The Real Secret is a different kind of self help. We debunk the empty promises of so many books and DVDs and bring you a simple, sensible approach to real life fulfillment. We don't believe you can achieve happiness, or anything else, by simply wishing for, thinking about or visualising it. Our book - and this blog - takes only the best of what really works and turns it into a positive, practical 12-step programme that will enable you to take control of your life and raise your happiness levels.

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The Real Secret is simple, sensible, scientifically supported self help
by Lucy McCarraher & Annabel Shaw


Rage - How To Stay In Control


We all know what anger is, and we’ve all felt it: either as mild irritation or at times as extreme displeasure. Anger is a natural, adaptive response to threats; it inspires powerful, often aggressive feelings and behaviours, which allow us to fight and to defend ourselves when we are attacked. A certain amount of anger, is, therefore, necessary to our survival and a completely normal, healthy, human emotion.

But when it turns to rage, it is anger that is out of control and destructive. Although rage stems from anger, rage is never heathy. Rage denotes a complete loss of control and is characterised by shouting, threats of violence as well as acts of violence, and involves a degree of aggressiveness that is out of proportion to any provocation. Unlike anger, rage is not a normal, healthy emotion. Rage is destructive and harmful to all involved.

If you find yourself acting in ways that seem out of control and frightening – both to yourself as well as to the victim of your rage – you will need to seek help to find better ways to express your anger and deal with your emotion. There are psychological tests which can test your ability to express anger apropriately, but most of us know if we have a probem with rage. We understand, almost instinctively, that our anger is not healthy anger.

It’s worth having an idea of the common ways in which most of us deal with anger. In general people use a variety of both conscious and unconscious processes to deal with their angry feelings. The three main approaches are expressing, suppressing, and calming.

1. Expressing your angry feelings in an assertive, not aggressive, manner is the healthiest way to express anger. To do this, you have to learn how to make clear what your needs are, and how to get them met, without hurting others. It can sometimes be very difficult to tread the line between assertiveness and aggression – especially in the heat of the moment.

2. Anger can be suppressed, and then converted or redirected. This happens when you hold in your anger, stop thinking about it and focus on something positive. The aim is to inhibit or suppress your anger and convert it into more constructive behavior. The danger in this type of response is that if it isn’t allowed outward expression, your anger can turn inward on yourself. Anger turned inward may cause hypertension, high blood pressure, or depression.

Unexpressed anger can create other problems. It can lead to pathological expressions of anger, such as passive-aggressive behavior (getting back at people indirectly, without telling them why, rather than confronting them head-on) or a personality that seems perpetually cynical and hostile. People who are constantly putting others down, criticising everything, and making cynical comments haven’t learned how to constructively express their anger. Not surprisingly, they aren’t likely to have many successful relationships.

3. Finally, you can calm down inside. This means not just controlling your outward behavior, but also controlling your internal responses, taking steps to lower your heart rate, calm yourself down, and let the feelings subside. This response can be especially helpful if things have become over-heated and you need to restore your balance before expressing your anger in an appropriate and uselful way. Many people find that by removing themselves, physically, from the situation is also helpful. However, it’s important that the anger is addressed later when your feelings have calmed down and you are again in control.

Strategies to help you calm down angry feelings include:

Simple relaxation, such as deep breathing and relaxing imagery.
  • Breathe deeply and slowly, from your diaphragm; breathing from your chest won’t relax you. Picture your breath coming up from your “gut”.
  • Slowly repeat a calm word or phrase such as “relax”, “take it easy.” Repeat it to yourself while breathing deeply.
  • Use imagery; visualise a relaxing experience, from either your memory or your imagination.
You can download our free relaxation audio from The Real Secret website

Practise these techniques daily. Learn to use them automatically when you’re in a tense situation.

Think! When you’re angry, your thinking can get very exaggerated and overly dramatic. Try replacing these thoughts with more rational ones. For instance, instead of telling yourself, “oh, it’s awful, it’s terrible, everything’s ruined,” tell yourself, “it’s frustrating, and it’s understandable that I’m upset about it, but it’s not the end of the world and getting angry is not going to fix it anyhow.” Remind yourself that getting angry is not going to fix anything, that it won’t make you feel better and may actually make you feel worse.

Logic defeats anger, because anger, even when it’s justified, can quickly become irrational. So use cold hard logic on yourself. Remind yourself that the world is not out to get you, you’re just experiencing some of the day to day irritations that are a part of everyone’s daily life. Do this each time you feel anger getting the best of you, and it’ll help you get a more balanced perspective.

