GUY RAZ, HOST:
On the show today, ideas about how we approach our emotional well-being and why it's important to open up about the feelings we usually want to hide.
RAZ: You know, this is the first time in 18 years I've interviewed somebody named Guy.
GUY WINCH: Really? Well, congratulations.
RAZ: This is Guy Winch. He's an author and a psychologist.
WINCH: Yeah, it's the first time I've been interviewed by someone called Guy. So we're both having firsts.
RAZ: OK so kind of a personal question here. Do you ever wake up, you know, and for no particular reason just feel, like, really crappy? Like, bad about yourself?
WINCH: You know, to be honest with you, I'm a morning person (laughter) so I usually wake up in a good mood. I know, it's very annoying.
RAZ: Yeah, it's very annoying.
And he does this by taking care of what he calls his emotional hygiene. And just like most of us will get a cold or a stomach bug or a headache a few times a year, Guy points out that, you know, we also go through periods where our mental health also isn't 100 percent. And so he's been arguing that we have to take care of our minds just like we do our bodies. Here's Guy Winch on the TED stage.
(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)
WINCH: I recently was at a friend's house, and their 5-year-old was getting ready for bed. He was standing on a stool by the sink brushing his teeth, when he slipped and scratched his leg on the stool when he fell. He cried for a minute, but then he got back up, got back on the stool, and reached out for a box of Band-Aids to put one on his cut. Now, this kid could barely tie his shoelaces, but he knew you have a cover cut so doesn't become infected and you have to care for your teeth by brushing twice a day. We all know how to maintain our physical health and how to practice dental hygiene, right? We know it since we were 5 years old. But what do we know about maintaining our psychological health? Well, nothing. What do we teach our children about emotional hygiene? Nothing. How is it we spend more time taking care of our teeth than we do our minds?
RAZ: I mean when you say hygiene, I'm thinking, you know, like you said, you know, brushing my teeth at night and washing my face. And you're saying that we need to think about what's inside our head a little bit in the same way.
WINCH: Right. And to me the most obvious example of that is negative self-talk. In other words, we say things to ourselves we would never consider saying to anyone else. That habit of becoming extraordinarily self-critical and self-punitive is about as opposite as emotional hygiene as can be. It is akin to taking a swim in a sea of bacteria when you have a cold - oh, let's just bathe in this for a bit and see what happens. No one would do that. I once worked with this woman who, after 20 years of marriage and an extremely ugly divorce, was finally ready for her first date. She had met this guy online and he seemed nice and he seemed successful, and most importantly, he seemed really into her. So she was very excited. She bought a new dress, and they met at an upscale New York City bar for a drink. Ten minutes into the date, the man stands up and says, I'm not interested, and walks out. Rejection is extremely painful. The woman was so hurt she couldn't move. All she could do was call a friend. And here's what the friend said - well, what do you expect? You have big hips, you have nothing interesting to say. Why would a handsome, successful man like that ever go out with a loser like you?
Shocking, right, that a friend can be so cruel? But it would be much less shocking if I told you it wasn't the friend who said that. It's what the woman said to herself. And that's something we all do, especially after a rejection. We all start thinking of all our faults and all our shortcomings, what we wish we were, what we wish we weren't. We call ourselves names. Maybe not as harshly, but we all do it.
RAZ: So what can you do to avoid that kind of thing? I mean, if we all do this thing that you're describing in the talk, I mean, how do we stop that voice?
WINCH: So first of all, I say to people when I hear that, I say, what utility do you feel you get out of being so self-critical? What it will do is it will absolutely annihilate your self-confidence. Now, I do agree that in certain situations you do need to go over and look at your culpability, or your responsibility, or what errors you might have made, but not in a self-critical manner. What I recommend to people is, become like a detective. Detectives are impartial - or, supposed to be. They just look for clues and facts to conclude things. That's the approach you need to have to look at your mistakes. Be impartial about it.
RAZ: OK so aside from, you know, like, not talking to yourself in a negative way, you know, what else could we do?
WINCH: I'm actually big on gratitude. I'm grateful every day for my health. I'm grateful every day for my relationships. And any time you encounter a stumbling block or a failure, you have to remind yourself that you're capable. I - when I am having a hard time with writing, for example, I will go and I will reread something I wrote that I really thought was good to remind myself, no, no, you can actually write well, you just need to figure out how to do this thing well. You have to remind yourself that this is a hurdle. The question is, how do I get around it, not, whether I should try. It's a very different way of thinking than why did the hurdle happen to me? Why do hurdles always happen to me? Those are always very unfruitful lines of thought because they actually don't tell you anything about the hurdle.
WINCH: You know, a hundred years ago, people began practicing personal hygiene, and life expectancy rates rose by over 50 percent in just a matter of decades. I believe our quality of life could rise just as dramatically if we all began practicing emotional hygiene. Can you imagine what the world would be like if everyone were psychologically healthier, if there were less loneliness and less depression, if people knew how to overcome failure? I can. Because that's the world I want to live in. Thank you very much.
RAZ: Guy Winch is a psychologist and author of "Emotional First Aid." You can see his entire talk at Ted.com. Our show today, Headspace, ideas about our emotional well-being. Stay with us. I'm Guy Raz, and this is the TED Radio Hour from NPR.
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