If you are depressed chances are you have been told at least one of the following:
Your mother or father might have been depressed, your antidepressants may not be working, you may have been told you just have a chemical imbalance and there is nothing you can do to help yourself. I have encountered many people with depression in both my practice and in my personal life and having suffered from it myself and having been close to suicide at one point, I know what it is like to feel trapped in a nightmare with no end in sight.
The good new is it is possible to overcome depression, no matter how long you've had it or what anybody else has said to you about it. Although depression causes a chemical imbalance, that is the consequence and not the cause of it. Although it is more likely that you will suffer from it if someone close to you has had it that is not because it is a genetic disease but because you have learnt how to think in a depressive way from those who are close to you.
The truth about depression is that you can beat it. It may not be an easy peasy process but it is most certainly possible and the first step is to choose to believe that you can.
You care. And yet sometimes it doesn't seem like people know that. You don't want to feel alone and isolated but that's how you end up feeling a little too often. You don't understand how it seems to easy for some to make friends and have great relationships and so hard for you. Do they know something you don't or are they simply born that way?
It may be easier for some to forge new relationships than for others. Perhaps they are less shy and more extroverted. However this does not predict whether those relationships will last long term or whether they would be truly satisfying to those involved. The quality of your relationships in the long run is more important than their quantity. And the quality of a relationship is measured by the quality of the connection you have together.
A true connection with someone is a vital experience that you feel in your whole being. Cultivating connection takes skill, and skills take time effort and commitment to develop. Let's have a look at what gets in the way of true connection and what enhances it.
Perhaps you have a habit of going in one direction only to give up halfway and try something else or maybe you stay put and don't venture into the new because you're not sure if it'd be the right thing for you. You wish you were like those people that knew what they wanted to do in life since childhood. You wonder if perhaps you are just different from everyone else and there is no point in even trying but you don't want to give up just yet.
You are aware that it's important to set goals but the idea of doing that makes you feel anxious or perhaps even angry. How do you set a goal if you haven't got a clue what you want? Goals may seem arbitrary or superficial or you worry you would get it wrong and then find yourself hating the direction you've chosen. Maybe you want to have no doubts before you start so you risk failure less. If only there was something you could do to clear the brain fog and actually be sure of yourself...
You may think you are alone in this but the truth is a lot of people go through this before finding clarity. So how did they find the answer that allowed them to move on? They stopped trying to find their direction in a rational way and instead connected to their heart's desire. Here's how.
Do you set goals but give up as soon as the going gets tough? Do you find it difficult to stay motivated and give up on yourself as soon as you hit an obstacle?
Perhaps you have decided to learn a language or maybe you want to lose weight or you want to save money for a trip. Maybe you want to write a book or kick a bad habit or have a better social life. No matter what your goal is though, as soon as you encounter a difficulty you feel deflated and find it hard to stay the course.
Maybe you are excited about finally writing that book but when you look at the blank page nothing seems to come out and you feel deflated. Or maybe you want to get fit but you haven't been to the gym for so long that the exercises seem way too hard so you never go back. Or maybe you decide to learn to play guitar but after the first few lessons you realise there is so much more to learn than you expected and it feels just too overwhelming to continue.
It doesn't matter what the goal is. Sometimes you take a few steps forward but end up stalling. Other times you don't start at all. You say to yourself: "maybe I just don't have what it takes... I am too lazy, old, unfit, stupid etc. Other people seem to have it so much easier than you and you don't know why. You wish there was an easy way to just skip ahead and get it done but you don't know how.
After a few times of going through this pattern you start to feel nervous about trying something new, worrying that you might fail again. If you soon don't stick to your goals you will never achieve anything of value - you say to yourself. You will never be able to learn French, run that marathon, start your own business, ask a woman out. You are afraid you might never make that dream come true and that just feels depressing.
You know what? You aren't alone. Believe me, I have been there, plenty of times. The good news is there is a way to get past your struggle. Your goal may at times feel like an unattainable dream but they may be closer than you think. Let me show you how to stick to your decisions and overcome challenges even when it feels like an impossible feat.
Have you ever thought: "if I stop comparing myself to others then I'll never improve?" Me too. It makes sense right? The problem with this line of reasoning is that when you try to better yourself by comparing yourself to others, you will always end up finding an area in which you fall short. We tend to see what we are looking for and even if you didn't fall in the trap of assuming others are better than you without checking there's bound to be something another is better than you at.
As a result, you can feel deflated, demotivated and even give up before trying. Even in the best case scenario, you will spend the energy you could have put to good use by improving your skills feeling sorry for yourself instead. It sounds like a losing game doesn't it?
