Monthly Archives: February 2016

Today is your once in four years day

They refer to something that only happens once every four years as Quadrennial, and just like the Olympic Games and the US Presidential Election, today is one of these once-in-48-months days.

February 29th. Leap Day.

A month ago I rashly promised that my book would be available today, and of course I now have to rather sheepishly admit that it’s all taking a bit longer than planned.

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Fingers crossed, it should be out in March, though, so not too long to wait now.

Missed publishing dates aside, I was (and am) keen to encourage you to mark this gift of a day in some special way.

Imagine what you’d do if your fairy godmother granted you a “free” day – an extra day of life.

What would you do with it?

And what could you do today – your extra day?

I’m sure it will need, at least to some extent, to be a day like many others in your life.

I imagine you’ll have things that are expected of you.

You’ll have routines and commitments.

But let’s propose a thought experiment.

Imagine you didn’t have them.

Think about what you’d choose to do.

Then see if you can’t build at least a little of this into your day.

Maybe you’d choose to laze around with a book all day?

Try to fit in a brief reading session as a gift to yourself, even if it’s only for 20 minutes.

Perhaps you’d want to spend your day with friends?

If you can’t actually get together with them, at least treat yourself to a proper chat with a friend on the phone.

You won’t have a day like today for another four years.

Why not make the most of it?

The undeniable anticipation of a bowl of Weetabix

When people move to a new country, as I did in 2013, there’s usually some food or drink from home which they miss.

In my case it was Horlicks (the malted milk drink) so when my brother Geoff arrived here last week he smuggled a couple of jars in his suitcase.

However there was another UK staple that turned out to be unexpectedly available in the US – Weetabix (if you’re not familiar with it, it’s a wheat breakfast cereal which comes in the form of rectangular biscuits).

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Lucky days. I was happily surprised to find it on the supermarket shelves here.

Actually, mentioning it gives me a good excuse to remind us both of the value of having things to look forward to, even if they’re modest and seemingly insignificant.

An example?

If you prefer your Weetabix a bit soggy and milk-soaked, as I do, how about getting your breakfast ready before you head for the bathroom in the morning?

It’s a tiny ritual I perform most days, and even though it sounds slightly preposterous, while I’m in the shower I genuinely look forward to sitting down to eat my Weetabix.

I think it’s always helpful to look forward to things, because doing so is likely to make a real contribution to your overall happiness and well-being.

But while it’s great to have a sense of keen anticipation about big stuff, you can also help yourself by setting up smaller opportunities.

So if there’s something you usually do quite routinely most days, and which you generally enjoy, why not prepare it a little in advance, turning it into a small upcoming treat?

Please let us know how you get on in the Comments section.

Three short emails you should send in the next five minutes.

Whether you’re reading this in the form of an email or on the moodnudges.com website, right now you have a powerful tool in front of you which has the capacity to lift your spirits.

Connecting with people almost always makes you feel good, and what better day to feel good than a Friday?

It’s the end of the week and the world’s still revolving.

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Here’s my simple recommendation for today therefore.

These days most email software is smart enough to guess the intended recipient as soon as you begin typing letters.

If yours does, I’d like to propose that you send a quick-out-of-the-blue email to one person whose name appears when type the letter ‘F’, another who pops up when you type ‘R’, and a third who shows up as you enter an ‘I’.

F, R, I for Friday.

So what will you say?

Well, I’ll leave that up to you, but three suggestions could be:

1. Just thinking about you, and thought I’d say hello.

2. How are you doing?

3. How’s Friday treating you?

Keep it brief, and don’t necessarily count on a reply from all three people.

But the chances are good that you and at least one other individual will experience an unexpected boost today.

And that’s got to be good for you, Francis, Rebecca, and Ian.

Or Fiona, Richard, and Isabel.

A surprising reminder of why it’s good to ask for help.

If I told you that someone who’s about to repair something has said they won’t be able to do it for a few days as they have to wait for a part to come in, you might imagine I was talking about a washing machine or a car.

Probably not a surgeon.

However this is precisely the situation my Mum finds herself in.

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She fell over last Friday, badly breaking her elbow, and the experts have agreed that rather than trying to fix the complicated fracture, they’ll fit her with a replacement joint.

