Saturday, 17 March 2018

Autopilot and the wandering mind

Welcome to my first audio post. This arose after a lecture I did for the MSc Students at City, University of London. I was there to share my experience of selection and assessment but I also shared my frustration about the relatively low profile of our discipline. There are lots of things going on in organisations at the moment and I've never seen an organisational or occupational psychologist sharing their views on the news or other media.

This is my response to my own challenge and also something outside of my comfort zone. In this post I spend just under 7 minutes and 30 seconds talking about autopilot and the wandering mind - finishing with an easy way to practice present moment awareness.

We can spend a lot of time on autopilot - research by 2 Harvard University Psychologist found that we can spend about 47% of our waking hours thinking about something other than what we’re doing, and this mind-wandering typically makes us unhappy (Killingsworth & Gilbert, 2010)
“A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind,” Killingsworth and Gilbert write. “The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost.”
You can access the recording by clicking here.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Personal Resilience & Peak Performance with ACT!

I use Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT) in my work with organisations and individuals. I can honestly say that ACT has changed my own life and that is one of the reasons why I am passionate about sharing this behavioural science. 

This post is a brief introduction to the psychological skills training I have developed with Dr Paul Flaxman at City, University of London. I'm currently delivering this skills training to teachers, the NHS, Civil Servants, private sector organisations and ballet companies.

We have adapted ACT to make it relevant and useful for the workplace. The evidence for training based upon ACT in the workplace is strong and will be the subject of a future blog post. 

We present the framework for the training using this illustration.

In the training our aim is to practice and develop three key skills (represented by the pillars) over a series of workshops. 

AWARE - We know that the mind's favourite place to hang out is ruminating about the past or fretting and planning about the future. This is the central pillar of our training and relates to the skill of being in contact with the here and now. This skill is a form of mental training where we can begin to recognise times in life when we are on autopilot and learn to change gear to shift us into noticing the present moment. The skill we're developing enables us to be more effective at gathering the 'scattered mind'. Let's be clear - I'm not knocking autopilot, some consider it to be the greatest evolutionary advance of the human mind, but sometimes in our lives we're on autopilot when it's not so useful.

ACTIVE - We talk about values as being the personal qualities we most want to express in our daily behaviour. This ACTIVE pillar is all about 'who we want to be' or 'what we want to stand for'. We may have some personal values that are a rich seam throughout our whole lives, others may become more prominent in different phases of our lives and some may be very useful for specific life events. We may also have different values that are important in different areas of of life. For example, if I'm presenting to the Executive Board I'll pause before the meeting to connect with who I want to be during my part of the meeting and this then serves as a beacon for my behaviour. That's what values are all about for us - using them as a guide for our actions and behaviour.

OPEN - As humans we know that we can often get hooked or hijacked by our own inner experience and this is the theme of the third pillar, OPEN. By our inner experience I mean our thoughts, emotions, urges, memories and sensations. We are particularly interested in the 'chatter' of our inner experience and how this can interfere with us being who we want to be in different areas of our lives. The skill we focus on here in our training is to identify this inner chatter and notice the impact on our behaviour. Our aim is to change our relationship with this chatter to lessen its impact in our lives and on our behaviour.

Through building these skills we support the development of psychological well-being and life vitality across every area of life. We aim to enable the awareness of the present moment, an exploration of what matters and noticing what happens inside of us that makes it difficult to move towards what matters.

We typically deliver this training to small groups over four or five sessions to allow people to practice the skills and share their experiences. We are collecting both qualitative and quantitative data which we will be analysing over the coming months.

Thanks for reading!


Saturday, 11 February 2017

Your Cycling Mindset

Click here for a link to a guest blog I did for my mate Dan, who founded the cycling apparel start-up OnTor in Tavistock in Devon. It's a great opportunity for me to apply psychology in a different context. This blog is about the concept of mindset. As Dan says: 

" So do you go in search of new open roads or do you flog that same old Strava segment? Here's some sports psychology from Ross to help you recognise your 'cycling mindset'"

Although it's written about cycling the concept can apply to every career or life situation. Click here to read more!

Friday, 3 February 2017

Boost those Goals!