Angry people tend to jump to and act on conclusions, and some of those conclusions can be very inaccurate. The first thing to do if ywhich ou’re in a heated discussion is slow down and think through your responses. Don’t say the first thing that comes into your head, but slow down, breathe, and think carefully about what you want to say. At the same time, listen carefully to what the other person is saying and take your time before answering. Try to stay as cool as you can, reminding yourself that allowing yourself to get into a rage will not solve anything.

I have only touched the tip of the iceberg that is rage. There is a great more to say but that will have to wait for another day. My main aim today has been to look at the ways in which we typically deal with anger and to offer some simple techniques for dealing with anger that has the potential to become an unhealthy rage.

Victim support: We would like to know more about the experience of being on the receiving end of a rage attack and so it would be very helpful if anyone reading this blog and who has had such an experience could comment on how they coped and what strategies for coping they would recommend.

Posted by Annabel

There are exercises and activities in The Real Secret which can help you gain control of your life, communicate more effectively and process anger, grief and trauma. You can buy it in paperback or Kindle formats on and, as well as other online booksellers; you can order it through any bookshop.


Seven Steps to Self Help

If you browse the ‘self-help’ shelves of a bookshop you will come across a vast array of different self-help strategies and approaches. You could spend some time going through the different books looking for the one that you think will best suit you and your particular problems. Nothing wrong in that – after all we are all different and our problems come in all shapes and sizes. Indeed, a ”one size fits all” approach to therapy is very unlikely to be effective.

There are, however, a few underlying principles which form the backbone of all good therapeutic approaches and these basic principles also apply when you're trying to make changes in your life with or without a self help programme. Once you have the basic principles under your belt, the question of which approache you should consider will become very much easier. The First and Most Important Principle is to:

1. Trust Yourself to Find Your Own Solutions
The best help for you will be the help you create for yourself. You need to find your own solutions and any therapist or any self-help book worth their salt will help you do just that. Rather than imposing a “cure all” they will seek only to help and support you find your own way out of any difficulty. It’s true that therapists may have studied and know more about techniques and treatments than you, and you may well need their help and guidance, but no-one knows yourself better than you do. Recognising this, a good therapist should ask you to Trust Yourself to work things out above all other advice. This is because until you trust yourself to help yourself you will never be helped – no matter how knowleagable or experienced your therapist. Beware the books that tell you they have a magic cure. There is no magic cure. No quick solution that doesn’t involve you doing most of the work. Sorry – but you know I’m right.

2. Remember You Are Not Alone
When suffering we often tend to feel as if we are the only one. Everyone else seems so much happier or at least, even if they do have problems, they seem to be in control and able to cope so much better that us. The truth is, we all have problems and we all cope as best we can. It’s true that some people cope better than others for some things – but they may well do worse in other areas. One thing is for sure – if you are human you will suffer. Scratch the surface of any of us and you’ll find a story comparable to your own – you are not alone. Keep this in mind especially when you find yourself feeling a bit slef-pitying.

When you’re feeling particularly downcast, one tip is to think of someone who’s faced a similar situation and handled it well. What can you learn from their situation and the way in which they dealt with it? It could be someone you know, but just as helpful are examples from literature or film. Another suggestion is to imagine your current life and its difficulties as a film with you as the scriptwriter. What different solutions or endings can you imagine?

3. Take one small step at a time
Problems come in all shapes and sizes and our responses to these problems differ enormously but one thing we all sometimes do is to make our problems appear bigger than they really are. We need to keep things in perspective, or risk feeling overwhelmed. Feeling overwhelmed can lead to a sense of helplessness, and it’s this helplessness that you need to avoid at all costs. Whatever the size of the problem, the way to begin tackling it, is not to expect to deal with it all at once. Like climbing an enormous mountain you need to take one step at a time. If you spend too much time thinking about the size of the mountain you would probably give up before beginning. The same applies to problems and difficulties – concentrate on the small steps you can take and keep going.

4. Are you sure about wanting to change?
This is a tricky one. Many of us say we want to change things because we feel unhappy with the way things are at the moment. We talk about making  "life changes" and, indeed, there are now hundreds of books on the subject. Of course, it’s fine to make changes, but before we can even begin we really need to know not only what it is that we want to change but, far more importantly, we need to imagine what our lives will look like when we have made those changes. What’s your life going to be like when you no longer have the particular problem that so upsets you now? There is no point setting out on a difficult journey – change is always difficult – if you don’t know where you’re headed or even if it’s where you want to be.

