Therapy Digest – 18

Therapy Digest -18

Latest Therapy news and views from Therapist Sally Baker

I was recently invited to be a guest on BBC Radio 5 Live to discuss the concept of Blue Monday – supposedly the most depressing day of the year that falls in late January.

Contrary to the current popular belief that happiness is supposed to be a constant state I see it much more as a fleeting emotion that can be experienced along with all other possible emotions.I believe it’s okay not to feel okay and to feel sad too – whatever day of the year!. It’s by experiencing sadness and honouring that emotion we can recognise and value the times when we do feel happy. In this Therapy Digest, I discuss 5 Happiness Hacks To Make you Smile so that we can all maximise our opportunities for happiness and see how you can make yourself smile whenever you want to.

In Therapy Digest 18 I also look at how goal setting isn’t a stick to beat yourself with when it all goes wrong but an opportunity to achieve the changes you want for yourself instead. It just takes a change of perspective to ensure a greater chance of success and I discuss that here in Goal Setting: 5 Ways to Successfully Achieve The Changes You Want.

5 Happiness Hacks To Make You Smile

Happiness is a fleeting emotion and not a constant state. Feeling happy is on the spectrum of emotions that includes sadness too and all of our feelings are valid. We can achieve a healthier mental state by accepting all of our emotions and not rushing ourselves to feel different or denying any of our feelings.

Sometimes it can feel challenging to feel happy so here are 5 happiness hacks to put a smile on your face. They range from something you can do in 30 seconds through to twenty minutes, and all of them will help you to feel lighter and happier.

30-Second Happiness hack – The Truth About Smiling

People have got it wrong about smiling. If you want to feel happier start by making yourself smile first. The changes in your facials muscles send signals to your brain to release happiness endorphins, and then you can feel like smiling even more.

2-Minute Happiness Hack – How Catastrophic Thinking Steals Your Happiness

People can get caught up in unhelpful thinking styles. One of them is catastrophic thinking. That’s when a negative thought comes into your mind about something that is outside of your control that may or may not happen in the future.

People can have these thoughts about anything, and they’re easy to identify as the scenarios that play in their mind become more and more dark, negative and catastrophic. It’s as though you allow your imagination to imagine an ever-worsening series of ‘What if?’  until you are completely absorbed in your own nightmare version of day-dreaming.

It’s imperative to acknowledge that catastrophic thinking is something you do to yourself and not something that happens to you. This is a symptom of disordered thinking, and this technique is about you taking back control of your thoughts – because ultimately that’s all they are – just thoughts.

So, when a negative, catastrophic thought comes into your mind say to yourself ‘That’s one of those thoughts I scare myself with’ and then interrupt it.

The most successful way to do this is by physically moving. If you’re sitting down then get up. If you have a little privacy then stand up and raise your left knee and tap that knee with your right hand, then switch and lift your right knee and tap that knee with your left hand. This is called Cross-Crawl and is a body energy technique taught to break the hold this unhelpful thinking can have on you. It’s so silly to do – hence the need for privacy – you’ll often end up smiling at yourself, and you’ll have forgotten whatever was on your mind too.

5-Minute Happiness Hack – Silencing Your Inner Critic

One of the reasons for not being happy is the inner voice in your mind that runs a constant monologue about everything you say or do.

If after reading that you are thinking to your self ‘What voice in my head?” well, that’s the one I mean. It usually exists just below your conscious awareness and rarely has anything constructive or supportive to say. It’s like a constant drip, drip of toxic negative judgments and your inner negative voice can eat away at your self-esteem and your ability to be happy.

Up until now, your inner voice has had free rein of your sub-conscious mind and now it’s time to turn that carping, moaning voice into your best friend and most enthusiastic cheerleader.

Sit quietly for a few moments and tune into the voice in your head. Really hear the sort of things it says to you. Try to work out if the judgements your inner voice say remind you of anything anyone said to you as you were growing up. You might have an a-ha moment when you realise for how long you’ve been carrying these old judgements around with you and how unhelpful they are.

Each time you notice a negative judgment about yourself I want you to take a deep breath in and breath it out. As you breathe out take a moment to replace that negative thought with a positive thought about yourself instead.

The process of replacing negative judgments with positive affirmations works best when it becomes a habit. Psychologists have worked out that it takes 21 repetitions to embed a new habit so just set aside 10 minutes a day for three weeks until your mind is used to supporting and cheering you on instead of putting you down.

10-minute Happiness hack – Just Say Thank You

Gratitude work is one of the oldest and most effective ways to increase happiness. At the end of your day, preferably just before sleep, just jot down in a notebook all the things that happened to you during the day that you are grateful for. The physical process of hand-writing these sentences of gratitude is essential so preferably do not type them.

