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

 

Untapped Potential

This week I had the privilege of working with the EY Foundation and a group of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. When I found out that the group consisted of 60 students – well saying I panicked would be an understatement – I struggle to look after my own kids let alone that many teenagers! Generally I shy away from asking for help – but at this point I was well and truly into the zone of begging, although I needn’t have, when it comes to giving back people really do dig deep.

First, I approached someone I coach – Yona Christodoulou – an amazing, inspiring and engaging woman who herself had a tough upbringing. Yona shared her story and the youngsters hung off her every word, nearly all the comments she made that morning got a round of applause. I also spoke to a friend Kevin MacAuley (a partner at Ernst and Young) in the hope that he may be able to loan me extra hands in the form of younger members of his team – you know people who may actually be able to connect with these guys better than a woman in her – well who is quite a bit older than them. Kevin gave me four members of his team who were all fabulous!

The EY Foundation has fantastic intentions and does incredible things for the youngsters on their programme – helped by the numerous people across EY who get involved as mentors and organisers. Their vision is for ‘every young person in the UK to achieve their career ambitions’ and their mission ‘to reduce the barriers to work….and inspire and engage them to achieve their potential’. On their website there are stories from the young people who’ve completed the programme. One guy, Mohammed talks about how the information his mentor gave him, the insights into how to apply for jobs and what to look for, gave him ‘a cheat sheet’. He even said it feels like he had ‘an unfair advantage’ knowing what he did. Maybe compared to his peers he did – but for most of us we take for granted that we have anything we need at our fingertips. It’s the rest of us that have that unfair advantage.

The guys and girls this week were amazing – funny, feisty, spirited, motivated, engaged and charming – each of them characters that I wanted to get to know better. For example, I walked into the toilets where three girls were discussing their hair and got all embarrassed when they saw me, but rather than shutting down or walking out, within seconds they had included me in their banter and had me laughing at their sass.

These young people are not only great fun, but they are full of potential – I urged them all not to lose this as life pushed and pulled them. They haven’t had the comfortable life that I have, the opportunities that are espoused as being there if you look for them aren’t for everyone.  When they are given an opportunity they do it incredible justice and eat up every ounce of what is put their way.

I’ve written this not to say look at me, look at what I’ve done, rather look at EY and the EY Foundation – look at what they’ve done and are doing. Some of these teenagers live on the doorstep of Canary Wharf. The disparity of their lives and life inside the shiny offices seems unjust. We’re in the UK, a country that people are flocking to in order to find better lives, but it’s not always what we’re offering. There’s so much that could be learnt and leveraged by other corporate entities to help bring a little equality into the world that sits right on our door step.

To find out more about the EY Foundation please click here.

Many thanks to Brenda Trenowden, Yona Christodoulou, Kevin MacAuley, Fiona Campbell, Rupen Patel, Olivia D’silva, Alisha Somani, Luke Rainbird, Niraj Thakrar, Jessica Nicholson, Kathryn Darling and Victoria Ahonsi.

Not everyone is in the photo – we grabbed people on their way off to lunch. Yona is the striking lady at the front in the white jacket.

 

 

Take a Break

Last week I had the pleasure of talking to writer Holly Corbett about vacation or as we say in the UK, holiday (see Forbes article). The conversation was sparked by the stark percentage of people who do not take all of their allocated days – in the USA it’s 56% of men and 44% of women. In the UK we take a little more but one third of us are still guilty of leaving days for the company pot to swallow up. I don’t get an allotted number of days because I have my own company. In some ways this makes things far easier (in others more difficult) – but in most ways the lead up and aftermath of holiday is the same for me as anyone.

 

Pre Holiday

We’re off on our summer holiday in a week. I’m excited but also facing a mounting list of things to do both at work and home. For example, one client approached me mid June with a request for 12 profiles (each profile takes 4 hours in person and 6 hours of additional work) by end of July, so I engaged a colleague and we held time in our diary. So far only one has come our way and they are trying to squeeze as many as possible into the week before I go.  This will ultimately create overspill both into my holiday (I can’t ignore them as soon as I step into the airport) and into the time when I get back.

