Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Wise Life, anyone?

"That would be a very courageous decision, minister"

A while back I volunteered to do a talk for the SPP on The Wise Life. Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time, but, as Sir Humphrey would put it , it was a rather courageous decision.

The trouble is that as soon as you start talking about wisdom you are either going to seem unappealingly arrogant, or like Socrates, deny that you know anything about wisdom - in which case why talk about it? (The story goes that when the Oracle at Delphi proclaimed Socrates to be the wisest guy in Athens, Socrates decided that the only way this could be true was that only he, Socrates, was aware of the fact that he knew nothing).

One approach to wisdom is to look at its opposite, folly, and to try to learn from that.
When asked about their greatest mistakes ever, here are some of the answers that famous people have given:-

ROY HATTERSLEY "Not starting serious writing until I was 40, and spending 20 years without a dog."

ALAIN DE BOTTON "Most of my great mistakes (if only there were just one) have come from trying too hard to please other people."

FREDERICK FORSYTH "I almost started World War Three. It was 24 April 1964 ..."

JOHN O'FARRELL "My biggest mistake was thinking that the secret to being a brilliant stand-up comic was to do an entirely new and untested act in front of the biggest audience I had ever faced"

TOBY YOUNG "When I was 16, I went out on a date with this 17-year-old girl called Nicole. I'd had a crush on her for three years. At the end of the evening she invited me into her parents' house and up to her bedroom, and we started snogging. ....But in my 16-year-old wisdom...."

To see what happened to poor Toby you'll have to read the full article at The Independent

One might well chuckle at other people's misfortunes, but can we learn anything from this catalogue of folly? Well, perhaps - from Toby Young - that we need to have the wisdom of experience and knowledge of human nature. From John O'Farrell something like "Be prepared". From Alain de Botton "Don't try to please others." From Roy Hattersley "Learn what makes you happy as early as you can" From Frederick Forsyth "Think about the consequences of your actions"

But then doesn't run the risk of slipping into platitudes. A bit like at the end of Monty Python's Meaning of Life when Michael Palin finally reads out the answer to the Meaning of Life.
'Try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.'

Have I, them made my biggest mistake in volunteering to talk about the Wise Life?
Well, I've got 4 whole days to find out the answers. And if you'd like to find out what happens, it would be great to see you there on Tuesday 19th December, at 630 pm at
Swedenborg House
David Wynter Room 2nd floor
20-21 Bloomsbury Way
Nearest tube: Holborn

Entrance is free, but please e-mail me if you intend to come as, unlike at John O'Farrell's gig, numbers are limited ...

New Personal Development Posts

There's a lot of new posts on the main Personal Development through Philosophy and Psychology website. Here are a few recent highlights ..

Beyond Authentic Happiness - 10 reasons to doubt Seligman

Are you researching positive psychology or looking for a review of Martin Seligman's Authentic Happiness? Are you looking for a critique of Authentic Happiness? Have you read Authentic Happiness and are wondering if you are along in having some unanswered questions for Seligman? If so, read on ...

Counselling and Psychotherapy Training
Tim LeBon's top 7 tips on finding the right psychotherapy or counselling course for you
Your choice of counselling or psychotherapy course is crucial - it could be the difference between making the satisfying career change or want and being disillusioned and frusrated. I now teach some courses and also offer advice to trainee counsellors seeking the right course. If you want to book a consultation on this topic, e-mail me. Here for free are my top 7 tips on finding the right course for you.

Read more about counselling and psychotherapy training

Kierkegaard and Existentialism Page

Soren KierkegaardSoren Kierkegaard (1813-55) - The first existentialist philosopher?

Major works: Either/Or (1843), Fear and Trembling (1843), Concluding Unscientific Postscript (1846)

Learn about Kierkegaard . Recommended novel about Kierkegaard's ideas; Read Kierkegaard Quotes

Best Kierkegaard and existentialism links

Read more about Kierkegaard

Why not google the Personal Development site to find your favourite page?

Sunday, December 03, 2006

What would George Eliot have said to Captain Jack?

Captain JackWhat would George Eliot have said to Captain Jack ?George Eliot

Back in October, when my kids were starting to look forward to Xmas, I began to look forward to Torchwood.
"Dr Who for grown-ups" said the trailers. What could be better? Well, call me a kid that's never satisfied with his presents if you like, but watchable as it is, I was hoping for more than gore and sub-Bond excitement. I'm not alone. As one
blogger put it "Torchwood is a bit like a teenager who wants to be cool and grown-up; it wears lots of black and hangs around moodily, but it hasn't yet quite grasped that swearing and trying to shock aren't really the key to the thing."

