Why you don’t notice the pickpocket and techniques for changing that

December 6, 2013 by  
Filed under Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

woman stealing a wallet from man's back pocket isolated

In this post we’re going to look at why you don’t notice the pickpocket and techniques on how to change that.

No one wants to have their pocket picked. It has to be one of the most personal of violations secretive and un-noticed as it is.

Your attention is precious and limited. It is the light that you shine on the world and as with a physical torch without light there is no vision and without attention there is no awareness. Attention is the most precious resource your brain has. And it is very miserly about where it puts it. Only salient and important things get any. All the rest goes unnoticed.

Avoid the pickpocket – techniques: Focusing your attention

A pickpocket has learnt one very important and obvious truth. And this enables them to do what they do with relative impunity.  It is this. You have difficulty focusing your attention on something that is less noticeable while something more noticeable is happening.

You feel a bump on the shoulder as you exit a train. It is only minutes later when you try to buy a coffee that you realize you no longer own a wallet. You have been pick pocketed. The bump on your shoulder attracted your attention while the gentler feeling of the wallet being removed did not enter awareness and so went unnoticed.

Avoid the pickpocket – techniques: Your brain

We tend to think our brain records all experiences in ways akin to a video recorder and therefore we should be able to record everything. That isn’t how it works. Your cognitive and sensory systems tend to take in very little information.

Avoid the pickpocket – techniques:  Answer this question.

Can you feel the soles of your feet on the floor? …Now you can!  But before your attention was directed to them you were sublimely unaware of your feet doing their job. Things which don’t require any attention don’t get any, because attention is a limited and precious resource.


Much of your body requires minimal ongoing attention. The sensory neural structure of your skin is set up to mostly register changes in state: when you touch and let go, when you sit and stand, when temperature or air flow change. It is the changes in things that may require an action otherwise if nothing changes you don’t need to have any awareness of it.

You are usually more aware of things that are in a state of change but even then the most salient; most important of these, will grab the lion’s share of your attention and the gentle pressure of the wallet slipping from your pocket will go unnoticed.

Avoid the pickpocket – techniques: Negative thoughts

However, it is not only the sensory experiential system that is miserly with its allocation of awareness. I chose the story of the pickpocket because I think it nicely captures the way negative thoughts steal your precious attention and use it for ‘no good’.


Because attention is limited and therefore precious, only things that seem important get any. Let’s examine how this effective process can ultimately be incredibly self destructive. You may recognise that there is a constant flow of thoughts passing across the internal screen of your mind. Much of it goes unnoticed but thoughts that seem important can grab the full amount of your attention and focus it like a powerful search light.

Avoid the pickpocket – techniques: Attention grabbing thoughts

What kinds of thoughts grab your attention with such a powerful tug?

‘I might die’

I am a failure and everything I touch testifies to his’

I am unloved and unlovable’

‘I am no good’

I am a horrible person’

I will be found out’

I am not good enough to succeed’

They are thoughts that seem to be threats to your existence and viability. Of course, this is only a selection of the kinds of thoughts that create and maintain anxiety and depression.

These are thoughts that seem to be really significant threats to your ability to work, form important relationships and to succeed in the world. If accurate, these would certainly seem to be important issues warranting your attention on them. Hence they have the ability to grab your attention with a hefty pull.

Avoid the pickpocket – techniques: You have levels of attention

You have a several levels within the attentional system simultaneously working all of the time. Obviously, there are unconscious levels. These are where all of the autonomic processes like digestion, heart variability, blood pressure monitoring, sweating, hormone secretion and regulation occur.


You also have a whole unconscious level of thoughts (below awareness) where thoughts, mental images and dialogue go on inside your brain. Then of course we have the rather limited level of conscious thought etc and this is the only part you are aware of.  Think of it as a high jump bar. Any thought that approaches the bar either goes under it, where you will have no awareness of it or it goes over the bar and enters your awareness. Important things are supposed to go over the bar and unimportant things go under the bar.

Avoid the pickpocket – techniques: The role of evolution

Before humans had developed meaningful language abilities and hence the ability to create symbolic thought (thought is predicated upon language) my view is that mostly only external threats would have had the ability to pass over the bar capturing attention. More or less everything else would have been of less significance and gone under the bar of awareness.

This evolutionary process has left us with several side effects that have both good and bad aspects to them.

Avoid the pickpocket – techniques: Side effects

When you focus your attention on something your brain assumes that it is important, otherwise your attention would not be directed to it? The bump of the pickpocket grabs your attention because it seems an important event and may signify something. It doesn’t but the thing that was important didn’t get any attention at all. The wallet slipped unnoticed away to find a home in another pocket.

