Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? – Julie Smith

“The more work we do on building self-awareness and resilience when all is well, the better able we are to face life’s challenges when they come our way.”

Julie Smith’s book, ‘Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before?’ is a transformative guide filled with invaluable life skills. Smith distills her extensive knowledge into practical tools accessible to everyone. The tools in this book are mostly taught in therapy, but they are not therapy skills. They are life skills. Tools that can help every single one of us to navigate through difficult times and to flourish.

Through her insights, I learned effective strategies for navigating life’s challenges. Smith’s approach empowers readers to not only build resilience but also thrive and experience personal growth. This book is a must-read for anyone seeking to enhance their emotional well-being and understand themselves better.

Highlights

  1. When we understand a little about how our minds work and we have some guideposts on how to deal with our emotions healthily, we not only build resilience, but we can thrive and, over time, find a sense of growth.
  2. When you feed your body with good nutrition and build up stamina and strength with regular exercise, you know that your body is more able to fight infection and heal when faced with injury. It’s just the same with mental health.
  3. The more work we do on building self-awareness and resilience when all is well, the better able we are to face life’s challenges when they come our way.
  4. Something that science has been confirming to us, and something people often learn in therapy, is that we have more power to influence our emotions than we thought.
  5. Most people come to therapy knowing that they want to feel different. They have some unpleasant (sometimes excruciating) feelings they don’t want to have anymore and are missing some of the more enriching emotions (such as joy and excitement) that they would like to feel more of. We can’t just press a button and produce our desired set of emotions for the day.
  6. But we do know that how we feel is closely entwined with the state of our body, the thoughts we spend time with and our actions. Those other parts of our experience are the ones that we can influence and change. The constant feedback between the brain, the body, and our environment means that we can use those to influence how we feel.
  7. Spending time with negative thoughts makes it highly likely that I will feel low in mood. But feeling low in mood also makes me more vulnerable to having more negative thoughts. This shows us how we get stuck in cycles of low mood. But it also shows us the way out.
  8. When I am feeling this, what state is my body in? How was I looking after myself in the days or hours leading up to this feeling? Is this an emotion or just physical discomfort from an unmet need? There are lots of questions. Sometimes the answers will be clear. Other times it will all feel too complex. That is OK. Continuing to explore and write down experiences will help to build up self-awareness about what makes things better and what makes things worse.
  9. Mood fluctuation is normal. Nobody is happy all the time. But we don’t have to be at the mercy of it either. There are things we can do that help.
  10. Feeling down is more likely to reflect unmet needs than a brain malfunction.
  11. Each moment of our lives can be broken down into the different aspects of our experience.
  12. Those things all influence each other. It shows us how we get stuck in a downward spiral of low mood or even depression.
  13. Our emotions are constructed through a number of things we can influence.
  14. We cannot directly choose our emotions and switch them on but we can use the things we can control to change how we feel.
  15. Thought bias is inevitable but we are not helpless to its effects.
  16. We naturally look for evidence that confirms our beliefs. We then experience what we believe, even when there is evidence to suggest otherwise.
  17. One strategy against the downward spiral this can cause is understanding that how we feel is not evidence that our thoughts are true.
  18. Another strategy is taking a stance of curiosity.
  19. Get some distance from those thoughts by becoming familiar with the common biases, noticing when they appear and labelling them as biases, not facts.
  20. One of the most important skills for learning to deal with thoughts and their impact on our mood is getting some distance from them.
  21. This is not the same as blocking thoughts and trying to ignore them. It is being intentional about which thoughts you give the limelight to, which ones you zoom in on and turn up the volume.
  22. What would I do if I was at my best?
  23. We cannot control the thoughts that pop into our minds, but we do have control of our spotlight of attention.
  24. Trying not to think about something tends to make us think about it more.
  25. Allowing all thoughts to be present, but choosing which ones we give our time and attention to, can have a powerful impact on our emotional experience.
  26. Turning our attention is a skill that can be practised with both mindfulness and gratitude practice.
  27. While there is a time for focusing on a problem, we also need to focus on the direction we want to move in, and how we want to feel or behave.
  28. Thoughts are not facts. They are suggestions offered up to us by the brain to help us make sense of the world.
  29. The power of any thought is in how much we believe it to be the only truth.
  30. Taking power out of those thoughts starts with stepping back, getting some distance (metacognition), and seeing them for what they are.
  31. Pick one small change that you know you can action every day. Then make a promise to yourself that you will make it happen.
  32. Focus on making good decisions, not perfect ones. “Good enough” steers you towards real change.
    Perfectionism causes decision-making paralysis, whereas improving your mood demands that you make decisions and take action.
  33. Keep changes small and sustainable.
  34. When someone is down, we show them kindness because we know it is what they need. So, if you are committed to managing your mood and overall mental health, commit to practicing self-compassion.