For me, a real "Dr Who for grown-ups" would share the intelligence of the best science fiction. Like Kurt Vonnegut and Stanislaw Lem, it would play around with ideas to stimulate and illuminate our own thinking.
Last week's episode of Torchwood seemed promising - "what if you could read other people's mind". "Would that really be a good thing?" Would telepathy be useful? Or embarrassing? Or overwhelming? Well, it turned out to be all of these, and Tosh, Captain Jack and the gang decided that telepathy was something of a Greek gift. It wasn't a bad episode, but personally I find more illumination on the subject in the most unlikely of places - a classic Victorian novel.

In Middlemarch, George Eliot wrote:

If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life,
it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat,
and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of that silence.
As it is, the quickest of us walk about well wadded with stupidity.

It's the last word of the last sentence that really gets to me. The first sentence - the roar which lies on the other side of silence - suggests the same answer as Torchwood. We can't afford to be too empathic, or too compassionate, or too caring. We just have to protect ourself with indifference. But for Eliot, it doesnt end there. Indifference doesn't just make you bad - it makes you stupid. Not knowing how other people feel is an intellectual as well as a moral failure.

If you were offered the gift of telepathy, should you accept it? Probably not. Should you try to be more compassionate and empathic? I wouldn't have guessed it from watching Torchwood, but reading Middlemarch suggests an emphatic "yes". And reading books like Middlemarch - unlike watching Torchwood - is one of the best ways to become more empathic, by entering into the world of the characters and gaining a better understanding of human nature.

Which leaves me with my disappointment over the BBC's pre-Xmas present. Well, I now realise that, like many an aged relative, Auntie doesn't always remember what she's already given you. In fact I got "Dr Who for grown-ups" a long, long time ago. So get out your towels and - Don't Panic!

Don't Panic!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

After Emotional Intelligence, it's Social Intelligence

I've just heard that Daniel Goleman, author of two of my favourite personal development books, Emotional Intelligence and Destructive Emotions has published a new book, Social Intelligence.

. The main idea is that social intelligence - "abilities like empathy and social ease that make people sparkle interpersonally", are very important. If you've read Social Intelligence , I'd be very interested to read your comments.

As with most of his books, this is popular psychology backed up by Neuroscience . In Goleman's honour, I've added a new page to my Personal Development Through Philosophy and Psychology website about neuroscience.

By the way, Goleman now has his own blog and here is a brief introduction to social intelligence written by Goleman.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Stress Management for Cricket-Lovers

"7 days to go…". If these words mean nothing to you, then this blog entry and others in the next few months may not mean too much either. It’s 7 days to the start of the Ashes. I can’t wait …
However, since this blog is meant to have something to do with personal development rather than my hobbies, I’d better make it relevant. Not too hard, actually, given Marcus Trescothick’s sad departure from the tour on grounds of stress. Even though his website still proclaims “My problems are now very much behind me, I just needed a break.”, a few days ago his problems recurred and he’s now back in Britain.
We don’t know exactly what Tresco’s problems are, but they are said to be “stress-related”. If so, then he merits our sympathy. Stress is a very serious and debilitating problem, and we should treat him with as much sympathy as if Brett Lee had broken his arm. It may be too late for the Ashes, but I’ve created a web page full of all the ideas I know about to help with stress-management – cognitive therapy, self-help books, time-management, relaxation, problem-solving and assertiveness amongst them.
Watching England play cricket can be another source of stress, but it’s one that I’m loathe to cut out ..

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Looks like Betjeman wasn't the only one...

Sir John Betjeman, late in life, said his one regret was that he had not had enough sex.
A UK poll published in October 2006 suggests that he was not alone. 70% of pensioners included "more sex" as one their top ten wishes if they could have their time over again. In comparison, many 20-30 year olds actually wanted to sleep with less partners (23%) and seemed a lot more bothered about material concerns -
their main regret was that they hadnt bought property earlier (77%)

Unfortunately, the results don't reveal gender differences, which I am sure would have made fascinating reading. Are women pensioners regretting not having more sex to the same extent as men, or is the story like it is in Woody Allen's Annie Hall?

When their respective therapists ask Annie (Dianne Keaton) and Alvy (Woody Allen) how often they sleep together, they give strangely similar yet different answers.
"Hardly ever" laments Alvy, "Maybe three times a week."
"Constantly" compains Annie. "I'd say three times a week."

So what are we to make of the findings? James Newton, of UKTV Gold, who commisioned the survey, commented :-

"Who would have thought that pensioners would be so fixated on having missed their opportunity to have more sex and travel the world, while twenty-somethings are more concerned about property?"

