overcoming post-adventure blues

This post was to be about the marvellous effect travel and adventure has on depression. About how my own recent six week cycling/camping trip-with-dog changed my outlook on life and boosted my self-esteem. About the research linking leisure travel and adventure to improved mood.

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But I can’t get past the post-adventure blues.  The five or six weeks since Raisin (the dog) and I returned home have seen some of my worst days in years. The symptoms include:

  • disturbed sleep
  • low mood
  • loss of concentration
  • feelings of hopelessness and despair
  • indecision
  • dissatisfaction with life
  • restlessness
  •  ‘numb-brain’ (where nothing seems to be happening in my head – no thoughts, ideas, observations)

There’s no way I can write about the positives of adventure until I have overcome its surprising, depressing aftermath.

get back in the saddle

Apparently it is common to be down after a big holiday, and the solution, well-travelled friends tell me, is to plan another. Perhaps that would help, but not if another big trip means more blues again at the end of it.

Why should anyone get post-adventure depression? These seem to be my reasons:

  • the old, pre-adventure, helpful routine (eg exercise, sleep, diet, socialising) has gone and needs to be reinstated upon return
  • the fit body craves exercise it’s not now getting
  • commitments and responsibilities come crashing in suddenly as soon as you get home – you are no longer just pleasing yourself
  • feeling of detachment from others – they can’t understand what you have experienced, and there is a period of their lives and news that you have missed. It happened without you.  It distances you.
  • sadness that the adventure is over
  • fear that you will never have such an adventure again
  • fear that nothing has actually changed as a result of the adventure, when you hoped it would be transformative

I think the worst thing is that last one.  Having done something extraordinary (for me), the prospect of settling back into my dull old ways is awful.  There are so many interesting paths I could take with my new-found self-confidence that the choice is paralysing, and I am rooted to the dull old spot.  A friend, who has for ages done at least one big scary trip a year, even into her 80s, encapsulated this for me, saying:

It’s dreadful when you are home from your travels and you’ve experienced such wonderful things. You feel like you’re only half living.


Overcoming post-adventure blues

What then is the best way to ameliorate post-adventure depression if you are in its grip?  Clearly, I do not know! In theory, these should help:

  • get straight back into helpful routine (ie exercise, diet, sleep, socialising)
  • don’t fret about the ‘what next’ – just let things settle, be in the moment. There is no hurry
  • be there for others – and enjoy the company of friends (who you missed, remember?)
  • day dream about other adventures but don’t make any plans for a while
  • take time to recall the adventure just gone and relive the good bits in your mind
  • do some micro adventures – spend a night out in the wild, or  just visit new places and try new things to flex your adventure muscles a little

I should take my own advice.


depression and the art of compassionate guile

lazy good for nothings?

I can’t be the only depression sufferer who has always believed themself to be lazy and without self-discipline. Ready to act, to change, to do important things, yes: pumped up and determined. But somehow incapable of doing anything much when push comes to shove. No wonder we feel useless and worthless.

It’s the depression doing this. Depression takes our motivation and our initiative – of course we struggle to get stuff done. A vicious circle then: we are low, so we can’t do the things that help us feel better, so we feel worse. Rinse and repeat.

kindness and cunning

ninja-153355_960_720To break the cycle requires a mixture of kindness and cunning – a way of manoeuvring ourselves into situations whereby the easiest, most likely-to-happen option is also the most helpful.  This takes self-knowledge, self-love and ninja tactics.  I’m not talking about simple tricks like breaking tasks down into tiny, manageable, undaunting pieces, or going to bed in your running kit (if you want to go for a run first thing in the morning – no need to do this otherwise).  I’m talking about what to do when that stuff no longer works.

