A Simple Technique To Improve Happiness

Shakespeare quote on thinkingEvery now and then I get a fantastic e-mail from a client or ex-client that shows they are not only turning up, but actually giving a lot of thought to the improving their happiness levels.

And by the way, I say happiness rather than self development because at the root of it, everybody comes to me because they want to be happier, even those who are fairly happy to begin with.

These e-mails always give my a buzz because I feel like I helped get them on the right track and that the client will get the results they’re looking for because they are doing the necessary work without me breathing down their neck.

And as an added bonus I often learn stuff that I can then use with other clients and I don’t even have to pay for it. Cool eh?

Last week was one such occasion and I thought the e-mail was so interesting I asked the person in question if I could post it with some comments inserted by me.

He agreed as long as I referred to him as The Turquoise Parakeet. Ok so we still have work to do on his rather strange bird name fetish, but other than that things are going great and here’s the e-mail.

A Simple Technique To Improve Happiness

Hey Tim

In the last few days I’ve been practicing a little technique which is making a big difference to my moods.

It all stemmed from me contemplating that cool phrase from Hamlet:

“Nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so”

At its core, this phrase shows that how you feel about your life comes down to your beliefs about the world. And, as you often remind me, your beliefs can be changed.

Tims note: I actually now think that quote is probably the greatest ever written because it sums up just about everything I do. Change your thinking and you change your life, period!

Recently I’ve been struggling with motivation. Whenever I thought about tasks that needed doing, I noticed that my default reaction was a sort of “Oh no!” feeling which I could feel viscerally at times.

I realized it equated to a belief that “Work = hassle”

So then I decided to find a way to replace this limiting belief with a more useful one.

At first I just tried affirmations like, “I really enjoy work”, but I found that these were hard for my unconscious to swallow. I could almost feel the mental resistance against them.

Tims Note: I agree on this, affirmations can in fact have the reverse effect of their purpose for certain types of people, such as highly analytical types like The Turquoise Parakeet and even people with low self esteem.

So then I tried saying to myself, “What if task X could be fun and exciting?”. Immediately I felt different inside. (Does this count as an NLP break state?). I felt more positive and enthusiastic and open to possibilities.

Tims Note: That’s not really a break state in the traditional NLP sense although I can see how it could create a break in state. It’s actually probably closer to being a reframe.

Not wanting to miss a trick, I decided to use my imagination a little bit and ask myself some more “What if…?” questions.

I’m a natural introvert and I often have a sense of mild dread about social situations. Yesterday was my nephew’s first birthday party, with quite a few family members present. I asked myself,:

“What if everyone at the party has something to say that I’ll find really interesting, if I just dig down enough?”

Again, it made me feel significantly different. I actually looked forward to the party! And then at the party I found myself really enjoying the social interaction and not shying away from it like I often do.

I’ve been trying to analyze what makes these “What if…?” questions so powerful for me personally. I do recognize that they might have the same effect on everyone.

Partly, I think it’s that asking these questions puts your mind into a state of possibility, rather than one of defensiveness.

Tims Note: Most definitely and asking solution focused questions that usually start with ‘What, who, where or how” are infinitely more powerful than asking problem focused questions that usually start with “Why…..”

Check out this post for more on that.

Also, I think that our values (yes, those trusty friends!) have something to do with it.

One of my top values is a hybrid between fun & adventure. (I know, I’m cheating by combing two together, but there doesn’t seem to be an English word which combines the feeling I get when I think of these 2 words together).

So, I try to make sure the “What if…?” questions I ask contain a sense of kind of fun and adventure. Even the voice that I hear in my head when I ask these questions is like an enthusiastic children’s TV presenter!

Tims Note: Notice the importance of that? Just in case you didn’t, it’s incredibly profound and let me explain why.

You have more than one voice inside your head and they tend to be highly contextual.

The problem is your voices are chattering away all the time and you rarely notice them, However, if you were to make a conscious effort to do so in one situation when you felt great and another when you felt terrible you would soon notice the difference.

What do you think would happen if in that negative situation you swapped voices to the positive one without necessarily altering the content?

Yep, you would see a rapid and empowering state change so it may be worth trying out.

Two of my other top values are Connection and Growth. So I try to ask questions which contain the seeds of each of these too.

So, in summary, here’s my patented process (actually, this is probably nothing new at all, but it feels new to me!):

  1. Select a problem area in your life, for example a lack of motivation.
  2. Become a thought detective and try to pinpoint which beliefs you have associated with these problem areas. For example, “Work is just hassle”
  3. Formulate a “What if…?” question which would make you feel much better. For example, “What if I really enjoy this piece of work and have a great feeling of satisfaction at the end? What if this work can be fun?!”
  4. Watch as your unconscious mind already starts moving you towards a more positive state. Notice if it makes you feel any different inside.
  5.  Keep an eye out for new evidence. For example, after you’ve finished that task, did you find you were more positive, happy, enthusiastic, motivated?
  6. Start experimenting with more and more “What if…?” questions. Have fun with them. The only limit is your imagination!

What do you think, mate? I reckon that you’ll be nodding your head in a knowing way, because this is probably a technique you use a lot with clients already. Is this a form of pre-supposition?

I’m really hopeful that I can use this technique to keep me out of the doldrums and get me back to the far more consistently positive state I was in pre-June this year.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Cheers buddy.

Tims Note: Well my thoughts are it’s a great idea for improving happiness levels because it encourages curiosity, fun and problem solving, all things which the brain loves.

There is nothing I don’t like about this approach, other than the fact I didn’t write it ;-)

I’m interested to know what you think about it in the comments though?