 

I’m doing a book signing next weekend and much as I’m enthusiastic about the opportunity (Camp Bestival is by all accounts ‘The’ best family festival in the UK), there’s prep to be done and I’m dreading the crowds. I’m not suggesting I’ll have crowds flocking to see me, it’s the fear of being in and amongst crowds of people which makes me feel ‘marginally’ agoraphobic at best (don’t worry talk organisers none of this will be apparent to the naked eye I promise).

 

Yet another stress point – the prospect of remembering stuff to take away with us. I find packing for myself stressful let alone an entire family. I hate hauling around loads of stuff yet without a bit of planning I go for the ‘grab and stuff’ approach and end up taking half the house. I don’t know how I managed to circumnavigate the globe for 10 months with just one backpack (granted it was more or less as big as me but then again I’m not very big).

 

Post Holiday

I stupidly buttressed my holiday not only with a talk before but doing a 4 hour session for 60 underprivileged teenagers on my return. And I have an operation on my ankle following which I won’t be able to move for 2 weeks or drive for 6. As a result client work is also piling up into the week I’m back (above and beyond the remaining 11 profiles).

 

On Holiday 

Other concerns? Well, being notoriously last minute we’ll inevitably have forgotten to do or book at least one thing which will cause tension. We’re going to the West Coast of Canada and USA which means a 10 hour flight with our youngest asking ‘Are we nearly there yet’ before we even leave the tarmac plus we have the joy of kids waking up at 2am for the first few days to look forward to. Then there’s the arguments between the kids and the inevitable frustration of my tweenie daughter wanting to approach the holiday as a continual shopping spree (which makes me feel I’ve done something very wrong at some point – ‘experiences not things make us happy’) and utmost disgust when we end up somewhere remote for at least part of the trip.

I am looking forward to it though – honestly!

 

What I’ll do to ease some of the strain:

Create boundaries – believe it or not I have. My book launches in the USA and Canada this week so I could have (in fact did originally plan to) throw myself into a book tour alongside our holiday. I’ve decided this just isn’t going to be good anyone so the talks are on hold. Ultimately there need to be boundaries that work for us (not the company we work for) whoever we are.

Set child expectations – we’ll aim to do a bit of what everyone wants. For me that’s being away from anyone, for my eldest it will be shopping, my youngest Disneyland and anything that requires our undivided attention and for my husband whatever it takes to not stay still for more than 5 minutes.

Get plenty of light – in order to overcome the jet lag as naturally as possible (which sort of contradicts itself as we clearly did not evolve to move several thousand miles in the space of a few hours).

Get sleep – I feel lazy, selfish and like I’m wasting my time away when I sleep but I need it for my mental health and general functioning. This of course is true for all of us.

Explore –because I love it and to because it makes taps into curiosity which is so good for brain health. Using our brain to explore new things, places, people – literally allows us to return from our break with fresh perspectives. It also helps us to make lasting memories not just because of the fun we have in the process but because we remember things better when they are novel (it’s all to do with dopamine and other related goings on in the brain).

Be active – relaxing doesn’t necessarily mean sitting on a sun lounger (although a little of this may be good), it’s about using our bodies in the way nature intended. That means moving: anything from walking to learning a new sport (e.g. windsurfing, playing tennis) whatever works for you, it’s also great for our brain health as well as our bodies.

Then of course there’s reading. Bill Gates and Arianna Huffington’s suggested reading are in the links below but they both seem to have missed mine off the list. Defining You is out today in the USA and Canada (amazon.com and amazon.ca) and available in the UK via amazon.co.uk, Waterstones, Foyles and WH Smiths and in Australia.

 

Links:

https://www.gatesnotes.com/About-Bill-Gates/Summer-Books-2018

https://www.inc.com/marla-tabaka/6-books-arianna-huffington-wants-you-to-read-for-personal-growth.html

https://www.forbes.com/sites/shelleyzalis/2018/07/24/vacation-is-good-for-you-and-your-company/#329a5d911329

https://www.fastcompany.com/90199683/theres-a-gender-gap-in-vacation-time-too?