The moral of the story is that your sensory systems work very well, pickpockets are uncommon and in general it is sensible to focus attention on things that seem important and to ignore things that seem unimportant.

Avoid the pickpocket – techniques:  The pickpocket steals your money; the inner critic steals your value

Humans may have evolved beyond the capacity of the attention system to be optimal for our modern way of living.


With the development of language and consciousness we have developed the ability to be self aware. This is our greatest achievement. It is responsible for the massive spurt in development of the human race over the last 5,000 years. But it has brought with it the consequence that we can now be self critical.

Before language and consciousness self criticism had no vehicle for expression. Our self criticism is now so powerful and pointed and is often focused at the level of catastrophic threats to self esteem, and survival that it often gets our full attention.

Hence it picks our pocket and steals our attention from whatever we are doing and takes it to a place of self defeat and worthlessness.

Avoid the pickpocket – techniques: Directing our attention

But like dealing with the pickpocket we can learn that this happens. We have the ability to direct our attention wherever we want it to go.


Just because the brain automatically focus attention on what it perceives to be important does not mean that we have to let it rest there. If you knew beyond any doubt that a pickpocket would attempt to pick your pocket within the next hour you would be alert to sensitive touches and you would mostly ignore the big bump.

Well the inner critic will try and steal your value within the next hour. So you need to be sensitive to any attempt to capture your attention from your ongoing tasks. Don’t allow the inner critic to insert a really negative thought into your mind with the intent of capturing your awareness.  Learning to become mindful of the flow of your attention and being able to notice the places it get directed is a really good step towards learning to negate the effects of the inner critic.

Avoid the pickpocket – techniques: Exercise

Try practicing a free floating awareness of where your attention and awareness goes. This is not intended as additional pressure, to get it right, but simply as a way of engaging you with an automatic process that may need some recalibrating to serve you better.

Now you know that your attention will get stolen you can be on guard, with conscious awareness comes choice; let it go or decide to keep it.

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CBT for Insomnia

October 24, 2013 by  
Filed under Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Young woman cannot sleep

An email from Peter prompted me to write this page about CBT and Insomnia for all of you who are struggling with sleep issues.

Dear Dr Purves

I’ve never been a brilliant sleeper but when I started working at a cinema when I was 16 and quickly got used to working late nights. I worked there for four years often getting home between 1am and 2am and once home I found I needed time to unwind before I could get off to sleep. I didn’t find it a problem at the time because once asleep I managed to stay asleep for about eight hours.

When I left the cinema I took an office job where the hours were completely different. I needed to be at work by 9am as the hours were 9-5. I thought that I’d adjust and naturally need to go to bed earlier but no matter how I tried I couldn’t get to sleep before 2am which meant I was averaging about 5 hours sleep a night. It wasn’t great but I could just about cope.

I’ve been working in an office now for about eight years and my sleep hasn’t adjusted, in fact it’s worse. I play on my Xbox to try to relax before I turn in but these days when I finally go off to sleep I find myself waking randomly for at least an hour or so in the middle of the night. I feel wide awake for a while, get really frustrated that I’m awake, and then eventually I fall back to sleep. When the alarm goes off it’s agony to get up and I feel like a zombie all day. Usually I’m so tired on week days that I have a nap when I get in at 5. At weekends I often sleep in until midday.

My wife has suggested I cut back on caffeine as I drink a fair bit of coke throughout the day but I don’t know how I’d get through without it. I’m knackered at the best of times.

I wondered if I should see my doctor and ask for some sleeping tablets but I’m not keen to have medication really.

Do you have any suggestions?

Many thanks


CBT for Insomnia: Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy

If you have insomnia then you have problems getting to sleep, staying asleep or experiencing a restful sleep. CBT therapy is one way to treat insomnia. Yes, really. In fact, Peter has mentioned many things in his letter which can typically be addressed with CBT.

If you’re a regular visitor to the site you’ll already be familiar with cognitive behaviour therapy. CBT is a talking therapy which can be used to challenge and change thoughts, feelings and behaviours.

I would recommend that Paul and anyone else suffering with persistent sleep issues seeks out a CBT therapist.

CBT for Insomnia: How can CBT help with sleep issues?

So how can CBT help with sleep issues? Well, CBT will help you by identifying the causes of your sleep issues with the aim of changing at your sleeping habits and attitudes to sleep.

