Monthly Archives: June 2018

If you’re a frog, get out of the pan

It’s always a sad day when your illusions get shattered.

First it was Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.

Now, of all things, I learn that the fable about frogs and slowly-heated water is just that: a fable.

The story went that if you place a frog in a pan of water whose temperature is very steadily and gently raised, the unfortunate amphibian will stay where it is until it, well, croaks, not noticing the gradual change.

Happily, though, this just isn’t true. In 1995 a Harvard biology professor said “If you put a frog in boiling water, it won’t jump out. It will die. If you put it in cold water, it will jump before it gets hot – they don’t sit still for you.”

That’s good news for frogs, then.

But even though the whole thing doesn’t stack up, it’s still a useful metaphor when it comes to describing the way in which you and I may sometimes not notice change if it’s gradual.

And this is particularly helpful when it comes to reflecting on the sixth and final letter of the SPIRIT acronym that we’re using as a model for psychological well-being.

T stands for Transformation, which in Professor Carol Ryff’s original work was labelled Personal Growth.

Professor Ryff explained that someone who’s strong in this respect has a feeling of continued development, seeing themselves as growing and expanding, with a sense that they are changing in ways that reflect more self-knowledge and effectiveness.

My trigger for introducing the frog metaphor is that I’m pretty sure personal growth doesn’t happen overnight. I think it’s more likely a slow-and-steady kind of thing, a bit like the gradual warming of the frog’s water.

So we might well be growing without realising it.

Or rather more ominously, our growth could be in retrograde, making us steadily weaker, again without being aware of it.

Imagine what it would be like if bathroom scales hadn’t been invented. Donuts every day!

More seriously, how would you know whether you were gradually putting on unwanted weight?

Alternatively, how would you learn if your weight was reducing in a perhaps unexplained and undesirable way?

Stepping on the scales helps us monitor the situation.

Likewise, as a kid you progressed from 5th Grade to 6th, or Year 5 to Year 6, giving you and your parents a measure of your development.

Unfortunately, as an adult, helpful milestones like these rarely exist when it comes to personal growth.

So your own transformation, like all personal strengths, might well benefit from some kind of monitoring and recording system.

Ideally this should enable you to demonstrate to yourself that your psychological strength is indeed building up, because visible progress can be highly motivating.

Recently I’ve played with a simple way to do this, which I’m happy to share with you in the form of a worksheet that you can download, print, and use.

Based on the proven principles of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), it’s definitely a tool you can apply under your own steam. The best way to think about it is as a thought record.

Quite simply it’s a place to keep a log of how you’ve thought and felt about things that happen.

And also a place to work on changing unhelpful thoughts into more beneficial alternatives.

First, you’ll need to identify something you’d like to work on.

For me, for example, this could be that I sometimes think I’m too easily upset when people speak to me in a way I feel is hostile or unfair. I can get over-sensitive.

Having decided to focus on this, I can now start keeping a record of when this happens, along with my associated thoughts and feelings.

Here’s an example:

What happened?

At place I volunteer in, “Dave” insisted that I should take on and resolve an issue that’s been a problem for years, long before I joined, and entirely outside my current area of focus.

My thoughts?

I already contribute a ton to the organisation, and there are dozens of other people who could tackle the problem. Why me?

My feelings/emotions?

I felt personally attacked, with my current contributions ignored.

My behaviour/actions?

I walked away from the conversation, close to wanting to pack it all in and stop volunteering.

So, now, here’s the crucial step:

New thought

Rather than getting mad with Dave, maybe I can find a time to sit down with him so we can jointly explore other ways, or other people, that could help solve this long-standing problem.

Perhaps this could help?

The worksheet is something of a Swiss Army knife, in that it can be used in all kinds of situations.

I think you could apply it to almost any aspect of your current life that’s troubling you (with the important proviso, of course, that if it’s something enormous and urgent, it’s definitely better to seek outside help).

But nothing would make me happier than to hear you too have experimented with it in your own life.