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/jobs/11592958/A-third-of-British-workers-dont-take-their-holidays.html

Photo: Pexels.com

What Does Confidence Mean?

Confidence is an elusive concept. Most of us lack it to some degree, and few would argue they don’t want to feel more confident, yet when it comes to defining how we could develop it we are at a loss. Having confidence rids us of the anxiety and doubts that hold us back from so many opportunities. It not only makes us feel better about ourselves, but also enables us to achieve more and inspire the conviction of others in our abilities.

Having said that, too much confidence is not a good thing. This is displayed in leadership, where an “overwhelming” self-assurance leads to something known as hubris syndrome. This acquired condition, which represents the extreme end of the scale, results in what Lord David Owen, a former MP and psychiatrist, defines as “disastrous leadership” that can “cause large-scale damage.” It is marked by behaviors such as “impetuosity, a refusal to listen to or take advice and a particular form of incompetence when impulsivity, recklessness and frequent inattention to detail predominate.” The same behaviors manifest in anyone who becomes too self-possessed. Consequently, you want to build your confidence to optimize your potential, but you also need to be careful not to take it too far.

There is a “sweet spot” you want to reach where your self-assurance is robust enough to allow you to take a balanced view on risks, make effective decisions, have influence, and effectively forge ahead with your purpose. Understanding what this means and where you are with it will form a strong platform from which you can move forward and fine-tune your own level of confidence. Psychologists consider confidence in terms of two broad concepts: self-confidence (known technically as self-efficacy) and self-esteem. Self-confidence is about how much faith you have in your ability to achieve a specific goal in a particular situation. As such, it’s not a given that being self-confident with one task means you’ll be equally self-confident with another. For example, you may be confident that you can cook a good meal or play a strong game of tennis, but still lack confidence when it comes to your ability to run a marathon or play a piece of music on the piano.

Although self-confidence is task specific, one person may have an overall higher level than another. Someone with higher levels of self-confidence will approach all new challenges in a more forthright way. For example, they might throw themselves down a mountain when learning to ski, confident that they’ll get the hang of it, and approach another task, say scuba diving for the first time, with the same vigor. On the other hand, another person who is less self-confident may be very fearful of any novel task.

Self-esteem differs, in that it is more internally focused than self-confidence. Rather than being based on the successful completion of tasks or challenges, it’s about how much you value yourself or how much you like and accept who you are. An easy way to assess your level of self-esteem is to listen to your internal dialogue. How do you speak to yourself: are you kind, accepting, and appreciative (e.g., well done, you did a great job with that), or harsh, cutting, and critical (e.g., you idiot, why did you do that again, when will you learn)?

People frequently strive to make themselves feel better by chasing the more tangible aspects that relate to self-confidence—external rewards such as awards, academic achievements, or sporting success—while neglecting to work on their self-esteem. Celebrities often fall into this category, looking to the outside world for reassurance about their self-worth and getting that by achieving public recognition, awards, or notoriety. However, they can often be the loneliest people, feeling empty because their higher-level needs are not being met, their ability to like and accept themselves. This leads to destructive behaviors such as taking drugs, drinking to excess, and overeating.

Both self-confidence and self-esteem are important to well-being and to the pursuit of your goals within the context of what makes you unique and special as a person. One without the other is not helpful. Once you’ve built your self-confidence and self-esteem, they need to be continually nurtured to enable optimal performance.

Extract taken from:

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.

References

Owen, D., & Davidson, J. (2009). Hubris syndrome: An acquired personality disorder? A study of US Presidents and UK Prime Ministers over the last 100 years. Brain132(5), 1396-1406.

Photo by Moose Photos from Pexels

Leadership and the Brain

When I first started my career I worked for a management consultancy so didn’t experience the over bearing bosses close up, but a close friend of mine went to work for BHS. Fresh in and excited it was then that she came across Philip Green who she was utterly terrified of. He would swoop into meetings and demand to know the detail from this young and very junior graduate.

