The amount of knowledge we have at our fingertips is amazing. You may know about evolution and creation, who won at Waterloo or figured out E=mc2, the names of footballers and politicians, how to drive and use the computer… but how much do you know about the areas of life that make up your everyday experience? This is what you can find here: how to handle emotions, make decisions, overcome fears, cope with challenges, communicate effectively, form and sustain relationships, and much more.
These materials provide practical knowledge about all basic areas of human life. These areas are also organised in a map that shows the relationships and connections among them (hence the word ‘synthesis’ in the title).
Why do we need something like this?
We are all aware that we live in a time of rapid and sometimes dramatic changes. In the past, almost every aspect of daily existence was regulated by the extended family, the church, even our neighbours. Life then was more restrictive, less tolerant of divergences and differences, and often hard, but it created some sense of security and predictability. Today, the complex nature of our societies, greater cultural diversity, and pluralism of values have increased choice and allowed more freedom, but it has also added to personal responsibility, insecurity, anxiety and confusion. Arguably, we have never had it better, and yet we don’t seem to cope all that well.
According to the World Health Organization, by 2020 depression is set to become the world’s most pervasive serious illness (more widespread than heart disease and cancer). Every 40 seconds somebody commits suicide and many more make an attempt. In the UK one in four visits to a doctor is due to a psychological problem (the most frequent reason after flu and cold). Alcohol and drug misuse, as well as anti-social behaviour, are also widespread. This is not to say that we need knowledge and skills covered in these materials only in order to deal with the challenges of modern life. Personal qualities are also becoming increasingly important at work, in relationships, and other key aspects of life. We have to rely on ourselves more than ever, so our personal development is no longer a luxury, but a necessity.
Despite all that, it is still hard to know how to go about it. In mainstream education there are plenty of opportunities to learn about mathematics, literature, geography, science, history, art and other subjects, but few chances to learn about ourselves and the ways we could experience and relate to the world around us. Not surprisingly, many turn to counselling or coaching, but this can be quite expensive with results that are not always satisfactory. So most of us, sooner or later, engage in some sort of self-education in this area.
However, wading through innumerable books, web-pages and blogs in order to find reliable information can be tiresome. We have to go through a lot of stuff to find one or two points that we can make use of. Granted, many of these readings can temporarily make us feel better, but that feeling usually quickly wears off and we are back to square one. Even materials that have real practical value usually deal with only one or a small number of topics, so it is like patching up a hole while others open up. And who has time to read a few books (or an online equivalent) on every important area of life?
This website is an attempt to help you overcome these difficulties by putting everything in one place. To achieve this, all the materials are written in a ‘no frills’ way. There are no stories, anecdotes, therapy practice examples, or similar. Admittedly, it may be easier to read through materials seasoned with such spices, but they are not very helpful in the long run. How many times have you enjoyed reading a self-help book, but when you needed to apply its wisdom in actual situations, you still didn’t really know what to do? The materials that help us learn something practical – those that make a difference – are usually clear and straightforward. For this reason each area in this website is presented in a simple and concise way. This should enable you to easily remember and apply its content, as well as quickly find material on any specific issue when you need it.
The aim of the project
So what does this website try to achieve? In a nutshell, its main purpose is to help you be more in charge of your life. Knowledge is power, so personal knowledge leads to personal empowerment. This website does not try to sell a particular formula (such as ‘all you need to do is exercise more / slow down / think positively / recognise that your partner is from a different planet’).
There is no simple magic formula that works for everybody in every situation. What these materials can do, however, is assist you in making informed choices and putting them into practice. The aim is not to solve your potential or existing problems, but to empower you to face and deal with life challenges yourself. I do not claim that it can automatically make you eternally happy, successful, rich, or a great lover. You will still be facing ups and downs, frustrations and challenges.
However, you will be able to take your place at the helm of your boat and have the confidence to enter stormy waters.
Distress in challenging situations is often hugely exacerbated by being uncertain about what to do: when we feel upset, angry, frustrated or frightened, we need to think straight and make decisions, as well as act quickly and efficiently. It is not surprising that we sometimes feel overwhelmed or go astray. However, if you are well prepared and know what to do, it is much easier to remain in charge of your emotions and actions. Imagine your tyre has a puncture. If you are well prepared for this eventuality you will get far less frustrated – and the same applies to situations that require psychological preparation.
Furthermore, embarking on this journey can make life more interesting. It is like having a town map that makes it easy to navigate through the maze of its streets. A map is not always necessary – sometimes it is more fun just to wander around. But knowing that you have something to turn to if you get lost can give you the confidence to do so.
How to use the materials
This website can be used in several ways. One is to go systematically through each area in the suggested order. Doing so is recommended as all the areas are interrelated (i.e. they affect each other), and also some of them rely on others. This does not mean simply reading through the materials from beginning to end. It is important to try and experiment with practical suggestions and stay with one area as long as you need to in order to experience a sense of mastery. This will enable more fully rounded personal development. However, you may not have the time or patience to go through the materials systematically, or you may have a burning issue that needs to be attended to immediately; in such cases you can also start from an area that you are particularly interested in or that is closely related to your issue and then perhaps expand your reading to surrounding and cross-referenced areas.
To highlight them, the exercises (or interventions) are placed in boxes. There are more than hundred of these and you can do almost all of them on your own. They have all been tested in practice and are considered safe. I would suggest trying them at least once, especially if they trigger some resistance. This is because resistance usually indicates that you are stuck or rigid in that area and doing relevant exercises may help you to get unstuck and achieve greater flexibility and fluidity. However, whether you continue practising them or not will depend on how useful you find them. Don’t bother with those that don’t work for you, but don’t give up too early. You can modify some exercises to make them more productive or even create different ones. This is about you, not a ‘correct’ procedure.
A final note before we turn to the various areas: gender difference does not affect the content, so personal pronouns that indicate gender are used alternately from area to area.
So, let’s have a look at the map of the territory before we consider the areas themselves.