5. Filling in the gaps
It’s important to consider what your new life will look like after you have dealt with those things in your current life which you wish to change. In doing this you will come to realise that some of your old habits will need to be replaced by new habits if you are to be successful. What, for example, are you going to do with the time you’ll save when you no longer have to deal with the problems that so beset you now? Filling in those gaps with positive behaviours will help support, in the long term, any changes you make now. In other words, you need to think about the positive aspects of change and make sure that you don’t fall into the trap of seeing only problems.

6. Be Open to Change 
The notion that there is a perfect life just waiting for you to discover, once you’ve got over present difficulties, is nonsense. There is no such perfect life. Not for you and not for anyone. An interesting life, on the other hand, will be constantly interrupted with problems and difficulties that you’ll need to sort out or overcome. Being open to change will give you the necessary flexibility to deal with these problems, so don’t be afraid of change. Change can open up all sorts of interesting possibilities. Try to see change as a positive force and avoid seeing change as a necessary evil.

7. What Role Do You Play In Your Difficult Life?
This is no easy question and one that asks you to be scrupulously honest with yourself. Is there any chance that you could perhaps be making things worse for yourself ? Is there any chance that you are actually maintaining the difficult situation by refusing to acknowledge your own part in it? Perhaps the hardest part of any resolution of life’s problems is taking responsibility for our own actions, accepting that perhaps, just perhaps, we might in fact be a big part of the problem. One way of gauging the part you are playing is to return to imagining your current life as a script – a book or a film. What other actions could you have taken to avoid the situation that now troubles you? In the light of that, can you think of anything that you could do now to make things better in the future ?
In Short: Is it always someone else’s fault?

There are exercises in A Simpler Life – our audio book – which can help you reconnect with your authentic self and your personal values, and The Real Secret is a flexible self help book which you can use to create your own self development programme. They are both available on and

Posted by Annabel


The Importance of Learning to Listen

On every measurement of human happiness, good relationships with other people rate very high, if not top of the scale. And how many times have we all been told that communication is the key to good relationships? So how come, when we start talking, at work or at home, about something we know the other person doesn’t share our views on, we end up so often with a predictably pointless discussion, or worse, aggressive argument?

We can’t force other people or circumstances to change, but we can modify our own outlook and behaviour, which in turn will elicit different responses from others. One of the most frequent causes of friction in close relationships is that one, or both parties, believes their point of view is not being heard. You may feel this yourself, but a way to improve the situation is to make sure that you are listening properly to what the other person is telling, and asking of, you. You might find that what they want from you is very different to what you had assumed.

“Whenever you’re in conflict with someone, there is one fact that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude.”
William James, psychologist (1842-1910)

Neurolinguistic programming quite rightly tells us that amongst the most important factors in good communication is the use of rich and varied language, which appeals to the sensory bias of the other person. So someone who employs phrases like “I hear what you’re saying” will understand you better if you use auditory metaphors; a person who “sees your point” will see it more easily if material is presented in a visual way; while it’s helpful to appeal to the emotions of someone who tells you “I feel very positive about…”.

Added to which, ensuring that the way you speak and your own body language are aligned to your words, and learning to read and interpret the body language of other people, are as important in communicating as the content of what you are actually saying.

However you process information, or present your material, nothing is more infuriating than sensing that the other person has not properly listened to you or your point of view. And it works both ways – if there’s a long standing disagreement festering in any of your relationships, you may unintentionally be failing to listen to what your partner, child, friend, parent, boss or colleague is trying to make you understand. My earlier post also points out how important listening is to Happiness At Work 

I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.
Ernest Hemingway (1899 - 1961)

In Step 8 (Richer Relationships) of The Real Secret, we describe the skill of Empathic Listening. It involves focusing exclusively on the other person, using both your intellect and intuition to understand what they want and need you to hear from them – particularly on a difference of opinion - and ensuring that what you've understood them to say is what they intended you to hear.

When you listen empathically, you use your whole self not just to hear what the other person is saying, but to gain insights into what they are thinking and feeling. By extending this courtesy to them, you also allow the other person the space and time to communicate in a more relaxed and less combative manner.

When you are listening empathically, you will find yourself:
  • Engaged and interested, with your attention focused outwards on the other person
  • Intent upon and looking toward the other person, only glancing away occasionally to process what they are saying
  • Mirroring the other person’s posture and gestures
  • Using language which is “you” (not “I” or “me”) centred; using key words and language patterns that match the other person’s.
  • Asking the other person open questions rather than expressing your own beliefs.

