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Four questions to change the way you feel

I was in a casino in Las Vegas and lost a bag of cash, I was incandescent with rage and self loathing – here’s how I changed my mood and even (after 20 min) got back to smiling again. It’s what you can do any time you’re dealing with a setback.


If there is any good thing about being through a depressive episode, it makes you very aware of your pattern of thoughts. You watch very carefully whether or not you’re locking yourself into that negative train of thought that’s only going one way.

So when you have a setback, when things aren’t going your way, how do you avoid a trainwreck? In my last blog I talked about how to get PERSPECTIVE on a setback.

Well next time you start giving yourself a hard time h ere’s four more questions, that will help you get back on track.

1. Is this explanation, is this INTERPRETATION, helpful?

You think the facts of the situation require you to feel one way. One set of facts means one way to feel. Not necessarily. What about the other facts that are just as true that led you to feel a more helpful emotion.

In the trans-Atlantic rowing race I was up against the winners from the previous race, who were back to win again and break the world record if they could. I didn’t even know how to row. So they had ALL the experience and that was a fact.

So should I tell myself that experience counts for everything and feel despair? OR that their experience made them predictable and I could innovate around them? Was innovation going to trump experience? I had no idea, but it was just as plausible and a far more helpful way to think.

If you’re the youngest person in the room do you lack experience and insight – or do you bring a new perspective and fresh energy? If you’re the oldest person are you irrelevant – or do you bring wisdom?

It’s not enough for you to justify the way that you feel because it’s ‘true’. I’m sure it is true. But there are lots of ‘true’ things to focus on. Can you interpret the situation in a more helpful way!

You are allowed. You get to choose.

2. What does my brain want me to learn?

Strong negative emotions are often there to get us to take action – to make sure something doesn’t happen again. Once you’ve acknowledged that, and put a plan in place (write it down if that helps!) then the emotion tends to fade away.

3. Would I teach this explanation to someone else?

This is a lovely bit of mental jiujitsu, that forces you to get an external perspective on your emotion.

So I’ve come back to the house after going for a run with my four year old boy in the stroller and I’m knocking on the front door because I’ve left my key inside and it’s pouring with rain. But it isn’t opening even though I know my wife’s inside. I’m getting more and more frustrated. And so I turned to my boy and say, “The reason that we are stuck outside is because your mother doesn’t love you.” Of course I didn’t. But even the thought of me doing it was enough to snap me out of my ridiculous mood.

Next time you’re beating yourself up, turn to your imaginary child, or the newest person in your office, and say to them, “I hope you saw that, when you have a minor setback the proper approach is to properly blow your cool, act like a freaking maniac and destroy the relationship. Self control be damned.’

4. What good can come of this?

I am NOT saying that every cloud has a silver lining. Some situations suck. The reason why you’re asking this dubious question is because it interrupts the pattern of thinking that is causing the emotion.

So I was in Las Vegas and lost a bag of money. When I say I lost a bag of money, I actually lost the plastic bag of cash, the bag they give you when you go to the bank to get your US currency. And when I say I ‘lost’ it. I really did lose it out of my pocket somewhere on the floor of the casino.

I was furious with how stupid, and careless I had been. I was appalled at my nincompoopery. I was beyond apoplectic with rage. All that money lost and nothing to show for it! There was so much pressure in my head I thought that nuclear fusion would start.

I had just enough presence of mind to realise that I give talks about dealing with exactly this situation and actually went through this list trying out the questions, one by one. And in this case the first questions didn’t slow me down at all … until I got to this one ‘What good can come of this?’ First answer was ‘Nothing’, but I grudgingly persevered and … I was very surprised to find quite a few things. Yep, that’s right. Good things about losing money.

The first was that I really made the day of the security guards on the casino floor, when I asked them if anyone had handed in a bag of money. They thought that was the funniest thing they had heard in a long while.


So, four questions to interrupt your thinking and get you back on track.

  • Is this explanation HELPFUL?

  • What does my brain want to LEARN?

  • Would I TEACH this explanation to someone else?

  • What GOOD might come of this?

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