So, for example:

  • your house is a mess but you just can’t bring yourself to tidy up? Invite a nosey friend/colleague/neighbour round for coffee tomorrow – and let the emergency housework commence.
  • can’t face going to that party you thought would be fun when you accepted the invitation?  (Actually, it may be too late now, but when you accepted the invitation, knowing you ALWAYS go off the idea nearer the time, you needed to arrange to take somebody – somebody who now is relying on you to get them there, and who you would hate to let down.)
  • exercise makes you feel better but you can’t get out of the door to go for a walk/run/cycle ride? Having a dog you love is useful here – you won’t want to deprive them of their walk unless you are in a really bad way.  Or, some people find success through a public commitment to do a certain race or event, preferably sponsored, and fear of humiliation/coronary failure on the day is enough to ensure at least some training happens beforehand.  In my case, I recently headed for Scotland on my bike with the dog and a tent having told everyone we would be gone for three months.

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You probably need to be feeling reasonably OK to do these. Paradoxically, the time to work hardest on recovery is when you are well, which is when you are most capable of building helpful behaviours and habits into your life.


compassionate guile

The five key components of this approach are:

  1. Understand which bits of your behaviour are probably down to the depression and which are not (and don’t judge the depression bits.)
  2. Know what usually motivates you to do difficult things. (For example, in my case it’s trying to avoid people thinking badly of me.)
  3. Know what usually makes you feel better (these things, perhaps.)
  4. Use this self-knowledge and understanding to devise cunning plans which harness the power of whatever usually motivates you, to do things which usually make you feel better.
  5. If a plan doesn’t work, tweak it till it does or make a new plan – no recriminations.


on failing to do what helps

stick runningThere are things I need to do –  so I believe – consistently, every day or every other day, if I am to keep my depression away. Running, being sociable, pursuing my interests, taking my supplements, getting enough sleep, practising mindfulness, keeping my life tidy.

Further, there are things which, according to my research, might help me actually  get rid of the depression altogether.

Why then have I stopped doing them?

planeIt’s not because I want to remain depressed – nobody would want that, surely? Or because I am too unwell to do anything, or too busy, or too forgetful, too lazy –  although maybe these are part of the answer.

Whatever, I can feel I am heading for a crash, ‘cruising for a bruising’, unless I can get back on track.  Just thinking about what I should be doing makes me feel tired. Time to take my own advice. I shall press the reset button, and very gently and with as much kindness as possible, start again to do the things that help.


experiments in ending depression

The quest to understand why I am depressed and what to do about it – my reading and thinking and trying things out – has lead to this: cautious optimism that I can get really well. And firing on mental cylinders not yet sparked.

5ScienceExperiments1-300x270So that is the plan: to go for it. Sadly my other thing (rescuing bats), which usually takes all my time in the summer, has ended.  Henceforth my number one priority will be the relentless pursuit of beating my depression.

Since the last post about the ‘new laws of psychology‘ and its emphasis on psychological rather than neurological/chemical underpinnings of depression, I have read more about this and tried to pin down the apparently all-important “sense I make of myself, other people, the world and the future.”

Beck’s cognitive triad

This idea comes from American psychiatrist Aaron Beck, the Daddy of cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT),  who assigned a central role to what he called the ‘cognitive triad’ in depression; namely, pervasive negative attitudes that the depressed individual has towards him/herself, towards the outside world, and towards his/her future. The description of each certainly resonates with me:

1. The view of self.
The depressed patient’s cognitive schemas that relate to self-assessment consist of seeing himself as deficient, inadequate, or unworthy. He will often attribute his unpleasant feelings and experiences to some kind of physical, mental, or moral defect within himself. He will then consider himself worthless because of his presumed defects, and will “reject” himself.

2. The view of the world.
The depressed person tends to see his world as making exorbitant demands on him and as presenting, obstacles that cannot be surmounted. He interprets his interactions with his environment in terms of defeat and failure, deprivation, or disparagement.

3. The view of the future.
The depressed person’s negative cognitive patterns that relate to the future become evident in his view that his current difficulties or suffering will indefinitely continue. Thus, he anticipates unremitting hardship, continued frustration, and never ending deprivation. Such schemas essentially amount to a pervasive hopeless attitude.