CBT for Insomnia: Treatment

If I was Peter’s CBT therapist I would suggest that the first thing he needs to do is keep a sleep diary for one to two weeks, recording how many hours sleep he manages to get a night, when he goes to sleep, when he wakes up and the amount of times he wakes up during the night and for how long.

As his therapist I would then need to review the diary and would suggest restricting sleep which would involve cutting out the naps Peter takes and making sure he gets up early, even on weekends for around six weeks. Yes, if you try this you will feel worse to start with. But the goal is that Peter will begin to feel tired earlier and will then be able to work his bed time backwards, under supervision.

CBT for Insomnia: Education and Lifestyle changes

Peter states that he drinks caffeine. He needs to restrict this to mornings. Alcohol and cigarettes also need to be cut out at bedtime.  If I was treating Peter I would take a wider look at his habits and identify anything which may be interfering with his sleep.

Playing computer games right up until bedtime can interfere with sleep because it’s stimulating.  Peter really needs to be relaxing before he goes to bed.

In order to make these changes you need to understand why you’re doing so, so treatment would include an element of education where we would look at sleep cycles and how your sleep is affected by a range of things.

CBT for Insomnia: Relaxation

Peter doesn’t say if he’s particularly stressed at the moment or if he generally has problems relaxing but learning to actively relax is important.  I work through muscle relaxation exercises with my clients and many have also felt the benefit of mediation and hypnosis.

CBT for Insomnia: Worrying

Another thing I look at with my clients and would focus on with Peter is his thoughts, in particular negative thoughts, and things that might be worrying him and stopping him from falling asleep.

CBT therapy is great at helping you to identify, challenge and change negative beliefs.

CBT for Insomnia: Condition the mind

The bedroom should only be used for sleep and sex. Peter doesn’t say if he’s playing the Xbox in bed at night or in another room but as part of CBT I work with my clients so that they are not using the bedroom for any other activities. This helps to condition the mind to expect rest upon entering the bedroom.

I hope this gives you some ideas of how CBT can be used to treat insomnia. It’s not meant to be an exhaustive list. If you’re having trouble with insomnia I am available for Skype consultations.

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CBT Therapy: Do you know your personal psychological space?

May 17, 2013 by  
Filed under Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

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CBT Therapy: Personal Physical Space

We are all aware of personal space. If someone stands too close to you it is uncomfortable, we may not be quite sure why…it just does. In the film below, as an example of personal space violations, I tell the story of some experiments where men are positioned too close to other men in the bathroom. The effects can be dramatic, odd and even disturbing.

Watch this film and learn more. But be warned it is over 18 minutes long. Some things defy a simply or superficial description and sometimes important things take a bit longer to explain. So please stick with it to the end I am sure you will find it useful.

CBT Therapy: Personal Psychological Space

In this video I am not so much interested in talking about physical space but rather psychological space. Psychological space is a concept that is barely even recognised in science. I first developed an understanding of it when I fully understood the power of self sabotage.

Everyone wants to do well in their life. No one is motivated to perform poorly …and yet many of us do perform below are reasonable expectations of ourselves. The reason for this can seem puzzling, let’s face it, it seems to defy logic! But then I understood the power of the ‘personal membrane,’ this is what I call your unique personal psychological space.


CBT Therapy: The Personal Membrane

Your personal membrane is maintained by your existing negative beliefs about yourself. These were probably developed somewhere in your childhood when your cognitive system was less sophisticated and your understanding of the world less well developed. Nevertheless, once created it started to influence all of your decisions.

I tell the story of Tom whose personal membrane developed when he was about 10 and led to a nervous breakdown when he was 40. I describe how it influenced him and ultimately how it almost ruined his life.

CBT Therapy: Tom recovered from the depths of despair


Tom came to see me when he had his nervous breakdown for Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) but he only had six face to face sessions. He also used and worked through The Mood Control System. Tom overcame the destructive force of his personal membrane and in fact he changed it out of all recognition. He got his life back, he kept his job and actually started to enjoy it again and he felt normal for the first time is several years. He did great!


Mental Health Awareness Week

Mental Health Awareness week is coming to a close. This week of activities to raise awareness of mental health issues spurred me to tell Tom’s story (even though it is longish for a video) but really the moral of this story is:

Your personal membrane will have an influence over you no matter where you are
in your life unless you make an effort to change it.

I’m a CBT therapist and I had to make an effort to change mine and Tom definitely had to change his, if he wanted to have a satisfactory life. I did it, Tom did it and you can do it also. You just have to start to make the effort.

CBT Therapy: Free Audio Book

I have created a 53 minute audio book entitled The Active Self Help Way Out Of Depression. When you sign up for The Mood Control System before 20th May you will also receive this audio book free. The link for the download will come to with you the welcome email.

