Tag Archives: positive mental health

Worth the wait- Delayed gratification

20 Feb

delayed-gratificationOne of the simplest  but most fun exercises that I do when I run programmes for students is the Marshmallow experiment. I have provided this kids as young as 10 right up to 18-year-old students. Most of us know the experiment by now. The original experiment that took place in Stanford University in 1968  by Walter Mischel placed children in a room with a single marshmallow. The children were told by the person conducting the activity that they would return in 15 minutes and if the single marshmallow has remained uneaten then the child would receive a second marshmallow. Ten minutes alone with one of your favourite treats is a long time as a child and it is not a surprise to discover that two-thirds of the children eat the marshmallow thus forfeiting the chance of a second one. Although it was also discovered that if Children were instructed to think of the treat in front of them as a fluffy cloud like object or to think about salty pretzels rather than what was in front of them the desire to eat the marshmallow would be delayed. The experiment we know did not end there. Researchers followed up on the children almost 20 years on and discovered that delayed gratification resulted in greater SAT scores in schools and over all greater competencies in life.

I do a similar experiment by leaving the marshmallow on the desk in front of the child and continue with class. Those who make it through the class gain a second marshmallow. To me it is a fun and interesting experiment. I never mention the pretext to why I have done this. It is just a fun and interesting aside to learning about positive mental health. Kids simply like marshmallows!

But on a more serious note it seems that there is greater consequences from lack of delayed gratification.

In a controversial article by Marilyn Wedge in Psychology today titled Why French kids don’t have ADHD

And then, of course, there are the vastly different philosophies of child-rearing in the United States and France. These divergent philosophies could account for why French children are generally better-behaved than their American counterparts. Pamela Druckerman highlights the divergent parenting styles in her recent book, Bringing up Bébé. I believe her insights are relevant to a discussion of why French children are not diagnosed with ADHD in anything like the numbers we are seeing in the United States.

From the time their children are born, French parents provide them with a firm cadre—the word means “frame” or “structure.” Children are not allowed, for example, to snack whenever they want. Mealtimes are at four specific times of the day. French children learn to wait patiently for meals, rather than eating snack foods whenever they feel like it. French babies, too, are expected to conform to limits set by parents and not by their crying selves. French parents let their babies “cry it out” if they are not sleeping through the night at the age of four months.

French parents, Druckerman observes, love their children just as much as American parents. They give them piano lessons, take them to sportspractice, and encourage them to make the most of their talents. But French parents have a different philosophy of discipline. Consistently enforced limits, in the French view, make children feel safe and secure. Clear limits, they believe, actually make a child feel happier and safer—something that is congruent with my own experience as both a therapist and a parent. Finally, French parents believe that hearing the word “no” rescues children from the “tyranny of their own desires.” And spanking, when used judiciously, is not considered child abuse in France. (Author’s note: I am not personally in favor of spanking children).

As a therapist who works with children, it makes perfect sense to me that French children don’t need medications to control their behavior because they learn self-control early in their lives. The children grow up in families in which the rules are well-understood, and a clear family hierarchy is firmly in place. In French families, as Druckerman describes them, parents are firmly in charge of their kids—instead of the American family style, in which the situation is all too often vice versa.

I am not going to enter the world of arguments about this article but we can see that ultimately delaying gratification for our children from a young age can build a more resilient, patient, accepting and grateful adult.

The problem is your child has entered a World were delayed gratification is  not the way a society works. We are asked to eat on the go. We pass shops selling cooked fast food as we travel from lunch to dinner. We eat at the wrong times which the South Koreans can’t believe. Schoolkids buy chocolates and sweets on their way to school that would have been  reserved as treats for special occasions or when the favourite aunt arrived 20/30 years ago. We have lost the wonder. I am sucked in to it too. Remember the excitement years ago when you heard your favourite song on the radio. “Don’t touch the dial that’s my favourite song” now it’s harder to get so excited when you have 9,000 + songs on your iPod and access to all the songs you could want to hear on Spotify streaming all day. The magic and wonder don’t hold the same spark. So you turn the dial and look for something else. “you can listen to your favourite song some other time.”

We know that gratitude works we know it lowers our blood pressure, increases happiness by up to 25%, creates greater sleep patterns and increases the likelihood of exercise. But in a world of  with very little chance of delayed gratification we find it harder to know what we to be grateful for when everything is available on tap all the time.

