Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Christmas in the desert

I'm currently in the United Arab Emirates near Al Ain doing some selection and assessment and leadership training work.

The Abu Dhabi Civil Service is trying to assess each of its senior Police Officers objectively, and is using Occupational Psychologists to do it. It's been really interesting doing this type of work in such an alien environment, using interpreters etc and it's also really good fun...

The leadership training camp

The view from my bedroom window - note the big mosque being built!

Christmas Dinner - delivered by the local hotel

Dish dash fun

Christmas Dinner al fresco

The evening call to prayer

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Can Gerry Robinson

I watched the TV programme Can Gerry Robinson Fix Dementia Care Homes? tonight. It was the best programme of the year. Moving, revealing, raw; at times it was physically painful to watch.

The programme revealed the standard of care in some of our dementia care homes to be little short of inhumane. One man, Ken, spent the night in pain whilst an emergency alarm lay inches out of reach.

Care homes are like this because they are mainly judged by health and safety standards, which inevitably ignore the important things in life like stimulation, inspiration, quality of life.

Meanwhile the very best care homes offer activities to the residents, involving them in the running of the care home. They give people opportunities to live, and in so doing to make meaning in their days. By simply looking at care provision through the eyes of residents, everything changed.

But in most places residents spend their days locked in a single room, staring in a circle at their slippers, waiting to die.

"Please, help us please, we're just stagnant...stagnant" said Ken to Gerry. Where would you send your Mother, your Father?

The truly shocking thing is that the real difference between the best and worst of care was the attitude of the manager. This is a matter of human will. It is a choice. What does all this say about the business of care? asked Gerry Robinson at the end of the programme.

Good question.

But what does it say about us?

Thursday, 3 December 2009

How well do we listen?

Washington, DC Metro Station on a cold January morning. A man with a violin plays six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time approx. 2 thousand people passed through the station, most of them on their way to work. After 3 minutes a middle-aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried to meet his schedule.

4 minutes later:
The violinist received his first dollar: a woman threw the money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk.

6 minutes:
A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.

10 minutes:
A 3-year old boy stopped but his mother tugged him along hurriedly.

45 minutes:
The musician played continuously. Only 6 people stopped and listened for a short while. About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32.

1 hour:
He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin valued at $3.5 million dollars. Two days before, Joshua Bell sold out a theater in Boston where the price of seats averaged $100.

This is a true story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people's priorities. The questions raised: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?

One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be this: If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made……….. what else are we missing?

Saturday, 28 November 2009

What type of snake is this?


Look, I just really want to know what type of snake we saw near the Great Ocean Road in Australia. Can anyone help?

Monday, 23 November 2009

How does personality fit with the communication we need at work?

Remote working, or employees working away from the traditional, fixed workplace has seen a sudden boom in recent years. Due to a range of sociological, economical and technological advances, it is continuing to rise and in fact, 74% of UK small and medium sized business are already using remote workforces.

Psychological research has already looked at the outcome of employee engagement, productivity and well-being in remote workers, however there is a gap in looking at the link between personality and the types of communication they prefer.

This is a crucial area of research because as the distance between remote workers increases, the importance of employee-organization fit is being neglected. Also, there is no 'one-size-fits-all' approach to communication.

How does our personality fit the the communication we need at work?

I am currently conducting research exploring this and in particular looking at employees who work for an organization either remotely or in an structured office environment.

If you fit these criteria, and would be happy to complete a 10-15 minute survey, then please have a look at the link below:

Whats more, if you leave your email address as the end of the survey then I will send you the results of the research which will answer some of the questions above...

Many thanks in advance, and please forward to anyone else who may be interested.


Thursday, 19 November 2009

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) Conference, Melbourne

I attended the recent ACT Workshop in Melbourne led by Kirk Strosahl, co-founder of ACT. It was brilliant and came at a good time for Bloom.

We're just completing our first ever e-brochure listing the services we offer to organisations, and in this we outline how Bloom is pioneering the use of ACT in organisational settings.

Unlike other therapeutic interventions, ACT comes with first-class empirical evidence for its effectiveness in dealing with depression, anxiety, chronic management and even complex disorders like schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder.

But the beauty of ACT is that it is applicable to anyone. It is a revolutionary way of seeing the world and gives people the skills to increase their psychological flexibility. My former supervisor Professor Frank Bond has shown that it delivers extraordinary results pretty much anywhere in the workplace. By using it in organisations, Bloom will be training people to deal with anxiety, stress, doubt, indecision, lack of confidence and lack of self esteem and to move in the direction that they most value.

