Problematic Personalised Truths

As promised, more on Personalised Truths, those pesky, sometimes damaging, ideas we have about ourselves that we believe to be true even when there is absolutely no evidence that they are actually true!

These ideas may have been created by us or they may have been put in our heads by others, but whichever route, it is because we believe them to be true they become a part of our unconscious thinking and, therefore, impact on our feelings and actions.

If you think about a time when you have met someone whose life or behaviour you really could not understand, for example someone obsessed with changing how they look through excessive dieting, excessive exercise or excessive plastic surgery or maybe someone with an addiction which is obviously detrimental to their well-being yet the continue to do it or, perhaps, someone whose lifestyle involves risky behaviour. Behind all such behaviours a personalised truth can be found.

There are two types of personalised truths that burrow their way into out psyche, those that we believe about ourselves and those we use to justify things that affect our lives.

The first, what we believe about ourselves, are those ideas about our bodies, our intelligence, our capabilities etc. for example “I’m fat”, “I’m ugly” “I’m stupid” “I’m a failure”. Naturally these truths are not always negative, some people are perhaps too positive and over confident and many of our thoughts are quite balanced. Yet where we have a negative belief about ourselves it can far outweigh any of those balanced ones.

Especially where those personalised truths can never really be true in the first place!

Take, for example, “I’m ugly”. Ugliness and beauty a wholly open to interpretation, ideas of beauty depend on individual taste and, on a wider scale, ideas of beauty vary from culture to culture and vary over time. Would Titian’s 16th Century vision of Venus, goddess of love, beauty and desire, male it to the front cover of a glossy fashion magazine today?

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Another aspect of problematic personalised truths is that we will ignore any evidence that contradicts them, the person who believes “I’m always unlucky” will dismiss any good fortune that happens to them or believe that a small piece of luck will be balanced by greater bad luck! A person who believes “I am a failure” will dismiss successes as mere flukes and believe that any praise they receive is just other people trying to be nice!

The other type of personalised truths are those we believe justify our actions. At a simplistic level remember those times when you have bought something you really didn’t need but justified the purchase by saying to yourself something like “I had to buy it because it was half price” or “I had to buy it because I haven’t got one that colour”!

On a more complex and problematic level people will justify staying in toxic relationships because they believe “it’s my fault” or “things will change soon”. Or people will justify addictions such as gambling with beliefs like “it is the only way I can become rich” or “my luck will change soon”.

The real challenge with uncovering and resolving problematic personalised truths is identifying them in the first place, they operate at an unconscious level and influence our behaviour automatically. If we spend a bit of time thinking about our behaviour at the end of the day we can begin to unravel those personalised truths that hold us back. Alternatively, if we are brave enough, we can asked friends and family what it is they least understand about the way we behave, that will give us a good route to uncovering those underlying beliefs.

Once we have identified them we can begin to really question them. What evidence is there that they are true? What evidence proves them untrue? We need to be fully critical here as we will, if not, just dismiss that contrary evidence. We need to engage with the process logically and rationally so that we can begin to believe those personalised truths are, in fact, untrue.

It is not an easy process but one we need to undertake as it will improve our lives and our well-being as we move forward to success and happiness in life.

Flex Those Motivational Muscles

What is your motivation for change?
We may dream of changing our lives but unless we have the motivation to make that change it will remain just a dream. To help us find that boost which gets us to our goal it is useful to understand what actually motivates us.
On a basic level there are two motivators, “away from” and “toward”, sometimes known as pain and pleasure or the carrot and the stick etc.