And since apparently elbows aren’t the kind of thing you keep sitting around on a shelf, they’ve ordered one which will arrive at the end of the week.

Now she’s in surprisingly good spirits back in the UK, which is good to know since my brother Geoff and I are both in California.

Geoff’s here to help me through the final stages of putting together the new “Nudge Your Way to Happiness” book (which is coming on really well given the large amount of other things going on at the same time).

When I spoke to Mum yesterday – and thank goodness for mobile phones which allowed me to chat to her in hospital from my park bench on the Stanford campus – I of course said I was sorry that Geoff and I couldn’t be with her.

What was interesting, though – and it’s a thought I hope might turn this from my personal story into something of wider value to you – is that the absence of her two sons has actually ‘created space’ for other people to step up.

Neighbours have been to visit her.

Friends have offered to help, as have other family members.

And the thing is, people love to help.

We often talk here about the kinds of positive feelings you and I may experience when we lend a hand to someone in need.

But perhaps we don’t recognise quite so often that it can be good to create the opportunities for others to step in and help us.

Asking for help can be surprisingly hard, but it can also be surprisingly rewarding.

As a child you were probably told you had to stand on your own two feet, that if something needed doing it was up to you to do it.

But I’m here to remind us both today that you can’t always do everything yourself and that when you ask for help, others very often see your request as a gift you’re giving THEM.

Even if they don’t say as much, many are grateful for the opportunity to lend a hand.

So if you find yourself struggling with some kind of load today, whether it’s physical or emotional, why not do someone else a favour by asking them to help?

How Eileen Fisher learned to listen to her feelings

Sorry, I must confess I had no idea who Eileen Fisher was when I went to see her give a talk at Stanford University last week.

Of course, I now know she is a highly successful New York fashion entrepreneur selling elegant clothes to women who want to look good without necessarily making a big thing about what they wear.

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Stanford has a world-class business school but Eileen Fisher’s talk wasn’t there.

In fact it was hosted by the university’s centre for compassion and altruism research, an inspiring organisation that among other things puts on a regular programme of fascinating speakers (I saw Jon Kabat-Zinn last week).

Eileen Fisher’s talk was partly about the way her business has been built on kindness – kindness among the company’s people, and kindness to customers, for example.

An unusually good way to run a business, I thought.

The part of the evening that struck me most was the way she recognises that she’s struggled over the years to really feel what she’s feeling, and sometimes even to know what she’s feeling.

But she’s got better, she says, by learning about embodiment – focusing on what she’s feeling, and where in her body she feels it.

She told a nice story about being in meetings to interview candidates for a very senior position in her company, but recognised that she was “disengaged”.

She said she felt intimidated by the candidates.

I think they were pretty high-powered people and despite Eileen Fisher’s success, she comes across as being really down-to-earth and actually rather gentle.

What I found particularly interesting was that after recognising what she’d been feeling, she told her HR people that she’d like to re-meet these candidates.

The second time around she found herself incredibly drawn to one of them.

Without taking time to focus on her feelings, she said she would have missed out on a potentially great hire.

I’m not going to be interviewing high powered executives today, and perhaps you won’t either, but the idea of spending a little time properly noticing what you’re feeling could help a lot.

As for me, I’ve just noticed I’m feeling hungry.

In my stomach.

Time to eat.

Sometimes you have to move the goalposts

I vividly remember the day my Dad brought home the Grundig reel-to-reel tape recorder “we” had when my brother and I were young.

I say “we” because although Dad paid for it, Geoff and I pretty much commandeered it, spending untold hours recording little radio shows and amusing (well, we laughed) audio clips that probably foretold us both going into advertising as a career.

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The interesting thing about recording, of course, is that you can’t in fact actually beat live radio.

I think there’s something much more interesting about programmes that are broadcast in real-time, and maybe one reason they have an edge is that you never quite know what’s going to happen.

Perhaps it’s a little like the fascination many have for watching a tightrope walker.

Will she make it over to the other side?

Will she fall off?

Live radio has a tension and fascination you don’t always get from hearing pre-recorded material.

In some ways, maybe that kind of tension is also true of me writing “live” Moodnudges posts keeping you in the loop on what’s going on with my book, now in its final production stages.

