Monthly Archives: March 2013
Because Life Holds Infinite Possibilities

Can’t Sleep.

3 a.m and I’m awake. Ordinarily I’m asleep right now, but right now, I’m awake and I don’t like it. Strangely this happens at least once every couple of weeks for me. I just wake up early. No real rhyme or reason, just happens.

At one time in my life, this used to bug me. I would look at the clock and think, “I no, I must get back to sleep or I’ll be so tired the next day.” And then I’d spend the next hour or two willing myself to go back to sleep. Tossing and turning, demanding that I slip back into unconsciousness. Huffing and puffing that I wasn’t sleeping. I’d even check the clock every 10 minutes to see if I’d slept.

But the reality was, and still is, the more that I demand something of myself, the less likely I am to achieve that goal – and that really is the principle of living an unhappy life.

Sure I want to go back to sleep. I would even really, really, really, prefer to be sleeping right now, but I’m not. So instead of lying there, beating myself up for waking when I “absolutely shouldn’t have”, I get up. I grab a drink, get something to eat and power up my laptop.

I realized a while back, that for me, it’s easier to get up and do something I enjoy. Use the extra time I have to write something, read, watch some TV, or just getting lost in the weird and wonderful things people upload on YouTube.

This extra quiet time can be a bonus, before the world machine cranks up, and I slip into my lane on the daily highway of life.

Sure I might be a little tired later, but the reality is that a few hours less sleep every now and then is not going to affect my performance. It will only effect that if I’m constantly telling myself, “I won’t be able to cope with work/life/kids because I woke so early and I’ll get tired.”

If you’re the type of person that tells yourself that snippet of destructive thinking, then you’ll start sabotaging yourself. Sometimes after not sleeping well, people even play the ‘poor me card’. Telling work colleagues how little sleep they’ve had, and how they won’t be able to do so-and-so job, or how they might need to go home early because of exhaustion.

Thinking and behaving like this can be quite common, and its roots can usually be found in childhood messages like, “You’ve school tomorrow, you need to get your sleep or you won’t be able to do well.”

Really? How many times did you hear this, yet still stayed up late reading about dinosaurs, and made it through school the next day?

Even scientists don’t know why, or how much sleep people need.

Each person’s sleep patterns and needs are different. You might be somebody like me, who likes around eight hours a night, or you might need less, like four. Trouble is, if you’re the type of person that needs four, but you think you should have eight, that is where your problems will start – the discrepancy between reality and demanding-ness.

Sleep problems can start if, instead of embracing your pattern and learning to live with them, you start to create your own anxiety around not getting enough sleep. Soon enough, sleeping will start to be a problem because you’ll be worrying about it before you go to bed, and that worry will interfere with your sleep pattern.

Soon you’ll be going to sleep, only to wake yourself so you can check that clock to see if you’ve been sleeping. And as you can tell, that irrational behavior will confirm that you haven’t slept as much as you demand because you woke yourself up!

The next step from there is usually some type of insomnia, because you’ve worked yourself up into such and anxiety about sleeping. After a while you will be tired and your cognitive functioning will be impaired. You’ll be worrying during the day whether you’ll even sleep at night; and nearer to sleep time you get, the more anxious you’ll become and the more your body won’t be able to relax, so the more impossible it is to sleep. Catch 22, created by you.

If you do wake early, then make the best of that time. If your sleep pattern is such that you sleep a few hours a night, but need a nap during the day, then do it. Stop telling yourself you “must sleep now or else”.

I’ve found my way with managing my occasional lack of sleep, what about you? Is there a pattern you could change? Are you demanding something of yourself that leads to sleep problems? If so, these need to be addressed. So go do it – go change.

When Lies Become Truth.

When we are growing up, we learn from everybody around us. We learn how to interact with others; how to share, how to eat, how to think! We believe most of what we are told growing up, and if we don’t believe it, we might be shouted at, or told we are wrong; and we soon learn to not speak up, to ‘swallow’ others opinions we don’t necessarily agree with at the time, yet we submit, and do it.

It could be argued, that if we grow up healthily we are encouraged to question the world. Form our own opinions and respect other peoples opinions, but not necessarily subscribe to them. However, if we aren’t encouraged to question things, if we are told lies by adults who we look up to and trust, we’ll probably learn to follow what we are told; to think as we have been told and act on this information without questioning its validity.

Take this all too familiar scenario: Mary’s third marriage is coming to an end. She’s depressed and angry at herself for ‘ruining’ another marriage. She tell’s me that the same thing happened in the last two marriages, which proves that she’s a useless person and terrible wife.

