjoy starting a collection of my own.
The book says that often, colleges and universities have art departments, and students sell what they've created at the end of the year, so we could look out for sales at places like that, and we might find some good things.
The book suggests we move our pictures around in our homes every so often in case we've stopped noticing them that much because we're used to them being there. If they're in a different place, they'll catch our attention all over again, so we might start appreciating them all over again.
The book says it's important to have a clean and tidy house so we can find things easily because we know where they are, and so we can use them straightaway when we want them, and also so our home pleases us because it looks nice. It says that having an orderly home where we can find or use things quickly when we want to can free up time for us to enjoy ourselves.
But it says that paying too much attention to that kind of thing can have the opposite effect, taking time we could be spending enjoying ourselves. It says that the level of cleanliness and tidiness that suits each individual will change according to their needs. So it asks us to consider whether we could make things better for ourselves if we changed anything.
It says that sometimes, we might decide to change things in ways other than being more tidy. It says there was a man who used to get irritable because he spent ten or more minutes every morning looking for matching socks and other clothes amid all his stuff, and he longed to be drinking coffee instead. But instead of becoming more tidy, he chose to put a little shelf up in his bedroom for his coffee cup and get himself a cup of coffee before he started looking for clothes, and drink it while he did. He was sure that would make him feel better. Then he decided to put music he enjoyed on as well while he was searching, to make it a more pleasant experience.
It asks us to consider what would be the first small step we could make towards organising our life better, and what differences the change we made would make in our lives.
The book suggests we arrange our furniture in the way we like it arranged best, even if it might look eccentric. The author says her sister moved her couch into the kitchen one winter because it was warmer in there and the cosiest place to be while spending time with her young daughter.
The book asks what kind of furniture we prefer to sit on, for instance chairs, or lazing around on beanbags or cushions. It asks whether we like furniture with fancy designs or plain, and what else we'd choose about our furniture if we needed some more.
The author says some people feel sure they need to be richer if their lives are going to improve, but she says that isn't true. She says that one of her sisters is a counsellor, and often asks people what they'd do if they won the lottery. Often, most of the things people say they'd like to do don't cost that much at all. She suggests we think about how we could be creative and change things without spending much money.
She says one person she asked how things would be different if he was more wealthy said he'd buy an expensive sports car, put fresh flowers on the dining room table, real butter in the fridge, and drink a glass of wine with dinner. But he realised that although the sports car was out of his reach, he could achieve all the rest. With a bit of planning, he could grow his own flowers in a garden he had outside his kitchen door, keep a little packet of butter in his fridge, and drink a glass of wine with dinner when he felt like it.
She says another person associated the good life with having velvety textures around her, dark carved woods, and silver candlesticks, none of which she thought she could afford, since she was still studying. But she went to several car boot sales, flea markets and other places where people might be selling things cheap, and she managed to find some aristocratic-looking imitation old-fashioned chairs, and an elegant but very worn dark wood sofa that she draped in velvet bits that were left over after people made things that she got from discount fabric shops. She also managed to get an impressive silver candelabra for almost nothing at a sale of things from a posh house. It was so cheap because it had scratches and dents all over it, but she spent an afternoon cleaning and polishing it with old rags and a toothbrush while watching a favourite video, and it looked much better. Now the cracks only seem to add to its design and people are impressed with it. She says that even though the things she has aren't quite what she'd choose if she had the money, they give her a sense of well-being and satisfaction with her home.
The book asks what we think we might be able to do to make our living space more enjoyable to be in, even just thinking of one thing at first. It says some people think they'd really like something expensive to make them feel happier, but with a bit of inventiveness, they can get the next best thing for not much money at all.
Well, that could take a bit of inventiveness. But I'll think about it. Then again, I'm quite happy with what I've got really.
The book advises us to make our work environment as relaxing and refreshing as we can.
Well, it would be nice to liven up my boring little office space.
The author says that when she first started work, she enjoyed going to one particular office, because there were large pictures of nature scenes on the wall.
And she said in the office she shared with a couple of people, they had a picture of a film star looking as if he was inviting them to a party. She said it made them laugh, because the environment he was in was so different from theirs, because theirs was such a cramped little place.
The book asks us to try to think of one thing to start with that would be easily achievable and would increase our comfort at work.
The author says one person she knows bought a teddy bear for her nephew's birthday, but ended up keeping it for herself, because she found that when work gets a bit stressful, it soothes her to open the drawer where she keeps it and stroke it for a little while. She can do that several times a day sometimes.
So the poor nephew went without a present, did he? ... No, actually, it says she bought another teddy bear for him.
She says a receptionist in another place keeps a collection of tiny stuffed animal toys on her desk. She said she asked her employer's permission, and they like the idea. The funny faces of the toys and their cuddly bodies make people smile when they come in.
The author says another person keeps three little bean bag balls in the shape of televisions on his desk and juggles with them every now and then. He says it clears his mind and he can concentrate better afterwards.
The book asks if we'd like any toys in our working environment.
It says if we quite like the idea of putting a few toys in our working environment but aren't sure what, we could get some ideas by thinking of anything that might have comforted or amused us when we were children; or we could visit a toy shop and look around it. It says anything that makes us laugh could be a good idea.
It says if we don't think our boss or work colleagues would appreciate toys on display at work, we could keep them somewhere private. But it says a lot of people will most likely find them amusing.
The book says it can be nice to have living things like plants in the office as well, if there's enough light to keep them healthy and people take responsibility for looking after them. And it can also be nice to bring in photos or paintings of animals.
The author says she knows of one workplace where there's a fish tank, and people enjoy the sight of the colourful tropical fish swimming around. She says she likes to keep at least one flower on her desk in the summer, and a plant in the winter.
She says some people prefer a silk plant or flowers at work, since they last much longer and don't need looking after.
I don't suppose they get green fly either. ... But then, I might be exaggerating the green fly problem. Thinking the worst again.
The book asks how we could best remind ourselves of nature in the workplace, how we'd enjoy doing that and what the easiest way of doing it for us would be.
Actually, it could be nice.
Well, I haven't got any.