Well, maybe that old sage, Abraham Maslow, who long ago in his hierarchy of human needs postulated that we are most motivated by what we are lacking. From Maslow's perspective, it's hardly surprising that 20-somethings, probably in debt, value money and that pensioners, many whose sexual needs are not met as they once were, value sex. If that's true, then the poll results shouldn't be interpreted as providing universal answers to the question "what matters most". It's even possible to turn Maslow's ideas round and ask "is what is motivating me most now just a symptom of my not having it?. Would I be really happy if I did have it?".

Or am I being too sceptical about the poll results? Maybe we should leave the last word on that to Woody Allen.

Sex without love an empty experience, but as empty experiences go, it's one of the best.

The results of the UKTV Gold poll in full:

Pensioners Top 10 regrets


20-30 year olds

Top 10 regrets


1.Have more sex


1. Buy property earlier


2. Travel more


2. Not waste money


3. Change jobs


3. Vote differently


4. Save more


4. Be famous


5. Stand up to boss


5. Travel more


6. Marry someone else


6. Lose virginity to someone else


7. Spend "frivolously"


7. Study harder


8. Set up business,


8. Booze less


9. Study harder


9. Take vocational courses


10. Be famous


10. Sleep around less


1500 over-65s and 20-30 year olds were interviewed for the poll, conducted by UKTV Gold

External Links

Pensioners regret not having more sex -survey

More sex please, we're old and British

Pensioners' wish: to have had more sex

Friday, September 01, 2006

Free Will - a lesson taught to me by my kids

“If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice”
“Free Will” by Rush

My kids, aged 6 and 4 at the time, and I had just had a really great time at the park. As we drove towards our house, we were basking in the satisfaction of time well spent. But I’d seen us metamorphose too often from the Waltons at their best to the Simpsons at their worst to be complacent. Right then I could even picture what would happen if fate was left to take its course. In the nick of time, it occurred to me that sharing a thought experiment with my kids might just make a difference.

“I can see the future …”, I announced dramatically as we turned into our road.

“I see you both rushing to the front door. You are fighting with each other to get there first. You both get upset, even more so when you try to tell Mummy about your adventures at the same time. And you know what happens next? Rather than being interested in what you are saying, as you’d hoped, she tells you off for squabbling. In ten minutes time, we will all be miserable.”

“But you know it doesn’t have to be like that.” I added, almost as an afterthought. “I can see another future. Instead of rushing to the door, you follow me quietly out of the car. Then you take it in turns to tell Mummy. This time, she is interested in what you are saying. In ten minutes time we will all be as happy as we are now.”

“Which future would you like?” I ask. “It’s up to you.”

“The first one!” my 6-year-old replied, inevitably. But that didn’t discourage me. And sure enough, reality turned out to be closer to my second alternative. Doh! I’m not Homer Simpson after all…

OK, enough of my minor child-rearing successes, what’s this got to do with free will? Only this. Much of the time we operate on autopilot, not really thinking about how to make ourselves and those around us happy. We act on instinct, much like my kids rushing to the door. Yet instinct and autopilot often let us down. You don’t need a sixth sense to know that an unkind word to your partner, or slouching in front of the television all night, isn’t the way to go – but that’s the route autopilot can take you. Moment-to-moment mindfulness of the dangers of autopilot and of the option to act instead on wise choices gives you the sort of free will worth having.

So why not try it out for yourself today? What route is your autopilot setting you on in life? Does autopilot always make you happy? What would you like to happen instead? How can you make that happen? Of course, you don’t have to ask yourself any of these questions. You can leave it up to good old autopilot. It’s up to you. But – as the song says - if you choose not to decide you still have made a choice.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Red Card to Zidane!

Zinedine Zidane may be a first-rate footballer, but he’s a third-rate philosopher.

Commenting on his headbutt of Italian defender Marco Materazzi in Sunday's World Cup final, Zidane, 34, said:

"It was inexcusable. I apologise. But I can't regret what I did because it would mean that he was right to say all that."

Zidane is missing 3 open goals

zidane miss
There is a gap between stimulus and response (Stephen Covey).
You are free to choose your response to an insult
zidane miss There is a difference between someone offending you and someone harming you (J.S Mill).

Insults don’t really harm you

zidane miss It doesnt follow that even if someone does harm you that you have to harm them physically in return.
What's a better response? Almost anything.
        • “Turn the Other Cheek” (Christianity)
        • “The more you understand the more you forgive“ (Spinoza)
        • "Take your revenge, but take it wisely”. (Machiavellian) .

Zidane's response was precisely what Matterazi hoped for.

Of course, what really happened was that the red mist descended.

ZZ's verbal response 3 days later is more a rationalisation than anything else.

Maybe what Zidane (and Rooney too) really needs is some neo-Stoic anger management.

But let's talk about emotional wisdom in a future article ...

Personal Development Through Philosophy says :-

“Red Card” to Zidane!”

