Friday, 31 December 2010

How to Form a Habit in the New Year

At new year it seems nearly everyone wants to change some aspect of their lives.

But as we all know, new habits are hard to form.  Many of us give up before a habit has formed.  So the key question is, how long should we persist before we can expect new behaviours to become automatic?

A recent study by Lally et al (2010) reviewed a range of health related behaviours, for example going for a 15 minute run before dinner, eating a piece of fruit with lunch and doing 50 sit ups after morning coffee.

Of the 82 participants who saw the study through to the end, the most common pattern of habit formation was after 66 days.  However, this average figure hides the variation between participants.  Some reached automaticity after 18 days and others after 254 days!  It's also worth noting that even after 84 days over half of the participants had not reached automaticity.  So new routines should be persisted with for at least 3 months before we may expect them to be automatic.  This is longer than previously thought, and complex behaviours (like practicing mindfulness) may take longer. 

But finally, what about the effect of falling off the wagon?  What effect does a day off from the new behaviour have?

This study suggests that a single missed days has little impact.  However, repeated missed repetitions of the behaviour do have a cumulative impact.  The conclusion is that a missed day or two is fine, but be willing to come back hard if you do miss a day. And be willing to persist for at least 3 months. 

For fuller details of this study go here.

New Year's Eve Fun

Look, I admit it, this has nothing to do with psychology, career change, ACT, anxiety, doubt or workplace effectiveness.

No.  This is just a cat in a box.  And it makes me laugh out loud every time.

Happy new year to all my readers.

May 2011 bring you peace, prosperity, meaning... and the joy of a thousand cats swiping out of a thousand  boxes.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

I Really Like Christmas

Happy Christmas everyone.

I'm looking forward to Christmas
It's sentimental I know
But I just really like it

I am hardly religious
I’d rather break bread with Dawkins than Desmond Tutu
To be honest

And yes I have all of the usual objections to consumerism
The commercialisation of ancient religions
And the westernisation of a dead Palestinian
Press-ganged into selling Playstations and beer
But I still really like it

I really like Christmas
Though I'm not expecting
A visit from Jesus

I'll be seeing my dad
My brother and sisters, my gran and my mum
They'll be drinking white wine in the sun
I'll be seeing my dad
My sisters and brother, my gran and my mum
They'll be drinking white wine in the sun

I don't go for ancient wisdom
I dont believe just cos ideas are tenacious
It means they are worthy

I'm ambivalent to churches
Some of the hymns that they sing have nice chords
Though the lyrics are dodgy

And yes I have all of the usual objections to miseducation
Of children forced into a cult institution and taught to externalise blame
And to feel ashamed and to judge things as plain right or wrong
But I quite like the songs

I really like London
Though Christmas is not quite as white as I’d hoped
It’s kind of European

I'm not expecting great presents
Ye olde combination of socks, jocks and chocolate
Is just fine by me

Cos I’ll be seeing my dad
My brother and sisters, my gran and my mum
They'll be drinking white wine in the sun
I'll be seeing my dad
My sisters and brother, my gran and my mum
They'll be drinking white wine in the sun

And you my baby girl
My jetlagged infant daughter
You'll be handed round the room
Like a puppy at a petting zoo

And you’re too young to know
But you will learn one day
That wherever you are and whatever you face
These are the people
Who'll make you feel safe in the world
My sweet blue-eyed girl

And if my baby girl
When you're twenty one or thirty one
And Christmas comes around
And you find yourself 9000 miles from home

You’ll know whatever comes
Your brothers and sisters and me and your mum.
Will be waiting for you in the sun

Girl when Christmas comes
Your brothers and sisters
Your aunts and your uncles
Your grandparents, cousins
And me and your mum.
Will be drinking white wine in the sun
Waiting for you in the sun
Drinking white wine in the sun
Waiting for you

I really like Christmas
It’s sentimental I know

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

What Is Clarence Reading This Christmas?

I had lots of interest in Clarence's views on the year's best mindfulness books, so the natural question now is what will he be reading for Christmas?

Below is a list of the books he's already started.  I'll let you be the judge of his favourites so far...*

Clarence is very curious about Todd Kashdan's excellent 'Curious?'