Using it, of course, should not be a one-time thing. It’s designed to enable multiple entries. And when you run out of space, simply print out another copy.

Here’s that link again:

http://moodnudges.com/Transformation_Thought_Record.pdf

Please be sure to date your entries, so you start to build up that all-important record of your progress.

Because neither of us wants to be a frog without a bathroom scale, as it were.

Better relationships in five easy steps

This chance for you and I to connect once a week makes me happy. I hope you feel a little of that yourself.

This feeling of rapport is actually a fundamental part of the fifth dimension of our S.P.I.R.I.T. model of psychological well-being.

The second “I” stands for “Interconnection,” or, in the words of Professor Carol Ryff, whose work inspired our new model, “Positive relations with others.”

(Although that, of course, starts with a P, and our P is Purpose.)

To rate high on the dimension, Professor Ryff said you would have warm, satisfying, trusting relationships with others, and would be concerned about their welfare.

You’d also be capable of strong empathy, affection, and intimacy.

Now, it’s clearly true that some people find it easier than others to have close relationships.

But it’s probably no bad thing for society as a whole that we have both gregarious individuals, and others who appear to thrive either on their own, or with relatively few close friends.

If everyone was the same, life would either be one, long, exhausting party, or we’d all never leave our bedrooms.

The truth is, it might simply be a matter of perspective.

Someone with hundreds of Facebook “friends” may really only have the same six-or-so really close relationships as another individual who’s more inclined to keep themselves to themselves.

Anyway, on the basis that good relationships are important for good emotional health, let’s look at five important steps that can lead to us feeling closer to other people.

1. Listen well

Researchers studying long-term relationships noticed that when people have known one another for more than a few months, they tend to ask each other fewer meaningful questions.

And even if they do ask them, they don’t really listen to the answers.

Listening takes hard work. It requires paying attention, asking questions to encourage the other person to open up, and it means regularly checking-in to make sure you’ve understood things properly.

But in a study with chronically-ill patients, the research team improved their bond with participants simply by asking them “Tell me more.”

When you lean forward and make eye contact while you do so, you’ll increase the connection between you and another person.

2. Pay attention

When I’ve had a haircut, I’m always a bit surprised if people who see me regularly don’t comment on it.

Maybe they don’t notice, or perhaps they think it’s too personal to mention? (Hopefully it isn’t because it’s made them want to laugh.)

The thing is, though, I’d like it if they did say something.

Researchers here in the USA asked football season-ticket holders to notice things that were different about their team – different shirts, plays, or formations, for example – for a period of six weeks.

When their bond with the team was assessed before and after this experiment, it had grown stronger.

So to improve relationships, try noticing what’s different about someone, and tell them. Nicely, of course.

3. Switch off

Another study asked individuals to sit at a table for a simple conversation with a researcher who either placed a phone or a notebook on the tabletop.

When the phone was there, participants rated their satisfaction with the conversation as being poorer than it was when the notebook was on the table.

This was true even if the phone was switched off.

It’s estimated that on average we spend more than 50 hours a week connected to electronic devices.

So if you want richer conversations, try placing your phone out of sight. You can do it.

4. Pay compliments

On my radio show recently, I said “Can I just say, you’re looking great today?”.

Of course, every listener heard exactly the same thing, but it actually prompted one of them to text me, saying that even though she knew lots of others were hearing it at the same time, it made her smile.

Paying compliments to other people almost always warms the bond between you and them, especially when those compliments are genuine and honest.

They seem to work particularly well when you single out someone’s effort, effectiveness, or judgement for praise.

5. Celebrate successes

I know that for some, the success of others can make them feel jealous.

Social comparisons can be bad for us.

One way to avoid this is to actively involve yourself in celebrating others’ successes.

Try to experience their pleasure yourself, rather than feeling envious.

If a friend gets an award, promotion, or raise, it could be as simple as sending them a congratulatory email or text.

Our connections with others are really important.

