Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The value of optimism - and realism

If you are an England cricket fan, like me, then you need to be an optimist.
If you are an England cricketer you probably need even more optimism.
Put yourself in the shoes of Stuart Broad, a young fast bowler brought on to try to keep the  attacking Indian batsman
Yuvraj Singh quiet in a key 20-20 World Cup match. The first ball goes for 6. These things can happen.
Never mind, try again. Same ball, same result.  In the end, all 6 balls of Broad's over went for 6 - a very unusual occurence,
especially chastening for a fast bowler.
Psychologists such as Martin Seligman, founder of Positive Psychology, would argue that the important thing
here is how people like Stuart Broad, who have just suffered adversity, respond. Seligman urges us
to think in terms of three Ps and when adversity strikes get into the habit of thinking
"This bad thing isn't going to be bad forever- its not Permanent"
"This bad thing isn't all down to me - I'm not going to take it Personally"
"This bad thing isn't going to affect all aspects of my life - it's not Pervasive".
That way, you can shrug off adversity and persevere, your self-confidence intact.
So what did Broad do?
In a recent Evening Standard interview Broad looked back on this in a way that I think would have Seligman nodding in agreement.
It was the wind being against Broad that was to blame "Yuvraj  just had to get it up in the air and it would be going." suggests the young England fast bowler.
One objection to the Seligman approach is that sometimes we need to learn from our mistakes. Fortunately for England, it seems that Broad has done this as well.

The Standard interview continues
    " The wider lesson Broad learnt was "Don't ever bowl two balls the same in one-day cricket".
Two years later that unpredictability has helped him to become the fourth best one-day bowler in the world."

The conclusion I draw is that we should  maintain a careful balance between optimism and realism.
We should look for external factors that have contributed to adversity to maintain our self-belief and then think
about if there are any learning points for us.

In Broad's case his unpredictability has put him into the top 4 one-day bowlers. Now lets see how he does against South Africa!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Personal Development through Twitter?

I've just signed up for Twitter and am curious about how it's going to pan out..
Is twittering be a life-improving move or a waste of time?
You can follow my twitters in the right hand column of this page (you may hae to scroll down a little) ...
If you know of an interesting twitterer, reply to this post.

Some twittererers relevant to personal development I have started to follow are:
Peter Singer
Peter Worley
Julian Baggini
Tony Robbins
Anders Holt

Let us know if you discover any other interesting twitterers ...

PS If you you want an instant ego boost, just choose to follow Barack Obama and see what happens!


Sunday, February 08, 2009

Poll - what is your most important value?

What value is most important for you?

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

personal development through philosophy course starting soon

Of all the courses I teach, this is the one that gives me the most satisfaction - and feedback from students suggest they like it a lot too. I'll be writing more blog entries about ideas arising from the course this year - but if you can reach London, you might like to be part of the course yourself. Here are the details
This 10 week course will show how studying philosophy can help you explore the nature of a flourishing, good life, and begin applying these ideas to your own life. Philosophers studied will include Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics, Nietzsche, Mill , Heidegger and Sartre. Topics will include happiness, wisdom, the emotions, relationships, work , ethics and the meaning of life. The course is suitable for all levels and has had very positive feedback from many students, ranging from those who have had no academic study since leaving school to those with advanced qualifications in philosophy wishing to use this material to develop their own good life and their own courses in practical philosophy.

Course Code CE1944
Course Fee £110
Start dateTuesday 17 January 2009 Time 6.30pm – 8.30pm
10 weekly classes
Location City University, London

What Previous Participants Have Said
“I like the way it challenged my thinking processes and has impacted on the way I want to lead my life”
"Interesting and thought-provoking”
“It was very accessible and helped to de-mystify the topic of philosophy”.
“The course has had a major impact on my life.”

Course Programme
1. Introduction: Socrates: Philosophy and the Good Life
Part 1- What is the Good Life?
2. Happiness, Well-Being & Values – Bentham versus Mill
3. Human Excellence, Character & Virtue – Aristotle versus the Stoics
4. Wisdom – the most important virtue?
5. Ethics – Doing the right thing – Kant, Mill and Hare
6. Existentialism: Sartre, Heidegger and the freedom to choose
7. The Meaning of Life - is it really 42?
Part 2 - Applications
8. Relationships: Philosophy, Love, Friendship & Compassion
9. Work: Philosophy, careers & Work-life balance
10. Conclusions: The Good Life and how to live it - and team quiz

To enrol call City University on 020 7040 8268 between 9.30am and 5.00pm.or
visit the City Uni website (

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Sunday, January 04, 2009

Top Ten All Time Personal Development Books 2008

Regular readers will know that I am not one of those people who disparage all personal development or "self-help" books.

