Recently I joined a group of artist friends to visit the David Hockney exhibition at London’s Lightbox. It was presented as an immersive experience - the four massive walls of the space (and the floor) were constantly alive with an ever-changing kaleidoscope of Hockney’s work across his career, underscored by an audio commentary taken from interviews across the many decades of his life. Now in his 80s, Hockney oversaw the presentation of this exhibition himself.
“There is no such thing as bad weather,” Hockney explains with genuine awe and enthusiasm. “I can look at the little puddles in the rain and get pleasure out of them … if it’s rainy I’ll draw the rain, if it’s sunny I’ll draw the sun … The world is very, very beautiful if you look at it, but most people don’t look very much.” His enthusiasm about how we can experience a new depth of feeling of being alive and aware through really focusing on the act of looking becomes genuinely engrossing and infectious in this 50-minute cycle experience.
What I loved so much about the exhibition is what it tries to explain to us - that looking and seeing are participatory events, not simply a recording of what is in front of us.
As Hockney puts it, humans see psychologically, whereas the camera sees geometrically. Our experience adds dimension, layers, texture and meaning to events which we choose to see, whereas a photograph can only record a fraction, a layer of that moment. We can participate whereas a camera merely observes.
Whilst photographs can undoubtedly help us to recall events with which we have had some relationship or experience, the photograph is simply the stimulus and the response comes from the viewer - their memories, recalled thoughts and feelings can be sparked. A photograph is two-dimensional - the viewer adds other dimensions. If you've ever come across photos in a flea market or junk shop, we are often fascinated by them - but we cannot read the stories they want to tell, because we have no direct connection with them.
In an age where we automatically grab our phone to record simply everything - meals or everyday events, somehow made special (we can feel) by their capturing, what was fascinating to me was how few people actually at the exhibition had their phones out to record images- most were allowing themselves simply to be experiencing the images first-hand, without the need of a camera’s eye to validate them. This is the start of a deeper way of looking, and a significant shift in our perceptions, which I found intriguing to witness.
It's important to understand that there are genuine health benefits to this approach too. Staying curious, actively focusing your attention and allowing yourself to discover new details in what you see forges new connections within your brain, firing neurons and creating new pathways, which can contribute to improved longer-term brain health.
We are used to hearing about mindfulness in its many different forms and applications- mindful eating, mindful listening, and so on – so it isn’t that much of a leap to explore and embrace mindful seeing and looking.
“You can’t be bored of nature, can you?” Hockney asks us “… if you really look. But you have to really look.”
The David Hockney exhibition Bigger and Closer (not smaller and further away) is at Lighthouse London, now extended to December 3rd. Take a good look.
Copyright ©2023 Juan Carlos Gouveia - all rights reserved
As today is World Theatre Day, let me explain the many hidden benefits of seeing a show.
Maybe you’ve found yourself walking along as a theatre performance has finished and the audiences flow out onto the streets, talking excitedly, chattering, laughing, maybe singing, in the aftermath of a collective event that has in some way affected them. As someone who works with the mind, I am fascinated with what happens to people during the theatre experience and why, so that we can understand the positive benefits of theatre to us all.
Let’s start with some facts. Firstly, theatre is an enormously popular leisure activity. More people attend theatre performances across the UK on a weekly basis than attend football matches, which is quite an eye-opening statistic.
In 2021, an extensive UK Theatre and Society of London Theatre report showed that theatres generate an annual cost saving to the NHS of £102,234,585, by helping benefit the physical and mental health of those in their surrounding communities.
Many international studies have confirmed this, showing that those attending theatre performances report higher levels of satisfaction and mental wellbeing than those who do not attend. So why is this?
Well, the answer is multi-layered. On an experiential level, the benefits of change upon the individual are well-established. A visit to a theatre space to see a performance will activate some or all of the following areas - self-regard (considering what to wear), anticipation (thinking about the event ahead, what you are looking forward to about it), social anticipation (looking forward to seeing friends or family), experiential anticipation (thinking about what you know about the performance, elements contained within it, the actors, the music), curiosity (what you think you might feel about seeing the event), and many more that you can well imagine, I’m sure.
Irrespective of the event itself, theatre has the power to help us come to terms with change, which is the only constant in life. However, our nervous system doesn’t “like” change - and tries to avoid it to “protect” us from it. By stepping out of our comfort zone - perhaps by going out to an unfamiliar environment or trying a new kind of show which we’re not sure if we’ll like, allows us to expand our comfort zone, which has benefits in terms of enhanced confidence and self-esteem. But change is all around us, and adapt to change we must. In going to a theatre event we navigate the change in environment (we are going out of our home!), the change in destination (we may know that theatre - or we may be a first-time visitor), the change in social mixing (we are out, often with friends). The theatre space itself is a change in location, too. And then we come to the event itself.
The very act of a group of people coming together to hear and see a story being told is significant in itself. By being in the same place at the same time, this disparate group of people have identified something they have in common, some reason for coming to this place at this time, and have acted upon that. This forms a bond within the theatre space itself, where a collection of “audients”, plural becomes “an audience”, singular.