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Botox as a depression treatment

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When looking for a depression treatment you most likely don’t even consider Botox; that’s for lines and wrinkles, isn’t it? Well, Dermatologist Dr Eric Finzi has published a book arguing that how your face looks plays a role in how you feel.

The connection between facial expression and emotion is not a new idea. Indeed there is quite a bit of research on what is called the ‘facial feedback hypothesis.’

Singer, Dannii Minogue spoke publicly about her use of botox following the death of her best friend and while her sister had breast cancer. She said she felt sad and depressed and didn’t want to look at her face.

Botox as a depression treatment

Why botox is used as a depression treatment

A substantial quantity of research has suggested that the expression of emotion can be changed through a process of feedback from facial muscles. In fact going deeper into the field of body feedback shows it is not only your facial expressions but also your whole body posture that affect how you feel.

The original idea that physical feedback affected emotion was originally proposed by Charles Darwin. But now there is experimental evidence for the validity of this view and of course we have all heard that smiling when you are down is beneficial.

Change your expression; change your mood

botox-as-a-depression-treatmentThe academic research on the facial feedback hypothesis does support the common sense view that changing your facial muscle positions affects your emotions. If you feel down this will be reflected on the canvas of your face. The effect of expressing your emotions on your face seems to be to increase the intensity of the emotion. So if you feel down and you also look down your total experience is of an increased or more intense experience of emotion. Conversely if you feel happy and you also reflect this good mood on your face this will increase the overall experience of happiness.

How Botox works as a depression treatment

The important point that Dr Finzi wants to emphasise is that if you inhibit the facial expression of low mood or depression then it can often reduce the overall intensity of the emotion. Dr Finzi’s proposed solution is to freeze the face with botox to prevent the muscles that create the furrowed eyebrows and frown from functioning. No frown equals lessened experience of low mood.

A different viewpoint

I take no issues with the science used as evidence in Dr Finzi’s book nor do I argue with the facial feedback hypothesis research, but I do take a different viewpoint altogether:

In my view depression is a consequence of something else. It is an outcome not a first cause. Therefore if you treat the outcome with some form of medical intervention then you do not change the cause of the problem.

This is the same argument I have with the seemingly overuse of antidepressant meds. The United States Center for Disease Control andThe Powerful Placebo Effect Prevention has stated that the use of antidepressant drugs has soared nearly 400% since 1988, making the medication the most frequently used by people ages 18-44.

My view is that antidepressants purport to treat depression and anxiety but they only treat the outcome they do not touch the cause of low mood or depression which is why there is a high relapse rate following cessation of these drugs.

In fairness the pharmaceutical industry would state that they believe that depression is a biological problem that results from hypothesised chemical imbalances in the brain. But this remains a hypothesis without conclusive proof of its validity.

Treat the cause

Therefore Dr Finzi;s work and the work of others that it is build follows in the tradition of treating a problem that is caused by something else. Why not treat the actual problem instead?

The most effective depression treatment

botox-as-a-depression-treatment-happy-girlCBT therapy provides the most clinically effective depression treatment.

There are no side effects from CBT therapy and because you learn about the causes of depression and how to treat it you gain something valuable you can keep.

Knowledge and wisdom, these twins will keep you safe and help you steer clear of low mood and depression in the future.

It’s better to stamp on depression by learning what causes it and how to defeat it.

Make it irrelevant to your life journey. Then you won’t have to freeze your face for the whole of your life and you will still be able to smile when you want to.

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No one is immune from depression

March 11, 2013 by  
Filed under Anxiety, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Depression

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A long line of objectively successful people have succumbed to low mood. The latest is actress Shobna Gulati who yesterday revealed she quit Coronation Street because of her battle with depression.

She’s not alone. There have been many articles in the press over the last year featuring celebrities such as Frankie Sandford and Helen Flanagan  talking about their experiences with depression and anxiety problems.

  • At Christmas, actress, Helen Flanagan told a national newspaper that she had considered killing herself in a car crash on the way to the Coronation Street studios.
  • And just last year, Singer, Frankie Sandford spoke to Glamour magazine about her battle with negative thoughts and panic attacks, which escalated, leading to her being hospitalised.

Depression destroys lives and no one is immune.

There are approximately 121,000,000 people suffering from depression throughout the world.

What causes depression?

Depression is often caused by a nagging fear that failure is only around the corner. No matter how much success is achieved the person cannot shake off this fear.

