Monthly Archives: February 2018

Random Acts of Kindness Day

I’d love to claim credit for having planned it this way, but the fact that the final day of our Signpost trial happens to have fallen on Random Acts of Kindness Day is – appropriately – entirely random.

Two weeks after we started this journey, we end it by being encouraged to do something unexpectedly kind for someone, perhaps anonymously.

I’ll be in touch with everyone who has taken part in the trial, with a link to a short survey that will enable me to gather overall feedback, but right now, perhaps you have thoughts about today’s message specifically? Do, please, share away.

I’m in the forest

Something a little different for our daily Signpost catch-up today, as you’ll find me amidst the redwood trees in Huddart Park, near Woodside, California.

It seemed a good opportunity to remind us both of the emotional well-being benefits of getting out in nature, so – microphone in hand – off to the forest I went.

Maybe you’ve experienced moments of feeling great, out in nature? Why not share your story?

Valentine’s Day: it’s not always easy

Valentine’s Day isn’t always the easiest of days, particularly if you happen to be going through a tricky time. For a celebration that’s supposed to be all about love and connection, some can actually find it difficult and lonely.

Today on Signpost we’ve talked through some strategies that could help, but it’s definitely not a one-size-fits-all issue. What do you think about Valentine’s Day? Do you embrace it, or try to escape it?

Let’s share thoughts.


Shrove Tuesday – pancakes with a dash of self-examination

March 13th is Shrove Tuesday, and Mardi Gras. In the UK this means pancakes, while in the USA Mardi Gras is a time to make merry. Any excuse.

Actually, though, some religions view the day as a special time for self-examination, so perhaps this is a good time to look a little deeper inside yourself, being careful of course to avoid rumination.

Neuroscientist and mindfulness expert Dr. Daniel Siegel recommends a strategy he calls COAL (Curious, Open, Accepting, and Loving) to keep things on track.

So where will self-exploration take you today? What are you thinking about Signpost?

And, anyone for pancakes? [Yes please. Ed.]

Please feel free to add to the conversation.

February 11th – National Inventors’ Day, and curiosity

Today sees the start of another Signpost experiment, when I’ll be producing the recorded signposts just about as close to live as is possible. There’s also now the possibility of seeing what others feel about the day’s content, and contributing your own thoughts if you like.

Today is National Inventors’ Day in the USA, the anniversary of the birth of Thomas Edison, a man who knew a thing or two about the power of curiosity – the central theme of today’s signposts.

Please feel free to add to the conversation. No rules. We’re making this up as we go!

Pointing in the right direction again

Enormous thanks for your patience, which has allowed me the space today to (a) properly work out what had gone wrong with Signpost, (b) put it right, and (c) introduce a few new surprises that I hope you’ll enjoy.

As this email is going out, I’m reinstating the text reminder system, so your usual messages should start appearing again soon (unless, of course, you’d previously asked me to stop them).

As I suspected, the feedback had got pretty messed up, with lots of “angry” conclusions drawn where they shouldn’t have been. Things should be a lot better now.

One small but important change is that the 11th question when you check in, which asks about your overall emotional state, now has the answer “So-so” in place of “Reasonably good.”

You’d be quite right to suggest that the “temperature” of this answer has gone down a notch. Whereas “reasonably good” indicated a somewhat positive emotional state, “so-so” is clearly more neutral. A bit kind of “meh,” if you like.

The logic behind this is that if you judge your overall state as “good,” the system will take that at face value, so it won’t try to persuade you that you are in fact, for example, angry (promise).

However, any other answer to this question – “So-so,” “A little difficult,” or “Difficult” – will cause the system to look at your underlying emotions, in order to discover what might be going on behind the scenes for you.

If you don’t want to know, for some reason, just answer “Good” to question 11, but if you’re happy to explore, give one of the other three responses.

You’ll find that the short text descriptions under the audio control strip have now been replaced with a simple list of your individual responses for that day, grouped into happiness-related, anxiety-related, and anger-related feelings.

In addition, one of three smiley emoticons sits alongside each of the ten feelings/emotions to indicate whether your response is likely to be making a positive, neutral, or negative impact on your overall emotional state.

Sorry of this sounds a bit complicated, but if you look back at your previous signposts, I think it will all become clear.

I felt this would be a sensible move, enabling you to make your own judgements about individual days, rather than having a computer program trying to sum things up for you, which I think is always going to sound weirdly artificial.

I’ve tried to work as thoroughly as possible today (Thursday) so I really hope your Signpost experience will be tons better when you next visit, which I trust will be soon.

Do please feel free to let me know what you think. I’d love to get a conversation going, and you won’t have to wait for me to wake up on Friday morning!

Brilliant book. Rocket reaction.

Around one-in-ten Moodnudges readers already know what I’m going to say.

Does this mean we have a lot of mind readers in our database?

Well, possibly not.

The truth is that about 10% of our readership is currently taking part in the trial of Signpost, the new emotional health management tool we’re building.

What these trialists will know is that this week has been what you might call eventful.

