Changing your world

Last week I was talking about practising what you preach (here). I came across this quote which summarises it too…

“The world is changed by your example, not your opinion”

It’s easy for us to have an opinion on may things but it’s the action that makes the difference. This is as true for Mental health as it is for parenting as it is for getting homework done. It makes sense intuitively – how often do we say ‘I know what I need to do, but….’. I know I need to take a lunch break/find a friend when I’m stressed/sit down and start that piece of work which has been hanging over me…

There’s a model which we use in Clinical Psychology called Behavioural activation. It’s one we often use at Headspace Guildford, particularly to help young people who are struggling either with their mood or with motivation. Generally, we tend to think that we need to wait until we feel better before we do something. For example ‘I was invited to the cinema by some friends this evening but I feel a bit down and don’t want to be around people’. So we don’t go. Instead we sit at home watching any old TV we can find (which is not as good as the film we might have watched). We don’t move further than the kitchen all evening. We don’t talk to anyone and we go to bed still feeling down.

The idea behind Behavioural Activation theory is that it is the doing which makes us feel better. In other words we shouldn’t wait until we feel better to do something, but we should do it anyway and that’s what will help. So, going to the cinema despite feeling rubbish means going out and getting some fresh air, getting a bit of exercise (even if it’s only car park to cinema screen and back again), spending some time with friends, watching a good film (or enjoying complaining about a bad one), being around other people. It’s likely we’re going to come home feeling a tad better, or at least not feeling any worse.

It’s also the tenant that much anxiety work is based on. I love the quote ‘don’t let your fears stand in the way of your dreams’. We  know that avoiding things that make us anxious just makes us more anxious. Slowly, gently, steadily facing our fears makes us feel better and reduces our anxiety – so again it’s the doing rather than inaction, that makes a difference.

It’s the same with motivation. With tasks we don’t want to do, it can be tempting to put them off until we ‘feel like it’ or ‘get motivated’. Chances are that’s not going to happen. So instead, despite not wanting to do it and not feeling at all like sitting down at a desk, just sitting down and getting something done is helpful. At the very least it removes that nagging feeling that we haven’t done something or the guilt for ignoring it another day. And we know that as we get into a task our motivation increases. So, the doing is the thing which helps us get the task done.

So, going back to the quote I started with, the world is changed by your example – but it might be your world you’re changing. And that’s a good place to start. Just think where you can go from there…

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