When we create a society that has never understood what it is to not have. Where Parents provide anything for their children no matter what the cost. Have you ever witnessed the actions of a Child who has experienced getting what they want for the formative years of their lives suddenly hearing a refusal for a request for sweets at a supermarket checkout from a parent who thinks enough is enough.

Are we creating a society that will struggle to cope when adversity knocks on their door in later life because we have no reference points to understand what it is not to have. Delayed gratification creates value in what we do not presently have,or for what we are about to receive.It is simply good parenting.

What should we do

  • Educating our children where our food comes from can create an understanding that it took more than walking to the supermarket to put this food on your table.
  • Save treats for weekends or special occasions. That feeling I had on Easter Saturday as a child knowing I could eat all the chocolate the next day that I had stored up in the fridge over my Lenten fast was like winning the keys to the Wonka factory.
  • Learn to say “No” and stick to your guns.
  • Stop buying crap for kids who don’t even know it’s their Birthday or Christmas because they are only two years old.It’s pointless and starts the child on the hedonic treadmill.
  • If you can’t afford something a child needs explain why and if it’s needed tell them what you have to do to or they have to do before they receive it. Nothing should be seen as immediate.
  • Create an eating routine were food is valued.
  • Teach your children to value what they have. Many in this world have nothing and I mean nothing! Let them understand this.

Be grateful and enjoy the pleasures of the simple things.

Gratitude

3 Dec

sunriseOver the past few months I have presented a number of talks to various groups either adults or students. Some of the talks are based around different topics positive mental health, happiness or inspiration. There is one thing that links all these together and that is something so simple and so uncomplicated that most of us never bother to practice it. It is a simple yet beautiful word and action… it is simply …Gratitude.

The world revolves at just the right speed the sun rises to greet us each day without us asking and the moon lights our way through night and provides the tidal cycles that are so important to the earth and its climate. Our environment is enriched with air which freely allows us to breath with most of us never understanding how this combination of  21% oxygen,  78% nitrogen and 1% other gasses formed to provide the most essential element that keeps us alive. The earth spins and night turns to day. While nature and the seasons work in harmony to provide us with food and water to keep us alive and colour to bring us joy. Our bodies work like a vast industrial complex pumping blood and fluid around our vessels , regulating temperature, blood pressure and our heart rate while manufacturing skin, hair and new cells whilst repairing what is out of balance…..it’s just amazing.

We turn on taps and clean water flows through them when others lie thirsty. We jump in the shower and we have instant hot water when so many in this world have never experienced the cleansing of a warm shower. We cool food in fridges and cook meals in ovens  from food on our tables as others go hungry. We have roofs over our heads and blankets on our bed when so many in this world are homeless. With health in our hearts we can run, jump feel the wind and sun on our faces when so many will never know what is to be able to walk or run. Swim in the sea and feel the waves wash over our faces when so many have never even had the ability to dip a toe or hand into or even stood and witnessed the might and beauty of the ocean. We are surrounded by radiant colours that change with seasons and beautifully dance with the rays from our Sun when so many have never been given the gift of sight.  We dance and hear music that lifts our moods and soundtracks our lives when so many have never experienced what it is to feel or hear that joy. We share touches with hugs and sneak kisses with lovers when so many would love to know what the warmth and love and caress from another human feels like…just once. We have friends that enjoy our company who revel in our smiles and share in our laughs when others have no one….not a single hand to hold. We can feel our heart sing as we express what we truly believe to be right when so many are too afraid or never allowed to speak out…………

We live on a dot spinning at 167o kms an hour surrounded by infinity and consisting of miracles. It is, a gift to be a part of this incredible world.

So what ever falls your way today… remember all the gifts that have been given to you, that so many others on this tiny dot we call “Earth” never get to experience… and simply or silently say

” Thank You “.

What can we learn from Donkeys

6 Nov

Donkey-Paintings-600x450

There is a fable about a farmer who had a donkey. The donkey was old and one day it had fallen down into a well on the farmers land. The farmer decided that the aged donkey was not worth saving, and since the well had no water in it and had been dry for some time, he would take the easy option and bury both. He began to shovel earth down the well and could hear the cries of the donkey as he did so. The farmer kept shovelling and soon the donkeys cries stopped. Presuming the donkey was now dead the farmer shovelled the last few spades of earth to finally cover the well and the dead donkey. Only to see the animal jump out of the well. The donkey had shaken off each shovelful of dirt and had stepped on the slowly rising mound of earth before finally jumping out and free.

The reality in a lot of our lives is that… relationships will end, Jobs will be lost, cars will be crashed and people we care about will pass away. As much as we might like to,we can’t escape the fact that sometimes life is tough.