More - much more - on ACT to come but for anyone interested in finding out more go to our website. I'd also recommend The Happiness Trap by Dr Russ Harris as a great introduction.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Why would anyone live in London?

Sydney and Melbourne are so fabulous that it's hard to remember, when you return to the Piccadilly Line on a dark Monday afternoon, why you would ever choose to live in London.

It's a seductive illusion to imagine that moving to somewhere warmer, cleaner, safer and with more space will bring greater happiness. (In fact as I type I'm aware that there's part of me trying to remind myself that that's indeed the case...)

But it's to do with values. Would being warmer, cleaner, safer and with a higher quality of life actually make me happier? The answer for me right now is no. Unless a move would bring me greater freedom at work, access to interesting work and people, more meaning, more challenges and more opportunities then it would not work.

The place that brings all of these things at the moment is London.

It's an illusion that I can avoid the unpleasant bits that come with living my values. So here I shall stay, in the dark and gloom of a November afternoon, knowing that my valued direction never promised to be easy.


Have just got back from Australia - 3 weeks of work, conferencing and holidaying. It was fabulous.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Bloom Blog Wordle

What do we talk about on this blog?

Curious, I thought I'd create a Wordle for the last two years, and this is what it looks like:

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Bloom is now using a new form of cognitive behavioural therapy - Acceptance and Commitment Training - in most of its interventions. ACT is a new, so-called '3rd wave' CBT which helps people to increase their psychological flexibility.

Basically, psychological flexibility refers to someone's ability to experience all of life's hardships (including negative thoughts and emotions) and still make progress towards their valued goals.

I'll be writing more about ACT in the next few weeks, but if anyone is interested in learning more about ACT, I recommend the following ACT training courses. Contact Henry at if you'd like to find out more - some of the places can be funded through Train to Gain.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Job search in a recession

A lot of people I know - personally and professionally - are looking for a job. Some of our clients are looking to change career because they don't fulfilled in their last one. But more still are looking because they've either just graduated or have been made redundant.

A number of people in the latter two categories have approached me recently and so I thought it was about time I wrote a series of posts aimed at helping them.

The most common questions I get asked are:

1. Do you know of any jobs going?
2. What the best way of getting a job in a recession?
3. Can you review my CV?
4. What do you think I should do?
5. Does Bloom have any jobs?
6. How can I motivate myself?

I'm going to deal with each of these questions in turn, but if you have questions of your own, please ask!

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Conscientiousness - the downside

Conscientiousness has been linked with a whole range of desirable work outcomes. It's linked to job performance, productivity, satisfaction, the works. Although theoretically it is neither good nor bad, most people see it as highly desirable.

But I believe my own conscientiousness has hampered my career. There is no doubt that my gratitude for a job, my desire to please people and my natural pride and competitiveness all translate into high levels of conscientiousness.

But if I hadn't tried so hard, hung in there, gutsed it out and showed such determination I'd have left my consultancy job earlier. If I hadn't been able to subjugate my own needs to those of other people I'd have followed my heart earlier. If I hadn't been so willing to tackle things that I didn't really care about I'd have realised that this isn't as effective as tackling things I really, really want to be remembered for.

In short, the trait called conscientiousness allows people to be good at most things. Being good at most things leads to the paradox of choice - how do you differentiate between all these things you can do? (More often than not, whatever pays the most and whatever other people think become the main decision makers).

But the loser is you, your dreams and a life only partially lived.

Friday, 18 September 2009

What is a job?

Imagine you wanted to appoint an employee to help you with your life. Imagine that you had to create a role for them, with a job specification full of tasks and responsibilities.

What tasks would you allocate to them? Let me guess, they're the tasks that you can't be bothered to do, the tasks you hate, the stuff you're not very good at or that takes ages to do. Basically, it's all the tedious crap.

Now flick through the job ads on Saturday and recognise those jobs for what they are. They aren't 'you' shaped holes designed around your unique skills and abilities to fulfil you. They are buckets into which someone has put a load of tasks they either can't do (best case scenario), won't do or don't want to do. What are the odds that this job is also the thing that provides you with a meaningful work life?

