Relaxation technique helps with Covid-19

Blog post – 24th March 2020

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This famous daily relaxation technique will help you cope with Covid-19

By Renata Taylor-Byrne, Lifestyle Coach/Counsellor – Copyright 2020

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Introduction

CAT RELAXINGBecause of the very great seriousness of the present situation regarding Covid-19, we all need to stay in our homes as much as possible, to stop the spread of this virus.

So I thought that at this time, you may be interested in learning about a type of relaxation that has fantastic health benefits, which you could try out at home. It can be practised for a mere 20 minutes a day (longer if you want to combine it with a siesta) and it is brilliant!

You can do the exercise sitting in a chair, lying on the settee or lying on the floor.

It’s called Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) and here are some of the health benefits:

* It reduces high blood pressure.

*It boosts your immune system, (crucial at a time like this).

* It relieves depression, anxiety, pain, heart disease, insomnia, panic attacks and digestion problems.

The creator of this technique was a doctor called Edmund Jacobson (1888 – 1983). He was a physiologist, and physician in psychiatry and internal medicine. He spent seventy years researching and developing the key insights of scientific relaxation, based on years of observing tension within the human body. Starting in 1908 at Harvard University, then Cornell, and after that Chicago University, he then set up his own institution in Chicago called the Laboratory for Clinical Physiology.

The build-up of tension in our bodies

Jacobson-sleep-bookMost people don’t realise that they become increasingly physically tense as they try to solve the daily problems of their lives. They use up lots of their physical energy just maintaining that tension. Because of this phenomenon, of accumulation, or building up of tensions in the body’s muscles, day in and day out, people develop anxiety, depression, and various physical illnesses.

It works like this: As we handle the daily tasks and challenges of life, physical tension slowly builds up in our bodies throughout the day, and this accumulating tension is further intensified by a steady bombardment of bad news via mobile phones, the TV and newspapers.

But how is physical tension linked to anxiety?

As you respond to some stressful event, this creates tension in your body, and feelings of anxiety in your brain-mind, which makes you wide awake, on full alert, ready to deal with what is ahead of us. This is the classic ‘Fight or flight’ response switching on to protect you. However, at the end of the day, those accumulated muscle tensions don’t just melt away as you get into bed and try to go to sleep. They can stop you getting to sleep and/or cause wakefulness during the night or early morning.

Some people try to get rid of physical tension and insomnia by taking sleeping tablets, which makes the situation worse. Nick Littlehales (2016)[1] states that one of the first jobs that a sports club will request him to do, when they call him in, is to get the sportsmen and women off sleeping tablets, because of the drain on the body’s energy that they inflict.

How bodily tension is reduced

Callout-1What Dr Jacobson developed was a simple technique which, if you practise it daily, will reduce your physical tension. It won’t work if you just do it from time to time. The system is very simple, and involves tensing a particular set of muscles, holding it for a few seconds, and then releasing the tension.  Each day, as you are doing the tension and release exercises, you will become more aware of what it feels like when you have tension in different parts of your body. And then you can slowly learn to release that tension. Day by day, your tension level reduces as you become aware of what you are doing to your body, as you go about your daily life.

And this reduction in levels of physical tension has beneficial effects throughout the body-bran-mind. People have more energy, less illness, reduced anxiety and depression; and this slowly transforms people’s self-confidence. They are able to sleep better by banishing insomnia; and their memory improves.

The people Jacobson helped with his research

Jacobson’s clients included engineers, journalists, lawyers, doctors, bankers, dentists and people from all the current businesses and professions which were operating at that time. When his first book was printed, (which was entitled “Progressive Relaxation”, in 1929), he was told by the workers and printers at the Chicago University Press that they in particular experienced a great deal of tension. And later in his career he came across union members in the garment and other industries, and assembly line workers who displayed evidence of extreme tension.  (Of course, today, there is a great deal of denial that such levels of tension are induced by stressful jobs!)

Jacobson-and-tensionJacobson’s theory was that clients experienced tension because they had hyperactive bodies and minds, and that the build-up of tension in the body resulted in the following symptoms: anxiety, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disorders, nervous indigestion, peptic ulcers and spastic colon. People were trying to cope with a very fast and constantly changing society, and the problem was that their efforts to cope were using up lots of energy.

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Controlling our energy expenditure

This energy, called adenosine triphosphate, comes from the food we eat. And Jacobson compared it to the petrol supply in a car – there is a limited amount; and when it’s gone, it’s gone. In other words, we have a “personal petrol supply” which we need for our brain, nerves and muscles, and it comes directly from the food we eat. This energy supply is used up by the activities we engage in to achieve our goals. So when we have a job to do, we use the muscles of our body (we have 1,030 skeletal muscles) and we contract and relax those muscles as necessary.

But what Jacobson knew from experience was that none of the doctors who had dealt with his clients before they consulted him, had told their patients about the need to control their energy as they lived their lives. The clients were well versed in the reality of businesses, and knew that, if they spent too much money, on the wrong kinds of investments, they would risk loss of profits and, ultimately, bankruptcy. But they had no awareness of the need for them to manage their own personal supply of physical energy. Here is what Jacobson found:

“I have had experience with the top management of some of … (the United States’) most successful corporations. The officials conducted business duties with outstanding efficiency and success, yet spent their personal energies quite extravagantly.

Executives - destroying-themselves“I was shocked to find that 40% of the top executives of one leading corporation had blood vessels that were beyond cure. They were paying with their lives for their years of energy extravagance.”

(Jacobson, 1976, Page 12).

A closer look at how tension and stress builds up in our bodies

If we don’t give ourselves time to relax and recover after we have exerted ourselves – (for example after we’ve had a hard day’s work; or had to tackle a serious problem; deal with an accident or emergency; or any one of the many stressful challenges that humans of all ages meet on a frequent basis) – then we can cause serious physical and mental health problems for ourselves.

Here’s why: Evolution has developed our bodies so that we are able to handle stressors, and then recover from them quickly. As human beings we’ve got a very efficient, in-built system for handling these pressures. It’s called the ‘Fight or flight’ response, and our bodies react with the release of stress hormones which help us cope with the problems that arise.