Philip Green is a leader who, whatever you may think of him, has been very successful. One that Stuart Rose ex-chairman and CEO of M&S describes as “a classic bricks-and-mortar retailer”. He’s also someone who has proffered a command and control style of management. His leadership is what is known as ‘great man’ or trait leadership – based on the idea that successful leaders have innate, fixed leadership capabilities which fulfil certain characteristics including the ability to use power and influence to lead.  Everyone who’s been close up and personal with Green talks about his gift for mental arithmetic, instant assessment of value, fast decision making and simplification of complex business dilemmas.  Green himself indirectly alludes to his style being of a less moveable stance saying “If I had wheels, I’d be a car. If: it’s a big word, isn’t it? I can’t deal in if.”

But this fixed style of leadership isn’t relevant or helpful today as we exist on a constant wobble board of change. We operate in a world of economic volatility, rapid advances in technology, intensifying competition and an unpredictable political landscape which all call for clarity of thought and speed of action. A world which deals very much in ‘Ifs’. For example, the founder and CEO of Amazon Jeff Bezos says that “This is Day 1 for the Internet. We still have so much to learn.” In interviews Bezos still talks about the Internet as an ­uncharted world, imperfectly understood and yielding new surprises all the time, demonstrating the need to continually evolve and adapt. Amazon develops something new every 11.6 seconds. This simply could not be done through a command and control structure – a boss having to say yes to everything.

As leaders there is a need to constantly adapt and change, but also to understand how to make employees feel secure to get the most from them and bring them along on the journey. And understanding the brain both from the perspective of your own brain and the brains of your employees is a very helpful foundation for the style of leadership needed today.

Let me give you an example of how these two different leadership styles impact employees brains by looking at it through the lens of neuroscience. In 2012, Boyatzis a renowned Professor of Organizational Behavior, Psychology, and Cognitive Science examined the neural substrates activated in experiences with leaders who were good at relating to followers (e.g. Jeff Bezos) and those who were not (e.g. Phillip Green). Subjects responded to the leaders who were good at relating to others by showing activation in 14 regions of the brain, specifically areas associated with attention and relationships.

Subjects responded to leaders who were not good at relating to others with activation in only 6 areas of the brain and deactivation in 11 areas, specifically narrowing attention and initiating negative emotions. The primitive areas of the brain experienced this leader as a threat and the brain responded accordingly. Ready to take flight but not ready to adapt and respond.

This has significant and damaging consequences. Negative emotions lead to cognitive, emotional and perceptual impairment, which in turn limits an employee’s ability to make accurate rational decisions and causes them to have an inaccurate and overly negative view of their environment and those around them. While this may have been sustainable within a command and control structure, the vulnerabilities this style creates in employees become completely disabling in a constantly changing world.

For more on this, your brain as a leader and the brain of your employers log on free to the webinar I’m doing this week with The School for CEOs.

Image: Pexels.com

The Myth of Sanity

Sanity is a myth, none of us are sane, yet insanity feels scary, foreign and a million miles from the life that most of us lead. Insanity conjures up images of mental asylums, white coats, sedated patients, a ‘one flew over the cuckoo’s nest’ hive of panic-stricken individuals. Our 19th and 20th century foray into locking up the clinically ill has only served to heighten a perception of mental illness as being a million miles away from normal. A black and white divide between those who are sane and those who are not. As a result, we’ve come to fear any sign that we may be less than 100% normal, deeply burying signs of ‘weakness’ and fearing the stigma of what it means to be mentally ill.

Why sanity is a myth!

In reality there is no divide between being OK and being insane, we all suffer from symptoms of one kind or another. It’s only when the volume gets turned up to a deafening or debilitating pitch that it gets labelled, but it’s always there. If any one of us were to pick up the DSMV (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) which lists out psychiatric conditions, we could pick out symptoms that we recognise in ourselves.  Just take a look at the list below which relates to GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder):

  1. Too much anxiety or worry over more than six months. This is present most of the time in regards to many activities.
  2. Inability to manage these symptoms
  3. At least three of the following occur:
    Note: Only one item is required in children.