But the author says that some people take photographs of their children and loved ones to work, changing them as they get new photos. She says one person she knew had photos of her family on her desk, plus a photo of her best friend, and a favourite teacher who had encouraged her at school. She said they made her feel the environment was more friendly, and helped her believe in herself, especially on days when the general working environment wasn't as supportive and friendly as she'd have liked. Their smiling faces made her feel better.
The author asks us to think of people we'd like to be reminded of at work, saying looking at photos of them might bring us the same good feelings as we get when we're with them.
The book says another advantage of having photos at work is that if we want to discourage unwelcome romantic advances, we can put a photo of a spouse or fiancÚ in a prominent position as a hint.
The book suggests other things we could do to make our work day more pleasant.
It says one person took her favourite bottled water to work with her, and kept it in the fridge. And in her previous workplace where there wasn't a fridge, she had bought her own drinks cooler to keep it in. She said it stopped her over-indulging in coffee and fizzy drinks.
It says that herbal teas can be calming, and the teabags don't take up much room.
It says some people snack on combinations of seeds, nuts and dried fruit.
That sounds nice!
The author says someone she knows always keeps a bit of fresh fruit on her desk to eat if things get a bit stressful. She says someone else she knows keeps soups for times like that.
Actually, Kate said she eats fresh fruit for lunch now whereas before she had sandwiches, and she likes it better.
The book asks us to consider what food or drink would make our work day more pleasurable.
It says we might be able to think of other things that would make work more comfortable for ourselves.
It says one man was getting a pain in his neck from the tension of holding the phone in the same position for too long, so he bought a headphone attachment from a telephone shop, and that helped, and allowed him to have both hands free to take notes, and to do other work while he was on hold.
The author says another person she knows has a collection of silk pillows in the corner of her office, which she loves the colours and texture of, and which make the office look more homely. she uses one as a cushion to support her back when she wants to.
The book asks us to consider what special comforts we could introduce into our working environment.
The author says she and her husband travel around with their work a lot, but always like to take something with them that reminds them of their family or a home comfort, to make the places seem more reassuringly familiar.
She says for people who work at home, maybe they could work in a separate part of the house from where they eat and sleep, so they won't be constantly reminded of work outside working hours; or if that's not possible, she suggests people have a little ritual they enjoy that they do when they stop working to mark the significance of it, like luxuriating in the shower or having something nice to eat, and so on.
The author says there are things we can do to help improve the atmosphere between people at work.
That would be nice, since my boss can be so grumpy and irritable sometimes.
She says one person she knows raised morale at work where the atmosphere had become increasingly unfriendly before when he started baking muffins and distributing them around the departments, not telling anyone where they'd come from. People started talking to each other more, at first just to ask if other people knew where the muffins had come from, and it created a more friendly atmosphere. She says he does the same thing every few months, and it does seem to have made people more cheerful and improved relations between the departments.
Well, handing cakes round all the departments sounds a bit daunting! But making a few home-made treats to bring to work now and again might be nice.
The author says another person started bringing flowers to work from her garden sometimes, putting one bouquet on the reception desk where everyone would see it as they came in, and one on her own; and people commented on how beautiful they were, especially since they contrasted with the dull surroundings. And someone else got an idea from it and started bringing home-grown tomatoes in to share.
She says someone else brought jokes and cartoons he'd cut from newspapers in and stuck some regularly on the staff notice board. She says laughter is good for relieving stress.
The book asks us to consider what little thing we could think of to do that might increase harmony or cheer people up at work.
The book says it can sometimes help us enjoy work more if we change the things we think to ourselves during the day.
The author says someone told her he was fed up at work, and from morning to evening, he kept saying to himself, "I don't want to be here". It slowed him down because he was fed up and getting annoyed that he had to be there, so he got behind with his work, and then left tired and grumpy at the end of the day, and so didn't enjoy his free time. He said he quite liked the work, but it was summer, and he'd prefer to be on the beach and places like that.
He changed what he said to himself after he asked himself what he'd say to a younger person in the same predicament. He thought he'd say to them, "You'll feel better if you get down to work". He wrote that on a bit of paper and taped it to his desk where only he could see it. He started saying that to himself instead of what he used to say, and after about three weeks, he was feeling much better and more motivated, and his discouraging thoughts had gone.
The book asks us to consider whether we have a problem with what we say to ourselves, and if so, how we could change it to encourage and motivate ourselves.
The author says she knows someone who manages to keep calm in meetings at work where people often lose their tempers by keeping a little ordinary seashell in her pocket that makes her feel peaceful and reminds her of the sense of the awesome power and vastness of the ocean that she feels at the seaside. She keeps her hand on it, and it makes her feel more relaxed and reminds her not to get too heated about trivial things, because she's working towards bigger goals.
I can't imagine that working for me somehow, when I'm annoyed with someone. Still, it might be worth thinking about, or ideas like it.
The book recommends we try to remember the times in our life when we've felt most relaxed and untroubled, and select an experience we'd enjoy remembering again in the future. It asks us to consider what it was about the experience we found most relaxing and meaningful. Then it asks us to make a mental note of what images, words and thoughts come to mind while we're thinking of it, to see if they make us think of a little object we could carry with us to remind us of good or relaxing times when we're a bit stressed, that might make us feel calmer and revitalise us a bit.
It says that if we have trouble thinking of an object we could carry, but think the idea might work for us, we could take a photo into work of something that happened at a time when we felt most at ease, or draw a picture, or write out an inspiring quotation.
The author talks about a few other methods of relaxation people have found useful. She says one person likes to take a few minutes out every now and then to breathe deeply and slowly, saying the word "calm" slowly and repeatedly to herself every time she breathes out.
Well, I've heard that breathing slowly and evenly can relax people.
The book asks us to consider what would relax us most and make us feel more cheerful, and suggests that we perhaps experiment with things.
The author says another way work can be made more pleasurable is that if there are parts of the job we don't like, we don't dwell on them, but we focus our thoughts on what we're achieving for ourselves and others by working.
