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Tag: languishing

What is the smallest thing you can do to improve your life?

What is the smallest thing you can to do improve your life?” asked  engineer turned social media technologist cum psychologist, Benjamin Ellis, today on Twitter.

An impossible question!

We can never answer that question and this is why.

When “life is going well”, we don’t ask.

– Not because life is going well, but because we have no issue with getting on with life. The next step emerges, then the next, then the next.  We generate ideas as fast as we need them.

When “life is going badly”, we can’t answer.

–  Not because life is going badly, but because we can’t imagine the next step.  And because we can’t imagine the next step, we feel the way is lost.   And when the way is lost, we worry that life is lost.   And then we worry about improving our life.

“Life is going badly” means we can’t tell you spontaneously the small thing that we will be doing next!

The positive psychology answer

The positive psychology answer is to restore the feeling of well-being – not by another cup of coffee, though I am guilty of that.

And not by artificial crutches of well-being like positive chanting.

1 Actively savor

But by taking a small step “in the life in which we find ourselves”.  Poet David Whyte says that “sometimes truth depends upon a walk around the lake.”  Bringing forward one’s daily exercise and getting out into the fresh air and nature might restore our composure.

Rule of thumb: Bring forward a task that is important that we can do with enthusiasm and appreciation.

2 Meaningfully appreciate

Failing that, we simply need to pay attention to the task in front of us and do it mindfully.  Feel the keys beneath our fingers.  Feel the solid floor beneath our feet.

And if we do make some coffee, do it with care and appreciation.

Rule of thumb: Become engaged again with life through the things immediately to hand.

3 Ask for help

Mentors are important not just for their practical advice and or for the bolstering of our self-esteem.   Mentors are useful for the simple questions they ask.

A good mentor takes us out of the mental space of panic and helps us pinpoint what’s next.   They find it easy to ask the question that leads us to answer “What is the smallest thing we can do to improve our life?”  When they are skillful and not inclined to take over our burdens, they ask the small obvious question that leads to a small obvious answer.    @jackiecameron1 in Edinburgh, Scotland played that role for me yesterday quite publicly on Twitter.

She really does have the touch of the simple question that is so hard to ask.

Rule of thumb: Describe our conundrum to someone we trust.  They will often ask a simple question that might make us feel foolish but it will point us to what we crave – what to do next.

What do positive psychologists do?

So that’s what positive psychologists do.

They return us to the positive ecology of doing small things that matter quite spontaneously and help us stay there if we are there already.

Not knowing what to do is the bad life, and the bad life is not knowing what to do. One does not lead to the other.   They are the same thing.  The bad life and being out of actionable ideas are the same thing.

But the first step of getting out of the bad life is very hard to take – by definition.  If we knew, we would be doing it and we wouldn’t feel life is bad.

So that is what positive psychologists do.   We suggest you just carry on but acting the good life because the good life is the action you crave and action is the good life.

We won’t necessarily like the advice because at the minute we’ve persuaded ourselves that we are not in the good life.  But it is here.   It is present.  It is with us always.

Act out the good life right now in the life that you find yourself and you will forget the question of “What is the smallest thing we can do to improve our life?”


Languishing? Hire a psychologist

What to expect from your psychologist

If you make an appointment to see me, I am going to ask you the toughest questions of all time.  And I am not going to stop until you either run away, or, you tell me this

  • Which ring is you hat in?
  • Who is the critical mass of your believers?

The feisty & the “out-of-it”

In my work as a “work & organizational psychologist”, I work with basically two groups of people.

The feisty & decisive

The first group are feisty, decisive people who have a clear sense of where they’ve thrown their hat. They know what they are about and what they stand for.

People like their energy and gather around them. My job, in the busyness of it all, is to slow them down and get them to look after the critical mass of people around them – not all the time and not every day – but just from time to time.

The hatless, the ringless, the lost

The second group in the world are those who don’t know what they have done with their hat. They might have torn it up and put a little in several rings. They might have forgotten where they left it.

The hatless often masquerade as organized people. In fact, we may recognize them precisely because they accuse the feisty types of leaving their hats lying around!

The truth is they lost their own hat a long time back and they can’t commit to any ring until they remember where they left it! As Paolo Coelho said on Twitter the other day ~ Distrust people who like everything. Distrust people who like nothing.   Particularly distrust people who are indifferent to everything.

Their lives have become sad. They don’t trust themselves to choose a ring and throw in their hat. So no one trusts them. And because no one trusts them, they lose more faith in themselves.  If they know where they left their hat, they will not say.  They feel ashamed.

Trusting oneself, trusting others and being trusted, all three feed each other in a spiral that moves up and down quite quickly.

Tough-minded psychologists help you find your hat!

Tough words? Yes!  When we let people drift, we are not doing them any favours. This is where your tough-minded psychologist comes in.

We begin with you pitching up being prepared to work.  You signal your intent by paying. Nothing like some good money to focus your mind.

Then we get down to work.

Well what are you prepared to commit to? I want to see it.

I am your audience of 1 who won’t let you get away with 2nd best.

And that sets off a positive process. Fortunately, the whole process works as a spiral and it feeds off itself. Once you get going, you won’t need me for a long while.

You do it, not me

But I can’t do it for you. If I do it, you still haven’t committed to anything.  Until your hat, with your name on it, is in the ring for everyone to see, things won’t work for you.

I am your coach and cheer leader

My job is to get you going. To be your cheerleader as you pick a ring that you can cope with. To be there the first time you try. To celebrate with you and to cry with you. Just at the start.

We aren’t feisty or uncommitted in perpetuity

The two groups – the feisty and the uncommitted – don’t have permanent membership. If you have been in either too long, you probably need to get hold of your psychologist.

Just don’t choose a softy. Don’t chose someone who is themselves uncommitted to anything in particular.

Look for 100% commitment from your psychologist

The first thing you look for is whether the psychologist has thrown their hat in your ring. Are they behind you 100%?

If not, don’t waste a penny!  If their hat is not in your ring, nothing they do or say will work. That’s how it goes.

Start watching the hats and the rings. Be upfront and the world is upfront with you.

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