There are 8 core principles to help you create health, mental well being and happiness. These 8 core principles form the word IMAGGINE. An easy word to remember. If you apply IMAGGINE to your life, you will feel and see the difference! Get ready to start improving your life today…
I = “I” is for self care & self compassion
This is where you need to start. If you don’t look after yourself you will not have the resources to achieve your full potential. It’s as simple as that. Self care involves eating well. Avoid processed foods and eat fresh food and include 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day. This is a great start. Self care involves a holistic approach – eating well, exercising as well as focusing on our mental health. Self care involves knowing when we need to rest and working to achieve a balance in life between leisure time and work. This can be hard to do in a world where we are expected to perform and achieve on many levels.
Self compassion is all about treating yourself well on a psychological level. This means being kind to yourself and talking to yourself in a supportive and encouraging way, as you would speak to a dear friend who needed support. It serves no purpose to criticise ourselves and put ourselves down yet many of us do this. When we ‘serve’ ourselves a ‘mental diet’ full of self hatred, we diminish our capacity to do well and make the best of ourselves. You can work on this by being more aware of how you talk to yourself. If you find that you are regularly self critical and compare yourself unfavourably to others, focus on changing your tune. It’s not helpful to be self critical and we can always intervene. When I catch myself being self critical I tell myself to “stop it” and then try to reframe what I have just said. For example: If I catch myself saying something like, “Oh, you are so stupid for doing that”, I will tell myself that I am not stupid and that everyone makes mistakes. Reframing the negative thought neutralises it’s bad effect. There will always be other ways to look at situations and just because you see yourself in a negative light doesn’t mean that others see you that way. It’s just your thinking and thinking can be changed to work for us instead of against us.
Start to focus on your strengths. What do you do well? Remind youself daily (writing in a journal is a good idea to record this and reinforce it in your mind) of what you like about yourself. Psychologists call this “priming” and it sets the scene for more positive self talk. The act of positive self talk creates new neural pathways that are different to the neural pathways for negative self talk. The more you talk kindly to yourself, the more these positive, self-compassionate neural pathways are strengthened and reinforced. After a while, this type of self talk becomes far more natural and is less of an effort.
M = Mindfulness
We think something between 60-80 000 thoughts per day. 80% of these thoughts are nonsense thoughts, not useful at all. Instead of being a passive receptacle of your thoughts, learn to tune them out. When we are mindful, we live in the present moment instead of wallowing in the past that cannot be undone or worrying about the things that may never happen in the future. In fact, we spend so much time in our heads that life literally passes us by as=nd we miss so much because we aren’t present in our lives. Mobile phones and modern gadgets have made it even more difficult to be mindful. It’s vital to take time out from our busy minds and focus on our surroundings. One easy and simple exercise is called the 5-4-3-2-1 exercise. You can give it a try now:
Look around you, whether you are in the office, at home, in a restaurant etc (the beauty of this is that you can do it anywhere, anytime).
5 things you can see
4 things you can hear
3 things you can touch
2 things you can smell
1 thing you can taste (where possible)
When we use our five senses, the brain doesn’t have the capacity to worry at the same time. Deliberately bringing yourself back to the present moment is an excellent way to perform a ‘reset’ procedure in your mind. Mindfulness helps you to stop ruminating and can also stop the assocated anxiety that can come with overthinking.
A = Acceptance
When we learn to accept that there are things we cannot change and focus more on what we are able to change, it leaves us feeling empowered instead of helpless. It’s like being on a sailboat and wanting to get to the other side of the lake. The only trouble is there is no wind. So what do we do? We try to enforce our will on something that we cannot change (the weather). Imagine blowing with all your might upon the sails to get the boat to move. Pretty useless right? It won’t get you anywhere but it will exhaust you in the process. A wise mind knows that it is better to focus elsewhere and to wait for a gust of wind to take you where you need to go. I love that analogy as it clearly shows how we tire ourselves out when we resist ‘what is’. We resist the fact that no one has true certainty in life about anything, well except death. We resist the idea that we can’t change or control other people.
The only thing we can control is ourselves – our thoughts and how we react to others and to situations. When we embrace this and accept, we feel a lot calmer and more at peace. Learning acceptance doesn’t mean giving up nor does it mean not caring about other or the world. The change in atitude though is a sign of inner wisdom and leaves you with more energy to focus on what you do have power over. When you know this, you become far more effective as a human being. Adopt this insight of acceptance and you will be ahead of the pack.
G = Goals
Life can seem pretty meaningless without goals. We all need a sense of purpose in our lives. There is such a thing as “existential anxiety” and many of us battle with the big questions about why we exist, where we came from and what life is all about. When we create goals for ourselves, we create structure and direction. This helps us feel that we have a sense of purpose and a raison d’etre. For me personally, it feels great to know I am able to help others find happiness and a better quality of life through my blog and through my work as a psychotherapist. Being able to make a difference leaves me feeling that I have a sense of purpose and that I am not just a ‘wasted life’.
I recommend creating short term goals and long term goals. One well known way to create goals is by using the SMART method.
SMART stands for:
S = specific
Be as specific as you can. A goals such as “I want to be happy” is far too vague. Break that down into more concrete steps. What do you need to do more or less of to feel happier? Perhaps, exercising more might be a goal. make that specific. I would like to exercise on my treadmill.