Source: AN Weissman and AT Beck Development and Validation of the Dysfunctional Attitude Scale: A Preliminary Investigation. Mar 78

So if depression is not so much shonky wiring as shonky thinking, can thoughts be changed? That is the premise of cognitive behavioural therapy of course – learning how to challenge and alter our own negative thoughts, and in so doing, feel better.

drowning bodies

I have done a course of CBT though my local NHS service, and found it helpful, but – and maybe I’ve missed the point somewhere – it seems to deal with the symptoms of depressive thinking rather than the cause. The negative thoughts I have are automatic, unconscious, constant. Challenging each one is fine, but akin to pulling drowning bodies out of the thought-flow rather than venturing upstream to stop them falling in in the first place.


Our sense of ourselves and the world and our future develops from our (mostly early) experiences and our environment. In depressed people, according Beck, that sense is negative and damaging, and it profoundly affects our thinking, which leads to us feeling bad.

I have tried to change my thinking, through CBT, but it only helps a bit. I want to change the sense I have of myself, the world and my future. To stop the bodies falling in the drowning flow of negative thought.


This cognitive triad thing gives me great hope. Potentially, all we need do is to change our deeply-held beliefs – our sense of everything.  The beliefs I have (see 1, 2 and 3 above!) are irrational; surely they can be replaced with something more useful.

But how is that possible? Perhaps a psychologist would suggest therapy but I’d rather tackle it myself. From what I have researched so far, the development of self-compassion (through loving-kindness mindfulness meditation) may be the answer. More on this to follow, but the extract from Neff and Costigan gives a flavour:

Research shows that treating oneself with care and compassion is a powerful way to enhance intrapersonal and interpersonal wellbeing. When we are mindful of our suffering and respond with kindness, remembering that
suffering is part of the shared human condition, we are able to cope with life’s struggles with greater ease. We create a loving, connected, and balanced state of mind and heart that helps to reduce psychopathology while
simultaneously enhancing joy and meaning in life.

Source: AP Costigan and KD Neff Self-Compassion, Wellbeing,
and Happiness Psychologie in Osterreich 2014

I am determined to get rid of the depression that has hobbled me for so long. Perhaps practising self-compassion will help me do that, perhaps not. In which case I’ll keep looking, keep experimenting. Let’s see what works.

the new laws of psychology

Live and learn

uk_brains_stimIn an ongoing effort to regrow my brain, a daily habit is to spend an hour or so studying via a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). MOOCs are free courses offered by Universities and education organisations in all sorts of subjects, and the ones I have done have been excellent.

The most recent course I undertook, through the Open University’s Future Learn, was Psychology and Mental Health, run by the University of Liverpool and led by Peter Kinderman, Professor of Clinical Psychology.  The course explores and critiques the biopsychosocial model of mental health problems like depression and makes a case for ditching biological (nature) and social (nurture) explanations in favour of focussing on psychological processes – or, to use Kinderman’s phrase, “the sense we make of ourselves, other people, the world and the future”.

Kinderman and co. argue that it’s all very well ascribing human behaviour and emotions to ever more specific neuronal activity in the brain, but it doesn’t explain how you got to the point of, say, not being able to get out of bed, or what you can do to feel better. (Apart from taking antidepressants).

The academic bashing of the biopsychosocial model and its various advocates would perhaps be of most interest to people who have been treated for mental health problems by psychiatrists, with drugs – but this hasn’t been my experience.

I did this depression to myself then?

However, somewhat perturbed by the notion that my lifelong depression might be less to do with my genes and more to do with the sense I make of the world, I read Peter Kinderman’s The New Laws of Psychology: why nature and nurture alone can’t explain human behaviour 

kinderman new lawsThe main premise of the book is that:

“we are shaped by thought, and our thoughts are shaped by events….these biological, social and circumstantial factors affect our mental health through their effect on psychological processes”.

