How To Use Questions To Get Unstuck

Image courtesy of Milos Milosevic
Image courtesy of Milos Milosevic

How are your New Year resolutions going?

Are you making progress, or are they stalled?

Most people express their resolutions as statements:

  • to lose weight
  • go to the gym three times a week
  • to learn Spanish

Even if it’s not New Year, you probably have a list of tasks you want to do, for example: I want to write this article to make it in time for my next newsletter.

In my to-do list it is expressed as: “write newsletter article”.

It’s a simple, straightforward description of what I need to do and it even has an action verb at the start to help propel me into … er … action.

Unfortunately this task has been languishing on my to-do list for most of this week. Sometimes, these things are easier said than done.

Ironically, this article is about helping you get moving on your resolutions and to-do lists. So I’m pleased to be writing this as a result of the wonderfully simple technique described in the article.

Ask me a question

How did I get moving on the write the newsletter article task.

Simple, I turned the write the newsletter article statement into this question.

Read moreHow To Use Questions To Get Unstuck

Festive Greetings In Latin

I hope you enjoy this little taste of the spirit of Christmas from an age before advertising and crass commercialism.

Ah, the Middle Ages, those were the days!

Whether you are celebrating Christmas, something else, or nothing at all, I wish you a very happy time and all the very best for the New Year

ChangeCamp – October 29th – Newcastle upon Tyne

ChangeCamp feedbackThe Autumn ChangeCamp in Newcastle upon Tyne, on Saturday October 29th is fast approaching.

For those of you who don’t know ChangeCamp is a biannual event for anyone who is interested in psychological change for themselves or the people they work with.

It’s a collection of up to 16 mini-workshops held over the course of one day on all kinds of aspects of psychological change.

Many approaches are represented including: Counselling, Coaching, EFT, NLP, Hypnotherapy, Solution Focussed Therapy, healthcare, Laughter Yoga, and much more. Each workshop is 40 or 90 minutes long, and introduces you to a fascinating variety of ways of changing things for the better.

Here are a few of the workshops on offer on the day:

Counselling And You
A workshop explaining what counselling is and what it is not. How to use counselling skills at work and home. How to find the right counsellor for you and yours. This is a workshop with an opportunity to try out some counselling skills and to explore what you or your family might be looking for in a counsellor

How To Develop Compassionate Self Acceptance.
Compassionate self acceptance is a more robust version of self esteem. Rather than feeling good about ourselves which can be tricky when things aren’t going well we can learn to feel kindly towards ourselves whatever the circumstances. In this workshop you will learn some simple techniques to develop self-compassion and put it into practice.

Reverse Therapy – Psychological approaches to health
Learn how to get well and stay well using simple techniques for listening to your body. By listening to our bodies we can not only ease specific physical conditions such as CFS/ME, Fibromyalgia, IBS, anxiety and depression we can keep ourselves well, improve immune function and increase general well-being.

An Introduction To Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT)
Emotional Freedom Techniques or EFT is a simple self help technique that can help with a surprising range of problems, softening negative emotions, painful memories and some physical issues. In this short introduction you will learn the basics of this simple technique.

These are just four of the workshops that will be happening on the day. The list of workshops will be extended as we get closer to the day. You can find the current list of presentations here.

ChangeCamp is not just about the workshops, it is about connecting with people with the same interests as you in warm and friendly atmosphere and to have a good time.

All this is for just £15 on the door or by booking online and bring some food for a shared buffet meal.

Stepping Back From Negative Thoughts

We do lots of thinking every day. Our thoughts come and go constantly from the moment we awake until the moment we fall asleep.


Each of these thoughts has an effect on us. Many thoughts trigger emotional states in us for good or ill

Thoughts like this probably make us feel good:

  • "that chocolate cake looks good"
  • "I love you too sweetie"
  • I think this is a great song

Thoughts like these probably make us feel bad:

  • "I am so fat!"
  • "She makes me so angry"
  • "How could I be so stupid"

Sometimes we are stuck to our ideas of ourselves and what is going on. If these ideas or thoughts are unhelpful this identification with them can be very stressful because we believe that what we are thinking is true. The thought triggers an emotional response whether it is appropriate or not. Our mistake is that we forget that the thought is just a thought about something, not the something itself. It's as if we see a sign saying "Beware of the bull" and become afraid even though the field is quite empty.