As we edge into February it set me thinking about goals and New Year's resolutions. It seems as though it's a tradition as commonplace as sprouts and holly to make resolutions at New Year. There can also be an associated ironic attitude, perhaps an expectation, that failure will rapidly follow. For example, take gym membership, some sources say that 80% of the New Year's Resolution crowd drops off by the second week of February. Now I'm not a gym member but it's a good example to illustrate my point.

A Problem with Goals

In my experience of our society, culture and workplace we're very goals driven. Now I'm not suggesting we should entirely ditch goals but I am proposing that we can loosen their grip on us. Why? In a nutshell - for me, a goal can imply a deficit. 

For example, consider the goal "I want to be X by time Y" or to make it more concrete "I want to be fitter by June 2017 and will go to the gym three times a week." 

The trouble for me with such a goal is that X is something we currently are not (or do not have).

We know the way our minds work and the second we veer from the path towards our goal (e.g. miss one session at the gym) our mind can produce thoughts along the lines of;
  • "you've failed", 
  • "you don't have time for this", 
  • "I knew it wouldn't last",
  • "I've blown it, let's go for a beer",
  • and "what were you thinking, you know the gym isn't for you". 
These thoughts can be quite dominant and drive our behaviour (or inertia) potentially causing us to give up, sometimes until 31 December 2017.

The Alternative - Values

My proposition is to consider an alternative, your personal values. Your values can work on their own or in tandem with your goals. 

If we selected a personal value as something with meaning for us, it could act as a beacon for our behaviour. For example, we could choose;
  • Fitness - to maintain or improve my fitness; to look after my physical and mental health and well-being;
  • Self-care - to look after my health and well-being, and get my needs met;
We could use it as a focus for what's important to us and something that reflects the qualities we would like to express in our behaviour. We can also choose to adopt a value right now, there's no implied deficit and no need to wait. 

In psychological skills training we often compare using values as a guide to using a compass to navigate. We use a compass when we're looking for a direction or when we are lost. We decide on the direction that is important to us and then, each step we take is guided by that compass point. That's what it's like using values as a guide for our behaviour.

We can also set milestones (or goals!) along the way and record our progress. 

Importantly, when we veer from the path and perhaps miss a session at the gym we can acknowledge those unhelpful thoughts produced by our mind and not criticise ourselves further. Instead we can choose to recommit to our values. 

It takes practice but the evidence shows us that using values as a guide for our action can be highly effective.

In a Nutshell

Finding the meaning behind our goals by defining our values can ignite our sense of purpose and provide a compelling focus for our actions.

Why not give it a try! 



Friday, 30 December 2016

Two Thousand & Two km

Yesterday, 29 December 2016, my morning ride took me to 2,002km of cycling this year. To be more exact since 16 April 2016. I'm extremely chuffed with this achievement and very grateful for all the support and encouragement I've received from friends and family.

My cycling is very closely linked to the behavioural science I have been practising and sharing in all areas of my work in 2016. In a nutshell, my progress in cycling is a result of applying this behavioural science, know as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), to myself. 

One of the core features of ACT is that we can explore and identify qualities (or values) that we could choose to act as a beacon for our behaviour and actions. This can give us a glimpse of a life lived with more meaning and purpose.  The alternative is permitting our unhelpful thoughts and emotions to dominate our behaviour and actions. This can take us into frustrating, familiar and habitual patterns which often do not express who we would like to be and can also stop us doing things that are important to us.

Putting this evidence based theory in the practice I noticed that:

  • My thoughts and self talk can be harsh and critical. The unhelpful thoughts and emotions in relation to cycling haven't gone away. They are still with me and show up regularly.
  • The qualities of action (or values) that I chose to guide my actions have been strengthened through an appreciation of the results of my cycling. For example, increased fitness and weight loss. Also, the sheer joy of getting out on my bike, increasing my kilometres, varying my routes and exploring my surroundings have allowed me to continue and develop my activity.
  • Encouragement and support from others has also been very powerful for me.
  • We all get punctures, both real and metaphorical, in the pursuit of something new that has meaning for us. You can always reconnect with your values if it hasn't gone so well and sometimes find new ways to express them.
  • Present moment awareness (another key feature of ACT) is an ongoing skill to be developed. It helps us to build that mental muscle that allows us contact with the present moment.
  • Taking bold action (such as signing up for the Dartmoor Classic Sportive Medio - 109km in July 2017!) can be scary and invigorating at the same time.
I've also discovered that cyclists are a friendly bunch and that a middle aged man can never have too much lycra.