    1. Restlessness
    2. Tires easily
    3. Problems concentrating
    4. Irritability
    5. Muscle tension.
    6. Problems with sleep
  4. Symptoms result in problems with functioning.
  5. Symptoms are not due to medications, drugs, other physical health problems
  6. Symptoms do not fit better with another psychiatric problem such as panic disorder

It’s the frequency and intensity (in italics) which tip these symptoms from everyday annoyances toward mental illness i.e. impaired cognition (thinking), emotions or behaviour. It’s easy to see how the tipping point is similar to physical illness. We don’t go to the doctor until the pain in our side has been there for 3 months, or the headaches have become so severe that we can’t go to work.

So what is mental health?

Earlier this year I spoke to Lord Stevenson about raising awareness of what’s normal and what’s not when it comes to mental health. Stevenson and Farmer put together an independent review of mental health in the workplace for the Prime Minister and they open their review by saying:

By mental health we do not mean “mental ill health”. We mean the mental health we all have, just as we all have physical health. The World Health Organisation defines good mental health as “A state of wellbeing in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”

With that in mind I put together the diagram below to show the parallels between physical health and mental health and the comparative places in which we seek help. As always I emphasize the fact that a better understanding of psychology could help everyone at every stage of this continuum.

Picture1

Realising Our Own Potential

Bringing this into the world I work the focus lies on the peak performance end of the continuum. A large part of my job is to help exceptional people remain in or reach their place of peak performance – to keep them at their absolute optimum. They need to be there so that they can realise their own potential, cope with the stresses of life but in most cases make a significant ‘contribution to his or her community’. These people have a responsibility not just to themselves but to those who they lead or influence, it’s critical that they understand their tipping points and avoid falling off the edge.

In my book I refer to stress and peak performance within the context of the Human Function Curve developed by Cardiologist Peter Nixon. This model is useful because while developed in the context of physiological stress and performance it also readily applies to mental stress and performance bringing together the similarities between physical and mental health.

The model helpfully points out that stress on either the body or the mind isn’t always detrimental—we need a certain amount in order to perform at our optimum which is just as well because and in reality we cannot escape stress. Both stress on our body and our mind are part of the equilibrium that is life. The curve illustrates that there is a need for a balance of good and bad stress, with optimal stress and performance at the midpoint.

Picture2

Taken from Defining You

If you think of this in the context of an athlete training – they need to keep stretching their body out of their comfort zone in order to improve, but then allow time to rest in order to train again. That stress will cause physical discomfort when the athlete is training but also allow them to improve their performance. However too much time training without a rest will result in injury.

When it comes to our minds, at a low level of stress, we may feel bored or disinterested, finding it hard to get ourselves going.  As stress increases, so does our physiological and psychological arousal until it reaches an optimal level, enabling improved performance: for example, performing better in a presentation or exam, finding it easier to concentrate and get things done, or being more able to think on our feet. In the same way that the stress causes a degree of physical discomfort for the athlete training, the mental annoyances that personally bother us are turned up in volume as we move along the spectrum. I for example get really anxious in the run up to giving a big talk and as a result experience more of the items in list C above e.g. restlessness, irritability, muscle tension and problems with sleeping. They aren’t however sustained, once I’ve done the talk they subside. Too much stress, too many talks in one week or one month could however be crippling. In the same way as too much stress on an athletes body can cause a muscle or tendon to tear, too much stress on our mind can cause us to tip over the edge with a need to take time to recover. At this point our performance follows a downward trajectory, leading to negative emotions and overall cognitive decline, risking mental ill health.

The Cyclical Nature of Mental Health

Over the years working with high performers, I have become acutely aware of the fine line between brilliance and denial, or talent and collapse. Individuals who are at the top of their game are vulnerable and can quickly face mental deterioration. This is not helped by the picture that has been painted of insanity. The most successful high achievers see nothing of themselves in people who fit this description, in fact they often fear this more than most – mental illness has also been branded as failure and failure is a long way from what they identify themselves with. Yet we only have to look at the list of those who have fallen prey to mental illness to see how close these two ends of the spectrum lie. From the brilliantly funny and talented Robin Williams who took his own life to Kurt Cobain, Ernest Hemmingway, Vincent Van Gogh and Virginia Woolf are just a few. In reality, peak performance is often knocking on the door of mental illness.

