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5 Tips to help you feel happier

We would all like to be happier and science is now able to show what really affects mood and what we can do to increase our positive feelings. Here are five easy ways to start feeling better about life.

1) Wake up slowly. The sound of an alarm does just that - it alarms you. It actually triggers a fright or flight response, releasing adrenaline and other stress hormones into your system. Try using a softer alarm - like soft music or nature sounds.

2) Be mindful. Mindfulness has been shown to decrease stress and promote happiness so while you're having your breakfast or are in the shower try to focus only on what you're doing. If you're in the shower, focus on the feeling of the water, the sounds and smells, the patterns the water makes as it flows down the wall. If you're drinking a cup of coffee, take the time to smell it and to savour the taste. Introduce short periods of mindfulness during your day and notice how much more peaceful and contented you feel.

3) Breathe. Many of us have learned to breathe shallowly. Try taking deeper breaths and making your out-breath longer than your in-breath. This triggers the release of endorphins (the feel-good hormones) in the brain. So remember to breathe in for four and out for seven to start feeling happier.

4) Go outside. Levels of serotonin (another feel-good hormone) are directly affected by exposure to light. Indoors we only get about 100 units of light per hour. Outside, even on an overcast day, that goes up to 10,000 units and can be as much as 100,000 units on a sunny day. So boost your serotonin by spending at least 20 minutes outside every day.

5) Count your blessings! Being grateful is known as being one of the most powerful mood-boosters. Start a gratitude journal and write down five things every day that you can feel genuinely grateful for having in your life. Get in touch with that feeling of gratitude. You can repeat the same things but try to include some things that have happened that day. Start your morning by thinking about those things and fall asleep thinking about them.

Follow these tips for a month and notice how much lighter and happier you start to feel!


How are you coping?

As I write this, I can smell the smoke. Sometimes it's overwhelming but today it is less - or perhaps I no longer notice it. My dog has difficulties breathing in the smoke so she is going stir-crazy with not getting a walk. I wonder how we will look back on this Christmas. So many people experiencing grief and fear as they lost loved ones, their homes, their livelihoods. And so much of our beautiful land destroyed and devastated. How will we count the loss - the animals who died, species now extinct?

For those of us who live in fire-affected areas, it has been weeks of anxiety - checking apps every day to see how much closer the fire is. Leaving our homes to spend a few days in a safer place. Sometimes the fires moved too quickly to allow even that.

We've all seen the photos.

Yet in the midst of all this, our firefighters and other emergency services have gone out every day and night to protect lives and homes. People have stepped up to support them whether financially or through organising supplies. Other people are rescuing animals or leaving food for them.

Even in the cities, the impact of these fires is being felt in the air pollution caused by the smoke. It is going to take a long time to recover.

If you've lost your home or if you have volunteered as a firie or other services, feel free to contact me for a free session - just a small gesture of appreciation.


Grief at Christmas

When people that we love and are special to us die, Christmas can be hard, especially if their death happened close to Christmas. It is three years ago on December 18th when we discontinued my son's life support. He had tried to kill himself the day before and had done too much damage to his body to survive.

First occasions are often hard so it's important to think about what you want to do and how you want to deal with things. You may want to completely break with your traditions and do something new or you may want to carry on with your familiar rituals.

On that first Christmas, Sean's body had only been released by the Coroner on Christmas Eve and was at the funeral home. I had spent the day planning his funeral. That evening my other son, Rob, and I watched one of Sean's favourite comedy movies and toasted him with his favourite whisky. We laughed at the jokes and talked about how much he loved that film. We spoke as if he were in the room with us. On Christmas Day, we didn't have our usual meal but went to a friend's instead. That family had also lost a son some years before and our boys had gone to school together so we shared stories and remembered. That made my emptiness easier to bear and I'm grateful to my friend for including us.

Since then we have developed a new way of marking Christmas – on Christmas Eve we always watch a comedy movie that Sean loved (last year, it was The Blues Brothers). We set a place for him at the table for Christmas lunch. We pour him a glass of champagne and clink our glasses with him. Although he is not here with us in the physical, he is still my son and a part of our family.

A friend always hangs a Christmas stocking for her deceased daughter. Somebody else I know gives a gift to charity from her mother every Christmas. Another person I know still gives gifts on birthdays and Christmas in the name of her dead child to the people he loved.

Some people may think this is all a bit strange. They might even think that people who do this have not 'let go' and are hanging on to their grief. There can be some judgmental thoughts about this kind of remembrance.