She says one person she knew had to get up very early for work, but when it was freezing cold outside, instead of dwelling on that, she focused her mind on the fact that she was earning money that she planned to use to help her daughter through college, and she day-dreamed about how nice it would be when she graduated. Her work enabled her to get discount airline tickets, and another thing she did was to contemplate her holidays. Work was also made more meaningful for her because she was conscientious, and knew that made other people's lives easier, so she could get satisfaction from that.
The book asks us to consider how we could make our work more meaningful to ourselves, and how we find satisfaction in anything we're already doing to make it seem more meaningful.
The book encourages us that even if lots of bad things have happened to us in the past, our future could still be a lot better. It suggests we day-dream about how nice it could be if everything we'd like to happen in it that there's even the slightest possibility of us achieving by our own efforts did.
It suggests we help ourselves think of what we want from our future by imagining it's five, ten or twenty years on into the future, or whatever time we like, and we're writing a letter to a friend we want to keep in contact with, and telling them all about what we've achieved in those years. It suggests we write whatever date we've chosen at the top. Then we can imagine we're really enjoying life, feeling fulfilled and satisfied, and we're telling our friend all about it in the letter. We can either imagine our problems have all been resolved by then, or that we've found ways to cope with them so they're not bothering us much any more.
It says when we've imagined that all our problems are solved or we've learned how to cope with them so they don't bother us nearly so much, we should work out and explain in the letter how we managed to sort them out.
It asks us to describe in detail in the letter what our new life's like for us, what we do with our time, what a typical day's like, where we're living, what relationships we have, how we think about the past from this far on into the future, and what hopes we have for the time ahead.
It says the letter's not meant to be sent to anyone. It's just meant to be dated and written to a real person to help make what we imagine happening seem more real.
It says we don't have to worry if some of our dreams seem out of reach at the moment. If we put them in anyway, we might spend time afterwards contemplating how we could do things that would give us a sense that something like them was happening.
It says if we're uncomfortable with writing things, we could dictate the letter onto a tape; but it tends to be more powerful when written, because it's as if it's more realistic.
Well, maybe it is for her, but I know several people with major sight problems who'd find it a lot easier to do one on a tape. And they wouldn't get anything out of doing most of what she suggests in the book at all, actually, because most of her suggestions are so visual, like improving the home with nice colours, or drawing things.
Still, there might be several other things they could do. Most of them seem quite cheerful anyway. And they could do this letter, ... perhaps on a tape.
But I think I'll try to write something in the conventional way.
The author suggests that when we've finished the letter, we consider what the first step we might take towards achieving the things we say we've achieved in the letter would be, and how things would change for us if we took it.
Then when we've successfully achieved one small step, we can ask ourselves what another small step would be towards achieving what we say we've achieved in the letter, and do that. And so on.
She recommends we keep the letter somewhere private where we can look at it every so often, to remind ourselves what we're aiming for.
The book says we might not have any idea how we can get from where we are in life to the place we'd like to be in the future. But one thing that could help us is if we first think of how our lives would be different if in the middle of the night one night, a miracle happened, and all our problems were solved or we were dealing with them better, and life was going well. It says it doesn't matter whether we believe in miracles; we can just imagine one happened for the purposes of this exercise. It says that since it's in the middle of the night, we're asleep and we don't know it's happened. So we find out gradually by noticing what's different the next day. So we have to think about what would be different.
It says it's most helpful to think about what positive signs would tell us things were different, rather than what we wouldn't be doing any more. It says one person eventually came up with several things: She said she'd look forward to going to work, which would mean she was in a different job. She said she'd always be back by 5.30 PM, and play with her little daughter when she got home because she wouldn't be so tired. And she'd be losing weight.
The book recommends we try to think of what the first smallest observable sign would be that a miracle had happened and things were different for us. It asks what other people would notice about our behaviour that would let them know things must have changed for us.
It says if we have trouble imagining small signs that it had happened, it might help if we imagine a video recording what's going on from the moment we wake up, and asking ourselves what the video would show that would be different from what it would show if it was recording us on a normal day.
It says we can then start to make the miracle happen in our own lives, by behaving in the way we imagine the tape would show us differently, but one small step at a time, so we wouldn't try to change our behaviour dramatically at first, since that might be too ambitious and if we failed we'd be discouraged. But it recommends we choose what we think would be the easiest thing to change first, and try it for a few days to see how it works out, and then try changing one more little thing, and gradually working our way up to changing more and more.
It says the person who imagined having a new job thought the first sign the miracle had happened would be that she'd go and wake her daughter up in a better mood and kiss her and be more playful with her. She said she already did that sometimes.
And she said that since she'd be in a good mood, she'd have got up earlier, so she'd have time to exercise on her exercise bike for a while before work.
The book asks us to consider what first step we could take towards our miracle, or if it's hard to think of one, to think of anything we're doing now, even rarely, that goes partway towards it.
It asks us to think about what effect it would have on us and others if we did it more often.
The author says she asked the person who said that one of the first signs that a miracle had happened in her life would be that she'd wake up in a better mood to behave in the way she'd behave if the signs she mentioned were already happening during the following week, getting up early, waking her daughter up playfully, and having a go on her exercise bike. The person thought that would be easy, especially since she said she already woke her daughter up playfully sometimes, and she asked whether in that case, perhaps she ought to do more. But the author advised her not to, so she wouldn't take on too much and be discouraged if she couldn't manage it.
Once she managed the first things she tried all week though, she did go on to trying more things, like going on a diet, breaking that down into small steps so as not to become overwhelmed with the task and discouraged. For instance, one of the small tasks she chose to do first was to find out where Weight Watchers held their meetings, since she'd found them helpful before and decided to try them again. The next task was to go to a meeting.
She started losing weight, and she found that waking her daughter up playfully put her daughter in a good mood, which made her own mood better, and even later in the day, they were still feeling like being more playful with each other, telling each other jokes and being happier.
She started doing more and more things over the weeks that improved her life, till she had more energy and was more confident, and decided she could face looking for a new job, even if that meant getting some rejection letters. It took longer than she expected, but because she was more confident than she'd been before, she carried on looking, and eventually she got a better job where she was more respected.
