Monthly Archives: March 2017

The park bench that offered a remarkable view.

I’ve a slightly long and convoluted story to tell you today, but if you stick with it I hope you’ll agree it has true value.

Where we begin is that I’m currently experimenting with tracking my mood each day in a new way, and my daily scores are being automatically texted to my friend Josh down in Los Angeles.

The idea is for us both to get a feel for how this process works.

What’s it like for me to know there’s someone with access to my state of mind?

And what’s it like for him to have this information?

So, on Tuesday this week – just a couple of days ago – Josh noticed my score had dropped a little.

The dip was nothing like my lows of times gone by, but it was enough of a change from the previous day’s for Josh to feel the need to ask what was going on.

My answer to him was that I’d simply become a bit overwhelmed with thinking about the major project that’s preoccupying me at the moment.

That’s when Josh decided to give me a dose of my own medicine, in the nicest possible way, by texting “Maybe take a nice long walk through the trees today?”

Ordinarily I might have replied by saying “too much to do, can’t afford the time.”

But the nudger considered himself nudged.

And in the spirit of going along with the idea to see where it went, I packed up my laptop at 3pm and just an hour later was at a local park – the kind of American park with Redwood trees, streams, muddy trails, and horseback riders.

I figured I’d give myself an hour, so set off up one of the trails, quickly grateful to have got away from my desk.

Around 20 minutes into the forest, and having got a bit out of breath, I came across a wooden bench – the only one of its kind in the park, I think (I’ve been to this particular park several times before).

So I sat for a few minutes gazing out at the stunning view across the San Francisco bay, then something made me swivel around to read the metal plaque on the back of the seat.

Beneath the name of the gentleman whose memory it honours, were the words “Tough, Loyal, A True Hero – My Dad,” and the date on which he had passed away: March 7th, 2007.

But wait, March 7th?

That was today.

And I realised with a start that I was sitting on a bench in a very quiet park, exactly ten years to the day that this gentleman had died.

Which is where the story, I hope, has its value.

You see, sitting there, it occurred to me that I’d like to find a way to let his family know that I’d been thinking about their relative, even though I’d never met him.

I got back to my car, Googled the broad details of the bench plaque, and quick as a flash found a short biography – and an email address for a family member.

I could drop this relative a line.

But as I drove home, the old voice of discouragement kicked in.

Better not.

Might be a bit intrusive.

Perhaps there are other things I should be focusing on.

That’s when I consciously decided to ignore those thoughts.

I told myself that I should follow my heart rather than my head.

If I’d been inspired to reach out, then that’s what I should do.

So I composed a brief, hopefully respectful, email and sent it off – thinking that would probably be the end of the matter.

The next day, however, I was thrilled to get a reply saying that it was “good to know that he is recognized and remembered. I am sending your unique letter on to the family.”

My correspondent did indeed forward my email to a dozen others, one of whom then wrote some very warm words to me herself.

In fact it was she who’d had the bench placed in the park, in memory of her Dad – as the plaque said.

Of course it was a complete coincidence that I happened to look at the plaque’s words on Tuesday, the ten-year anniversary.

But I was so close to not sending the email, so close to dismissing it as a silly idea.

But I’m so glad I did.

I’m telling you about this chain of events not – please – in any way to blow my own trumpet, but simply to sow a seed for you.

The next time you have a chance to make some small gesture yourself, but your head tells you no, please do consider following your heart.

Seemingly small actions can sometimes create ripples, and every now and then those ripples can become waves.

The world can feel a cold, cruel place at times – but we all have the power to warm things up a little.

When you have such an opportunity, please grasp it with both hands.

Thank you.

Send your love

More often than not, knowing that someone’s thinking of you results in a warm feeling.

But it works in reverse too.

Letting others know that they’re in your thoughts can also make you feel good yourself.

Not so long ago you’d have needed to do this via a phone call, or perhaps with a greetings card stamped and mailed.

Now, however, it’s ridiculously easy, economical and speedy to send an electronic message.

An email.

A text message.

A tweet or a Facebook message.

How long would it take you today to send a very simple ‘Just wanted to let you know I’m thinking about you’ to three friends or relatives you’ve not been in touch with for a while?

Not long, I’m thinking.

So how about it?

Make their day.

And yours.

One piece at a time

‘I’m late! I’m late! For a very important date!’

Remember the White Rabbit in the Disney version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland?

A busy bunny, he was anything but calm.

Racing around, he was never going to get much done beyond looking (and I’m sure feeling) stressed.

It can be easy to get yourself into a similarly harassed state of mind when you’ve too much to do.

And let’s face it most of us have.

You get in a tizz, and become so anxious about all you have to do that you don’t actually achieve anything at all.

A possible solution?

Well you’re almost certainly not going to get through everything, but doesn’t it make sense to eliminate at least one or two items?

Give yourself a small and achievable target to tackle.

Get one job done by a fixed time.

Once the first piece is in place, the remainder of the jigsaw may not seem so formidable.

Happy Friday, and a heartfelt message from me to you.

It could feel as though Moodnudges has gone a bit survey-ish over the past week or so.

