Monthly Archives: March 2015

Why others see things you can’t

Have you noticed that it’s nearly always easier to solve other people’s problems than it is to solve your own?

Invariably we see solutions when others describe their challenges. ‘What ever are you worried about?’ we think, in the near certainty that they’d be completely fine if only they would do x.


Why, then, is it a very different kettle of fish when the boot’s on the other foot?

Why are we generally so slow to accept the fresh perspectives offered to us by a friend when we describe OUR dilemmas?

Perhaps it’s because we believe their suggestions are too simple. Unlike us, they don’t know all the facts.

Sometimes, however, being in possession of all the background knowledge can rob you of your power to take action. You can end up over-complicating the situation with the net result that you do nothing.

Now I’m not suggesting that we should blindly adopt every suggested solution that comes our way, just that it may pay to take them a little more seriously.

It’s surprising how often the view from outside can be clearer than the one from within.

The extraordinary fun of learning

It takes a special kind of teacher to let you stand at the classroom sink grating potatoes while all around your classmates are studying history. But 45 years ago Mrs Greig was just that. A special kind of teacher, a very special kind.

She taught me for my last two years at primary school, and among other achievements she helped me experience the exhilaration of exploring new ideas with single-minded determination.


Quite how it began I don’t recall, but I’d developed a fascination for glue (not the sniffing kind, these are innocent times I’m talking about) and between us we’d discussed the principle that you might be able to turn a humble potato into strong adhesive.

The process involved grating up a heap of spuds, placing the results in cold water, running this through a sieve, then filtering the mixture to capture the starch which – finally – had boiling water poured on it, to produce the end result. Glue.

What I remember above all was Mrs Greig understanding my enthusiasm and giving me carte blanche to carry out my manufacturing mission when really I should have been learning about Tudor England.

The feeling you get when your curiosity inspires you to seek out an explanation, and perhaps to go somewhere or do something as a result, is a powerful one, and a great way to give yourself a boost.

So be on the lookout for things that make you go ‘Huh?’, then happily spend a little time searching out some answers.

It’s fabulous to do this. As Mrs Greig knew.

Creating personal deadlines and objectives.

Perhaps strangely, I’ve always enjoyed deadlines. I remember, for instance, racing across London in a taxi to a national newspaper’s printing works clutching a piece of camera-ready artwork for a full page ad.

As I sprinted into the building (those were the days) a member of staff yanked the artwork from my hands and dashed off through a pair of double doors which swung back in forth in his wake.

They’d literally been holding the press for me, and I’d just made it, by the skin of my teeth.


Life in an advertising agency is built around deadlines like this. Space is bought in newspapers, slots are booked on TV, then there’s often a race to produce the material that will be printed or broadcast.

Although those deadlines were often nail-biting, there was always a great feeling of completion once you’d reached them. You’d done all you had to do, and could add nothing more once the presses were running.

Some of life, of course, comes entirely without deadlines. We do things in our own time. We take things as they come.

But I wonder if it’s useful to erect our own goalposts now and then? To take a task that could otherwise stretch into eternity, and make a commitment to have it finished in a week’s time?

(Or, at the very least, started.)

Every day should be Thanksgiving Day.

I wonder how many times you’ll say ‘thank you’ today?

For most of us I suspect it’s an unconscious response harking back to the days when manners were drummed into us, so it might be pretty difficult to count the number of times we say it.

But I wonder how many times you’ll say ‘thank you’ today and really mean it?

Now, that may well be a different kettle of fish.


Saying thank you to someone to whom you’re grateful, and (the important bits) meaning it and explaining why, is another of those great actions which benefits both parties, yet I’m ashamed to admit that I can sometimes go a while without doing so.

Today’s a great day to boost the thank you economy. As it progresses, why not be a bit more aware of your reasons to be thankful – particularly those reasons that involve others?

Then let them know, and let them know why. And mean what you say. And make it clear that you mean what you say.

It may of course be a tremendously profound thank you, but it could just as easily involve someone who is completely unaware that they brighten your day.

No need to wait for November. Perhaps every day can be Thanksgiving Day?

Help someone else take a more positive view.

In the average gladiatorial bout between politicians and media interviewers, the latter are invariably set on drawing out the grim negatives, while the former fight to portray everything in the rosiest of lights.