The book says we don't have to stick to making really small changes if we want to do a bigger one, as long as it's realistic and not so daunting we might not manage it. But we should remember to take the changes bit by bit.
It says if we have someone to encourage us and feel pleased for us while we're making the gradual changes, it'll help us have the confidence to continue. If we choose someone to confide in about what we're doing, we ought to try and find someone who won't be critical, because that could set us back. If we can't find anyone, we could draw a line in a notebook across a page, with one end representing where we were before, and the other end representing where we'll be when we've made all the changes and life's much better, and we can encourage ourselves to carry on by making marks on the line to signify where we're up to in our progress.
The book says we can ask ourselves the questions about the miracle whenever we have a problem we don't know how to solve, working out how we could go about making it better in little stages.
The book says that when we've imagined what our future could be like, we can make our dreams more real to ourselves and fix what we're aiming for more firmly in our minds by making a collage of things that represent what we're dreaming of in some way. For instance, if we want to see more of nature, it could have dried flowers and twigs or shells in it.
It suggests that it could have photos, pictures we've drawn or collected from magazines, or postcards that symbolise things we'd love to do, or coloured bits of fabric or paper to remind us of things that give us a sense of well-being. The pictures could be images of things we'd like to own in the future, perhaps, or hearts to symbolise loving relationships with people, or a picture of someone looking happy to represent ourselves, or whatever we like. We could also write words on the collage, like telling ourselves we deserve good things, for example.
It says that when we've collected together various objects to go on our collage, we should get a piece of thick paper or card at least eight by ten inches to glue them on. It says we can create a picture or abstract pattern the way we want it, with the things we put on the collage overlapping if that's the best way they'll fit on. It recommends we take at least an hour for the exercise, and either be on our own, or with someone who won't judge us.
It says that afterwards, we should take time to dwell on what the things symbolise for ourselves and our future.
It says we shouldn't worry about being messy while doing the collage; we can behave like a child, just doing what our imagination tells us. And it says it's fine if we think of new ideas while we're working on it.
It says we should keep it somewhere where we'll see it often, maybe every day.
The book says that some people think wealth will bring them happiness, but research has found that rich people aren't necessarily happier than those with just enough to live on. It says learning to enjoy what we have is more significant in making us happy. So it suggests that when we do something we like or something nice happens to us, we stop for a moment to be grateful for it.
It says maybe we could write things down in a notebook, perhaps making it our aim to write down three things a day that we've been grateful for. It says that even if we don't write down what we're grateful for, just stopping to think every now and then of what things are happening in our lives that we can be grateful for will encourage us, because it will help us think more positively.
It suggests we try thinking of at least three things we're grateful for now, dwelling on them, and then noticing what's happened to our mood. It suggests we do this for a week, noticing each time the effect it's had on our mood, and whether there's a greater effect on it as time goes on.
It says it might not be easy at first to notice things we're grateful for, but it can be.
The author says she knew someone who said she enjoyed thinking of things last thing at night, because it helped her relax and fall asleep; and she enjoyed repeating them in the morning, because it made her feel more positive so she felt more confident to face the day. She said she taught her little daughter to do the same thing, and they thought of things together before bedtime and made it like a game, and her daughter loved it.
The book says another thing that can help us is choosing a role model for ourselves, someone we can model our behaviour on. It says it can be especially useful if our parents haven't been a positive influence on us, because we can unfortunately learn to behave like our parents; but if we make an effort to model our behaviour on someone we admire instead, it can help us change.
It says the person we'd like as a role model can be famous or just someone we know from our past, living or dead. It doesn't have to be a real person, but could be someone we've just read about in a story or seen in a drama on television.
It says it can help us remind ourselves of them later if we find a picture of them, or draw one, if we can.
It recommends we write a detailed description of the person, emphasising the qualities about them we most admire. We can think about why we've chosen them to be an influence on our lives, and dwell on how they'd respond to bad situations we find ourselves in as we go through life, thinking about how we could imitate them.
The author says that one person she knows who did this chose a schoolteacher she'd had to be an influence over her life in the future, even though she hadn't known him personally, only through lessons, where she'd felt supported and encouraged by him. She felt he'd respected her and believed in her abilities. Although he was dead, his qualities could still influence her. She'd got the impression that he was kind and intelligent. She imagined he'd deal with problems quietly but with strength, not putting up with any nonsense, as he hadn't from his students. She had an unreasonably demanding boss at work, and she imagined the teacher wouldn't put up with any ridiculous demands from him either, just saying no in a quiet but firm way. She said the teacher had an authoritative way of talking that gave the impression he meant what he said. She said he was also someone who never stopped learning, so if he had the same bad job she did, he'd be taking new training and working towards getting a better one.
The book says that when we've thought of a person we'd like to be an influence on our lives, we should consider what it is about them we'd like to emulate, and how like them we already are, and what we could do more of to be more like them, and what might happen if we did. Or if we're not like them, what would be the first small step we could take in becoming more like them. It suggests we ask ourselves what would be the first sign we'd notice in our behaviour that would make us realise we were becoming more like them.
It suggests we think of a quality we think they have and that we'd like to have, and ask ourselves how much we do have it, on a scale of one to ten, where one means we don't have it much and ten means we've developed it completely. It asks what little thing we could do to move up the scale even just a half point or a little bit more. It suggests we try acting out the behaviour we'd like to do more of, noticing what difference it makes for us.
It says when we've done that, we can work out what we'd have to do to raise our behaviour another half point on the scale, and experiment with acting out that behaviour, and then work out how to raise it even further up the scale slightly, and so on.
It says that the first step the person who chose a schoolteacher as her new influence decided to take to try to emulate him was behaving more calmly at work. She soon found herself behaving in the way she felt sure he'd behave around her boss, quiet, with strength and confidence. She said whenever she felt unfairly pressured by her boss or work colleagues, she thought of his face and it helped her remember to behave in the way she thought he would. She said she felt people were coming to respect her a lot more because she was standing up for herself more, and her boss wasn't making so many unreasonable demands on her.
The book suggests we make a point of noticing what differences emulating our chosen person makes in our lives.