So do yourself a favor: only compare yourself to yourself yesterday, a week ago, last year. And here's the trick: focus on where you have improved, not where you fall short.
In order to create lasting change in your relationship patterns so you can find the love you crave and create the relationship you deserve, you must TAKE RESPONSIBILITY for the way you act and feel. What does that mean?
It is easy to blame others, society or even yourself for the way things are but what good does that do? Does that attitude help get you where you want to be? Chances are it doesn’t.
You are fully responsible for the way you respond to situations. Responsibility means to have the ability to choose your response to what happens rather than behaving automatically without thinking things through based on the conditioning you have received throughout your life. When you focus on yourself and your behaviors with gentle compassion you give yourself a chance to choose your reaction to challenging feelings or situations. In this way, you can work on things you can control without beating yourself up for what you previously did with less awareness. This is how you can get back in the driving seat.
QUESTION: In what ways are you not taking responsibility for your love life?
Even in the most difficult situation, you are half of the picture. What are you doing to allow things to go the way they have always gone ? What part are you playing in the game? If you want to change a situation you need to know what you can do differently rather than hoping others will magically change and make everything better without you doing anything at all.
EXERCISE: Make a mental picture of the person you’re dating exactly as they function today — warts and all — If they never changed, would you still want to be with them in five years?
Answer honestly. You need to stare reality in the face as uncomfortable as it may be.
If you have answered NO you need to ask yourself another question: is what you want to change in your partner a personality trait or is it a behavior?
Character traits (such as shyness for example) are almost impossible to change. If you cannot accept a particular trait in your partner you need to either leave them or accept that you are condemning yourself to a life of misery with them.
If on the other hand, it is a behavior that you want changing, there might be a chance your partner may change but that depends entirely on how much they want to change and how committed they are to making an effort in the right direction.
Basically, people cannot change their traits and can only change their behaviors if they really want to. And if you are spending your time trying to change someone who doesn’t want to because YOU cannot live with it, you are either falling into the category of “fixer” or you are ignoring the fact that you need to leave the relationship because it has become toxic.
Now, I normally don’t like maths but when it comes down to change here’s my winning formula :
(Insight + Behavior Change ) x Repetition = Identity Change = Different Outcome
Also: Intention (to change) + Attention (to old patterns of behavior) = a capacity to catch yourself when you are about to repeat old behaviors which leads to – Choice to do something different.
Here’s a breakdown:
To start this process I would ask you to get a pen and paper and write or respond to these questions speaking out loud. It’s not enough to just think about them. Thoughts have a way to get lost and keep meandering in our minds unless we pin them down either in writing or through spoken word.
First of all, you need to target the behaviors that hold you back and learn to replace them with new ones:
In order to change you need to be willing to get out of your comfort zone. You need to be willing to be uncomfortable for a while and ’embrace the suck’. Can you bring an attitude of curiosity to the investigation of what you are finding so challenging? You need to make a commitment to stop avoiding difficult stuff and just face it.
Finally, you need to have a good idea of where you are going and why. If you just keep on thinking about what you don’t want that’s what you’ll keep on getting.
Once you do the work you are on your way to better relationships. Remember that this is a process that requires constant practice and commitment. Like getting physically fit requires you to exercise every day at the gym you need to keep going to achieve and maintain your goals. There are no quick fixes in life but the reward is worth it! Focus on that and you will reap the fruits of your hard labor so you can find the love you deserve.
More about relationships:
Imagine you are sitting in the middle of a dark theatre. Then suddenly a spot light appears. The only thing you can see is whatever the spotlight shines its light upon. That is your reality. You may think that is all reality but the truth is it is only a fraction of it. You decide where to point the light and wherever you do that’s what you get ! The universe is a mirror of us. Our external reality is a reflection of our internal reality. The world reflects back to you whatever you believe about it and your place in it.
Imagine you are the captain of a ship sailing on the wide open ocean. The crew follows your orders to the letter. You just need to tell it where to go. But instead of telling it where you want to go you keep on telling it where you don’t. “I don’t want to go to Hell Island! it’s full of horrible people there and there is nothing to eat and the weather is terrible all year round! No, I don’t want to go to Hell Island! Please don’t take me there!”
Guess where you end up going ? The crew doesn’t know where else to take you, all they hear is “Hell Island! Hell Island”!
So stop asking for what you don’t want and focus on its opposite: What you do want.
