Monthly Archives: September 2015

5 surprising ways to get human connection when you really don’t feel like it

Let’s say you’re having one of those shabby old days when your mood’s in the gutter and you’re in the doldrums.

Let’s also hope that today isn’t one of these, although I’m sure we all have at least the occasional one.

Perhaps this is a thought to file under ‘Bring out again when necessary.’


I’ve reminded us both dozens of times that one effective way to lift mood is by connecting with others.

But what if you’re feeling grim and can’t face the thought of a conversation of any kind? How can you possibly do the connecting thing at times like this? Here are five ideas:

1. Opt for a more indirect channel of communication such as email or text messaging. You don’t have to say much, just a simple ‘How are you?’ can get the ball rolling.

2. Send a friend, or someone you love, a greetings card by snail mail. Don’t, perhaps, pour out your troubles in it because you’ll hopefully be feeling different by the time they get it, the mail being what it is these days. What’s important is that you’ll know you’ve made the connection.

3. If you can’t bear even these, just think about another person, visualising their face in your mind. There’s no way this can deliver as much benefit as a proper interaction, but simply thinking about someone who’s close to you can deliver some of the same physiological effects as actually being with them.

4. Although it might sound odd, it’s possible that you’ll feel more connected if you listen to the radio, or watch TV – particularly when the programme is some kind of talk show. Broadcasters sometimes use the trick of imagining they’re talking to one person when they’re on air: see yourself as their singular audience, and talk back to them if you like. (My Gran used to.) That probably sounds even odder, but why not?

5. If you’re out of the house, exchange pleasantries with those you come into contact with. Even simple things like saying thanks to someone who passes you the door handle after you follow them through, or saying hello to the bus driver, can help.

You can’t beat proper connections of course, but don’t let that stop you on days when you really can’t stomach the deep and meaningful kind.

Can I have a quiet word about introversion?

Years ago, I remember hearing about some graffiti which had apparently been added to one of those Bible verse posters you often see outside churches.

This one had proclaimed ‘The meek shall inherit the earth’, under which some wag had penned ‘If that’s OK with you’.


In Susan Cain’s excellent book ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’, she suggests that although many of life’s great scientific and creative achievements have been the fruits of the labours of introverts, our education system and business organisations seem obsessed with the idea that Team Work is the only way.

During my career, I’ve sat in countless so-called ‘brain storming’ (now apparently a politically-incorrect term) sessions, yet the overwhelming majority of my ideas come when I work alone.

Research suggests that I’m not an outlying case: people tend to be more creative when they’re on their own than they do as part of a group.

Since personality tests generally show me as somewhat on the Quiet side of the extraversion-introversion spectrum, it’s maybe not surprising that I need generally to shut myself away to work (or to sit in a coffee shop, where you can be alone, but not alone, as it were).

Email exchanges with Moodnudges readers suggest that there may be a substantial number of us with this sort of temperament.

Perhaps there’s a link between introversion and the propensity to suffer from low mood?

However, there’s a bit of a paradox here, isn’t there?

Seeing solitude as not altogether unpleasant may result in us believing that we don’t need others.

But we do.

It’s why it can be good, now and then, to seek out opportunities to be part of gatherings of others, perhaps those which won’t demand too much of you.

Go to a free talk, and sit in the audience simply to listen.

See a movie or sporting event.

Attend a religious service, if that’s your thing.

Or, of course, simply sit in a coffee shop with a book or laptop.

It pays to know who you are

Q – What did the 19th century Parisian newspaper correspondent ask when he wanted to know if the author of ‘Les Miserables’ and ‘The Hunchback of Notre-Dame’ was at a party?

A – ‘Hugo’s there?’

Puns aside, ‘Who goes there?’ is what sentries demand when they hear the approach of some unidentified, possibly hostile, individual.


Faced with such a challenge from behind a loaded gun, now possibly isn’t the best time for the approaching person to start asking themselves who they really are.

(I mean, who AM I?)

Better, perhaps, to announce that you are the King’s messenger and that you come in peace (or words to that effect).

Of course, it’s not always that straightforward to answer the ‘who are you’ question.