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Match of the Day Philosophy Special

The news that Big Brother contestants have been asked to discuss the Meaning of Life has seen other popular shows jump on the philosophical bandwagon. Personal Development Through Philosophy is proud to have secured the script and exclusive rights to one such venture - tonight's Philosophy Special Match of the Day....

Gary Lineker: After the World Cup debacle against Portugal, perhaps we all need to learn how to take life more philosophically. Tonight our usual panel of experts is joined by two very special guests, the new England manager Steve McClaren and the ancient Roman Stoic philosopher, Lucius Seneca. Alan Hansen, if I may turn to you first, which philosopher do you think England can learn most from?

Alan: The boy Aristotle's got it all - after two and a half thousands years or so he might be slowing down a bit, but his maturity and common sense more than compensate. Sheer class.

Gary: And how could Aristotle help?

Alan: Basically his advice adds up to 3 secrets of success. Practice, practice and more practice. Who was the only Englishman to score a penalty? The one who plays in Germany, that's who. We've got to practice penalty-taking, and we've got to get into the habit of taking good penalties. If we took penalties to decide every drawn Premiership game, you'd soon notice the difference.

Gary: Aristotle said all that, did he?

Alan: Aye, words to that effect. And he also said that you could'na win anything with kids.

Gary: Let's go over to the stadium now and join John Motson and Mark Lawrenson. Mark, any words of wisdom?

Mark Lawrenson: (deadpan) The two enemies of human happiness are pain and boredom.

Gary: Is that one of yours, Mark?

Mark: I wish it was, Gary, I wish it was. No, that's from Arthur Schopenhauer - the second most miserable person ever. Pain and boredom - that just about sums up England's World Cup for me.

Gary: Hmm. I wonder if Schopenhauer was influenced by the formative years he spent in Wimbledon. Moving on quickly - John, anything to add?

Motty: (chirpy as ever) You know, I think some people are being a bit too harsh on the England lads. I lip-read some banter between Manchester United team-mates Rooney and Ronaldo the other night, and you might not believe this, but they were actually talking about two philosophers, Foucault and Kant.

Gary: (smirking) Thanks for that, John. Now for a Welsh point of view, over to Mark Hughes.

Marcuse: The people recognize themselves in their commodities; they find their soul in their automobile, hi-fi set, split-level home, their flat-panel TV.

Motty: Ho, Ho. I think that someone's confused Marcuse, the Frankfurt school philosopher, and Mark Hughes, the ex Man Utd forward. It reminds me of the time back in 1982 when Top of the Pops mixed up soul icon Jackie Wilson with darts player Jocky Wilson. You've got to laugh ...

Gary: Ian Wright - you look like you’re bursting to say something ...

Ian: Aristotle, Schopenhauer, Marcuse - listen, man, we don’t need any of these fancy foreigners, know what I mean? How about someone English for a change? John Stuart Mill is the man for me. The greatest happiness of the greatest number, that's the answer. Steve - put a smile back on everyone's face and pick some fast wingers, youngsters who can go past players.

Steve McClaren: One of them wouldn’t go by the name of Sean would he?

Ian: Well, you'd be making at least one person very happy.

Gary: Lucius Seneca, you were tutor to Nero, you've seen it all before. Any sage advice for the English?

Seneca: Forget 4-5-1, drop Beckham, play Lennon and Cole as out-and-out wingers, put Rooney and Defoe up front together - oh, and make John Terry captain.

Gary: And any philosophical tips?

Seneca: We Stoics think that people need to have realistic expectations. England always lose in penalty shoot outs and have never won a major football tournament away from home. Expect things to go badly, and you won't be disappointed. And remember, football's only a game.

Gary: Steve McClaren, the new England manager, you're being very quiet. Not impersonating Sven by any chance, are you? Steve, what's the way forward for England?

Steve McClaren: It's all Greek to me

Gary: Seneca, don’t go just yet. It looks like we might need to remember your advice in the next few years. Well I hope all this philosophy has helped -now it's over to Big Brother to find out the meaning of life....

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Being Sven-Goran Eriksson

It was as if Tony Blair, having been savaged by Paxman on Iraq, suddenly got up and said “Jeremy, you are quite right. I am not up to the job. I quit.” Back in October 2000, Kevin Keegan, after a particularly abject home defeat to Germany, told us what we’d all suspected for some time. He simply wasn’t up to the job and he quit.

It was time for a different approach. Keegan was just too emotional, too enthusiastic, too na├»ve. We needed the anti-Keegan. Arsene Wenger wasn’t available, so we got Sven-Goran Eriksson instead.

At first, it worked wonders. England qualified for the World Cup. On September 1st, 2001 England trounced the old enemy, Germany, 5-1, in Munich of all places. Motty couldn't believe it, and neither could the rest of us. Sven truely was the Messiah.

