Monday, August 26, 2019

Bryan Magee, the man who made philosophy intelligble

Sad to hear of the death of Bryan Magee last month, aged 89.
Magee introduced me and I am sure many others to philosophy through is TV programmes The Great Philosophers and Men Of Ideas.
Magee had the happy knack of making complicated ideas intelligible. My main memory of the programmes is of a great philosopher (and he had some real greats on) like Quine say something far too complicated for me to understand and then Magee in a few sentences would say "So, Professor, in essence what you are saying is...." and all would become (relatively) clear,.

Here is a really good obituary of Bryan Magee  written by Julian Baggini

Much of the material from his programmes is available for free on You Tube. Here is my old college President, Tony Quinton, being interviewed by Magee about Spinoz and Leibniz

Sunday, May 05, 2019

How Stoicism can help you manage Anger and Frustration

Anger and frustration are an inevitable part of human life. Like rain on a Bank Holiday, traffic jams and politicians being really self-interested and deluded, they are part of the human condition.

Or are they?

The Stoics take a different view which can ultimately be both mood-enhancing and liberating.

A game-changing insight, a magic key to changing your life, is that we are not affected by things so much as our interpretation of them. 

A second key idea is that we have control over some things and not others, and the wise person focusses all their energy only on what they can change.

This means that though rainy bank holidays, traffic jams and politicians are inevitable, our anger and frustration over them are not.

One of the best introductions to Stoicism's remedy for anger is Seneca's little book On Anger. 
But how best to translate Seneca's ideas into a modern day set of remedies?  

In this series of articles recently published on the Modern Stoicism website, I wrote about how someone struggling today with anger and frustration might be helped by conversing with a modern Seneca, a life coached well-versed in Seneca's Stoic ideas and also with a good understanding of how therapy can help people overcome bad habits like getting angry too often.

Stoic Therapy for Anger by Tim LeBon -part 1

Stoic Therapy for Anger by Tim LeBon -part 2

I hope you find them useful and help you take control over what you can - with practice - change (your anger and frustration) and accept what you cannot (politicians, traffic jams and the weather, for starters).  Seneca, and the articles, also discuss why tackling anger and frustration is so important.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

How to Achieve Your Goals this Year

So you know how to set your goals for this year, the key question is
- what gives me the best chance of achieving my goals?

In this post I will share ideas from the 3 disciplines I find most insightful - Positive Psychology, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Stoicism, drawing on my talk at the Weekend University in 2018 (I have included clips from a video of my talk and a pdf)

1. Use strategies that research has shown work to work ( drawing on Positive Psychology)

Psychologist Richard Wiseman reviewed 10 common strategies and discovered these were the only 5 that worked.  I talked about  which research-based tips  work and which do not for 3 minutes, starting at 12 minutes in the clip below.

Evidence-based techniques to achieve your goals (from 12 mins for 3 minutes)

Often these research-based tips will be enough for you to achieve your goals this year.
But sometimes they won't, especially if unhelpful life rules or assumptions or difficult emotions get in the way. In these cases Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can be the difference that makes the difference,.

2. Use  CBT  to help overcome emotional and  other obstacles to change

To hear me explain  these ideas in much more detail , watch or listen to my Weekend University talk for  from the 15 minute to the 52 minute mark

                                           CBT  to  help you achieve your goals (from 15 mins for 47 minutes)

3.  Learn and Practice Stoicism to develop excellent habits for life

Positive Psychology gives you evidence-based strategies.
CBT helps you overcome emotional obstacles.

But how do you develop the right habits that will mean you continue moving in the right direction once the goals are achieved? And what can help you focus on important and morally significant goals rather than trivial ones?  Over to philosophy and specifically Stoicism, an ancient philosophy experiencing a twenty-first century renaissance.

Stoicism can be simplified into 3 life-changing ideas.

To hear more about how Stoicism can help you achieve your goals and give you a helpful life Philosophy, skip to the hour mark in my Weekend University talk and watch it until the end.

                              Stoicism  to  help you achieve your goals (from 60  mins for 42 minutes)

I hope these ideas are helpful.

You can download the pdf of the Weekend University presentation here.

A day of practical philosophy Feb 2nd 2019

I'm running my annual Philosophical Life Coaching in Central London on Saturday Feb 2nd.