The author says she once had a conversation with someone who said she'd been diagnosed with cancer twice in her life, but it had taught her to value the time she had left, so she focused her attention on enjoying the present more and found she appreciated more the things she could still do while there was time.
The author asks us to emulate that by practising living as if we knew we only had six months left to live, resolving to put as much value as we can on every moment, trying to make it count, paying attention to the things that really matter in life. She asks if there are any places we'd like to visit or revisit, any people we'd like to see more of, and anything we can do to enhance our peacefulness while we still can. She asks us to plan how we can change things little step by little step.
The author says that someone who came to see her saying she was dissatisfied with life considered the question of what she'd do if she knew she only had a limited time left, and she said she'd stop worrying so much. She said that instead, she'd go for more walks, play with her dog, look at more sunsets, and do more painting. She said if she wasn't worrying so much, she'd have more time; so she'd spend more time going hiking and cycling with her husband in the woods, because they enjoyed spending time with each other like that. And she said she'd put her belongings and legal papers in order so her husband wouldn't have too much to sort out when she died. She said it would be a relief for her to get them in order too.
The author says the person talked for a few more minutes about what she'd do, and then she stopped, and suddenly realised that everyone only has a limited time left to live; we just don't know how long. So she realised it would be a good thing to actually do all the things she'd been thinking she'd do if she only had a limited amount of time left.
Kate said that when she first thought about the idea, she didn't find the idea of imagining she only had six months left to live that helpful. She said that she was sure it would make her miserable, regretting the things she'd never be able to do, like see the grandchildren she hopes she'll eventually have, and finish the studies she's thinking of taking up. She said she thinks her husband would constantly worry about how to look after the kids when she was gone. She said she'd be counting down the days in a state of worry, and having sleepless nights about it.
Perhaps this exercise works better for people who've achieved all they want to achieve in life and for whom it now just seems like a long anticlimax. But even then, thinking of living longer might encourage them to take up more long-term projects they'd enjoy.
I think it might be most useful for me if I just keep reminding myself that sometimes things can happen in life that totally change things for us and we lose opportunities we once had for doing what we really wanted to do, at least for a while, and we won't always know when these things might happen; they can be sudden and unexpected. So it's best to make the most of the time we have while we can. I know that all too well. But then, thinking about that might worry me just as much.
Perhaps the idea is just that we live as if we only had six months left on this earth, without taking the idea too literally!
Maybe it's possible to learn to value and do the things that matter most in life without imagining we'll die soon. The author says the person who'd been diagnosed with cancer said she now appreciated little things a lot more that before she didn't enjoy so much because she always allowed little worries about things or plans to cloud her mind. But now she understood how important it is to enjoy things while we can, she said she enjoyed the moment much more. She said it wasn't that she'd decided to do new things, but that she appreciated the little things in life more, like petting her two little dogs, and just being with her husband, holding his hand, eating meals with him, enjoying the companionship. She said she'd always done those things, but now she'd begun to value every moment of them as if it was precious.
She said she did think it was sad that soon, she wasn't going to be around to cuddle her baby grandson, or smell the spring flowers, or talk to her family; but she said that everyone dies sometime; and she thought it was more important to get on with enjoying the life she had left than to dwell on things like that.
The author says she found the idea of appreciating every pleasurable moment as deeply as possible while we still can inspiring.
The author says that sometimes, people can start out resolving to make every moment of their lives count with good intentions, but then forget to consider that they don't know when they're going to die, and fall back into old habits because they've forgotten how precious the time they have left is. So she recommends we think of a symbol we can keep with us to remind us to value life more.
She says one way we might be able to work out what to use is if we sit somewhere comfortable for about fifteen minutes when we know we won't be disturbed, breathe slowly and evenly for a while to relax ourselves, and then close our eyes and ask our subconscious to put something in our minds that we could use. Then we can draw a picture of the symbol and put it somewhere where we'll see it often. Or we could choose an object instead.
The author says the person who realised time was limited so she ought to make the best of it while she could was worried she'd forget to value time as precious, so she thought a symbol to remind herself would be a good idea. She said at first, she thought of writing on her bathroom mirror, "You're going to die"; but she thought that might seem weird or scary to other people. She eventually decided to get a little plastic skull from a novelty shop. She said she'd put it next to her bed, because she'd especially need reminding to value the moment at night, because it was then that she did most of her worrying. Then in the morning, it would be there to remind her to plan her day in such a way that it included some of the things she'd do if she only had a limited time left to live.
A skull sounds a bit morbid to me! But maybe a dried-out leaf stuck on a card would do, or something like that.
The author says the person did start living as if every moment was precious, doing more of the things she enjoyed, and it made her a lot happier. She said she met her a year later, and she told her she'd been doing some lovely painting, and spending a lot more enjoyable time with her husband.
The author says it can be difficult to fit things we enjoy into our lives when we don't have time, but sometimes, managing time more efficiently can help.
She says sometimes, taking time out to do something we enjoy can refresh us, even if there are lots of things we think we need to be getting on with. If we've been refreshed by an enjoyable break, we might be more efficient in doing all the things that need to be done, so we'll do them more competently and quickly when we get back.
She recommends we get calendars and schedule important things we love doing into our days on them. She said that might be the only way we'll get round to doing them.
She says things might still be difficult even when we have a calendar to help us organise our time, so sometimes, simplifying or altering some of the things we do can help. She gives some examples of what other people have done:
She says that someone she knew had several orchids that she used to enjoy caring for; but it started taking too long, so she got fed up with it and decided to give them away as gifts to friends. They were really pleased to get them, just as she was pleased not to have to spend the time tending them any more.
She says someone else she knew used to be a perfectionist housekeeper, but decided to become more relaxed about cleaning her house so she could spend more time with her children, since she wouldn't always have them around, so the time they had was precious.
The author says she used to love sending out lots of Christmas cards and making her own gifts for people and made home-made cakes for everyone. But as she got to know more people and her workload increased, it became a burden, and she realised she just didn't have the time to manage it any more. She was upset at the thought of giving it up, but once she had, she found her holidays much less stressful. She decided she'd still treat people, but she'd buy a lot of the things instead.
