If clients have reached a place where they are motivated to make positive changes to improve the quality of their lives, then we might look at evidence-based recommendations from the field of positive psychology for more ideas. Here are just a few:-
- Do more things that make you happy! This might seem an obvious one, but many well-meaning people may put others’ happiness or agenda before their own and don’t set aside enough time for their own enjoyment. It is healthy to consider others – partners, family, friends, co-workers – but you need to look after yourself too. Keeping up your ‘feel-good’ reserves is essential precautionary maintenance for those times in life when they are depleted. Build a couple of these things into your life every day – for example, watching some crazy kittens on YouTube or walking to a favourite view.
- Take regular, moderate exercise that feels right for you and you can build into your weekly routine. It stimulates the body’s feel-good chemicals (dopamine and endorphins) and promotes feelings of well-being and self-confidence. It can also reduce social isolation and help you feel like you are taking control of getting your life on track.
- Cultivate gratitude for what is going well in your life. At the end of each day, think of three things that you are grateful for – however mundane or small they may seem. You are trying to train your brain to `look on the bright side’ (promoting serotonin production in the brain) and the thinking about this alone can help develop the emotional intelligence part of your brain so it takes less effort to be grateful over time, as well as activating your brain’s dopamine production. Gratitude towards others also increases activity in social dopamine circuits, which makes social interactions more enjoyable. You might want to take a daily photo of something that makes you feel good which you can also look back on.
- Prioritise some social time with trusted family members, friends or co-workers and value personal connections with other people who you enjoy being around. Eat or go for a walk together, or phone a friend. Genuine social interactions with family or friends can promote oxytocin in the body, another feel-good chemical. If you don’t have those connections to hand right now, see my next point.
- Do something for others. It may be a regular volunteering role, checking on an elderly neighbour or making a cup of tea for someone. This ticks a few boxes: building up your feel-good reserves, promoting social connections, increasing your physical activity and promoting positive physiological changes in the brain.
- Cultivate an optimistic angle on the future. Set yourself a realistic goal or two for something which would bring you a sense of achievement in attaining and some pleasure in pursuing. It might be a career-related goal, or making a cushion, joining an evening class, raising money for charity or doing a five mile walk. We need dopamine for self-motivation, and achieving goals gives us a dopamine hit.
- Be kind to yourself and try to nurture some self-compassion. Take a break, try to relax, cuddle your pet and ensure you have enough sleep. And accept yourself … as another human doing your best on your journey through life.