It may seem like there is no "magic" to this exercise. That would be one way to look at it.
Another way to look at it would be that there is magic - magic in its own time, and in your own ability to transform yourself through consciously applied effort. Magic is, in some way, a skill. Do you think David Blaine, David Copperfield, Harry Houdini, Harry Blackstone Jr, Cris Angel, or other magicians were blessed at birth with superhuman powers? Or is it more likely that they learned, honed, and demonstrated a skill?
You can use your conscious mind and its logic to transform itself - which is actually awe-inspiring, if you think about it. Your own brain is able to change at any age (see this post for more on that) because of what you do and think. It comes down to whether you are willing to create that change - over time, through applied effort. In the exercise below, which is adapted by me, very CBT-based, but mostly taken from an old exercise by J Roberts, you will learn, hone, and demonstrate the skill of changing your beliefs about yourself.
Step One. Start with a negative belief (you don't want to change a positive one, right?). Some examples: I'm unworthy, invisible, don't matter, not enough, a problem, unloved, weak, etc. If you really don't know what you believe about yourself, pick one of these that rings true or that you could see believing about yourself.
If you discover that you feel unworthy, for example, you may have tried simply to apply a more positive belief over that one - and found that alone didn't always work. In this exercise, you must first discover the reasons for your stubborn beliefs. You can begin by doing the following: a) Write down your feelings about yourself. attempting to be perfectly honest; b) Examine what you have written; and c) Realize that a set of beliefs is involved, not an objective reality.
Step Two. Then you must challenge these beliefs a little. For example, start by acknowledging that there IS a difference between believing that you are unworthy and being, in fact, an unworthy person. No one is an unworthy person, plain and simple. If a friend came to you with the same list of "defects" (beliefs), you would encourage them to challenge these things. It's only fair to do the same for yourself. See this page for a list of more questions, known as Socratic questions.
Step Three. Now, write a list of your abilities and accomplishments. These should include such things as getting along well with others, taking care of yourself or others when sick, being good with plants or animals, being a good carpenter or cook or poet - any talent of achievement should be noted honestly, as if you were a good friend helping you to write your list. Again, you do not need "objective proof." We're not scientists or lawyers here. Science and facts are necessary in the laboratory or court room, but not here.
That's it! These are all the steps. Remembering how I said it takes time and effort, you may ask, What's next? Good question. Well, you know how the shampoo bottle says: Lather - rinse - repeat - ? Now it's your job to: Identify the negative belief - challenge it (this can be with logic, Socratic questions like some of the examples above, or with positive affirmations) - and repeat . . . and repeat . . . and repeat. After all, this is exactly how those negative thoughts got turned into what you believe to be true - you said them over and over again, until you forgot they were just thoughts you kept thinking, and NOT facts.
There is no human being alive who does not have the ability to control and choose their thoughts in his or her own way. There is no human being who does not have achievements and excellent characteristics. You are a human being, so you are no exception. If you follow these instructions you will find out that you are indeed a worthy individual with many fine and wonderful qualities.
If you allow yourself to be more and more aware of your own beliefs, you can work with them. It is
silly to try to fight what you think of as negative beliefs, or to be frightened of them. They are not
mysterious. They may even be there to help you, as you may find that many served good purposes at one time. They simply became overemphasized, unnecessarily repeated. Now they need you in order to have the light shine on them, so they can be restructured or removed, not denied.
2:27 The "CBT Triangle (no relation to the Bermuda Triangle...)
3:45 Watch me do a magic trick with my dog!
3:46 List of "thinking traps" - click here for more.
I don't know about you, but I've been hearing therapy jokes since I was a kid. That's all well and good, and I get it, I really do. When I would see a character in a movie about to get really mad, take a deep breath, and go to their "happy place," I snickered and phfft'ed. I joked with friends about Al Franken's SNL character "Stuart Smalley" ("I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and - doggonit - people like me,"), joked about anyone trying to get a sense of peace who dared to sit cross-legged, their thumb and forefingers together, chanting, "Ommm."
As a therapist, I can now see how these jokes minimize the therapeutic effect of some actual coping strategies and really turn people off to simple things that might work for them. For example, in doing a therapy called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), one of the preparations for trauma processing is a resource called "calm, safe place." Yep, you guessed it: It's going to your happy place. In the EMDR version, however, guided eye movements are involved as the client imagines a place with as many sensations possible that makes them feel calm and safe, and then use this later to counteract many of life's little annoyances.
Should we throw out these simple strategies when they seem like tired cliche`s? I don't think we could, even if we wanted to. There are very practical reasons why things like deep breathing, affirmations, and visualization work.
Deep breathing. I wouldn't advise foregoing a deep breath every now and then. In fact, this article on MindBodyGreen provides five very practical reasons and concrete effects from deep breathing. This includes improving fat loss by oxygenating our cells, helping the lymphatic system remove toxins, and easing pain and increasing relaxation through the release of endorphins. And this article on Selfication talks about how our shallow, tense breathing habits can really mess up our body functions - constricting blood vessels and airways, unbalancing the nervous system, and decreasing our overall energy. It's easy to forget how important breathing is, especially because we mostly rely on doing it unconsciously, but I always appreciate reminders of just how vital it is for mental health, not just, well, life itself.