  35. Once you understand the problem, use it to help you work out where you want to go and focus on the horizon ahead of you.
  36. We tend to spend so much of our time criticizing ourselves that we start to assume that others are judging us too.
  37. Despite all the thoughts and feelings that hold us back from each other, human connection is our inbuilt mechanism for resilience.
  38. When we struggle, connection helps. Good-quality, safe connection.
  39. Our mental health defense players provide the foundations of good health. When we nurture them daily they pay us back with interest.
  40. If you do one thing today, make it exercise. Choose something you enjoy and you increase your chances of keeping it going.
  41. The relationship between sleep and mental health works both ways. Prioritizing sleep will help your mental health, and making changes to your day will affect your sleep.
  42. Motivation is not something you are born with.
  43. The feeling that you are energized and want to do something cannot be relied upon to always be there.
  44. Mastering motivation is building the capacity to do what matters most to you, even when a part of you does not feel like it.
  45. Procrastination is often avoidance of stress or discomfort.
  46. Anhedonia is when we no longer get a sense of pleasure from the activities that we used to enjoy. This is often associated with low mood and depression.
  47. If something matters to you and could benefit your health, don’t wait until you feel like it – do it anyway.
  48. When you start to avoid something that is important or potentially meaningful to you, the natural response is to wait until you feel like it once again.
  49. You wait until you feel energized or motivated or ready. The problem with this is that the feeling does not arrive spontaneously, we need to create it through action.
  50. Doing nothing feeds the lethargy and that ‘can’t be bothered’ feeling and makes it worse. Motivation is a wonderful by-product of action.
  51. While we can’t control the feeling of motivation, these are things we can do to increase the chances of feeling it more often.
  52. Physical movement cultivates feelings of motivation. Small amounts are better than nothing and can help build momentum.
  53. Staying connected with your goal helps to keep triggering moments of increased motivation.
  54. Small and consistent beats are one-off grand gestures.
  55. Learning to rest and replenish between stressful situations helps to maximize willpower.
  56. Shame is not as helpful for motivation as you might think. Changing your relationship with failure will help your motivation.
  57. The skill of acting opposite to an urge, to instead choose a behavior that is more in line with where you want to go, is a key skill that people learn in therapy (Linehan, 1993).
  58. We cannot rely on motivation to be there all the time.
  59. We can practice acting in opposition to urges so that we can act in line with our values rather than how we feel right now.
  60. Repeat a new behavior enough times and it will become a habit.
  61. For any big goal, rest and replenishment along the way is vital – just ask any elite athlete.
  62. Make use of small rewards along the way.
  63. The most effective way to resolve a problem is to understand the problem inside out.
  64. It’s not always clear what we need to change and how to do it.
  65. Get to know your problem inside out to make it easier to identify which way to go next.
  66. Start by reflecting on situations after they have happened.
  67. Be ready to get honest with yourself about ways you may contribute to the problem or keep yourself stuck.
  68. Therapy supports you through this process. But if you don’t have access to therapy, journaling can be a good place to start.
  69. Emotions are neither your enemy nor your friend.
  70. We have more influence over our emotional state than we were ever taught to believe.
  71. Pushing emotion away can cause more problems than allowing it to wash over us and take its natural course.
  72. Emotions are not facts but are one possible perspective.
  73. If there is painful emotion, get curious, and ask questions. What can they tell you?
  74. Seeing emotions for what they are is key to being able to process them healthily. You are not your feelings and your feelings are not who you are.
  75. Increasing your emotional vocabulary so that you can distinguish finely between different emotions helps you to regulate those emotions and choose the most helpful responses in social situations (Kashdan et al., 2015).
  76. One of the quickest ways to tell your brain that you are safe is actually through your sense of smell. Finding a scent that you associate with safety or comfort, maybe the perfume of a loved one or a lavender scent that you find calming can be helpful in helping you to focus the mind and calm the body at the same time.
  77. You are not your feelings and your feelings are not who you are.
  78. The sensation of emotion is an experience that moves through you.
  79. Each emotion can offer you information but not necessarily the whole story.
  80. If there is something emotions are useful for, it’s telling us what we need.
  81. When you feel something, give it a name. Try to label emotions with more detail than just happy or sad.
  82. Allow emotions to be present and soothe your way through, rather than blocking them out.
  83. When you have a more accurate word for a feeling, this helps to regulate your emotions and in turn means less stress for your body and mind overall.
  84. The language we use has a powerful effect on our experience of the world.
  85. The more words you have to describe how you feel, the better.
  86. If you don’t have the words you can use something like the Feeling Wheel to give you prompts.
  87. Notice the words others use, read books, and explore the ways you can keep building your emotional vocabulary.
  88. When we focus on trying to fix the problem, it is easy to underestimate the power of simply being there. Most people don’t want to be told what to do. But they do want someone to keep showing up to check in and show they care.
  89. It is easy to underestimate the power of listening with compassion, kindness, and curiosity. The problems may not disappear when you do that, but you are helping that person to feel cared for and less alone, which greatly improves their chances of recovery. Social support is a powerful tool and it does not need to come with all the answers, just a big dose of compassion.