Was Sven really going to be the one to end the thirty (going on forty) years of hurt? The evidence began to suggest otherwise. First there were the substitutions straight out of the Graham Taylor coaching manual When we needed a goal, who should Sven send on?Owen bloody Hargreaves, that's who. Thank goodness Carlton Palmer had retired.

Whenever we needed an improved second-half performance, inevitably we got worse instead. Robbie Fowler's autobiography explained why. "At half-time [against Brazil in the World Cup] you could see the faces of our players - they were shell-shocked. But it was still only 1-1 and it was time for the manager to get to work, change the tactics and instil some belief. He said absolutely nothing, just stood there with a startled look on his face. We just rolled over and died. There was no team spirit, no fight, no togetherness. And the manager didn't say a word.”

Of course, none of this would have mattered if we had kept on winning. But we began to lose every time we faced a decent team (Brazil and Portugal). Then we began to lose whoever we faced (Australia and Northern Ireland).

Sven's World Cup squad selection finally sealed it. The whole country echoed as one "You what! You what! You what! You what! You what! You what! With Rooney and Owen half-crocked, how come we've only got 2 other strikers - and why are those two Crouch and Walcott?" Walcott's selection seemed especially bizarre, even to my six year old son. “It was nice of Sven to pick Theo”, he said, “but couldn’t they have tried him out first before they picked him for the World Cup?”. Out of the mouth of babes ..... Ossie Ardiles, who knows a thing or two about winning the World Cup, was even more sceptical. “The fact that Arsene Wenger took everybody to the Champions League final apart from Walcott says a lot. He even took the tea-lady." Of course, we shouldn't be too harsh on Theo. We havent even seen him play for 90 minutes. The trouble is, neither has Sven.

So if Sven isn't the Messiah, who is he? It was when listening to one of his interviews (“In the first half we did OK, in the second half not so good.”) that it hit me. Sven is football’s answer to Chancey Gardener, the Peter Sellers character in the 1979 classic film Being There. Chancey's simple platitudes are mistaken for wisdom, because it's what his recipients want to hear. Sound familiar?

Chance the Gardener

“All is well...and all will be the match.”

Sven-Goran Eriksson

“I like to watch (as long as England aren't playing)”

Could they be in any way related?

Who do you think these words describe?

“ His empty-headed pronouncements and generalizations, delivered dead-pan, are taken to be profoundly intelligent, metaphorically deep, and wisely insightful.”

“The people he meets almost all see qualities in him that are not there, but instead reflect qualities and needs of their own”

“Though well-dressed and appearing capable of deep thoughts, he is mentally limited”.

“He becomes wealthy and is treated as a famous celebrity in the media”

That's right, they are all about Chance the Gardener.

But this is a column devoted to enhancing personal development, so we don't want to spend all our time knocking Sven (even if that is fun). So, what can we learn from Sven? That you can make 25 million pounds and pull lots of glamorous women even with such limited talent and looks? That Chance (geddit?) may be on your side? Y-e-s, but here in Personal Development Through Philosophy and Psychology we like to go a little bit deeper than that (and if it earns us an entry in Pseud's Corner, so much the better). The closing words of Being There are "“Life is a state of mind” In other words, if you believe that something is true, it may just become true. Turn it round the other way, and it begins to resemble a Sven platitude. If you don't believe that you will achieve something, then you won't attempt it, and you certainly won't achieve it. . Many years ago, I remember expressing very strong doubts that I could ever write a book, something I really wanted to do. Then someone asked me a most insightful question - “Do you really think that writers are such special people?” . The scales descended from my eyes. Writers are just ordinary people - they aren't a special breed. If you really want to achieve something – be it a new career, a relationship or an accomplishment – then don’t assume that everyone who has achieved what you desire are all supermen or superwomen. Sven certainly isn't.

So are England doomed to forty years of hurt? Probably. But then again, maybe not. Being There concludes with the memorable image of Chance walking on water. If Chance can do it, why not Sven?

Friday, June 23, 2006

Happiness (part 2) - What is Happiness?

"So what is Happiness?", someone asked me recently, with the air of a man who wasn't expecting a straight answer- especially not asking this of all questions, especially not when asking a philosopher of all people. Well the good news is - I gave him a straight answer. And I'm going to give it to now as well.