Affirmations. Bringing it back to our non-therapist friend Stuart Smalley, affirmations are quite helpful - and theatrically portrayed as totally ridiculous. We use negative affirmations all the time via our internal mind's anxious chatter: I'm such an idiot. My life sucks. I hate my body. So we need to be aware of this and counteract these with positive statements, because we get what we concentrate and focus upon. To illustrate this, think about how often you find things you aren't looking for versus finding things you are looking for. Lost your keys in the morning before work? Can't find your wallet? Well, you're probably not going to have a lot of luck finding them if you never try. Same goes for affirmations: if you make a point of naming the positive aspects of yourself and others, even if they are just potential aspects, you're much more likely to find them.
Visualization. This can be more than a "happy place." There are many guided visualizations (or guided imagery) on YouTube that you can follow for many purposes, such as insomnia, quitting smoking, relaxation, or self-esteem. Some I like and have listened to include the following channels: Jason Stephenson, Michael Sealey, and YouAreCreators. Inner Health Studio is a website providing free scripts for meditation on a variety of subjects, mostly for relaxation, but they also include a nightmare reprogramming script which is a very good technique for stopping recurring bad dreams. Read the scripts in your own voice into your phone or computer voice recorder and play whenever needed.
I hope you find something helpful in the above links - if not, keep looking for something that helps you do your thing.
And as always, contact a therapist or helpcenter like this, this or this if you are in crisis and need personal help right away.
The most popular request I hear from people, especially when they're referred to counseling by their doctor at the clinic where I work two days a week, is for coping strategies.
Coping strategies will be different for everyone. Aside from personal preference, it also depends on the diagnosis. For example, if a person has a trauma-related disorder like PTSD, I will recommend ongoing counseling for trauma processing. This might mean cognitive behavioral strategies that ask you to tell your story to the counselor and then work together on desensitizing you to the intensity of the memories; Trauma-Focused-Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or TF-CBT is a recommended best practice for this. Or, it might mean finding a therapist trained in doing Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), another best practice for trauma.
In general, though, all of us should find coping strategies or coping skills that work for us in times of stress or when symptoms of depression or anxiety increase. In order to find the ones that work, we have to try them out. Makes sense, right? Try them not just once, and maybe not even twice or three times, but really give these things a good effort every day for, say, a week. Depression and anxiety symptoms involve patterns or habits that took a while to develop and then got stuck in your mind or in your life. Let's be honest: it probably took much longer than a week. So it's only fair to give new skills and habits a shot to stick in your mind and life, too.
Below is a list of fifteen coping strategies that could be good for a variety of situations: feeling down, depressed, negative, panicked, worried, overwhelmed, betrayed, or grief, for example.
You may like to put these on small index cards - just print, cut out, and glue to a card. Maybe spend some time on the card, such as by giving it some meaningful doodles, decoration or just coloring it in. Spending some time on each card in this way can help you remember it.
And as always, if you are in need of help because you're having thoughts about suicide, please go straight to #1 - reach out to someone near you and ask for help. Or call 1 (800) 273-8255.
If you are depressed right now, feeling isolated, lonely, and in pain, you may need to reach out and ask for help. Sometimes our feelings of depression come and go and come back again, and we function and go on with our daily lives without intervention. This can still be lonely, and it can feed the feelings of hopelessness, loss of interest, lack of motivation, and suffering.
No one can read your mind or make you tell them you're not okay. The following is an exercise designed for those moments in which you need help, but it's still your secret. You can do this mindfulness exercise in five minutes from whatever quiet place is nearest you, and it can bring a sense of immediate relief, in some small way. You may also want to practice this at times when you're not feeling down. it can be a way to practice changing your thinking habits or simply feel the humanity of compassion.
Positive Connection Through Painful Emotions - 5 minutes
1. Think of a situation that causes you stress. You may be in that situation now.
2. Turn your attention to what is happening on the inside, to your feelings and thoughts.
3. Open the door to the intensity of the emotions for a moment, or allow yourself to recall the highest intensity you ever remember experiencing this pain.
4. Now say to yourself: "This is a moment of suffering." You may call it suffering or pain, but if you can label it more specifically, do so, e.g. resentment, guilt, self-loathing, regret, or grief.
5. Now tell yourself: "This [suffering] is a part of life." Think of all the people around you who may have experienced this feeling in their lives, and imagine people around you in greater and greater circles until you have included all the people in the world.
6. Know you are connected. Place your non-dominant hand over your heart and say: "I am not alone in my suffering (or pain, or struggle). May I become patient with this, and with myself."
7. Finally, as you take in four deep breaths, repeat any words that feel comforting, ring true, or bring softness. Patience. Kindness. Acceptance. Peacefulness. Yes.
I am Lisa and I believe we create our reality. I hope to help empower people to create more mindfully, be kind to oneself and others including animals and the environment, and just generally feel better.