The truth is that whatever works for you is the right thing to do for you. Some people prefer not to remember - they can only get through those days by not thinking about their loss. Again, this is fine.

It does help to plan ahead. Think about what you are going to do for that special occasion. Honour the emptiness that your loved one has left with their passing. Give yourself, and others, the space to feel and do whatever you and they need to. Remember we all process grief in different ways. Be kind to yourself.

In memory: Sean Campbell White, 4 July 1988 - 18 Dec 2016

Feeling Lonely This Christmas?

Every advert, every television show tells us Christmas is family time yet many of us find ourselves alone. Depression rises as Christmas approaches. If this is you, try these ideas.

1) Buy yourself a present. Although you know what it is, keep it until Christmas and increase your enjoyment! Pamper yourself - good food, music, books, DVDs (ensure they're ones that lift your spirits!). Remember you are special. Focus on your comfort.

2) Check churches and community groups for events and connect with others. Organise a casual meal (bring a plate!). Invite other singles. Use this opportunity to make new friends.

3) Phone somebody. Many people would love to know that they're remembered - they might welcome the break from their relatives! Write letters. Most of us only get bills in the mail - with a letter, you're giving a surprise to somebody. Imagine their face when they find your letter among the bills and feel closer to them.

4) Volunteer. Offer to serve the homeless their meal. Visit a nursing home. Helping others makes us feel worthwhile. Seeing others whose situation is as bad, if not worse, than yours puts things into perspective. Or if you're employed by an organisation that is open, offer to work. Keep busy!

5) Get out of the house. Take some photos. Have a theme for your photographs (like animals or silly street signs) or just snap whatever you want. Then mount them in an album or frame some or make a scrapbook. You might end up with something impressive or funny.

6) Relish your freedom. While the media would have us believe that Christmas is a time of joy with family, the reality for many is that it's a stressful time of coping with people they don't like. You don’t have to deal with others. Find joy in knowing that you look after yourself and do whatever you want, even if it's dancing naked in the kitchen!

Enjoy your Christmas, whatever you do!

Photo by Johanna Goodyear

Try something new at family gatherings this Christmas.

How much do you really know about your family? You may think you have heard all their stories but what if they could share one story with you that changed the way you thought about them and perhaps led to a deeper understanding of who they are and a better relationship?

This article by Priya Parker may get you thinking about things you can do with your own family.


Are you dreading the family get-together?

Do you have one of those uncles (or any other relative) who just disagrees with anything and everything you believe in? Or somebody who has a bit too much to drink and then picks an argument with somebody? Here are some tips to help you get through the day.

1) Stay calm – breathe in for a count of four and out for a count of seven.Repeat this about five times. This triggers the release of endorphins - the feel-good hormones -  in the brain. If you can, walk away.

2) Plan how you're going to respond if you know they always criticise your cooking, or the way you dress or whatever. Use 'I' statements. So if your aunt always tells you that she doesn't like your hair, you could answer, 'I like my hair this way and I expect those who love me to accept me the way I am'. Give this person a job to do. 'You do such a good job of laying out a table, could you set the table for Christmas dinner?' Compliment them.

3) Giving  them something to do also works well with those who are always right.

4) If there's somebody who loves being the centre of attention or being in control, ask them what they think about something

5) If somebody is starting to become frustrated or angry, keep your voice soft and low. When you do that, the other person may well become calmer. Or try matching the tone and volume of their voice and then gradually soften your tone and volume. This often leads the other person to a calmer response.

6) Set boundaries and stick to them. If you know Uncle Harry always drinks too much and gets angry, tell him beforehand that you would appreciate it if he didn't get so drunk. If he does, be prepared to leave or ask him to leave.

67You may have a relative who never stops talking. This is often a sign of loneliness. Just listen to them. If you can, steer the conversation to a topic that you are also interested in. Enlist other people so you can take turns to listen.

I hope that these suggestions help you to enjoy a calm, peaceful Christmas.

Image by Al Lambe at Pixabay

World Smile Day - Friday October 4th

A smile costs nothing and yet has the power to change lives. When you smile, you feel happier and the people around you feel happier, and the people around them feel happier and soon your smile is spreading happiness to people you have never even met! Never underestimate the power of a smile. 

World Smile Day began in 1999 and was the brainchild of Harvey Ball, a commerical artist from Massachusetts who created the smiley face in 1963.

Now internationally recognized as a symbol of goodwill, Harvey was concerned about the over-commercialization of the symbol he had created; he felt that its original meaning and intention was being lost. He wanted people to put aside politics and differences for one day every year and focus on smiles and kind acts. So Harvey came up with the idea of World Smile Day.