And then, we have an automatic recovery system which kicks in after a stressful event, and it’s called the ‘Rest and digest’ system. These two different but interrelated types of responses are part of our autonomic (meaning ‘automatic’) nervous system, which protects our bodies when attacked.

So, slowly, after we have dealt with a sudden crisis or stressful event, our digestion returns to normal, our breathing slows down, as does our heart rate, and we get back to full energy.

Recovery-processBut if we don’t give ourselves time to recover in-between these stressful events, we stop the natural recovery process from taking place. Our bodies experience more and more stress without this safety valve, or recovery stage, to dissipate it. Then there is a gradual accumulation of tension in our muscles, and stress hormones build up in our blood and body tissues.

So let us now take a quick look at how to do Jacobson’s muscle relaxation exercises.

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How to do the Progressive Muscle relaxation technique

  1. Lie on the floor, or on a couch or settee, or sit in a chair.
  2. Then, tense up and then relax each of the main muscles of your body to the count of five seconds; and then release and relax. For example:

– Start with your hands and forearms. Tighten your hands and feel the tension in your fists and forearms.  Hold it to the count of five seconds. And relax.

– Then lift your shoulders, as if trying to move them up to your ears. Feel the tension in your shoulders.  Hold it to the count of five seconds. And relax.

– Then clench your teeth together, to tense your jaw muscles.  Feel the tension in your jaw muscles.  Hold it to the count of five seconds. And relax.

– You will find several good videos on YouTube which will teach you a comprehensive range of muscles to tense and relax, so I will not present any more examples here.

  1. Next, when you have finished tensing and relaxing the different parts of your body, give yourself a 15-20 minute block of time to savour the feeling of complete physical relaxation. Just lie or stay in your fully relaxed position until the time is up.
  2. You may find you fall asleep and this is a good way to combine muscle relaxation with a daily siesta. You will feel refreshed, with renewed energy, after the exercise.
  3. This is crucial: For this technique to work, you need to do this every day. You will get an energy boost from this relaxation technique and big benefits for your heart, blood pressure, and stress and anxiety levels.
  4. You will also find that you will fall asleep more quickly at night if you stick to the daily pattern of practising the relaxation exercises. A tense body with tense muscles will prevent sleep for a long time during the night.
  5. But if you learn to become aware of, and to deliberately let go of, tension in your muscles, you will slowly become more and more relaxed; and you will get the full benefit of a good night’s sleep in time. (Aim for at least 8 hours of sleep each night). The more relaxed you are, the quicker you will be able to get to sleep and have the mental nourishment that only sleep can give your body.

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Proof of its effectiveness: Recent research studies into the effectiveness of progressive muscle relaxation

  1. The most recent research study I’ll describe, was conducted in Greece, in January 2019, with 50 long-term unemployed people.[2] They had been suffering from anxiety disorders, and the participants were split up into 2 groups. One group of thirty individuals were put on an 8 week progressive muscle relaxation training programme, and the control group did not receive any training.

At the start of the research study, the participants’ level of stress, anxiety, depression, integrity, their health–related quality of their life, and sense of safety and security was measured. And at the end of the research, the result was that the intervention group (which had the training in progressive muscle relaxation) had improved results in the aspects of their functioning which had been measured by the researchers.

So, even though the intervention group had statistically higher levels of depression, anxiety and stress before the intervention, after the follow up this group showed a significant reduction in those levels, whereas in the control group no significant difference was observed. Between the groups, the differences were statistically significant. To summarise the findings, the intervention group showed a decrease in the evidence of depression, anxiety and stress, the quality of their life and general mental health had improved and they felt more of a sense of coherence about their lives.

  1. A research study which took place in 2018 is another example: After having had a caesarean section, a lot of women suffer pain, disturbed sleep and have difficulty moving and walking. A research study was undertaken at the Damanhour National Medical Institute in Egypt with a group of women, 80 in number, to see if progressive muscle relaxation could help them recover from their operations.[3] The research study took the form of a randomised, controlled clinical trial, and 40 women were assigned to a study group and 40 women were assigned to the control group. The women in the study group were shown how to do progressive muscle relaxation, and then did it themselves. The results appeared to be quite conclusive: When the quality of the sleep experienced in the two groups were compared, 62.5% of the study group had nourishing sleep, compared to 5% of the control group. Regarding the intensity of the pain experienced by the control group, as they tried to move about, the level of pain they experienced was described by them as being at a level of 70%. On the other hand, the level of limitations in their movement experienced by the study group, because of pain, was ‘significantly absent’ from the whole of this group.

Therefore the conclusion made by the research team was that progressive muscle relaxation significantly reduced pain and made women’s physical activities less painful and restrictive, and there was a definite improvement in sleep quality. The researchers concluded in their report that their findings were similar to others in the same area of research: that the pain that mothers who had experienced caesareans was reduced by progressive muscle relaxation through the operation of several body systems.

They observed that it reduces the stress hormones of epinephrine, catecholamines and cortisol. Also, the deep breathing technique used, increases the oxygen levels in the body, and reduces the oxidative factors and as a result of this, less pain is experienced. It can also restrict the reaction of the sympathetic nervous system (the ‘Fight or flight’ response) and stimulate the parasympathetic nerves (the ‘rest and digest’ part of the autonomic nervous system) by restricting the feedback pathway from the mind to the muscles and as a result, block the biological response to pain. As a consequence, it may lower the heart rate, the level of blood pressure and the metabolic rate.

The outcome of the research study, the researchers concluded, was that post-caesarean women who practiced progressive muscle relaxation technique have lower post caesarean pain, a better quality of sleep and a reduced level of restriction on their physical activities than those who received just the routine nursing care.

Conclusion

Nata-Lifestyle-coach8Jacobson’s progressive relaxation technique has been acknowledged by health care professionals throughout the world as being very effective in many different healthcare environments. It’s a very straightforward technique that anyone can learn and use for themselves, and this increases their sense of self-efficacy and control over their bodies, and also increases their energy level. It’s a lot cheaper than drugs, medical or otherwise, and doesn’t have any negative side effects either!

The final key learning point about the technique is this:  Image result for bamboo paradox coverIt teaches you to raise your awareness of the muscles in your body; and you learn to notice the tension, and how to let go of it, in each of the main muscles of your body. If this is done regularly (daily is best), you become more and more skilled at spotting the tension in your muscles as it arises. Then you can relax the tension immediately after you have created it, instead of letting the tension accumulate in your body. And the more you practise, the more you can automatically spot and release unnecessary tension.