You might think that all you have to do to find out what happiness is is to look it up in the dictionary. Try it if you like, you can do it very quickly and freely on the internet. If you are lucky, you will get an answer that points to two definitions, like
a : a state of well-being and contentment
b : a pleasurable or satisfying experience
And that, basically, would be my answer too.
Happiness (a) is life satisfaction. If I asked you "How happy, on a scale 0 to 10, is your life?", then your answer would give a measure of your life satisfaction, happiness (a).
Happiness (b) is moment-to-moment happiness - ranging from enjoyment and pleasure to joy and and ecstasy. Psychologists term this sort of happiness 'positive affect'; its oppositeis called "negative affect" and includes guilt, sadness, anxiety and all the other negative emotions. To find out how happy someone was in this sense, you might try to find out the balance of the positive minus the negative emotions in their life.
Does this help? Yes. First of all, it means you can now easily answer the question "How happy am I?". If it seemed mysterious before, it was only because the word "happiness" is ambiguous and unlike some words, like "bat", which have two very different meanings , the two meanings of "happiness" are sufficiently alike to cause confusion. Try it now - give yourself a mark out of ten for
Happiness (a) - life satisfaction and
Happiness (b) - the balance in your life of positive over negative emotions
I wonder if the two values are the same? I wonder if you'd like to be happier, in both senses? If so, then my next article on happiness will help - because the distinction we've made today will be invaluable when it comes to helping you becoming happier.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

The Apprentice UK - When to trust your henchmen, and when to trust your gut

Are you, like many in the UK, addicted to the 2nd series of The Apprentice?Over the last 3 months, 10000 applicants have been whittled down to the last few. This week there were 4 – Ruth “The Badger”, the probable favourite, Michelle - “the pretty blonde” Dewberry, Paul “I’m brilliant” Tulip and Ansell “Mr. Nice Guy” Henry. This week, instead of the usual task, they were all subject to interviews from three of Sir Alan Sugar’s henchmen. What’s more, two would-be apprentices were going to be get the boot this week. The poor things didn’t know what hit them. Paul, who previously hadn’t put a foot wrong, completely lost the plot. When his interviewer told him “I admire your integrity in telling me that you lie and cheat everyday”, the irony appeared completely lost on him. As one reviewer put it, Paul was not so much fired as “rocketed into space”. The only apprenticeship he would get on this performance would be to the Office's David Brent.

The series has done no harm at all to Sir Alan Sugar, whose star may seem to have been on the wane following the decline of his Amstrad word-processors and his dismal foray into football chairmanship. When none of the candidates turned out to know what Amstrad did these days, we were even willing to accept this as a deficiency of the apprentices, rather than a comment on the state of Sugar’s company. And whilst Sugar would still be high on my list of possibles for the part of the Vogon Fleet Commander in the Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, his gruff belligerence has somehow come over as rather endearing. But -and this is a big but - would you really want to work for Sir Alan and his henchmen? Or are they a throwback to the grim, unenlightened 1980s of Margaret Thatcher and Norman Tebbit? Have these people got a heart? Could they utter the phrase “work-life balance” without an accompanying sneer? Claude's interview with Michelle had me shaking my head in disbelief. Part of it went something like this …

Henchman (Claude): Michelle, you’ve said on your CV that you’ve got integrity, common-sense and a good sense of instinct. A good sense of instinct, that’s what interests me, what does that mean?

Michelle “Instinct gives you your initial steer. When I’ve got a gut feeling I know whether something feels right.”

Claude (incredulously). “It feels right - in business? … What does “feels right” mean?”

Michelle. “I can’t explain it. It’s just something inside of you”

Claude (interrupting, and contemptuous) “That’s absolute nonsense. Michelle, if you are in business and you are serious about business, you can’t be instinctive. You can’t just say (puts on a silly voice) ‘I’ve got a feeling in my water’".

(Speaking now as if a parent to a little girl who had asked for her third ice cream)
"It’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculous.”

After the interrogation (sorry, interview) he had even 'cold fish' Michelle whimpering
“Jesus … He’s made me feel that small ...”

At times like these, wouldn't it be great if the tables could be turned, and just for once you could put the interrogator in the interviewee's chair ...

If I was on the panel assessing Claude’s own performance, this is what I'd say to him:-

“Claude, are you aware that it is now widely accepted amongst experts both in business and in psychology, that gut feeling, instinct, hunches – call them what you will – have an important part of play in management? Has Daniel Goleman’s classic Emotional Intelligence been published in vain? Are you aware that emotional intelligence is as important , if not more so, than IQ ? Were Goleman here today, he’d probably say to you “Our gut feelings …provide critical information that we must not ignore … Intuition and gut feeling bespeak the capacity to sense messages from our internal store of emotional memory - our own reservoir of wisdom and judgement.” Do you care to argue with Goleman?