The basic human need for connection is satisfied in this group of people who, for a few hours, come together to form a tribe of their own, where a single communal experience will be their exclusive bond.
Whether our lives are going well or badly, a theatre event provides a significant escape from the real world for a few hours, where we can engage with something that is different that will entertain, educate, enlighten, challenge or even shock us. But this removal from reality is also complex and layered.
Firstly, there is the removal from our usual environment (our home) into a less familiar environment (the theatre space). And then, having come together as an audience, this unique tribe experiences a communal removal (into the time, place and people of the theatre event). When this event is over, the audience “leave” the created world of the theatre event, being released back into the theatre space. This unique tribe then leaves the theatre, in doing so reacclimatising themselves to the real world outside the theatre, and finally upon returning home, are back “in their lives” once more. They are still the people they were, but they have been changed, perhaps imperceptibly, for the better.
The length of the effects vary for each audience member, but for most they will have experienced a communal experience, formed a new tribe, learned things, been caused to think, perhaps laughed and recognised our common humanity, as well as flooding their bodies with good and useful chemicals such as oxytocin, dopamine and endorphins - all of which have the potential to elevate their mood and positive feelings about relating with the world.
At this time when we all need to boost our self-care, make sure you make time for theatre – and feel the benefits!
Copyright ©2023 Juan Carlos Gouveia - all rights reserved
“Please check your packing area….!” These words spoken by a disembodied computer voice can trigger so many of us. Recently a new report emerged telling us what we already suspected – self-service checkouts do not save time or money for customers or businesses. Expensive to install, they cause constant hassle for both time-poor shoppers and over-stretched, underpaid staff.
But the most important thing is what the new report doesn’t tell you - that self-service checkouts can actually be bad for your mental health.
We all like the idea of automation and the perception of how rapidly things can be done. In our busy daily lives we are under pressure from all sides, often via technology - phones always on, messaging prodding you to be here or there, emails on computers or tablets demanding our unceasing attention, to the point where we have to acknowledge that technology has trained us to respond to it, with clicks, buzzes, pings and so on, just like Pavlov’s dogs to the sound of the dinner bell. Studies show that people, ever-more locked into their mobile devices, increasingly struggle to make social conversation.
That lovely lie of technology making things easier for us has come at quite a cost, and that cost is human interaction. We've lost the interaction between ourselves and the person scanning the items we buy. Many of us with busy lives may forget that for some isolated people, an interaction with a checkout person may be their only human interaction of their day, perhaps even their week.
We are by nature social creatures. Our history is of people grouping together as tribes, settlements, communities - people with something in common (even if it’s just where they live) who create an invisible yet vital and complex support mechanism for themselves and for others. One of the key drivers of this behaviour is to avoid rejection by making connections. Those who lived an isolated life often did so by force not by choice.
Social lives help us to regulate ourselves and our actions. Unconsciously, we are checking out our actions every hour of every day against those of others, noting their reactions, calibrating our responses and actions in small but meaningful ways. The other benefits of social mixing are the imperceptible ones - at a neuroceptive (nervous system) level, just physically being with other people can make us experience a whole range of emotions including feeling safe, supported or calm. It’s all linked to our brain’s primary function, of self-preservation, to keep you alive.
We have all begun to understand the toxic impacts of loneliness - depression, low self-worth, increased rates of suicide, self-harm, mental illness, dementia to name just a few – not to mention the many impacts on our physical health too.
But what are often overlooked are the compensating habits which people often fall into – excess drinking, addictions, drug-taking, gambling, self-harm. When we lose genuine human connection with people, what often replaces that is a growing connection with things - like drink, drugs, sex, gambling, self-harm. Shockingly, everything we do - good or bad - has a positive intention.
An example: you’ve no one to talk with, so you take a drink. It numbs you a bit, eases the pain, so you take another. And another. But the effects are notoriously short-lived and get shorter every time, so that your habit simply gets more and more extreme – and more and more ingrained as a habit. And the original loneliness problem is still there.
Yet all this is reversible. All we need to do to start is to recognise what is happening. And in that, we can all make a difference, for ourselves and for others.
The often-enforced isolation that the Covid pandemic brought with it has deepened the problems we face regarding social connection, with working from home stopping us mixing with the different social groups we belong to. Because of the length of the disruption to our previous habits, these new ways of living have replaced our previous patterns of behaviour. It only takes 21 days for the mind to create a new habit - so I’m sure that you can see that our Covid ways of behaving have now become our predominant habits, our “new normal”. Which means that we need to “re-learn” our previous, more social, ways and lifestyles.
Let’s look for an upside from all this; we can be grateful that people are starting to feel less self-conscious about talking about their mental well-being, which has become more normalised in our conversations. This myth that we are all ok if we just pull ourselves together is more harmful than helpful, and those with needs must be listened to with respect and compassion, and helped in constructive ways to regain whatever they have lost sight of. Each of us faces our own battles every single day, but nobody else sees our struggle.
What to do? We must all now make concerted efforts to grow our social circles, to make new friends, to check in with colleagues and friends, for the benefits are enormous for everyone involved.