The book asks us to consider whether there are things in our lives we could alter or cut down on so as to make more time for things we enjoy, and if so, what extra things would we like to do with our time.
It says we might have a lot of things around the house that slow down our daily routines just because we have to sort through them to get to what we want, for instance clothes we hardly ever wear that we might have to look through before finding what clothes we want to wear in the morning, or crockery we don't really use that we have to push aside every time we want to get the dishes we do want to use off the kitchen shelves. It says giving things we don't really use away to charity or friends can help quite a bit. It says sometimes, people might really appreciate our things. For instance, a couple who've newly set up home might really appreciate the extra cutlery and cups we don't need any more, so we could send it to them as a gift, and maybe then they'll be pleased to get it, while we're pleased to have more space in our cupboards.
It says it could be the same with decorative items we have that we're no longer keen on, like pictures, because our tastes have changed since we got them, or because we've got used to them so they no longer give us the joy they once did, or that kind of thing. It says family or friends might get a lot of pleasure out of such things, so we would get pleasure in seeing their pleasure if we gave them to them.
Or it suggests that perhaps we could sell the things. Then we'd be making money in the process of making our lives less cluttered.
It says that for belongings that are too precious to be sold, that we might otherwise have given away in our will, we could give them away before we die, and see people's pleasure when they get them.
It says we should take care not to get rid of things that have sentimental value. But it says it's best to get rid of things that aren't useful and don't give us pleasure or have a special significance for us.
The book says that every 90 minutes or two hours or so, our bodies will need a twenty-minute break, when they can rest and become refreshed. It says people go through cycles during the day, where they can stay alert for so long, but then they need a break, and the body signals it wants a break by not performing at its best; so people can get a bit sleepy, lose concentration, start making mistakes, become forgetful, or their mood can slump. It says that if we try to carry on regardless of what our body's telling us, by drinking coffee or eating high-sugar foods, then we can develop psychosomatic illnesses, because our bodies can't cope with the stress, and we can end up suffering increasing tiredness and stress.
It recommends that whenever we have a craving for caffeine or sugary foods or a cigarette , we try having a few minutes' rest instead, and then see if we still want those things. It says twenty minutes are ideal for a break, but shorter breaks are still worthwhile. It says at work, taking a break can simply be a matter of stopping to eat a piece of fruit, sitting quietly with our eyes closed for a minute, or getting a drink. Then if we're working at the times when we're most alert, we might get more done.
It recommends that sometime in the next 24 hours, in the evening or at another time when it's convenient for us, we take half an hour off purely to do something that pleases and relaxes us, like soaking in a bath, reading a magazine, or whatever we enjoy.
It asks us to notice at the end of the day what difference our break made to the rest of it.
It says if we're too busy for a half hour break, we could make it fifteen minutes; but if we're that busy, we probably really do need to take time out, since it's important to rest every day.
The author tells the story of an ambitious young lawyer she knew who worked long hours under pressure, hoping to become a partner in the firm within a year. But one day, he started feeling ill and he couldn't seem to think at all clearly. His mind seemed to be shutting down. He thought he must have something seriously wrong with him so he rang his doctor. He was taken to a psychiatric hospital, but he was told that his mind was just shutting down temporarily to give him the message that he needed to take life a bit more easy. He recovered, but started doing that, working shorter hours and making time for things outside work like enjoying friendships, travel, relaxation and hobbies. He did eventually become a partner in the law firm, but by then, he had his other interests, and had also learned to listen when his body was letting him know it needed breaks during the day.
The book says we can be inspired by the attitude of young children and babies to time - they don't miss the beauty and enjoyment that can come from looking at appealing things in the environment because they're too busy worrying about other things, like adults can. It says parents sometimes say they learn to appreciate things anew when they see children marvel at them. It asks us to try to remember if that's ever happened to us.
The book asks us to consider whether we'd like to spend more time focusing our attention on the wonders around us like children do, such as sunsets, birds singing, flowers, and other such things. Or it asks if we'd like to spend more time with children watching them doing that so we can learn from them.Right, that's when they're not having tantrums, or breaking things, or doing other things they shouldn't! But then, I don't spend much time around children, so maybe it's not all that bad.
The book says a lot of people benefit by having pets, because it can be relaxing watching them play or cuddling them or enjoying their companionship. It says they can help us enjoy the moment as well, because they give us an example of how they enjoy it.
Actually, I heard a story recently about how a miserable bitter old man had his personality tamed after a dog was bought for him and he grew to love it and value it as a companion. But then, I've also heard about disobedient dogs who cause a lot of trouble for their owners until they're properly trained. But I know Kate enjoys watching her rabbits relishing nibbling the grass and eating other things and running around the garden. And they're nice to cuddle. I'm not sure I'd fancy cleaning their hutches out twice a week in winter, but she doesn't seem to mind.
The book says that if we haven't got a pet, even looking at wildlife can give us the same enjoyment, like watching squirrels play outside the window or birds flying around. It asks us to consider whether we'd like to spend more time with wildlife or other animals, like perhaps feeding the birds or learning to ride a horse, or walking and playing with a pet.
It's interesting that the book says there are three stages a person ought to reach when they're recovering from abuse.
It says that early on after someone's been abused, it's helpful if they can think of themselves as a victim, because it means they acknowledge that wrong was done to them and they're not to blame for what happened, so they realise they don't have to feel shame about it. It can make people think they have the right to grieve and feel angry about what happened, and emotions like that are an essential part of the healing process. And it can make people more likely to want to ask for help and support, and if they do, feeling less isolated in itself can be a comfort.
But it says that as soon as people have done that, it's helpful if they move on to thinking of themselves as a survivor rather than a victim, because continuing to think of themselves as a victim can make them feel powerless and despairing, and so if they do, they'll be passive, not doing things to combat circumstances they don't like, so they're more likely to be victimised in the future.
So it says it's best to start thinking of ourselves as survivors after we've realised we aren't to blame for what happened and accepted that. It says that when we do that, Then we can recognise that the abusive experience was in the past and we can start rebuilding our lives. It says that the word survivor is a good one to use then because it reminds us that the abuse was in the past. It can help us build up a better image of ourselves, because we can start to dwell on what strengths of character we have that enabled us to survive the experience.