At its heart low self esteem is based on the false belief that you are not good enough. Not simply not good enough in what you do, that would be a lot more manageable. No, the belief that you are not good enough as a person. You are unworthy and maybe even unlovable.

If you achieve success it is only through luck and you expect to be found out and exposed for what you believe you really are at any moment. A part of you cannot believe you have not been seen as the fraud you feel you are.

Battling depression in the public eye

If you are at all in the public eye and anyone makes a derogatory comment about you it can be crushing. While in reality it is just a throw away comment by a viewer or follower it can seem like they have somehow seen into your soul and discerned the truth. If they can see it then surely everyone else can also see it. And yet they seem not to.

The tension of waiting to be exposed and your inner feelings seen by all is very tiring. This can cause a stress that swings you from hoping you may actually be okay as you are to truly believing the most horrible and negative things you can imagine about yourself.

Often in the end it seems easier and a lot less trouble to just walk away. That way you have the relief of knowing that the imminent danger of exposure is further back and therefore more manageable. But it can make it harder to re-engage again because staying at home with the curtains shut feels a lot safer. As we age it feels like taking the ‘chance’ of exposure again has too high a price tag.

Anxiety and Depression Treatment

Sometimes counselling is not enough. What is needed is a CBT Therapy that challenges and changes the distorted and inaccurate negative beliefs we all hold but which sometimes seem to ruin our experiences.

Cognitive Behavioural  Therapy (CBT therapy) is put forward by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) as the psychological treatment of choice for mental disorders such as anxiety and depression.

Recovery rates from CBT therapy are impressive with up to 70% of sufferers achieving significant clinical gains over the course of a treatment program for both depression and anxiety.

Mood Control CBT System

When you have anxiety problems or depression you may want anxiety therapy or depression treatment immediately, in your own home.

This is why I created, the Mood Control CBT System which is an affordable membership program which delivers the full  personalised CBT therapy experience straight to you in your home via the internet on your personal Mood Control dashboard. Learn more.


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Ever wondered ‘how long will I live?’

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Will you live to be 100?

Live-to-be-100Have you ever wondered, ‘how long will I live?’ We all have an attraction to the idea that maybe there is a way to see into the future and even to control the future to some extent. One thing is for sure, we are all living longer and as such are going to have more future about which to speculate. Have you thought about living to a hundred?

When you think about how long you can live you’ll realise that living to 100 is not ‘off the wall’ anymore. Many people will do it, maybe even you. Women live longer than men which is nice for them. But we are all likely to live longer than our ancestors, though quantity isn’t everything, there has to be quality of life as well. In fact, in the end, quality might be the most important element. If you are keen to know,’how long will I live’ and find the thought of living to 100 intriguing, then download the attached report and see your probability of living to 100.

I couldn’t resist finding out the answer to ‘how long will I live?’

I was fascinated to see my likelihood of living to be 100. It is about 10% but if you look at the numbers of people living to be 100 it is increasing a very great deal. By the time I get there it is estimated that there will be over 200,000 women at 100 and about 100,000 men. That is a massive increase of today’s rate.

When you think you want to live a long life remember living a long time is not the only concern…it is how you live.

I often make a distinction between destination and journey. You may have a lot more years but you also want them to contribute to a satisfying and enjoyable journey towards 100.

Taking responsibility for your journey

The truth is we cannot know the answer to the question, ‘how long will I live’ nor can we know what will happen to us on our journey. But that does not prevent us from taking what control we can over aspects of our journey. Every day is full of choices and the way we choose them determines our path.

A few years ago a user of the Blues Begone program said… ‘it is amazing I realized that you are only as depressed as your last thought.’  This is an empowering idea because it reveals some of the profound truth behind CBT therapy, when you change the way you think about yourself then you can change your life trajectory.

It is self evident that you have the potential to have more control over your internal world, if you know how to get it and exercise it. And yet anxiety problems and depression problems, which are both very common reveal a loss of psychological control. So, following this theme of taking what control you can how might we have an enjoyable and meaningful life journey?

Look after your mental health

CBT Therapy_1
As a psychologist this is my primary concern. Without good mood then everything else seems much less valuable. Mood disorders like anxiety and depression are very common and yet they are also very treatable. There are various treatment options available but in general I favour those that create a greater knowledge and sense of control over the whole process. Which is why CBT therapy is my favoured approach for helping people to have a good quality of life, it directly focuses on those profound elements that deliver meaningful life.