Philosophical Life Coaching

Course Dates: 02/02/19 
Time: 10:30 - 17:30 
Location: City Lit Keeley Street  near Covent Garden and Holborn
Tutor: Tim LeBon
Cost £59 for whole day course.

Philosophical life coaching helps you lead a more satisfying and meaningful life by using insights and methods from the great thinkers. This introductory workshop will show you some of the most interesting ways it can be of help. No previous experience required.

It's Groundhog Day on Feb 2nd, so we may just look at a philosophically insightful clip from that classic.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

How to Set Inspiring Goals for the New Year

I've previously written about how  some New Year's resolutions are  NUTS, because they are
Negative , Unrealistic Timeless  and Saintly

Many New Year's resolutions go  completely against goal-setting wisdom. Goals  should be  are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, timebound and positive - not NUTS! No wonder so many resolutions fail  before the Xmas decorations are taken down.

There's another reason why so many New Year's resolutions fail. 
We often  commit to something we feel  we ought to do  rather than what we  would  genuinely find inspiring.

Today I'm going to share the process to set my own goals each year. It  works much better than New Year's resolutions.

Imagine it's the end of 2019.
You are feeling really happy with what you've achieved in 2019
What would you be saying about what has happened that makes you so happy about 2019?

You will probably find it helpful to think of various areas of life so you get a balanced set of goals.

For example, you might consider these areas:-
Work, Career and Studying
Family and intimate relationships
Relaxation and Leisure
Making a difference (for example doing charitable or community work)
Health and fitness
Personal development (for example, having a regular routine of meditation or reflection or keeping a journal)

Pick a few of these areas that are most meaningful for you. 
Say out loud or jot down some goals for each area of interest.

Finally, make sure these are good, well-formed goals by asking these questions.
Is my goal specific?
Have I got sufficient control over its outcome? 
How can I work towards this goal?

If you follow this procedure your goals will be BIG - balanced, inspiring and good.

Here's an example of how someone, let's call her Sue, moves from fairly thoughtless and hopeless New Year's resolutions, with little chance of success to  much more inspiring and achievable BIG goals.

Initially, Sue makes New Year's resolution to lose weight, cut out red meat and go to the gym.
Her friends are making similar resolutions, it what the magazines say she should do. But they don't inspire her, she doesn't really feel very committed  to them and they aren't actually very likely to succeed.

After reading this article, Sue thinks about what she would really like to say about herself at the end of the year.  She comes up with the following :-
- spend lots of good times with my friends
- manage my outbursts of anger which make it difficult for my family
- read more fiction
- plan a really good holiday
- be a good parent

When she reflects on these,  she feels much more inspired  than  she did thinking about losing weight and eating healthily.  These  new goals reflect the sort of person Sue wants to be, they reflect her values.

Next, Sue checks to see if they are BIG - balanced, inspiring and good goals.
Are these goals  balanced? Well, they relate to family, relationships, friends and relaxation, There isn't anything about work though, so she adds
- make more of an impact at work by getting my ideas across. She feels excited about the prospect of doing this,

Next, Sue considers whether her goals are inspiring. Yes they are, since they came out of the "what would you like to be able to say at the end of the year" question, they are bound to be.

Finally, Sue asks whether they are good, well-formed goals. They aren't  bad, but they could be even better.
She works out how to make each goal more specific - for example "being a good parent" becomes "listening to my children and considering their viewpoint whilst also maintaining good boundaries"
and "spend lots of good time with my friends" becomes "arrange at least one outing a week with friends"
Sue has already framed them in  a way which means she has a lot of control over most of the goals though she admits she doesn't know how to control her anger better. She decides to ask a friend if they can recommend a book, therapist of life coach that might help with this one.

Finally sue reflects on how she can work towards the goals . She decides to write them down and put them  on the fridge to remind her of the goals and to check her progress at the beginning of the month. To keep the momentum up, she shares all the goals with her family.

It needn't take you very long to set BIG inspiring goals for this year. You might even consider sharing some of them in the comments section.

It will save you reneging on those nutty New Year's resolutions.