What we have though is an ability to see these events in our lives as a chance for us to grieve, grow and have a greater ability to cope when something unexpected happens to us again… It’s called RESILIENCE. Resilience provides us with an ability to express what we feel,grieve and understand emotion when something difficult comes our way in life…But also to learn from what happened and understand that this will give you coping skills for when something similar happens again.

We are probably very guilty of producing a generation of children with less resilience. As we tell our children that they are  “Special”  and “Amazing” . The truth is that the word special itself explains that not everybody can be special or else the it would be redundant. Tell an interviewer that you think you are “Special” and balk at his next question when he asks why you think this is true? This excellent article by the Huffington post outlines the problems that generation Y are experiencing.

You mightn’t get your first your second or even your third job after interview. But you will be learning valuable life skills and you will be better prepared and more appreciative when the door finally opens for you.

Your first girlfriend might dump you because it’s not all about “You” and maybe caring and paying attention to the other person in the relationship is what you need to work on for your next relationship to work.

Life is a work in progress and the key word here is “progress” Try nothing new or never venture out of your bubble and you will rarely feel that you are learning and your life is moving forward.  Run away from difficult decisions or experiencing life’s emotional upsets will never build resilience.

Be that Donkey…or die.

Positive mental health -What would Gandhi do?

19 Jun

Mahatma-GandhiSometimes life doesn’t seem to offer many glimmers of hope.  Our thoughts can really effect our lives.Negative thinking can lead to negative behaviour and thus can contribute to negative feelings or physical feelings that make it difficult to see that life can change for the better any time soon.

The thoughts that we have are not always based in fact. Actually, most of our negative thinking has no base in reality at all. We might think I’m not good enough when we can write a list of all the activities we have accomplished and a large list of reasons that we are good enough.

We might think that we are not loved when we have a large number of friends and family that care for and love us.

Our thoughts might lead us to think that we will never find a partner in life because we think we are not loveable. All this leads to actions that don’t help us. We might become very inward. We might stay in rather than socialize. We might turn to stimulants or alcohol. We might even get angry at people  because of our situation. All actions that will not help with our negative thoughts and feelings.

Next time you are having thoughts like

  • “I’m not good enough.”
  • “Everything always works out for the worse for me.”
  • “No one would want me as a partner.”
  • “I’m too nervous to meet new people so I will give it a miss.”
  • “That job promotion is not for me.”

Think of someone who you look up to in life. It could be a really dear friend that you have in life . It could be your best friend or partner. What would they say to you if they knew you were thinking like this. They would tell you that there is no reason to be thinking like this and they would give you many reasons why.

Think about it like this what if you discovered someone you really cared about was thinking like this. What advice would you give them. You would outline all the great qualities they have and all the reasons that their thinking holds no truth.

Simply apply this advice to yourself. Quickly it begins to change your perception of your situation.

My favourite method for this is I imagine a role model past or present in life and I think how would they act if they were thinking like this. Your role models might be Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Eddie Vedder or an old teacher that you once looked up to. This is really powerful and helps us stop and analyze why we are thinking a certain way and if it is serving us well.

Negative thinking ruins our lives as I talked about in my article about Worry. So make an effort to stop it by

  • Think about someone you care about what advice would they give if they knew you where thinking like this. Take it.
  • Imagine someone you really cared about was struggling with negative thinking. What advice would you give them and simply apply it to yourself.
  • Take a role model past or present and imagine how would they act if they had thoughts similar to yours. What would Gandhi Do? and Follow it?

Lately when those negative thoughts start to emerge I immediately think of one person and think …….” What would Pooh do?”

Positive Mental Health- The Weather

6 Jun

sunny dayDon’t know what the weather is like where you are but here funnily enough it’s brilliant. The Sun is shinning it’s about 23˚and everyones mood seems to have lifted.Plenty of people are out and about and the cold miserable January weather seems a million miles away. Actually this Easter the temperature barely rose above freezing at night and 6˚during the day. This morning I did an interview for radio on the impact of good weather on our mood. Last year funnily enough the weather was the opposite to what it is now and I was interviewed by the same radio station on the impact of the poor weather on our mood.

Does Sunny weather improve our mood?

Well here are a couple of different things that happen when the sun shines

  • Ice cream sales go up!
  • We want to do more activities.
  • We feel like spending more time outdoors.
  • We feel happier.
  • We create more Vitamin D from direct sunlight.
  • We produce serotonin from sunlight.
  • We have more energy.
  • We feel worse if we stay indoors.