For information about how to perform PMR (progressive muscle relaxation), please see: “The Bamboo Paradox: The limits of human flexibility in a cruel world – and how to protect, defend and strengthen yourself”, by Dr Jim Byrne, It’s available at the ABC Bookstore Online, here: https://abc-bookstore.com/the-bamboo-paradox-a-book-of-wisdom-for-success/

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ABC Coaching Counselling Charles 2019That’s all for now.

I hope you find this helpful.

Best wishes,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne, Lifestyle Coach/Counsellor

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References

[1] Littlehales, N. (2016) Sleep: The myth of 8 hours, the power of naps, and the new plan to recharge body and mind. London: Penguin, Random House.

[2] Meracou, K., Tsoukas, K1, Stavrinos, G., et.al. (2019) The effect of PMR on emotional competence, depression-anxiety-stress, and sense of coherence, health-related quality of life, and well-being of unemployed people in Greece: An Intervention study. EXPLORE, Volume 15, Issue 1, January–February 2019: Pages 38-46. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.explore.2018.08.001

[3] Ismail,N.,Taha, W., and Elgzar, I. (2018) The effect of Progressive muscle relaxation on Post-caesarean section pain, quality of sleep and physical activities limitation (2018)International Journal of studies in Nursing. Vol 3, No.3 (2018)ISSN (online) DOI: https://doi.org/10.20849/ijsn.v3i3.461

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Conflicted Christmas and Unhappy New Year, The solution

Blog post – 6th January 2020

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How to fix a conflicted Christmas and an Unhappy New Year aftermath…

By Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

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Introduction

Selective Focus Photography of Three Smiling Women Looking at White and Brown DogWe are here, and it is now.  And it seems this now, where we are, is the same now we were in before the Christmas and New Year fantasies arrived to try to sweep us off our feet.

Of course, Christmas and the New Year are a great opportunity for families and friends to get together, to share food, and exchange gifts, and to be happy and relaxed, away from a tough working year.

I hope you are one of the many people who has enjoyed the festivities; the special foods; the parties; the gift exchanging; and any spiritual significance the festivities had for you.  (And even if you could not afford the special foods, and the gift exchanges, etc., I still hop you had a happy and peaceful time over the holiday period!)

I hope you are not one of those unfortunate people for whom Christmas turned into interpersonal conflict; unhappiness; and strained relationships.

The Holiday Fall-out

Every year, around this time, I see at least one or two individuals – and sometimes a married-couple or two – who have had a miserable Christmas or New Year event.  And so I have a lot of experience of dealing with those kinds of upsets.

Woman And Man Sitting on Brown Wooden Bench

In 2016, I wrote a pamphlet about How to Beat the Christmas Blues, in which I described my system of “re-framing adversities” in order to restore your sense of happiness and peace – even while conflict is going on, and in its aftermath. I subsequently wrote a book on How to Have a Great Relationship.

But this year, in the run-up to Christmas, I decided to write a book about How to Resolve Conflict and Unhappiness – Especially during Festive Celebrations – which would be helpful to individuals and couples – and families – throughout the year; because conflict and unhappiness can arise whenever families and friends congregate anywhere, at any time.  It is true that Christmas seems to be the main contender for the title of “the unhappiest time of year (for a minority of people”) – and as “the biggest surge in divorce petitions” (again, affecting for a minority of couples).

My solution to holiday conflict and unhappiness

Front cover 1In this book, I have presented a very powerful ‘technology’ for overcoming emotional distress – regardless of the cause.  I have also included special advice for couples about how to communicate so as to avoid conflict – or to manage that conflict better; plus special sections on insights into how to communicate more effectively with loved ones; and how to understand and improve your own ‘conflict style’.

I have provided a page of information about the content of this book on the ABC Bookstore Online.  Click this link for more.***

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Best wishes for a Happy 2020 (which is here and now).

Jim

Jim Byrne

cropped-abc-coaching-counselling-charles-2019.jpgDoctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

Email: jim.byrne@abc-counselling.com

Telephone: (UK: +44) 01422 843 629

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Freud, sex, literature, Descartes, and the body-brain-mind-environment-complexity

Blog Post No. 170

By Dr Jim Byrne

23rd July 2018

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Dr Jim’s Blog: Freud, sex, literature, Descartes, and the body-brain-mind-environment-complexity!

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Part Two: More on ‘What are the linkages between psychology and psychotherapy, on the one hand, and literature, on the other’?

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Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, July 2018

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Introduction

Books on emotional intelligence.JPGRecently, I’ve been blogging about some of the important linkages, or overlaps, between psychology, on the one hand, and literature, on the other.

For examples: I have written about:

(1) Some of the books that helped to grow my emotional intelligence; or to help me to ‘complete’ (or process) some early, traumatic experience;

(2) My own semi-autobiographical novel/story about the life of Daniel O’Beeve – and how this is legitimate psychotherapy for the reader, as well as the writer;

(3) How to “write a new life for yourself” – in the form of a new paperback book about a system of psychotherapy, which I have developed over a number of years.

(4) How psychological insights seep into literature; and how literature in turn influences, or humanizes, psychology and psychotherapy.

Today, I want to describe some experiences with literature that I’ve had over the past couple of days.

Visiting bookshops in Bradford

Julian Barnes, Through the WindowTwo days ago – on Saturday 21st July – Renata and I took some time out and went to Bradford for lunch, and to take a look around the shops, including two bookshops and the main DVD/movie outlet (HMV, in the new arcade).

In Waterstones’ bookshop, towards the end of our visit, I was looking for something which would help me to reflect some more upon the linkages between psychology and literature.

There was nothing of any relevance in the Psychology section.

Then I went looking for a Literature section.  The best I could find were two adjacent book cases, one on Poetry, and one on Drama.  (Bradford is not a particularly big city).

In the drama section, there were a few books on literature, including one by Julian Barnes: Through the Window – Seventeen essays (and one short story); London; Vintage Books; 2012.

