Why this blog?

Because wherever you are, you can have more happiness and for more of the time than you ever imagined. 'Do more of what you like, and less of what you don't!' (c) Richard Walker, 2009. And because happiness is often misunderstood. "Do you live to work, or do you work to live?" I reckon happy people do both at the same time. Make the decision now to tenaciously seek out what feels good – and find ways of doing more of it - rather than settle for “not bad.” There's a big difference. And when it comes to making changes, that's what I specialise in at abetterlife-uk.com and http://hertscollegeofhypnosisandnlp.co.uk

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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Ten not-so-serious NLP Tips for the Festive Season

You know how the festive season can bring us into close quarters with some people we find “a bit trying?” Here’s ten tips from the major features of NLP to lighten your experience over the festive period….
1. Respect Others Model of the World
So when Mum seems to imply that you are ungrateful for all her efforts in bringing you up, and Dad goes on about how hard he worked to pay the bills, and how the youth of today don’t realise how they’ve got it made… And the Boss naturally assumes that you will do whatever it takes to help the company/Division/Group hit its targets … you will hang on to this idea for dear life. 

2.  Perception is Projection  Which will of course give you great comfort as your sister is giving you the “you were always the favourite,” and when your skiving staff want to leave at lunchtime on Xmas eve. You will find deep meaningful personal enlightenment in exploring how it is simply yourself that you are witnessing. Or can this principle equate to giving others a piece of your mind?

3. Reframing   The Finance director is not mean by not paying for a staff Xmas party, he is simply being careful. “Working between Xmas and New Year is not taking advantage of slack time, it is showing that I am a committed worker.” “Feasting is not over-eating, it appreciating our good fortune.” And of course, the perennial “You’re right Grandma, you can never have enough woolly socks/jumpers/scarves.”
4. Law of Requisite Variety – the most flexible element will control the system   Which is why that brown-nosing little so-and-so new kid is doing so well. And you who are better qualified are in charge of stationery. And as the kids max-out on the X-box thingy, oblivious to any criticism, distraction or threat, your recollection of this key principle will save the day, as you elect to vacuum in front of the telly, singing “So This Is Christmas” with a glass of bubbly in hand, clad in tinsel and best going-out outfit, whilst revving the hyper-Dyson. You show ’em babe/matey. Substitute grabbing work colleagues under the mistletoe etc. as you wish.

5. People are not their behavioursThe boss is not a horrid meanie, he just really doesn’t like it when you are late in. People are not uncaring and selfish in the Boxing Day sales, they are simply acutely focussing on what they want. Your kids are not nuisances, they are asking for things while you happen to be busy (which is always, ’cause we are parents!)  Your mother-in-law is not a nagging know-all, she is a person who is motivated to pass on her views. You are not an angry old man, you are simply ‘losing it’ - grrr!

6.  Everyone is doing the best they can with the resources they have available. Don’t try this one at the Group Annual Progress Meeting. Trust me. It does apply to the old couple doing 29 mph down the High Street and you have FORGOTTEN TO BUY THE CRANBERY! And it’s why Dad forgot to collect the turkey on the way home. It’s also why Mum is calling him “your Father.”

7. There is no failure, only feedback   As in number (6) - don’t try this one at the Group Annual Progress Meeting. Don’t buy your female boss a pair of panties in the Secret Santa, nor Mum a car vacuum cleaner (or any tool of any kind) for Christmas. Ever again. (Yes there are exceptions and I am not stereotyping. But don’t risk it.) When asked about how you enjoyed Christmas dinner, detailed constructive feedback, even “sandwich-wise”, is not recommended.  Beware of feedback invitations in the form of “does my bum look big in this” / “have I put on weight” / “isn't it amazing how Granny knew just what you wanted for presents?” etc.

8. The meaning of communication is the response you get  Examples such as “The Xmas party is no excuse to be in late tomorrow, and telling the kids not to wake you up early on Christmas Day are both in fact reminders to do those very things.  Promising to get up early to put the turkey on is NOT the same as actually doing so. Your miscommunication will not be well-received, and you will also discover the actual meaning of your communication that you forgot. It won’t be pleasant.

9. The map is not the Territory. In fact it’s the Sat Nav, as well we know. And whilst you think it’s your alibi for not digging out directions to Uncle Bob’s, you will in fact discover that Bob’s your Uncle is far from applicable when you turn up an hour late. At work, beware actually believing the Group’s annual financial projection; nor the corporate mission statement, job objectives agreed in annual reviews etc etc.

10. You are in charge of your mind, and therefore your results  Which is why you are such a great boss / colleague / staff member / parent / partner / son / daughter over Christmas-time.  But this rule is suspended over New Year, naturally. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Ten Books that Will Rock Your World – with Implications for Happiness