More importantly, it may help make 2019 be a year to remember.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Favourite Books and TV of 2018

Today I'm sharing with you the books relevant to the themes of this blog that I've enjoyed most in 2018.
Please use the comments section to add your recommendations or comment on these

As you can see, my first recommendation was first published a very long time ago though its included in this list because I read it properly for the first time in 2018.

1. Seneca On Anger

Seneca argues that anger is very dangerous  and we should make great efforts to curb it.

This is not a particularly trendy view .

There are  a lot of people out there who think that we need anger to set injustices right, to defend ourselves or to avoid bottling it up.  However Seneca provides very good arguments against all these views.  To learn about why Seneca thinks anger is such a bad thing, read On Anger  or have a look at my summary  here
 "The sword of justice is ill-placed in the hands of an angry man" encapsulates one key point - you can't trust anger. Do the right thing, but do it without anger contaminating your view. Seneca also helpfully distinguishes the 3 stages of anger and provides a whole host of practical ideas that in effect constitutes a therapy of anger management.

Here  a link to a powerpoint from a workshop I ran on  Senca on Anger at  London Stoicon 2018

And here is a  tongue-in-cheek quiz to find out how Stoic you are in managing anger.

2. Thinking Fast and Slow Daniel Kahneman

This is a book I had on my bookshelf since its publication in 2011, but I only got round to reading it properly in 2018. I say reading, but like many books I have "read" this year, in fact I listened to it on audible whilst jogging or driving.  This fact is entirely appropriate, since a major thesis of Thinking Fast and Slow is that "System 1", the fast, emotional and instinctive part of us makes a lot of our decisions  - and system 1 definitely prefers listening to a book to reading it. The moral of this intelligent, well-written book is to use both systems. We need system 1 to help us navigate through life on auto-pilot - but we really shouldn't rely on it for important decisions, and we should be wary of the many traps described in this book that we are liable to fall into.

3. Moral Tribes  Joshua Greene

Joshua Greene applies some of the ideas of Thinking Fast and Slow  to ethics in  his 2014 book, Moral Tribes. Greene  argues that moral disputes happen because different "tribes" have intuitions, arising from their System 1 (which Greene calls "automatic") For example, for one group it is obvious that abortion is wrong, for others it is equally obvious that a woman has a right to choose. This is what Greene labels the tragedy of common sense morality. You aren't going to get these people in different "tribes" to agree, because their automatic intuitions are telling them that the other tribe have it all wrong.  In an argument reminiscent of the Oxford philosopher R.M. Hare's book Moral Thinking, Greene argues  that the answer is to derive a logical system of morality using System 2.  Furthermore, Greene argues that such a system will be utilitarianism. Greene won't convince everyone, but in these troubled times dont we need to  consider ways of understanding conflict that takes us beyond "us and them"?

4. The Happiness Hypothesis Jonathan Haidt 

Jonathan Haidt's  2006 book, The Happiness Hypothesis is well known for introducing the metaphor of the elephant and the rider.

We  (the thinking, rational part of each of us) think we are in control. We know there is a part of us that wants to eat too much, sleep with inappropriate people and not do any exercise, but, so we try to convince ourselves, with just a bit more willpower we can avoid all these things Plato thought as much when he gave us his metaphor of the charioteer  (reason) controlling the dark horse (appetite) and the white horse (spirit). Haidt thinks Plato is kidding himself. If the elephant  wants something, it will get its way. The rider just isnt strong enough to resist.

To be happy we need to  tame and train the elephant.  He argues that three tools -meditation, CBT and pharmacology - can all help . His book is rich and entertaining journey through ancient philosophy and modern science.

5. Character Strengths Interventions Ryan Niemiec

The VIA Character Strengths Inventory has long been known to be one of the most helpful tools of Positive Psychology. Now Niemiec, head of the VIA Institute, has written a detailed guide to tell us how to make the most of our  own strengths. This is some undertaking, as there are 24 character strengths to consider and  many traps to avoid, such as overuse or misuse of strengths. Niemiec takes us well beyond the simple "just find your top strength and apply it more"  prescription. His book is an important book for life coaches and and indeed interested in the empirical study of virtue.

And my favourite TV show of the year (again) is  ....

The Good Place

The Good Place is  funny, inventive and even manages to work in some moral philosophy. If you watch Season 3  you will  even find out why it's creators wouldnt agree with Joshua Greene about utilitarianism being the answer  to morality ...