The blurb on the back of this book suggested it was exactly what I was seeking.  It began like this: “Novels tell us the most truth about life…”

I bought it, and brought it home, and dived into the Preface, which describes ‘a Sempé cartoon’, which shows three sections of a bookshop.  On the left, the Philosophy section; on the right, the History section; and in the middle, a window that looks out at a man and a woman who are approaching each other from roughly the locations of those two sections, and who are inevitably (and accidentally) going to meet in front of the middle section, which is the Fiction section.

For Julian Barnes, this cartoon describes his own beliefs about the central role of fiction in our lives.

“Fiction, more than any other written form, explains and expands life”, he writes, with great assurance.  “Biology, of course, also explains life; so do biography and biochemistry and biophysics and biomechanics and biopsychology.  But all the biosciences yield no biofiction.  Novels tell us the most truth about life: what it is, how we live it, what it might be for, how we enjoy and value it, how it goes wrong, and how we lose it.  Novels speak to and from the mind, the heart, the eye, the genitals, the skin; the conscious and the subconscious.  What it is to be an individual, what it means to be part of a society. What it means to be alone.  …” Etcetera.

However, it could be objected that, while the various sciences instruct, and suggest what must be done and not done, the literary arts merely create visceral and emotive sensations, which must link up with our socialization in general – that is to say, our previous learning – to help us to decide what to do with this new literary information; these insights; or newly forming feelings and thoughts.

Indeed, it seems to me that if all we had was literature, then we would be “weaving without weft” – or trying to make a fabric without those long strings, from one end of the loom to the other, through which the shuttle passes.  We would be trying to make sense of fictions in the absence of the insights we gain from the various sciences, and the ruminations of the various philosophers.

However, the reverse is also true.  Without literature and art, the sciences would provide us with long strings of facts, set up on our mental looms, but with no means of weaving a living fabric of warmth and depth and emotional meaning.

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An example from fiction

John-Fowles-MantissaWhat I omitted from my story above is this: Before going to Waterstones’, we had visited the Oxfam shop, which has a vast floor dedicated to second-hand books, included the abandoned books of waves of undergraduates and postgraduates from the local universities: yards of books on Psychology, philosophy, health studies, and so on.  And then there’s History, and lots of novels – many of the pulp variety – and some classics.

During this visit, I did look at psychology, and health studies, and personal development; but I began by looking for a novel which might help me to elucidate some of the points I’ve been exploring in these blog posts.  And I did find one.

I found Mantissa, by John Fowles. This author’s name jumped out at me because I have read five of his nine books – but I had never come across Mantissa.

So I opened it, and what should leap off the page at me, but a quotation by René Descartes.  This had an electrifying effect upon me, because I have been arguing – in earlier blog posts in this series – that philosophies, like Descartes’ misleading ‘cogito’ (“I think therefore I am”), got into psychology; and that, whatever arises within, or gets into, psychology, inevitably finds its way into literature.  And here was a living proof of my assertions.  The particular quote from Descartes, promulgated by John Fowles, on page 5 of Mantissa, included the following conclusion:

“…this I, that is to say the soul by which I am what I am, is entirely distinct from the body, is even easier to know than the body, and furthermore would not stop being what it is, even if the body did not exist”.

We know from previous considerations of this ‘cogito’-philosophy of Descartes by generations of philosophers, that it is impossible to sustain his beliefs about the body-mind split.

But the more important consideration is this: Why is John Fowles beginning his novel with this quotation?

Is it his intention to argue that we are souls, separate and apart from our bodies?

Or is he going to try to undermine Descartes’ belief?

Part I (of IV) begins with the suggestion of ‘a consciousness’ surrounded by “a luminous and infinite haze”. And out of this connectivity comes an individual consciousness – a male person, in a bed, looking up at two women; one of whom claims to be his wife, and the other a doctor (of neurology); and the suggestion emerges of ‘loss of personal memory’.  The ‘wife’ departs, and a nurse arrives to join the doctor, and it unfolds that the treatment for this poor man (Mr Green’s) mental problem is a physical therapy.  (The theory, explicitly stated by the doctor, is that there is a link between the genitals and the personal sense of remembered self!)

At this point, we can say that Fowles seems to be setting out to refute Descartes view of a separation between mind and body, by treating memory loss via the genitals. (Crazy theory, I know!  But it proves to owe a lot to Freud’s theory of psychosexual stages of human development!)

Fowles’ intention to undermine Descartes seems likely, especially given that the doctor in this story is a neurologist: a specialist in understanding brain-mind functioning. Or the physical brain as the substrate of mind.

Mr Green proves to be resistant to the sexual activities to which he is subjected by the doctor and the nurse, until, at the start of Part II, it emerges that no such reality exists.  There are no physical bodies present! It is all going on in the mind of Mr Green – (who is obviously, ultimately, Mr Fowles!) – who is essentially writing (in his mind) some scenes of pornography.

This is an echo of one of Descartes’ meditations, in which he wonders if he might be just a brain suspended in a vat by an evil demon, and that his brain imagines that it is attached to a body in an external environment.  (I know!  Descartes was a nut!)

(But think about today’s counsellors and psychiatrists.  Most counsellors think of the client as a floating mind!  And most psychiatrists think of the mind-brain as a chemical unit separate and apart from the stresses and strains of its social environment, its philosophy of life, and its personal history of experience!)

Towards the end of Part IV, it becomes obvious that all of the action being described within this narrative, is not actual action, but narrative within narrative; with a magical edge, provide by the presence of the Greek goddess, Erato: (originally introduced as the doctor of neurology!); and the pornographic ravings of a juvenile author (Fowles!)

There is a nod backwards towards Freud in this book; not alone by reducing all human activity to a sexual nightmare; but also these nuggets:

“Now listen closely, Mr Green”. (This is said by the doctor of neurology; who we later learn is the goddess Erato!) “I will try to explain one last time.  Memory is strongly attached to ego”. (NB: Ego is the English-psychoanalyst rendering of Freud’s concept of ‘the I’.)  “Your ego has lost in a conflict with your super-ego”, – (Super-ego is the English-psychoanalyst rendering of Freud’s concept of ‘the Over-I’ [the first instantiation of which is every baby’s mother]).  – “which has decided to repress it – to censor it”. (The concept of repression comes from Freud!) “All nurse and I wish to do is to enlist the aid of the third component of your psyche, the id”. (‘The id’ is the English-psychoanalyst rendering of Freud’s concept of ‘the It’; the ‘thing’ that we are at birth! The ‘whole thing’, body-brain-and-embryonic-mind). “Your id” writes Fowles, through the ethereal person of the doctor/goddess, “is that flaccid member pressed against my posterior.  It is potentially your best friend. And mine as your doctor.  Do you understand what I am saying?” (Page 31 of Mantissa).