As I said, you never quite know what’s going to happen.

So I have to tell you that, like the tightrope walker, there has been a bit of a wobble, and I now think I’m going to miss my self-imposed February 29th deadline, although hopefully not by too much.

So, what’s happened?

Well I think things were still on course as recently as this last Friday but then I got a call from Geoff to say that our Mum, a very active 86, had fallen over and broken her elbow, ending up in hospital where she’ll have an operation today (Sunday).

Geoff’s been with her, but he’s leaving tomorrow to join me in California.

Now, Mum has fantaastic friends and neighbours around her, who will help and support her and she’s adamant that Geoff shouldn’t change his travel plans, but you can probably imagine how unsettling it is to go along with this wish.

It’s thrown me a bit, to be honest, just as I’ve also recognised how much work there still is to complete the book.

I have a tendency to take on too much, generally in a totally self-imposed way.

However, rather late in life I’m learning to deal with this and not beat myself up about it.

I also try not to pass on my Jon-created stress to the others around me.

So the book will be a little late (still in March, I’m sure) and, who knows, may even be all the better for the little extra time.

Naturally I hope Mum will be OK.

And I share rather more of my life than I usually do, in the hope that it will act as a reminder to both you and I that sometimes it’s fine, and also very necessary, to change plans.

Right, it’s back on the tightrope for me, but this time with a safety net.

How I bounced back when my book went off piste

As we sprint towards the finishing line of getting “Nudge Your Way To Happiness” published in just 10 days time, I’m fortunate to have my brother Geoff working alongside me.

In fact Geoff will board a plane in London this coming Monday to join me in California, so we can share the final week’s work.

I love my family, including Geoff of course, and over the years we’ve worked together a lot.

I value his support enormously, but also depend hugely on his diplomatic but straightforward honesty.

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If your work truly sucks (and as mine does sometimes, it may), you need someone to tell you, but to do so in a way that leaves you motivated to try again rather than inconsolably despondent.

And as far as I’m concerned, Geoff pulls this off in admirable style for me.

I was proud of the first version of the book I showed Geoff.

I’d even typeset my rough text, printed it out in colour, hand sewn the pages together, and glued on a hardback cover.

Unfortunately I’d spent too much time making the book and not enough time thinking about it.

It was down to Geoff to let me know that, well, it wasn’t working.

He did so by suggesting it might work better in the style of another book we both love, called “Change The World For A Fiver” – you might know it.

It helped me see I needed to up my game.

It’s always hard to hear that someone thinks your output isn’t up to scratch, and despite Geoff’s thoughtful diplomacy I was temporarily disheartened.

All that work.

All that sewing.

What helped me, however, and maybe it can help you too if you’re in a similar situation, was remembering how I’d “bounced back” from previous misfires.

Instead of giving up and going home, I tried to think of my dilemma as a challenge rather than a problem.

I knew I could find a better solution.

I knew, bluntly, that I could try harder.

Now that’s especially hard to accept if your mood already happens to be in the toilet, but trying harder doesn’t mean going all the way at once.

It just means having a quiet determination to make tomorrow better than today, even if only to a modest degree.

So what’s helped you bounce back in the past?

And what could work again?

The copywriter who thought he could

One way or another I write pretty much every day of the year, even if it’s just a page in my diary.

When I work of course, I need to be – and am – very productive.

I’m fairly convinced that all this practice has helped me get better at what I do, but even so I’d describe my skills as workman-like rather than excellent.

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Now these are maybe not the words you’d expect to hear from someone who hopes you’ll buy his book at the end of the month.

But my bigger point is that I think it’s important to be comfortable with who you are.

Who I am is an ex-advertising copywriter who, through his own struggles with depression, stumbled upon a way of supporting others with regular boosts that hopefully feel neither too patronising, nor too unrealistic.

People have told me that receiving my moodnudges is like getting emails from a friend, someone you cares and wants to gently help you, while also knowing first-hand what it’s like to deal with that damned black dog now and then.

The nudges in “Nudge Your Way To Happiness” are a little different from those you’re used to in my emails.

For a start they’re tailored in such a way that you’ll read a nudge that’s explicitly designed to relate to the way you currently feel.