Some people use this simple principle to try to attract to themselves what their ego wants in their life. More money, a better job, a mate, you name it. And although there is nothing wrong with wanting these things, if the request comes from your ego you may end up in trouble when you do get what you asked for. This is because the ego tries to get you ‘stuff’ based on a dream, a fantasy of what getting that stuff will be like. Often we have no idea what that really would entail and it might just be the opposite of what would make us happy !
The other problem is that we often have no idea what we really want, and that’s because the ego has no idea what would satisfy our deeper needs. It hears ideas about money or fame or having children or achievement as the ultimate goals that will bring it happiness and believes the story. The problem is that’s just a story and what makes somebody else happy might not make you happy. The ego doesn’t know what would make you happy. Only your deeper self does. (More on this later, read on)
Many people think that if only they had more money then everything would be ok. There are many problems with this:
What to do instead ? The solution to this conundrum is to surrender to the higher self, the inner teacher, the part of us that is much bigger and wiser than our ego. This inner voice, the inner counsel always knows what is best for us in a way that might even frighten the ego. This is because the ego wants safety at all costs, while our higher self wants our ultimate growth, happiness and freedom to expand out of our comfort zone. You will be most aware of the difference between the ego and the higher self when you have a decision to make.
Your ‘head’ will always counsel you towards safety. Your ‘heart’ will always counsel you towards expansion. Your head tries to keep you small. Your heart wants you to grow. But growing can be scary, because you are entering unknown territory, so if you feel a little scared of what one of the inner voices is telling you to do you might just have tapped into the wisdom your heart.
So listening to your ‘heart’ (or your inner teacher, wise counsel, higher self, sometimes also experienced as God) is the way forward.
But what if you cannot hear the voice of the inner self ? It is hard to listen to the inner voice if you are surrounded by constant distraction and never spend a moment looking inside. Facebook, mobile phones, TVs are pulling our attention away from the inner voice on a regular basis.
If your analytical mind is interfering with the process by distracting you with judgements you need to relax more and pay no heed to its criticisms. It’s just the ego getting scared and trying to protect you from the unknown. You can reassure yourself you’ll listen to it later. But for now pay attention only to the exercise. Drop your judgements and connect to the deeper truth of the present moment.
Follow these steps and you’ll access the most valuable teacher and therapist you’ll ever have. The coach that knows you the best. Remember this is a PRACTICE. You don’t run a marathon by going to the gym once. You need to keep at it and commit until you get the results you want.
Remember, it is never the experiences we have that keep us stuck but the judgements about them. It is the resistance to feeling our feelings. Move into the feeling and trust it has something invaluable to teach you.
For more articles on related topics see
You don’t have to be a Buddhist to benefit from mindfulness. One of my passions is to de-mistify and secularize concepts that would otherwise be out of reach for anyone who may not belong to or be interested in understanding a specific religious affiliation.
It is now well known that certain Buddhist concepts can be very helpful in aiding us to be more happy, balanced, and in control of our emotional responses. One of these concepts is that of ‘equanimity’.
Equanimity is the capacity to see our own suffering and that of others with compassion without becoming either overwhelmed by it or indifferent to it. It is the capacity to look at all that surrounds us with the eye of a curious and compassionate observer. It is watching what goes on within us and outside of us with an open heart and without judgement, remembering that all that exists rises and passes away, all is impermanent, including joy, sorrow, pleasant and painful events, people, buildings, animals and nations; It is being able to let yourself rest amid everything that is impermanent while remaining balanced and peaceful; It is the capacity to extend loving kindness to all living beings without becoming enmeshed in their own drama, accepting the things that cannot be changed, having the courage to change those we can and cultivating the wisdom to know the difference.
Imagine being a judge at a court case: you are not indifferent to what you witness but you are not personally invested in it either. You are even and balanced. You are not disturbed by either chasing after pleasure or avoiding pain. You are simply present to what is without having to change it adjust it or control it in any way. Another word for this is ‘detachment’.
When we practice this capacity to lift up and “abstract’ ourselves from ourselves, it is as if we could look in on ourselves from the outside; in this way we stop identifying with our own emotions thoughts and feelings and we can choose how to respond consciously, rather than ‘react’ automatically to what we experience. This is the basis of emotional intelligence.
If we want to create change in our lives we must first accept where we are right now and take responsibility: we need to realize that we are creators. We can either be created by our unconscious thoughts words and behaviors or we can consciously choose to create what we want to experience more of. We are the inheritors of all the causes and conditions that have brought us here now. The thoughts and actions we have engaged in your life have created the outcomes we are now experiencing in our lives.