No wonder looking through job ads is so depressing for so many people. Unless you specialise in something you love, you'll be forever doing the stuff no one else can be bothered to do.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Climbing the right ladder - Bloom's 2nd anniversary

We're now entering our third year of business. For a brand new company doing innovative things in the world's biggest recession (TM), we think this is an achievement to be proud of. More importantly, we've delivered great results for a wide range of both organisations and individuals, and we've worked with great people along the way.

We believe our two operating principles of being evidence-based and remarkable have never been more important. We think being independent and values-driven allows us to focus on delivering what our clients want, not what we think they want. We also think that psychology is relevant to many - if not most - of the problems that people face on a day to day basis. So, to put it midly, we're feeling optimistic about the future.

Even better, on a personal level we are now doing what we set out to do. Life feels very different when you use your strengths every day, and you suddenly realise you're actually quite good at your job. It's even more of a shock when you start to - whisper it - enjoy it. It's been difficult to get to this point, but there's never been the feeling that this was the wrong goal in the first place. After all that time in the stats lab, that comes as quite a relief.

Talking of which, yesterday I picked up my Masters' degree at Goldsmiths. All my old classmates were there, full of energy and busy making their way in the world. It was great to see and excellent to see our lecturers there too. I'll always be grateful to have been a part of a group of such bright and welcoming people.

I've got two requests:

1. Keep in touch. We built something remarkable during our course and we can use our network to help each other in future. Don't rely on anyone else - write the email, attend reunions, ask for help and offer help.

View Rob Archer's profile on LinkedIn

2. Think about what you actually want. If there's one lesson that I have learnt it is that climbing the ladder is not the problem. Although new projects feel difficult at the start (stats coursework anyone?), almost always you will succeed in what you set out to do. The same will go for your careers.

The difficult part is finding the right ladder to climb in the first place. I climbed a ladder only to find it was the wrong one all along. And believe me, starting all over again isn't easy.

You can avoid this by taking some time now to think about what you are uniquely placed to do, and what sort of cause you want to put your strengths in the service of. Now's the time to look ahead and to think strategically about the sort of life you want to build.

Don't make the mistake of living someone else's life, or get fixated with climbing the rungs of the ladder. Instead, focus on what you want the world to look like once you reach the top.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009


One of the main challenges faced by our Career clients is getting through the homework. Although self reflection is tough, there's no substitute for doing this, and a substantial portion of this must be done alone. But almost without exception, people put the work off.

Why is this? An article at Psychology Today helps explain.

When people procrastinate it's often because the task they're facing (avoiding) is difficult, and this creates bad feelings like anxiety . Putting off the task at hand is an effective way of avoiding this mood and psychologists have called this "giving in to feel good" (Tice & Bratslavsky, 2000). We give in to the impulse to walk away from the task in hand in order to feel good right now, and we do feel better which reinforces our behaviour.

I should point out at this stage that our clients are the brave ones. Many people hate their career yet do not even find the courage to address the problem so there are levels of procrastination!

Of course, the short-term gain of procrastination has long-term costs. For a start, it's been shown that the last-minute efforts that become necessary when we put off the task usually mean a sub-standard job overall (although not always, and this is a classic reward to the procrastinator and very memorable). More importantly, as Tice and Bratslavsky explain, "the final and overall level of negative affect is likely to be even greater than if the person has worked on the task all along". But a task like a career decision can be postponed indefinitely. We can literally waste our lives because the moment is never quite right to change it.

The message of Tice & Baumeister's research is clear. Putting off a task to control immediate mood results in problems later. They demonstrate this across a number of domains as I noted earlier, including eating, drinking, smoking, gambling, shopping and procrastination. When we give primacy to addressing our emotional distress, we usually do so at the cost of self-regulatory failure. They summarize this key idea with,

"People will engage in behaviors that may be self-destructive (gambling, excessive shopping, overeating, smoking, procrastinating) if the behaviors make them feel better in the short term. Thus, emotion regulation may have a special place in the field of self-control, because emotion regulation takes precedence over other self-control behaviors and even undermines other self-control efforts" (p. 154).

The message to each of us should be clear as well. If we focus on our feelings in the short term, we'll undermine ourselves in the long run.

In fact, we may spend a lifetime rationalizing it to ourselves: 'I don't feel like it', 'I need to feel better in order to act' etc.

No you don't.

In fact, your feelings will follow your behaviours. Progress on a task will improve your mood.

For now, the message is, don't give in to feeling good, get going instead - don't delay!

