Psychotherapy

Small things can lead to bigger things

In one of his Moments with Elliott Connie, psychotherapist, author, lecturer and founder of The Solution Focused University, Elliott Connie, recounts the inspiring story of US Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, who was caught under enemy fire while accomplishing a mission in 2005. During one battle, in which many of his comrades were killed, Luttrell was shot over a dozen times and fell off multiple cliffs, breaking his legs, his back and multiple other bones in his body, biting his tongue in two, and knocking himself unconscious. When Luttrell woke up, his body riddled with shrapnel, he was aware that the gunfire had ceased, but realised that he could no longer walk or move. Luttrell thought he was dying, and yet, in that moment, chose to do something amazing that ultimately saved his life. He reached out as far as he could and drew a line in the mud. And then he set himself the task of hauling his broken body over that line. Luttrell thought that if he could do that, and if he was still alive, he would do it again. And again. Luttrell did this for seven miles, until he found water and was rescued.

Luttrell’s incredible story has been the basis for both the book and movie Lone Survivor, and he has given multiple lectures on his experience and the lessons he has learned from it.

As Elliott points out, this story gives us an inspirational example of how challenges can be more achievable once we break them down in little tasks. This approach is something we can draw on in our everyday life, when we feel overwhelmed by an assignment we have to write, a tax return we have to file, a room we have to tidy, a commute we have to complete. Such challenges can loom large like mountains, but every mountain is made of rocks, and if we shift our focus to putting one foot in front of the other, we can conquer the mountain, rock by rock.

For many, COVID-19 has been that explosive attack, shattering our life as it was. Many have lost loved ones, jobs, relationships, security, meaning. And with the majority of the world still closed for business, there is little motivation to start picking ourselves up.

But if we break down the seemingly impossible challenge of getting back up into tiny tasks, we can motivate ourselves, with each small success, to carry on with the next task. And the next. And the next. Each success, however small, triggers our brain’s reward system to facilitate this process. Every positive action activates the production of hormones like serotonin and dopamine, which boost our self-esteem and our motivation to act positively again. And again. Helping us to move forward step by step, to find a new normal amid the rubble.

References

Connie, E. (2016). Small Things Can Lead to Big Things. Moments with Elliott Connie. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rd3QIelHxhk

Luttrell, M & Robinson, P. (2014). Lone Survivor: The Incredible True Story of Navy SEALs Under Siege. Sphere.

The Hero Summit. (2013, October 13). Lone Survivor: A Conversation. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B5m9CMT_1bU

Mindfulness

Running for my lockdown life

In the UK, during the COVID-19 lockdown, 1 hour of exercise per person is the daily allowance, stipulated by the government and enforced by the police, with increasingly hefty fines per offence. The focus of many a critic has been on how little time we have to escape our four walls every 24 hours, and go out into the ghostly world beyond.

And yet, spoilt as I am with a yard and two frequently empty communal gardens, I hadn’t quite realised the importance of this restriction. Until today. When I saw it as a prescription (with the help of my husband who described it as such and all but pushed me out of the house).

Just as your GP will prescribe antibiotics to help you shake that lingering chest infection or paracetamol to ease a tiresome headache, the government has prescribed us an hour of daily exercise to fight that creeping darkness that threatens to swallow us while and spit out a mumbling, distracted, irritable gremlin in our place, who puts their phone in the fridge, shouts at everyone about pretty much everything and weeps over broken biscuits and lost socks.

I thought I was going outside enough. I went out in the garden to play with the kids, put the recycling out, brought parcels inside. OK, perhaps part of me was aware that I needed to break out and go further afield for an hour, pound the pavements and be alone, but I kept finding reasons not to. A thesis to write, a child to soothe, a dinner to make, a wash to put on. The list was endless and grew longer and more confused as my mind became jumbled, squeezed and suffocated by the four walls of our home.

Until today, when my husband braved the gigantic atmosphere I had taken to carrying around the house with me for the last few days, like a rock-filled rucksack that I couldn’t remember how to take off. ‘I prescribe a walk out around the river’ he said, and realisation dawned. That was exactly what I needed. I had spent the morning incredibly frustrated by the feeling that I couldn’t find something but couldn’t figure out what that something was, and that was it. I needed to get out. I felt like crying with relief, that someone had realised.

The walk was beautiful. I looked at clouds and the boats and smiled at others who were out exercising. I even ran a bit and felt the wind and my lungs burn. And I banked a whole heap of what we call in Solution Focused Hypnotherapy the three P’s: positive actions, positive interactions and positive thoughts. These three elements work together to produce patterns in the brain that give us a steady flow of happy hormones such as serotonin, which we need to feel good in both mind and body.

So listen to the government guidance through the lens of what it is telling you to do, rather than what it is telling you not to do. It’s telling you, if you can, for one hour a day, to get out. Go. Experience. Drink in the confidence that comes with being proactive, drink in the hope that comes from positive interactions with the nods from passing strangers, drink in the positivity that fills your mind when you treat your body to sunlight, movement and connection.