The “away from” motivation comes from our desire to leave or get rid of something. For example, we might want to lose weight to escape a negative body image, join the gym to escape health problems or join a group to escape loneliness. It is not just goal is our life that the “away from” motivator works, it is there at a basic level. We eat to get rid of hunger and we run away when we sense danger. The “away from” motivator is a part of our fight or flight response.
On the flip side the “toward” motivator takes us toward pleasure and success, again it works at a base level, those times we eat, not because we are hungry but because we are seeking the pleasure of eating something that ignites our pleasure hormones. The “toward” motivator is about adding something to our lives, making ourselves feel better, losing weight because you have an event where you want to impress, joining the gym for the buzz the feel of exercise gives you, joining a group because you want to expand you existing network etc.
Both forms of motivation are equally legitimate yet both can sometimes lack something in getting the change we want.
When the motivation to achieve something is “away from” we can have that initial push to get us going but once we a sufficiently far away from what it was we wanted to escape our momentum can falter. Think of it like using your feet to push you off in a swimming pool, the push itself will only get you so far, without any other action you will just be stuck mid-water.
With “toward” motivation we may gain momentum as we close in on our goal but it is getting started in the first place that may be the issue. Imagine you want to drive somewhere where you can really enjoy yourself, you won’t get there though until you turn the key in the ignition and spark the engine into life.
The real key is to use both methods in order to succeed, push and pull to get you where you ultimately want to be.
Start by thinking about what it is you want to change in your life and why you want to achieve that change. Is your primary motivation “away from” or “toward”?
Be honest with yourself. We can sometimes fail to recognise our true motives, hiding them behind things we prefer to believe.
Once you have figured out what it is that is motivating you move to the other end of the goal and find some motivating factor there too.
So if your initial motivation is “away from” think about what achieving you goal will gain you, what is waiting for you when you get to the finish line, what will success bring you. Say you want to join a group, evening class or such because you feel an element of loneliness in your life, you know your “away from” but what is your “toward”. Imagine the possibilities developing that new skill or knowledge will bring, the focus on the one possibility that really ignites your imagination.
If, on the other hand, your primary motivation is a “toward” one, what is it that is going to ignite that engine and get you moving. Perhaps, you want to be a great dancer, writer or something similar but what will that move you away from? If you are looking to achieve success it does, to a certain degree, mean you are feeling unsuccessful now so use that as you push forward.
Some things automatically lend themselves to having a push and a pull but others we need to dig deep to find the other end of the line that we will be travelling. By finding our “away from” and “toward” motivation we double our chances in succeeding in achieving change and success.
So flex those motivational muscles and head confidently toward your success.

Putting Off Procrastination

Procrastination: The action of delaying or postponing something.
In other words deliberately avoiding doing something. We all do it, we put off doing certain things for a variety of reasons yet, often, doing this ends up creating more problems than it solves. So we have to learn to first recognise procrastination and then take action to overcome it and move on with our lives.
The first thing to understand is that while we put off doing things deliberately, that does not necessarily mean we are doing it consciously. Our minds are very good at twisting the facts sometimes and while, on one level we are deliberately avoiding doing something, we are telling ourselves that we are not doing it for a variety of other reasons. Reasons that try to convince ourselves that whatever it is we are putting off is not our fault and we are not doing it deliberately.
“I haven’t had the time.” “Life is too busy at the moment.” “I have more important things to do at the moment.” Etc.
So whatever reason it is you are giving yourself for not getting on with your goal in life, or not making that change in your life or even just not mowing the lawn, it is probably not the true underlying reason.


One reason for procrastination is a lack of self-confidence or self-belief. We don’t think we will be able to do that thing either at all or particularly well. For example we may believe we lack the will power to diet or we may believe we are just to unfit to start exercise. Perhaps we believe we are just not clever enough to learn something new. In all such cases where we are not confident to get started try falling back on the old saying “you never know until you try”.
If you are putting off doing something because you lack confidence or belief in yourself, start in a small way. Build your confidence and belief gradually. If you want to diet start by cutting out one thing at a time, if you want to get fitter start by walking before you run, if you want to learn something new start by reading a book about the subject before signing up for a course.
Another reason for procrastinating is that we are not fully engaged with the thing that needs doing. We have all had times when we know we should be doing something but we just can’t get ourselves enthusiastic enough to undertake the task. Again we all know we should be fitter and healthier but it can all seem like to much bother to make the effort.
If you are feeling like this, take the time to write out the pros and cons of whatever it is you’re putting off. For example getting fitter, pro: being healthy con: being unhealthy (obviously there’s a lot more you could write). Doing this will help build that much needed motivation to start that thing you know you need to do.
We can, sometimes, be guilty of putting things off simply because we are not interested enough in the task. If this is the case we need to revisit why we are thinking about doing it in the first place. It may be social pressure – everyone else is doing so we suppose we should. It may be a relationship thing where your significant other feels something should be done but you feel less enthusiastic – in such cases remember everyone has a different way of looking at things in life so just because you don’t think something is important it does not mean your partner has the same view.
Obviously not everything we put off is procrastination, sometimes life really does get in the way. Prioritising should not be confused with procrastination.
Sometimes our mental health is such that we find things hard to get started. Where this happens we can make ourselves feel worse as we begin to feel guilty that we are not getting things done. Try to recognise when you are feeling stressed or depressed and try not to put yourself under too much pressure to get things down (easier said than done I know).
There are many reasons for procrastinating, to many to list in a short blog, but the basic thing is to recognise that you are putting off doing something, to acknowledge the real reason that you are not doing and to address that reason fully so that you can get on and move forward.