We each have our own views on what the world is like “out there,” don’t we? Surely it makes sense that you would base your life on those views too, as you seek out happiness in life? If you have children, most probably you try to teach your children your personal pearls of wisdom on life, since you want them to avoid life’s “pitfalls” and achieve happiness too. But how much of what you really believe about the world out there is really true? For everyone? In fact, how much of what you think is “out there” really is out there?
The information we are presented with through the everyday media, and conventional psychologists and scientists, is far wide of the mark of what we now know about the nature of reality. There is a whole lot going on in the leading edges of psychology, neurobiology, cosmology, physics and consciousness studies that will literally rock your world. As the witches in Macbeth chanted, “everything is not as it seems.” 
New discoveries are totally changing our understanding of health, healing, motivation, evolution, consciousness and even reality itself. How can such things not seriously impact on what you have based your life? On your very wellbeing and happiness? These are my ten favourite books that have the potential literally to blow your mind, and change the way you think about the world and achieving happiness. 
1. Bruce Lipton, The Biology of Belief. (2008). Hay House.   Bruce’s big discovery was that the environment around a cell controlled its behaviour and physiology, leading it to turn genes on and off. This totally turns upside down the conventional view, repeated almost daily in the media, that life is controlled by the genes.
Resulting in a new science of epigenetics, two major discoveries are the molecular pathways connecting the mind and body. Many subsequent papers by other researchers have since validated his concepts and ideas. So your mind turns genes on and off, and affects your cellular chemistry and your health. Fact. 
2. Mark Waldman & Andrew Newberg, How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist . (2010).   Ballantine Books.   Be very clear, this is not about God – not at all. It’s about how your ideas become an identity in the brain, and the brain creates a reality in your head to match. You then live out this reality. This is not a New Age book – this is a book on neuroscience; these guys talk brain scans that prove every point - that is how they have come to their startling conclusions, and what you can do to take advantage. 
3. Michael Talbot, The Holographic Universe. (1992).  HarperPerennial.
If you have not caught up with the holographic theory of the nature of the universe, then you really should. This book explains it in fairly simple terms. What it amounts to is that there are levels of order in our universe, from highly ordered to highly disordered – or chaos. In other words, chaos theory concerns order within disorder. Out of this, patterns arise.The disorder reflects the structure of  a hologram, which also contains apparently chaotic patterns, with each small part containing information about the whole picture. And that is the beginning of a fascinating story, which has serious adherents, explaining the true nature of our world and how we can interact with it in otherwise inexplicable ways. Packed with amazing anecdotes, and lots of references for those who like to check up on the facts. 
4. Rupert Sheldrake, A New Science of Life (3rd ed). (2009). Icon Books.
This is the guy who was personally vilified in an editorial in Nature on one of his papers, for “introducing god to science through the back door.” Yet his work is inscrutable; it is good science, and it is open for anyone to experiment with themselves.
He shows how science and its laws are dubious at best, and nothing more than unfounded beliefs at worst. He shows how many basic “facts” are not facts at all. Most intriguiging, and for which he is most famous, is his work with rats showing how learned behaviours are passed on to the very the next generation – which cannot be genetic. He also shows how these new abilities become available in other, isolated and distinct groups.
He provides experiments, which anyone can repeat, to show how new learnings are passed on in humans – almost instantaneously. He expresses the explanation in terms of morphogenetic fields. 
5.  Richard Bandler, Get the Life You Want. (2008). Harper Element  The thing about Bandler – one of the two key originators of Neuro Linguistic Progamming (NLP) is that his focus is on being pragmatic – getting the job done. This book pulls together a lot of his favourite techniques for properly getting your head sorted out and installing that into your nervous system to make real positive improvement in how you see yourself, the world, and your capabilities within it. It is full of very practical step by step techniques, which actually work. 
6. Dr Deepak Chopra, MD. Quantum Healing: Exploring the Frontiers of Mind/Body Medicine. (1990). New York: Bantam   If you are at all doubtful about modern medicine, and are interested in looking beneath the bonnet (hood) with new eyes, the this is a good place to start. Chopra really got all this going in the seventies when he picked up on important work which shoed how neuropeptides – previously thought to be the messengers in the brain, were discovered connecting with and being produced by all kinds of cells throughout the body. In other words, the mind-body system is no longer some New Age or mystical thing, it is medical fact. Chopra saw the consequences and ran from there. This book is still a great place to get your inspiration as to what’s possible in looking after your own health, aging and healing. 
7. Ken Wilber, A Brief History of Everything. (2007). Shambhala   Wilber is one of my personal heroes. This book does, I believe, exactly what it says on the label. It is immense in its implications. Core themes are how we have – and still are – evolving in the way we look at things and what is important to us. These ideas are explored though history, from ancient history, developing religions, through the break with religion at the enlightenment, the industrial revolution, and the dawn of the modern age.
This is all pulled together around some key concepts. The first is the process by which all change and growth happens, how each new stage includes and adds to the one before (holons) but includes some new knowledge or awareness. Rather like Russian dolls, in a hierarchy of awareness. His next big theory was constructed out of trying to take account of internal experience of things, as well as their external description – rather like bringing scientific study together with feelings, including spirituality.
Written as a diologue, with Wilber holding a discussion, this immense work is inspirational, frequently witty, and a must read for anyone even remotely interested in how things came to be this way, and were they are headed. 
8. Don Beck & Chris Cowan, Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership and Change. (2005).  Wiley-Blackwell   This is perhaps the toughest read of the ten, and it is only for that reason it is not number one on my list. Beck and Cowan’s work is built on Prof Clare Grave’s groundbreaking work in the 60’s which explains how we change and grow at any level we look at, whether individually, in cultures, society, countries and as a species.It uses the concept of memes – ideas which appear, and spread over times and places. These ideas grow and fade as others appear – rather like waves on the shore. Yet each wave is more than what went before – rather as in Wilber’s Russian doll/holonic principle. Indeed, Wilber has since teamed up with the Spiral Dynamics guys. This book will tell you why you do what you do, and what’s important to you – which is what motivates you – and how and why this differs between you and others. It explains all the tensions we are facing in society. In other words, what’s going on out there, where it’s going, and where we fit in. 
9. Richard Gerber,Vibrational Medicine: New Choices for Healing Ourselves. (1988). Bear & Co   How many people do you know who say that there is no scientific evidence for homeopathy, healing, acupuncture, energy healing, chakras, auras etc etc? Not so. This book gives you the facts – paper after paper presenting well-designed experiments that demonstrate all these ideas and more. They just don’t get media coverage because – well why do you think? As always, the answer is to be found by following the money. Not that this book is into anything remotely related to conspiracy theories or any other explanations.
It lays out the facts about various unconventional treatments, explains the thinking that goes with explaining the facts – the theories – and shows the work which supports it. Read this to get a better appreciation of what so-called alternative or complementary treatments are really all about. And take back some responsibility for your health, instead of waiting till it goes wrong and using drugs to half-fix only the symptons of disease – rather than the causes. 
10. Robert Lanza, MD.  Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the True nature of the Universe. (2010). Benbella.Lanza deals head-on with the key inconsistencies in current theories of the nature of time, matter and space. Don’t let that put you off either – it’s not a big technical work. He plots his arguments in understandable terms, but those who do happen to know more science, he keeps you on board too. Another book that will literally blow your model of reality apart, and really get you thinking about what’s going on out there.. or is it out there at all? Readable, plausible, enjoyable and inspiring. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Ten Best Happiness Books

