Some ideas, suggestions thoughts and comments about day-to-day applications of psychology
SOME BASIC IDEAS
• Each of us is responsible for our own behaviour. That means that nobody else is responsible for what we do, and we’re not responsible for what anyone else does.
• We cannot change the past. No matter how bad or distressing it may have been, the past is set and we can’t change it. What we can do is to acknowledge what has happened in the past and, if it is unhelpful, take action so that it won’t affect our future. And we can change our perceptions, ideas and beliefs about the past so that our future can be less influenced by what we can’t change. Many people find it easier to be a result of their past rather than be the cause of their future. Similarly, we cannot know the future, and therefore all we have is this moment, right here and now.
• We need to find the courage to change those things we can change, the serenity to accept those things we cannot change and the wisdom to know the difference. If we spend too much time trying to change those things we know that we can’t change, just because we don’t like the situation, we will do ourselves harm. A cynical definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result. Or, alternatively, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got”.
• In an important sense, depression is about the past and anxiety is about the future. We become depressed over real or, more likely, imagined failures of the past. But then we worry about what MIGHT happen in the future, without realising that how that future is shaped is substantially in our own hands.
• Try not to be drawn into arguments about the past; no amount of argument can ever change what has already happened. In any argument, concentrate on facts (such as, “what shall we do on Saturday evening”) not on stuff that happened in the past (such as our partner’s previous relationships or what happened when we had a car accident).
• Be careful about “playing games”. If someone accuses us of things that we can’t answer or can’t change because it happened in the past, remember that we don’t have to defend ourselves. The danger is that we can get caught up in angry words that lead nowhere. It’s much better to just let the words happen and accept that they are just words, just noises that have no real meaning. Try, “OK”, “whatever” or, “if you say so” to defuse the situation.
• In general terms, we are not accountable to others for our actions. This may not apply in a narrow legal sense, and as part of a contract of employment. In day-to-day interactions, however, we can say “No” with a clear conscience and without having to justify ourselves to anyone else.
• Words by themselves cannot hurt us – UNLESS WE ALLOW THEM TO. If we refuse to be affected by what someone says, then hurtful, stupid or meaningless words are no more important than the noise of traffic in the street. Even so, it may help to reflect on what has been said. If it is completely wrong, we can ignore it. If, however, there is some truth in what has been said, we can look at possible change to accommodate those truths.
• First of all, you need to feel comfortable with yourself. You are an OK person, and all the negative stuff you’ve been told about yourself in the past is just nonsense. It’s just more noise, and you don’t have to take any notice of it.
• Saying “sorry” too often makes the word and the idea meaningless. Being genuinely “sorry” implies that we recognise that we have caused someone else pain or distress and that we want to remedy that. What we do (or don’t do) is more important than what we say. This applies to anything, not just saying “sorry”.
• Distinguish between who somebody is and what they do. If someone does something to harm or disappoint you, concentrate on what they have done, not who they are. Say, “that wasn’t very helpful, now what can we do to fix it and make sure it doesn’t happen again”, not “you’re stupid, you’re incompetent, you’re useless, you’ll never amount to anything, you’re …..”
• There is no substitute for action. It’s important to do things and not just sit back and think about doing something or feeling bad about not doing it. Within reason, you can do whatever you choose. Look for something that is important to you and gives your life meaning. And you get added benefits by doing things with your partner that you both enjoy.
• The world owes you nothing. And if you think differently, you’re in for a lifetime of disappointment and misery. Life is not fair, and we need to get used to that idea. Feeling sorry for ourselves because we don’t get what we think we should have, or that others seem to be getting more than we do doesn’t help. If we are going to get anywhere, we need to first make our own choices and follow through to make the best of what we have.
• We have a need to believe that the universe is not merciless and heartless, that terrible things do not happen at random, and that catastrophe can be avoided if you are vigilant and responsible. In practice, of course, the world does not operate that way, and we may be exposed to unforseen and inexplicable disasters. Spending too much time trying to answer the question, “why?” (or, perhaps, “why me?”) is time wasted and there will never be an answer. If this life is all any of us have got, and that it time and again appears senseless to the point of lunacy, then the only choice is to get out and take it by the short hairs and make it sing something at least resembling our tune
• We live our lives by the choices that we make. We choose our own actions. Then we have to live with the consequences of the choices that we make. Doing nothing is also a choice – and it carries its own consequences.
• Pain is a given, struggle is voluntary. The more you struggle against a problem that you cannot fix, the worse it gets. The real skill is to be able to “drop the rope”, in the sense of a tug-of-war with a monster trying to pull you into the abyss. And you can’t pull the monster in. So learn to “drop the rope” and end the struggle.
• We need to remember to make sure that our brains are in gear before we engage our mouths. In other words, we need to think before we speak. And also remember that we have two ears and one mouth. So we should listen twice as much as we speak.
• It helps to look at what gives our lives meaning; what directions we need to take that make our lives worthwhile. These are our values. We can then look at what we do (actions again) that will help us to travel towards being the sort of person we most want to be. If what we do is helpful, do more of it. If it is not helpful, we need to ask ourselves why we are doing it in the first place.
• Anger isn’t a problem. We all feel angry at some time or other, and that feeling by itself doesn’t create problems. However, what we do with the feeling of anger may be a problem. We may not be able to control our feelings, but we can control what we do with our hands, our feet and our mouths.
• If we want to be a particular kind of cook, then we practice that kind of cooking. If we want to be a particular kind of carpenter, we practice that kind of carpentry. The same thing is true about being the kind of person we want to be. We practice doing it. At the end of each day we can ask ourselves, “Today, did I practice being the kind of person I want to be?” If the answer is 'yes,' then GREAT! If it is 'no' then tomorrow we can change. We can change to doing the kinds of things that reflect the kind of person we want to be.
• “Actions speak louder than words”. Always. What you do will affect and influence people far more than what you say. People will trust, respect and like you depending on what you do rather than what you say.
• Dealing with angry feelings means that we need to allow those feelings to happen but not to act on them. Closing our eyes and counting to ten, slowly, may act as a “circuit breaker”. Physically move ourselves away from the place where the anger is happening. And to get rid of the energy that anger creates, do some thing active – go for a walk, ride a bike, dig the garden but DON”T drive a car or drink alcohol.
• Remember that these sorts of changes are not easy. The ideas are simple, but making them work takes time, practice and patience. For every ten steps we take forwards, we are likely to take nine steps back.