Have you ever felt lonely? Have you ever had a moment when you desperately needed support but everyone around was too busy to give it to you? Have you ever had to say goodbye to a long-term relationship and found yourself with a hole after that person, emptiness that you weren’t really sure how to fill? Have you ever found yourself in a desperate need to cheer up but weren’t sure how to do it? I guess we all have. It’s an inevitable part of the journey that human life is, to find yourself hurt or upset or desire attention from others. Today I would like to share with you a little cognitive therapy technique I have learnt, which has helped me immensely to instantly boost my mood in moments when I find myself feeling sad, neglected or lonely.
The key here is to realize that you don’t really need anyone to feel joy or happiness. You may WANT somebody special in your life, you may WANT the company and support of other people, but you don’t NEED them to survive or to be happy. In order to proof this to be true, imagine you’re a scientist and set out your plan to perform small experiments. To start, take a piece of paper and divide it into five columns. At the top of the first one, write “Date”, the second – “Activity”, the third – “With whom?”, the fourth – “Expected satisfaction” and the last one – “Actual satisfaction”.
As you are probably already suspecting, your task will be to schedule a variety of activities that might prove satisfying to you. It depends entirely on you and your personal preferences what you schedule, but try to be creative and perhaps pick out something out of your ordinary routine as well. In the “With whom?” column, write down with whom you are planning to do the activity and make sure to include various activities that you can do all alone and write down “self” next to those activities. Some examples might be doing a zumba workout at home, visiting an exhibition, reading, swimming, going for a walk, doing puzzles, watching a movie, baking something delicious, getting your favourite pastry from a bakery, working on a personal project, visualizing success in some area, writing down or thinking about the things you are grateful for, really anything you think you might enjoy. Before you actually perform each activity, make sure to evaluate and write down your expected satisfaction from this activity in a range between 0% to 100% (0 being totally unsatisfactory and 100 being the highest level of satisfaction possible) in the fourth column. Once you’re done with the activity, come back to the sheet and write down the actual satisfaction you have experienced during the activity.
Make sure not to set yourself in a bad mood by creating doubts in your mind thinking it will probably suck to do it because you’ll be alone or moping over losing someone or feeling lonely at the time of the activity. This might very easily revert your mind’s attention to negative thoughts instead of focusing on the here and now. Remember – you’re a scientist and these are experiments that you’re performing. To be a good scientist, for the time of the actual experiment, you should rid yourself of all expectations and simply observe what happens.
This technique is called a Pleasure Predicting Sheet and has been described by dr David D. Burns in his book “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy”. I definitely recommend to take a look at this one if you haven’t already.
Once you have been filling the sheet for 2 weeks or so, you can start analyzing the results. You may find them surprising. In many cases we tend to make misjudgements by expecting the activities with other people to be more satisfying than they actually are and underestimating how much satisfaction doing something on our own can bring. What you might also find is that you can achieve exactly the same or even greater level of satisfaction doing certain activities by yourself as some other activities that you do with other people.
What I found really helpful is whenever I feel lonely or upset, I reach out for the list and pick out one of the activities I did on my own that scored the highest levels of actual satisfaction. This is a quick and efficient way to boost my spirits no matter where I am or how bad I feel. For some ideas, it’s great to research activities that have been scientifically proven to trigger the release of endorphins. This would be, for instance, anything involving physical activities like a workout or a walk, self-grooming (this has been proven to be especially effective in women and can be anything from making a facial mask at home to treating yourself to a fancy manicure) or a floating session.
What is good to remind yourself is that you are as valuable a company for yourself as other people. Cherish this beautiful friendship and self love. Acknowledge yourself for always being there and taking good care of yourself. Because in the end, you are never truly alone if you have yourself to count on.