My last article gave the ten tips - now we answer, which are the best books on Happiness? Why? What’s their angle? As it's Christmas, I have listed my top ten recommended books on the topic. 
The truth is, there are many claims to the best route to happiness, originating from a wide variety of perspectives, ranging from physics to mysticism, including cosmology, biology, neuroscience, psychology, philosophy, religion, and ancient spirituality. I have spent some ten years researching the topic from these different angles. In fact, as a result, I proposed a framework which pulls all the ideas together on one single framework, which I call the Physics of Happiness - but more on that another time. 
There are other books of course; some I have left out because I didn’t think that they will inspire you enough. One or two are so determined to be scientific that, frankly, they are boring. Others with profound implications for happiness I omitted only because their focus was not directly on happiness.  Here’s the list: .
1. Dalai Lama & Cutler, H.  (1998).  The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living.  Coronet.  I’m putting this first because it is authoritative on more senses than one, is interesting and inspiring to read, and has practical advice. Ok, it does draw on Buddhist principles, but bear in mind that Howard Cutler, who composed the text from his time spent with the Dalai Lama, is a psychologist. This tempers it to a level for a wide audience. 265 pages (no index). 
2. Layard, R.  (2005).  Happiness: Lessons From a New Science.  The Penguin Press.  The complete opposite of  my first choice. If you like your happiness to be rational and functional, and justified by an economist, this is for you. Although that reads like a put-off, this is a great source of information and directly addressess the bottom line question “why does happiness matter?” His ideas will resonate with many people; indeed, Layard has been advising government on policy, too. For the record, I don’t agree with his main conclusion. 297 pages including good reference list and footnotes. 
3. Gilbert, D.  (2006).  Stumbling On Happiness.  London: Harper PerennialThe main theme is that your brain is kidding you, and sets out to prove with known psychology. Lots of astonishing “experiments” with perception for you to experience for yourself. The implications for happiness are we are pretty hopeless at predicting. I put this second because it will open your eyes. What will make us happy. Very well written solid work, frequently amusing, and often astonishing. 277 pages including good index. 
4. McMahon, D. M.  (2006).  The Pursuit of Happiness: A History From the Greeks to the Present.  London: Penguin Allen Lane.  This is my personal favourite, because it is the only book which sets out to show that happiness has a history, which means it changes. Its origins are fascinating, going back to ancient Greek mythology, through the Romans (I daren’t tell you what their symbol for happiness was), Christianity, the Middle Ages, the Enlightment and modern times. Happiness as we know it is not static in terms of what we understand by it and what makes us happy. It is also an immensely informative and very well written. At 544 pages including superb endnotes and index, this is for the connoisseur, not the Xmas tree. 
5. Shimoff, M.  (2008).  Happy For No Reason.  Simon & Shuster.  Based on a study of 100 happy people, this is combination of real-life cases and exercises. It is not tied down by the straightjacket of conformist psychological principles, or any particular spirituality or religion. It is more humanist, and maybe a little new-agey , but that does not detract from it. It is quite uplifting, and good for anyone to read who has an open mind. 308 pages. 
6. Ricard, M.  (2006).  Happiness:  A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill.  Atlantic Books.  Ricard is a one-time highly respected scientist, but a Buddhist monk for some two decades. He has been described as the “happiest man alive” which arose from scientific studies he took part in on the effect that meditating has on developing the brain. He certainly is qualified to teach happiness. Whilst underpinned by a Buddhist perspective, the book is not a Buddhist work, and provides practical advice and exercises. 281 pages including endnotes.
7. Myers, D. G.  (1993).  The Pursuit of Happiness. Avon.  Written by a social psychologist, it is surprisingly quite wide-ranging in the topics covered, even covering religion sympathetically.  Many thought-provoking ideas in this well-written solid work. 331 pages including 130 pages of endnotes, index and bibliography.  
8. Seligman, M. E. P.  (2003).  Authentic Happiness: Using The New Positive Psychology To Realize Your Potential For Lasting Fulfillment.  London: Nicholas Brealey.  Seligman’s big idea is about the power of positive emotions. These are to be cultivated by drawing on our “strengths” which is the core of what he believes will bring happiness. Whilst no spiritual dimension is included, he does say that having an interest in serving something “bigger than ourselves” is a good thing. Whilst it probably won’t inspire you, there is some good stuff in this well-presented and authoritative book. His views will probably suit the book-buying audience quite well. 319 pages including endnotes. 
 9. Watts, A.  (1968).  The Meaning of Happiness: The Quest for Freedom of the Spirit in Modern Psychology and the Wisdom of the East. Rider.  (Original work published 1940).  This is an oldie but still a goodie for those interested in how ancient principles from eastern culture can fit alongside modern psychological ideas to explain the nature of happiness. I think it is a good and interesting read, and takes a different angle from the others in this list. 219 pages including biography and index. 
10. Haidt, J.  (2006).  The Happiness Hypothesis.  Arrow Books.  My tenth choice was difficult in that it was a toss-up between this and Mikail Csikszentmihalyi’s (1992) seminal work on the concept of being in the “flow”(Flow: The Classic Work on How to Achieve Happiness. Rider.) Both are important and good reads. I chose Haidt because it is more wide-ranging on the whole topic of the human condition, and it is witty with it. 297 pages including good list of references and index. 
Happy reading!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Ten Tips to True Happiness