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Songs for Career Change

Had a great response to the songs for career change post, mainly by e-mail.

In response, I've started Bloom Psychology's first Spotify playlist. You can hear it here.

If you don't have Spotify you can get it here.

This one's a generic Bloom Psychology one (made by me and Tom), but we'll soon have Playlists for different types of mood and task.

Go take a listen! Plus, if you have suggestions for songs either mail me, add it to the Comments or add it to the Spotify playlist.

Favourite Music And Career Change

A tangent from the previous post on music for career change, but I've just written a new exercise for one of our career decision making handbooks.

The premise begins with identifying a client's favourite ever song. Then the exercise asks them to examine why this music is important to them - is it lyrics, the melody, the association with times past? Once this is established, we ask them to consider what this says about their life and career in particular.

It's going down well, but with sometimes surprising results. As an illustration, my own effort identified Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd and (perhaps bizarrely), Anchorage by Michelle Shocked. Latterly it would be Hast thou considered the tetrapod by Mountain Goats.

I had never really considered why they resonated so much before, but thinking about it, it is to do with loss, combined with a certain defiance too. Even Wish you were here is not a desolate song.

I realised that I'd probably always feel a sense of loss, but that I would always prevail. Defiance is how I am built. I will wriggle up on dry land.

It's funny but this gave me a kind of cold but solid comfort, and from nowhere, energy and hope.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

The meaning of pale green things

I have always liked The Sunset Tree by The Mountain Goats. Until today, I just thought it was nice, pleasant music. Mainly, it just passed me by though the song Pale Green Things made it onto my ipod shuffle once, as it was nice and relaxing to run to.

Thing is, I read the inside sleeve today, and then read the lyrics on the internet.

Funny how that transforms everything. It's now on a loop on my CD player. Suddenly electrifying.

As Ben Zander understands - it's meaning that changes everything. Our emotional connection with stimuli depends on the meaning of them to our lives. This is about comprehension in context - we are natural meaning makers. And yet, when it comes to work, so many of us are happy with work that has no meaning and live with the rising discomfort that accompanies it.

Experiences mean nothing without us understanding our role in them. Sure, it might be pleasant but it won't be meaningful. I'll never listen to The Sunset Tree in the same way again because it's meaningul to me now. But in the same way no one should settle for work that has no meaning, or it is life itself that will pass them by.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

A Bloom response to the credit crunch: love

One of the best ways not to get caught in the trap of negative equity is not to buy at the top of the market. Given that no one - admit it - has any idea about markets, a more realistic way is to so love the place you live that you don't want to move any time soon. Buying for love is also a pretty good guarantee that someone else will love it too, a good insurance against falling markets.

There is a parallel here with jobs. Dominic Lawson points out that the demographic timebomb - the fact that there won't be enough people to earn the money to pay all our pensions - will dwarf the impact of the credit crunch by about 10 to 1.

There is a solution to this one too. Find a job that so absorbs you and that so enhances your life that you don't need to retire. Working beyond retirement age is going to be a reality for most of us and in any case, it keeps us healthier and happier. And despite the recession, the opportunities for reinvention continue to abound.

The fact is both the opportunities and the need to find meaningful work have never been greater, so what are you waiting for?

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Lewisham College and the importance of a vision

Was inspired this evening by Ruth Silver, a Fellow of the brilliant RSA. She reminded me of the importance of a vision and outlines hers for Lewisham College here.

Although this is something I've thought about for a long time I've never written it down or shared it with anyone.

What we want to do is to reinvent the career decision making process.

We don't want to improve it. We don't want people to take a bit less notice of other peoples' well-meaning opinions, or feel a bit less obliged to follow a traditional path, or even to take a bit more notice of themselves and the world around them.

We want people to think about their purpose in life objectively (scientifically) and then design its creation. In the process, we want to abolish the gradual narrowing of aspiration that is traditional career advice. We want to destroy the received wisdom that in order to make a career you must first spend your time 'learning your trade', 'paying your dues' or travelling in the reverse direction to the one that makes your eyes shine. And above all, we want to argue against the idea that this is somehow the 'real world'. We want to make that laughable, which it is.

And we want to make this service available to all, irrespective of circumstance.

If this sounds zealous I don't care.

Better career decisions can transform the world. I see no higher purpose or cause. By having people do what they do best, we can transform lives. And they in turn can transform lives. The number of people I know whose jobs deaden them or who contemplate change within deadening parameters is huge. It is this I want to change and this which is our vision.

