This top four psychological tips for anyone has been written with anyone in mind!
The thing is, sometimes the advice people give you is not quite right for you or your circumstances. The intention of this article is to offer four thought provoking points for you to run through your own filter.
To get the best results from reading this article, use the following information and rather than saying “I already know this” to every one of the four tips, ask yourself “How good am I at this?” or “How can I improve my thoughts and behaviours around this topic?”
Here we go…
Number One: Thoughts are NOT facts!
This is kind of the cognitive-behavioural mantra. While we can’t control our thoughts, they can have a nasty habit of popping into our heads and often at most inopportune times – like when we are trying to sleep. We can’t control the thinking of our brain any more than we can control the beating of our hearts, but (good news!) we can control how we respond to thoughts.
Some thoughts are helpful – “eat more vegetables”, “exercise regularly”, “remember to pay that bill”.
Some thoughts are less so – “I’m useless”, “I can’t do this”, “I never get anything right”.
For those less helpful, negative thoughts there are two useful tools.
The first is change. This is where we challenge the thoughts – “okay, I hear you brain but really- do I never do anything right? Yes I have messed up here, but everyone makes mistakes. I can learn from this, and I will be okay”. This can also be a great opportunity to practice some self-compassion.
The second tool is acceptance. Now we’re not suggesting you accept the content of the thought, “I guess this means I am useless”. No, we’re referring to accepting the thought as simply that – just a thought. For example, “Okay my brain is telling me I can’t do this again”. Or “Hmmm that’s quite the thought, alright let’s keep moving”. Mindfulness techniques will definitely help with mastering this skill.
Another helpful tip here is don’t believe anything your brains telling you after 10pm. When you’re tired, your brain is not credible, so avoid making any life decisions, or even taking yourself too seriously, while pacing in your PJ’s.
Number two: Behaviours persist because they are reinforced!
Or you could say – people do things for a reason. It can be easier to understand someone’s “bad choices” when you understand what those choices have bought them.
For example, a loved on stays in an unhappy relationship, but to her it could be a better option than being alone. A younger brother couch surfs and doesn’t get a job, but to him at least he not’s reaching for his dreams and failing.
The point here is that for every poor decision, weird choice, or choice that leaves you scratching your head it is actually serving a purpose for that person and can be better understood through the power of empathy. Ask yourself – what does this person get out of this? What does it “buy” them?
They will either be attaining something – positive emotions, power, money, love or avoiding something unfavourable – discomfort, harm, rejection, negative emotions. By putting yourself in their shoes you may even be able to say – “okay if I was in that situation I might even do that too”.
Number three: People do the best they can with what they have at the time!
When looking at things that have gone wrong, either in your own life or others, it can be helpful to remember that people, yourself and others, generally are doing the best they can given their circumstances. Those circumstances can be influenced by trauma, mental illness, poverty, addiction, or any number of other challenges. I am not suggesting this is an excuse for treating someone badly, but it just may be the reason.
This can be easy in theory – a loved one is going through a difficult break up and they depend on you heavily for a time without having much to give back. Remembering that she is doing the best she can right now can give the compassionate perspective both of you need.
But it can also be extremely difficult. If you have survived a traumatic childhood it may be really hard to believe that your parents were doing the best they could. You alone get to decide whether to extend compassion or forgiveness to those who have wronged you. Only you know your story, your journey, and this concept of people are trying their best may seem an excuse. However, it may also be a relief to know that many parents were not ready to be parents, they never learned how to manage their own lives, they may have had lousy parental role models themselves, and they may have struggled mightily with their own demons while their children were dependent on them.
To reiterate, these are not excuses, but it just might be helpful to know a tough childhood had little to do with you and everything to do with your parents and their struggles.
Perhaps the other side of the coin is that you can apply this concept to yourself. If you’re hurting from a divorce, recently sober, struggling with mental illness, or any number of the infinite human struggles we all face, allow yourself some compassion! Remember you are doing what you can right now, and forgive yourself for your imperfections as you put your energies and efforts into getting out of bed, resisting the temptations of addiction, or simply reminding yourself that you are worthy and loveable.
Number four: Emotions don’t last very long!
Whenever I have arrived at my mum’s in distress (read “in tears”) she would always respond with I’ll just put the kettle on. This was her way of saying let’s take a breath and slow this down. You may have been told by a loving, well-meaning older relative that “this too shall pass”. It appears that both of these are helpful for managing and understanding emotions.
We invest a great deal of time (and drugs, and alcohol and food) in avoiding negative emotions. However the research reveals that they actually don’t last very long. One study questioned over 200 students about their experience with 27 different emotions (27? Who knew there were that many?) and found that while sadness lasts a relatively long time, most other negative emotion, including shame, fear, disgust, boredom, and irritation tend to reduce pretty quickly regardless of emotion intensity or recency.
So, maybe next time when you are feeling one of the less than pleasant emotions instead of trying to find a way to avoid or numb it allow yourself to feel it! Put that kettle on and know that it won’t last very long and will be over sooner than you think!
Written by Cheryl Gale, Psychologist, Proactive Health + Movement