M = measurable
How will you know that you have reached your goal? Perhaps with this goal (let’s use the treadmill example), you could track your muscle mass before and after or see if you lose weight.
A = achievable
Do you have access to a treadmill and do you have the time to do it. It’s no use creating a goal that would be impossible to achieve.
R = realistic
Would this goal be possible? There are some goals that just wouldn’t be possible.For example – become an astronaut in 6 months. If you set your expectations too high you’re bound to be disappointed and that could backfire ad cost you in terms of motivation and optimism.
T = time bound
Set yourself a time limit in which to achieve the specific goal that you have set. Make sure it is realistic and achievable. For example: I will exercise on the treadmill three days per week for the next month.
Research has shown that the more specific we make the goal the more likely we will be to achieve it. Use the above five components to create your goals.
G = Gratitude
Force yourself every day to focus on your cup being half full. Look for the good in yur life on a daily basis and this can instantly boost your happiness levels. Optimists tend to naturally work this way whereas pessimists tend to look for everything that could go wrong. As a result they tend to be far less happy. We live in an age where there is so much choice and we are exposed on a wider scale to what others are doing. The problem with this is that what we see is often incorrect. For instance, Facebook (I like to call it Fakebook). If I go on there when I am having a bad day where I feel I’m not good enough or my insecurities are bugging me, Facebook can push me to the edge! The thing is, that was a while back but I know better these days. All those smiling photographs of others don’t automatically mean that everyone else is having the time of their lives whilst you cry into your cup of coffee, alone and miserable. There is a certain inaccuracy or perhaps the better word, is discrepancy, between what the reality is and what we see on Facebook. Life is never that perfect. I know I have photos of me smiling and looking incredibly happy when I know for a fact that after the photo was taken I reverted to my sad self.
Never take at face value what you see on the surface when it comes to other people’s lives. Even more important – focus on your life and don’t compare. As a Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist, we have a typical error in thinking known as “compare and despair”. It creates a lot of misery and anxiety for many people and refers to the phenomenon where we compare ourselves unfavourably to others. Don’t do it. Focus back on what you can control – your life and your decisions. Comparing your perceived failings and insecurities to others perceived successes and triumphs will leave you feeling hopeless. Instead, be thankful for the good in your own life and take time to appreciate anything (no matter how small) that is good in your life.
I = Interact
Friends and family are officially where it’s at. When we connect with others we release a hormone called Oxytocin. This hormone leaves us feeling happy and content. It’s a longer lasting hormone that dopamine. Dopamine comes fast when we go shopping or gambling or engage in ‘quick fixes’ but it’s oxytocin that is the mainstay hormone when it comes to contentment. It’s a wonderful feeling when we spend time with someone who ‘gets’ us. it also feel amazing to know that others care for us. Sharing a laugh or a joke with someone can really make a big difference to my mental state. It’s a positive energy that I can’t find anywhere else.
There are all sorts of reasons why many of us avoid interactions with others. We may be depressed, we may suffer from social anxiety or we may just have low self esteem which can also put a damper on socialising. You don’t have to be the belle of the ball or the life and soul of a party but going out and being around others really does work when it comes to happiness levels.
I know whan I have felt anxious or depressed in the past, the first thing I tended to do was to withdraw and isolate myself. This is not uncommon but it is very counterintuitive. It only makes us feel worse in the long run. I am not talking about time out from others every now and then. I know that I definitely need me-time every now and then to centre myself. I do know though when I am avoiding seeing others and that’s when I give myself a time limit on being by myself.
Make regular plans to see others, the more you get out the easier it is.
N = Nurture fun and playfulness
I have always felt that there is still a child in me and I never want to stifle that part. You still have that child in you too. Do you let them come out to play much? Playfulness and fun is becoming a greater area of research and is far more important than we realise. I am sure that science will confirm this. We all need to let our hair down and be silly at times. It eases tension and helps us to feel happier and more relaxed. Take time out to play and have fun. Laughing and smiling is a great stress reliever. Taking life too seriously will definitely set you on a downer. When you see the bigger picture and don’t get too bogged down by the small stuff, it helps you to rise about the strain and anxiety. Life is too short and worry won’t help you in the end anyhow. Smile at strangers, be brave and have a laugh and you will find that others will most often reciprocate. It’s sad that many of us feel we need permission to see the fun side of life and we’ll often only show this if someone else takes the lead. Be the one who takes the lead. Make a joke in the lift, go to work wearing a funny jumper – just be silly. You will fell happier and others won’t forget you!
E = Exit
Exit your mind. This is a great piece of advice for those of you who have busy minds and tend to worry a lot. Remember that your thoughts are just that: thoughts. They are not facts and you can learn to dismiss the ones that are negative. Mental health experts refer to exiting your mind as “thought defusion”. Thought defusion is the act of separating yourself from your thoughts.
Defusion involves distancing, disconnecting or seeing thoughts and feelings for what they are (streams of words, passing sensations), not what they say they are (dangers or facts). STOP, STEP BACK, OBSERVE (the thoughts and feelings, what’s happening to/for the other person).