In this sense I see mental health as existing in a cyclical nature rather than on a continuum. We need to inhabit the right hand side of the cycle, moving back and forward from comfort zone, stretch zone and peak performance as we listen to our body and our mind, responding to the need to rest and refuel. Without this continual fine tune and awareness peak performance or even being stretched leads to the normal stresses of life becoming too much and tipping us over into mental illness. At this point it’s not so easy to pick up where we left off – we have to recover before we can perform at our peak again or even exist in our comfort zone. In the worst case, for those like Cobain and Williams, that recovery never happens.

The Cycle of Mental Health

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We all face immense pressures which we cannot just get rid of, but we can be more aware of both in ourselves and others. We don’t generally swing from OK to mentally ill. There aren’t just two ends of a spectrum – we all pass back and forward through the cycle. If we compare it to physical health, we are not in hospital or running a marathon, there are a whole host of physical states in between. With the brain, which is the most complex organ of the body, those states cover even more shades of grey.

I’m passionate about being a voice and joining other voices to move our societal understanding of mental health toward the richness and complexity that inhabits life. To help society understand that there is no sane or insane, rather a constantly changing state of mental states, influenced by a complex set of external and internal factors. At a personal level, we not only need to understand this but learn to understand our own mental tendencies and weak spots, how to refuel, how and when to ask for help. We need to improve everyone’s understanding of behaviour so that we can not only destigmatize mental illness but so that we can optimise mental health and realise human potential across the human race.

The Myth of Sanity – was a title borrowed from the brilliant US Clinical Psychologist Dr. Martha Stout the book is below.

For more from me –

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

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

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

Subscribe to our mailing list to get more news, tips and tools from Fiona

* indicates required



Links and references:

American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fifth ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing

Murden, F (2018) Defining You: How to Profile Yourself to Unlock Your Full Potential

Stevenson, D and Famer, P (2017) Thriving at Work: The Stevenson / Farmer Review of mental health and employers

Stout, M (2002) The Myth of Sanity: Tales of Multiple Personality in Everyday Life

Image: Pexels.com

How to Slow Time…

As we go about with head stuck in our phones life just passes us by. Before we know it we’ve gone from school kid to graduate, from a rookie on the job to the expert in our field. Facebook flashes up images to remind us just how quickly time flies. Only the other day a photo of my 2 year old popped up giving me a virtual slap to remind me that she is now 5. I looked across at the long-legged child and pined after the tiny person now gone. Then there’s my eldest, to me she’s still my baby yet she can look me in the eye without even standing on the bottom stair. The older I become the faster time passes, but I know that I’m not the only person to feel like that – this happens to us all. Time flies when you’re having fun – really should just read ‘Time flies’.

To understand this from a logical standpoint we can just look at the percentage of our life that a day, a week, a month becomes as we grow older. As a 5 year old a month constitutes 1/60th of our life, but by the time we’re 35 that same period of time makes up only 1/1820th. Research confirms that our assessment of time also alters with age. Psychologist Claudia Hammond who wrote ‘Time Warped’ explains that “If you ask a twenty-year-old and a seventy-year-old person to guess when a minute has passed without counting, the younger person does it more accurately, while time appears to be going slightly faster for the older person.”

We also have fewer ‘firsts’ as we get older which impacts how we perceive time. As a 5 year old there is something new every day – the first day at school, Christmas with different relatives, sports day, the summer holiday, the first trip on a boat, in an airport, on a plane, on a train….. As we grow older that first trip on a plane becomes the quarterly journey to see a client, the train ride becomes the daily commute, even people become less unexpected. The more people we meet the more and more similar everyone seems to be.  As such our brain actually switches off a little and goes into autopilot. First events and novel experiences engage our brain, creating detailed and lasting memories making it feel like time is passing more slowly. Familiar people, events and situations that are not novel (or that we don’t perceive to be) cause us to switch off – our brain doesn’t bother keeping track and time just slips by.

