Sprouts for a change

We talk about changing our mind and sometimes (not always) by that we mean change our mood. Changing how we feel about things changes how we react to them, but how do we change how we feel? Isn’t that something set in stone, we feel that way just because we do?

Nothing about us is set in stone, nothing is unchanging and everything is capable of changing. That is the first point.

The second point is to recognise why we feel the way we do about something - that then helps us understand how that feeling came into being and shows us the way to make changes.

Think for a moment about sprouts. TV would have us believe that they are the most hated vegetable - especially by children - and yet they are on the shelves of every food store in the land most of the year - so clearly some people like them. Just for the sake of argument imagine for a moment that you are one of the sprout haters, think about the flavour of them - sometimes they are rather bitter, now think about the texture, depending on how they are cooked they can be hard (al dente) or soft (over cooked). Now think back to a time when food was given to you and you were expected to eat it - as a small child.

Think about a time when your meal included sprouts, that day maybe they were not nice - for whatever reason: taste, texture, smell. Any or all could have made that day the day you decided not to like them - maybe too you were in a rush to go out to play but you were told to finish your meal before you were allowed, so suddenly sprouts are preventing you from having fun. Maybe you had a row over eating them and you ended up crying in frustration so now, in your mind, sprouts equal unhappiness. That is probably enough to generate feelings of dislike if not out and out hatred of sprouts.

But

Now as an adult you might not even think about any of that background - you just don’t like sprouts.

But

What if you meet someone new, who wants to cook for you on maybe a second or third date - you like them, you want to impress them, you want to share their likes and passions, build the relationship together ... and then they serve sprouts. True they are not like the childhood ones, they are lightly cooked, tossed in butter and mixed with almonds and splashed with lemon juice and as they serve them they say “I hope you are not one of those people who instinctively hate sprouts - I use them a lot and do all sorts of things with them.” What do you do? This person has made a special effort, they want to share something that they like and have made especially for you. They are clearly passionate about cooking and it would be an insult to refuse to try.

Swallow your prejudice about sprouts and try them - be really surprised at the crunchy texture, the slightly peppery sharpness, notice how the butter and almonds complement them and create an interesting mix. Notice the shot of lemon juice and the fresh tangy burst of flavour this all creates in your mouth. Notice the smile on the face of your companion and hear yourself giving compliments - big compliments on such innovation.

Now think two days forward of that evening, see yourself thinking how pleasant it was, how surprising it was, think of the happy occasion it was and the memory that it has created. Be aware of your feelings about yourself. You tried and enjoyed, even though you initially had reservations. It was a minor achievement, a victory for you. Check yourself thinking that when you, at some point choose to cook, you will include sprouts, to show you recognise how important they are to your companion and because you like the taste and the texture. Sprouts are associated with pleasant memories and feelings.

Now you see where your feelings come from, the sprout could have been anything, it is the process that is important. When you recognise the elements that make up your feelings, attitudes, beliefs AND the things that can change those feelings, you have control. That is a big big tick in the self confidence box. Knowing that you can control or change how you feel opens all sorts of possibilities. Just think about it. What have you not been able to do because of some feeling, belief or idea that you thought was ingrained and unchanging. What could you do now that you know that change is possible?

Change is easier if you have someone to guide you through the process, to provide an objective view, to offer suggestions about how and where some of those unhelpful beliefs have come from. That is where therapists come in.

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