So what if we stopped wasting our energy blaming others or alternatively giving ourselves a hard time and putting yourself down ? What if instead we chose to be compassionate with ourselves , forgave ourselves and learned whatever we can from our experiences ?
Perhaps this way we could put our energy and focus to better use. We could be helping ourselves to become more aware of our automatic reactions, thoughts and emotions; we could then be practicing to focus our intention and attention towards conscious choice so we create the life we want.
As creators of our own ‘karma’, we need to learn how to care for others without becoming overwhelmed and developing empathy fatigue (and subsequently indifference). If we clearly look at the world, the struggles and suffering we see will make us sad. If instead of trying to avoid this we stay with the discomfort we will experience the wish to be of help to others.
If the need to be of benefit to others is rooted in love, we can learn to relax with the discomfort we experience and as a result we will be able to use the sadness to motivate us to help others whether through art, prayer, activism, charity or simply by being kind to those around us.
It is important to remember that no matter how much we may care we cannot live other people’s lives for them. So while taking the “three thousand year” view of things we must practice remaining with an open heart, practice loving kindness towards all living beings and remember that our responsibility in making the world a better place ends there.
We can wish fellow humans to learn to see the arising and passing of all things with equanimity and balance, while being as much as possible an example to them of such an attitude and perspective.
One of the practical ways to cultivate this quality of being ‘a witness’ to life is to practice being internally flexible, curious and learn how to focus and concentrate.
You can find some examples of these in the video on equanimity or you can get in touch to experience them first hand with me.
If you are interested in knowing more on the link between Mindfulness and psychotherapy you read this mindfulness buddhism and psychology article
In a previous article, I have explored how our negative core beliefs keep us stuck. If you are not familiar with this I suggest you read “How to get Unstuck” first.
Now before going ahead make yourself comfortable. Take a pen and paper and get ready to do some very valuable work that will make a real difference in your life. Take your time with this. The more you put into it the more you will get out of it.
Ok, let’s get down to work: start by writing down the first restrictive negative belief you want to change. Then proceed with the following steps:
1) On a scale of 1-10, how true does this belief subjectively feel?
2) On a scale of 1-1- how true is this belief in reality? (be as neutral and objective as possible)
3) When does this belief the most emotionally convincing?
4) When does it feel the least emotionally convincing? Take your time answering this question as this will reveal to you what conditions exasperate the issue and what makes it better.
5) What actual evidence do you have for this belief? what supports it? Be realistic and as neutral as possible
6) What actual evidence contradicts and challenges this belief? What evidence is there to show you it might not be necessarily true?
7) What possible advantages are making you want to hold on to it? In what way could this belief be serving you beneficially in some perverse way?
8) What disadvantages are there in holding on to it?
9) Now remind yourself of a circumstance in the past when you had doubts about a belief. Go back to that time and recall what it felt like to experience doubt. How did you know you were doubting your previously firm beliefs? what were you experiencing? what made you change your mind?
10) Recalling and staying with this doubting state start doubting your current belief. Ask yourself those questions again: does this belief really fit with what is truly important to me? In the past, when did this belief interfere with what I wanted to do? What would it be like to be free of this old belief?
11) After rolling these questions in your mind for a while focus again.
Is this negative belief an over-generalization? Is it the result of catastrophizing? Is it just a personal attack against your person or others? Does it label you or others into something fixed? Is it the result of demanding of yourself something unreasonable, such as ‘you SHOULD be or do such and such”?
12) After careful consideration how true does your old belief feel now on a scale of 1-10? Now comes the fun part: relax, take a few deep breathes and close your eyes. Imagine that there’s a furnace somewhere deep inside yourself.
If you really want to permanently destroy that old belief imagine throwing it into that fire and watch it burn away into ashes. Take pleasure in doing this.
13) Now ask yourself: what would be a more helpful and realistic alternative belief to have? State it positively (say what you want not what you don’t want!).
Make sure you are happy with it. Word it in the present tense, as if it was happening now. (i.e. I believe I am good enough as I am, or, I believe I deserve love just as I am)
14) On a scale of 1-10, how true does it feel right now?
15) As you did before ask yourself, when does the new belief feel the least and the most emotionally convincing.
16) Examine the evidence against this new belief? Is there any problem with it? Then find evidence that proves its correctness and usefulness. Write it down
17) Write down any disadvantages there may be for holding this new positive belief. Be as objective as possible
18) Write down all the advantages of holding this new positive belief now.
