Posted in Uncategorized, Weekly Blog

Dealing with problematic thoughts


Paranoid thoughts        Fearful or intimidating thoughts

Anxious thoughts         Negative thoughts

Self-critical thoughts    Obsessive thoughts

Past thoughts or memories

Controlling thoughts, other voices that come from our past

Helpless thoughts        Worthless thoughts

Today in the group we explored some of these thoughts which can really affect our mood and hold us back from doing things.  We used our ‘ No More stinkin’ Thinkin’ tool and considered how we may start to think differently about a problematic thought, e.g. “I’m too old to be successful”, could we think instead “Maybe I am not too old to try something new”?  An even better thought may be “Now that I’m older I know myself better and know my limitations, I am much more likely to be successful in what I want to try.”  Group members had a go at working with some difficult thoughts, which is quite tough, especially if you heard a critical voice as a child which continued to be resident in your mind as an adult.  The first task is to really identify the thought or belief, the second step is to give yourself permission to believe that something more positive may actually be true.


Step 1:

  • My bad situation/thought now is:
  • What could I begin to think differently about this thought above?

Step 2:

  • My “better” thought is:
  • How can I think even “better” about this certain thought?

Step 3:

  • My “even better” thought is:
  • My final good thoughts are now going to be

You may find the following article interesting from The Guardian, by John-Paul Flintoff

How to silence negative thinking
It is all too easy to fall into unhealthy patterns of thought, but visualising your inner critic can help.  Worry, negative thoughts, inner critic; There are different patterns of negative thoughts, but addressing this problem can be helped by confronting your inner critic.
Psychologists use the term “automatic negative thoughts” to describe the ideas that pop into our heads uninvited, like burglars, and leave behind a mess of uncomfortable emotions. In the 1960s, one of the founders of cognitive therapy, Aaron Beck, concluded that ANTs sabotage our best self, and lead to a vicious circle of misery: creating a general mindset that is variously unhappy or anxious or angry (take your pick) and which is (therefore) all the more likely to generate new ANTs. We get stuck in the same old neural pathways, having the same negative thoughts again and again.

Happily, increasing evidence of the brain’s plasticity suggests that we can disrupt this poisonous cycle and put in place something much more healthy. Brains don’t stop developing in childhood, as was previously believed: studies of London cabbies doing “the knowledge” of the city’s layout have found a redistribution of grey matter, and individuals who sustained massive brain damage have been shown to develop workarounds using undamaged parts. So we can learn to stop our thoughts travelling down the well-trodden neural pathways by creating entirely new ones.

The first step is to become aware of your automatic negative thoughts – and for me, anyway, that’s much easier (and more fun, actually) if I personify the inner critic, with a sketch, and give him/her a voice. By doing that, I externalise the thoughts: they’re no longer coming from me. And it seems I’m not the only one who likes working that way.

Personal negativity
I don’t know what yours is like, but I imagine my inner critic as small with a shaved head, and dark shadows under his bulging eyes. He generally looks worried, and avoids eye contact, but sometimes he stares boldly, his face contorted into a disbelieving sneer.

The description is based on drawings I’ve made of him. And having determined his appearance, I gave him a name: Uriah, because like the Dickens character my inner critic is “ever so ‘umble”.

He’s determined to keep me that way, too. Whenever I’m about to do something exciting – that’s when Uriah pops up. And in the privacy of my own head he says things like this: You’re not ready. Nobody wants that anyway. You’re too old. It’s not going to make any difference. Nobody is listening to you. You will never be successful. You don’t work hard enough. It is painful.

I knew nothing about my inner critic until a couple of years ago, when a friend was training as a life coach, and asked me to be her guinea pig. At the time, I thought life coaching sounded a bit odd and – well, Californian. I didn’t expect much. But I trusted my friend, and found the experience so helpful that I decided to train as a life coach myself – not a therapist, any more than a football coach is a therapist, but a conversational partner who uses insights from psychology occasionally to be supportive and challenging at the same time. (The company that trained us both, Coaches Training Institute, did indeed turn out to be Californian.)

Until then I had assumed – like most people, it seems – that when a negative thought popped into my head it was just an accurate reflection of the way things really are. But I’ve since come to see that the inner critic only ever promotes a point of view. And there’s always another point of view available if we choose to look for it.

Finding your inner critic
Not long ago, I was running a workshop on creativity for a group of about 30 adults who, for a variety of reasons, had lost the free spirit of creativity they’d had as children.

So I decided to show them my drawing of Uriah, with speech bubbles coming out of his head to show the specific, shameful thoughts that trouble me. I have to tell you that it made me extremely uncomfortable to hold up that picture in front of these strangers, and to read out those horrible specimens of self-criticism. (“Tell them I’ll never be successful! I’m too old! I can’t do that!”)