It says a good sign that we're a survivor is when we can function well in everyday life again, being able to give quality attention to things like work, housework, looking after children, joining in with friends, and so on.
But it says that once we've fully recognised that the traumatic episode in our lives is in the past and taken stock of the strengths we possess that helped us survive it, and feel gratitude for the support we received from others, thinking of ourselves as survivors has fulfilled its purpose, and it's time to move on.
It says it's OK to still think of part of who we are as being a survivor, but it can get in the way of our enjoyment of life if we think of it as our entire identity, so it's best to just think of it as part of it, along with other things that also go to make up our identity. It says that being a survivor is something we should still be proud of because it will have taken strength to survive, so we can think of becoming a survivor as a significant achievement. But we should start to think of ourselves in other ways as well. It says it's time to become our true selves.
It says that when we do, we'll be able to live life as fully as we can, being enthusiastic about embracing new experiences and expressing our creativity uninhibited by concerns about how what we're doing fits with our identity as a survivor. It says that we may feel uncomfortable with the new freedom we feel we have at first, because we'll be doing or thinking things that are unfamiliar to us. But when we get used to it, we'll feel more adventurous, and we'll trust our own abilities and judgment more, and so we won't be so keen to stick to things we're familiar with for fear of the unknown, especially if they aren't really doing us any good, like being around people who bully us and that kind of thing. We'll be wanting to make the best of the time we have left, doing what we'd really like to do.
It's interesting that Kate said that thinking about that helped her, when she decided she needed to move beyond thinking of herself as a survivor. She said thinking of herself as a survivor of abuse had made her feel more powerful than thinking of herself as a victim, but she realised that she was thinking of it as her identity, so it was on her mind a lot. Thinking about it and looking back, she realised that whenever she met anyone that just might have any resemblances to her abusers, she was always looking out to see if they had similarities to them. And she was always thinking of new circumstances in terms of whether they'd help her stay strong or whether they'd damage her in any way. So she never just allowed herself to relax and enjoy herself. But when she stopped thinking of her identity as being that of a survivor and started building new interests in life and starting to think of her identity in terms of the other things she did and the values she stood for, and the things she'd achieved in life, she started doing things without always being concerned about whether there was a possibility that they'd make her feel worse or whether they were good for a survivor to do, and so she was happier to do more things and be more spontaneous and enjoy the moment. She said the book helped her to do that.
The book talks about couple relationships.
Well, I haven't got one of those, but I'll see if I can find anything in here that might help my work colleague Susan who says she's thinking of having an affair because she's fed up in her marriage. I've been advising her not to, but I don't really know what to say to stop her or help her improve her relationship with her husband. I'll see.
It says one thing people can do is to think back to a time in their relationship when they were enjoying each other's company and getting on well together, and think over the reasons why, with a view to recreating them if possible. So people can ask themselves questions like:
It asks people to contemplate what aspects of their experiences they could replicate. It asks what the easiest thing is that we could do, and suggests we try that first.
The author gives an example of what she means, mentioning a couple who really enjoyed a holiday at the coast. One of the things they enjoyed about it was walking on the beach. They lived in an inland area, so they wouldn't be able to walk there normally; but she suggested they would be able to go for more walks together, maybe by lakes and rivers, enjoying nature.
They had also enjoyed listening to the sound of the sea in bed at night. She suggested they could recreate that by buying a tape of the sounds of waves and listening to that when they went to bed.
She says the couple had also enjoyed the physical affection they gave each other, and they realised they could recreate that experience if they went to bed earlier.
She says they had loved going to the restaurants in the area where they had their holiday. She suggested there might be some exotic restaurants near their home they could go to sometimes without their children they might enjoy.
She says they'd enjoyed reading on holiday, and suggested they could get some good books out of the library and do that again.
So perhaps there are lots of ways people can do things that resemble the good times they used to have if they think about it.
The book says that when things are going badly in a relationship, people can forget all about the good times and only recall the bad times, which can make them feel worse, or make arguments worse, because of the way the couple are feeling and because other bad times might be brought into arguments when they haven't really got much to do with what's happening in the present. So it can help if people make a conscious effort to remember the good times, and also the good things about their husband or wife.
It recommends that both people in a couple write a list of good things they can enjoy together, and also of good qualities about their partner, and discipline themselves to read it when things aren't going so well, even if they don't feel like it because they're annoyed with their partner. It might make them feel less dissatisfied and more positive about the relationship.
So it recommends that each one in the couple sits down and writes about the good things in the relationship. It gives ideas for questions people could answer to help them think of things:
"List the behaviours or personality qualities about your partner that you most appreciate.
Now record shared activities that you enjoy.
Go into as much detail as possible."
It says that when they've done that, they can keep the lists, and use them to inspire them with new ideas about how to improve the relationship, like activities they could start doing again together.
It can also help improve the atmosphere in a relationship if people compliment each other more when they do pleasing things. So one use of the lists about what qualities and behaviours each one in the couple appreciates about the other could be to think about things they appreciate about the other one so they can notice more when the other one does something they like, and express gratitude for it more often. That might encourage the other person to do pleasing things more.
Thinking about it though, I know some couples who seem to be close in an unhealthy way. They think they just won't be able to do without each other, or one seems to think they can't do without the other one. Well, what's going to happen if one of them dies? Or leaves? They don't seem that happy, because they get upset or angry if the other person wants to go and do their own thing for a while, as if they're dependent on them. I hear songs on the radio that proclaim that the singer just couldn't bear to be without their loved one, as if it's a virtue. But it seems unhealthy to me.
The book says it's important for people like that to develop a sense of their own identity and discover the resources they have within themselves to comfort themselves. It suggests ways people can do that.
Maybe I'll have to tell the people I'm thinking about all about them, if a subject like it ever comes up.
The author says people ought to consider the question of who they are apart from their relationships with others. She says for people who've never thought of themselves as having an individual identity before, they might be a bit anxious at first if they can't think of anything. But the anxiety will probably pass as they begin to think of things, and the more resources of strength they realise they have within themselves, the more peaceful they'll feel.
