Comparison is the Thief of Joy

On Saturday I had the pleasure of speaking at Red Smart Women’s Week. Having done my talk I took the opportunity to go along to a session on ‘feeling good about your use of social media’, hosted by Brigid Moss. Her guests were Katherine Ormerod and Lucy Sheridan who both have first-hand experience as social media influencers.

Lucy’s focus is comparison, an area that fascinates me from a professional standpoint. We all compare ourselves to others, but social media allows this to get out of hand. Lucy candidly spoke about her trials with “Jealousy and envy of other people” which stemmed from social media. From the outside what you see is a funny, humble, engaging and authentic lady, but we all know what goes on inside and what we see from outside are two entirely different things. She went through a period where she really struggled and says she has to keep herself in check with social media even today.

So, what is the psychological root of this envy we all feel – envy which is exacerbated by social media? Evolutionary psychologists explain that feelings such as envy enabled our ancient ancestors to evaluate status within a group. Having higher status meant access to better resources (e.g. food, sexual partners, social alliances, safety) and therefore better chances of survival. The negative emotions felt when comparing someone similar but who had ‘more’ was a motivation to readdress the balance. For example, if person ‘a’ had more food than person ‘b’, the envy felt by person ‘b’ would motivate them to find more food, meaning an equal chance of survival.

Then and now, this comparison is most significant amongst peers. Research carried out by neuroscientists Ramachandran and Jalal show that if we compare ourselves to someone such as our neighbour who happens to have more money than us and someone like Mark Zuckerberg whose net worth is $62 billion, most of us feel more envious of our neighbour. Why? Because our brain has evolved to think that there’s ‘no point in being envious of’ Zuckerberg. He’s off the scale either in ability or luck so no amount effort will result in us becoming the richest person in the world.But if our neighbour is more wealthy than us, someone who has a similar background, social status, opportunities etc., we feel envy to motivate us to have the same. The problem is that today the envy is not fuelling a life and death situation so becomes a far less helpful emotion.

This unhelpful emotion becomes even worse when we add in social media. Online everyone ‘seems’ closer to us than in reality they are so suddenly everyone becomes a peer. As a result we compare ourselves to and become envious of far more people which starts the negative downward spiral faced by comparison on social media. This is made worse because we’re often trying to close the gap on something unattainable a) because the person we are comparing ourselves to is not from a similar background to us (e.g. Hollywood star who grew up with film star parents in LA) b) because most images on social media do not display reality (i.e. a snapshot of perfection rather than the struggle, pain, failure and every day ugliness that goes on behind the scene). The more primitive areas of our brain don’t know that we’re striving for something that we cannot achieve or something that’s unrealistic, which greatly amplifies the negative emotions felt and in turn produces powerful feelings of inadequacy.

So what can you do when you feel envy:

  • Try to notice the envy – what or who you are envious of, observing the emotion rather than engaging with it (more on this technique in my book and books by Russ Harris). Being self-aware can help you to stop and put it down when it becomes too much rather than getting sucked in.
  • Try to limit your social media usage. Sounds obvious but it’s really important. To quote Arianne Huffington “Technology is amazing, but it needs to be put in its place, and we need to set boundaries so that we have time to connect with ourselves and to build deep connections with others.” Lucy and Katherine have more tips on this (websites below).
  • On that point – connect with others in real life. Make the effort to call a friend or to speak to someone in person and really concentrate on what they say. It will move you away from feelings of envy as well as bringing you back into the real world and evoking far more powerful and helpful emotions relating to the more advanced areas of the brain.

 

Read Lucy and Katherine’s websites for more on having a healthy relationship with social media.

Lucy’s website:

http://www.proofcoaching.com

Katherine’s website:

http://www.workworkwork.co

Defining You which is currently 99p on Amazon UK. It’s also available at Waterstones, WHSmiths and Foyles in the UK. Elsewhere it’s available on amazon.comamazon.com.au, amazon.ca and in various bookstores in Canada (e.g. Indigo) and the USA.

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References:

Harris, R. (2011). The happiness trap. ReadHowYouWant. com.

Ramachandran, V. S., & Jalal, B. (2017). The Evolutionary Psychology of Envy and Jealousy. Frontiers in Psychology8, 1619. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01619

Ekman P., Friesen W. V. (1971). Constants across cultures in the face and emotion. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 17 124–129

Ramachandran V. S. (1998). Why do gentlemen prefer blondes? Med. Hypotheses 48 19–20

Quote: Teddy Roosevelt

Picture: pexels.com

 

 

 

What’s the Point of You?