Effective career decision making is about finding work that matches who you are to the life you want to lead. That’s not a luxury or touchy feely. It’s the clearest, coldest reality there is.

CP 2.0

Saturday, 8 August 2009

What songs help through a career change?

In the quest to make our career change services ever more engaging, we've been thinking about music, and the role it can play in helping inspire people and drive them on.

Two of the most useful emotions or attitudes that I exprienced during my career change were defiance – for those long days when things get tough – and inspiration for those days where I was in the zone and just wanted to ride the crest of the wave.

These are some of the songs that helped me, but what would you add?

This Year by the Mountain Goats
Stronger by Tom Baxter
Stronger by Kanye West
Grace Under Ppressure by Elbow
My Way by Frank Sinatra
The Impossible Dream by Andy Williams
The Only Road I know by Keane
Against the Wind by Bob Seger
Hast Though Considered the Tetrapod? by the Mountain Goats

One Day Like This by Elbow
Ain’t Got no...I Got Life by Nina Simone
Don't Stop me Now by Queen
Empty Cans by The Streets
Amazing Grace by the Royal Scots Dragoon
Daydream Believer by the Monkees

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Reading for Career Change

We recommend our top inspirational books for making a career change – all of which fit neatly into any suitcase.

How to find the Work You Love – Laurence Boldt
This short, simple book does exactly what it says on the tin. Boldt is not a
psychologist, but most of the things he says are empirically backed. But the bonus is he writes really well and engagingly. Above all, you’re left with the feeling that not only is finding work you love desirable and possible, but it is in fact a necessity.

Bear Hunt: Earn Your Living by Doing What you Love ‐ M. McClean
An inspiring book of case studies of people who have discovered what they love doing and have achieved a way of making their living from it. McClean analyses how they have done this and pulls out lessons that can be applied to your own career journey.

What Color is Your Parachute – Richard Bolles
Look, it’s a bit corny at times, but this is a pretty good book if you want to change your career but don’t know how. Much of the advice is based on your own analysis of yourself so you sometimes feel it may lack objectivity. That said this book’s packed full of information and exercises and would be a pretty good start if you wanted to start your career change on the sun lounger.

Mindfield ‐ Lone Franks
The use of neuroscience in understanding human behaviour is increasing, as the 'neuro‐evolution' gathers pace. If you want to know more about the biology behind happiness and how to 'strengthen' it, how religious 'experience' can be triggered or why we spend the money on the things we do then Franks answers them convincingly in this engaging and fast‐paced book.

And if you want to think about the nature of travel:

The Art of Travel – Alain de Botton
De Botton explores why we seek to escape, why travel is so intoxicating and why it so frequently fails to live up to expectations. If you want to think differently about how and why we travel, this is the book for you.

We'd love to hear of any books that you've found to be particularly inspiring, thought provoking or useful. Just get in touch!

Friday, 31 July 2009

A Bloom Second Summer holiday

So there we were, 3 psychologists in a cafe, thinking about how we could help people who come home from holiday wanting to change their lives, but who didn’t really knowing how to do it.

Several cups of tea later, the outcome?

We’re organising a second summer holiday, held over a weekend, which helps people go from that general feeling that they really, definitely will make a change to a clear vision and direction for the future.

It will be relaxing and fun like a holiday, but the difference is we will ensure that everyone goes home with a clear plan for the future. That plan will be based on a clear and scientific understanding of what they are really like as a person. And we’ll follow up in a month to check that everyone is on course.

The weekend will be structured with a combination of our career psychology courses, psychometric testing, and personal development training. The course will involve:

• Creative techniques to get you in the mood for your holiday
• Psychometric testing and analysis on personality and strengths
• Identifying your values, strengths, skills and personality preferences
• An overnight exercise which will transform your relationship to your goals
• Visualisation techniques
• Tools and techniques to support the change
• A personality report
• Brainstorming techniques and creativity workshops
• A 1 to 1 session with Rob or Amelia after the course to check on progress.

We have 15 places and the cost for the whole weekend is £195. This would be great for anyone who wants to make a change but who needs an intelligent shove in the right direction.

We aren’t able to offer these sorts of courses very often, so do take advantage!

Contact Tom at if you’re interested.

Friday, 24 July 2009

The start of a beautiful new relationship...

What are we reading?

What do we love?

What issues are we facing?

