Ten ways to be brilliant every day
Even dedicated cynics should find something useful in this new, self-deprecatingly funny self-help book
Do inspirational quotes inspire you to rage and motivational posters make you want to give up? If so, it's safe to say you're not a fan of the fuzzy, feel-good world of self-help literature.
And yet, according to a Red C poll, only two in every five Irish people consider themselves to be happy – a statistic that suggests many of us could do with a bit of guidance in turning that frown upside down.
So what to do if you're a down-in-the-dumps cynic who longs to be a bit more chipper but loathes the thought of cheesy American phrases like "breakdowns can create breakthroughs" or "teamwork makes the dream work"?
Well, a new book might just have the answer. Be Brilliant Every Day by Andy Cope and Andy Whittaker is a new genre of self-help book that offers sound psychological guidance with a healthy dose of caustic wit and self-deprecating humour.
"We've devoured every personal development book on the planet, so you don't have to," they proudly declare, meaning there's no need for self-help-phobes to worry about any 'chicken soup for the soul' chit-chat or weighty academic lingo.
Between them, Cope, who has 10 years of experience studying positive psychology, and Whittaker, a certified trainer in neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), reckon that, with a few tweaks to how we think, we can all be more brilliant versions of ourselves – or, as they put it, a little less Eeyore, a little more Tigger.
In simple steps and easy-to-digest language, they guide readers through a wealth of psychological know-how. But when all's said and done, their core message is simple: The secret to happiness lies within. . . they'd just never dream of uttering such a twee soundbite without warning readers to reach for the sick bag first.
So, here are 10 savvy tips to make you brilliant every day:
1 Say bye-bye to 'busyness'
Sales of grated cheese and pre-boiled eggs are up, but shoppers are snubbing oranges because they take too long to peel. "You're living life fast, but are you living it well?" Cope asks. "Busyness has got a grip of us to the point that we're not immersed in life, we're skimming the surface of it." This autopilot of busyness is a huge impediment to happiness. Stop and hit control, alt, delete to re-establish what really makes you tick.
2 Stop 'musterbating'
Be Brilliant Every Day reckons one of the biggest things we need to do to be happier is to let go of desires. Living in a consumer-driven society, we're endlessly sold the notion that happiness lies at the end of a new car, a youth-defying serum or dream holiday that we simply must have.
'Musturbation' is the elevation of things we'd like to have into things we believe we must have. As John Lane writes in Timeless Simplicity: "It is the marketeers' ambition to make us feel dissatisfied with what we already possess, to make us feel we'd be happier or more attractive if we went out to purchase one or more of their products." You can't buy happiness and studies consistently show that when people reflect on their happiest moments, they are events (like a child's first steps), not a new handbag or wide-screen TV.
3 Accept that you can't control events – only your reactions to them
It's a misconception that it's bad drivers, traffic jams or computer viruses that make you angry. You decide to be angry when you react to them. It's a choice and, hard as it may be, you can choose to react differently. "If you change your internal world, your external world changes, or at least your experience of the external world will change," says Cope.
4 Steer clear of 'vipassana vendettas' This is when you magnify tiny irritations into full-blown hate campaigns – someone doesn't acknowledge you let them out in traffic, so you become convinced they're your sworn enemy sent to irk you. We all tend to construct stories around events – know when you're doing it and recognise it for what it is: energy-zapping nonsense.
5 Beware the Four Horsemen of Negativity
It's very easy to fall into the trap of being a bit of a moaner, but constantly wallowing in boredom, sameness, drizzle and tiredness can lead to what Cope and Whittaker dub Irritable B*****d Syndrome. "Often our whingeing isn't amusing or warranted, merely habitual," says Cope. "Negative self-talk can rob you of energy and confidence and put the boot into your happiness." Get out of the negativity rut.
6 Ditch the stone-age thinking
To change how your mind works, you need to understand why it works the way it does. We're all programmed to place greater importance on bad things over good. It's why, even when there are 1,000 positive reviews on TripAdvisor, the sole one-star write-up about a pubic hair in the bed will still play on our minds. This is called 'negativity bias' and comes down to the simple fact that it was being cautious and paying attention to bad stuff that ensured our ancient ancestors survived. Canny cavemen knew it was fear that saved your life – happiness merely enriched it.
"Worrying is the brain's default position," explains Cope – but we're not in the cave now and need to recognise that sometimes fear holds us back rather than keeping us safe.
7 Take pleasure in the 'beautiful ordinary' and get off the 'hedonic treadmill'
Robert Holden, bestselling author of Happiness Now! and director of The Happiness Project, is a strong advocate of taking pleasure in the little things. If we stop thinking "I'll be happy when. . ." and enjoy the now, or what he dubs the 'beautiful ordinary', we'll find we actually are happy. Paradoxically it's aiming for happiness that stops us being content. If you're always saying "I'll be happy when I get that promotion/pass that exam/ lose that extra stone", you're on the 'hedonic treadmill', going nowhere and keeping happiness at arm's length because there will always be something else to achieve.
8 Mind your mindset
Psychologist and author Carol Dweck has done extensive research into the power of mindset and found there are two types: fixed, whereby the individual's attitude is "I better not try that in case I fail", and growth, where they reckon "I'll give it a go". What mindset you are makes a big difference to what you achieve and how happy you are. "If you have a pessimistic exploratory style and/or a fixed mindset, there's a big fat chance that you will live down to your own expectations," warns Cope.
9 Remember the 'why'
In work especially, we can get fixated on what we do and how we do it – but it's the why that fuels our passion for any task.
10 You only need four minutes to be brilliant
"It takes four minutes for other people to 'catch' your feelings. So if you're upbeat, passionate and positive for four minutes, the people around you will have almost no choice but to feel good, too," say the authors. The added good news is that if you can manage four minutes of cheer (and, really, who can't slap a smile on for a mere four minutes?), the positive feedback from those around you and the endorphins it generates in you will make you want to do it again.
'BE BRILLIANT EVERY DAY' BY ANDY COPE AND ANDY WHITTAKER, AVAILABLE NOW, €13.20