Meaning in life

Curiously it is not entirely clear if there is a particular type of thought that shortens your life. You might think catastrophic thoughts or worrying thoughts could potentially shorten you life as they create stress and spoil your present moment. However I am not at all sure the data supports this viewpoint. What does seem to be important is creating and maintaining a sense of meaning in life. It does not seem to matter how you do it but strive to find life a meaningful endeavour. The loss of meaning that accompanies depression is therefore problematic. And this is probably why depression can be a life shortening disorder.

Humans come into this life pre-programmed to find meaning in life. We seek it out and we create it from the things we see and do. If you find yourself without meaning in life then this is likely to be a consequence of some faulty thought processes and can be addressed and worked with. Depression treatment, especially in CBT therapy has powerful tools for doing this (for more information see The Mood Control System.

Excessive fearfulness always seen in anxiety problems can also be adequately treated by a comprehensive anxiety therapy (to start you off you’ll want to watch my film, What is anxiety? How does it affect you? below:

Psychological research has put a lot of resources into figuring out how to be happy and live a worthwhile life. Here are some of the things we know for sure.

Do work you find meaningful

(Bear in mind that no one ever lay on their deathbed and said ‘I wish I had worked harder’)

Make an effort to derive meaning and purpose from your work. If at all possible enjoy what you do, This usually follows from taking a sense of satisfaction from the work. However what it really means is to take a certain amount of responsibility for what you do. It is possible you work in a horrible job that you hate. But this is not conducive to a long and happy life. It is stressful and fills your days with time spent in an environment you dislike. Therefore change it. If necessary invest in yourself and your education or skills to enable to you do something you really find fulfilling. There are many careers in the world that people find engaging and life enhancing, or at the very least interesting and stimulating. These surely are the goals of a working life. But only you can take the necessary steps to ensure it happens. So be responsible for you working life.

A bit of my story

When I was a teenager I took my first job which was an apprenticeship, in a heavy industry. I really disliked the job but what I disliked even more was the sense that the management was responsible for everything and the worker was there to do as much as possible for as little as possible. This was a perspective that both disempowered the worker but also made it hard for people to develop their skills and expertise; although many did, but it made it hard to enjoy the process of being expert and knowledgeable. In essence I don’t think it matters too much what you do but make sure you gain some satisfaction and a sense of mastery from it.

Stay as fit as practical but don’t overdo it!

First things first. A lot of exercise can be bad for you!

I have spoken about studies in the past that have documented the beneficial effects of moderate exercise on longevity. The days of most of us doing manual jobs are gone and if you, like me sit down for most of the day then you like me have a problem. The trouble for me is that what we call exercise now is institutionalized. We use gyms and have workouts when perhaps what we need to do is to incorporate exercise into our daily lives. Walking as much as possible and using our muscles as much as we can within the environment in which we live. In the UK gardening is a great fair weather exercise and combines both movement and interest so it is fantastic.

Find things you can do that are interesting to you as opposed to simply being exercise. Surely if you can engage in a hobby activity that is also exercising then so much the better. The fact is that the alternative of not staying as fit as practical is you lose some of your longevity but as with all things in life moderation is the key. If you enjoy hard exercise like marathons then good for you. But if you’re concerned with the question, ‘how long will I live,’ they will not lengthen your life and may even cause you longer term problems.

Relationships are important

People usually say that the most important things in their lives are relationships with others. We are social animals and what we value is the quality of the time spent with people who mean something to us. If you think about what makes an experience meaningful to you it is likely to be the sense of emotion you get from it. A film that engages your emotions is much more easily remembered than one that does not. The same is true for relationships and the experiences we have when in relationships.

Relationships are the most meaningful processes we have and they enrich our lives. Of course they have to be decent relationships to do that. We don’t want massively stressful ones or ones that are burdensome to us. Therefore following the theme to taking responsibility for our lives see what you can you do today to make your relationship deeper and richer. And if you don’t have one put some effort in engaging another human being in a conversation that is meaningful (not just greetings and stock phrases.)

There is also one important relationship we must not overlook. It is the relationship you have with yourself. Many clients I have seen over the years have been very conflicted within themselves. They may hold two or more positions about what they think about themselves, the world and even their own future. They are both highly competent and yet very self critical causing a lot of anger and internal conflict. If you experience this it is often a precursor to symptoms of depression and anxiety but is entirely amenable to a comprehensive depression treatment or anxiety therapy such as CBT therapy so while it may feel impossible to resolve it’s actually very resolvable. 

Every day you can make choices that change the trajectory of your life’s journey for the better. This is empowering information but only if you take the choices that are presented almost every moment of every day. Taking more control of your life is simply about seeing what is already there and making informed choices rather than letting chance determine what happens next.