Here are some ideas for things to do on World Smile Day:
Visit a nursing home or an elderly neighbour.
Contact an old friend you haven't spoken to for a while.
Send a card to somebody.
Compliment somebody - it could be the assistant at the supermarket or the bus driver or anybody else you come across.
Do something unexpected for a family member or a friend.
Remember - we all smile in the same language!

Press Pause in September!

September is the month to disconnect from social media and reconnect with each other. 

Did you know that Australians spend on average 49 minutes every day on social media? And that women spend more time than men?

According to Roy Morgan Research the biggest users of social media are females aged 14 to 24 who spend about two hours a day on social media. Sometimes social media is used to organise events - I have seen posts asking who wants to go for a walk or to meet up somewhere. This is perhaps the most positive of social media interactions. On the other hand, social media use often leads to arguments or even bullying, sometimes with disastrous consequences. 

Men tend to use social media more for business and dating while women tend to use it to connect with family and friends, and for information. But it is no substitute for the real thing! There is little development of interpersonal skills like conflict resolution, and the instant communication and portrayal of perfect lives leads to impatience and dissatisfaction. 

So this month spend less time on social media and use the time you've saved to create new connections with others - go for a walk with a friend or visit a neighbour or talk to your family. Remember . . . 

Disconnect to Reconnect!


NLP - what can it do for you?

Imagine if your computer came without instructions. No clicking on 'Help' to get information on how to change or undo something. You are stuck with whatever programming it came with and whatever information you have put in, whether that information was harmful or beneficial. No 'Delete' button. No 'Backspace'. No re-programming of software. After a few months, your computer would start freezing and possibly crash altogether.

Your mind is far more complex than any computer yet built. And yet it came without any instructions. Your unconscious mind is about 95% of your thought processes. The initial programming took place in childhood and has probably not changed much since. Over the years, you have absorbed and developed patterns of thought and behaviours that may be harmful or beneficial. Traditionally, it is thought that it takes months, if not years, of hard work and introspection to change that programming. But NLP or neurolinguistic programming provides techniques to change the ways in which we code and store our subjective experience, thus changing our unconscious programming. It is like an instruction book for our minds.

Just take a moment now to think about a recent happy memory - make a picture in your mind of that event.

As you are doing this, start to notice the feeling that you are experiencing.

Now change the characteristics of the picture:

If it is in colour, change it to black and white.

If it is in black and white, change it to colour.

If you are looking at yourself in the picture, step inside your body so that you are looking through your own eyes.

Or if you are inside your body, step outside the picture.

Make the picture bigger or smaller.

Put a frame around it or take the frame off.

Bring it closer or push it further away.

Make it brighter or dimmer. As you are making these changes, notice if the associated feeling gets more intense or less intense. Whenever you notice a change that makes the feeling more intense, ask your unconscious mind to lock that change into place. (Assuming you want to feel happier when you remember that event!)

Now do the same with an unhappy memory, but this time try to make the feeling less intense. This is a simple example of how the coding of our memories influences the intensity of the emotion attached to that memory. I'm sure that most people would like to re-visit the intensity of their happy memories and tone down the emotions attached to negative events. After all, you've been through it once - why keep on re-living it?

What is Neurolinguistic Programming?

NLP uses many such techniques to help people to let go of crippling negative emotions and behaviour patterns and install beneficial patterns. NLP or neurolinguistic programming deals with the relationships between:

  • how we think (neuro)
  • how we communicate with ourselves and others (linguistic)
  • our habitual behaviours and emotions (programming).

Basically, it studies the structure of how we think and experience the world. This is obviously very subjective and does not lend itself to precise, statistical formulae. Instead it leads to models of how our minds work. From these models, techniques for quickly and effectively changing thoughts, behaviours and beliefs that limit you have been developed.

How did it develop?

NLP started in the 1970s with Richard Bandler and John Grinder. They studied people who excelled in their professions and asked "What is the difference that makes the difference?" Among those they studied were Milton Erickson (hypnotherapist), Virginia Satir (family therapist) and Fritz Perls (co-developer of the Gestalt Theory which revolutionised psychology). They concentrated, not on the content of what they did, but on the underlying mental structures that they used.

From these studies Bandler and Grinder developed an understanding of the way that we construct our experience of the world in our minds. The way in which we unconsciously code and store that experience determines our reactions and behaviour.