What is the definitive word on Happiness? Good question. I have spent years investigating this very topic, even making it the subject of my PhD dissertation. You can explore the nature of happiness from many perspectives, whether through history, from psychology, religion, spiritual and esoteric thought, and from some strange new ideas from science.
What answer can be given to the direct question, “So what is happiness?” – without giving you 360 pages to read! If there were one single answer, it would be that about half of us are just born that way – on the “sunny side” of the road, whilst the rest of us struggle to catch up. However, sometimes things go wrong even for the best of us, and all is not lost even for the other half.  Here are my ten most prominent findings.
  1. About half of us are naturally far happier 
  2. The rest of us have to work at it, and most won't even begin
  3. Happiness means different things to different people, and it is not one-size fits all; what makes one person happy may seriously annoy another, or may even by regarded as inappropriate in some cultures
  4. The things that make a given individual happy depends on innate features of personality present even at birth
  5. The nature and sustainability of individual happiness depends on your degree of emotional growth; how much of your personal “stuff” you have faced and truly let go of
  6. The last few points suggest that there is a natural path to follow for each of us that would deliver more enduring happiness
  7. The most effective involves being fully yourself and learning to follow your heart and intuition – wherever it leads you, event though this may have challenging consequences
  8. It is worthwhile getting some guidance to avoid relying on learning everything the hard way, making elementary mistakes. But in any case, push on!
  9. Happiness starts with a conscious choice to make it a guiding principle, and will involve effort and commitment
  10. Nevertheless, happiness really does matter, but it is not the point of life; it does propel us loosely in the direction of growth and evolution, which is the point of life. 

Friday, November 8, 2013

An everyday story of madness?

I was speaking to chap today at a networking meeting. He had been a business coach in the past, now an IT consultant, and he was talking to me about leadership. He saw many instances where someone had been thrust forward to run a company, or where it had evolved to a size where there was now a whole team of people, where previously there had been just the owner and a couple of close people. 
But the business was now failing, because of the owner’s lack of natural affinity to lead. “You can explain what is required, and teach the skills – but it would not happen.” Leadership, he said, could not be taught. 
Some of these were potentially really good businesses, which really frustrated him. So much so, that in a couple of cases he was motivated to help by offering to buy them and run them.  
Here’s the interesting thing: the owners made a great fuss about the price; making huge valuations way beyond his offer which, admittedly by his account, was very reasonable. They would say things like “I have built this up over twenty years! I could never let it go for that! 
Yet, let’s just recall, these businesses were failing – they were making very little profit or were even losing money.  The owners were really suffering. It’s not too difficult to imagine this either, is it? I know a few local businesses just like this myself.

What is it saying? Is part of this describing how easily we can sometimes hold onto things, to resist change - even where it is the solution - because of our investment in the past?  We are capable of holding onto to all kinds of things that are not good for us, in other aspects of life too, wouldn't you say? These businesses owners were not “stupid” people, either. Food for thought?

Just as the past is only yesterday’s dinner, so tomorrow does not exist yet either. As the sign which hung in the old White Heart Pub on Redbourn Road read, “Free drinks tomorrow.” Tomorrow is always tomorrow – it is never here. And the past no longer exists; it is gone. There is only now.

Loving your life, enjoyment, natural enthusiasm and motivation, can only be found in the present moment. Yes, we can have an end objective in mind, but the real challenge is to enjoy the days along the way. It may take change, and time. But these days are all we ever really experience, and all that we can ever fully treasure. 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Power of Smiling

I was reading an article on LinkedIn on called "smiling in the workplace" and it reminded me of hearing this by the famous actor Anthony Hopkins. It was decades ago, and he was chatting to Terry Wogan on his breakfast radio show about his time recovering from alcoholism. He said “I was in this recovery home, and I feeling very low at that time. I wasn't interested in very much, and certainly didn't feel much like smiling."
He went on, "but there was this nurse – very pretty she was, and I thought to myself, ‘she’s nice’. So I wondered how to attract her attention, and, although I didn’t feel like smiling, I thought I would give it a try, and so I smiled at her.  And she smiled back.”                   
He went on, “Well, I thought, that was nice. So I did it again on the next occasion. And she smiled back again. And I quite liked it again. So I did it another time. Then another.” With a tone of real sincerity, he added “And do you know what, I’m still doing it now.” And that was the key, he claimed, to getting out of his mild depression. 
In NLP we refer to this as the power of  “Acting As If” something were already true. But you can just call it the power of smiling and making people happy – including yourself. 

What are the facts about stress? How can you reduce stress?

Stress – you could take the view that it is antimatter to happiness. And it seems that it lurks in almost every aspect of life these days. But what do we really mean by stress? Is it always a bad thing? 

In my short article I give you the facts about stress, and how each of us have our own individual stress responses, according to the stress vulnerability model. And most of all, I break the notion of stress down into its component parts in a stress model that shows you where you can act to reduce stress. Read more..

Friday, October 4, 2013

How do you achieve happiness and fulfilment?

This is the third article in my mini-series that you receive when you subscribe my "physics of happiness" list; see the right hand side of my blog at "Get My Newsletters". In the first article, I take a thought-provoking look at the nature of problems.   In this article I will invite you to look again at what’s really ‘out there’ – or not, as the case may be. We will take a look at the very construction the world as we believe it to be, and the framework for maintaining happiness and moving towards your ambitions.