What's the latest psychology you can use to make a difference?

Where are the best and latest psychology events and presentations?

Bloom Psychology is now on Twitter!

Sign-up and follow us here

See you there!

Tuesday, 23 June 2009


Seth Godin talks about the desirability of being 'remarkable'. That is, remarkable in its most literal sense.

Bloom's objective is to be remarkable, which itself feels a remarkable thing to say. But what will make us remarkable is:

1. An ability to understand the evidence - using psychology as a tool and an approach not just a prop

2. An ability to make the evidence engaging, using psychology evidence

Now, number 1 without number 2 we'd be doing pretty well. This is the baseline standard for professional occupational psychologists, and this ties them to a series of interventions which have evidence behind them. Good, but not remarkable.

Number 2 without number 1 is very good. After all, not everyone can engage. To engage you need charisma, you need connection and you need to understand people. With number 2 you'll take people with you, but the destination is less certain.

But number 2 with number 1 - that is remarkable.

And that's what we must aim to be.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Was it worth it?

I was reading the paper today and there was a short column on Yasmina Siadatan, this years Apprentice winner.

I remember watching her ‘six-figure job’ being revealed on the 'Your hired' program which followed the final on Sunday night. Sir Alan unveiling to the audience and public that Yasmina would be selling screens to NHS doctors surgeries, which was followed by a deadly silence in the audience and the same old expressionless face from Yasmina. 

As much as I loved the Apprentice, this seemed to worry me a bit. I understand that a majority of the shows candidates are fueled my money and status, but going through 12 weeks of Hell, giving up working for your own start-up, and then being told what job your going to do for a year seems like a worse alternative to getting the Sir Alan finger. More importantly, this goes against pretty much everything that the Bloom Career change process stands for in that there was very little scope for fitting Yasmina to the right job.

Not is all lost though. If you know me, then you'll know that I wanted Kate to win and I honestly think that she has come out of this better. (Apart perhaps from having pants-man on her arm). 

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Lessons from my Grandfather

In my career sessions with clients we often explore the nature of someone’s values. Values can often be revealed by who we admire. And one of the people I admire most is my Grandfather.

I remember he was very stern and strict when I was young. Always made me eat my bloody sprouts. I once even asked my Granny why she continued to stay with him, but he still stuck around, providing me with a rock when I needed one most. So whilst I didn’t always like him, I always loved him.

When I got older I came to admire him too. I came to learn how he fought and was injured in the war. How he raised a great family and wrote funny letters. How he never boasted. How he'd laugh until his teeth fell out at Christmas, and sang made-up songs in the kitchen when he was doing the washing up.

But the kitchen is silent now. Instead, his mind is filled with anxious, confused thoughts. He’s convinced there is a conspiracy against him and he won’t let Granny have a moment’s peace in his paranoia. He is sad, and lost.

This is the moment I’ve long dreaded, for it's hard to lose a hero.

But in his place he has left me many things, and the most precious of these is freedom. Pa fought for my freedom - and everyone in this country - to live as they please. He fought for a set of values that he must have thought have been shamefully abused since. But also his discipline gave me the ballast to make my own way in life. As Barry Schwartz argues, parameters create freedom. And finally, his sense of humour gave me freedom by reminding me not to take myself so damn seriously.

Pa doesn’t really hear me when I speak any more. But if there is one thing that I could say to him, it is thank you for my freedom. It is the value I cherish most.

I hope I always use it in a way that will make you proud, Pa.

Friday, 5 June 2009


I was in London a few weeks ago for an exhibition in Euston called 'Modernity and Madness'.

The exhibition was split into several sections, ranging from an eery video tour of the 'Tower of Fools' in Vienna; a roundhouse like psychiatric institution, to artwork inspired and produced by psychiatric patients. The highlight for me however was a range of objects imported from Psychiatric asylums, and one which was particularly startling was an 'Electrotherapeutic cage'; an octagonal bird-box like cage, which would upon becoming electrically charged, 'treat' its incapsulated patients for hysteria.

Incredible to think of the power of psychiatrists and psychologists in those days, especially thinking of their then perspective of what constituted 'mad' and 'sane' before or after treatment. Without the 'talking cures' and psychotherapeutic treatment suggested by Freud, we may have perhaps never been able to challenge the brutal psychiatric approaches mentioned above.