They’re also accompanied by a couple of questions, which the book asks you to answer. These are designed to help you put the nudge into action.

Finally, each of the nudges is presented in the style I probably know best, taking a form which is similar to a newspaper or magazine ad, with a headline and image that aim to sum up the broad idea behind the nudge.

I think they work and in fact already have good evidence that they do from our tests last summer.

It’s taken me a long time in life to accept that I am who I am.

Not Charles Dickens.

Not Sigmund Freud.

I’m just copywriter who understands a bit about psychology.

And I want to do all I can to help as many as I can.

On the whole I’m comfortable with that.

Today perhaps you too will persuade yourself to be more accepting of who you are, because you know what?

You’re pretty unique, pretty special.

What you and I can learn from my huge heap of failure

Stacked in the corner of my office at home is an 18 inch high pile of failures.

They’re prototypes of “Nudge Your Way To Happiness”, which was actually titled “Plot Your Way To Happiness” in its first incarnation.

The early versions just weren’t right.

Someone were too complicated, others too superficial.

But by steadily refining the idea, I ended up with the book that will be on sale at the end of this month.

So although I may refer to them as failures, I’m actually pretty fond of them.

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Over the years I’ve learned that planning to fail is a crucial, valuable part of any innovation project.

I think that if you believe you’ll get it right first time every time, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.

Ideas evolve.

Even The Beatles’ “Yesterday” was originally called “Scrambled Eggs” when Paul McCartney woke from a dream with its tune in his head.

And it’s said that James Dyson spent five years making 5,126 failed prototypes in order to develop the world’s first bagless vacuum cleaner. Now Dyson is the world’s best selling vacuum brand.

It’s unlikely that you and I will find everything goes our way today.

I think that’s kind of usual.

Perhaps, however, rather than cursing our luck when something doesn’t go right, it may help to reframe this into seeing that we’re now one step closer to the point where everything does actually work out.

As you may now know, “Nudge Your Way To Happiness” rates your wellbeing each day then directs you to a tailored mood nudge, appropriate to your current level of emotional and physical health.

When I trialled the concept with 23 Moodnudges readers last summer, I was encouraged to discover that the basic idea worked well.

That was good.

However, what didn’t work too well was the scoring system. People said it was unwieldy, and I suppose I might have judged this a failure.

But instead I focused 100% on simplifying the mechanics behind the test, making it easier to use.

And that was good too.

So don’t be disheartened by setbacks today.

Why not treat them as progression, not regression?

A Valentine’s look at how men and women viewed my book covers differently

“I feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my toes.”

The song “Love Is All Around” played a starring role in the movie “Four Weddings And A Funeral” but for the past month, at least in this part of the world, it was definitely “Pink Is All Around”.

The store aisles have heaved with lurid pink cards, candy, and knick-knacks in preparation for February 14th – and a happy Valentine’s Day to you from me, although perhaps not in a bright pink kind of way.

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Speaking of colours, I promised on Friday to let you know what happened after asking Moodnudges readers to vote for a cover for “Nudge Your Way To Happiness”.

Thank you to the Fantastic Four Hundred (and fifty-two) people who cast their vote, and to the many who left thoughtful, insightful and encouraging comments on the blog.

Topping the poll, pretty overwhelmingly actually, was the cover design with three weather symbols, showing a progression from a rainy day to a sunny one.

The concept needs work in terms of colours, fonts and layout (which may sound a lot) but it’s helpful to know that the basic idea was working.

It was also great to have learned that this was the one cover out of all five that appealed equally to women and men.

Interestingly, men tended to be drawn towards the concept with a “smiley meter” going from unhappy too happy (only a few women liked that one), while women tended to favour the idea showing a plant growing from a seedling to a blossoming flower (yes, you guessed, this one turned many men off).

But since the weather symbols cover got the most votes overall (more than a third of the total in fact) that’s the one we’re passing to our designer for some serious development and love.

Regular Moodnudges readers know I often talk about the way that constant learning can contribute to overall happiness, so perhaps you’ll take a moment to digest the findings of this little piece of research.

We were reminded (and I, of course, apologise for grossly oversimplifying) that men like measurement devices, women like natural things that grow, but sometimes it’s the weather that brings us together.