Claude, I wonder whether you are to speed on your Harvard Business Review on Decision-Making? An entire article there would tell you “When to Trust Your Gut in Business”. And no, Claude, the answer is not “never.” Had you read it, The Review would have informed you that we all subconsciously review past experiences relevant to the situation at hand - and we label this 'intuition' or 'instinct'. If you get good results from following your intuition – as Michelle claims she does– then that is a really great asset in business. “Experts see patterns that elicit from memory the things they know about such situations” said no lesser authority than Herbert A. Simon, a Nobel Laureate and Professor of Psychology and Computer Science.

"What's that, Claude? You don't trust academics, not even Nobel-winning ones. Well, how about former AOL President Bob Pittman? He backs up the importance of intuition from the vantage point of big business. When he gets a bunch of data, Pittman asks “What does it all mean? There’s a message there.” Then one day, he says, “the overall picture comes to me.” Yes, Claude, I too wonder whether it was his gut feeling that told Pittman to leave AOL in 2002 (again, probably a good call).

“So Claude, he who says “Gut feelings have no place in business” (and it probably would be a he, frankly) is the one being ridiculous. We all have gut feelings, and the wise business-person - and the wise person in general - notices these intuitions and knows how and when to use them.”

“ Indeed, Claude, when you and your fellow the henchmen all agreed that, despite his impressive results in the previous 10 weeks, Paul should be fired, you were all following your gut instinct. As one of you said “You can find 4 Pauls in the Peugot salesroom down the road and 3 of them will be wearing better suits”. You knew that your instincts, based on a 20 minute interview and 20 years of experience, told you more than any amount of statistics from the previous 10 week’s tasks.”

“Claude, I’m sorry to say that your denial of the usefulness of gut feelings in business is outdated and, to put it bluntly, just plain wrong. It's a serious misjudgement, and has no place in a twenty-first century outfit."

"Claude, you’re fired!”

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Happiness (Part 1) - Teaching Happiness

Last week the UK Newspapers were full of a story about a new subject being taught to 14-16 year olds - happiness.

The headmaster of Wellington College, Berkshire who is also a respected author, will teach his students how to be happy. The articles don't say exactly what will be included in the lessons, but two things are clear. First - although the head, Anthony Seldon is a historian - the lessons won't be a boring catalogue of the history of happiness, or even of the ingredients of happiness. They will be more reflective - students will think about their own talents, their own goals, how to deal with their negative emotions. Second, the inspiration comes from Postive Psychology - the new science of well-being and developing strengths.

So far so good. When I reflect on my own education, I detect two imbalances. One was between facts on the one hand and reflection and practice on the other. I learnt plenty of French words, but not how to speak and understand French. I learnt the names of kings and queens and battles, but didnt really reflect on what all this history meant. If that imbalance was about how I was taught, the second one was about the subjects I was taught. History, Geography, Biology and the rest all have their place - but there was very little about life skills, about developing the emotions, about philosophy, or psychology. What little there was came under "Religious Education" or "General Studies". That was in the 1970s, and things may be better now. But I know that many of my learning since then has been making up for lost time. I'm sure it would have been very beneficial for me if I had been tought about happiness when I was at school.

However ... I am not sure that positive psychology on its own is sufficient to learn about happiness. Psychology takes a given concept- such as happiness - and can help us learn about what research shows to be effective at enhancing it. What it doesnt do is help us understand what that concept really means in the first place. That's what philosophy is good at - helping to understand what concepts really mean, using a technique called "conceptual analysis". Psychology is also limited by its research methods. As psychologist Abraham Maslow famously said "If you've only got a hammer, you'll tend to treat every problem as a nail." One might add that if hammers are the cheapest tool you have, you might be tempted to use them rather than other tools that might expand your repertoirre. With positive psychology, the main research tool is self-reports (see for instance Using self-reports, you base everything on what ordinary people say about how happy they are. Again, philosophy provides an alternative perspective - what wise people have thought about what constitutes a happy and meaningful life.

I hope that the happiness training in the UK takes on board philosophical as psychological insights about how to be happy. So, you might well ask, how would I teach happiness? That's a question I will be pursuing in this and subsequent articles. For now, I'll just make a few observatiosn. First, regarding happiness and any other value or virtue (others include love, meaning of life, freedom, wisdom, compassion and authenticity) there are also three great questions to ask
1. What is it? (and maybe there are different flavours)
2. What value is to? (and what are its limitations)
3. How can it be enhanced? (in an individual and society)

The first question belongs to philosophy and the method of choice is conceptual analysis. The second question is also largely philosophical, though psychology will also be relevant to the extent that research shows one value (e.g.happiness) leads to another (e.g. altruism). The "how to" question, number 3, is mainly psychological, though politics and education are also highly relevant -as are 2 thousand years of thoughts of philosophers and religious thinkers. I really recommend bearing these three questions in mind about any value or virtue you are interested in, as you need to consider all 3 to get the complete picture. For example, if Anthony Seldon is only considering question 3 - about how happiness can be enhanced - then he may be missing what happiness really is, or its limitations.