Interestingly, research has found that perspective can influence your interpretation of events. Gilovich (2007) found that observing yourself as a third person -- looking at yourself from an outside observer's perspective -- helps clarify the changes you need to make far made more than using a first-person perspective. This shows the difficulty of making objective decisions; without a clear understanding of our values, we're prone to following the crowd, doing what looks best to others, or even just doing what you've always done. And that is a recipe to repeat the mistakes of the past which as this exhibition shows, can be catastrophic and absurd in hindsight.

'Madness and Modernity' is at the Wellcome Collection until the 28th June.


A visit to the Freud Museum

I went to visit the Freud Museum in Hampstead last week. I thought it was something that had to be done before I leave London in just over a week, and leave this fantastic city and year of experiences behind.

I was the first visitor of the day to the museum which for some reason made my visit seem all the more eery.

Wandering around Freud's house in silence made Freud's life come alive to me like never before. All his possessions and artefacts were still there in place, much as they were when he practised. I could have been a visiting patient and the visit fuelled my desire to learn more about his life and work.

As a psychology student, I feel its important to know something about the history of a subject I'm passionate about and to know something of the thinking and what now seems bizarre experiments of psychology's founders. I think this is a crucial part of developing my own identity as a psychologist. By understanding the past, we can build on it. Isaac Newton called this 'standing on the shoulders of giants' and that morning it felt like I truly was.


Risk (2)

Last Sunday I attended my third 'secular sermon' at the School of Life, in which the Sunday morning Mass slot is replaced with a 'preacher' of popular culture, and some surprise challenges to keep everyone awake at the back.

This week’s theme was 'risk', and the preacher was self proclaimed maverick and entrepreneur Luke Johnson. Johnson knows all about risks, having run everything from dental surgeries to Pizza Express, and now indeed Channel 4.

There was a slightly satanic feel to the process, mainly because there of the seven foot lycra-clad devil in the corner, or maybe it was the sight of a group of 200 Londoners singing the opening hymn, 'Ace of spades' by Motorhead.

Johnson urged us all to take risks whenever we had the opportunity. Unsurprisingly, we were then offered an early chance to apply this during the interval, where there was a 'surprise risk challenge'.

This turned out to be the ‘Communion’ of the sermon, where we were presented with a tray of ominous clear liquids which we were told were either brine or vodka. Being a little hungover (and after all, still a student), I thought some hair of the dog would be an excellent idea. I suspect I was in the minority who thought this way, but anyway I decided to go for it and take three shots of the stuff. For the record I was lucky enough to get two vodkas and only one of brine, and the rest of the morning passed by very happily.

It was fascinating to hear about the power of risk taking and its importance to human fulfilment. This is a message that can easily be forgotten in such a time of economic insecurity.

Johnson concluded by saying that we regret the things we don’t do rather than those we do, and psychology research tells us that in fact that is absolutely true.

The next School of Life sermon will be on the 28th June, with guest speaker Alice Rawsthorn on the importance and power of good design.


My Story (part 2)

Today - 6 years on after making my career change - I felt the following things: anxiety (that I'm wasting time), guilt (that I'm not working hard enough), tension (from stress), worry (about where to focus, whether I'm doing the right thing etc etc) and frustration at my perceived slow progress.

And this is the life that I have chosen to live! Oh, the humanity.

After being stuck for so long, I decided to go back to university to study psychology. I did all types of courses - distance learning, part time, full time.

It was very strange. Grotty buildings after years of corporate pleasantness, strangely bearded tutors, dog eared textbooks, classmates (now 10 years younger than me). But it also felt liberating to do something simply because I liked it (i.e. for fundamental reasons), as opposed to where it would take me (instrumental reasons).

After a few years of studying statistics in labs, I set up Bloom Psychology. And yes, life is better, but I have sacrificed much happiness to be happier, if that makes sense. (See above).

In other words, on a day to day level life has not got any easier simply because I now do what I love. If anything, by moving towards something I really value, life has got much more difficult.

Why? I want a refund.

When you run away from something you fear (guilty, your Honour), you can rely on a lot of things to help you: alcohol, distraction, proacrastination, denial, anything to avoid thinking about difficult stuff.

For many of us in soul crushing jobs, this becomes known as 'real life'.

But if you are moving towards something you truly value, these options are far less available.

Every time I procrastinate now, get drunk, get distracted, I betray something important. And by committing myself to what I really value, I open myself up to what I really fear, because if I didn't value it I wouldn't care.