Well for one, she’s incorrect because she’s globally rating herself as useless, and that’s irrational; secondly, she’s taking all the blame (another thinking error). It doesn’t take much questioning to find out that her mother left her father when she was three years old, and her father told Mary that her mother left because of her. It was all her fault!

Really? It doesn’t take a genius to see how utterly crazy and untruthful that comment is. Yet, because Mary was told this by a significant figure in authority, and was too young to cognitively question the irrationality of that statement, she then internalized it, and the lie became her truth. It was because of her, her mother left – end of story.

This type of internalized irrational belief can be devastating to a child’s life and growth. Just imagine, you’re three years old and you have the power to push a grown woman away from her husband and family. That you somehow make it impossible for two adults to support each other. You make it impossible for them to manage a small child. You even have the power to prevent them from asking for help from others, if they so need it. Wow! That’s Carrie power.

Now imagine taking that belief into every relationship you go into. As soon as it looks like the other person might be moving away from you – *action stations* – that familiar irrational belief kicks in, “They absolutely must not leave me. I can’t bear it if they leave me, because it means nobody will ever love me again.” – and you’ll probably react one of three ways. 1) Desperately hold on. Beg and promise to do anything the other person wants as long as they stay. 2) Withdraw and let them leave because you know it’s inevitable, or 3) Go looking for a carving knife, because you’re not letting them leave – ever.

Either way, none of those solutions will probably work in the long run. To move on, somebody like Mary needs to understand that her thinking is at error here. The irrational belief she’s cultivated since a child is what drives her in all her relationships, and it’s unhealthy and destructive.

To change this behavior pattern, she’ll need to uncover that old belief, and figured out a new healthy way to think. Once she’s done that, and practiced the new rational belief over and over, the next time she starts a relationship she’ll be on stronger footing; and it will probably give her an opportunity to make better, informed decisions about her future relationships.

All this pain and turmoil because of one irrational belief that sits in the heart of her being. It’s all too easy for a lie to be taken as truth, but it still doesn’t mean it’s true.

The Grass May Be Greener.

If you work with me, you will often hear me say, “the grass may be greener, but it still needs cutting.” This basically means, things can always be better, but you still need to work hard at reaching your goals.

Some people spend too much time comparing their success to others. They see only the wealth, friends, cars, houses, fame, others have. They take those differences and conclude that they are somehow deficient, or a failure for not having the same life as these ‘obviously brilliant’ people.

On one level, observing what other people have gained and wanting to aspire to their success, is a very human thing, and can be great motivation – if it’s taken as such. If you see other people doing well, reaching their goals and being rewarded for it, then you might want to ask yourself (or ask them), “what is it I need to do, to follow a similar path to success?”

By gaining insight and knowledge into how other people chase their goals, can be very revealing and helpful. At least it gives you an idea of what you might need to do to follow their lead.

However, on another level, this wanting what others have can lead to depression, if our thinking becomes unrealistic. I often see people fall into depression when they rate everything they do against others. When people do this, they are destined to observe others doing better, because for some reason, they are looking for that confirmational data that they are somehow not good enough for being like others.

It’s realistic to understand that some people will be better at many things than we are. There is always somebody smarter, faster, taller, richer, and prettier, than us. But then to beat ourselves up for not being the same as them, or achieving the same, is totally irrational.

Instead of watching what others are doing and concluding they are doing it better, stop and ask yourself, what you are demanding of yourself here? Often you’ll be holding an irrational belief such as, “I must be as successful as X person, or I’m a total failure.”

But does that make sense? Why ‘must’ you be as successful?

You would be better served by thinking rationally about this, and holding a preference such as, “I would really like to be as successful as X person, but it’s not always possible. It also doesn’t mean I’m a failure if I’m not as successful as them, it just means that I’m human and there are things I can work on to gain success.” This type of thinking will help you then look at your goals, and understand how you can work towards achieving them, rather than wasting time wishing that things were different.

At the end of the day, you may never be as successful as other people, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be as successful as you can be. There will be many things that you do very well, but because they are not massive successes, they’re often discounted. Celebrate all success, even the smallest ones.

So if you want your grass to be greener, go mow the lawn. Weed it. Feed it. Don’t just watch it grow out of control and wish it was better. There’s no garden fairy that’ll do the work for you, it’s all down to you. So go do it – go change.



One Mistake Doesn’t Define You.

I was just catching up with the latest Lakers news and was interested to see the new drama surrounding Kobe Bryant and Dahntay Jones of the Atlanta Hawks. It turns out that Kobe hurt his ankle after Jones walked into him on a fade-away jumper, and Kobe landed awkwardly, twisting his ankle.

What does this have to do with mental health?