Getting going and keeping going

Have you ever really wanted something - but not achieved it? What happened? In many cases, real progress dwindled because we ignored, or overlooked the fact that significant change is needed along with it. After all, if you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got. What sort of change would we need if we want to achieve a really significant goal? A big change? Yes, and furthermore, that change is required within us. Of course, you could just blame bad luck, or a bad economy, or people not getting you message. In which case, don’t waste your time setting a goal. It will never happen. Like so many New Year resolutions.
So how do we get out of this cycle? What will really motivate us to see things through? First of all, you must ensure that you are clear on the perceived ‘payoff’, which has to set to be far greater than the discomfort or stress we may experience along the way. Even when we do get this part right, we are still prone to make excuses. In my experience, fundamentally there are only three issues that can affect your motivation:
  1. you really do feel you know what you want, but self-doubt holds you back from fully committing to it;
  2. you are not doing what you really enjoy, but your head tells you that ‘it’s the right thing to do’;
  3. you have never considered following what you feel passionate about. (Some of us even cut off from our feelings.)
Consider this: if you make all your important decisions with your 'head' - ie based on 'logic', then the best you will get is a life which is 'satisfying' - or 'not bad'. On the other hand, if you make important decisions based on how you feel, then you will create a life that 'feels good' – even along the way towards your goals! Now that's just logic.

Beware of reasons, explanations and excuses. These act as "alibis" which hold us back psychologically. Even if there are good reasons, try and think of them simply as a kind of "feedback" on what you tried so far that didn’t work. So try a different approach. All successful people will tell you that they got it right by making lots of mistakes. Be prepared to make and accept mistakes, and to adjust.

About the ‘Real World’
I have heard it many times before, “Yeah, I‘ve heard this idealistic sort of motivational stuff before, but things aren’t like that in the real world.” Now, it seems to me that we all have our own idea of what this real world is like. How it works, what's possible and what's not, and what people are like etc. But it differs enormously from one person to the next, doesn’t it? In very significant ways. So this begs the question, where is this 'real world'? Who sees it? Here’s a simple illustration of the phenomenon, which works for many people. Read through these three statements:

Did you notice the mistake in each statement (answer below)? No? Well, here’s another for you to try your hand at.  Now seeing is believing isn’t it? So try really hard this time. Read through the following statement and then count how many letter ‘f’s does it contain? The letter ‘f’ – how many?

 How many did you count? Check with someone else (answer below). So what happened to the missing ‘f’s and ‘the’s?
 Want one last go? Here’s another famous example that’s done the rounds: 
What did you make of it? Well, that’s interesting, because it was a jumble of largely meaningless groups of letters and words! So here’s the thing: (i) even if something is there, but you believe it is not, you will not be aware of it and, (ii) if something is not there, but you believe in its existence, it will appear to be so. So now what of the real world? To all intents and purposes, we cannot see beyond our perceptions, or 'beliefs'. It is a well-known fundamental feature of our perception; it is often quoted that we are ‘bombarded’ with 2 million bits per second of information, of which we can only pay attention to 134! That means we continually discard 1,999,864 bits of information every second. How could you expect to ever ‘perceive’ the real world? Control freaks out there take note.
 You can only ‘observe’ or experience what you have already learned to recognise or pay attention to. Turned the other way around, it’s as if each of us ‘projects’ our perception of the world all around us. The world as you experience it, is in your head.

What’s possible for you - beliefs
 So what do you believe is possible and not possible for you? Given this, my idea for creating happiness is based on feelings, motivation and personal beliefs – perceptions of what’s possible and what it’s like ‘out there’. Change perceptions and your whole world changes with them. They set your limits. An old saying says, “So a man thinketh, so he is.” Your good feelings tell you what feels good for you. Trust them; they will naturally motivate you.
 So how do you discover your ‘limiting’ beliefs? It’s easier than you might think. One way is to right down a truly desired, big goal, or desired outcome, in some aspect of your life. If you have never done this, take the time to do it now. Many ailments are underpinned by a problem of ‘no compelling future’. Write down ten bullet points describing your ideal life – something for you. Revise it each day for seven days. It will change. Note how you feel – it must feel good. If it doesn’t feel good, then it won’t happen. No compelling future means you are not fulfilling your purpose. Your unconscious mind will know.
 By the way, it’s advisable to set goals in all areas of your life – career, family, health and fitness, relationships, personal growth etc. Now, consider the phrase “ I haven’t achieved this because………” and fill in your reasons or excuses. These reason or excuses will contain your limiting beliefs.  Another way is to note down you attitudes and beliefs around the following: time, money, success, failure, power/empowerment, your goals.
But why bother? Seriously..
 I have been asked many times when working with clients, “Why bother with goals? I don’t want to be one of those goals-driven people.”  Well, in  way you are right, because goals are not the answer; but they are milestones along the journey. No milestones, no progress. The thing is, everything has a purpose,  doesn’t it? A glass, a jacket, a car – and you too! What happens if you use something for what it was not designed for? Right! - it doesn't work so well! Same applies to you; I mean, you'll get by - even very well maybe - but you won't achieve lasting happiness or fulfillment. So, you need to know your 'purpose.’
 How? Again, it’s easier than you think, but you may have trained yourself out of noticing what feels good. Because that’s the answer; notice what feels good, and that you are inclined to move towards. Unfortunately western style schooling has taught us to pay attention to other things – to ‘thinking’ rather than ‘feeling’, to things we ‘ought’ to do, ‘rationally’. But happy, successful people don’t do that; not when making critical decisions about which way to go. Even the original business guru, the late Sir John Harvey Jones, was fond of saying, ‘there are two essential ingredients for success, one is to believe in yourself and the other is to make sure you enjoy what you are doing!’

Pay attention to your feelings. Imagine yourself actually in the scenario you are painting for yourself in your future; how does it feel? Compare it with a situation where you where enjoying yourself. If different, don’t do it, or it won’t feel good when you get there! Identify any self –doubts; they are ‘beliefs’ to be challenged. And finally, you activity should have a purpose, above and beyond the goals.
These three things: purpose, feelings and perceptions (beliefs) are the keys to happiness, well-being and fulfillment. And the good news is, we have the tools and techniques to operate these keys and open the door for you.