A calculation hiccup resulted in some people being told they were angry when they weren’t.

I joked (nervously) that even if they weren’t actually annoyed to start with, being told this might irritate the heck out of someone.

Fortunately, everyone concerned seems to have taken it with good grace, understanding that these kinds of wobbles are the very reason you run pilot tests.

In fact, it gave me renewed joy to be reminded that you and our other readers are just so very, very nice.

What a fabulous community we have here, frankly.

In between discovering how physically tiring it can be when you exert yourself mentally, as I tried to fix the “anger-stat” (and a great reminder of how intrinsically linked physical and mental health are) I’ve also been enjoying reading a new book by Johann Hari: Lost Connections.

In his book, Hari argues that a great deal of depression may actually be due, not to disease, but to someone’s life circumstances.

Now there’s a thing.

If you feel friendless, lonely, or under-appreciated, he suggests, slipping into depression might simply be a natural reaction to unpleasant situations, rather than a chemical imbalance in the brain.

I am of course grossly oversimplifying the book’s theories, but they do really make sense to me.

Johann Hari has come under fire from some in the psychiatry profession, who claim he is suggesting that antidepressant medicines serve no purpose at all, and that he is claiming that people can recover from depression by making, on the face of it, simple life changes.

(Although you and I both probably know that, when you’re depressed, nothing is ever simple. Nothing.)

Actually, Hari doesn’t deny the usefulness of meds to some.

What he does say, though, and I think he makes the point strongly, is that medication must never be the only tool in the box.

And in fact this is entirely the view I’ve taken since Caroline, Adrian, and I started Moodscope in 2007, and also while I’ve been Moodnudging since my transplant to California in 2013.

Simple things like getting out in nature, connecting with others, remembering to be grateful, getting healthy exercise… these are all surefire ways to boost your mood.

As I say, I’m relishing Johann Hari’s book, which you may also enjoy. It’s a fast-paced, definitely not heavy, piece of writing.

My heartfelt thanks, as ever, to all those who are experimenting with Signpost, and my heartfelt thanks to you for reading today’s nudge.

If you fall into both camps, well, consider yourself impeccably thanked.

One last thing: that rocket launch on Tuesday.

Boy oh boy, what a magnificent achievement by Elon Musk and SpaceX, almost certainly doing their bit to lift the world’s mood.

Along, of course, with a cherry-red Tesla roadster carrying a Starman, who’d like to come and meet us, but who thinks he’d blow our mind.

He certainly blew mine.

Treat yourself to a really good stretch.

A two-part message today, starting with a nudge, and ending with an update on the experiment I’m running with Signpost, our new online emotional-management tool.

Let’s begin, then, with a quick reminder of how closely connected your emotional health and physical health are.

With so much sickness around this time of year in the northern hemisphere, I’m sure you’re familiar with how rotten someone can feel, mentally, when they’re suffering from a cold.

Perhaps you’ve experienced it yourself this winter, but even if you haven’t, you’ll probably have observed others coughing, sneezing, and complaining their way through the day.

However, just as low physical health can make you feel mentally drained, the opposite can also be true.

Actively taking care of your physical well-being can give your emotions a much-needed boost, too.

Now, I bet you’re expecting me to remind you to get some exercise, eat healthily, drink more water, or something like that.

Well, although they’re all great ideas, no, actually.

This nudge is something much easier to do, but is an action it’s all too easy to forget.

I’m talking about the terribly simple idea of stretching.

Yup, simply taking a moment or two to s-t-r-e-t-c-h your muscles.

Go on, try it now.

Stretching is relaxing, and it can put you in touch with your body.

If you’re able, here’s a great back stretch known as the “standing cat-camel.”


Here’s how to do it:

1. Begin by standing with your feet roughly shoulder-width apart, and your knees slightly bent.

2. Lean forward and place your hands on your legs, just above your knees.

3. Curve your back, with your shoulders forwards, and your chest closed.

4. Now arch your back backwards, opening your chest and rolling your shoulders back. Arms in the air, if you like.

5. Rinse and repeat a few times.

It can feel especially good if you’re spending long periods sitting at your desk.

In fact I’m going to stretch right now.

Ah, that’s better.

So, one good stretch later, how are things progressing with the beta test of Signpost?

Last week I asked for volunteers to experiment with a seven-day trial of the app I’m working on.

It provides daily feedback and tips to your smartphone in audio form, recorded by yours truly.

I’m happy to say that lots of people have kindly offered to help, so this week I’m phasing in over 200 willing individuals.

It has made sense to introduce people in several waves, to ensure the systems are working as expected.

So far, there have been no serious malfunctions (although I’m sure I’ve jinxed it by saying that) and some really positive reactions.

It’s not too late to add yourself to the list of trialists, and thank you if you do, or already have done.

More details on what I’m learning next week.

Meantime, I’m getting the bottom of how many digits there are in a Dutch cellphone number, and how to work out what time you need to instruct a server in South Africa (when you yourself are on California time) to send a text to New Zealand, at 8 AM local time. It’s complicated.