E – Effort

 

As you read this, how much effort are you putting into it? Are you relaxed?  Or tense and conscious of the time it is taking you?  Are you reading it slowly because you are interested?  Or scanning through because you have a to-do list as long as your arm and you should really be getting on with something else?    

How much effort do you put into the following areas of your life?:

  1. Work/business/career/running a home?
  2. Your partner/children?
  3. Your friends and wider family?
  4. Your hobbies and interests?
  5. Your self and your own personal development?

Would I be right in saying that the majority of your efforts go into the first three categories?  Have you ever stopped to consider why this is?  Is it because you believe it is “selfish” to put your interests and your self before others?  Is it because you “don’t have the time” to think about your self, let alone actually have hobbies and interests? 

If you have just read the above and agreed with even some of it, then just stop for a moment and think (yes, you can spare a moment).  Whose life are you living?  Your bosses? Your clients? Your childrens? Husbands? Parents? … or Yours?  Who is the only person who can ever really know exactly what it is that ensures your happiness, peace of mind, contentment? And who is the only person who should really be expected to put in the time and commitment to ensure that happiness, peace of mind and contentment?

Putting a little effort into You will help to build your resilience, improve your self-esteem, your mood, your health and your relationships, it will have a dramatic effect on the whole of your life.

Food for thought … it just takes a little effort.  Every now and then take the above five categories and turn them upside down … It will do you good!

E – Eating

 

You may wonder why I have chosen to include eating as a word associated with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.  Well the connection between thoughts, beliefs, emotions and behaviours is never more clear than when we explore our eating habits.

Remember that CBT is all about becoming more aware of the effect our thoughts and beliefs have on our behaviours and emotions. In today’s modern world we are awash with opportunities to eat more and think less.  We wander around the shops in our local towns on a Saturday, passing increasing numbers of bakers, chip shops, burger bars, fast food shops, cafes, restaurants … the choice is seemingly limitless. We go home and sit in front of our television screen where we are shown advertisement after advertisement encouraging us to try this new food or that one. It is not surprising that we find ourselves giving in to temptation and eating something we hadn’t planned to, didn’t need to, and often didn’t really want to eat! 

 

So how can we reverse the trend and eat less and think more about what we are eating?

  • Cultivate a connection between your mind and your body.  Listening to your body means that you will be more aware of when you are actually hungry. This will encourage you to stop impulse eating when you are not genuinely hungry. 

 

  • Eat for energy not for entertainment. Don’t eat through boredom, find something interesting to occupy your attention instead.

 

  • Eat because your body needs nutrients, not because your emotions need support.  If you are feeling unhappy, eating for “pleasure” only ultimately results in you feeling unhappy and guilty because of your out of control eating habits.  Tackling your emotional and behavioural issues will mean that you no longer feel the need to use food as an emotional crutch.  (This is where the cognitive behavioural therapy comes in!)

 

  • Cultivate healthy eating habits: Eat smaller meals more regularly so that your digestive system does not get overloaded and you maintain a steady supply of energy to the body and brain.

 

  • Don’t be taken in by the hype. Foods which are promoted as being “time-saving” are either a drain on your finances or a drain on your health, or both.  Allocate time in your day to prepare meals yourself.  If you prepare them, you know what has gone into them, and probably more importantly, you know what has been left out.

 

  • Be aware of the physiological connection that our body/mind has with sugar, fat and simple carbohydrates such as white flour: The more we eat these types of foods, the more we set up pathways in the brain which then create cravings for more, thus creating a vicious circle in our subconscious.

 

  • Remember all the benefits of healthy eating:  Healthier bodies and  healthier minds.  We weren’t developed to eat chemical additives, and healthier eating patterns result in better weight management, increased self-confidence and self-esteem as a result of looking better, feeling better and knowing that you control your eating, not the other way round.

 

  • You will notice that as you begin to eat more healthily, your body/mind will gradually wean itself off the cravings for unhealthy foods and your subconscious will begin to “ask” for, and enjoy, more healthy foods.

Next time you are about to go in the bakers/chip shop or wherever, try this experiment in food awareness: Stop and ask yourself why you are going in.  Are you genuinely hungry? Does your body need that sort of food? Could you be kinder to your body and give it something it really needs, rather than something you feel you want?

B – Behaviour

 

Behaviour is the B in CBT. It can be thought of as the last in the line of a chain of events which goes as follows:  Thought (Cognition) – Feeling – Behaviour (or action).  From looking at this chain we can see that our behaviour is heavily influenced by what we are feeling, which in turn, is heavily influenced by our thoughts and beliefs. 