A lot of career coaches would never say this. Find your purpose, use your strengths, and you too (like them) can find happiness!

The truth is that happiness is out of your control, but that you still have a choice.

You can live a life in which you avoid difficult emotions like fear, as I did as a consultant. Or, you can choose to move towards something that you truly value.

Both routes are painful, but only one dignifies that pain with a sense of meaning.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Risk (1)

Many Bloom Career clients are paralysed by the thought of taking a risk with their career. I recognise this only too well, and still have to fight a natural tendency to avoid risk even when managing a business.

So I was reminded this morning about a poem my Mum sent me by a man called Simon Reynolds, who lived, worked and died (aged 21) in the townships of South Africa.

To laugh is to risk appearing a fool.
To weep is to risk appearing sentimental.
To reach out for another is to risk involvement.
To expose feelings is to risk exposing your true self.
To place your ideas, your dreams before a crowd is to risk their loss.

To love is to risk not being loved in return.
To live is to risk dying.
To hope is to risk despair.
To try is to risk failure.

But risks must be taken,
because the greatest danger in life
is to risk nothing.

Those who risk nothing, do nothing,
achieve nothing, become nothing.
They may avoid suffering and sorrow,
but they cannot learn, feel, change, grow, love, live.
Chained by their certitude they are a slave,
they have forfeited their freedom.
Only a person who risks all that he cannot keep,
to have whatever he cannot lose, is truly free.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

My story (part 1)

What drives my business is me. This might sound obvious, but my own life story explains why I do what I do.

My career change wasn't so much a 'change', as a 'reinterpretation'of all the memories, thoughts and feelings that belong to me.

OK, let me explain.

I grew up in 1980s Merseyside, on a rough council estate - 'the Noccy' for council estate connoisseurs. At the time, Merseyside had two main industries; heroin and unemployment.

Unemployment was everywhere and I remember how it felt to live with it; the anxiety it brought to life. It was real. I remember watching Boys from the Blackstuff and knowing the desperation. That truly was a broken society, and I will never forget how bleak it felt to live in a place which had lost hope.

The point of this story is not that this is particularly hard or unique, just that it left a powerful effect on me as I grew up. Ultimately, the message I learned was simple: get away.

And that's how I made my early career decisions. Get away from the past. So after doing all the right things at school and then at uni, I eventually put clear blue water between me and my past by getting a great job as a management consultant.

And once there, driven by fear of my past, I tried and tried at a job I was not actually very good at. But because I was bright and conscientious (a lethal combination to career changers) I eventually succeeded.

When I say 'succeeded', I mean in the sense that I had responded to my upbringing and the experiences I had had. I had escaped my past.

But I had not succeeded on other levels. For example - just a small thing - I felt as though my job was meaningless. What did I want on my gravestone, Here lies Rob, he held down a decent job and once he even bought a BMW?

It turned out that the process I had used to choose my career (of running away from something) had left me trapped between an undesired past and an unwanted future.

I was stuck.

Monday, 11 May 2009

MPs expenses - an issue of engagement?

If I am honest there is a part of me that has really enjoyed the furore over MPs expenses. In particular I enjoyed the suggestion that there is fun to be had in reporting your own MP to the government's own fraud hotline ( if you need to know).

How did it come to this?

I think it's less to do with the rules (we acted within the rules!) and much more to do with the psychology of parliament itself. There is a perception amongst parliamentarians that they are underpaid. I think this is influenced by three things: the growth of a political class - a type of person who has never done anything else than politics - by the bonus culture politicians have witnessed (and endorsed) at close quarters over the past 20 years and by a cultural tradition of entitlement passed down through the ages. The House is a club, not a service.

In any other institution we would say that this is partly a problem of employee engagement. They turn up for work (sometimes) but they don't really engage in it. MPs clearly do not see a link between their actions and the plight of the taxpayer. It all seems too removed. This is why Gordon Brown apologised for "the last few days", not for the many years of systematic expenses abuse. I bet it all feels less removed now.

What strikes me is that if this really is a problem of culture, then the expenses system is likely to be only the thin end of the wedge. I can easily imagine further, more serious betrayals of trust being revealed in future. And I can imagine more fundamental questions being asked about whether the form of democracy that the House (and public sector) offers is relevant or useful to the modern world.

That would be welcome of course, but I suspect what will happen is a tweaking of the rules, with little thought about the fundamental cultural problems embedded in our system of government.