...but less so in 'To Have or To Be' by Erich Fromm

Clarence has already absorbed many of the lessons in Ian Price's 'The Activity Illusion'.  He doesn't like to say 'I told you so' but...

As for Kelly Wilson and Troy Dufrene's 'Mindfulness for 2' - WELL TELL HIM SOMETHING HE DIDN'T KNOW.
Clarence would like to wish all his readers a very happy Christmas and a mindful new year.

* The author's view is that these books are all potentially life changing.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Happiness and ambiguity

I caught a moment of happiness today.  It crept up on me.  It was just a moment where the silent, snowy beauty of the world outside coincided with writing Christmas cards to my clients inside in the warm, with Clarence sitting on my lap.  I was thinking about my clients, their bravery and warmth, and then my own journey, and my nerves and anxiety about the future.  All this came into the present moment and it was all OK.

I felt happy, but not as I would have defined happiness before.  I'm learning to appreciate moments for what they are, not compare them to some imagined standard of perfection.  Is this just age? 

Maybe, or perhaps I am just beginning to understand Professor Kelly Wilson's work on ambiguity.  The extraordinary power of appreciating the moment just as it is.  This means accepting discomfort, embracing imperfection, being willing to appreciate the extraordinary range of emotions available for a rich and full life.

This would all have seemed like rubbish to me only 3 or 4 short years ago.  And I wonder what I would have made of this poem, then, when it has such vast power to move me, now:

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance. 

Friday, 17 December 2010

Career Boot Camp

 Do you feel stuck in your career?  Uncertain of who to ask for advice? 

I have teamed up with a leading executive coach and a senior talent manager at one of the UK's leading HR Consultancies to provide a 1 day workshop designed to get people unstuck and moving forward with purpose.

Our Career Boot Camp will run early in the new year (29th January) in London, and we've designed it to help people who want to kickstart their year with purpose.  Everyone who attends will leave with a clear plan of action which is based on a better understanding of their strengths and career options.

Get in touch for further details:

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Career Change and Anxiety

Many (most?) of my clients have a huge amount of anxiety associated with career change.  This is something I know well myself - my mind has the capacity to get stuck on one long anxiety loop.  

The next question I get asked is whether it's a problem or not.  Difficult one.  With other illnesses, we can safely say there is no 'right' amount to have.  But with anxiety, how do we know what the 'right' amount is? None?  Are you sure?

There are some basic checks we can make for depression surrounding sleep, appetite and exercise.  But for other mood disorders people want help exploring, so I wanted to show this potentially helpful site which tries to identify the level or severity of mood disorders.

Of course, this is no substitute for a visit to a GP, but there's lots of dodgy information out there - this is a good first step before going to your Doctor.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Who will you be in 2011?

 The new year is my busiest period, as so many people take the chance to re-evaluate their career.

This year, to ease the congestion a little, I am planning my first ever group career course. 

For those of you who don't know, I am an occupational psychologist who uses evidence-based psychology to help people find the career that's right for them.

The course is designed to get people 'unstuck' from where they are and moving in a direction more suited to their skills, style and values.  Everyone who attends will leave with a clear plan of action for 2011.

If this sounds like it might be useful to you, watch this space!  And if you know someone who this might be useful to, why don't you pass this link on?

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Double Dream Hands and Career Change

A friend sent me this video and I was so impressed I knew I had to put it on my blog.  But how to link it to career change or psychology?  Difficult, but I've managed it below.  But for now, let me take you to Planet Rock:

The thing about working with people changing career is that I often have my own thoughts of what would be best for clients.  I sit there and think 'no!  don't do that, it will kill you!' or 'yes, do that, you are so suited for it!'.  But very often, those thoughts are more to do with my own value system than my clients'.

Mr Double Dream Hands offers me a salutary reminder that there are people out there who are so spectacularly different to me that it almost defies belief.  He doesn't look so different to me, but he has reached where he is today with a value system that says 'yes, this video is a very good idea, I must teach the world how to do the double dream hands'.  And he's enjoying it.  Other people may enjoy it.  He looks happy doing it. And who am I to argue?