When it comes to my girls growing up – although the familiarity of a school routine and ferrying to this party or that inevitably speeds up the passage of time, it doesn’t completely explain the fast forward that I’m experiencing. On closer inspection I would put this down to two further factors 1) being busy and 2) being tired.

Being busy – when you have children of any age the things to remember becomes quite frankly ridiculous.  It feels like a full time job just responding to school e-mails, requests for dressing up as a smurf with less than 24 hours’ notice, invitations to school assemblies ‘tomorrow’ (replace with anything from dance recital, cross country match… ad infinitum), forgotten trainers, invites to sleepovers, parties which require presents, cards, a taxi service and so on and so forth. These leave me spinning without even adding a career and my own life into the mix. When we’re busy, regardless or not of whether that’s with kids, we don’t have time to savour experiences and see the novel. It’s all we can do to get through the day. Our brain is not in the business of reflecting and considering what’s going on, rather surviving from one moment to the next.

Tiredness – really doesn’t help matters when it comes to encoding those memories that will later give us benchmarks on the passage of time. Again, I don’t want to suggest that only those of us with children experience this, I certainty fell into the sleepless nights category in my twenties (usually through burning the candle at both ends). However when children are little, sleep is inevitably hard to come by for parents and when they get bigger there’s so much to do once they’ve gone to bed that things don’t improve. Regardless of the root cause tiredness stops our brain from encoding information effectively. The most recent research goes so far as saying that parts of our brain doze off while we’re actually awake and doing things. That’s not conducive to a rich and meaningful programming of memories which slow down our perception of time.

So how can you slow down time?

  • Get sleep – it sounds obvious but without it our days pass by in a blur (it may not be practical to get lots of sleep but that’s another matter entirely).
  • Look out…..
    • not down – you’ve heard it before but this is yet another reason to put down your phone, laptop or other device. When we’re kids we live life facing out, curiously exploring the world around us, learning new things every day. As we get older we live a more tried and tested route through life and can quite easily fall into a routine whereby we never really look up. Face out, be curious and questioning, explore the world around you, the people around you – everyone has their own story, listen.
    • not in – get out of your head, don’t live on autopilot stuck mulling over the same old things. No new memories or experiences exist within worry.
  • Reflect – savour, appreciate, have gratitude – sounds fluffy but it isn’t. Take the time to see what’s in front of you. I don’t mean force yourself – sometimes we might try so hard to appreciate something or someone in our life that we can’t engage with it. That can start a whole other cycle of guilt or feeling that it’s all a waste of time. Try and find the ways to reflect that work for you and the ways to appreciate that fit with who you are. For example, I love watching birds circling in the air, looking up at leaves on oak trees, walking through fields. You may however find these things boring. The key thing is to look for what works for you and then once you’ve found it – do it, use it.
  • For more from me –

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

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

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

Subscribe to our mailing list to get more news, tips and tools from Fiona

* indicates required




References:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/cutting-edge-leadership/201004/why-time-goes-faster-you-get-older

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20120709-does-life-speed-up-as-you-age

http://bigthink.com/philip-perry/how-sleep-deprivation-leads-to-mental-sluggishness

Claudia Hammond (2012) Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception

Image: www.pexels.com

 

Is it right under your nose?

What I’ve seen in my many years working with ‘successful’ people from different walks of life is that we often don’t notice what we’re good at. That sounds odd right? But when we’re good at something it just feels like something we do and because it comes easily we forget that it’s not something that everyone can do. As a result, we don’t make the most of these strengths or leverage our full capability.

Aside from the arrogant or narcissistic few who flaunt and overblow their capabilities, most people underplay or fob off their strengths. When they get a report output from a profile (which details various areas of personality, strengths and areas for development), they dive straight into what they are not doing well and dismiss the things that they are good at. While looking at how they can grow is helpful, like most things in life balance works best and only focusing on areas for development doesn’t allow us to reach our full potential.