So our genetic inheritance and the stuff that happens to us are important to our mental health only in so far as they inform what we believe about ourselves and the world – ie the sense we make of everything.  Kinderman’s ‘new laws of psychology’ are:

Law 1

Our thoughts, emotions and behaviour (and, therefore, our mental health and well-being) are largely determined by how we make sense of the world.

Law 2

How we make sense of the world is largely determined by our experiences and upbringing.

These laws have profound implications for tackling depression, if Kinderman is right. We can try to change our brain chemistry with anti-depressant medication, and rationalise our thoughts with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) techniques, but perhaps what we need to do is change our underlying beliefs about the world.  As Kinderman puts it:

Since people’s mental well-being is dependant (at least in large part) on their framework of understanding and their thoughts about themselves, other people, the world and the future, helping people think differently about these things can be helpful and should be the basis of therapy.  We should not be treating illness, but helping people think effectively and appropriately about the important things in life.

This has got me thinking about my own belief system – my own ‘sense of the world’. How did I arrive at it and can it be now be changed? Fascinating. To be continued…

running for my life

Welsh Highland Railway and RaisinNovember: short gloomy days, no bats to worry about, and the season of Christmas bullshit approaching fast. Having returned from a lovely week in Snowdonia with Raisin – mountains and coast, fabulous – everything now feels like a struggle.  The days drift by, nothing gets done, it is beginning to look serious.

So I have started running again after a long summer lay-off. It’s the quickest, most powerful fix I can find. It requires motivation, but not as much as housework 🙂 Two miles first thing in the morning, and I feel good till the afternoon.  It’s not perfect – my body can only stand every other day at the moment, and I still find the afternoons/evening difficult – but it’s a great help.  Walking is fine, but doesn’t have the same effect, not even 5 miles in the sunshine with Raisin.

There’s lots of research on exercise and depression, some of it I have covered previously. Not all the research supports the benefits I experience, but that’s OK, it works for me.


Further reading

Simon Hattenstone in the Guardian Exercise is no panacea for depression – but it keeps it at bay


when keeping busy keeps depression away

This summer I have been too busy to write about or research depression because my other (bat rescue) thing has completely taken over. My normal keep-well routine has been completely disrupted, viz exercise, sleep, omega 3 supplements, social activities. I’ve lost a stone in weight from not having time to cook. In the middle of all this a close friend died unexpectedly, leaving me shocked and grieving.

bfp ble (2)

Here’s the strange thing though: I haven’t felt depressed. It’s only now, when it’s all quietening down, that I am noticing dark thoughts clouding my mind, and energy and enthusiasm draining away.

A friend who also suffers from depression recently told me that she feels better when she is busy and doesn’t have time to think. In the past I would have associated such busy-ness with pressure and stress: both to be avoided as far as possible. It’s what precipitated my breakdown 5 years ago, and what I have tried so hard to eliminate from my life ever since. But perhaps pressure is OK – healthy even – when you are doing something you love.

Research on meaningful activity

The research literature talks about a connection between mental health and meaningful activity. What you do, and the meaning it has for you, is important for well-being.

our daily occupations are imbued with personal meanings that contribute to the perception of purpose and meaning in our lives, ultimately influencing our health and well-being (Yerxa et al., 1989)

Researchers have developed tools for measuring meaningfulness, such as the Engagement in Meaningful Activities Survey (EMAS, Goldberg et al. 2002), which reflects the extent to which people believe their activities: fit with their value system and needs; demonstrate their competence; and are valued in their social or cultural group.  Studies have found, broadly, that the higher the score on the EMAS scale, the better the depression, and vice versa. EMAS talks about daily activities, and not about duration – so it’s the meaningfulness that is important here, rather than how busy you are.

