We humans are funny creatures.
At some point in our lives we start thinking that our emotions, our thoughts, our actions and what is occurring in our bodies are a threat or danger to us. Therefore, as these things come along, the mind tenaciously grabs hold of them and labels them as being good or bad, right or wrong, pleasant or unpleasant and usually does its best to change them or get rid of them.
It’s not those things that are manifesting themselves in us that cause us the difficulties but our labeling or judgement of these phenomenon that get us into “psychological” hot water. Labeling and judging is the opposite of acceptance and as a result causes us to resist, try to change or avoid all the things within us that we wish weren’t there. Which in turn causes us lots of problems and lots of stress.
But how can any part of us be wrong or bad? We are simply part of nature and the natural way things are in this world. How many of us believe that nature itself is wrong. It would be like saying I don’t like that leaf on that tree over there. Or I wish that cloud would change into a different shape. Or even the way that duck is swimming is just so wrong. We just don’t do it do we?
But we are constantly judging and criticising ourselves every time we have an emotion or a thought that we don’t like. It’s as if we have forgotten the simple and eternal truth that we are nature and so too is everything that occurs within us.
So whenever you notice that you are having a thought or an emotion that you don’t like today, just notice the “unliking” and as best as you can try to allow that part of nature to just be exactly as it is, in the moment it is occurring. In the same way you allow a flower to bloom, a river to be wet and a bird to sing.
I wish you well,
No sorry, Antonio Banderas isn’t about to swing through the window and save you. But keep reading and later on you will see how the swashbuckling hero can really help you gain control over your life if you follow a few basic steps.
But just like the young Zorro who wanted to become a Master Swordsman before he could even lift one, I’m getting ahead of myself and I need to get back to basics. In this case, we need to go back to a basic psychological principle about control.
You’re a control freak, I’m a control freak, and the person sitting opposite you on the bus is a control freak. No, this isn’t an insult. In some way we human beings are all control freaks. Because the need for control is literally hard-wired into our human brains. There are clear links to our basic need for control and how good we feel both psychologically and emotionally. In fact it has been scientifically proven, time and time again, that:
The more control we have over a situation or the more control we perceive we have, the better we feel.
This basic psychological principle is so important for us to understand. This one psychological law can help us understand ourselves better. It explains why we react so badly in situations when a change has been forced upon us i.e. redundancy or when our partner leaves us. Also it shows us that when we proactively do things to increase our levels of control, how this can be immensely beneficial to our psychological well-being.
Of course there are individuals in this world who need too much control. Men* who perpetrate sexual, physical or psychological violence on their partners or others, are an example of people with a pathological need to control. This pathological control is a totally different type of control and shouldn’t be confused with the natural need for control that we all have, to have a high degree of control over our lives and ourselves.
So what about Zorro? Don’t worry I haven’t forgotten about our masked hero. He’s arriving right now to help us gain more control during those times we feel overwhelmed. In the movie Zorro Returns young Zorro is living a life of a bum and is a pretty poor swordsman. One day after seeing our hero commit an act of courage a Master Swordsman seeing his potential, takes him under his wing. Now Zorro must begin his training. His Master makes the young Zorro fight within the confines of a tiny circle. Around the small circle are larger circles that get bigger and bigger. Every time the young Zorro tries to fight out of the small circle his Master instructs him to get back in the small circle. The young Zorro is frustrated and bewildered until his mentor explains that he must master fighting in the small circle first and once he has achieved this goal then he can progress to the larger circles drawn around him in chalk on the floor.
So what does all this have to do with us? Well we can use the Zorro circle principles to gain control over any aspect of our lives but we must always start in the tiny circle first and must master this before we can progress.
To explain what I mean let’s take a common every day situation. Let’s say our office is a total mess and we wish to tidy it up, but it’s so messy that the task seems totally overwhelming. Using the Zorro Circle principles we start by selecting a small area of the office, let’s say half of the desk – that’s all we’re going to focus on for now. In our minds we need to draw a tiny Zorro Circle around this area. Now we need to tidy up the mess in this small area and once it is tidy we then set ourselves the simple goal of keeping it tidy for a whole week. If we succeed – bravo we can then enlarge the Zorro Circle to encompass the whole desk and keep that tidy for a whole week. With every success we can allow ourselves to widen the circle. If we fail then we must try again or choose an even smaller area of desk to keep tidy. The principal is not to widen our circle until we have successfully achieved mastery in the first circle. Gradually our circle of control will grow so much that we are able to keep our whole office tidy with minimum effort. Now you can celebrate by throwing a wild party in there – only kidding!
Zorro Circles work. They give us a small amount of control over a seemingly overwhelming situation and can be applied to most problems. They also work because once we have achieved control in a small area we can then go on to gain a wider circle of control. And as we’ve already discussed- more control equals improved psychological health and we feel emotionally stronger and happier.
If you are facing a situation at the moment in your life that seems too much to handle or out of your control, why not use the Zorro Circles to help? Often when a situation seems overwhelming it can be an excellent idea to start to make a list of all the things, no matter how small, that are in your control relevant to this situation. We can then use one of those as our first Zorro Circle to work from.