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CBT therapy helps dismantle borders

March 5, 2013 by  
Filed under Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

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Did you know that you can use CBT therapy to dismantle borders? Let’s start at the beginning…

Keeping your borders up

Every border is porous to some degree. The border of North and South Korea is probably the most patrolled and guarded but even then people can move across it if they are willing to take the risk. There is a correlation between how closely borders are guarded and how motivated governments are to keep out ideas, goods and services. I often think that contamination with new ideas is the thing most feared by repressive governments.

We also have borders

Humans also have borders, although we often call them boundaries. Your skin is the first one encountered by germs, but even your skin is porous. It lets all sorts of things in and out but only those things that are sanctioned by your body as ‘not challenging’.

We also have psychological boundaries or borders. We actively seek to keep out ideas, information and knowledge that is incompatible with who we think we are. And the more challenging a piece of information is the more we seek to ban it from entry into our cognitive system.

Just think for a moment if we abolished our psychological borders for a while. What would happen? Well, we would be exposed to new ideas and knowledge. We could appraise this new information and judge it for validity and usefulness then we could reject it or accept it as required.

We would not place a blanket ban on new information but would exercise a careful evaluation based upon utility. Perhaps this exercise in evaluation may lead to changes in what we understand and how we do things.

This is not mere idle speculation. Every client seen in CBT therapy for a depression treatment or an anxiety therapy has a strong border patrol that actively seeks to hold the border; both keeping information in and rejecting new information. Struggling to keep things in to maintain the status quo takes a lot of effort particularly if what is trapped in is unpleasant, damaging and negative. You may wonder why anyone would put effort to keeping this kind of thing inside but that is the nature or borders. What is inside is not questioned and what is outside is rejected.

Learn how CBT therapy helps dismantle borders

After CBT therapy has started and the borders are slowly weakened and dismantled people always realise that their border guards did not need to be so tough, maybe not really needed after all.  The things kept in were illusions of safety and the things kept out were only normal reality and so no real threat at all.

When the border guards are largely made redundant the whole ecology of the body works more easily and the whole land is more at peace with itself.

Please watch my film below for a further explanation on why borders are so heavily guarded.

I made it on the border between Canada and the USA. If you can watch to the end you can see me fly over the frozen border between these countries (called The Thousand Islands) and see a small ice breaker as it ploughs between the lands.

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Alexithymia – Can you describe your emotions?

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I recently went to North Canada where I carried out a bit of work with something called Alexithymia.

Alexithymia is basically an inability or difficulty in describing and understanding emotions.

I’d like to share more about this work with you in this video. Alternatively you can read the text below the film.


Transcript of the video

Hi, I’m standing here in the middle of a frozen lake in Canada. It’s a beautiful day. The sun is shining and it’s only about minus 10 so it’s a great day to be on the ice. I’m just going to go over to that island, sit down and tell you a little bit about why I’m making this film.

Well, I’ve come over to the island and I’ve found a nice little spot with some shade so that I’m able to film.

While I’m here in Northern Canada and one of the things I’m doing is a little bit of work with something called Alexithymia.

What is Alexithymia?

Alexithymia is basically an inability or difficulty in describing and understanding emotions. And it also has a certain, what you might call an externally oriented thinking style, in that it tends to be quite concrete thinking processes.

Often people with Alexithymia might be very successful because they’re very focused on tasks.  They’re very able to carry things through to completion and not get distracted by fantasy or wild imaginings.

The thing about Alexithymia, though, is that it’s a fairly stable personality trait, or so we believe, and therefore it’s going to continue.



On one end we have Alexithymia which makes it difficult to recognise and describe emotions and on the other end we have excessive description and recognition of emotions. Someone at the other end of the spectrum would probably be highly anxious and they would recognise that they’re highly anxious and that makes it difficult to live.

Someone on the Alexithymic end has all of the physiology and all of the biological processes that go along with anxiety and stress etc but they don’t tend to recognise it so consequently they can’t do anything about it. Their body therefore experiences the hypertension, the elevated blood pressure, all of the stomach upset that goes with stress and anxiety. But they don’t recognise it as an emotional problem and consequently they interpret these emotional signals as a medical problem.

Tests and more tests

This means that they very often spend a lot of time pursuing their doctor and getting the doctor to do lots of medical and physical checks and that can, if you take it to the extreme, push doctors to do all sorts of weird surgical interventions. The thing is none of that is very useful because it’s not a medical problem, it’s a psychological problem.

Alexithymia is correlated with lots of other problems which are often considered to be quite mysterious by the medical professionals such as irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, migraine, headache and even depression.