The Delights and Dangers of What If

What If….
A small phrase but a powerful one. It can catapult us upwards to great heights of achievement or it can plunge us downwards into the dark depths of despair. It just depends on where we use it in our thoughts.
Our ‘what ifs’ can be located in the past, present or future.
If we use it in our thoughts of the past then it becomes a dangerous thing, especially in mid-life because when we use ‘what ifs’ in reflections of our past we are trying to change something that can’t be changed.
It would be a very unusual thing to reach mid-life without collecting a few regrets on the way and, as we reach a point where we are likely to reflect on our lives, it could be easy to add ‘what if’s’ into those thoughts. When you do that, it can lead to a chain of thought that impacts on you in the present.
Regrets in life are inevitable but they are the result of learning something new after the event. At the actual time you made the decision, or whatever it is you regret, you made the best choice for yourself with the information you had at that time. Regrets are important, they help us learn and make better choices in the future but when we focus on them and add in the what if’s. “What if I hadn’t have done it.” “What if I hadn’t said that.”, etc. we are starting to wish our lives had been different in the past, we can easily begin to resent what we have in the present.

The past can’t be changed (I can hear some clever soul saying “but what if it could”!), we can reflect on the past, we can learn from the past, we can use the past to influence our present and our future but we can’t change it. By imagining that we are simply damaging our present because we are focusing on regrets rather than what we can do to improve our lives for the future.
On the flip side ‘What Ifs’ in thoughts of the present or future will move us forwards. Not necessarily in a good way, there can be negative thoughts as well as positive ones, but they will drive our actions and deeds.
‘What Ifs’ have a tendency to spiral. So if we are in a negative frame of mind and we begin to speculate on ‘what ifs’ it can move us further into that negative mindset.
When that happens it can be difficult to break the cycle. It is all very well others saying “think positive thoughts” or telling us to “snap out of it” but it takes more than that. How we escape that cycle is a very individual thing but, a common thread you may recognise in these posts, the more aware we are of ourselves the better we can deal with these things. Once we recognise we are in a negative ‘what if’ cycle the easier it is to break free from it.
If we apply ‘what ifs’ to positive thoughts we can lift ourselves and our lives to new heights. Stretching our imagination positively leads us towards what we really want from life. Again these ‘what ifs’ tend to spiral, we need to be a little careful because we can just get caught in daydreaming mode. We need to ensure we have that positive mindset and ensure we take positive action to implement those ‘what ifs’.

A simple example, I want this blog to be a success and people to benefit from it. For that to happen I need plenty of people to read it. “What if,” I think, “I add a small paragraph on the bottom asking people to  share this blog.”  Then, as I am actually writing that I think “What if I write a post about What Ifs” again moving everything another step forward and, in turn, creating more ‘what ifs’ to be implemented soon!
‘What Ifs’ appear to be an ingrained part of human thinking. They represent the possibilities of what could have been or what will be but they are both potentially dangerous and delightful and we need to be able to recognise each, dismissing those negative thoughts and embracing the positive ones.
What if, right now, you think of a ‘what if’ that will take you toward success and contentment and implement that what if as soon as possible.