In tough and challenging times it can be really difficult to recall anything to feel grateful for but as you commit to this nighty process more things will come to your mind. Again a commitment of a minimum of 21 days of recalling everything you feel grateful for will reap you increased happiness in your life in an almost magical way.

Begin with five things you are grateful for and try to build into a list of fifty. When your written list is complete, it will be enough for you just to read to yourself each evening all the things you are grateful for.

Working with gratitude the last thing at night after your busy day sets up your subconscious mind to find and feel more gratitude as you sleep soundly at night. 

20-minute happiness hack – Release Your Happiness Hormones

It takes 20 minutes of exercise before the happiness endorphins are released in your brain making you feel exhilarated and happy so don’t give up at 19 minutes!

If you feel you are struggling to feel happiness in your life and have underlying reasons that make you feel sad most of the time then reach out to me with an obligation free discovery call. You may need some help to transform how you think and feel about yourself before you can experience your full emotional range from sad to happy.

Goal Setting: 5 Ways to Successfully Achieve The Changes You Want

If there is an almost guaranteed way to feel like an abject failure then setting a New Year’s Resolution will do it for most of us. There is plenty of research to show that between 40-60% of all resolutions, year upon year, have either been broken or forgotten for good or at least until next year, by halfway through January!

Although many people imbue January 1st with magical properties as the ideal date to change their habits and behaviours. The truth is its just an arbitrary date in the diary with no more power or influence than next Tuesday week or even the next wet Wednesday for that matter.

Popular Goals People Set

When you think that four of the most popular life changes people want for themselves are to lose weight; give up smoking; drink less alcohol or achieve a better work-life balance these habits and ways of thinking can seem daunting to change when they represent long-term and entrenched behaviour.

So, if making a New Year’s Resolution really isn’t going to work to ensure lasting change then how does goal setting change that?

Instead of setting yourself up to fail by making a grand gesture the alternative is making incremental changes instead. Although this may feel less dramatic than a pledge made as the clock strikes twelve to beckon in the New Year, it is often a more successful way to achieve the goals you want to achieve and make the changes you want for yourself.

Small, incremental changes are the basis of the ‘Nudge Theory’.

This is about nudging or encouraging behavioural changes through positive reinforcement and indirect suggestion. In the wider world, nudge theory has been applied to economics, politics and health. Supporters of the effectiveness of the theory exist in the hallowed halls of academia, the White House and in the British Government to name but a few. So, how can nudge theory be applied to you successfully changing behaviours you would rather not have in your life?

Firstly, the nudge theory recommends you choose the best time to initiate changes to allow yourself the best chance of success. This frees you up from a New Year’s deadline, and instead, you can commit to a date that suits you best and when you are at your most ready to make changes.

It is surprising how many people set themselves up to fail by launching a new initiative in their life without thinking through how much they already have on their plate. Look at your diary for an opportunity when there may be a lull in stress levels at home or work or a time when you are able to give more energy to embrace fundamental changes. If you are canny with timing, you can give yourself a real head start towards success.

This may mean scheduling changes you want to achieve in your life for after a family holiday, or a big social event, such a wedding or birthday party. These are the kind of life events that might have turned your New Year’s best intentions to dust without some thoughtful planning. Equally some key events you have planned in your diary can be a beacon to aim for. Changes in behaviour are more likely to be enduring if you can align them with real-life events and deadlines such as being slimmer for a family wedding or getting fit to run a 5K or 10K charity race.

Embedding New Habits

Often psychologists agree it takes twenty-one repetitions to embed a new habit so bear that in mind when you’re making changes in your life. An example could be if you’ve decided to take up running or swimming as part of a new fitness regime and you are hating it. Nudge Theory would recommend you commit to jumping in the pool or going for a run without fail for twenty-one times and only then judge how you feel about your new activity. You may be pleasantly surprised how what was once a reluctant chore feels surprisingly satisfying and is easily included as part of your routine.

Behaving with your usual default habits perpetuates your feeling the same way about yourself. It is a truism that if you keep doing what you have always done, you’ll get the same results you’ve always got before so spend some time considering the most significant changes you want to see in your life. 

However, if you wait for everyone in your life to come on-board and be in agreements with your plans, you could wait a lifetime so do as Mahatma Gandhi suggested: ‘Be the change you want to see’. Set your own standard. It’s about doing something for yourself.

Your existing habits, thoughts and beliefs have brought you to where you are today, so nudging towards making positive changes is vital in allowing effortless changes and maintaining them into the future.


Be kind to yourself. If you feel overwhelmed making changes to your habits and anxious about succeeding with lifestyle changes then break down your goals into smaller steps which are more manageable to tackle.

Changing old habits that are not good for you or no longer serve you are life-changing steps on your road.  Your true potential is to live every day as a brand new day, with a brand new dawn which makes every day like a New Year’s day!

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