Well, it’s interesting listening to sports analysts talking about this as a ‘dirty play’ and debating whether Jones is a ‘dirty player’. This is a similar example of how people often begin to depress themselves by rating their whole self negatively for making mistakes in their lives.

This is self-rating doesn’t make any sense, and is totally illogical. What these TV reports do though, is reinforce the idea that if we do something wrong, the totality of us is now judged as wrong. And because this type of reporting is on so many TV channels, repeated over and over again, it is easy to understand why we, as people, have bought into this illogical nonsense of self-rating.

It’s easy to depress ourselves if we keep telling ourselves over and over, day after day, that we are ‘not good enough’ or ‘a failure’; and these statements about ourselves usually come from an irrational belief that our behavior was bad and therefore, we are bad. We fall into the totality rating trap with our irrational thinking, which will be something like, “I must not make a mistake, or I’m a worthless failure.”

Once we create an irrational belief like this, it becomes a part of our blueprint for living, and it’s accessed automatically when we do anything we deem as a mistake in the future. But what makes this irrational belief so destructive is that it sits quietly in the background waiting to pounce when we make the slightest of mistakes.

So think about that. Every time you make a mistake this hidden belief comes flying out of nowhere and smashes you in the face. You then just follow your automatic thinking and beat yourself up for not being good enough, or a failure.

How many things can one person conclude they get wrong in a day? One? Two? With that kind of belief it’s more like hundreds, even thousands! Soon enough, you’re destined to make a mistake, and down, down, down your mood will go, as you constantly activate this irrational belief.

To beat depression, we need to understand that one mistake doesn’t define us. We need to change our irrational belief and become more realistic and rational. We need to learn to accept ourselves and our humanity and be robust enough to know that we cannot be perfect and please everybody.

We also need to learn to be responsible for our mistakes, and to stand-up and admit when we do something wrong, whilst being strong enough to accept we may be criticized for those mistakes.

I’m sure Dahntay Jones knew what he was doing, and maybe he did make a mistake (intentional or not), but the fact still remains; the whole of him cannot be a ‘dirty player’. It means he’s a player that can make plays that are good, bad, dirty, fantastic, and everything that falls in between.

Do You Shout?

Do you find yourself shouting at people?

See, the problem with shouting is that it isn’t really communicating – it’s being aggressive and intimidating. Clearly not the best way to forge relationships. You may not think that you’re being aggressive, or acting unhealthily, but you are, and you’re not doing yourself or anyone else any favors with your behavior.

Let me explain why people become angry and shout.

When we communicate, there are a couple of thinking processes going on in the background: we have a goal, or task we wish to complete in the interaction; and that goal is being driven by a set of personal rules and beliefs which are running on auto-pilot.

The following is an example of a typical scenario: In the kitchen, John tells Karen that he wants her to pick their son up from school because he’d made plans to meet a friend for drinks after work. Trouble is, Karen has also made plans of her own and isn’t able, or willing, to change them. The conversation might go like this.

“Sorry John, but I can’t pick Luke up, I’ve made plans. Anyway, it’s your day to do it.”

“I know it’s my day, but I said I’d meet Frank. You can change your plans; you’re only meeting your mother anyway.”

“I’m not changing.”

“Look, I can’t pick him up. I’ve made plans. Just call your mom and tell her you need to pick him up.”

“No, John.”

“Oh, for Christ’s sake. Stop being so damn awkward and just do it will you!”

“Don’t shout at me.”

“Then stop being a bitch and just pick him up.”

At this point, John could get angrier, as Karen doesn’t do as he wants, and he could become more aggressive and get louder and louder. People in Karen’s position will tend to give in and do what the shouter wants, which is exactly the reason to shout – to get one’s own way.

But what led to an angry exchange and John shouting. Well, as I pointed out above, there are two cognitive processes at work: John holds an irrational belief that Karen absolutely should change her plans, and because she didn’t want to, she was obstructing his goal, which was to go out with Frank.

His underlying belief was probably something like, “She absolutely must do what I want, and if she doesn’t, she’s just being a difficult bitch!”

Remember, if you get to the point of shouting, you’re already in unhealthy anger mode; and your irrational belief that you are right and others are wrong, will only become more rigid, as unhealthy anger begins to cloud your rational thought.

So if you find you are shouting at people, stop and think about what you are demanding of them. Are they obstructing your goal? Do you have an irrational belief that they “must” do what you think is right, or satisfy your goal even if it is counter to their goal? Then ask yourself if that’s reasonable of you to demand such a thing?

Above all, shouting doesn’t make your argument or request more persuasive, it just makes you seem more intimidating.