Recording Greatness

You may have noticed that a common thread that runs through these blog posts is self-reflection.
When we fail we should reflect on where we can correct any issues, when we succeed we should reflect on that success and how we can move on to greater achievement.
However, we have to be aware, we humans are exceptionally good at misleading ourselves about ourselves! There are both physiological and psychological factors at play which impact on how we think about ourselves.
The most obvious example, physiologically, would be how we think we sound. We all have that experience of hearing ourselves after being recorded and thinking “I don’t sound like that, do I”.
Psychologically out minds and memories can play all sorts of tricks on us.
Imagine a really good day at work. The boss is away, there is nobody demanding your attention and you get the chance to clear up lots of those niggly outstanding jobs that you have been meaning to complete for ages. You work through them methodically all day and get home that evening really satisfied with what you have achieved.
The next day is completely different. The boss is back and back with a vengeance. Work piles up, everybody seems demanding and wanting everything right now. The pressures and stresses pile up as you push through the mountain of work while, at the same time, trying to placate everybody who wants their things done first. You get home that evening stressed and exhausted and the first thing you do is turn on your computer and search for a new job.
Now imagine a couple of weeks later and you have got that job interview. You are sitting there and the interviewer says to you “describe a time when you have been really productive.”
It is much more likely that you will describe the first day simply because you felt better about that day. Even though the second day you were probably much more productive, the fact that you didn’t actually finish as many tasks and the day left you feeling stressed and exhausted means it is a day you would rather forget than relive by telling the interviewer about it.
Our memories are much more connected to how we feel about events than the events themselves.

Because of this, when we embark on a new goal, it is important we also find a way to record how we are doing. Keeping a record helps us monitor progress, helps us identify improvement and helps us recognise the bad days. All of this together helps us move forward effectively.
How you do this is going to be completely individual. What it is you are setting out to achieve will determine how you keep track, for example, if you are setting out to become fitter you can record run times or reps, if you are going to write that novel you can record daily word counts or if you are determined to become a master baker you can note recipes tried etc.
It will also depend on the type of person you are, some people are avid diary writers able to write copious notes, others less so preferring to simply record brief facts and figures. Luckily, in this technological age, we do have the advantage of being able to generate records without doing very much, smart watches will record exercise, websites will record the number of blog readers etc. The key though is to use whatever method you feel most comfortable with in order to create the story of your journey.
Having these records are crucial to helping us learn about ourselves in our particular endeavour because if we look back we can start to see patterns. Do we record better performances in the morning, afternoon or evening? Are certain days of the week better than others for us to pursue our goal? It gives us a better chance of spotting where we go wrong or where we could do better but it also, when our motivation is flagging, gives us a way to reflect on the wins and successes we have achieved over time.
Record you greatness (and your no so greatness) it will help you to achieve more and become even greater in the future.
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Failure is a Thing

It is unlikely you have reached mid-life without someone, somewhere along the line telling you that that there is no such thing as failure, even Oprah Winfrey has said those words*. Usually there is something added to it. There is no such thing as failure only learning opportunities or, only feedback or, only results etc.
It may be a little controversial but I will say failure is thing.
Life is not perfect, people are not perfect so things can and do go wrong in life. Then when we experience those things we also have an emotional response to that failure. It can range from mild disappointment to depression, it can include frustration, anger or resignation. Failure can sap your motivation, damage your self-belief and leave you feeling useless.


The level of that emotional response is often dictated by the level of personal investment we have in something. The more we put our effort and time into something that means a lot to us then, if things go wrong, the greater our emotional response will be.
If you conform to the idea that there is no such thing as failure then you are setting yourself up for a double whammy. When something, inevitably, doesn’t go to plan not only do you get the emotional response from that failure, you also have the response to the fact you have failed in your belief that there is no such thing as failure! Causing the emotional equivalent of an aftershock following the initial earthquake.
However if we accept the fact that we will have failures in our lives and that we will have some form of emotion attached to that we can develop some resilience and bounce back much quicker.
The first thing to remember is just because you have had a failure it does not make you a failure. Some people will define who they are by the things that go wrong in their lives, ignoring any positives that come along and actively looking for those failures to justify the way they think. But if we know that any failures we have are just a blip on our way to achievement then we are putting things in a proper perspective.
Secondly, work out what went wrong. Be honest with yourself though, it is very easy to blame others or external causes and while these things certainly happen ask yourself if there is anything you could have done to have avoided the impact of the external influences.
It may be that you can’t for the life of you figure out what went wrong. It which case just go ahead and do things again, just make a slight alteration to something in the process and see if that brings about a positive result.
Those little phrases added to “there is no such thing as failure” are actually right, failure gives us learning experiences, results and feedback. We need to use those intelligently and constructively in order to correct any errors in our thinking, planning and execution of our goals. Sometimes learning what doesn’t work can make life much easier for us in the future as we know what pitfalls to avoid.
However, as you reflect on what you could have done to avoid failure also remember to reflect on those wins you had before things went wrong.
We often see top athletes bought to tears when they fail to win. It sometimes seems strange to us because they have achieved so much and coming second is still an excellent result but because they put so much personal investment into winning, that immediate emotional response is to their failure to win. Top athletes have the advantage of coaches and sports psychologists who will help them realise that they have made those huge achievements before meeting someone who was better on the day.
However us lesser mortals don’t have the luxury of such support. Therefore we need to be able to it ourselves. You may be lucky and have someone close to you who can provide constructive support but many don’t have so we need to become our own coach and point out all the successes we have had so far, how far we have come and how we can keep going onwards.
The important thing is, don’t stop, never give up.
Failure is a thing, but if we can accept it will happen and embrace the lessons it teaches then we can move forward on to success.
  