Let me give you an example: You hop on your bathroom scales and think “I am overweight”.  This makes you feel sad/regretful/low/anxious/frustrated/ disappointed/helpless/angry.  These feelings may all lead to different actions and behaviours: crying/withdrawing/pacing/berating yourself/binge eating/starving yourself.  All of these likely actions and behaviours are negative.  It follows: if the thought is negative then (without careful monitoring) the feelings are negative and so the behaviour will be negative.

A different perspective:  Let’s now imagine that you hop on your bathroom scales and you are (still) not impressed by what you see.  This time, however, you monitor your thoughts, realise they are negative and unhelpful, and decide to do something about it.  So you think about your options which are:  (i) “I can choose to like and accept my weight as it is and how I look”, or (ii)” I can choose to change my weight and how I look”. You are now giving yourself options, which helps you to feel more in control, because now it is up to you. 

If you decide to accept how you are then you can work on self acceptance by using affirmations, becoming more authentic and working on your levels of self-esteem and resiliency.  If, however you decide to change how you are and how you look, you will want to work on specific ways of changing your thoughts, feelings and behaviours, depending on what it is you want to change.  In our example you may want to consult a professional about correct exercise and nutrition or research those areas yourself.  You may want to join a gym, take up a new sport or buddy up with a friend, buy a map of local walks and just put one foot in front of the other. 

You may feel that some CBT therapy would be useful to help you understand why you behave the way you do as we have negative automatic thoughts (known as NATs or automatic cognitions) which are so deep-rooted they pop into our mind automatically and are seemingly outside our control.  If this is the case CBT can help you to identify those thoughts and challenge and change them for the better.

The important thing is, whatever you decide to do it will be your choice because your thoughts, feelings and behaviours are all choices and, at the end of the day, it is up to you.

So Free your thoughts and live your life.

A – Authenticity

Are you true to yourself?  Do you ‘speak your truth’, in other words, do you say, out loud, and with conviction, the thoughts and feelings that you feel inside?  Do you act according to your beliefs and stand by those thoughts and beliefs?  If you endeavour to live your life according to these and other similar principles, then you are living your life authentically.  Living authentically means having an inner integrity and being honest and up-front with yourself, in order that you can be the same with others; being self-aware and understanding what you believe, want and feel.  Living your life authentically means that you assess a situation before involving yourself, you sometimes put yourself first, and you only say what you really, honestly, truthfully mean. 

Sounds difficult doesn’t it?  Immediately we start to think along the lines of: “What if I upset somebody?” Or “what if people don’t like me saying no?” Or “What if they think I’m a ‘bad’ person?”  Rest assured anybody who matters won’t think that way at all and the reason why is simple. People who live authentic lives are being true to themselves.  They are happier, and more complete, more comfortable under their skin.  Speaking with conviction doesn’t mean a licence to offend people. It means speaking thoughtfully from the heart and being innately honest with yourself and those around you.  It doesn’t mean you have to be selfish either, in fact it is quite the opposite.  Authenticity is a form of assertiveness where you can afford to be considerate of others because you have learned to be considerate of yourself. 

Delete the words “should”, “ought” and “need” from your vocabulary as they all set you up to fail.  Every time you use these words you are telling yourself that you are not doing something that  you feel is expected of you.  Now question any thoughts that contain those words.  What does a thought mean when you think you should do something?  Does it mean that it has to be done because it is expected of me, rather than it being something that I want to do?  Live up to your expectations, not those of somebody else.  Need carries with it a feeling of desperation and a vague sense of anxiety.  Do you really need  those feelings in your life?

It is liberating to be the person you want to be, not the person you have become expected to be.  When you live your life authentically, you become easier and less stressed to live with, happier to live with and kinder to live with.  Authentic living is a win/win situation.   So why not free all those thoughts and feelings around expectations of others and allow yourself  to develop an inner wisdom in order to live your life through your inner self in a way that feels comfortable and right for you?

A – Anxiety

Do you constantly feel out of control?  That everything seems worse than it actually is? These feelings are distressing and are common symptoms of anxiety.  Other clues to anxiety are:

  •  Feeling you are about to lose control and completely ‘lose it’;
  • Wanting to “stop the world and get off”;
  • Being continuously on edge and sensitive to everything;
  • Having a general, all-pervading fear or feeling generally apprehensive, but not knowing why;
  • Worrying constantly about everything, thoughts swirling round your head;
  • “Nervous tummy”, sweating, palpitations, shortness of breath, rapid heart beat.