That may be a little harsh, really what I mean is what’s your purpose? It’s a hard question for anyone to answer and it can feel a bit like a slap in the face if you don’t know. But purpose, if you can find it, is so powerful that it has positive benefits both physically and mentally. Multiple research studies have shown the outcomes of having purpose to be quite astounding including: protecting against heart disease, diminishing the impacts of Alzheimer’s, improving our ability to handle pain, mitigating depression, curbing anxiety, and also lengthening our lives. One study which looked at over 6000 people across a 14 year period found that the people who had a sense of purpose had a 15% lower chance of dying – no matter what their age. Alongside this, meaning is a major component of well-being and life satisfaction.

Viktor Frankl, a neurologist, psychiatrist, and Holocaust survivor, gives a powerful example of how critical purpose is in his book The Search for Meaning. He recounts his experiences in a concentration camp and how finding meaning, in even the most brutal of experiences, kept him going and gave him a reason to live. He also interviewed hundreds of fellow prisoners, and found that those who survived the mistreatment and were able to fight back from illness all had a deeper meaning or purpose keeping them going. Frankl famously argued that within the context of normal life, people who lack meaning fill what he called the “resultant void” with hedonistic pleasures: power, materialism, obsessions, and compulsions—in other words, those things that we chase after that give us a short lived boost but which we gain no lasting satisfaction from.

So, it’s clear that purpose is critically important but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to work out. In the past, people relied on religion and culture to define their meaning. These provided a framework from which to operate, the bigger picture from which to see life. However, as the world changes some people are moving away from identifying so closely with religion and traditional cultures, and consequently purpose is no longer given to us on a plate—we have to define it for ourselves. This isn’t easy to do, and anyone who claims otherwise is misleading you.

I spoke to Jeff Weigh for his podcast ‘Perfect Imbalance’ last week and describing my own journey to discover my purpose. It’s messy a ride, it hasn’t been easy, it didn’t fall in my lap and I majorly diverted off course a few times before coming back to what I really love. I still wouldn’t say I have absolute clarity but I’m definitely along the right track. Psychological research shows that people can actually get very down looking for purpose because they have been set up to believe it should be easier to find than in reality it is. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but it does takes time, effort and reflection.

My favourite illustration (aside from Frankl) of someone who has lived his life with purpose is Sir David Attenborough. His whole career has been deeply anchored on his values, making use of his strengths and preferences, all of which are critical to our personal purpose. Attenborough’s life has been centered around his devotion to the natural world and a passionate desire to communicate and share that with the general population. Now in his 90s, Attenborough is still working and enthusiastically contributing to society’s understanding of the natural world and human impacts on it. But if you look at the course his life has taken you can see it’s not been a straight line, rather it has evolved and changed as he has, adapting to both his own experiences and the changes in the world around him. When he was 20 he wouldn’t have been able to have told you what he’d be doing when he was 50, 70 or 90 but he would have been able to articulate what ‘made his heart sing’.

Finding your purpose doesn’t mean that it won’t change and evolve as you go through life. Nor does it mean you won’t sometimes get knocked off course. But like a lot of things it starts with self-awareness, taking the time to reflect (not over analyse – that’s a bad route to go down) on who you are, what you love and are passionate about, what your values are – it’s up to you to put in the effort.* And it’s not a one off, you need to keep revisiting these facets that make up who you are and taking time to think. It made sound like a bit too much work, but it’s well worth the effort. Purpose provides the guiding light that helps you see why you do what you do. Having purpose reminds you of the more meaningful side of life when you (or I or any of us) get sucked into hedonism, worrying about superficial things or getting caught up in the daily grind. It provides you with the far reaching goal on the days where you just want to give up. Having a sense of meaning in your life literally gives you a reason to get up in the morning.

* I’ve been lucky to receive a lot of positive comments on my book but one 3 star review said it’s a bit “surface level”  The book isn’t supposed to give you the answers, it’s there to guide you to finding your own answers. However you search out your meaning, if you don’t dig deep and look you won’t find. 

(Dear reviewer – most of the tools in Defining You are backed by years of research by esteemed academics e.g. the tool you refer to after saying they are “surface level” is used by the US health protection agency and in hospitals across the States and UK).

 

Extracts taken from Defining You which is currently 99p on Amazon UK. It’s also available at Waterstones, WHSmiths and Foyles in the UK. Elsewhere it’s available on amazon.comamazon.com.au, amazon.ca and in various bookstores in Canada (e.g. Indigo) and the USA.