In my third article, we’ll talk about ‘bad feelings’ which get in the way of doing what it takes to achieve our goals. What if you discovered your bad feelings are you friends?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Why worry is bad and how to stop

Do you know how some people use anxiety to motivate themselves, or believe that worrying makes sure that you don’t miss important things to be done? It doesn’t actually help, and I’ll explain why - which also suggests the solution.

In a recent article I explored how some worriers inadvertently undermine others, and suggested a way to win them around. This time we are talking about how to stop the worrying itself.
The core feature of worrying is fearing some unpleasant or unwanted outcome. This actually means that it is being imagined, either consciously or subconsciously. There are three key facts to realise now. The first is that you can’t NOT think about something that you are trying NOT to think about, without actually thinking about it. If you think about it. It’s like the old tease that goes “don’t think about a pink elephant”, and realise that you had to think of it.
The second point is that psychology and neuroscience have shown that you are most likely to achieve those outcomes or goals that you visualise and obsess on. Thirdly, realise that obsessing on something you wish to avoid is, in fact, equivalent to obsessing on the very unwanted outcome, and making it more likely to happen. So worrying tends to make things worse, apart from how unpleasant it feels.
How do good worriers avoid the unwanted outcome? Well, they worry right up to near the deadline and then frantically throw all their effort into heading off towards some preferable outcome. What a tough way to operate!
Can you see the solution? It couldn’t be more simple.
  1. Take a moment to get clear on what precisely you are worrying about.
  2. Ask yourself, “what is the unwanted outcome that I am imagining?”
  3. Now, deliberately, MAKE UP the most constructive positive solution that is possible. Literally, deliberately consciously construct it in your mind.
  4. Notice, what happened to the anxiety? It went.
  5. Repeat as frequently as is necessary.
Is this a good idea? Yes. Are you deluding yourself? No. Because what I didn’t spell out to you, is that your mind is now focussed on the constructive outcome. If there is any bad news, it’s tongue-in-cheek, in that you will now have to seek out ways to make the positive outcome happen instead of worrying.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Stress about tests? Maybe you use the wrong ways to learn

What's the best way to learn for a test, an interview or a presentation? It’s the kind of thing that can stress any of us – and does not make for a happy life. Scientific American Mind has just published a review of work carried out by researchers earlier this year on this very topic.
Maybe surprisingly for some of us, the least effective were summarising, highlighting passages of text, re-reading, using keyword mnemonics, and using imagery (unless the material lends itself particularly well imagining). Well, that explains my poor exam performances in the past! 
Taking practice tests and scheduling your studying over time were the most effective. Which makes sense to me, because I did best in the old “O” levels where we practised lots of past papers during the term preceding the exams. 
Ten different learning techniques were examined by Dunlosky his team, and here’s a summary of the results which I have tracked down in their original paper (ref below):
Low effectiveness: Summarising, Highlighting/underlining, Keyword mnemonic (using keywords and mental imagery), Imagery for text (making mental images from the text), Re-reading
Moderate effectiveness: Elaborative interrogation (explaining why some fact or concept is true), Self-explanation (explaining how new information relates to known information, or explaining steps taken during problem solving), Interleaved practice (mixing different kinds of study or study material within a session).
High effectiveness: Practice testing (‘flash cards’ or taking practice tests), Distributed practice (scheduling your study over time).

The authors don't claim miracle improvements, but do recommend you use the more highly effective methods! And this applies to your kids doing their studies, of course... 

Ref. Dunlosky et al., (2013), Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology, Psychological Science in the Public Interest. 14(1) 4–58

Friday, September 6, 2013

Linguistic “Tai Chi” – happy and effective persuasion

At a recent networking event, I got chatting to a chap about how to handle someone who tends to worry too much. And since I am the local “happiness guy”, he asked me for a tip for handling it better. Whilst he had a family matter in mind, the same could apply to anyone who tends to worry too much about the adequate performance of others; for example, about staff making mistakes with clients, or worrying about delegating tasks - which comes up a lot in small businesses as they grow. 
One of big ideas of the famous hypnotherapist, Milton Erickson MD, was to view anything that someone does as a wonderful resource, no matter what it is, even if it appears to be a problem. Like worrying. He would then find a way to make use of it (“ultilisation”), rather than confronting it where this only tends to make things worse (like trying to reassure a good worrier that things will be alright.) 
It’s a kind of gentle linguistic Aikido, or Tai Chi – in which you go with the flow of something and nudge it in a new direction, rather than standing in front of a moving object and perhaps getting knocked over.   
Back to the chap in the networking meeting, for a moment. He told me how his wife was fretting over his daughter, Sam, going off to University. He had tried reassuring her, but that tended to lead her to counter by listing her imagined worries in even more detail, which only made her feel even worse. 
Here’s the example I offered him to try with his wife: “I know that you worry about our daughter, which is only natural. Perhaps you had better be even more concerned that you don’t let her get the idea that you really don’t believe in her ability to handle whatever she faces in life? That would really undermine her strength and ability, wouldn’t it?” Do you see what this does? 
Applying this to the case of delegating, here’s an example you might try: “I know you worry about [name] making a mistake. Perhaps you should worry even more about letting [name] get the idea that you don’t believe in his/her ability to learn? That really would be something to worry about, wouldn’t it?”   
Do you begin to see the pattern? There are three steps, focused on the person you want to influence:
  1. Identify what is the generic “skill” that they are displaying here? In my examples it was concern or worry for someone they are involved with (a staff member, daughter etc).
  2. Get clear on a plausible, appropriate and more positive outcome, which you want the person to focus on instead. In my examples of worrying, I took the view that this was to come to acknowledge the capabilities of that person (latent or otherwise); eg to learn and to improve, or to handle what comes up.
  3. The third step is to acknowledge the skill, which validates it instead of opposing it.
  4. Utilise the “skill” by turning it back on itself; eg. to worry about worrying, which both accepts the skill and moves the focus to worrying about something more important.
With ingenuity, you can do this with almost any “problem” behaviour trait. Take people who become all self-conscious, eg. when talking to groups. You might try, ”Because you are sensitive, you can be really aware of how others are feeling, can’t you? -Which is really caring. In fact, could you not really get absorbed in doing what it takes to help those you are speaking feel more comfortable?” Beginning to get the idea? 
This is an example of a number of things we teach in the use of language aspect of NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming), specifically reframing, utilisation and how to create beneficial  “binds.” If you want to run an example by me to see if we can create a response to a situation that you are facing, send me an email and I’ll have a go.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Keep your plants happy too - or else!