You’re someone’s son or daughter, you may be a brother or sister, you’re somebody’s neighbour, you could be an employee or a boss.

I think you’re also what you stand for, and what you believe in.

Whoever you are, however, be comfortable with it if you can.

Life has made you this way, and although some change may be possible, your component parts are pretty firmly in place.

(Well I hope so, anyway.)

Start today in an additive way rather than a subtractive one

Positive thinking?

All very well in theory, but surely pointless to even contemplate it when you’re stuck in one of life’s ruts.

The very thought of it, conjuring up images of slick, tanned, shouty, motivational experts exhorting their audiences to ‘Go For It!’ (woo-hoo) is enough to give any sensitive soul the heebie-jeebies.

Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t think life is supposed to present us with non-stop glee.


I believe, instead, that – just as we have night and day, light and shade – it’s really quite normal to have bad days as well as good, lousy as it feels when we find ourselves in the former.

Being sceptical about unfettered positive thinking, however, doesn’t mean completely turning your back on all of its arguments.

The two most basic operators in arithmetic are plus and minus, represented respectively by a positive and negative symbol.

As a young child you probably first learned to add up, then to take away.

It’s probably helpful to remember these fundamental principles when it comes to approaching your day.

One way of doing so is to go into it believing that everything is going to go wrong, that it will be wall-to-wall gloom.

In effect you’re approaching it in a ‘taking away’ frame of mind.

The alternative?

Well, just as it would be foolish to pin all your hopes on a massive lottery win, it’s probably not realistic to expect that your day can ever be faultlessly perfect.

However, I think it’s certainly possible to go into it with an ‘adding’ mindset.

You’ll face many small decisions today, even about things as trivial as what to watch on TV, what to eat for lunch and what to say to a friend.

Imagine coming to each of these with the aim of making a choice that adds to your overall wellbeing rather than taking away from it.

They may seem like tiny actions, but they accumulate over time.

I expect that adding was the first arithmetical concept you learned: time to apply it to your day, perhaps?

Why others sometimes see the answers to your problems more clearly than you

Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ tells the story of a rich ruler who commissioned a new suit of clothes from a pair of swindling tailors who sold him garments they claimed would appear invisible to those who were ‘unfit for their positions, stupid or incompetent’.


When the clothes were ‘delivered’, everyone from the Emperor down sycophantically pretended they could see them, for fear of being labelled unfit, stupid or incompetent, leading to the rich man parading around town without a stitch on.

Only one citizen, a young boy, was sufficiently brave to point out what everyone else thought, but was too frightened to say.

In the words of Danny Kaye’s re-telling of the story in a song written by Frank Loesser, he exclaimed, ‘Look at the King, Look at the King!…

The King is in the altogether…’

Most of us aren’t surrounded by people frightened to have views of their own, of course, and they’re generally only too happy to express them.

They may even have opinions about your own particular circumstances.

And those circumstances could from time-to-time include you feeling down in the dumps.

This is when you’re likely to hear the old phrase ‘if I was you’ from them.

There’s a tendency to dismiss this kind of ‘help’, because the person issuing it is of course not you.

How can they know how you feel?

What gives them the right to issue advice?

To a certain extent, you’d be right to think this: but only to a certain extent, because now and then outsiders can help you gain a useful new perspective on your own situation.

So talk to people with different views.

You don’t need to accept everything they say, but doesn’t it make sense to listen at least, just as the Emperor eventually did?

Sometimes hearing the naked truth can be good for you.

Take care of yourself

Imagine, if you will, that you weren’t you.

Let’s say, instead, that you’re actually a personal manager.

Not a Personnel Manager, but a Personal Manager: the kind of individual who works alongside a movie-star, managing their life for them.

You know the kind of thing; you’d make sure everything worked like a well-oiled machine for your client, so they could spend all their time doing things like making movies, taking part in publicity activities, and generally being movie-starry.


Now, you’re employed as manager, not a therapist, but what do you think you might do if your client gradually began to slide into a trough of not wanting to do much?

After all, it’s your job to keep them productive (and making money, probably, because if their income drops off, so could your own job security).

