Wednesday, May 16, 2012

How many mental problems do you have?

I was delighted to see snooker's great entertainer Ronnie O'Sullivan win the world championship on bank holiday Monday.  Unfortunately I switched on late, just as he was picking up the trophy and giving his post-match interview.  I was surprised to hear him give credit to Dr Steve Peters for his win because I am currently reading Peters' book "The Chimp Paradox" but knew nothing of his work with O'Sullivan.

That book claims to contain a mind management programme for confidence, success and happiness and is endorsed by other sportsmen Dr Peters has worked with like Olympic cyclist Chris Hoy, who says that his techniques helped him win gold.

I read the book because it seemed a rare combination: a self-help book by someone who was scientifically qualified to give advice.  Usually I wouldn't be seen dead near the self-help aisle but I am glad I gave this book a chance because I think it is going to help me with my own mental well-being.

I was specifically interested in finding ways to control my temper - things like shouting at the kids, over-reacting to perceived injustices and ranting about things that are not that important.

The book has helped, by explaining why we get angry and lose control of our emotions at times and how to combat this.  But I found as I read the book that I have much more than anger management issues to deal with!  While looking for tips on staying calm under duress (e.g. severe provocation from the kids) I couldn't help but recognise other things that Dr Peters was talking about.

Essentially he says (time for a massive simplification) that our human, true self is often hi-jacked by the primitive chimp part of our brain and we end up saying, doing and feeling things we don't like very much and regret once the moment has passed.

He also says that self-confidence and performance can be impacted by the chimp's interference as this short clip shows:

So you could say that, by his definition, we have mental problems if we experience emotions and feelings that we don't welcome.  So, when I lose my temper and get angry and later recognise that I overreacted, this is a problem which can be treated.

Some of the other things I recognised that fell into this "unwelcome emotion or reaction" category were:

- stomach-churning feelings of fear and dread at moments which are (if I stop to think about it) not that threatening
- feeling like things are spinning out of control and that I am being swamped by things to do
- undue pessimism
- inability to assert myself or say or do something for fear of upsetting someone
- allowing bad news to ruin a day or a weekend (or a week!)
- struggling at times to relax and enjoy the moment
- being overly harsh on myself and self-critical
- lying awake at night (usually a Sunday for some reason) and fretting about things which, when I wake up, seem silly

That's just a few of the bad mental habits that I recognised in the book that I now think I should work on.  That list probably makes me seem like a screw-up but I think a lot of people would come up with longish one if they thought about it.

If, like me, you think you are relatively normal but have a surprising number of mental traits you would prefer not to have, then consider trying to get rid of them.  Not necessarily with this book but I do think it is very good.

I had always assumed that you can't change your nature and that the best you can do is keep the bits you don't like in check.  I now believe, after reading this book, that all your unwanted mental traits can be turned around with the right approach.

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1 comment:

  1. When you stop & think about it, you have a lot of things you would rather change but what can you do. Don't worry! Be happy!


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