So, I think some of my points are being ‘firmed up’ here (if you will pardon my inability to refrain from making a pun at the expense of Fowles and Freud!)  In particular, I think it is safe to say that ideas pass freely between philosophy, psychology and literature.  Each feeds off the other. There are no impermeable boundaries between those domains of thought!

And we have to be awake to this reality for various reasons which I will look at later.  The most obvious one being that fictions find their way into philosophy; and philosophical fictions find their way into psychology; and fictitious aspects of psychology inform counselling and psychotherapy!  And round and round!

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Back to Julian Barnes

Julian Barnes © Alan Edwards
Julian Barnes

Earlier I quoted a very strong argument by Julian Barnes, from the Preface of his book, Through the Window; in which he said: “Novels tell us the most truth about life…”.

However, if you read your texts closely, you will often be rewarded with insights like this: Barnes was inconsistent.

Really? In what way?

Well, just 45 words after the end of his strong claims about novels telling the most truth, we read this statement; the final statement of the Preface:

“The best fiction rarely provides answers; but it does formulate the questions exceptionally well”. (Emphasis added, JWB).

So, if we put his two main ideas together, we get this:

Novels tell us the most truth, but not in the form of answers; only in the form of questions!

Does that make any sense?  No.

Why not?

Because the novel actually presents imaginary scenarios as history. Reading those scenarios – and taking them at face value – the reader finds that certain questions automatically form within their body-brain-mind, based on their socialization; their past experiences; and their current circumstances.

The author cannot control which questions will form in the mind of the reader.

But what is the value of the questions that are thus formed by fictional writing?

The value is huge!  Why?  Because questions are the first and most essential part of what some people call ‘thinking’, but which I call ‘overt, conscious perfinking’ – where ‘perfinking’ means perceiving- feeling- thinking, all in one grasp of the mind.

So, novels impact us, by bringing up new thoughts, and especially questions, which, if we pursue them, may produce dramatic answers that shunt us out of a current reality into a range of new possibilities! In this sense, novels are potentially hugely therapeutic!

For this reason, I recommend novels – the very best novels – my counselling clients; and to my supervisees – counsellors who need to keep growing their hearts and minds; and improving thereby their body-brain-mind-environment-complexity!

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How did the body get into the previous statement?

Heckler-Anatomy-of-change.jpgIt might have been difficult to answer the question – ‘What does the body have to do with reading and/or writing novels?’

Except, while I was scanning the pages of John Fowles’ Mantissa, Renata came over to me and showed me a book she had found: ‘The Anatomy of Change: A way to move through life’s transitions’. This book was written by Richard Strozzi Heckler (1993), a teacher of Aikido (which is a system of Japanese unarmed combat – which I studied briefly at the Dublin Judo Club, in 1991-’62). Heckler’s philosophy of life can be summed up like this:

Renata pointed me at a section on Living in the Body; in which Heckler describes how he was once hired by a juvenile detention centre, where he was to work with difficult juveniles who were violent offenders.  He worked with one, physically huge, and very angry young man who expressed the desire to kill somebody, because he was so angry. Heckler, intuitively, and pragmatically, told this youth that he could show him precisely how to kill somebody.  The youth was hooked, and they began to work on the Aikido pressure points.  But this youth’s physical energies prevented him easily learning what needed to be learned; and so Heckler began to work on his body, to get him to the state where he could master the Aikido pressure points that he wanted to learn. However, through the process of focusing his attention on his own body, and learning to release tensions, this youth lost his interest in killing anybody. He was beginning to live in his body; and he realized it was more interesting to find out about himself than to kill anybody.

Moving a muscle can change a thought, and/or an emotion.  Physical training is profoundly stress reducing.  It teaches physical self-confidence.  And, the softening of ‘body armouring’ can release the person’s feelings, intuitions, and compassion, and, according to Heckler, it can heal our physical and emotional wounds.  (That certainly lines up with my own experience at the Dublin Judo Club [which was actually called the Irish Judo Association at the point when I joined]).  Our experiences shape our body-brain-mind; and we can begin to loosen and reframe our most troubling experiences by working from the body-side of our body-brain-mind, or from the mind-side of our body-brain-mind.

Conclusion

honetpie
Dr Jim Byrne

Reading a novel on the way to and from your equivalent of the Judo Club will double your progress in healing your body-brain-mind; and seeing a good, wise, broadminded counsellor, at some point each week, will also help!

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PS: If you want to see the kind of range of ideas that I write about, please go to Books about Emotive-Cognitive Therapy (E-CENT).***

That’s all for today.

Best wishes,

Jim

 

Dr Jim Byrne

Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

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Psychology and literature, the connection

Blog Post No. 169

By Dr Jim Byrne

20th July 2018

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Dr Jim’s Blog: What are the linkages between psychology and psychotherapy, on the one hand, and literature, on the other…?

Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, July 2018

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Introduction

Cover image of young O'BeeveI recently posted some comments on LinkedIn on the connections between psychology and literature, and the effects of literature upon my own therapeutic journey.

Sometimes my second thoughts are better than my first; and on this occasion I think there is certainly a need to clarify some of my positions:

Second thoughts

The good story, Kurtz and CoetzeeFirstly:  When I wrote that I had learned more from literature than I had ever learned from my academic studies, I think this was only true of my life in my twenties and up to the age of 33 years.

In my teens, I had looked at the tens of thousands of books that were stacked from floor to ceiling in some of the book shops along Aston Quay, in Dublin City, and I despaired of ever being able to read even a tiny fraction of that mountain of literary and pulp fiction wordage.  So I veered towards reading non-fiction for several years.  Indeed, in the main bookshop I used on the quays, I began to buy second-hand books that looked at psychology subjects, and I was very interested in hypnosis, and the inferiority complex.

From about the age of 22 years, I read a lot of economic and politics.