I’m talking about finding your purpose at Red Smart Women’s Week in London this Saturday 22nd September. Last day of ticket sales – 18th Sept 2018

https://hearstlive.co.uk/smartwomenweek/#1531407421503-a6e00f6d-754f

 

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References

Hill, P. L., & Turiano, N. A. (2014). Purpose in life as a predictor of mortality across adulthood. Psychological science25(7), 1482-1486.

Fiona Murden (2018). Defining You. How to profile yourself and unlock your full potential. Nicholas Brealey Publishing

Viktor E. Frankl (1984) Man’s Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy, New York: Simon & Schuster.

Image: pexels.com

Are You A Normie?

Last weekend I read an interesting interview with author Angela Nagle about the escalating social and political divide arising online. Nagle’s book is called ‘Kill All Normies’ . That’s us – people like you and me. People who have everyday tastes, opinions, political views, refer to everyday news sources and live in the real world. In other words socially well-adjusted individuals. It’s us that the far-right and other extreme subcultures who congregate online call ‘normies’ – we are the ones who they believe it’s “impossible to explain things to” because “we are ignorant and unenlightened.” Normal in the real world is not normal online.

Nagle’s comments that “Ruthless competitive individualism is being applied to the romantic and private realm and it’s deeply anti-social” really resonated with me – I wrote something similar from the perspective of a newly published author recently. Previously I had little need to engage online, simply to connect with friends or browse websites. Since becoming published I’ve been thrown into this surreal world. It’s the artificial nature that I perhaps unsurprisingly struggle with most. My career of choice as a psychologist is after all to connect with people at depth, one-to-one.

Worryingly when it comes to the online world research shows that people ‘perceive individuals with a large number of subscribers as more attractive and trustworthy.’ That’s all it takes. Yet online followers are picked up by superficial and often meaningless content such as ‘nice, high quality pictures’ (Djafarova and Rushworth, 2017)I watch my own (meagre) followership jump up and down on Instagram depending on how ‘pretty’ the picture I post is. Is a pretty picture enough to show how trustworthy I am? Surely trust is something that has to be earnt over time, through a deep human connection with another person, by reading nuances, words, behaviours, attitudes. Even in the instant when we trust someone on first meeting our brain is still referring to a profound human instinct and picking up on a myriad of subtle cues. The irony of this hurts. That thousands of followers somehow equate to thousands of friends or real-life credibility. Nagle quotes an extreme example of this world where “young men raised on very grim pornography” believe that they are “Marquis de Sade in the virtual world but in the real world have less human contact, fewer prospects and less stake in their community and society than ever before.”

Is it any wonder that community is disappearing and instead we are left with a world of individuals trying to shout louder than the next person? We are each disappearing off into our own version of the world online. We all want to be happier yet this culture is causing us to disappear into make-believe, to shut out the people around us in the hope of reaching out to an artificial reality. Alongside this our collective mental health is rapidly declining.

We all have a cause that we believe in and above all we all believe in the human race, so surely, we should be working together to make the world better – to improve our own lives and the lives of other people. But although on the one hand individualism is being pushed, there are fabulous bodies springing up all around the (real) world looking to counter this and create a more human approach. Take for example ‘The Female Quotient’ a pro parity body who are ‘tapping into the power of collaboration to activate solutions for change’ without I must add excluding men (who are in this case ‘normies’). We need to put our energy behind these collaborations, have our unique voices heard as one of many rather than in isolation in an attempt to push back against a world that no one ever intentionally created. The online world after all grew by accidental means. No one sat down and crafted a vehicle that would help or destroy humanity (and although in some ways it has aided society, we know that in countless ways it has not). Online culture unfortunately plays to many of our primitive fear related instincts for survival, rather than our more advanced meaning driven brain. At its extreme this is enabling viscous sub-cultures to take hold and young people’s happiness to be eroded.

So, I will end by saying that it’s up to us ‘normies’ to re-introduce rational, advanced brain thinking, to back the more humane uses of the online world. It’s our responsibility to stand up for reality, connection, trust and community, to make a positive difference as humans, together in the real world. So put your phone down, close your laptop and go speak to someone – face-to-face.

