This is a good self-help technique which is different and effective. Its a series of questions you can ask yourself, based on a research-validated method called solution-oriented therapy. You can do it on your own, or with a friend. The exercise was originally by Chris Evans of the Brief Therapy Practice in London, but I’ve edited it so much over many years I can no longer be sure where what he wrote ends and mine begins – anyway, BIG thank you Chris.
You may find the questions difficult to answer on your own. But please don’t as a result give up on solution-based therapy. It’s a wonderfully effective and uplifting form of personal development. The art of making it successful is not so much in the questions, which are widely available online. The key to success is having someone ask you the questions who really believes, and can really convince you, that you do indeed have within you treasures of strength, capability, trust, intuition, beauty, grace and wisdom. If you’re depressed, you lose track of that. Then, outside help may be more useful than self-help. This page is not a substitute for professional advice. It might be read by a huge variety of people and I can’t anticipate how all those different people interpret this. If in doubt, visit your doctor.
Sometimes this method asks you to keep on answering the same question over and over and over again, 10 times or 20 times. It’s really valuable if you do that. When you drill a well (and in the past I have drilled wells) you have to keep drilling and drilling in one place and it’s dry, it’s dry, it’s dry no water, no water … then 20 meters down there’s water. It’s the same with the questions. If you keep digging through the dryness and negativity you come to the buried treasures in the subconscious mind. One trick if you run out of answers, is to give details, maybe small, of previous answers. If all else fails, come back to the same question on the following day.
First, on a scale from 0-10 ( where 0 is the worst possible, 10 is the best possible), , how bad is your stress or your problem right now? If your answer is 4 or less, and it’s steady at that level from day to day, that may be a sign that what you need is not self-help but outside help. Sometimes the very best form of self-help is to ask for help. This exercise can still be useful, but outside help might be indicated. In the UK, that might be a visit to your GP. See here for two depression tests,
Question 1. The human mind focuses on the negative and it feeds on the negative. That’s not just your mind, that’s everyone. So Question 1 may be a bit of a shock, but it makes a lot of sense. Wherever you are on the scale, Why aren’t things worse? Make a list of 20 (yes, at least 20) things which are stopping things from getting worse. If your first answer was 0 or 1 or maybe 2, then a better first question might be How to do you keep going? How come you still manage to look at self-help exercises? (And remember, at that low level, please consider going to your doctor or other outside help.)
If it’s hard to find 20 answers, remember to fill in details of the answers you’ve given, and if necessary, come back to the question tomorrow. But do your best to keep going to 20.
Question 2. Now list at least ten things that you would notice if you moved just point up the scale eg from a “3” to a “4”. These do not have to be big things, just things that belong to a 4 rather than a 3 (for example.)
Question 3. This next question is famous, it’s “the miracle question”. This one question on its own has changes the lives of many people all over the world. This is my version. It’s not about outside miracles, because they can feel unrealistic or disrespectful. But miracles of the human heart really, really do happen. They’ve happened to me, they happen to my clients, and if they’ve not happened to you yet, they certainly can. Be realistic, plan for a miracle.
Here’s the question. Imagine that in the night tonight a miracle of the human heart occurs inside of you. When you wake up in the morning, even if the outside situation is the same, you miraculously don’t regard it as beyond you. Even if negative thoughts still come to you, miraculously you don’t believe them. If any of that feels impossible – it’s a miracle. But you don’t know that “a miracle has happened.”
Take at least 10 minutes and be explicit and detailed about:
>>> what you specifically would and would not do and
>>> what you specifically would and would not say to others and
>>> what you specifically would and would not say to yourself.
The answers do not have to be big or dramatic, tiny but real details are excellent. Of course, they can be big.
Question 4. Imagine looking back on the present situation from some time in the future (weeks, years, months). And looking back, you discover that the problem did get resolved. Looking back, what was the first thing, maybe small, which you did or said to yourself in the earlier time which started to resolve the problem?
Question 5. List 20 (yes, 20) things in your life you are grateful for or glad to have in your life. They may be things you take for granted (getting running water from a tap, being able to read) and they can be very, very small. (Really, 20. Take your time.)
Question 6. If you have any response to stress you don’t like, plan what you will do instead, the next time the same stress happens.
Question 7. What is the smallest change you could make which would result in the problem situation being a bit different? (eg if you fight with your partner as soon as you come home, leave off discussions until after dinner; or if you want to eat fewer crisps, don’t go down the crisps aisle in the supermarket.)
Or, if you took a more light-hearted attitude, what would be different? How could you even regard the problem as laughable?
What could you do to completely surprise yourself in the problem situation? – something totally out of character in a useful or lighthearted way?
Finally, at some time, try this famous old exercise and spend a couple of hours pretending that you are happy. Another famous old exercise is to find a flower, sit down, and for half and hour, tell it your problems. And listen to what it says in reply.