But, around that time, I did find some significant fiction books that had a huge effect upon my emotional development.  And, when I was 27 years old, i read Dostoevsky’s ‘The Idiot’.

Secondly: Beyond the age of 33 years, I began to take seriously the study of psychology, beginning with person-centred counselling; and then Transactional Analysis; and then Gestalt therapy. And eventually studied 13 different systems of counselling and psychotherapy.

Achieving-Emotional-LiteracyYears later I studied Claude Steiner’s ‘Achieving Emotional Literacy’, which I found to be very effective teaching of emotional intelligence, including the development of empathy.  However, nobody who has read any novels by Charles Dickens would try to deny that Dickens teaches empathy by evoking it, while Steiner teaches empathy by delineating it.

Carl Rogers’ writings call for empathy, but I learned how to feel it from reading Dickens, Donna Tartt, Ursula Le Guin, Kurt Vonnegut, and many others; including Dostoevsky and Graham Green.

Thirdly: Here is the bit that I missed in my earlier posts.  The discipline of ‘literature creation’ is always informed (in my view) by the leakage of psychological theory into the public domain.

How can I support this claim?

sigmund-freud7.jpgOne way to do so is to look at D. H. Lawrence’s novel, Sons and Lovers, which suggested that the main character had an ‘Oedipus complex’ about his mother.  I wrote about this in my own semi-autobiographical novel like this:

‘When Sigmund Freud saw the play, Oedipus Rex, in Vienna, in the late 1890’s, he found himself believing that he, personally, had lusted after his own mother.  He then subsequently inferred that this must be a universal law of sexual development, which applies to all sons – which it is not.

‘Because D.H. Lawrence adopted this idea of Freud’s, in his semi-autobiographical novel, Sons and Lovers, the idea has become generalized that young men commonly suffer from an Oedipus complex.  But Lawrence did not get this idea from reflecting upon his actual relationship with his mother.  He got it from his wife Frieda, who had got it from Otto Gross, “an early disciple of Freud’s”.[1]  And he misleadingly inserted it into the heads of his readers, thus distorting their understanding of the most fundamental relationship in human society.”

So let us wash this psychobabble out of English/Irish/World literature for all time.  A young boy is perfectly capable of pure feelings of love for his mother; and a mother is perfectly capable of feeling pure love for her son – provided she is emotionally well, with a secure attachment style.

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In this case, the psychologist – Freud – misleads us, because he was influenced by his misreading of *Greek Literature* into believing in the universal lusting of sons for their mothers. (The Greek myth does not claim that this is a universal tendency, but that it was a most unfortunate accident which befell Oedipus,which was facilitated because he had been misled by his servants into thinking his mother was dead).

Donna_Tartt_The_GoldfinchOn the other hand, I got a much better sense of guidance on healthy love between a mother and her son from Donna Tartt’s novel, The Goldfinch.  And, again, I wrote about this in my own semi-autobiographical novel (or story), like this:

‘The most extreme pain arising out of my (Jim’s) sense of loss of a loving connection to my mother came when I was reading The Goldfinch, an extraordinary novel by Donna Tart, just a few months ago.  Theo Decker, the main character, is a twelve year old boy, who is in trouble at school, for being associated with another boy who was caught smoking.  Theo and his mother have been called in for a meeting with the school staff.  It’s raining heavily as they leave their apartment building, in Manhattan, so they take a cab, but have to abandon it near the New York Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), because the cab seats smell foul.  Then, because it is still raining hard, and they are running early for their school appointment, they decide to shelter in the MOMA, and look at some of Theo’s mothers’ (and his) favourite paintings.

‘Throughout this process, Theo describes how handsome/ beautiful his mother looks; her fashion sense; her art appreciation; and how she speaks to him – and has often spoken to him – respectfully, playfully, joyfully, artfully, maternally but also increasingly as though he were an equal adult; or an increasingly equal person. And he describes all the wonderful moments of shared experience they have had.  I begin to get the feeling of an intense sense of love for his mother – which is reciprocated – and which has nothing in common with Freud’s ‘Oedipus Complex’ twaddle.

‘This is just plain ordinary liking and loving of a type which I never experienced with my mother – (and not even with Ramira, my first wife, who hurt me and insulted and offended me for the six years of our marriage). Theo Decker loves his mother, and she loves him; and that was like a blow to my solar plexus, which brought tears to my eyes: the realization that my mother never showed any such love for me; and often treated me worse than I would treat a stray dog!’

Fourth: I suspect that most of the influences of psychology that seep into literature, and from literature, into the public imagination, are more positive than negative. Perhaps it would be correct, and helpful, to say that literature popularizes and humanizes psychological theories, but we do need psychology as a discipline to inform all of us. Common sense cannot substitute for psychological research.  But we should never forget that psychology owes its origins to *philosophers* like Plato, Aristotle, Locke and Hume; as well as Freud and Klein; Skinner and Watson; Ellis and Beck; John Bowlby; and today, Allan Schore, Daniel Siegel, and many others.

And psychological theory is just that: theory, which has to be applied and revised; over and over and over again; from generation to generation; and to be reformed and rejigged to take account of insights coming from other disciplines; like sport psychology; nutritional psychiatry; neuroscience; sleep science; and on and on.

Fifth: I did not invent the idea that there is a link or affinity between psychotherapy and fictional literature.  Indeed, Arabella Kurtz (a British psychotherapist) and J.M. Coetzee (a South African novelist) co-authored a book of exchanges, titled “The Good Story: Exchanges on truth, fiction and psychotherapy”, London: Harvill Secker: 2015.  Here is the briefest of extracts, to make an important point:

Arabella Kurtz: “The stories we tell about our lives may not be an accurate reflection of what really happened, indeed they may be more remarkable for their inaccuracies than anything else …” This truth applies as much to the stories our clients tell us (counsellors) as it does to the stories we make up about who we are, and what we do with our clients in sessions.  “But they (these stories) are simply all we have to work with, or all that we know we have; and we can do a great deal with these stories, particularly if we take the view that there are truths, of the subjective or intersubjective kind, to be revealed in the manner of telling”. (Page 63).

I believe we are story-tellers in a sea of stories.  We benefit, as humans, by reading the stories of our fellow humans, and telling our own stories; and not just by reading the theories that come out of the psychology lab, or the ‘sanitized reports’ that some therapists produce as ‘clinical research’!