Here’s the EMAS tool . Each criterion is preceded by  “The activities I do…”

  1. help me take care of myself (e.g., keep clean, budget my money)
  2. reflect the kind of person I am
  3. express my creativity
  4. help me achieve something which gives me a sense of accomplishment
  5. contribute to my feeling competent
  6. are valued by other people
  7. help other people
  8. give me pleasure
  9. give me a feeling of control
  10. help me express my personal values
  11. give me a sense of satisfaction
  12. have just the right amount of challenge

Score  1-Never, 2-Rarely, 3-Sometimes, 4-Usually and 5-Always

To apply this, one could devise an activity or range of activities that would score maximum points – and then do it daily. I am going to add this to my list of experiments.

Research on being busy

So meaningful activity is helpful for depression, but that’s not the same as being busy. We looked at rumination – mulling things over and over – in a previous post. Rumination is strongly linked to depression and is best avoided if at all possible, usually by deploying positive distractions.  Steve Ilardi, in his Six Step Programme to Beat Depression, has anti-ruminatory activity as one of the steps and talks about the need to find distracting things to do. He also suggests that, along with watching movies and playing video games (or whatever works as a distraction),  you may as well include activities that are inherently anti-depressive such as exercise and engaging with friends. Or doing meaningful stuff.

People typically ruminate – and feel the worst – when they have nothing else to occupy their attention. Steve Ilardi

Keeping busy with positively distracting activities will stop rumination (and rumination makes us feel bad). And if those activities are also meaningful to us, we will actually feel better.

Finding the busy sweet spot

I have learnt this summer that, against all expectation, a huge amount of disruption (for me, anyway), pressure, and physical and emotional upheaval, did not make me ill. I don’t know that I could have continued much longer at the same intensity though. Feeding baby bats every 3 hours round the clock is tough; thankfully they grew out of it…

There must come a point when being busy all the time is not healthy. Mustn’t there? Perhaps it’s when the meaningfulness starts to slip – for example when the activities are such that you you don’t have time to care for yourself properly (as per criterion 1, above), or when you no longer feel in control (criterion 9).  The important thing is to be aware of what is happening, and to take steps if possible to get back on the meaningful track.

Doing work you love

Since many of us have to spend a lot of our time earning money, the perfect set-up would be to do work that is distracting and meaningful.  Not necessarily easy to achieve, but worth striving for.
This post is dedicated to Scott Dinsmore, a perfect-toothed, ever-smiling, overwhelmingly-enthusiastic American I’ve never met whose stuff about changing the world through ‘finding and doing work you love’ inspired me to start this website and pursue making a living from learning about depression. He died last week in a climbing accident in the middle of a once-in-a-lifetime year-long trip around the world with his wife. Living his legend.

References and further reading

Goldberg B, Brintnell ES, Goldberg J (2002)  The relationship between engagement in meaningful activities and quality of life in persons disabled by mental illness Occupational Therapy in Mental Health. 18(2):17–44

Steve Ilardi (2009) The depression cure: the six step programme to beat depression without drugs

Yerxa EJ et al. (1989). An introduction to occupational science: a foundation for occupational therapy in the 21st century. Occupational Therapy in Health Care, 6(1), 1-17.

Scott Dinsmore’s TED talk on doing work you love


you must remember this: memory and depression – a helpful technique

memory and depression

One of the many fiendish ways depression perpetuates itself in the sufferer is to make it difficult to remember autobiographical events – ie things that you have done or experienced. This is important because non-depressed people, it seems, can and do call on detailed positive or self-affirming memories to cheer themselves up, using such memories to regulate their mood.

Research suggests that depressed people can benefit from purposefully thinking about happier times, if only they could remember any!

mr memory

learn to recall helpful memories despite feeling depressed

Help is at hand: it has now been shown that using the “method-of-loci” technique, with a bit of initial effort recalling important memories is fairly easy – even when you are depressed.