Dastardly Devils

Having learnt to emulate our heroes what do we do with our villains?
By the time we get to mid-life we have encountered endless numbers of people some who have drifted in and out quickly others who have taken a more permanent place in our lives.
And some of those people can be dastardly devils. The villains who seem to thwart our paths forward, the rogues who seem to be out to get us, the scoundrels who seem to demand money and time from us. Many self-help books will tell you that we should eliminate toxic people from our lives but the reality is we still have to go to work and we still have to socialise.
And the thing is, not all of those people are actually bad!
Obviously there are really nasty people out there in the world who are out to manipulate or step on others, those who seek to take whatever they can from the world not matter how much damage they inflict on others and those who knowingly abuse the trust of others.
However not everybody who we cast as villains in our world actually is. We tend to feel anyone who is different from us, who thinks differently from us or who does not conform to our world view is a bad person.
I am sure we all have had bad bosses in the past who we have cast as villains in our lives but were they really bad people or was it their circumstances and beliefs that made us dislike them? What was their motivation behind making demands of you that seemed, to you, pretty pointless? Perhaps the boss isn’t too bad but it is other work colleagues that you avoid if at all possible because spending even a little time with them seems to be an eternity.
We have all had those acquaintances, those friends of friends, who we try to avoid because we just don’t like them, maybe it’s their views and opinions, or perhaps just something we can’t quite put our fingers on that makes us slink away in the opposite direction when they appear.
How do we deal with these dastardly devils?

Firstly we need to take a look at ourselves and ask why don’t I like this person? Are they actually bad or is just that we don’t have the same view of the world. A bad boss may still be a bad boss, not though, because of the demands they make but because they fail to understand the importance of leadership when they are making those demands.
Then we need to see beyond a couple of those cognitive biases that plague our thinking. Not everything is about you! When someone is demanding or in a bad mood, it may not actually be directed toward you. It is more likely to be something else going on in their lives which is causing the way they behave. We also tend you view people because of the worst (or best) trait we see. So ask yourself is this person bad in all aspects of their behaviour or is just one behaviour that is distorting your view of them overall?

Try to step into their view of the world, but you can only really do this by talking to them first. Be polite and attentive, if it someone you work with enquire why it is they do things in a particular way or how the business benefits from what needs to be done. You will probably find that if you do this that your attitude toward them will change as will theirs toward you.
The real villains in life, however, will probably sneak up on you unawares. The real manipulators will, to start off with, be the most charming people around. They will be attentive and pleasant. Then they will start by asking you to do one little thing, then something else, then something a bit more significant. Eventually you will find yourselves tangled in the web they have spun around you. Breaking free becomes especially difficult, if that is, you have even realised that you have been trapped.
There are ways to stop yourself being trapped in the first place.
Always stay true to yourself and your beliefs. One of the tricks manipulators use is our desire to conform, so they ask for small favours, trapping people into a cycle of conformity before making bolder moves. Never be afraid to say no or at least question the reasoning behind what is being asked of you.
Seek out a second opinion. Talk to those you trust about anyone new in your life and listen to what they say and think, particularly if you have been asked to do anything that you are not sure about.
There are real villains out there and there are villains we have created in our minds. Defeating these dastardly devils, both types, helps us free negativity from our lives and create a better world for us.