So I’m here in Northern Canada and I don’t expect to see any bears or other wild animals creeping up on me but it’s always worth looking around from time to time to be sure because I’m in a completely different environment from my normal comfort zone which is my office in Reading.

The filters I would usually use to clean out every day experiences have been cleansed. The filters or the doors to my perception have been opened so now I’m seeing things that I wouldn’t normally see. I’m paying attention to things that I wouldn’t normally pay attention to.

The emotional experience of everyday life is like that. You get used to filtering out stuff and not paying attention to stuff. You get used to accepting whatever happens as being the norm.

What we need to do sometimes is just refresh those filters just to say, ‘Let me just pay attention to what’s actually happening in my life.’

Understanding your emotions

If you’re feeling not quite right and you have something that’s not quite right in your body or you have something that’s not quite right in the circumstances of your life then just try to refresh your filters and see if there’s anything that can be done to increase your vocabulary about the emotional experiences that you’re having.

Take the challenge

Let me offer a little challenge to you… 

Do you feel that you can adequately describe your emotional experiences to the people that are close to you so that they can adequately enough understand where you’re coming from so they can feel a sense of empathy?

If you can do that then you probably have a good vocabulary for your emotional world.

If you can’t do that or people complain that you don’t share enough of your emotional experiences then you might potentially have what we might think of as an inadequate vocabulary to describe your emotional experiences and that would be something that you need to rectify.

In the end you can only understand what you have language for. If you don’t have language for your emotional world then it’s hard for you to understand it. It’s hard for the people that are close to you to understand it, share it with you and help you process it.


Increasing your vocabulary

So, I’m in a new place and I’m learning a new language. I’m learning about snow and snow showing and cross country skiing, and wild animals that walk around in the snow. I’m looking at tracks and learning the difference between a fox and a racoon. I’m learning a new language.

We always need to increase our vocabulary. That’s true of our emotional vocabulary. Stick with what you’ve got if it works but if it doesn’t work lets learn some new words to describe, understand and process our emotional world.

Thanks for taking the time to watch and listen. I’m Dr David Purves in Northern Canada on a frozen lake.

How can you increase your emotional vocabulary?

CBT therapy and Mood Control are excellent ways of helping you to develop the language of emotions.

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Learn more about why Mood Control could be the best treatment for depression and anxiety…

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One of the aspects of Mood Control which I think marks it out as the best treatment for depression and anxiety is the Recovery Roadmap it helps you develop.  

Through this Roadmap, you will target your specific problems, and begin to recover from depression, anxiety disorders, panic attacks, and stress.

It encourages your daily recording of depression and anxiety scores, and in so doing, increases control over them.

It uses over 200 video films to show you in detail how to use the knowledge and skills to change your life through the best treatment for depression and anxiety.

It is not limited by a narrow knowledge focus on a specific problem. 

Psychological problems

Modern understanding of psychological problems shows very clearly that issues such as depression, stress, anxiety disorders, and panic attacks share commonalities of presentation that can be treated in similar ways. 

Therefore, when you apply the right techniques, it functions as a depression treatment and anxiety treatment at the same time.

Active Self Help is based on modern scientific understanding of how to treat mental health problems, and all of this knowledge and expertise is permanently available to you via the Mood Control membership portal.  

Philosophy of Active Self-Help


The philosophy of active self-help is that progress happens when three things come together:

  1. First, you need to be motivated to start, and then encouraged to carry on with personal change.  You need to understand and accept where you are and desire progress towards your goals.  You need to have a working model of the origins of the problem and what keeps it in place despite your best efforts to defeat it.

  2. Second, you need to understand what you can do to change the problem. CBT therapy is your treatment base. There are very clear and very specific psychological processes that need to change to lift depression and anxiety problems. This links with step one where you will of gained a solid understanding of why you have the problem.

  3. Third, you need have tools and techniques to enable you to challenge and change the problem.  You need to have high quality materials that allow you to interact over longer periods with the solution and have strategies as you learn new life habits.  Real change takes time.  Active self-help brings these fundamental aspects of personal change together in a unique interactive manner.

Mood Control will lead you through the fundamentals of how to have good mood and be free of fear.  You will receive instruction that will remain relevant throughout your life.  Mood Control is an important and useful tool that you can use whenever you need to.  The principles of active self-help and Mood Control are your keys to a brighter future. Learn more about Mood Control

You can access the Mood Control CBT System for just $1 for four weeks. If at the end of the four weeks you decide to continue your subscription then all of the knowledge and experience that I have used to treat countless patients face-to-face will be yours for only $58 a month.


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