Perhaps, therefore, it’s a good idea for us all to get back to basics today – to return to what I think (?) you probably expect from Moodnudges, which is the sense that someone gets you, understands what you’re going through from time to time, and is definitely, unequivocally, on the same side as you.

Life can be good, of course, but that doesn’t stop it being really tough at times.

Really tough.

You’ve shown huge courage and tenacity to come all this way, and I’m fully confident that you have it in you to continue showing that strength and determination.

Yup, even on those days when everything feels as though it’s turned to custard.

I also want you to know how much I appreciate your attention and willingness to participate.

The number of people who took part in the past few waves of research was both heartening and also slightly stunning.

And I also hope you realise just grateful I am that you’re reading this, and other, messages you receive from me.

I don’t in any way take this for granted.

My own in-box can feel totally overwhelming at times, so I know full well how tempting it can be to click on the unsubscribe link at the foot of messages you no longer wish to receive.

While it’s always sad to lose readers, our unsubscribe rate is actually terribly low.

Among nice feedback from so many people, Helen N. told me a couple of weeks ago that Moodnudges is “definitely a keeper,” which made me feel warm, and a bit proud.

All in all, therefore, thank you for allowing me to share a little bit of your life four times a week.

Thank you for looking after yourself, and (I’m pretty sure) spreading a little of what I hope is Moodnudges’ feel-good spirit to other people you come into contact with.

Thank you, too, for everything *you* do for others – who may not always be as good as they might be at expressing their own appreciation (which may not be their fault: not everyone knows how to do this).

Thank you. Let’s keep going, shall we?

What did our “picture” research show?

(There are lots of graphs at the foot of this post.)

Last Sunday I invited you to participate in some research. It’s produced some fascinating findings, which I’m delighted to share with you today.

By way of a quick reminder, I asked you to complete a twelve-item mood test, and then to select one of four images of water which seemed to best sum up how you were feeling, overall.

The text-based mood test contained adjectives such as Angry, Anxious, Sad, Peaceful, Capable, and Upbeat – and for each of these could select one of six degrees to which you were experiencing that emotion, from “Not at all” to “Very.”

The four images of water were: (1) A glass of water being filled quite vigorously, (2) A section of quite dark-coloured ocean surface, (3) The brightly coloured surface of a swimming pool, and (4) The surface of a darkish pool with ripples – possibly with rain falling into it.

Well over 400 people took part, which is an amazing response – thank you.

In order to make sense of the results, I’ve put together a series of twelve panels – one for each of the mood test’s adjectives. Each panel then shows the proportions in which each image was selected by people experiencing each of the six degrees.

That probably isn’t easy to picture, but you’ll find all the panels below.

What did we learn? Well, quite a lot, actually, but I’ll summarise some of the main findings here.

1. Many seemed to enjoy the process of choosing images, which seemed to be a more enjoyable activity than completing a straight text-based questionnaire.

2. Two images in particular were relatively effective in terms of identifying whether someone was happy or sad. If you chose the swimming pool, there was an 82% possibility that you were at least moderately happy. On the other hand, if the ocean surface was your choice, there was a 67% possibility that you were at least moderately sad. (Not such a strong relationship, that one, as a figure of 50% would mean the image would only perform as well as tossing a coin.)

3. The more ambiguous images – the water glass and dark pool – weren’t terribly effective. If you’re going to use images in a test, it seems their meaning should be reasonably clear.

4. The same two images that seemed good at representing happy vs. sad, were also pretty effective at indicating anxious vs. calm. And, by the way, detailed analysis of the relationships between the 12 adjectives themselves suggested that calm is actually the opposite of anxious (and not the opposite of angry, as we thought last week.) If anything, there was a strong (and unexpected) relationship between angry and sad. If you’re angry, you’re much more likely to say you’re sad than you are to say you’re “not calm,” if that makes sense.

5. The images we used in this experiment didn’t seem to be very good at representing anger. Given the finding above that ambiguity isn’t helpful, perhaps a picture of a volcano or a boiling kettle could indicate anger.

I should probably write a load more on this, but for now I’ll leave you with the series of graph panels. I hope they make sense.

Thanks again to everyone who took part in this intriguing research. I’m sure there will be more to come.

Below: No one image stood out for Angry.

Below: The dark ocean surface did a pretty good job of representing Anxious.

Below: The swimming pool made a good fist of representing Calm.

Below: No image made a great job of standing in for Capable, but perhaps common sense might have suggested that?

Below: Surprisingly, it looks like the dark ocean surface was reasonably good at representing Confident.

Below: The dark ocean and inviting swimming pool were pretty representative of Gloomy (in opposite directions, of course.)

Below: The swimming pool seemed a better stand-in for Happy than the ocean.

Below: Hmm. Looks like only the ocean came close to representing Irritable.

Below: None of the images made a great job of representing Nervous.

Below: The swimming pool, perhaps, seemed best at a representation of Peaceful.

Below: Sad seemed slightly less easy to pin down, but the swimming pool and ocean made a reasonable job of the task.

Below: The good old swimming pool made nice work of standing in for Upbeat.