The author suggests that people might just like to relax and meditate on the question sometimes for several minutes. Or she says people can ask themselves a few questions to try to work out who they are in themselves rather than in relation to others. She suggests several. She says people can answer them all at once if they like, or gradually over days, weeks or months:
The author says it won't matter if it's difficult to answer the questions at first. And people shouldn't be concerned if after they list all the personality and other resources they feel sure they could use, they fall back into the bad habits of not using them when they're stressed. She says that's likely to happen for a while, but the more people focus on their helpful personality resources, the more they'll think of using them when they need to.
I wonder if people have the same problems feeling emotionally independent of their family of origin.
The author says sometimes people need to start thinking of themselves as having identities independent of the family they grew up with before they can feel independent of their partners. So she suggests people answer those questions again, only this time substituting the words parents or guardians for partner. She says people can do the same thing with brothers and sisters, or just friends, anyone they have been close to.
This is all going over my head, actually, never having been that close to my family or in much of a serious relationship with someone. I can't really understand such things! But I feel sure the people I'm thinking of would be absolutely grief-stricken if their partners left, or if family members died. So it might be worth thinking about this and telling them about it. But then, I'd hate to upset them.
The author says some of those questions might make people very anxious. But she says if they do get anxious, it'll mean they need to seek help in dealing with the issues, and they might end up more healthy when they've done it.
The author says that if our parents were abusive when we were children and they're still being hurtful, it can help if we think about how we'd like to spend the rest of the time we have with them, or without them, and think about ways in which we could take control of the situation. She suggests we imagine it's twenty or thirty years in the future and they've died, and we think of how we'd like to have spent the intervening years with them, remembering our own lives are valuable and we need to think of time as precious. We don't want to spend the next 30 years doing something we'll regret having done later.
We're not supposed to start thinking of regrets about how things haven't turned out as well for us as we'd have liked in the past, but this is supposed to make us think of the future we have left together.
It says that for people who think they might not be around in twenty years' time, they could imagine how they could look back in ten years' time and be the most satisfied with how things turned out, or five.
The author says she knew someone who would travel to see her abusive alcoholic parents with her family a few times a year, even though it made her miserable because they were so critical of her and nasty, even though she'd done well in life. She would get very depressed afterwards. But she considered the question of how she'd want to remember things when she was looking back in twenty years' time, and she said she'd like to remember happy holidays spent in her own home with her husband and son and their friends. So she decided to limit the amount of time she spent with her parents to twice a year, sending them cards at other times. When she did go there, she limited her visits to two days, the amount of time she could tolerate them without becoming seriously depressed. And while she was there, she would go out to involve herself in activities, and invite them along, since things would be better between them if they were involved in something than if they were sitting at home.
Perhaps we could apply that principle to life in general. If we start brooding on things and making ourselves miserable, but we stop ourselves and think, "If it was twenty years in the future, how would I like to have spent my time, knowing I can't get the time back?" then maybe it'll help calm us down and motivate us to do something better with the time. It won't mean we have to feel under pressure to fill every moment with worthwhile things. As the book says, just relaxing can help sometimes.
The book says that sometimes, people can make themselves feel much worse by feeling sorry for themselves, and at times like that, it can help people to gain a new perspective if they help people less fortunate. It says that can give us a sense of self-worth as well, because we might start feeling we have more value because of what we're doing. It says there are lots of places we can volunteer at and lots of organisations we could volunteer with. Or maybe friends, neighbours and family would sometimes value our help.
On the other hand, it says that if people are making unreasonable demands on us, it's our right to stand up for ourselves and set limits on what they can demand from us. It says that sometimes, doing things for people they ought to be doing for themselves or doing things to prevent them from suffering the consequences of their own irresponsible actions can stop them developing into more capable people.
The author says that friendships that could carry on being enjoyable can sometimes be ruined by a grudge over something. So she asks us to consider whether we could mend old friendships that used to be good but broke up because of a grudge, or if we could forgive minor hurts that are in danger of breaking up friendships we have at the moment.
She says her great-grandmother and a good friend she'd enjoyed talking too stopped speaking to each other over something minor, and didn't speak to each other for twenty years, until her great-grandmother just couldn't resist telling her some exciting news about the birth of twin grandchildren, and they started speaking again as if nothing had happened.
In the meantime, they'd missed out.
The author suggests that when we're in a calm mood, we write a letter and carry it with us reminding ourselves of good things we can do when we're down and might not think of them. She suggests a number of things we could put in the letter:
She says we can write the letter in a chatty style, as if we're writing to encourage a friend.
That could be a good thing to do.
I'll think through the ideas I've got as I've been thinking about this book, to think of things that would comfort and encourage me when I'm stressed or depressed. And I'll try to think of things I've done in the past that I know have comforted me.
This article is written slightly differently from most articles. All the information in most of the articles in this series is written as if by someone finding out a lot of helpful information for the first time, just learning about it. That person themselves isn't real; they're just a representative of a lot of others suffering the same thing. Any little anecdotes they tell about their personal lives or those of people they know almost always have really happened though, usually either to the author or to someone else known to the author. The article comes with a very short story about them to set the scene, and presents all the self-help information as if it's what they're finding out and what they think of it.
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Linda is in her early thirties. She has spent some time working on getting over the trauma of having been abused and neglected as a child, and no longer suffers most of the main symptoms of it. However, after finding it difficult to hold down relationships early on, she lost interest in them. She doesn't mind that. But she feels unhappy, and wonders if she'll ever get over the bad experiences fully and enjoy life. She lost a lot of self-worth when she was abused, and she never really got it back.
One day, her sister, Kate, who was also abused and has also spent years feeling unhappy a lot of the time, though she was better at staying in relationships and has a husband and young children, tells Linda she's begun to feel much happier in the past few months, ever since she read a book that gave her some ideas on how to get over her unhappiness and start appreciating herself and enjoying life more. She tells Linda all about it.
Linda thinks about what Kate said, and has a look at the book herself.
She tries some of the things the book suggests in the coming weeks, and finds they help improve her life.