Common sense cannot substitute for psychology and psychotherapy research and development; but neither can third-person, passive voice reports of abstract numerical quantification substitute for stories that warm and move the human heart!

~~~

PS: If you want to see the kind of range of ideas that I write about, please go to Books about Emotive-Cognitive Therapy (E-CENT).***

That’s all for today.

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

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[1] Dr Howard J. Booth, School of English, University of Kent.  In the Introduction to D.H. Lawrence (1913/1999) Sons and Lovers. Ware, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Classics.  Pages XII-XIII.

Reading, writing, literature and self-healing

Blog Post No. 168

By Dr Jim Byrne

15th July 2018 (Updated on 15th March 2020)

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Dr Jim’s Blog: Literature, personal writing of fiction, and therapeutic healing of the heart and mind

Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, July 2018

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Introduction

Call out about LiteratureIndividual Life is a gift, bestowed by Collective Life, upon fragments of Living Stuff.  Life is a rolling floor-show of life living itself!

We come into existence knowing nothing; and guessing what life might be about.  We stumble through childhood, suffering the blows of negative treatment, and savouring the kiss of good fortune.  We float into adolescence with the naiveté of a baby encountering its first crocodile! And, if we are fortunate, we encounter love in our late twenties, or our early thirties, and feel the full range of emotions: from ecstatic and sweet joy, to fearful and angry insecurity.

The Bamboo Paradox: The limits of human flexibility in a cruel world – and how to protect, defend and strengthen yourself

Finding the Golden Mean that leads to strength and viable flexibility, in order to be happy, healthy and realistically successful

A, Front cover-2By Dr Jim Byrne.

With contributed chapters by Renata Taylor-Byrne

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The Institute for E-CENT Publications: 2020

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Are human beings like bamboo?  Are we designed to withstand unlimited pressure, stress and strain? Is our destiny to be sacrificed on the altar of ‘flexible working arrangements’?

We live in a world in which there are dark forces that wish us to forget that we are fleshy bodies, with physical and mental needs; and physical and mental limitations; and to be willing to function like mere cogs in the wheels of somebody else’s financial or technological empire.

Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) has played into this narrative, and given it philosophical support, by promoting a form of Extreme Stoicism in the name of therapy and wisdom, which it patently is not. (General Cognitive Behaviour Therapy [CBT] also supports this agenda, but to a lesser degree, or in a less obvious way! And some forms of Extreme Buddhism also advocate ‘detachment’ from material concerns, such as the need for a balanced life!)

In this book, I review the research that we have done on the limits of human endurance, and the determinants of that endurance – as well as identifying a viable philosophy of life – which will help you to optimize your strength and flexibility, while at the same time taking care of your health and happiness.

If you want to take good care of yourself in the modern mad-market, you could benefit from studying this book. It will provide you with both a compass and a suit of armour which will support you with the challenges and battles you will inevitably face.

Click for more information.***

Paperback copy: £14.99 GBP***

Kindle eBook: £5.99 GBP.***

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Often, we need to encounter the possibility of love in more than one relationship before we can make sense of this ennobling and devastating emotion.

We seek words for our experiences of love and hate, joy and devastation, only to fall back again and again into the void of unknowing: the wordless pit of unconsciousness.

If we are fortunate, we will discover some aspects of the great literature of those who traversed these trackless voids of human beginnings and developments before us; and we may feel in our hearts and guts the pains and pleasures, the defeats and victories, that those who went before us felt and described.

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How to Resolve Conflict and Unhappiness: Especially during Festive Celebrations:

Coping with and resolving frustrations, disappointments and interpersonal clashes at family celebrations like Christmas, Yuletide, Hanukkah, Eid, and Thanksgiving

Front cover 1Dr Jim Byrne (With Renata Taylor-Byrne)

Conflict can happen in families at any time of year.  It jut so happens that the first Monday after the Christmas & New Year annual holidays is called ‘Divorce Day’, because that is when the highest number of divorce petitions is issued. And it seems most likely that the other major family holiday times are the runners up in the divorce stakes.  However, what is hidden under these divorce statistics is the mountain of personal and social misery that precedes such drastic ‘solutions’ to repeated conflict, disappointments and interpersonal clashes.

But there is a better way to deal with these problems. Rather than letting the misery build up over time, you can take control of both your own mind, and the way you communicate within your family and society.  You can insulate your social relationships from constant or repeated misery and unhappiness; and learn to have a wonderful life with your family and friends.

The solutions have been assembled by Dr Jim Byrne in this book about how to re-think/re-feel/re-frame your encounters with your significant others; how to communicate so they will listen; how to listen so they can communicate with you; and how to manage your lifestyle for optimum peace, happiness and success in all your relationships.

PAPERBACK AND eBOOK ON CONFLICT RESOLUTION…

Don’t let your relationships deteriorate. Get the solution today. Click this link for more.***

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On being human

DrJimCounselling002The highest calling of a human being is to make sense of our own life, as moral beings, and to share that understanding with those who follow along behind us, so that they might avoid – or traverse more smoothly – the swamps and volcanoes that we had to endure.

Whether we are born in the smallest village in Ireland, or the largest suburb of the largest city in the United States of America; or somewhere in South America; or South Asia, or Central Africa; there is nothing to say that we may not have the latest parable of human suffering and divine love on the tip of our tongues!

Daniel O’Beeve’s Amazing Journey: From traumatic origins to transcendent love

Front Cover.3
Cover design by Will Sutton

Transcribed by Jim Byrne

It is rare that any of us gets a chance to peer inside the life of a troubled individual, from a dysfunctional family, and to have our lives enriched by their struggles for freedom and self-understanding.  Furthermore, their quest for love in a cold world can motivate us to keep trying to promote our own emotional liberation.

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Available in Kindle eBook for £5.54 GBP

And in paperback for £27.38 GBP:

Learn more:

Daniel’s Amazing Journey.***

So speak to the world of your journey, that you might know where you have been; and that others might benefit from your journey!

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Regarding literature

Donna_Tartt_The_GoldfinchThe reading of good quality literature – from any and every era of the novel and the stage play – is emotionally educating, and healing of traumatic past experiences.  You can recover from sadness and depression; anger towards the world; and defeatist timidity: Just by exposing your mind and heart to the stories of others who went before you.

The writing of semi-autobiographical stories – with some, little emotional distance from direct, personal experience – is a great way to indirectly digest past traumatic or difficult experiences.