Vitamin D is great for building strong bones. We get it from  exposure to direct sunlight . Remember I told you before that we get a lot of help from our bodies to naturally help us feel good like the production of Endorphins when we exercise. Vitamin D not only helps us build strong bones it can also enhance our mood and help us to produce Serotonin.

Some countries have struggled with this. In 2011 Scotland had a problem they wanted to remedy. It was discovered that The people of Scotland suffered from low levels of Vitamin D. A couple of things might play into this. As beautiful as Scotland is it’s not likely that you have booked a holiday there in the hope of getting a tan. Actually some of the Northern reaches of Scotland of Scotland like the Shetland and Orkney Islands might only experience between 1,000 and 1,400 of sunlight a year. It also must be hard to watch the BBC weather forecast and see the South East of Britain basking in 28˚heat and above at certain times of the Summer when you are lucky to hit the high teens in parts of Scotland.

Scotland actually has one of the highest of not the highest rate of Multiple Sclerosis sufferers in the World with 10,000 people diagnosed at present,. The lack of Vitamin D seems to be contributing to this. Scotland has also high levels of asthma and allergy sufferers.Direct sunlight levels are poor and I presume that most fair skinned Scots wear high sun protection once the sun comes out.  This prevents the benefits of Vitamin D from reaching our bodies.

Why then do countries like Iceland and Denmark not experience low levels of Vitamin D like the Scottish. It seems that oily fish which plays a big part in both countries diet  supplies Iceland ,Denmark and other Nordic or Scandinavian countries with essential Vitamin D.

Funnily enough there are now reports that Countries like Australia and Kuwait are reporting lower levels of Vitamin D in their populace. Two sun filled countries that you would think are brimming with sun filled citizens overloaded on Vitamin D. It seems that lust like the Scots certain aspects of Australian/Kuwaiti life are preventing the benefits of the sun from getting through.

  • Sun cream prevents the benefits of sunlight from getting through to where it is beneficial.
  • Australians and particularly Kuwaitis are spending more time indoors. Most of the Middle East is so hot that spending time outside is oppressive. People jump from air con building to air con building.
  • Sun lights UV rays don’t make it through glass as we spend more time in buildings cars and offices.
  • Traditional dress in countries like Kuwait covers up most of the body especially in women which blocks the benefit of sunlight.
  • Oily fish may not play a big part in Kuwaiti diets.

Vitamin D aside there are other contributors to our mood and the weather.

Light also stimulates a part of our brain called the Hypothalamus which controls our mood,sleep and appetite. When the first bit of sunlight hits our retinas in the morning we begin to produce Serotonin which acts like our ON button. We are ready to greet the day and get active.

Lack of light or darkness the pineal gland produces Melatonin and we begin to feel sleepy. So at night time we wind down and in Winter we do so too by putting on a few extra pounds to fend off the cold and generally sleeping longer hours than in Summer. Farmers are busiest in Summer months and activity wise so are we.

So when we jokingly say “we are solar powered” we actually mean it. We need the sun to energize us and to contribute to our mental health.

But remember that

Here are a few tips for Summer sun

  • Get out and enjoy at least 30 minutes of unprotected sun. If you live in the Sahara or Kalahari desert maybe this is not a great plan.
  • Don’t excessively cover up. Let some sunlight in.
  • Think of all the things you spent your winter wishing you could do. Surfing ,picnicking,running,swimming, playing games or just walking with nature-go do it now.
  • Don’t spend your day looking out at the good weather but not coming out actually decreases your mood.
  • Soak it up while you can it wont last forever.

Think of it like this. All those people who live in eternally sunny climates look forward to visiting countries with seasons. Sometimes the heat in these countries becomes so oppressive that the ability to do any outdoors activities is sapped.

Think of that song by WizardI wish it could be Christmas every day” chances are you wouldn’t. The same applies to the sun.The happiest countries in the world are not Saudi Arabia, Turkey or South Korea but surprisingly un-sunny Denmark,Norway and Sweden. Go to Iceland any Summer and you will see people running naked around all kinds of festivals and enjoying the short summer.

Enjoy it while you have it.

Positive Mental health- Action matters

30 May

to-do-list-nothing[1]Life it seems is a series of choices that we make. These choices are generally made up of actions or behaviour. We either decide to do nothing… and nothing changes or we decide to put an action in place that will make a difference.

It is the action that makes the difference. Are all actions good? Not necessarily!. Some actions like overeating, hitting out at others, drinking excessively or spending money we don’t have are actions that will contribute to how we feel about ourselves or the world in a negative way.