Re-programming your mind

Patterns of thought and behaviours set up "neural pathways" in our brains. A neural response will go down the most used path - the path of least resistance. For example, you're feeling good and then you get home. You walk in the door and see the mess the kids (or your flatmates) have left. The visual stimulus of seeing the mess sets up a neural response which takes the path of least resistance - and you immediately react in the same way that you have reacted every other time this has happened, even although you know that it it isn't going to help the situation. You may have promised yourself that you're going to try a different strategy the next time this happens but you find yourself reacting in the same old way.

With NLP, you can re-program that neural response to help you develop a different strategy for handling the situation. NLP is beneficial for may different issues. Thought and behaviour patterns that no longer serve you can be changed. Issues like phobias can be helped. Old beliefs that are limiting you (e.g. "I'm no good at public speaking/making friends/building my business, etc", "I'll never be successful", "I'll always be poor", "Life is hard") can be identified and changed to beliefs that empower you.

Many of the techniques of NLP involve visualistaion but don't worry if you find this hard - the techniques can be adapted to suit you.

Creating success

NLP is often used in coaching sports people - the visualisations help to improve techniques while empowering beliefs are developed. There have been a number of studies showing the benefits of visualisation in sport. One famous one was conducted at the University of Chicago. Athletes were tested to determine their free-throw proficiency. They were then randomly assigned to one of three groups. The first went to the gym every day for one hour and practiced throwing free throws.

The second group also went to the gym, but instead of physically practicing, they lay down and simply visualised themselves successfully shooting. The third group were instructed to forget about basketball and not practise at all. At the end of 30 days, the three groups were again tested to determine their free-throw proficiency.

The players who hadn't practised at all showed no improvement in performance; many exhibiting a drop in performance. Those who had physically practised one hour each day showed a performance increase of 24 percent. The visualisation group, by merely imagining themselves successfully shooting free throws, improved 23 percent!

Elite athletes have been incorporating imagery into their training for years. In a study of 235 Canadian Olympic athletes who participated in the 1984 Games, 99 percent reported using visualisation techniques. American athletes also rely on these techniques. Rebecca Smith, a clinical research assistant in sports psychology at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, stated that all elite American athletes use visualisation techniques.

So, if you want to create success in your life, or simply change some of those annoying habits - start visualising! Better still, find out more about NLP and its techniques. There are numerous books and courses that can teach you to develop these skills.

Suggested Reading

Frogs into Princes - Richard Bandler and John Grinder

Using Your Brain for a Change - Richard Bandler

The Emprint Period by Leslie Cameron-Bandler

Transforming Your Self by Steve Andreas

The Secret of Creating Your Future by Tad James

What is hypnosis?

There are a lot of myths around hypnosis - I regularly get people coming in the clinic who ask me not to make them quack like a duck. Or they say things like, 'My partner wants you to make me stop smoking'.

Well, the good news is I can't make anybody do anything they don't want to, whether that's quacking like a duck or stopping smoking. There's nothing I, nor any other hypnotist, can do to force you to do something.

You're probably saying to yourself, 'What about stage hypnosis? I've seen them make those people do some weird things'. The truth is that a stage hypnotist begins with an audience of possibly hundreds and, through a process of elimination, ends up with a handful of people on the stage. They are there because, deep down at an unconscious level, they want to be there. Maybe they want to experience being hypnotised or maybe they're naturally shy and want a reason to experience the opposite or maybe there's some other reason. At some level of awareness, they're choosing to participate.

Another common misconception is that you're unconscious when you're hypnotised. In fact, hypnosis is a heightened state of awareness. Your hearing becomes more acute - you become more aware. It is similar to that state of drifting that you enter just before you fall asleep, where your mind is starting to dream but you are still aware of your surroundings.

Hypnosis is a naturally occurring state of awareness that we all drift in and out of every day - about 140 times a day, in fact! Daydreaming and being 'on automatic pilot' are examples of self-hypnosis. Sometimes people worry that they may reveal things while in trance. Most hypnotherapists don't need the client to talk while they're hypnotised. The therapy is based on information that the client gives while fully conscious and then the therapist, after inducing trance, will offer beneficial suggestions to the unconscious mind. The client can accept or reject these suggestions. Even if the hypnotherapist asks a question, the client will not give anything away that they don't want to.

If you do decide to explore hypnotherapy, make sure that you go to a hypnotherapist that is registered with one of the relevant professional associations. The Australian Hypnotherapists Association or the Australian Society of Clinical Hypnotherapists ensure that their members are fully qualified.

fully qualified.

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