Ideas on a Postcard Please

Both of my loyal readers will have noticed that the river has run dry. This is because I’ve become confused about how to proceed. For this reason I would appreciate some feedback. I had planned to post some more neuroscience, specifically about the Limbic System, the Vagus Nerves and the Frontal Lobes. But judging by the number of hits for the science, that stuff doesn’t seem to be very popular.

So I have a few further options. Some exercises to try, and some commentary on them. For example, The Power of Positive Thinking is a hot topic, and lately has come in for a bit of a battering from some quarters. Burkeman in an RSA lecture (also available from as a podcast), and in his recent book ( Help!: How to Become Slightly Happier and Get a Bit More Done) suggests that repeating positive affirmations (for example: ‘I am happy , healthy and relaxed’) actually reinforces the pre-existing negative thoughts. The logic of this escapes me, for if it is true then, being consistent, the endless negativity we engage in daily should arouse its opposite. Or repeating negative affirmations (‘I’m a useless piece of crud’) should elicit positive thinking.

If we are trying to change our brain wiring by practice (like learning a musical instrument) then I expect it to take quite a bit of repetition to achieve the desired result. My suspicion is that people generally don’t put in the required effort for long enough see it bear fruit.

I remember reading Louise Hay’s You Can Heal Your Life and deciding to try out some of her suggested affirmations. I found a deep resistance to looking at myself in the mirror and telling myself I loved me. In fact I only did it about 20 times before I gave up. In fact, being fair to Burkeman, I did become aware of the underlying opposite thought, which was that I was a piece of shit. That thought was a bit of a shock in its force and venom, and it was only by doing the exercise did I bring it to full awareness. Try it for yourself and be prepared for the backlash.

What I didn’t do was persist. After the first hundred hours of piano practice I would still be inept, but I would probably be able to play the basic five-finger exercises with both hands reasonably competently. If the above affirmation, (I am happy , healthy and relaxed), takes five seconds to say, I can say it 12 times in a minute, or 720 times an hour. That would be 72,000 repetitions in 100 hours.

So here’s the challenge. Repeat this, or your favourite, or any number of your favourite positive affirmations, whether you believe them or not, 100,000 times over whatever period you wish. Then see whether they work or not. For the sceptics to simply say they don’t think they work is not very scientific.

Indeed, for all the exercises I propose to share with you persistence, perseverance and practice will be essential.

So I had the idea of putting some techniques out there for people to try. Most of them are well know, some less so. Most people have heard of visualisation as a self-improvement technique, but I suspect will not have systematically and persistently seen it through. Binaural beats are less familiar, and I will explain them another time.

What would contribute to the field would be feedback from a large number of people who had tried the exercises suggested in any number of self-help books, and self-improvement protocols, for long enough to judge their efficacy adequately.

Some feedback or ideas would be welcome. In that way the blog might evolve in a direction I can’t predict, but in a way people find of use. Also, it might act as encouragement for people to try some exercises for longer than they usually do.

This, of course, wouldn’t be the kind of research that gets published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, because it is not placebo controlled, but offers possibilities that only the internet with its great reach can accomplish.

So, ideas on a postcard please…