One simple strategy could be to think of things they’ve done in the past which made them feel positive, and suggest they do them again.

Not exactly rocket science, is it?

Has spending time in the countryside worked for them previously? Help them plan a short trip out of town.

Have they thrived in the presence of certain other people? How about arranging that they get together with them again soon, then?

Has exercise helped them feel good in the past? Schedule time for them to go swimming, perhaps.

If this all sounds nice but impossible (who could afford the luxury of a personal manager?) step back into your own shoes.

The good news is that there is in fact someone who can act for you in this role – and that’s you.

How do you do this?

One simple tip is to think about yourself as if you were someone else – that personal manager.

What would they suggest?

What would they recommend?

What would they plan for you?

You probably instinctively know some of the answers, so why use one or two of them next time you need to?

Perhaps (sadly) none involving the charter of a private Lear jet, however.

I asked, you said.


On Friday I said I hoped to start an important conversation.

It looks like I did.

I think it’s important to take stock of things every now and then, which is why I asked for feedback from Moodnudges readers.

And what a lot of helpful, reflective, supportive, warm, incisive, and generous feedback I got.

At the time of writing, well over eighty people have taken the time to comment.

Thanks to everyone for their incredibly meaningful advice.

As they’d say in my still relatively new home of California, I certainly felt the love.

So having carefully read and digested every single comment, I now have an action list of 24 items, which feels comforting.

Among them, and suggested by many, is that my writing is better when I include a mention or two of my own personal experiences, so that’s definitely something from me to take on board.

There’s also a feeling among some that the content my occasionally get a little repetitive, and I can definitely tackle this one too.

But overall I felt an overwhelming sense that readers believe that the Moodnudges are helping them, and for me this is both heartwarming and motivating.

Interestingly, one or two people in the comments questioned my wish to increase the circulation of Moodnudges. I think that’s a valid point.

Over the past few months I’ve been working on a book, inspired by what I’ve learned about emotional health over the past eight years or so.

In fact a small band of Moodnudges readers have been helping me by experimenting with a short prototype version.

Right now the book (which is a new kind of 30 day workbook) is mostly written and roughly designed, but I’m just not quite sure yet about my next steps for getting it out there – whether to self–publish it, or to look for a publisher etc.


Naturally I hope that some Moodnudges readers will want a copy, so it feels important to me to build up the list, but I need to do this in a way which continues to feel right, and continues to match my personal values – which are largely about being of service to others.

I’m in the process of reaching out to a circle of people I know who I think will help guide me towards getting the book into lots of people’s hands.

Maybe into yours?

From tomorrow, however, it will be business as usual at Moodnudges.

And right now, thanks again to everyone for their fantastic insight and support.

Where next with Moodnudges?


I’d like to start an important conversation today, and I’d love you to join in by commenting below.

Five and a half years ago, back in February 2010, I began writing mood-boosting emails which went out every day to members of the Moodscope site that I started with Caroline and Adrian.

In May 2013 I left Moodscope in Caroline and Adrian’s capable hands, and that October I moved to California to start a new life.

In May last year I began publishing again, this time as Moodnudges.

In the beginning, the messages went out every day, but then following feedback from readers, I scaled back to four times a week – a lot of people (although admittedly not everyone) told me that daily posts were too much to read, a problem with which I have a lot of sympathy.

Around 200 billion emails are sent worldwide every single day.

And sometimes it can seem like most of those are in your in-box, can’t it?

When I began writing again last year, I was working with Alexandra Carmichael, but a few months ago Alex realised she needed to get a proper job earning a proper salary.

So she now works as a director of an exciting biotech start-up in San Francisco called uBiome, from which you can order an analysis of your microbiome, the community of bacteria you (and we all) carry in and on our bodies.

Fascinating stuff.

Anyway, when we worked together Alex wrote some of the Moodnudges posts, but for the past few months the work has been all mine. I now work alone.

I tell you this by way of background, and also to give you some context.

Over the years my emails have had pretty good feedback from many of those who’ve received them.

In fact some readers have been with me since way back in 2010, and I’m modestly proud (if that can be a thing) of people’s kind and warm reactions.