We know that our thoughts can affect our feelings and our physical feelings. Our Behaviour(actions) can also contribute to negative responses in our thoughts and feelings.

Remember I said that if you do nothing, nothing changes. That’s a given. If there is something in your life that is impacting negatively on your life put an action in place that will help you.

Here is an example: If you wanted to lose 12lbs in weight what actions could you do.

  1. Order an Ice cream and tell yourself you didn’t want to change anyway.
  2. Talk lots about how you used to be a stick insect years ago.
  3. Buy lots of books on weightloss
  4. Watch Tv programmes on weightloss
  5. Talk a lot about wanting to lose weight- Tommorrow-Maybe!
  6. Go shopping on an empty stomach
  7. Get excited about special offers on Your favourite Ice cream tubs while shopping.
  8. Clear out your kitchen and fridge of foods that are not helping you lose weight.
  9. Eat everything that you were just about to clear out of your Kitchen and fridge and then revert to numbers 3, 4 and 5 above.
  10. Do nothing!
  11. Change your diet for the better
  12. Start to exercise 3 times a week.
  13. Find a form of exercise you like and start slowly at it.
  14. Cut down on portion size.
  15. Avoid High calorific foods.
  16. Set small goals of losing 2lb a week over a 6-8 week period.
  17. Put a plan in place to do this.
  18. Treat yourself a little on milestones or weekends.

So listed above are a series of actions that we could do if we thought about losing 12lbs of weight. I have made it quite obvious that Actions 1-10 might not get us very far or revert us back up the weight scale a little. Nevertheless they are still behaviour that might seem very familiar that we are quite capable of resorting to.

What I have listed on 11-18 are actions that are much closer in getting us to the goal we had in mind.

So now we are aware that Actions make the difference. It is important that we know which ones will help to change patterns in our lives that are impacting negatively.

Get out there and put more positive action into your life. As I have said before

Do nothing and nothing changes. Pick the right action and your life will never be the same again”

As Aesop once said. “After all that has been said and done there is a lot more said than done”

Positive Mental Health- Gratitude

16 May

Thank you

There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is  as though everything is a miracle” Albert Einstein

Of all the areas of positive mental health improvement. Gratitude to me is the greatest.

When we are thankful for what we have in lives we begin to open all these little doors that are in our lives that we never looked behind before. Being grateful rocks in so many ways.

Gratitude comes in many forms. What I do is ask people to begin to look at what it is that they are Grateful for in life? We do that by creating a simple gratitude diary. How it works is that at the end of each day we look at the 3/4 things that went well today. They might be very simple events like the fact that a friend called around with cake and you had an enjoyable chat or that you received a smile from someone who brightened up your day. You may have been told in work that you have done a great job today, or it might be the fact that you achieved something that you wanted to for a while. Simple usually unnoticed events that we take for granted are placed in our gratitude diary. Each night as we write these down we begin to see that we are far more thankful for our lives than we thought before. The small things that happen become wonderful parts of our day and life. When the amazing wonderful events cross our path well they just seem to be unbelievable. Simply because we have learnt to become grateful for the small things in life. The neural pathways in our brain are now hardwired to look for the good in life. I recommend that you do this every night of your life. We start with 21 days and see these amazing changes in our view of our beautiful world. Which uncovers wonders that happened to us daily it’s just we never took time to notice.

The other way is to tell someone in your life that you are grateful that they are there. You can physically tell them or you can write it down on a piece of paper and deliver it to them personally. Let them read it out as you are there. It is a wonderful sharing experience between two people and deeply moving. Try it some time. It is wonderful.

You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera and grace before the play and pantomime and grace before I open a book,and grace before sketching,painting,swimming,fencing,boxing,walking,playing,dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink” Gk Chesterton

Also simply from the moment we wake in the morning until the moment we close our eyes and drift to sleep at night we should be saying Thank you to your God , Spiritual leader or Universal life force for all that you have. Thank you for the hot water in my shower  the Sun that lights up my day. The fact that I press a switch and  a light turns on. Thank you for my fridge that keeps my food fresh. Thank you for the roof over my head and the clothes on my back. The car that I drive and the people who I love. Being thankful for everything that you experience throughout the day and just as you are about to finally close your eyes for the last time that day be Thankful for the bed and covers that you are drifting off to sleep in.

In the end it is this quote from David Steindal-Rast that says it all.

“In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful but gratefulness that makes us happy” David Steindl-Rast

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