Often when we do this we are surprised to discover that even in the most difficult situations we do have some level of control. History has shown us that even in the most awful situations where all or most control has been stripped from us, we do have control over the way we think about the situation and the choices we make. In those situations Zorro himself may not be coming to rescue us, but by using his circles and understanding the psychological law of control, we can begin the process of rescuing ourselves.
*Yes women too! Although those cases are much rarer.Learn More
“I can’t cope”…”I’ll never get through this” ….”I can’t bear the pain”…”I can’t live without him/her!” We hear these words every day, endlessly gushing from the mouths of our favourite characters as we sit glued to the latest TV soap. In Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or CBT for short, this way of thinking is what we call “catastrophising” and it’s not just limited to Kat from Eastenders or Kevin from ‘Corrie’, to some greater or lesser extent we all do it.
But research has shown we actually underestimate ourselves. “Things are never as bad as they seem” may seem like something you may see on a tacky card in your local gift shop or something a good friend may say to us as we are sobbing into our fourth cup of tea….but it is a fact based on fundamental human biology.
Thousands of years of evolution and a huge amount of really tough challenges like: volacanoes, famine and war, to name but a few, have made us humans incredibly good at adapting to even the most difficult circumstances. Because of millions of years of overcoming adversity we have developed a incredibly strong and robust psychological immune system. This is very good news as what this means to you and me is that our problems never hits us quite as hard or for as long as we originally think. Phew what a relief!
In fact research has shown that after a relationship break up or being told we’re being made redundant, we humans actually over-estimate how unhappy it will make us feel and for how long we’re going to feel that way. In short we fall victim to what’s known as “IMMUNE NEGLECT” meaning we constantly forget how good our very own psychological immune system is at helping us to get over adversity.
So the next time we think ‘ I’ll never get through this’ , let’s leave the endless suffering to those addictive characters we love watching so avidly and instead let’s all say to ourselves “You know…perhaps I shouldn’t underestimate myself so much”Learn More
That’s pricey for a pair of shoes! Her next door’s not bringing her kids up right. What does she think she looks like? That bloke on the news is definitely guilty. Does Mohair go with suede?
Well, we are human after all and as result we naturally judge and evaluate everything in our lives. We see things as good or bad, right or wrong and positive or negative. Our ability and desire to judge and evaluate everything is hard-wired into the human brain, without it our species would not be here today it’s literally what’s kept us alive. But sometimes as we’ll see it can also keep us trapped and cause us a whole range of other problems too.
And as is if we didn’t have enough in our life to judge, some clever soul way back in the 1940’s discovered a whole new domain that we ‘need’ to keep judging – our thoughts! Originating from the USA, early self-help books, started talking about the necessity for us to all think positively too.
This is a message that has been drip fed to us for so many years it is now been ingrained in our psyche. There appears to be no caveats, no exceptions, thinking positively is the right way to think, for everyone and in every situation in life.
When we are depressed though, this “positive thinking” mantra can easily backfire on us. Firstly, as any depressed person will tell you, just like doing the Hoovering, “Positive Thinking” is so much easier to do when you are not suffering with depression. Trying to constantly think positively when depressed is exhausting and we often end up depleting our already limited energy reserves. Secondly the idea that we must “think positively” when we clearly aren’t or we feel unable to do it, can make our depression worse as oops, now there’s another thing we’ve failed at.
Of course positive thinking can be highly beneficial when our psychological health is already in great shape. But what do we do when our psychological well-being has taken a real nose-dive?
In Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or CBT for short, we like to think differently. We ask our depressed and anxious patients to try to suspend the positive or negative judgement on what they are thinking and to ask themselves a different question– “Is my thinking helpful or unhelpful”. And when we say ‘helpful’ we mean:
- Does that thought or idea make you feel the way you want to feel?
- Does that thought get you to become the person you wish to become?
- Does that thought or way of thinking aid you in achieving your goals and where you want to be in life?
You see this way it’s up to you. You say whether that thought, idea or belief is helpful or unhelpful to you and your life. You evaluate the thought through your own criteria and not through someone else’s.
If we decide that the thought, idea or belief is unhelpful then the impetus to change it to a more helpful one (again you decide what is a more helpful thought) can come from deep within us. As a result we can often get a extra burst of self -generated motivation or energy to aid us in making the change. Also hopefully, like millions of other people around the world, you may find that the harshness and the intensity of the emotion you are feeling is also reduced.
Like everything in CBT we never ask you to blindly accept anything without trying it out first and experiencing it for yourself. So here’s a little assignment:
Select a week when you are going to try it out. Then on the Monday keep a diary of your thoughts. Look at them as you are writing them down and ask yourself are they helpful or helpful? Notice and record how you feel emotionally on that day *. On the Tuesday go back to harshly judging your thoughts as right or wrong, good or bad, positive or negative. Notice how you feel that day. Keep switching between the two different ways of thinking every alternate day until the week is up.
By the end of the week you’ll be in an excellent position to judge for yourself which way of evaluating your thinking works best for you.
*For a bonus to the assignment also write down a more helpful thought to substitute for the unhelpful ones and again record how you’re feeling.Learn More