Having plants in your office or home is thought to bring a calming effect to the working environment. But neglect them at your peril! They well send out hate waves. Honest. This warm weather can all too easily leave your plants thirsty and, until now, they had no way of telling you that they are unhappy. 
At team of researchers at Keio University figured out a way of helping plants express emotions and communicate with people through different movements--in quite a straightforward way. The shrub is placed in a special plant pot, containing string and motors. The strings are hooked up to different parts of the plant, and the motors will pull on theme, causing the plant to jerk to life.
The movements are timed with two sensors attached to the plants, a microphone, and a motion sensor. The plant will then react to the movements and sounds around it. The researchers currently have a number of emotions the plant can convey, such as anger or happiness from being stroked. The plants in the image and video below have been rigged up to the motor system for around a year now, and have yet to wilt from the stress of being pulled around.
The team hope that the project will encourage people to communicate with plants in their daily rountine, plus the researchers want to make bigger versions of the system for different types of plant.
So just remember, the next time you bad-mouth your office greenery, it will actually hear you, and respond accordingly! Also never, ever consider kicking a tree again: it might just hit you back. And there is a video of how it works too here: http://www.techhive.com/article/253224/plants_display_emotion_will_get_mad_if_you_forget_to_water_them.html

Friday, August 16, 2013

Change Your Brain – Change Your Life: FACT

Mark Waldman, who I mentioned in my previous article, carries out brain scan research at Penn University New York. In a recent lecture, Mark explained how brain research demonstrates that Big Ideas will change your brain – any really big idea - will grow neural connections (dendrites) in your brain.
Now, some ideas are good for your brain, and some are not. Money – or the fear of losing money – brain scans show this affecting the brain structure and function within seconds.  
How can a single idea, word or thought change your brain? It can and it does. All big ideas arise first in your frontal lobes. This information is sent to your thalamus – a grand central “station” – which creates for you what you think is going on “out there” in the outside world.
The thalamus may send the information to your occipital lobes – where you get to create a vision of what you want to create or achieve in the world. So your vision, and your big idea, can come together. But what's really important is that the information is sent to your parietal lobes (at the rear of your brain), and this creates an artificial construction of YOU – who you think you are does not exist in the real world. You are a fantasy. This part creates who you “are” in your mind.
If you begin to meditate and obsess on your big idea, on your dream, then you begin to align your (created) self, with your dream, goal and vision.
By the way, if dream is positive, it will stimulate parts of your brain which are enormously healthy – even add years to your life. Negative or destructive thoughts – like revenge or war – will stimulate harmful reverse affects in your brain. When you grumble, complain and get frustrated – you are killing yourself.
If you meditate on your big idea, for about 45 mins, the most unusual thing begins to happen,. Your parietal lobe activity falls off, and you actually begin to “disappear”; you are losing your “ego”. All that remains is your big idea; it floods your brain and in fact becomes your reality! It becomes all that exists to you. Can you get the power of this?
If you do this type of meditation regularly, within 8 wks the thalamus changes 10% of its structure. You actually cannot see reality the same way any more. So will you meditate on a positive set of ideas?
Find you big idea and meditate on it. Negative thoughts stimulate the amygdala – which is Latin for almond (its shape) - and it literally is the part of your brain that makes you go nuts. Research shows that if you look at a list of negative words, you get worse. Shown the word “No” for one second, will release more stress neuro chemicals than can possibly be good for you. When we see a positive word – hardly anything happens. Why? Because we are wired for threats, and this is no threat. That is why we have to OBSESS – meditate -  on our positive ideas for a very long time to get the benefits.
So what are big ideas? What is the biggest in your life? Here is the question to discover it – and it s not “what makes you happy?” It’s about values. Values are those ideas. Concepts, desires that are important to you, and which you would get energised to satisfy.  It’s simply this – but close your eyes first, and begin to change your brain.
Breathe in deeply, stretch, move around a bit in your chair, and …. Yawwwwn. 43 documented studies that show it is one of the eight best ways to exercise your brain.
Now think about something, or someone you deeply love. Then ask yourself this question: “What is my deepest, innermost value?” - the single phrase or word. This is your most important value which will change your world. It will change your life. When you share your deepest belief, you will find connections to the fundamentals of life itself. It will more peace into your heart, and if you bring them into your speech, with a smile and a soft gaze in your eyes, as you speak slowly for just short periods of time, you will change the listener. It’s called neuro-resonance. It is the key to getting along with others. 
You can watch Mark in his lecture for the highly respected TED series at http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/TEDxConejo-Mark-Robert-Waldman