From time to time we may all experience some of the above symptoms, and whilst they can be very unpleasant, for most of us they are just a temporary, less enjoyable aspect of the normal ups and downs of life.  However, if you find that these feelings won’t go away and that you don’t know how to deal with them, it could mean that you are suffering from anxiety. Anxiety is a cycle of fear and worry which is very stressful and often results in a desperate longing to run away from everything.

Take heart, anxiety can be overcome. By finding the root cause(s) and then challenging and changing the associated thoughts, beliefs and perceptions that surround the cause(s) peace of mind can be regained. 

Reducing Levels of Anxiety

  • Don’t try to push the anxiety away – it will only make it worse.  Acknowledge the feeling and look at ways of dealing with it.
  • Try to connect with what it is that is making you anxious. Give yourself the time and space to do this without any interruptions and just let the thoughts come. You will be surprised at how much you already know unconsciously.  By allowing yourself this time and space, you are allowing thoughts, feelings, concerns and beliefs to come into the conscious mind, where you can deal with them on a conscious level.
  • Talk to somebody you can trust – a friend, family member, work colleague or maybe a spiritual leader. It doesn’t matter who it is as long as you can trust them to listen and offer support. Talking helps us to consciously process things better because as we say it, we hear it and feel it on different levels.  This often shines a different light on the situation.
  • Build anti-anxiety coping methods into your life by learning yoga, mindfulness and/or breathing techniques, all of which are excellent ways of reducing and eliminating the condition.
  • If neither of the above work for you then it is recommended that you seek professional help and advice. Persistent feelings of anxiety can sometimes lead to more debilitating conditions such as depression, low self-esteem and OCD and so it is important that the thoughts feelings and beliefs that are causing the anxiety are confronted and managed as quickly as possible.

A – Affirmations

                                                                                Affirmations             

CBT is about challenging negative thoughts, seeking to change them into neutral ones and allowing positive thoughts to follow.  Affirmations are a very powerful tool that can be used to help achieve those changes with a great number of challenging issues such as: Anxiety, Depression, Low Self-Esteem, Phobias and OCD.  Affirmations are often under-valued and this is probably due to a lack of understanding about how they work and how they can be used to greatest effect.  Firstly let’s take a look at how they work.

 How Affirmations Work

Consider, for example, somebody who has a lack of self-confidence.  He will have, running around his head, all his NATs (negative automatic thoughts) relating to his low levels of self-confidence.  The sole purpose of these NATs is to constantly remind, re-affirm and reinforce the feelings surrounding his lack of confidence. This internal voice repeats negative statements to the self, such as “I am no good at talking to people”, “I’m rubbish at learning new skills”, “I can’t get anything right”, etc are all examples of NATs.  These subconscious thoughts are very good at consistently reminding the desperately under-confident individual just how useless he is in the confidence stakes, and what is really important is he believes them! 

Now let’s take a look at somebody who has successfully used affirmations to help him overcome his lack of confidence.  He has chosen several positive affirmations that he uses frequently to habitually remind himself that he can realise whatever he wants to achieve by telling himself: “I know that I can master anything I want to” and he has built up faith in himself by replacing negative statements with positive statements such as “today I am willing to fail in order to succeed tomorrow” and “I have complete trust in myself”.  Our newly Mr Confident is happy in his thoughts because he has consciously replaced his subconscious NATs with positive thoughts.  Sounds easy right? It is as long as you stick at it and have faith in it.

 Rules For Effective Affirmations

  1. Choose affirmations that resonate with you.  They must ‘ring true’ in order that you can believe them of yourself.  In other words be authentic with yourself by not trying to tell yourself something you don’t mean.  If it doesn’t ‘feel’ right, don’t use it.
  2. Repeat them when they matter.  If your affirmation relates to confidence, then remind yourself before encountering a situation that will require confidence, for example before an important meeting:  “I have all the tools I need to succeed”.
  3. Remember that affirmations are most effective when you are feeling relaxed and your ‘guard’ is down, as the more relaxed we are, the more receptive and accepting we are to new thoughts, feelings and ideas.    
  4. Try to record them and play them to yourself so that you can listen to them – a good time to listen is before sleep and while you are asleep as your subconscious will still hear them and again, be more receptive.

Affirm your belief in affirmations and start using them today! 

If you would like a free mp3 downloaded affirmation, please leave a comment and by clicking on the speech bubble above and then going to the resources page.