19) Now go inside yourself again. Recall a time in the past when you felt receptive and willing to learn. Remember what it was like to be open to change and new beliefs. How did it feel? Re-live that time in as much detail as possible. Where in your body did you feel those feelings? What were you telling yourself? Do all it is possible now to achieve that same state again now.
20) Staying with that memory of feeling receptive and open focus on your new belief. How would it feel to accept this new belief? How is it better than the previous one? How different would your life be if you held this new belief as your own? What would you be doing that you were doing before? What could you achieve and overcome that you weren’t able to before? Think about all this and engage with your new belief.
21) Now evaluate your new belief. Do you need to make any changes? Can you improve on it in any way? How good do you feel holding it? On a scale of 1-10, how true does it feel now?
Now decide to take some action. What can you do differently right now, today, as a result of having acquired this new belief? If you truly believed in it, what would you do differently? Set yourself a task based on this belief being true and decide what action you would take.
Start doing things differently right now so that your new belief gets empirical support and you experience it in your life. This way it gets verified, enhanced and supported and therefore embedded in your new behavior patterns.
Have fun with it, experiment and watch your life change and feel great as a result!
When we are blocked in an area of our lives it often is due to the fact that we feel safer that way. We may feel unhappy but that is easier to deal with than our fear of the unknown. We begin to change when the pain we experience in staying stuck is bigger than the anticipated pain of change.
A lot of fear comes down to our negative core beliefs : deeply held beliefs acquired some time in the past due to painful experiences. Becoming conscious and challenging these beliefs is the first step in the process of change.
For a moment, think about something you would really like to do or be right now but don’t feel able to. When you’ve got that, write it down. Do that now. Maybe you have always wanted to be an artist so write down “I am a capable and talented artist”.
Now, in all probability a voice in your head has just emerged to criticize this statement bringing up all sorts of reasons why this is either impossible or a bad idea. Positive affirmations can give us a sense of safety and hope if we let them but at first you will probably feel they sound fake, embarassing or not right. No surprise there. If you have spent all your life bludgeoning yourself with negative beliefs such as “I am worthless” or “I am not good enough” or “I must be perfect to deserve success” anything else will sound unfamiliar and syrupy or cheesy . So saying to yourself ” I am lovable just as I am” or “I am capable and confident” will surely sound untrue at first.
The problem with not accepting a belief because it doesn’ t sound right though is that feelings are a result of thoughts and if you want to change a feeling you have got to change the thought first. It’s a bit like the idea of “fake it til you make it”. You can’t wait to feel it to believe it, you gotta believe it to feel it! Luckily there are some ways to get around this obstacle, but all of these do involve a certain willingness to suspend judgement and take a leap of faith, as well as engage our rational mind doubting limiting old beliefs.
So what is that critical monster in your head saying when you tell it you already are what you want to be ?( After saying your affirmation: i.e. “I am ok just as I am” )
Listen to the objections that come your way. What s the cruel voice saying inside your head ? “so you’re ok as you are… ah ah sure you are!”, “who are you kidding?”, “You are ugly”, “You will never change”, “You can’t do anything right”, “No-one will ever love you unless you are perfect”, etc etc… You will be amazed at the rotten things you can come up with. Write them down. These are your personal negative core beliefs.
Once you have written them down you can start having a good look at where these beliefs come from: Mom and dad? Your school bully? The boy/girl you were in love with when you were ten? Teachers that pushed you too hard? Your little jealous sister ? Scan your blurts for possible sources. Time travel back into your life in five year increments and list by name who influenced you the most in each block of time.
Once you have identified these challenge their opinions. What self serving reason could they have had to have done or said what they did do or say? How did their own worldview influence them ? What did they believe about themselves ? What messages did they grow up with ? Remember this is not about blaming or condoning, just understanding and distinguishing their beliefs from what yours would be if you hadn’t accepted theirs as true. If there is still a lot of emotional energy involved in recalling these memories you might have to release it first so you can forgive them and yourself and move on.
Keep in mind that it is also possible your negative beliefs may come from subtle non direct messages received from your environment or from an experience of something that happened to you where others were not directly involved:
Maybe you felt different because of a situation you found yourself in; maybe you were abandoned by a significant other; maybe you fell ill and became isolated; maybe you were born with something that set you apart from others and you yourself came up with the negative conclusion that you were not Ok just as you were: the possibilities are endless and very personal.
Whatever your monster is, after it has been brought up to the light of day you can start working on challenging its critical voice and changing those negative beliefs that keep you stuck and unhappy. If you would like help with a practical cognitive behavioral approach to this, read this article about “how to get rid of negative core beliefs”.