You can read more about the approach here in a blog I wrote in May after I'd clocked up 124km.

Thanks for reading - Ross 

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Why pride is good! by Dr Christian Jarrett

Here a link to a brilliant article on by Dr Christian Jarrett - although it's aimed at the creative industries I recognise a reluctance to take 'authentic pride' in many of my coaching clients. 

'Authentic pride' is not the action of the hubristic bragger but 'satisfaction and pleasure we take from the positive outcomes of our hard work and dedication.' I find that we don't always pause to take a moment to appreciate positive outcomes and there is always the thought that 'pride comes before a fall' which can temper our behaviour and really 'pop our balloon'.

Image by Giacomo Bagnara

Thursday, 15 September 2016

OnTor Cycling @ Haytor

Here's my blog for OnTor Cycling with my reflections on a brilliant weekend on Dartmoor to celebrate Stage 6 of the Tour of Britain 2016. Who would have thought at the beginning of this year that I'd be such a keen cyclist by September and, as an unexpected part of my portfolio career, working with Dan (a top Yorkshire man, who combines humour and inspiration in equal measure) on his cycling start-up. I'm having a blast.


On Thursday, I headed down to Devon to visit my mate Dan (the founder of OnTor) and his family to watch the Tour of Britain summit finish on Haytor. We’d worked together on a design to celebrate the Dartmoor finish and we were really chuffed with how it looked on the first OnTor T-shirt. We were hoping to spread the word about our T-shirt and OnTor to the assembled cycling fans. Dan sent me a message whilst I was on the train to say that he’d been contacted by the Devon stage organisers. One of their clothing sponsors did not have sufficient stock to attend on Haytor so we were delighted (and a little daunted) to be invited to step in at the last minute. The team leapt into action to prepare our stand and source some top notch emergency rations for the day (viennese whirls and jaffa cakes).

By the time I arrived in Devon, all was prepared, so we got an early night, ready for our 6am start to Haytor. Mandy, a friend and loyal fan of OnTor, joined us and we headed off on the drive to the Stage 6 Finish. Dan satisfied the officials with our credentials and we were let through the roadblocks, arriving at the PromoZone area beneath Haytor which was shrouded in cloud.

 Haytor was an intermittent presence throughout the day. Our excitement was not dulled as the big boy brands and stands arrived in a wagon train through the fog. Although we couldn’t compete with them on their display budget we made a valiant effort to show our jerseys, t-shirts and caps at their best in quite challenging conditions. We’d also been expecting the team buses to be parked up very close to us but unfortunately they were relocated due to the poor weather. This scuppered our chances of a glimpse of our favourites (Mandy = Wiggins; Dan = Cav and me = Dumoulin). Mandy and Dan had brought several flasks and the regular brews and emergency rations were hugely appreciated by our little team! After our first cuppa we waited expectantly for the crowds.

And the crowds did come. We soon got into the flow and were chatting to cycling fans about our startup and how things had developed since Dan first had the idea in late 2015. Since then, Dan has worked with Milltag to design and produce the first OnTor jerseys and we worked with Primal, a local cycling apparel company, on our first T-shirt. I first met Dan in early 2016 whilst we were working in our days jobs as interims in HM Treasury (Dan, accountancy; me, organisational psychology). We soon began discussing OnTor and I started to produce some sketches and ideas for social media. Dan’s enthusiasm also re-ignited my love for cycling but that’s a whole other blog! The OnTor strapline really does reflect what we’re about. We love cycling and we love Dartmoor. Any ways in which we can get involved and promote both are great. Dan has also begun to produce guides to some of the famous climbs on the moor and these will grow over the coming months. If you’d like to contribute by recommending or describing your favourite ride, be it on road bike or mountain bike we would love to hear from you. We’re very keen to welcome guest bloggers to our community.

We’d like to sincerely thank all of you who visited our stand to find out more about OnTor and also those of you who purchased our jerseys, caps and t-shirts. Your support is much appreciated and after the brilliant summit finish on Haytor, we hope to see you at a future event in the area soon.

In the meantime you can see our first range of merchandise in our online shop.

Thanks for reading - Ross