A good semi-autobiographical story, built on fragments learned from the insights of generations of novelists and other authors, is a great way to pass on personal healing examples and therapeutic gifts.  And that is what I have tried to do in my story about Daniel O’Beeve.***

I would like to encourage readers to begin to write short pieces, stories – in semi-autobiographical form – about their own difficulties in the past.  It will help you enormously to grow your emotional literacy (or EQ).

Please take a look at my story if you need a template, or some guidance on how to fictionalise a life story.  Link to Daniel O’Beeve’s story.***

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PS: About an hour after I posted this blog, Daniel’s story became available on Amazon, here: Daniel O’Beeve’s story at Amazon.co.uk.***

For more links, please go here: https://abc-counselling.org/2018/07/15/reading-writing-literature-and-self-healing/

That’s all for the moment.

I hope you try this therapeutic writing approach, and gain enormously from using it!

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

jim.byrne@abc-counselling.com

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Coaching quotations for success and happiness

Blog Post No. 59

11th June 2018 (Updated on 12th June)

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2018

Renata’s Coaching Blog: Quotations for success and happiness: Ideas can change your life

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Introduction

Increasing our well-being, success and happiness as humans is a multi-faceted process!

In this short blog I want to share with you some fabulous quotes which I’ve come across in the course of my research.  My hope is that these little ideas will spark some new thinking of your own, and make a contribution to your growing success and happiness.

Nata's June blog post2What I like about these authors is that they don’t mince words – they go straight to the point.

These quotes are like nuggets of gold: precious because of the willingness of the people who share them to be honest, and pass on their insights and lived experience. I thank them all for that!

These quotes cover the different aspects of what it means to be human. As human animals our level of activity and exercise is very important for our well-being, as is the amount and quality of sleep we have, the quality of our diets, how to handle the challenge of very difficult life events, resisting social pressure to conform to others’ rules, staying true to ourselves, and how we nurture and manage our relationships with our families and friends.

If we ignore the knowledge and authority in these statements, then we are the ones who will pay the price, sooner or later.

Here’s an introductory quote:

“People are more concerned with figuring out which direction their car is going, than in finding out the direction of their life, health and where their relationships are going”.

Jonathan Robinson

This quote wakes us up to the fact that it is very easy to become over-involved in what is directly in front of us, instead of watching where we are going in life!

The well-being quotations

1. This quote is based on extensive research, and, if adopted by people, will have an immediate impact on their sense of well-being as they go about their daily jobs and commitments. It’s from Shawn Stevenson, a best-selling author and the founder of the Model Health Show in America:

“Your sleep quality and the quality of your life go hand in hand…….Unless you give your body the right amount of sleep you will never, I repeat never, have the body and life that you want to have”.

Shawn Stevenson

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2. I particularly like this one, from the Earl of Derby:

“Those who don’t find time for exercise will have to find time for illness”.

The Earl of Derby

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This statement by the Earl of Derby is one of the things that motivates me to do my physical exercise, most days of the week.  Without this insight, I might think my exercises were ‘wasting valuable time’!

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3. This next quotation is the opinion of Dr Kelly Brogan – (a practising psychiatrist, trained medical doctor, with a degree in cognitive neuroscience, and she describes the work she does with her patients as ‘lifestyle medicine’). This is her assessment of of the pointlessness of applying chemical solutions to people’s problems:

“If you think a chemical pill can save, cure or ‘correct’ you, you’re dead wrong. That is about as misguided as taking aspirin for a nail stuck in your foot”.

Dr Kelly Brogan

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4. This next quote, from Claudia Black, explains the need to have boundaries that protect you from hostility and destructive criticism in your immediate social environment:

“Surround yourself with people who respect you and treat you well.”

Claudia Black

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Implicit in Claudia Black’s statement, above, is the idea that we should not associate with people who are bad for us.  And also, when people – who are basically good for us – say or do things that offend us, we have to defend ourselves from those attacks.

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5. On the theme of self-care, here is an excellent quote:

“You can’t give to your family or others out of an empty cup – Practice extreme self-care”. (Anon)

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6. On the same subject of self-care, and handling criticism from others, here is a powerful quote from Leila Hoteit, an Arab businesswoman. She defines resilience as the ability to transform shit (sexism, racial prejudice, destructive criticism, etc) into fuel, as she states in her fabulous TED talk:

“Convert their shit into your fuel!”

Leila Hoteit

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7. Life is always throwing new learning experiences at us, and here is a lovely quote by Thomas Szasz, which explains why it’s harder for us to learn when we get older:

“Every act of conscious learning requires a willingness to suffer an injury to one’s self-esteem. That’s why young children, before they are aware of their own self-importance, learn so easily”.

Thomas Szasz

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8. In the next quotation, J.K. Rowling passes on some great advice about what you will gain when problems happen in your life:

“You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and (my own adversities and struggles have) been worth more than any qualification I have ever learned.”

J.K. Rowling

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9. Here is a very useful and helpful quote by Dan Coyle, which assists us in re-framing past test and exam failures and interpersonal skills deficits:

“If you don’t have early success, don’t quit. Instead, treat your early efforts as experiments, not as verdicts.”

Dan Coyle

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10. The final quote is one from John Wooden, a world-famous coach. It reminds me of the idea (from Carol Dweck) that we can have an open or a closed mind-set.

“If I am through learning, I am through!”

John Wooden

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Conclusion

Nata-Lifestyle-coach92I hope you have enjoyed these quotes and that you find one or two of them useful.

They can change the way we view the world, or ourselves, and point the way for us to improve our well-being if we want the rewards.

I recommend that you treat yourself and have a look at the quotes in small, independent bookshops, as well as the major bookshops like W.H. Smith’s and Waterstone’s, in the UK. This process, of looking for ideas in the form of brief quotations, can be very illuminating and boost your energy at the same time.  Or, as John Steinbeck famously wrote:

“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.” 

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Best wishes,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Lifestyle Coach-Counsellor

The Coaching/Counselling Division

Email: renata@abc-counselling.org

Telephone: 01422 843 629

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