We all have different ways to help us cope with the day to day issues that arise, one of the things myself and my partner do at least once a year is to try to make time to get away for a week or so to switch off our electronic devises and refresh and fully recharge our batteries! This year we were very lucky to take a week in the lovely Highlands of Scotland just before Lockdown arrived.

As we both work in specialised therapeutic roles during our working week, whilst running classes and workshops for health and well-being (when time permits!) in our spare time, alongside our own personal training from the hours between 5.00-7.00am six days a week, life can at times seem quite busy, so getting away for a simple break is always well received and appreciated.

You may be thinking, surely this type of schedule must be too busy and/or stressful? The simplest answer to this is that the latter part of our weekly description is the key fundamental factor to not feeling stressed or mentally drained, in fact it creates the opposite!

If I explain this in a nutshell, certain exercises (both physical or meditative) that we practice release those “feel good” hormones like Serotonin, Oxytocin and Dopamine. Serotonin is responsible for maintaining mood balance/mood stabiliser and happiness, whilst Oxytocin is responsible for bonding/trust and creating those happy type feelings, whilst as a bonus, it also helps to regulate the immune system. Then we have Dopamine which is the feel-good/reward hormone which plays a big part of our unique human ability to think and plan. It helps us strive, focus, and find things interesting. So every time I practice, these chemicals are naturally released into my body, allowing them to boost my mood, emotions, focus and mental well-being.

As with anything new, or trying to create a new habit forming type of behaviour, taking the first step can be the most difficult, so the simpler you can make this the more likely it will be achievable in the short and long term practice (as with my own habitual self-practice now of several decades, this when I first started soon became as normal as brushing my teeth).

With this, quite often when we embark on a new practice or hobby, we can be nervous or excited, and often our own minds will talk us out of what we originally set out to do, so here are a few tips to help you on your own journey.

What can we do to avoid the self-doubt or negative self thoughts?
Let’s take an example; a person decides that they want to get healthier and improve their fitness levels and decide to take up going for a short jog or run in the morning before they start work. This person then plans to get up at 6.00am, sets their alarm clock when going to bed, but when 6.00am arrives, the person hits the snooze button and stays in bed.

When this happens, often the person can start to feel that they hopelessly failed in getting up and going for their jog, they may also start feel that they can’t do it, their negative thoughts may tell themselves that they are not capable or good enough compared to someone they know or have seen on social media or in their day to day lives. They may start to tell themselves that they are lazy and they’ll never be able to do it, alongside other associated negative automatic thoughts that can stop them from progressing.

When we receive these Negative Automatic Thoughts (NAT’s) these can have a detrimental and psychological effect on us, as when an event or if something happens or occurs, our automatic thoughts are formed in our brains. These automatic thoughts can then determine how we think, and they can subconsciously and deeply affect our emotions and behaviours which can then often reinforce any self-doubting or false beliefs! These beliefs can then shape how we view ourselves, so we can end up having a very distorted, and often negative view of what we can achieve and who we are as a person.

In conclusion, Negative Automatic Thoughts have shown to have a strong link to depression, anxiety and other mental, emotional and health related issues. They are inarguably a source of pain, discomfort and frustration for anyone experiencing them on a regular basis.

How Goal Setting Can Positively Impact on your Mental Health!

Step 1: Identify your Goal:
Goal setting is a robust method when it comes to mental health support, and that goal achievement and the strength of this feeling are found to have a positive effect on personal recovery.

When it comes to setting goals, it’s important to ‘hone in’ on what you really want. When setting goals, it’s a good idea to be more specific, rather than general. Being specific will help you fine-tune your goal. For example, many people try and set goals that are too general such as “I want to get healthy.” A better goal would be something much more specific like “I am going to improve my diet by eating more fresh foods and produce and I want to accomplish this by November 1st of this year.”

Step 2: Choose a starting point:
Be clear in your mind when you are going to start on your new venture. Think practically and logically when you will begin. Write it on your calendar, stick on your fridge, and don’t the NAT’S talk you out of it!

Step 3: Identify the steps required to achieve the goal:
Remember, small goals and small steps to begin with is one of the best ways to succeed in what you want to achieve. Be realistic about what you can do both physically and mentally, but don’t let the NAT’s try to stop you or get in the way (remember that is their job!)

Step 4: Take that first step and get started:
When taking action into new directions, it is natural for difficult thoughts and anxious feelings to arise. You can use some simple mindfulness skills to help decrease the struggle with any troubling thoughts and feelings. In this way, negative thoughts and feelings will have less impact in stopping you from achieving your goal or achievement.
This will also allow you to develop more resilience to the potential damages that prolonged negative thoughts, anxiety and stress can cause.

To help you on your way try using the GROW Acronym as a way to mentally plan what you want to achieve.

G – Goal
R – Reality
O – Options
W – Way Forward

G stands for Goal.
Why do you really want this goal?
How important is it for you to achieve this goal?

R stands for Reality.
As you get further into your goals it’s also imperative to be realistic.
Try and ask yourself what is happening in terms of your goal at the present moment.
What kinds of action have you taken in support of this goal?

O stands for Options.
What other options have you explored in terms of achieving this goal?

W stands for a Way forward.
What will you do once you have achieved this goal?

By planning out and aiming to achieve your Goals step by step, little by little, whilst consciously trying to minimise your Negative Automatic Thoughts, you will be able to start to create an improved sense of clarity and well-being for yourself.

My teacher used to say to me, “the heaviest burdens that we carry are the thoughts within our heads!”

Good luck on your journey!

Matt has worked in the Social Care setting for 34 years, alongside being a qualified/certified teacher in traditional internal Chinese health and well-being martial arts practice for 37 years.