Paul Cockayne – 07791 970406 – email@example.com
Welcome to my counselling blog. You can find more information about me by clicking one of the links at the top of this page
Where do you live your life? Where are your thoughts focused? Where do you look?
Do you reflect a lot about the past, reliving old memories, happy or unhappy? Do you like to look at photographs? Does music bring back memories? Do you think about past glories, things you are proud of? Is your life full of regrets?
Or maybe, for you, the past is the past? Maybe you like to live life for the moment, enjoying each day for what it is. So maybe you seek out fun things to do, partying, socialising, or perhaps enjoying the peace of your own company. Or possibly you are someone who lives in the present, but finds that an unhappy experience. You are, perhaps, depressed, and can’t pull yourself out of that.
Then again, you might spend a lot of time things about the future. Are you a dreamer, always thinking about the next business venture, the next relationship, or planning out the future for yourself or your family? Or are you a doom and gloom merchant, a worrier, looking forward, but with dread, thinking about everything that might go wrong?
There seem to be six options here – thinking about past, present and future – each either as an optimist or a pessimist. If I was smart I would make a living out of this, devise personality tests and write books and self-help guides. I might call them “mind states” and I’d give each mind state a different name – the pessimist who lives in the present might be Eeyore, I suppose. The optimist who lives in the future, Don Quixote. And so on.
I think that when we are in a good place, we tend to switch between these six mind states in a fluid way, adapting to the needs of the situation, and to our own needs. They might often be paired – so a negative view of the past might be paired with a positive view of the present (I was a victim, now I am a survivor). A negative view of the future might be paired with a positive view of the past (I’m not looking forward to my kids leaving home, but I’ve really enjoyed helping them grow up and have loads of happy memories). And probably there are examples of ways in which each of the pairs can combine in different situations.
When things are difficult, we can get stuck in one particular mind state. Depression, for example, generally leaves us stuck in the pessimistic present. The break-up of a relationship often leaves people going over and over every little incident searching for a different ending (pessimistic past). And as a reaction to these, we can avoid things by manic partying (optimistic present) or dreaming (optimistic future).
When we get stuck like this, it can get increasingly difficult to change things – it is as if the mental state we occupy becomes normal, and even if unpleasant, it can feel safer than alternatives. Often we will be surrounded by well-meaning friends and relatives who try to jolly us along – but actually this can be really annoying because we may not be ready to change, and until we are, no amount of “jollying along” is going to help.
So do we just have to wait until we are ready to change? That is, I think, an important part of the answer. It’s no good forcing things too much, and if we are suffering a bereavement, for example, we need to grieve, it’s a natural healing process. Best to let it happen and not to feel guilty about it. But there are things we can do to speed things up, and this is because the mind states can become habit-forming, maybe they are even addictive. And so it can help to force yourself into a different mind state. You can force yourself into the past by looking at old photos or talking to your long-lost brother. You can do something in the present to cheer yourself up – or let yourself cry sometimes, if that’s something you find difficult. Or you can write lists of the things you want to achieve in the next year – or of the risks involved in that exciting business venture.
You can’t entirely control your feelings, but you can exercise them; Eeyore and Don Quixote might have got along rather well, I think.