But as I did it, I looked around at the faces before me and I realised that they weren’t especially interested in my inner critic – they were much more interested in uncovering their own. (What’s more, my own anxiety about this shameful secret substantially disappeared as soon as the words left my mouth.)

So, having shared my own self-critical thoughts, I invited everybody else to take a pen and paper and write down the kinds of thoughts that pop into their own heads.

The room went very quiet.

Then I asked them to imagine about the kind of person who might say those mean-spirited things, and to draw him, or her. (It doesn’t have to be a “good” drawing.) Some drew a picture of their old headteacher, others drew a parent, or somebody at work. I asked them to give the character a name, and to draw speech bubbles containing all those horrid sentences.

When working with people like this, I ask them to notice, in future, whenever these characters come into their heads. To be really curious. How often does it happen? What’s the trigger? What emotional state does it leave you in? How strong is that emotional state, from one (low) to 10 (high)?

And after noticing, I invite them to argue back with their inner critic. “If it helps,” I might say, “think of somebody you admire for whatever reason, and imagine that person is beside you now, offering support. If they were arguing for you, what might they say?”

Answers don’t always come easily. Some people are just too afraid of the negative thoughts. But that usually passes. Others might think the exercise is silly. So I lay it on thick about the science: psychologists, automatic negative thoughts, and neural plasticity. But either way, it basically comes down to the same thing: moving beyond the negative chatter in your head, and putting your inner critic back inside his box. And as many coaches, and cognitive behavioural therapists, can confirm – getting acquainted with your inner critic can be remarkably helpful.

We all have our own particular set of automatic negative thoughts, but they tend to fall into broadly similar categories.

Black and white thinking, with no grey areas: “I’ve completely failed.” “Everyone else can do it”.
Mind reading other people:“They think I’m boring.” “People must think I’m stupid.”
Crystal-ball gazing: “There’s no point in trying. It won’t work.”
Over-generalisation: “This relationship ended, so I won’t ever meet anybody.”
Disqualifying the positive: “I may be a good mother, but anybody can do that.”
Drama queen: “I can’t find my purse. I’m going senile.”
Unrealistic expectations: “I should keep going, even when I’m tired.”
Name calling, to self an others: “Silly fool.”
Self-blame: “She looks cross. It must be my fault.”
Catastrophising: “Nothing is ever going to work for me.”

John-Paul Flintoff is the author of How To Change The World, published by Macmillan.

Posted in Weekly Blog

Choose Life @ Simpson House is 3 years old

3rd birthday


This week we celebrated that the Choose Life Group has been running for 3 years.  We were delighted to welcome back a founder member for the celebration and people enjoyed reconnecting or meeting for the first time.  Although life’s struggles don’t seem to take a day off we were able to have fun together with some lighthearted games allowing some hilarity, particularly at our own attempt at ‘Would I lie to you?’…..I mean, did he really spend a night in cells for a Poll Tax protest?

One member reflected on how good it was that everyone could laugh together, because there have been times when one person cried and in true empathy, so did everyone else.  So it’s good to share life’s journey, together with it’s ups and downs, because supportive relationships will always make it easier.  We also celebrated with people this week who had really pushed through some barriers, as discussed last week, and had found the power to  do the hardest, but the best thing.

Posted in Weekly Blog

A very thin line?

love and boundariesToday was suicide prevention day and a lot of our discussions centred around it.   We looked at behaviours, either our own, or somebody else’s.  How we behave is a choice. Sometimes the boundaries around unacceptable behaviour can become clouded when there is illness involved.  Whilst you may have compassion and concern for someone who is ill, that does not make it acceptable for that person to mistreat you. Sometimes we need to let people know that it is not acceptable for them to shout at us, not listen to us, belittle or undermine us.   It is important for people to have good boundaries, as it can help you and others keep safe.

As to our own behaviours, we can sometimes recognise that although we may have found a behaviour which helps us to cope, it may be destructive or damaging for ourselves and others.  Sometimes the behaviour that we turn to actually results in really unpleasant consequences, and if we can find a way to think of these consequences in that moment of deciding to take a risk or not, this may prevent that habitual behaviour.

The group talked and challenged one another about how family and children are affected by our unhelpful coping mechanisms.  For example, if we choose to drink the night away, children’s meals are not prepared, homework doesn’t get done and school clothes don’t get washed and all of this has a knock on effect on the child’s performance at school, friendships and general wellbeing.  People in the group used the consequences of their actions as a way of deterring them from that behaviour and finding a new, more effective coping strategy.  We also chatted about the times people resisted destructive behaviour and how they managed to push through difficult emotions in another way, which may be just sitting on your hands and having a rough emotional journey, but knowing this will pass.  The more you do this, the more you will see you do not need the destructive behaviour, you can cope, you can get through it.