One lady I coached, a senior executive in a FTSE 100, completely overlooked her capability to skilfully read her environment and navigate politics. Her core strengths was her ability to resolve issues between members of the board, to get people talking to one another about problems, to find her way around blockers in order to deliver her own agenda and enable others to fulfil theirs. Her response to this observation was “That’s just what I do, I’ve always done that, there’s nothing special about it”. But having seen hundreds of leaders up close and personal, I know that this is something a large number  desperately strive to achieve what she was ‘just doing’. Take for example the exceptionally bright high potential guy who has an IQ that’s through the roof but struggles with anything that involves EQ. Or the older executive who has always delivered through telling others and following the rules who now struggles to adapt to the ever-changing demands of todays’ fast paced environment.

The point is, we all have strengths that we take for granted that we are unaware of because they come so naturally. While the humility that accompanies this is appealing, without awareness of our strengths we can’t fully leverage them so we are doing ourselves and others a disservice. For example, I always loved psychology and studied it at University. I also had an interest in business so I did a business masters. The mistake I then made was to do what I thought was the ‘best thing to do’ – joining a business consultancy as a graduate. But this didn’t make use of my natural strengths and interests. As I gradually become more miserable and found myself chasing any elements of projects which lent themselves to the business psychologists view of the world I went back to University so that I could become a Chartered Psychologist. I love what I do and although I have self-doubts like anyone, if I hadn’t pursued this career I wouldn’t have been able to help all the people that I have (I know this as I’ve been lucky enough to have had feedback), I wouldn’t have written a book that I hope to help even more people with and I wouldn’t have been able to inadvertently influenced many people who work for the leaders I work with. I would have just been a reasonable management consultant, not an exceptional one, and not fully making use of being able to read and empathise with others. I don’t hold myself up as a gleaming example, I’m still trying to find exactly what it is I’m good at. For example, although public speaking about topics that I’m passionate about gives a far better output than when I try and fit purely with a clients needs, I still tend to focus on the latter.

Although I advocate finding strengths and using them, I don’t  believe we fulfil our potential by ignoring our weaknesses. It’s important to know what we’re not so good at, not so that we then throw ourselves into a role that forces us to get better, but so we can remain aware of the things that may trip us up or have a negative impact on others and do our best to mitigate them. So, we can find people to help fill in the gaps on areas we’re not so good at. Also, so we can seek to refine those areas that are most relevant to what we’re doing.

 

  • What are your strengths – the things that you’ve always just be able to do naturally? If you’re not sure ask people who know you really well.
  • What knowledge do you have that other people don’t and how can you use that to help achieve your own goals and help others to achieve theirs?
  • How can you apply your strengths to the goals that you want to achieve?

 

Explore your own strengths by reading:

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

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

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

Subscribe to our mailing list to get more news, tips and tools from Fiona

* indicates required




Image: pexels.com

Links to some other content:

My friend Mark Couldry who I met snowboarding wrote a lovely and very generous blog about Defining You. You can read about it on his website titled ‘Unlock your full potential’. Which you can read by clicking here. 

Another couple of blogs have been posted by my publishing agents Emma Parkin and Jo de Vries of Conker House Publishing. They ‘Taking the Time’ and ‘What’s in a Book Launch’.

The blog site Sqwawqs.com a website for entrepreneurs and business re-published (with permission) my article ‘Knowing You, Knowing Me: Why Self Awareness is Critical to Any Success’. 

 

Academic text:

If you’re after a bit of bed time reading then you can find the research I did written up by  myself and Professor David Bunce (Centre for Cognition and Neuroimaging, Brunel) in the European Journal of Cognitive Psychology

Another piece of light reading, the BPS policy paper written with Professor Peter Kinderman (Professor of Clinical Psychology, University of Liverpool) and Kathryn Scott (Director of Policy and Communications, BPS). This paper is titled ‘Making better decisions: How understanding our psychology can stop us falling into the bias trap’

Or if you’re a Business Psychologist you may find my chapter ‘The Brains Behind Business’ interesting which is published in the ABP book, Business Psychology in Action. 

 

 

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