You can find more information for developing Empathic Listening in The Real Secret, which is available in paperback and Kindle format on and, as well as most other online booksellers. You can order it through any bookshop, too.

Posted by Lucy


How to Change Your Eating Habits

Are you someone who likes to eat popcorn in the cinema? I am; it’s a built-in part of the enjoyment of the whole experience – though not in the theatre, where I just still crave the childhood treat of a little tub of ice cream in the interval. It’s silly, really, because I never buy popcorn on any other occasion, and I only eat ice cream when I’ve bought it for guests or children in my own home. Or do I? Let’s be honest; sometimes when I’m feeling tired or fed up, I will go and see if there’s some ice cream lurking in the freezer and have a surreptitious bowl to cheer myself up. And chocolate… let’s not go there.

The fact is, when we associate a particular kind of food with a pleasant experience, we’ll seek it out to boost our mood in other situations. Research on chocolate has shown that, contrary to what we like to believe, it doesn’t in itself make us feel happier. "There is some slight evidence that chocolate triggers the release of opiate-like chemicals in the brain but really its relationship with our emotions operates in the reverse direction," says Professor Andy Smith of Cardiff University. "We seek out a chocolate snack when we feel upset or are emotional because, in the past, we have had pleasant associations with it. That is why it is a comfort food."

It’s all too easy to create an association with a particular kind of food or, indeed, a subconscious habit. An experiment reported in the August 2011 issue of the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin shows just how much our past experiences influence our eating habits; but also offers some hope for simple ways in which we can break habits that we want to.

The researchers gave people a bucket of either nice, fresh popcorn or stale, week-old popcorn just as they were going into a cinema to watch a film. Some of the audience were habitual popcorn eaters and some were not. The film goers who didn't usually eat popcorn in the cinema ate far less stale popcorn than fresh popcorn because it didn’t taste as nice. Duh! Obviously, you would think.

But viewers who usually ate popcorn while watching movies, ate about the same amount of popcorn whether it was fresh or stale. In other words, the ingrained habit of eating popcorn in the cinema overrode the fact that the stale popcorn didn’t even taste nice.

"When we've repeatedly eaten a particular food in a particular environment, our brain comes to associate the food with that environment and make us keep eating as long as those environmental cues are present," said David Neal, lead author of the study, who was a psychology professor at USC when the research was conducted and now heads a social and consumer research firm.

"People believe their eating behaviour is largely activated by how food tastes. Nobody likes cold, spongy, week-old popcorn," said corresponding author Wendy Wood, Provost Professor of Psychology and Business at USC. "But once we've formed an eating habit, we no longer care whether the food tastes good. We'll eat exactly the same amount, whether it's fresh or stale."

The researchers controlled for hunger and whether the participants liked the popcorn they received, and they also gave popcorn to a control group who watched movie clips in a meeting room – an environment not normally associated with popcorn. In the meeting room, even habitual film-watching/popcorn eaters ate much less stale popcorn than fresh, demonstrating how much environmental cues can trigger automatic eating behaviour.

But there is hope for those of us who overeat, or eat the wrong foods because of ingrained habits or associations.

In another experiment, the researchers tested a simple disruption of automatic eating habits. Once again using stale and fresh popcorn, they asked participants going into a film to eat popcorn, but this time using either their dominant or non-dominant hand. Using the non-dominant hand seemed to disrupt eating habits and cause people to pay attention to what they were eating. When using the non-dominant hand, viewers ate much less of the stale than the fresh popcorn, and this worked even for those with strong film viewing/popcorn eating habits.

So if you’re trying to change eating habits, check whether there are times and places when your body and mind have come to expect a certain type and amount of food, and avoid or change them. There are ways of tricking your brain, such as using smaller plates to contain smaller portions, and your body by drinking a glass of water before you eat a meal. Or simply try eating with the wrong hand.

"It's not always feasible for dieters to avoid or alter the environments in which they typically overeat," Wendy Wood said. "More feasible, perhaps, is for dieters to actively disrupt the established patterns of how they eat through simple techniques, such as switching the hand they use to eat." And then there’s also the Hawthorne Effect, which shows that just paying attention to what we do, results in our doing it better. More on this and taking control of your eating habits in The Real Secret Step 5, “Healthy Body”.

Posted by Lucy

You can get your copy of The Real Secret in paperback or Kindle format on and .

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