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References:

https://www.economist.com/open-future/2018/08/03/how-the-grotesque-online-culture-wars-fuel-populism

Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars From 4Chan And Tumblr To Trump And The Alt-Right (7 Jun 2017) by Angela Nagle

https://www.thefemalequotient.com

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/530566/the-impact-of-the-internet-on-society-a-global-perspective/

Djafarova, E and Rushworth, C (2017) Exploring the credibility of online celebrities’ Instagram profiles in influencing the purchase decisions of young female users. Computers in Human Behavior, 68. pp. 1-7

Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

 

 

It’s never too late to be who you might have been – George Eliot

There are moments where I wonder if it’s too late – this voyage into authorship, facing the world rather than directly into organisations as I have so far. Then I remind myself that it really isn’t – that’s what I tell other people, so I should believe it too. George Eliot pen name for Mary Ann Evans role-modelled her belief – a woman in a man’s world of the 19thCentury didn’t stop her. She was 40 when she published her first novel, at 60 she married a man 20 years her junior. She was, for her time quite radical. We’re not all that way inclined but all it takes is an open minded and curiosity about life to see what ‘might’ still lie ahead, to let go of expectations of what should have been and to focus on what can be.  BBC Breakfast presenter Louise Minchin did exactly that. In 2012, at 42 she took part in a cycling competition around the velodrome in Manchester for the BBC. Soon her curiosity and interest in this new activity had her training for triathlon’s. By 2015 she competed for Britain in her age group at the ITU World Championships.

Other notable ‘age eluders’ include:

  • Jo Pavey who won her first Olympic gold aged 40.
  • Samuel L. Jackson who had his first big film role aged 43.
  • Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species aged 50.
  • Julia Child made her television debut in The French Chef aged 51.
  • Daniel Defoe published Robinson Crusoe, his first novel, aged 60.
  • Ranulph Fiennes climbed Everest aged 65.
  • Sir William Crookes invented the first instruments to study radioactivity aged 68.
  • Lord Palmerston became prime minister of Great Britain aged 71.
  • Mary Wesley had her first novel for adults published aged 71.
  • John Glenn traveled into space aged 77.
  • Gladys Burrill from Hawaii ran her first marathon aged 86.

It can be difficult to think about beginning a new phase or achieving later in life but while undeniably some barriers are physical a lot are psychological. So how do you overcome them?

  • Try not to think in black and white – it’s not all or nothing. For example, I love snowboarding – when my children were babies I couldn’t go off with my buddies and trek up mountains. That didn’t mean that I couldn’t stick to the piste. How I enjoyed my hobby simply changed and evolved. Try not to pin yourself down to a certain way of thinking or an identity because it’s how you’ve always seen yourself. Things change in ways that are not absolute.

 

  • Remain open to experiences – as we get older it’s harder to let go of what we know. It creeps up on us but as we repeat the same things over and over they become habit and doing something different can feel scary. Keep challenging yourself to see things from alternate angles and push yourself beyond your comfort zone. Kashdan, a psychologist who researches curiosity, explains how we are “socialized” to believe that certainty is better for us than ambiguity. Yet research consistently shows that the negative anxiety we feel when approaching new situations is greatly outweighed by the more intense, longer-lasting, meaningful experiences we thus create.

 

  • Allow yourself to fail – we’re not born fearing failure but as we pass through life we become more and more scared. Try to remain open to failure, to learn from it, to live through it and see it as a gift in terms of the knowledge and the experience it gives you. You’ll be far more creative and see a vastly improved range of options about your future if you can allow yourself to fail. If you’re stuck on this one try reading Carol Dweck’s book.

 

  • Embrace opportunities – to go to new places and speak to new people. Rather than always going to the same pub, restaurant, café, holiday location, or taking the same route to work, try going somewhere new or going a different way. Speak to different people, try different things. Without doing this you don’t even know what’s out there. If Louise Minchin hadn’t done the cycling in 2012 she never would have known about her passion or capability.

 

Set your mind free, explore, try new things and see what comes up. What you might have been may not even be something you know about yet.

 

 

Defining You: Discover telling insights into your behaviour, motives and results to unlock your full potential by Fiona Murden – available at amazon.co.ukWaterstones, WHSmiths and Foyles in the UK.

From July 24th 2018 Defining You will also be available across the English speaking world e.g. amazon.comamazon.au, amazon.ca

Defining You gives access to an online psychometric test providing a full personalised professional report.

I’m talking about potential at Red Smart Women’s Week in London on 22nd September

https://hearstlive.co.uk/smartwomenweek/#1531407421503-a6e00f6d-754f

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Other Info:

Kashdan, T. (2009). Curious? Discover the missing ingredient to a fulfilling life. New York, NY, US: William Morrow & Co.

Dweck, Carol S.. (2008) Mindset: the new psychology of success New York : Ballantine Books,

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/get-inspired/34141676

Image:

https://peanutbutteronrye.files.wordpress.com