That person in the shop who strikes up an unexpected conversation with you – that may be their only human interaction that day. It won’t cost you anything to make a few words of polite conversation, but do you know - it may dramatically change their day for the better. Every one of us has the power to do this.
Let’s all try to treat others with more compassion and understanding, and hope that others will understand, appreciate - and reciprocate.
And if you feel that you want to talk with me (in confidence and with no obligation) about how my Solution Focused Therapy could help you out of damaging habits, all you need to do is click the green BOOK A CALL button on the right of this page.
Copyright ©2023 Juan Carlos Gouveia - all rights reserved
If you’ve realised that your resolutions for this year are pretty much the same as last year, you’ll understand that something needs to change.
The change must be in how you think.
The first thing I'd suggest is to change your language.
If you've made "resolutions" for years and years with little or no success, then you might already understand that even the word is pre-weighted with expectations which are hardly likely to spur you on. In your mind, resolutions might equate with failure, before you even start! Can I suggest calling them goals or intentions instead?
The resolutions most people make are often too binary to stick – I will lose some weight/ I will learn something / I will make more money, and often add to the pressure you feel in feel in either "succeeding" or "failing". This isn't helpful for the change you want to make. Binary challenges are demotivating when you have a slip- and the vast majority of us slip in the journey of making these new intentions our new habits. When you support wishes (for that’s what resolutions really are at heart) with some structured thinking it can help you get results that move you further towards your goals.
Firstly, it’s important to set goals that are achievable. You can do this by asking yourself three simple questions- What do you want to leave behind and why? What do you want to continue carrying forward because it is useful/helpful? What new things do you want to introduce or experience? (e.g. courses, hobbies, etc.)
When we know the “why?” we are more likely to commit and take action to achieve it. Here are a couple of examples:
Something to leave behind. Perhaps shed unwanted weight? – Why? Give yourself positive reasons – I will have fewer aches and pains, my clothes will fit better, my health will improve, I will have more energy and vitality to play with my kids, I will feel better altogether.
Something to carry forward. Perhaps selfcare strategies (stretching, meditation, etc)? Why? It allows me to improve my work/life balance, it encourages me to take time for myself, it prevents burnout, reminds me I am worth caring about.
Something new. Perhaps learning? Why? So I can help my customers/clients better, increase my qualifications, help me to progress in my career aspirations, create new connections with others who have similar interests.
Can you see that rather just say “I will lose unwanted weight/ I will practice selfcare/ I will devote time to learning” by telling yourself the WHYs of your intentions, then the HOWs (which are the next stage of the process) will come more easily and naturally to you.
Goals can be encouraged by creating timelines and milestones- deadlines for achievement of certain key stages of the goal, just as we do with our professional workloads, breaking them down and chunking time to ensure we keep on track. It’s exactly the same for our personal goals. But for personal goals we need to soften the timelines to understand they may need to be adjusted or extended. What’s really important is the trend in what you are changing, the average over a timeframe, not just one day where you just had a crappy day- as we all do. It's always important to remember that we are all human and not perfect. The understanding that we are moving in the right direction towards realising our goals is much more important than a slip day. We're still going in the right direction.
While many people know what actions they want to take, for others it might be a little more difficult to visualise or quantify what they'd like to change. If that includes you, here's another approach which may appeal - consider what positive qualities you want to develop, and which negative qualities to diminish. For example, you might realise that overwhelm has often caused you to say things to others that you later regretted. Therefore, you may wish to develop the quality of calmness, to help you stop and consider your words before replying, and to take steps towards being kinder and more thoughtful towards others and yourself. These reflections upon who you want to be, as well as what, can help support your growth towards the life you want, and not staying stuck with the life you’ve got.
Whether you’re establishing goals, improving behaviours or fostering better habits, may I wish you every success with your own new year changes.
And if you feel that you need any help with making progress this new year, I am available when you book a free Discovery Call with me.
Copyright ©2023 Juan Carlos Gouveia - all rights reserved
As we draw towards the end of the holiday season, I hope that you and your loved ones are well, and that you’re finding time to relax, restore and reflect.
Your first priority is the one that so many people forget- it’s to take care of yourself! Self-care is never selfish, and always necessary. Give yourself time, space, kindness and understanding, especially when others don't. Nobody’s perfect - so you don’t have to be either!
To help you on your self-care journey, I've prepared this short recording for you, that you can use whenever you can take -or make- 12 minutes for yourself. It's a great way to start 2023, by building your confidence and relaxation skills - and everyone can benefit from this.
Access the recording below
NOTES: The usual warnings apply, please don't listen to this while driving or operating machinery.
Please also be aware that this recording contains positive suggestions but it is not a substitute for therapy.
This sound recording is copyright Juan Carlos Gouveia 2022, and may not be shared, sold on, or otherwise reproduced in any form without prior written permission of the copyright holder.
Juan Carlos is a therapist and author with over 22 years' experience as a diagnostic scientist.
All blog entries are Copyright ©2019-2023 Juan Carlos Gouveia, All Rights Reserved.
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