In my next article on happiness, I will look at the first question - What is Happiness?

Exernal Links

Lessons in Life - Why I am Teaching Happiness

Top boarding school to give lessons in happiness

True happiness is more than feeling good

Monday, April 03, 2006

A short meditation on love

One of the highlights of the Viktor Frankl workshop previewed in the last post was a short meditation on love. It was so powerful, in a positive way, with several of the participants, that I'd like to share it with you.

In Man's Search for Meaning Frankl describes how such a meditation transformed an appalling ordeal into some moments of beauty and meaning. This is what Frankl writes:-

We stumbled on in the darkness, over big stones and through large puddles, along the one road running through the camp. The accompanying guards kept shouting at us and driving us with the butts of their rifles. Anyone with very sore feet supported himself on his neighbour's arm. Hardly a word was spoken; the icy wind did not encourage talk. Hiding his hand behind his upturned collar, the man marching next to me whispered suddenly: "If our wives could see us now! I do hope they are better off in their camps and don't know what is happening to us."

That brought thoughts of my own wife to mind. And as we stumbled on for miles, slipping on icy spots, supporting each other time and again, dragging one another on and upward, nothing was said, but we both knew: each of us was thinking of his wife. Occasionally I looked at the sky, where the stars were fading and the pink light of the morning was beginning to spread behind a dark bank of clouds. But my mind clung to my wife's image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness. I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look then was more luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise. A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth-that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world may still know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when a man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way-an honourable way-in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfilment. For the first time in my life, I was able to understand the words, "The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory." In front of me a man stumbled and those following him fell on top of him. The guard rushed over and used his whip on them all. Thus my thoughts were interrupted for a few minutes. But soon my soul found its way back from the prisoners existence to another world, and I resumed talk with my loved one: I asked her questions, and she answered; she questioned me in return, and I answered... My mind still clung to the image of my wife. A thought crossed my mind: I didn't even know if she were still alive, and I had no means of finding out (during all my prison life there was no outgoing or incoming mail); but at that moment it ceased to matter. There was no need to know; nothing could touch the strength of my love, and the thoughts of my beloved. Had I known then that my wife was dead, I think that I still would have given myself, undisturbed by that knowledge, to the contemplation of that image, and that my mental conversation with her would have been just as vivid and just as satisfying. "Set me like a seal upon thy heart, love is as strong as death."

We read this in class -as you have just read it. Then I asked people to imagine the following in their mind's eye:-

Focus on someone with whom you have experienced love, someone who appreciates you a great deal and whom you appreciate.
You could choose a romantic love, or a parent a child or close friend.
Focus on their smile and the inner beauty you see in them.
Feel the love and appreciation they have for you.
Now have an imaginary conversation with them.
Hear the appreciation and love you have for them.
Tell them what you feel about them.
Smile and enjoy the meaning you can gain from love.

Try this out for yourself and see if you experience the meaning and - Frankl's word - bliss that love can bring. Why not treat yourself to it on a daily basis. It not only helps you re-experience meaningful love - it will motivate you positively as well.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Living with purpose

What difference would it make to your life if you knew the purpose of your life?

This week I'm teaching a whole day workshop on Viktor Frankl, author of the personal development classic, Man's Search for Meaning. I love doing these workshops, not least because they enhance my own learning and, more importantly, provide motivation and create energy.

Frankl says that there is no one meaning to a person's life. You have to detect the meaning in your life, given your talents and opportunities. For example, if you have a great musical talent, it may not be too difficult to think that the meaning of your life is to create music. If you are a parent of young children, your purpose comes from nurturing them.

How can you discover the meaning and purpose in your own life? When I wrote Wise Therapy, I developed the RSVP values clarification to help. Try it out yourself, and see what values you detect.

The next - and crucial - step is to live these values. I do RSVP every few months myself. The last time, my top values (in no particular order) were serenity, fun, love, wisdom and fulfillment. My purpose in life is to make sure my life actually satisfies these values. My own favourite ways of helping this happen include
- Using guided imagery. I have made my own guided imagery recordings, put them on my i-pod, and listen to them on the train. This is not only enjoyable, but also very helpful - I can imagine my ideal day, and in doing so help it happen.
- Goal setting. Setting SMART goals is a great way to stay on track
- Life coaching. The process of life coaching can be very energising and helps focus one on what matters.
- Making personal development a priority. Write a blog, take or teach some classes, leave aside at least 5 minutes a day for personal development work.

As Viktor Frankl would have been the first to recognise, living the purposeful live is not always plain sailing. But the two steps described above - detecting one's important values, then taking active steps to ensure they are fulfilled - can be very beneficial.