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Can you tell us about the Sort Your Self Out system and what inspired it?
Having studied across lots of therapy and coaching disciplines, I wanted to take what I felt were the most helpful and effective elements and package these into an easy-to-follow system that anyone could use wherever they are on their journey. Everything we need to know to change our lives is actually already out there. It’s already been written, and in the truest sense we don’t really need any more self-help books! The issue, however, is information overload. People often find the amount of material confusing and overwhelming, but there is also so much unnecessary jargon and over-complication.
I’m actually an advocate of good therapy and I know talking therapies have helped many people. However, the point of the book is that for most people there is so much they can do themselves when they know how. And the book shows you the how. We have a chronic mental health problem, and it has been amplified by the COVID-19 situation. More than 7 million people in the UK are taking antidepressants! This is insanity. We’re dishing out antidepressants like they’re Smarties and trying to treat the symptoms of mental ill health rather than really getting to the bottom of the causes. We need better non-drug routes back to happiness and that’s why I created this simple system of seven steps that anyone can follow to change their life: the Sort Your Self Out System (SYSO System). Think of it like a manual or DIY toolkit for your mental well-being and your self-improvement. Crucially there are also seventy practical exercises so you can do the changing rather than just read about it! I tested it very successfully with many clients and by creating this system my clients soon realised they didn’t need me. In many ways I have made myself redundant!
Who is your book and the SYSO System intended for, and what does it offer readers?
The book is aimed at anyone who wants to have a more fun and fulfilling life. We’re all starting from a different place as we have our own unique set of experiences, but the core issues are all the same when we look at the bigger questions that lie behind our lives. We can all become more, and when we grow, we will feel better about our life and we will also be a greater gift to those around us. By following the seven steps the reader will learn how to become more aware, manage their mind more effectively, take charge of their emotions, understand what’s driving their behaviour, have a clear purpose for their life, appreciate their interconnectedness and understand how to be a better manager of their energy. Changing your life isn’t that complicated when you know how, and when you know how you can be your own therapist.
Your book contains seventy practical exercises that can help the reader bring about positive change in their life. Can you give an example of an exercise in the book and talk about its practical uses?
If you want things to change, you have to change. If you want things to be different, you have to do differently. The key is the two words ‘you’ and ‘do’! And that’s what the seventy exercises are about. You are doing, so you change. The exercises can be repeated until they become habitual or embedded in your unconscious mind. They are simple to follow and you can refer back to them anytime. A really useful one is the exercise for dealing with disappointment. We’re great at dealing with things going our way but less so when things don’t go the way we had hoped, and this is a really easy four-step process you can apply anytime:
Step 1: Always start by saying to yourself ‘It could be worse’ when something disappoints you. It always could be worse, and this is actually a form of gratitude as you are unconsciously telling yourself you are grateful it isn’t worse. And when you are feeling grateful, you can’t think other unhelpful thoughts at the same time. Try it. This is a very basic but very effective conditioning step.
Step 2: Expand your perspective by imagining you are rising up and floating above all of your life laid out below, and how this moment and this ‘disappointing’ event in the whole scheme of your life is not as ‘bad’ as you think. You have in the past had many disappointments which you got through and they often led to something else great that wouldn’t have otherwise happened.
Step 3: Now bring your focus to what you are learning from this. There will be learnings embedded in the experience and often it is our most challenging times that give the most important learnings. We need to become better at searching for what’s good in the events we see as bad.
Step 4: Focus on your breathing and movement. Take deeper breaths with long exhales. Move! Movement affects mood, and when you start moving, your body releases feel-good chemicals, your cells wake up and the previous pattern is interrupted. Run on the spot, jump up and down, wave your arms, whatever you can do to change your physiology quickly.
These are four very simple steps that – if you make them habitual as your response to things not going your way – will dramatically change how you respond to what you consider disappointment. Use your response ability and change how you feel.
Did you draw from personal experiences in developing the Sort Your Self Out system and creating the exercises?
The system was developed and tested very successfully working with actual clients experiencing real life challenges. I had developed an interest in what I call very practical psychology from an early age, having grown up in the heart of Belfast during the Troubles. After university I worked around the world as a ski teacher for five winters and developed a great understanding of how much of our experience of anything boils down to how we look at things and how we talk to ourselves. At the heart of learning to ski better, for example, and a big part of learning to live better, is how we perceive and talk to ourselves about fear. Through many of my own personal experiences, and with a combination of extensive study and many hours working with clients, I distilled into just seven steps and seventy practical exercises a simple, integrated and very practical system anyone can use.
What was your experience of writing You Don’t Need Therapy?
I don’t consider myself a writer and I really had to work hard on myself to sit for long periods of time and write. I didn’t enjoy the process, to be honest, but the outcome is very satisfying. I certainly have a newfound respect for anyone who has written a book and brought it all the way from an idea and a vision in their head to a book in the marketplace.
Can you talk a little about the work that the SYSO Foundation is doing to help young people with mental health and personal development?
I decided to write the book to help people and to do that in the purest way possible I decided I wouldn’t take any remuneration from my work in this area, as I’ve been fortunate to have made money from other business ventures. I was very wary that behind a lot of self-help programmes the creators are interested, often primarily, in lining their own pockets, and I didn’t want that to be a motive that would affect what I was setting out to do. I then started thinking about how I could use any profits and I decided the logical place was to start with helping young people. So I am creating the Sort Your Self Out Foundation to provide free personal development resources to young people to help them avoid becoming messed-up older people! I have also just launched a products brand (EGO HERE) to encourage us all to be more aware of the role our ego is playing in our lives. All the profits from this will also go to the SYSO Foundation.
Why did you decide to self-publish your book?
Originally I planned to go down the traditional publishing route but soon realised all the same quality resources that traditional publishers use are now available to self-publishers. Combined with a much quicker process and being more in control of the content, it seemed a more efficient and effective route for me. I wanted to make sure the quality in all areas was of the same high standard delivered by traditional publishers, and that’s when I discovered whitefox!
The COVID-19 pandemic has put an enormous strain on mental health for unprecedented numbers of people across the world. How do you think your book can help those struggling during this particularly challenging time in history?
It has certainly been a challenging time for so many people, physically, emotionally and financially, and there has never been a more important time to equip ourselves with the tools to manage our inner well-being and mental health. The book is a perfect manual to do this and it encourages us to look for things to be grateful for. Our brain is very good at looking for what’s wrong, which is helpful evolutionary programming, but we have to train ourselves to become hunters of what is good. During this time many people have had a chance to reflect on what is really important in their life and how much we have to be grateful for. Because of the lockdown restrictions we also likely have more time to invest in our own growth, and by following the seven steps and doing the seventy exercises we not only can transform how we feel about our current situation but we will also be equipping ourselves with the tools to deal with any future challenges. We can’t control so much of what goes on outside us but we can always control what goes on inside. More than ever, we can all benefit from working on ourselves.