Being aware of my own thoughts and emotions in relation to my clients' careers is an excellent way of remaining objective.  The alternative is to try to suppress those thoughts, but suppression doesn't work.  So I say to myself 'I'm having the thought you shouldn't be a lawyer' and instead of diving in I look back at our work together, and gently probe the workability of being a lawyer.

Far more constructive.  And much closer to who I want to be as a career psychologist.


Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Best Books on Clarence the Cat

As you may know, I use mindfulness in my work with career stress and anxiety.  Mindfulness also helps people contact what they really value in life - the ability to be present is a foundation of self understanding.

I've been working with Clarence the cat for some time on his work stress and anxiety, and so I thought I'd show you the ones that he's been enjoying in our sessions this year.

'Mindfulness' by Elen Langer

'Life with Full Attention' by Maitreyabandhu

'Mindsight' by Dan Siegel

'Acceptance and Commitment Therapy' by Hayes, Wilson and Strohsahl

'Acceptance and Mindfulness at Work' by Hayes, Bond et al

Clarence is now totally accepting of his thoughts and feelings and moving in a valued direction

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Do What You Love. Really?

It is so easy to say 'do what you love' when it comes to careers.  Indeed, lots of career advisers do say this, but I have to say I'm wary of such easy statements.

I think 'do what you love' is the sort of thing which is said  by people who've either a) already been successful doing what they love or b) got an incentive in selling their services to help other people do the same.

No one is interested in speaking to the people who did what they loved and failed.  No one sells career books by saying 'it depends'.  But the truth is, it does depend.

A job represents one of the interfaces between ourselves and the world.  Negotiating that interface is a continuous process, full of ambiguity.  We need to be objective about what we really need and what we can compromise on, if we're to negotiate with any coherence.

So I think a far better test is whether your job has meaning for you.  That is, does it make sense to you in terms of the life you want to lead?

If it were a free choice, would you continue on this path or change?


Friday, 3 December 2010

Strengths vs values

  I often work with clients in the area of strengths and values.  But what's the difference?
To explore strengths, I often use the VIA signature strengths test, and it’s worth noting that of course ‘VIA’ stands for values in action.  So are strengths the same as values?
In practice I find words like ‘strengths’ and ‘values’ become a bit overwhelmed by the meanings we load on to them, so probably more for my own benefit than anything else, I wanted to rehearse my understanding of the differences. 

I bet you can hardly wait... 

Values are defined by Harris (2009) as chosen life directions.  I like this.  Simple.

Peterson (2007) described signature strengths as:
“akin to what Allport (1961) identified as personal traits. These are strengths of character that a person owns, celebrates, and frequently exercises...which bring a sense of authenticity ("this is the real me"), and a feeling of excitement while displaying them, particularly at first”. 
This fits Alex Linley’s definition of a strength which is:
 “a pre-existing capacity for a particular way of behaving, thinking, or feeling that is authentic and energising to the user, and enables optimal functioning, development and performance”.
These definitions suggest a number of contrasts with values, not least that they are 'pre-existing' not 'freely chosen', and they’re linked with feelings of excitement, ‘particularly at first’.  In contrast for me, the truly liberating aspect of values is that because they are a choice, they are far less dependent on how we feel in a given moment.  

It's the difference between having a marriage which is based on feelings of love, or based on a choice to love someone.
Strengths can be useful to help people evaluate what course of action to take.  But it is only values which enable us to freely choose that direction, work out what we want to stand for, and avoid getting stuck.   

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Working For Yourself on Snow Days

One thing about working for yourself is that you are extremely vulnerable to extraordinary events.  My clients cancelled their sessions today.  I didn't charge them, but it soon mounts up.

The upside is that I got to work from home.  I stayed up late working, then I ran to Victoria Park.  And I marvelled at the beauty and strangeness and stillness of it all.

My little garden at 2am

Viccy Park - with the City and the Gherkin in the background

From here, you can see the road where I once made Naomi Campbell laugh.

Husky running in the snow!

Bow Canal.   Gherkin in the background.  Turn around, and you see the Olympic Park.

Beautiful trees!

Goodbye Viccy Park.  Til tomorrow....