A common response to having negative thoughts can be to try to add positive thoughts to the mix as an attempt to counteract or attack those negative thoughts.

This is like putting another gladiator in the ring and expecting the fighting to stop.

What we don't do, or can't do, is step out of the mental arena and let the thoughts go.

Fortunately, there are ways to ease the power of these thoughts by stepping away from them. One way of doing just that can be found in the book The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris. It is one of several, simple techniques that you can use to step out of unhelpful thinking patterns.

The process is simplicity itself. Let's imagine that you have the thought "I'm no good" going around in your head. When you have this thought it provokes a very stressful and debilitating reaction.

First I would ask you to think the thought: "I am no good" then notice what effect that has on you.

Second I would ask you to think the thought: "I am having the thought that I am no good" then notice what happens when you do that.

Third I would ask you to think the thought: "I am noticing that I am having the thought that I am no good", then notice what happens when you do that.

When they do this, people usually report that this technique puts the original thought "at a distance" to them, and that they are less troubled by it.


1. Choose a thought that stresses you.

2. Think that thought and notice what it does to you

3. Then think "I am having the thought … the thought"

4. Then think "I am noticing that I am having the thought … the thought"

This is a really simple process for taking the charge out of negative thinking.

The only challenge is remembering to use it. Here are two approaches that might help:

1. When ever you have an unhelpful thought make a note of it in a journal or piece of paper. At some convenient time of the day, review your notes using the technique for each thought that causes you trouble.

2. When ever you are in difficult or stressful situations ask yourself the question "What am I thinking now?" and make a note of your answers, treating each one with the process.

Image courtesy of Sander van der Wel

ChangeCamp: A Community of Practice

ChangeCampOne of the purposes behind ChangeCamp, apart from having a good time, is developing a ‘community of practice’. Ettiene Wenger who coined the term defines it thus:

Communities of practice are formed by people who engage in a process of collective learning in a shared domain of human endeavor: a tribe learning to survive, a band of artists seeking new forms of expression, a group of engineers working on similar problems, a clique of pupils defining their identity in the school, a network of surgeons exploring novel techniques, a gathering of first-time managers helping each other cope. In a nutshell:

Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.

There are three essential characteristics of a community of learning

The domain: A community of practice is more than just a club of friends or network of colleagues. It has a shared area of interest and members have some knowledge of that domain that separates from other people. Practising NLPers or EFTers are in shared domain – even if they do not know one another.

The community: In pursuing their interest in their domain, members engage in joint activities and discussions, help each other, and share information. They build relationships that enable them to learn from each other. Just having the same interest doesn’t make you a member of a community of practice. You need to be able to get together, interact and learn together. Wenger gives the example of the ‘Impressionists’, who used to meet in cafés and studios to discuss the style of painting they were inventing together. These interactions were essential to making them a community of practice even though they often painted alone.

The practice: Members of a community of practice are practitioners. They are not just interested in something, they use their skills in a variety of situation. They develop a shared body of resources: experiences, stories, tools, ways of addressing recurring problems – a shared practice. This takes time and sustained interaction. These interactions may be informal – work related discussions over lunch or more structured – team building, training or conferences.

Wenger says “It is the combination of these three elements that constitutes a community of practice. And it is by developing these three elements in parallel that one cultivates such a community.”

ChangeCamp is designed to fulfil that purpose in a simple, low-cost, enjoyable way.

The domain: The domain of ChangeCamp is psychological methods of change. These methods may be applied to self development, working with others in a therapeutic or educational setting, or working with groups and organisations to create change.

The community: ChangeCamp is one place for people who are interested in these areas to meet, perhaps for the first time and to develop their common interests. This website is designed to facilitate that process.

The practice: ChangeCamp is both for professional practitioners of their art it’s also for interested amateurs. Anyone who has tried to put a self-help book’s suggestions into practice is an explorer of self development even if they don’t belong to an association or get paid for it.

In an ideal world communities are supportive, educational and fun – that’s certainly my hope for ChangeCamp

Image courtesy of h.koppdelaney
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