Where one sees chalk, the other sees cheese.

Simplistically it’s the interviewer’s job, it seems, to dig up dirt. The politician’s goal on the other hand is to make themselves look good.


It goes without saying that conversations between friends shouldn’t follow this format, but sometimes they can inadvertently slip into a gear that isn’t the neutral one which normally makes friendships run smoothly.

Given half a chance for instance, some people need little encouragement to spill out their tales of woe. They’ll tell you about everything that’s gone wrong, often in excruciating detail.

Maybe this is something that should be gently discouraged, however. Listening to someone’s misfortunes can dent your own mood. It’s probably not doing much for the other person either.

The TV interviewer fights to drag out the bad stuff in the assumption that this makes good viewing. But in real life, and in the presence of someone with gloomy tendencies, perhaps it makes more sense to ask them what’s gone right rather than what’s gone wrong?

It’s worth a try, and surely better than unleashing yet another torrent of discontent.

Remembering to keep an open mind.

It’s the colour of custard, cowardice and bananas.

It’s the rose of Texas, a winning cyclist’s jersey.


It’s a rather good song by Coldplay.

The card a soccer ref shows as a warning.

Along with purple it was one of my junior school’s two colours.

It was the submarine The Beatles lived in.

A particularly unpleasant form of Fever. The Wizard of Oz’s brick road. A business telephone directory.

One colour, many connections, yet the chances are that you may well have a default picture in your mind when someone says its name.

Like it or not, we’re inclined to carry prejudices and preconceptions. We see things one way when there are nearly always alternatives.

And there are generally clear benefits from keeping an open mind.

So perhaps today’s the day to avoid knee-jerk reactions, and to remember that – just as there’s more than one way to regard the rainbow’s third colour – there’s almost certainly another way to view the stuff that’s going on around you.

Do you catastrophise?

Nobody loves me, everybody hates me,
Think I’ll go and eat worms…

As nursery rhymes go, it’s not exactly one that’s going to get the positive psychology movement dancing in the street, is it?


But it’s interesting to reflect on that common child-like behaviour of reacting to someone else’s unkindness by ‘catastrophising’, leap-frogging from just one person’s lack of warmth to everyone’s complete loathing.

Although doing this may seem illogical in the cold light of day, it’s easy to succumb to it when you’re not at your best.

One thing goes wrong, but your interpretation can be that the whole house of cards has tumbled down.

One email or call doesn’t get immediately returned, and you’re convinced that there’s something wrong with you.

I think it’s easy sometimes to become swept along by a wave of unreality and over-dramatisation, and pretty difficult to keep a sense of perspective.

It’s when this happens that you could do worse than remind yourself that it probably really isn’t as bad as it seems.

So why not try to keep a sense of perspective today? And if I were you I’d leave the worm consumption to Bear Grylls.

Boosting your positivity ratio

Let’s say we’ve set up a stall selling lemonade.

We’ve bought lemons and sugar. We’ve added water and probably conveniently forgotten that there’s a cost associated with the H2O we take from our taps.

Then we’ve sold glasses of our citrus brew, stuffing the takings into a cash box.


At the end of the day, working out how well we’ve done isn’t complete rocket science. Add up the money you took in sales. Add up the money you spent on lemons and sugar (maybe paying yourself a wage for your time). Then, if the former is larger than the latter, congratulations – you made a profit, repeat tomorrow. If the latter is larger than the former, either tweak your model or as a last resort get out of the soft drinks business.

I over-simplify of course, but it’s not difficult to understand this simple approach to determining your business viability.

Leaving the lemons aside, though, similar principles can apply to day-to-day life. Positive stuff happens. The same with the negative. And one way of judging what sort of day you’ve had is to weigh up whether there’s been more of the positive than of the negative.

Now we may feel we’ve little control over external events themselves, but I reckon we often do have the ability to decide how we’re going to think about them.

Seeing only the gloomy side of every single thing is almost certainly going to leave you feeling low, whereas seeking a more positive interpretation (perhaps even if you have to struggle a bit) can boost your ‘positivity ratio’.

Being unrealistically positive makes little sense, but seeking to change your view of things, even just a little, can help a lot.