Friday, August 9, 2013

Happy Science is Serious

Mark Waldman is Associate Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, where he conducts neurological research with Andrew Newberg, MD, at Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine, and also develops new communication tools for the Executive MBA program at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles.
I recently listened to him present his findings on the nature of the brain and how it is almost instantaneously permanently affected by how we think. His work clearly demonstrates how the brain’s frontal lobes dream up realities which we perceive as true reality. Literally we make up our own reality and we have no choice. The pictures we “see” bear very little relation to what the eyes are seeing in the world!
Now, the next thing he spoke of is the brain’s “fear centre” in the amygdala. The brain appears to have two core functions: the first is the reward centre or “desire to acquire” circuitry. Provided that as we perceive something as non-threatening, it generates curiosity and releases dopamine and we get motivated.
The second core function is the “fear centre” in the tiny part of the brain called the amygdale. If something is perceived as potentially threatening, like a loud sound or bad smell, then amygdala releases different neuro-chemicals and shuts down the motivational centre. It overrides and effectively “shouts down” desire, curiosity and motivation. As a consequence of this, you cannot be in a state of “growth” or improvement  whilst there is fear around in the brain. 
So, the whilst the left frontal lobe moves us towards desire, the right frontal lobe builds scary scenarios and pulls up old struggles, making you anxious about them repeating and things going wrong. Then we get in a kind of struggle, which if it goes on long enough the build-up of anxiety can lead to depression. 
He also talked of medical research which shows that drugs cannot defeat placebo – in other words, your beliefs will override any antidepressants. The ideas you hold about yourself and the world are more powerful than the drugs themselves! Furthermore, medical science has noted that this effect is getting stronger and stronger.
In other words, the way you choose to think about your life – your belief system – is stronger than antidepressant drugs. Negative thoughts release around twenty-five stress-related chemicals and enough to begin to damage the learning circuits in the brain. Your inner anxieties actually damage the brain, in less than minutes, and knock off around two years of your life expectancy. 
Concerned? You daren’t be! Take action instead. 
What can you do? Well it’s brain work. Meditating has been shown to be very effective. You could use techniques to cancel negative beliefs and doubts about the practical possibility of having true happiness in your life; I teach hypnosis and NLP, but there other techniques too. Mark offered this simple example list of proven techniques for modifying thoughts (which will go away if you catch them and question them hard enough): 
·     Write down every negative thought that you have. You will amaze yourself to discover that hundreds more then you think you have! Then take the first one – get mad at it (tell it to “shut the heck up”); words are just words – they are not reality
·     Challenge the negative thought; is it really true - right now? Eg. “I’m always late“: Ask “Is it true that you are late right now?” No. “This thought that I’m always late is not true”
·     Become aware of both negative and positive thoughts at the same time, and then make a choice as to which to go with.
·     Look at percentage of the time that these negative thoughts actually are true.
·     Cancel them by generate at least five positive thoughts for every single negative one. Write them down; writing down a positive thought is far more powerful than thinking it.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Democratic Happiness?

Did you know that David Cameron has been taking his advice from an economist on how to shape government policy around public happiness?

Richard Layard in a professor of economics, and he wrote a book on happiness and how we should achieve it. As you might expect, it is a very rational, logical book. But stop there just a moment – he’s an economist! What would you make of it if a psychologist wrote a book advising us on the economy? Yet his words were strongly heard by the ears of the last government, as well as this. It led to the launch of the national happiness survey by the government’s Office of National Statistics (ONS).

Layard’s BIG IDEA is founded on a principle belonging to the 18th century, and long since discredited. It goes like this:
  1. everything you do should be evaluated solely on the value of the results it produces - in this case, happiness
  2. every kind of happiness, whatever you do to achieve it, is equal
  3. all decisions, all policy, should aim to achieve the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people.
These ideas formed the basis of Ultilitatrian Theory, and the happiness ideas were originally proposed in 1725 by Glaswegian Professor Francis Hutcheson in his work “Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue.” He advocated that the best actions are those that result in the greater happiness of the greatest number. This was later adopted and developed by Jeremy Bentham, with whose name it is most often associated.

As regards the first principle,
Bentham urged us simply to question the usefulness, or utility, of what we do in delivering either “pleasure” or “pain.” Nothing more, nothing less. No Morality. No Ethics. No need to consider consequences for others, the world or anything else. Simply, “feel good, or feel bad?” - Just do it (didn't Nike ads say that?)

Now add the policy that we should aim to maximise this, for the greatest number of people. So if a crowd decide they want to lynch you, it’s fine. The greatest number get the greatest happiness. Are you okay with this? Could it sound just a little like rule by the lowest common denominator? Or mob rule? Some say that’s precisely what democracy amounts to (Plato took this view).

Darrin McMahon, who wrote the superb book “A History of Happiness” said it was potentially dangerous, and could result in sacrificing the few in favour of the many. John Stewart Mill, back in 1863, famously challenged Bentham’s central theme that all pleasure or happiness is equal, arguing that “It is better to be a human being dissatisfied, than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied that a fool satisfied.”

Let’s update it a little. Is the happiness experienced by footballer Wayne Rooney in scoring a goal as valuable as Churchill’s satisfaction over the defeat of Hitler’s Wehrmacht? What do you think? You can easily make up your own comparisons.

In 1843 Thomas Carlyle queried why we have not yet found happiness despite all the promises of the new liberty from control by the church and divine principles. He attacked the Benthamites for failing to deliver their “greatest happiness for all”, and that in fact this policy was achieving the very opposite. Some might say that we are still seeing increasing unhappiness. Statistics seem to support this.

, interestingly, explicitly rejected Bentham’s utilitarianism. He argued the  opposite view, “that natural selection produced pleasure only if that pleasurable state induced beneficial actions.” For Darwin, the driving force was group survival and the survival of the happiest, terms which he seemed use interchangeably with the general good.

A final thought: it is an ancient Hindu principle that happiness should always include an element of looking after society, religion, family and your profession, which in turn contributes towards a broader stability in the cosmos, nature, and society. In short, it is a goal of both personal and universal equilibrium, and a very high level and significant kind of happiness. Just an idea to wonder about.