How will you warm up some of yours in the next day or so?

Pane management

Thank you.

You know, I truly appreciate you finding time to read this, particularly given that you’re very likely fighting to stay afloat in a sea of emails, posts, tweets, and texts, all competing for your attention.

So, as I say, thank you for being here.

Actually, this does seem an appropriate way to begin, as our focus today is on the fourth letter of the six-letter acronym S.P.I.R.I.T., which forms the bedrock of our “recipe for psychological well-being.”

The letter “R” stands for Resourcefulness, originally labelled “Environmental mastery” in the work I’m basing my thinking on.

Environmental mastery is not, as you might have incorrectly imagined, about being able to prevent acid rain, or reverse global warming.

It is, instead, broadly about staying on top of your life, its responsibilities, and its opportunities.

In even simpler terms, you might summarise it as your ability to manage everyday life.

However, although it may be simple to describe, it’s a process that seems to be ever-harder to manage.

The way most of us are bombarded with a constant barrage of electronic communications, each shouting “read me, read me,” is but one example of life’s demands outpacing our capacity to deal with them.

So, given that your resourcefulness is probably finite, given that there are only so many hours in the day, and given that all this noise is only going to become louder, how do you and I make sure we juggle the right balls?

Are we becoming so distracted that we’re sometimes failing to do those things in life that might make the biggest impact on our journey through it?

I’ve been feeling the need to reflect on this myself, and after being pleasantly reminded of a tool known as the Eisenhower Decision Matrix, I thought I’d share it with you, including a downloadable worksheet we can both print out and use.

Dwight D Eisenhower was born in 1890, and died almost 50 years ago, in 1969.

He was definitely one of life’s high achievers, serving as 34th President of the United States, and as a five-star General in the U.S. Army.

One of many useful approaches that enabled him to make such a difference in life was to ask two simple questions of every demand placed upon his time.

Is it important?

And is it urgent?

It led him to suggest, “What is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important.”

The author Stephen Covey turned Eisenhower’s principles into a 2 x 2 matrix, or grid, in his book “The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People.”

I’ve now turned the matrix into a window.

You’ll get the idea more immediately by looking at the worksheet, but just in case you’re relying solely on my written description, imagine a square window, divided into four equal panes.

Over the top of the window, we’ll place the labels “Urgent” above Pane 1 (top left) and “Not urgent” above Pane 2 (top right).

Down the left-hand side of the window, we’ll add the labels “Important” and “Not important,” alongside Pane 1 (top left) and Pane 3 (bottom left).

This gives us four different conditions: Pane 1, Important and Urgent; Pane 2, Important but Not urgent; Pane 3, Not important but Urgent; and Pane 4, Not important and Not urgent.

The idea behind using the matrix is to check in with it before allocating your time, and – interestingly – to aim at increasing the amount of focus you place on Pane 2 – the Not urgent but Important, tasks.

Simple examples of what activities would go where are:

Pane 1 – Urgent and Important – your car breaks down, or you fall over and break your leg.

Pane 2 – Not urgent but Important – spending time with your family, or taking some exercise.

Pane 3 – Urgent but Not important – many emails and text messages.

Pane 4 – Not urgent and Not important – mindlessly watching TV, or scrolling through social media.

I’ve only skimmed the surface of the Eisenhower Decision Matrix here, so if you’d like considerably more detail, do check out a great post on a website called The Art of Manliness (seriously, whatever your gender):

The Eisenhower Decision Matrix: How to Distinguish Between Urgent and Important Tasks and Make Real Progress in Your Life

I was first introduced to this idea by a management consultant when I was in my 30s, struggling at times to juggle rather too many balls.

And that was before Facebook, and Twitter, and WhatsApp, and Instagram etc. etc.

Perhaps, more than ever, it’s time to dust off the idea and put it back to work again.

Here’s that worksheet again. Please feel free to share it with others:

http://www.moodnudges.com/Eisenhower_Decision_Matrix.pdf