Sure, Aristotle, Sartre, Marx and Darwin were more original and profound thinkers than those that feature in the self-help section

of your local book shop - but how readable and  practical are their great works?
The best self-help books distill this wisdom into understandable and practical advice -making it as simple as it can be, but no simpler.

This year you will see that whilst the top few classics remain much the same as last year, there are some new entries lower down the chart.

The new entries cover mindfulness, relationships, and changing habits - all very important topics. The recommended books on them provide

accessible and well-researched introductions. Hope that some of these books are of use for you.

1. The Seven Habits of Highly effective People Stephen Covey (1)

2. Man's Search for Meaning Viktor Frankl (2)

3. The Feeling Good Handbook David Burns (3)

4. Overcoming Low Self-Esteem Melanie Fennell (4)

5. The Conquest of Happiness Bertrand Russell (5)

6. The Mindful Way Through Depression Mark Williams, John Teasdale  et al (-)

7. Don't Sweat the Small Stuff -and it's all small stuff Richard Carlson (6)

8. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work   John M. Gottman & Nan Silver (-)

9.   Changing for Good  James Prochaska et al(-)

10. How to Win Friends and Influence People Dale Carnegie (9)

Bubbling Under

 Emotional Intelligence Daniel Goleman (7)

The Consolations of Philosophy Alain de Botton (10

 The Art of Happiness Howard Cutler and the Dalai Lama (8)

Happiness - Mathieu Ricard (-)

The How of Happiness Sonja Lyubomirsky (-)

Of course this list just reflects my personal opinion  - what self-help books have inspired you most in 2008?

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Thursday, January 01, 2009

Wishing you a happy and meaningful New Year

You read it here first two years ago (New Years Resolutions - you must be nuts) , but the BBC now agrees that New Years Resolutions are Bad for your Health. According to Mind chief executive Paul Farmer,

"We chastise ourselves for our perceived shortcomings and set unrealistic goals to change our behaviour, so it's not surprising that when we fail to keep resolutions, we end up feeling worse than when we started. In 2009, instead of making a New Year's resolution, think positively about the year to come and what you can achieve."

Sound advice, but how can you best think about what you can achieve?

A very simple yet very useful and profound distinction is in thinking about both what can make you happy and what will be meaningful.

If you focus just on happiness, you may be setting yourself up for a mid-life meaning crisis - and such a crisis can occur well before middle-age. So think about where you can create more meaning in 2009 - in intimate relationships, friendships, with children, parents, work, hobbies or altruistic activities, for example. These don't have to be big things - just things that mean that when you tot up what your life adds up to, it adds up to something that feels meaningful to you, and provides you with a purpose.

Yet focussing just on meaning and purpose isn't such a good idea either. Research suggests that the happier people are, the more altruistic they are, the healthier they are, the longer they live - the positive spin-offs from happiness are many. What's more, if you imagine a life which is very meaningful but isn't enjoyable, or one that is both meaningful and enjoyable, which would you choose?

Sometimes there's a clear choice between the meaningful and the enjoyable - but that needn't always be the case. One answer is to find activities that you find both meaningful and enjoyable.What would that be for you? Another is devote a certain amount of time to purely meaningful activities, another portion to enjoyable activities.

If you are reading this on or near New Year's Day, how about writing down a list of activities and goals for 2009 under two headings

1) Goals that will lead to me finding 2009 meaningful

2) Goals that will lead to me enjoying 2009

Then go about fulfilling them, and have a truely happy and meaningful 2009

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Cognitive Therapy (CBT) - reading for therapists

CBT is not just the "in vogue" therapy - its the one with the most evidence for its effectiveness and many recent advances.
If you are a therapist, unless you ar already a CBT therapist I'd suggest there is good reason to be be better informed about CBT.Why? Well, you may well decide that you do want to use CBT as your core method, or at least as one of your main set of methods - after all, we all want to use effective methods. Even if you are one of those that CBT is over-hyped, then finding out more will mean that you are speaking from a more informed position and not attacking a straw man.

So where do you start?
The book that I whole-heartedly recommend is
An Introduction to Cognitive Behaviour Therapy: Skills and Applications by David Westbrook, Helen Kennerley and Joan Kirk. It's modern, well-organised and makes a lot of sense - rather ike CBT itself. It includes sections on physical techniques as well as cognitive techniques and behavioural techniques - also useful sections on assessment, socratic method and depression and anxiety.
So that would be my number one recommendation - but below is my complete recommended reading list for therapists who want to find out more about CBT

Westbrook, D Kennerley, H and Kirk, J An introduction to CBT [particularly recommended]
Beck, J Cognitive Therapy: Basics and Beyond
Dryden, W (ed) Brief REBT (Wiley) (good on REBT)
Segal, Z, Williams, M. & Teasdale , J
Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression: A New Approach to Preventing
A large number of CDs and DVDs are available from and are excellent.

In a future post, I will share my reading list for clients and the general public who are curious about how CBT ideas and methods can help them

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