However, I’m a little less satisfied with the failure of the list to grow.

In the interests of transparency here’s a circulation graph:

Moodnudges Circulation Growth

You’ll see that things were growing acceptably until about seven months ago, since when the readership has remained pretty static.

We currently have approximately 2,700 readers (thank you!) but it’s interesting to know that in addition to this 2,700, another 900 people have signed up but then unsubscribed.

Now I know this is not an untypical number of “unsubscribes”, but it’s made me think hard about both the flavour of the posts and their frequency.

Am I writing what people want to read?

And am I publishing posts at the right rate? Not too often, nor too infrequently?

Over the years, both with Moodscope and while working in advertising, I guess I developed a kind of sixth-sense for “content”.

Sometimes things worked and people wanted to read what I wrote.

But sometimes they didn’t.

And right now, I guess I’m questioning what people really want from Moodnudges.

Do you feel the content is compelling enough at the moment, and that all it will take to grow the list is to publicise it better? Or is there something else you’d like me to be doing?

I’m genuinely interested to know, and will particularly welcome suggestions.

Although our numbers here are relatively small, I have a strong sense that we are a fantastic community.

Whenever I’ve asked for help before, with surveys etc., I’ve invariably been knocked out by the number of people who’ve chipped in.

So I guess my main question (and sorry for taking so long to get to it) is: What can I do to deliver the kind of content that will really knock your socks off, and also persuade stacks more people to signup?

Please be very honest! I can take it.

I can’t wait to hear what people think.

Thank you so much.

What do when good times turn bad

I know this sounds like a cheesy line from the cover of a magazine, but it’s true that bad stuff happens to good people.

(Of course, bad stuff happens to bad people, too, and good-to-bad, good-to-good, as well, but the real point is that most of us will end up facing adversity at some time or other.)


When it looms, it’s important to cling to the knowledge that humans have a tremendous ability to bounce back.

In fact, our survival as a species has depended on this through the millennia.

So what are some strategies which can help you manage your way out of crisis?

Here are five:

1. Reflect on your past to identify times when you successfully dealt with adversity. What did you do then? Learn from this, and repeat.

2. Use the power of your imagination to visualise yourself beating the challenge, just like an athlete pictures herself defeating her competitors.

3. Tap into your network of friends, enlisting their help and support. Many hands make light work.

4. Be realistic in your expectations, because bouncing back may not be an overnight task, in the same way that it always takes time for a sprained ankle to mend.

5. Remember that, as a human, you’ve been programmed to overcome bad times, even if this sometimes involves sitting them out.

The right time to buy insurance is before a problem hits, so in the same way it makes sense to think about your coping strategies for bad times before you find yourself stuck in them.

The objective today is to set an objective

One of the big differences between taking a dinghy out for half an hour on a rowing lake, and setting off across an ocean in a cruise-ship is that in one you have to take your own sandwiches, while in the other, food to suit all tastes and appetites is available on tap, around the clock.


Another difference, of course, is the question of direction.

In the rowing boat you’ll spend thirty minutes going round and round in circles, while the cruise-ship generally has a destination in its sights, even if after a long voyage it too takes you back where you started.

I’m sure most of us go through periods of life when it feels as though we’re on the rowing lake, with limited horizons and the feeling we’re getting nowhere.

Perhaps there will be other times, however, when life seems to cut through the water like a sleek liner.

It gives us a strong sense of direction, and feels as if we’re making continual progress towards our goals.

It’s not always much fun being on the rowing lake, but remembering that things would feel different if you were on a cruise-ship might actually help.

Even on a little lake, you can set yourself goals (which apart from the food, seems to be one of the principal differences).

Could you make five complete circuits in your half-hour? Try it.

Perhaps you’ll treat yourself and your companions to an ice-cream when you disembark?

Why not?

Maybe you could build up a head of steam by rowing fast, then see how far the boat will glide with the oars out of the water?


Setting yourself small objectives can help on days when bigger ones feel impossible.

When it seems as though there’s little to look forward to, why not create one or two modest goals of your own, even if you have to make them up?