The method of loci can be used to memorise anything, but in this context, and according to research by Dalgleish et al from Cambridge University, it goes like this:

  1. think of 15 positive memories [this is the hard part!] – in as much vivid detail as possible, with sounds, colours, smell etc
  2. think of a journey you know so well you can imagine it easily in your mind – could be the route to work, or the layout of your house
  3. assign a different memory to each of 15 points along the journey by imagining an association between the memory and the point – eg picture crossing the winning line at school race day with your staircase watching in the crowd (the more incongruous or bizarre the association the better)
  4. now you should be able to make that journey in your mind’s eye, recalling each memory point by point

If you do this mind journey often, the memories will automatically come to mind when you make the actual journey. So walking up the stairs at home will remind you of winning that race. And that will have a positive impact on your mood.

try it and see

This looks like a straightforward experiment to try. Mind you, after thinking about it all day I have only managed to come up with one powerfully positive memory. Maybe we need a technique for that part too!


sources and further reading

Williams et al (2007) Autobiographical memory specificity and emotional disorder

Dalgleish et al (2013) Method-of-Loci as a Mnemonic Device to Facilitate Access to Self-Affirming Personal Memories for Individuals With Depression



500 days without alcohol: the impact on my depression

Depression and drinking

I’ve talked before about my drinking, and how and why I stopped. My alcohol use was wound up tightly with my depression, one feeding the other, and this went on for years.  Today marks 500 days since my last drink and it seems like a good time to reflect on that.

Going without alcohol has not been as difficult as I expected (and my expectations were built on many and various experiences of failed attempts in the past).  I don’t have much willpower or self-discipline; they wouldn’t have been any help when things got tough.  So instead of relying on those, I made big changes to my life and my behaviour that made not drinking the easy choice, in contrast to the old days when it was the other way round.


The important changes were probably these:

  • attitude to drinking.  I accepted, with as much self-compassion as I could muster, that my alcohol use was essentially a coping mechanism for depression that was no longer doing its job.  This done, I realised the wistful stories I told myself about the fun and enjoyment I got from drinking were just that: stories. None of them were true.
  • absolute commitment to tackling my depression.  Before I stopped drinking, I worked hard to develop habits that would help my depression (exercise, diet, sleep etc). Drinking was the last seriously unhelpful behaviour I changed.  I doubt I could have done it otherwise.
  • Coming out as a teetotaller. Very helpful at social functions where drinking is normal or expected. Outside my immediate social circle, people in my world don’t care if I am not drinking, and I have found that I couldn’t care less what they think anyway! But it hasn’t been a problem.
  • Planning ahead. Taking my own drinks to parties/functions where appropriate or sorting out a strategy in advance.
  • Maintaining stocks of alcohol-free drinks at home – whenever I fancy a beer (most days), or a glass of wine – I have one. Simple. This may not suit everyone, but it has worked really well for me.

albedo bitburger Drive (Flasche)

Impact on my depression

The benefits of going alcohol-free are strong, and include:

  • improved physical health (fewer headaches and ailments generally; weight loss)
  • improved appearance (face less saggy, skin clearer, eyes brighter)
  • financial (my household spending has decreased dramatically)
  • improved sleep
  • better self-esteem
  • more sociable (and more likely to invite friends into my house, which I hated doing before)
  • available for productive activities in the evening (including those which involve driving)

Has it improved my mental health? Yes definitely, albeit in tandem with the other things I now do (exercise, sleep etc).  My mornings used to start with imagining shooting myself in the face, then the blood, bone fragments and brain tissue dripping down the wall behind my bed. That very rarely happens now, thank goodness.

Sorry to mention such a gross image, but that was how it was when I was drinking, and that is what I think of if ever I feel tempted to drink again.  I am so much better off alcohol-free.



the confidence gap

Lack of confidence is something I experience on a daily basis. Perhaps it is related to my depression, perhaps not. However, I can feel my comfort zone gradually shrinking so that I am reluctant to try news things and risk fresh failure and pain; sticking instead to what I know will not hurt me. This is not going to help me stay well.

Confidence_Gap_CoverTime, then, to tackle the confidence problem, with the help of The Confidence Gap by Dr Russ Harris.

