Post 19 – Picture this

After the down period of the last couple of weeks, I entered the hyperactive, elated mood that seems to follow. That is slowly tapering down during this week to a more balanced level, but I have been annoyingly (to those around me) dancing around at any opportunity.

Anyhow this week’s post. If you have been a regular reader of these blogs (and if you are, thank you so much! Writing is a self-therapy, however knowing that someone reads it and even may take something from it is such an added bonus and boost) then you will be familiar with the many characters I have mentioned as a form of visualisation.

Referring to the illusions arising from depression as Harry the magician, the self-criticism as Judge Bear may sound trite and superficial, even making light of something serious. You may even wonder about my mind overall, that it’s a head full of voices and characters.

And it is – but then don’t we all have inner monologues and conversations with ourselves ? I do hope it’s not just me : )

Visualisation was something that I had read about a long time ago, how it can help in many ways – to remember things, to reduce the fear about something by making it funny etc. I started to do this early on in my management of depression and was reassured when I talked it through with my therapist that it would be helpful.

Let’s just take one example, Judge Bear. Where did this come from? In a session my therapist referred to the great children’s book We Are Going on a Bear Hunt, in that sometimes you have to go through things rather than avoiding them. Later I took that idea and used a big bear to represent the self-critical voice, which being too much of a perfectionist was highly vocal. To diminish the strength of that I picture a smaller bear, who actually may say the same thing but does it in a more cuddly, supportive and compassionate way. While wearing a bow tie obviously.

That kind of visualisation allows you to not only face the emotion but can also help you to see it in a very different, actually useful way

All those “voices” are all parts of me. The key is which ones are actually the correct reflection of what is happening and help to useful inform how I react. And they are not all “negative” emotions – remember DAB? My acronym for being deliberate, aware and balanced. The image of a monk doing calligraphy helps me to consider a reaction or emotion through that.

What I do find hugely interesting is the concept of two selves – the experiencing and the narrating self. This is something for us all to consider around our mental health. They are both equally important, but we all pay more attention to one than the other. I covered some of our self-narration previously in “Post 11- Once upon a time.”

The experiencing self is the one that is present, that actually experiences what is happening right now. The narrating self is the one that brings a context to what is happening. And when making decisions and judgements the narrative wins.
Daniel Kahneman (in his book Thinking Fast and Slow) explains this with a simple experiment. It’s in 3 parts:

  • volunteers placed one hand in very cold water for 60 seconds
  • they then placed the other hand into the same water for 60 seconds, at which point hot water was secretly added raising the temperature very slightly. 30 seconds later they removed the hand.
  • the volunteers were asked later which one they wished to repeat, the shorter or longer immersion. Approximately 80% did the longer immersion.

The majority still experienced the 60 seconds at the very cold level, but it seems were swayed by the slightly less unpleasant 30 seconds. The suggestion is that the narrating self looks at the overall experience of both immersions and crucially the end point. It considers the peak part (the water was very cold) and the end part (in one the water was still cold, in one the water was a little warmer) and decides that the warmer end is better. It doesn’t appear to consider the duration. This behaviour has been replicated in many different scenarios.

So for me I am trying to foster more of my experience self. You cannot do that all the time, our minds could not cope with all the information processing and the experience self seems to have no concept of past or future. But being more present will allow more real experience, as opposed to replaying something later using the narrative self which may get things wrong.

Another example to illustrate this. My therapist once talked about the difference between touching a piece of wooden furniture and actually feeling it rather than thinking about what may be wrong with it or if it needs cleaning. The former is experiencing it for what it is – the latter is placing a story (a judgement) around it.

So to end a handy simple hint on how to increase the awareness of now.

Every so often during the day, perhaps when just finished doing something or perhaps on the hour, just stop and think for a few seconds – what am I doing right now, am I actually focussed on this, what am I feeling. Trying doing it a few times during the day, you may be surprised how much you add to each day.

Have a great weekend, Chris

Image copyright Ikea

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