Posted in Uncategorized



Today we welcomed back Geoffrey Baines, official friend of ‘Choose Life’ and explored again the rest creating, clatter abating, easy way to focus and calm down everyday activity of doodling that everyone can do!  We all had a go at doodling with the prompt, ‘sunshine’. Interesting to see what individual minds created with this.  Geoffrey spoke about vulnerability from Seth Godin’s book ‘V is Vulnerable Life Outside the Comfort Zone’  He says:

“Vulnerable is the only way we can feel when we truly share the art we’ve made. When we share it, when we connect, we have shifted all the power and made ourselves naked in front of the person we’ve given the gift of our art to. We have no excuses, no manual to point to, no standard operating procedure to protect us. And that is part of our gift.”

We had a conversation about how any relationship makes us vulnerable, and if we believe we must always appear strong we may miss out on things in life, as if we felt weak we may close the door to opportunities for fear that we may fail.  There may be times where if you do takes risks and allow yourself to be vulnerable it may be that you fail or get hurt or disappointed.  Satisfaction comes from knowing you tried and experienced and you learn lessons for life.

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of connection and the path to the feeling of worthiness.” Brene Brown

Posted in Weekly Blog


relaxation 3

Today people in the group were feeling overwhelmed with issues in their lives.  when we have so many thoughts racing in our head it can become very draining and tiring for us. People in the group commented on how they can wake up early in the morning with lots of worries flashing through their heads.  When it’s early morning things tend to look worse, where our worries can grow arms and legs and become even more irrational.  With all this in mind, it seemed really appropriate that today’s group was going to focus on relaxation. After doing the relaxation exercise people could feel the benefits which gave them some peace from all that had been going on in their heads.

Below is an article from the NHS website

Relaxation can help to relieve the symptoms of stress. It can help you calm down and take a step back from a stressful situation.

Although the cause of the anxiety won’t disappear, you will probably feel more able to deal with it once you’ve released the tension in your body and cleared your thoughts.

All relaxation techniques combine breathing more deeply with relaxing the muscles.

Don’t worry if you find it difficult to relax at first. It’s a skill that needs to be learned and it will come with practice.

Relaxed breathing

Practise deep breathing at a regular time and in a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. Loosen or remove any tight clothes you have on, such as shoes or jackets. Make yourself feel completely comfortable.

Sit in a comfy chair which supports your head or lie on the floor or a bed. Place your arms on the chair arms, or flat on the floor or bed, a little bit away from the side of your body with the palms up. If you’re lying down, stretch out your legs, keeping them hip-width apart or slightly wider. If you’re sitting in a chair, don’t cross your legs.

Good relaxation always starts with focusing on your breathing. The way to do it is to breathe in and out slowly and in a regular rhythm as this will help you to calm down.

  • Fill up the whole of your lungs with air, without forcing. Imagine you’re filling up a bottle, so that your lungs fill from the bottom.
  • Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
  • Breathe in slowly and regularly counting from one to five (don’t worry if you can’t reach five at first).
  • Then let the breath escape slowly, counting from one to five.
  • Keep doing this until you feel calm. Breathe without pausing or holding your breath.

Practise this relaxed breathing for three to five minutes, two to three times a day (or whenever you feel stressed).

Deep muscle relaxation

This technique takes around 20 minutes. It stretches different muscles in turn and then relaxes them, to release tension from the body and relax your mind.

Find a warm, quiet place with no distractions. Get completely comfortable, either sitting or lying down. Close your eyes and begin by focusing on your breathing; breathing slowly and deeply, as described above.

If you have pain in certain muscles, or if there are muscles that you find it difficult to focus on, spend more time on relaxing other parts.

You may want to play some soothing music to help relaxation. As with all relaxation techniques, deep muscle relaxation will require a bit of practice before you start feeling its benefits.

For each exercise, hold the stretch for a few seconds, then relax. Repeat it a couple of times. It’s useful to keep to the same order as you work through the muscle groups:

  • Face: push the eyebrows together, as though frowning, then release.
  • Neck: gently tilt the head forwards, pushing chin down towards chest, then slowly lift again.
  • Shoulders: pull them up towards the ears (shrug), then relax them down towards the feet.
  • Chest: breathe slowly and deeply into the diaphragm (below your bottom rib) so that you’re using the whole of the lungs. Then breathe slowly out, allowing the belly to deflate as all the air is exhaled.
  • Arms: stretch the arms away from the body, reach, then relax.
  • Legs: push the toes away from the body, then pull them towards body, then relax.
  • Wrists and hands: stretch the wrist by pulling the hand up towards you, and stretch out the fingers and thumbs, then relax.

Spend some time lying quietly after your relaxation with your eyes closed. When you feel ready, stretch and get up slowly.