The approach in this book is ACT – acceptance and commitment therapy.

ACT, originally called comprehensive distancing (great name!), was developed in the late 1980s.  The objective is not happiness; rather, it is to be present with what life brings us and to “move toward valued behaviour”. It has been described as getting to know unpleasant feelings, then learning not to act upon them, and not to avoid situations where they are invoked. Its therapeutic effect is said to be a positive spiral where feeling better leads to a better understanding of the truth. [source: wikipedia]

Dealing with negative thoughts and feelings

The Confidence Gap starts from the assumption that negative thoughts are not inherently problematic. It doesn’t matter whether thoughts are true are not; what matters is whether they are helpful. The thing with negative thoughts, and ‘unhooking’ from them is to diffuse their power by noticing the thought, naming it and neutralising it. How do you do this?  With mindfulness. Mindfulness develops our ability to notice thoughts in a detached way; to unhook them from snagging the mind.

Unpleasant feelings and sensations in the body can feed negative thoughts and lead to a depressive spiral.  ACT uses ‘expansion’ to deal with feelings and sensations: again the first step is to notice them. The next is to acknowledge and make space for them. In this way, Harris says, we learn to accept our fear.

Values to live by

These ACT techniques are useful adjuncts to mindfulness practice; they could be applied to many situations where negative thoughts and feelings are problematic. The Confidence Gap suggests another general principle – that of living according to your own set of values (which he defines as ‘desired qualities of ongoing action – how you want to behave as a human being’).

Values play a major role in developing confidence and enhancing performance. Not only do they provide us with the inspiration and motivation to ‘do what it takes’, they also sustain us on the journey…And even when we don’t achieve our goals..we can still find satisfaction and fulfilment from living by our values. Russ Harris, The Confidence Gap

It would not have occurred to me that confidence could be linked to values, but I have found this the most useful part of the book so far, and I will return to the issue of personal values and mental health in a future post.

The confidence gap

The ‘confidence gap’ is when you believe you can’t

  • achieve your goals
  • perform at your peak
  • do the things you what to do
  • behave like the person you want to be

– until you feel more confident.  Harris argues that people may lack confidence because their expectations are too high, they judge themselves too harshly, they are preoccupied with fear, or they lack experience or skills.

To overcome these:

  1. Unhook from excessive expectations
  2. Practice self-acceptance and self encouragement
  3. Make room for fear – and if possible, use it
  4. Step out of your comfort zone and get the experience you require
  5. Practise the skills, apply them effectively, assess the results, modify as needed

photo Timothy LawesMy lack of confidence comes to the fore when I am playing the trombone, which is not the ideal instrument for a timid, shy person like me, but it’s what I play nonetheless (that’s me last Saturday, second from right, photo by Tim Lawes).

I would love to have the confidence to play in public (at band practice or at a gig/concert) as I do at home – with the appropriate volume and attack. But I worry too much about making a mistake and cocking it up for everyone, or others hearing how poorly I am playing.  And so every band practice or concert becomes a source of embarrassment and self-reproach. Which is ridiculous – it’s my hobby; making music with others is a wonderful thing to do.

So, I have the perfect thing to try these Confidence Gap techniques on.   It’s not just about practising the skills, and getting the appropriate experience. It’s also about working with the fear and self-doubt in a smarter way.

Rules of bridging the confidence gap (Harris, The Confidence Gap)

  1. The actions of confidence come first; the feelings of confidence come later
  2. Genuine confidence is not the absence of fear; it is a transformed relationship with fear
  3. Negative thoughts are normal, Don’t fight them; defuse them
  4. Self-acceptance trumps self-esteem
  5. Hold your values lightly but pursue them vigorously
  6. True success is living by your values
  7. Don’t obsess on the outcome; get passionate about the process
  8. Don’t fight your fear; allow it, befriend it and channel it
  9. Failure hurts – but if we are willing to learn; it’s a wonderful teacher
  10. The key to peak performance is total engagement in the task