  90. Supporting someone does not mean that you have to connect with big, intense conversations. Human connection in the smallest of moments matters.
  91. It is normal to feel overwhelmed or inadequate when supporting someone with mental health problems. You want to fix it but you don’t know how.
  92. Leaning in to support someone who is suffering can be stressful as you don’t want to say the wrong thing. But don’t avoid them.
  93. You don’t have to fix everything to be a great support.
  94. Look after yourself to prevent burnout. Get your own support and set clear boundaries.
  95. Never underestimate the power of listening.
  96. Sadness can be a part of grief. But there is much more to grief than sadness. It can be a deep yearning for the person who is gone.
  97. Relationships are at the core of what it means to be human.
  98. Endings that feel significant can trigger a grief reaction – even if the end was not caused by death.
  99. Grief is a normal and natural part of being human.
  100. The pain can feel both emotional and physical.
  101. Things that help do not make the pain disappear or force you to let go.
  102. Trying to completely block out grief can lead to problems further down the line.
  103. People-pleasing is more than just being nice to people. Anyone would recommend being nice to people. But people-pleasing is a pattern of behaviour in which you consistently put all others before yourself even to the detriment of your own health and wellbeing.
  104. Whose opinions matter most to you? Saying ‘I don’t care what anyone thinks’ is rarely true and hides a world of insecurities. It stops us from creating meaningful connections with others because it closes off any avenue of communication in which both voices matter.
  105. To build confidence, go where you have none.
  106. Along the way, be your own coach, not your worst critic.
  107. Courage comes before confidence.
  108. Failure hurts every time, whether the environment is safe or not.
  109. The things that give us immediate relief from our fear tend to feed that fear in the long term. Every time we say no to something because of fear, we reconfirm our belief that it wasn’t safe or that we couldn’t handle it. Every time we cut something out of our lives because of fear, life shrinks a little.
  110. Our attempts to control fear and eliminate it become the real problem that dictates our every move. Fear is around every turn, in every novel situation we face, in every creative endeavor and in every learning experience. If we are unwilling to experience it, what are we left with?
  111. It is understandable to want anxiety to disappear. It is supposed to be uncomfortable.
  112. To fight fear you must first be willing to face it.
  113. Escape and avoidance only provide short-term relief but feed anxiety in the long term.
  114. Our attempts to control fear and eliminate it become the real problem that dictates our every move.
  115. A threat response needs to work fast, so it tends to sound the alarm before you have a chance to think things through in more detail.
  116. When we feel anxious about something, the most natural human response is to avoid it.
  117. But avoidance maintains anxiety.
  118. We are often sold the idea that happiness is the norm and anything outside of that could be a mental health problem.
  119. Sometimes we are not happy because we are human and life is difficult.
  120. Things that make life worthwhile bring us more than just happy feelings. They bring us a mix of happiness, love, joy, fear, shame and hurt at times too.
  121. Getting clarity on our personal values can guide us in setting goals that will bring meaning and purpose.
  122. Keeping our values front and center also helps us to persevere through painful points in life knowing we’re on the right path.
  123. It’s worth noting that values change over time depending on our stage in life and what we are facing.
  124. Not only do our values change but so do our actions and their alignment to those values. Life happens, and when we face change or struggle, we can be pulled in a new direction away from what matters.
  125. The focus is not on what you want to happen for you but on the kind of person you want to be, the contribution you want to make, and the attitude you want to face life with, no matter what happens.
  126. Spending time thinking about and visualizing the person you intend to be, and turning those ideas into concrete, sustainable actions can change how meaningful those efforts feel.
  127. Linking your intentions to your sense of identity allows the new behaviors to continue way beyond the initial goal.
  128. In a relationship or friendship, it is perfectly OK to disagree. You don’t have to be on the same page about everything all of the time. You are two different people, each with your own sensitivities, background experiences, needs and coping mechanisms. If you truly open up and connect with another person, you will undoubtedly discover parts of them that you need to tolerate and accept in order to nurture the relationship over a lifetime.
  129. The most powerful place to start improving your relationships is with you. Not in a self-blame, self-attack crusade. But with curiosity and compassion. Understanding the cycles that we seem to get stuck in and what may have made us vulnerable to that. This paves the way to working out how to break those cycles.
  130. Healthy relationships are not free of conflict. They require work on carefully repairing ruptures in the connection.
  131. When it comes to a happy life, relationships beat money, fame, social class and all the things we are told to put our effort into.
  132. Our relationships and how happy we feel in them are not separate from our overall health. They are at the core of the equation.
  133. Working on the self helps your relationships, and working on your relationships helps the self.
  134. Attachment styles early in life can often be reflected in our adult relationships.
  135. The best time to seek support for your mental health is any time you become concerned about it.
You cannot change what you cannot make sense of.
*I take no credit for any of these points.

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