Sunday, December 30, 2012

Twelve Days of Kindle - Low cost personal development books

There are some real bargains to be had over at the Kindle store for the next few days... Most are only 99p
Here are some books I'd recommend ..

Introducing Positive Psychology: A Practical Guide by Bridget Grenville-Cleave Introducing Happiness: A Practical Guide by Will Buckingham The Shrink and the Sage by Julian Baggini and Antonia Macaro The Pig That Wants to be Eaten: And ninety-nine other thought experiments by Julian Baggini 

And here are many more I haven't read yet but look interesting

Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential: How You Can Fulfill Your Potential by Carol Dweck
Introducing Mindfulness: A Practical Guide by Tessa Watt 

How to Get a Grip - Humorous take on self-help

It's Not Me, It's You!: Comic musings of a  perfectionist

Mortality by Christopher Hitchens - Thought-provoking essay

30-Second Philosophies "The 50 Most Thought-provoking Philosophies, Each Explained in Half a Minute" by Stephen Law, Julian Baggini and Barry Loewer

I'm Not Crazy, I'm Just Not You: The Real Meaning of the 16 Personality Types by Roger R. Pearman and Sarah C. Albritton 

How to Think Like Sherlock: Improve Your Powers of Observation, Memory and Deduction by Daniel Smith

Philosophy: All That Matters by Julian Baggini
Introducing Psychology of Relationships: A Practical Guide (Introducing...) by John Karter

Release Your Worries by Cate Howell and Michele Murphy 

Stoicism and its Modern Uses: results out soon

One of the professional highlights of 2012 for me was being part of Stoic Week. An important element was the questionnaires, which included both qualitative and quantitative measures of the effects on participants of taking part in Stoic Week. The results are now in, and will be revealed on the Exeter University Stoic Week website soon.
Here is a  post setting the scene for what we might learn from the week.
The 3 Stoic Exercises that were deemed most useful were:
1. The Retrospective Evening Meditation
2. The View from Above
3. Mindfulness of the Ruling Faculty (prosoche)

We hope to follow this up in 2013 with a Stoic fortnight. Hope you can be part of it.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Live like a Stoic (for a week)

"Live Like a Stoic week" starts on Monday.
Anyone can take part, and there is a free booklet available which contains lots of Stoic exercises and readings. To take part you do not need to go anywhere in particular - but you will need to do some reading and some Stoic "meditations". The intention is that you will learn more about Stoicism and adopt more of a Stoic attitude to life.  And it may surprise you to find out that being more Stoic doesn't mean having a stiff upper lip or becoming Mr Spock ...

The week is part of a project being developed by the University of Exeter Classics department. Their team and a number of experts on Stoicism, psychotherapy and classics got together in October to discuss how best to enable Stoicism to be a help to modern life. I was honoured to be invited to be part of the group and am looking forward to trying the experiment myself.

Here is one exercise that I contributed to the booklet - you might like to try it and comment, if you like, on the effect it has on you. The idea would be to do this and other meditations every day during the Stoic week.
A meditation to help appreciation

Epictetus tells us that “He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has."
The following meditation may help you adopt this attitude.

Quieten your mind for a few moments by taking a few deep breaths and closing you eyes. Parade in front of your mind a procession of some of the good things that have happened in your life, the good fortune that has befallen you.  You might notice  personal qualities that you possess, such as good health or a fine intellect.  You may recall accidents of history,such as being born in a prosperous age or a democratic country. You might remember some of the  positive events in your life, like meeting your partner or best friend.  Spend a few moments feeling happy that you have been blessed with these pieces of  good fortune. Now choose just one of these good things. Imagine that it had not happenedReflect for several moments on the ways in which your life would be worse. Take a few more deep breaths and open your eyes, more able to rejoice in the things that you have.

There are lots more in the booklet!
If you take part you are also encouraged to do the questionnaires which will help us assess what effects Stoicism has on your well-being.

Free Stoic Booklet link

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Wise Living Tips from the Ancients: 1. Socrates

In this series of short articles you will discover how some of the greatest minds of the ancient world can help you live wisely today. Today, we will begin with Socrates and the good life question

  If you’d been wondering around Athens a couple of thousand years ago, you might well have stumbled upon an eccentric looking, shabby, shoeless guy engaging people in deep conversation about the things that matter in life. This man was Socrates, and he came to be regarded as one of the greatest of all philosophers. He might well have asked you the question “"What is the good life?" and expected you to be able to give an answer.  It wouldn’t matter if your first answer was only a first stab – he would help be the midwife to you producing a better answer in due course. The important thing is to get the process started.

So I’m going to put the same challenge to you as Socrates did to the citizens of Athens.  What do you think the good life (for you) is? What do I need to flourish as a human being?

My definition of the good life (for me) is

Spend no more than 3 minutes on coming up with a first stab, but make sure you write something down

Some possible  (not necessarily good) answers include :
“Being successful”
“Making the world a better place”
 “Sex, drugs and rock’n’roll’
 “Being famous”

If Socrates were with you, he would then ask some probing questions which might well lead you to question your answer.  For example, if you've written
"Being successful" he might ask you "But what if you are a success but not happy?".

Spend another 3 minutes "Playing Socrates" and trying to improve your original definition.
For example, if you wrote "being successful" you might like to change this to "being successful and happy".

Over the next week, spend 5 minutes each day reflecting on your definition. Play Socrates and try to find faults with it. Some questions to ask yourself include
* What do I mean by X .... (e.g. what do I mean by happiness?)
* When I have been X in the past, has that been when I have been flourishing or leading the good life?
* Have I ever been flourishing in the past and not been X? If so, what other ingredients are important for the good life?
* What would people with different views to me about life say about my definition? Could I answer them back?
* What will be important for me looking back from the vantage point of the end of my life? 
* Have I given enough prominence to having positive experiences?
* Have I given enough prominence to making a  positive difference to the world?
Over the next week I will also be posting articles from some of the other ancient philosophers, who will give different perspectives to the good life and so will inform your answer...

Let me know how you get on 

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Are you a Stoic or an Epicurean?

In his great work  History of European Morals from Augustus to Charlemagne (1869) the Irish historian William Lecky describes 2 character types that seem as relevant today as they were back in 1869. Which are you?

There have ever been stern, upright, self-controlled, and courageous men, actuated by a pure sense of duty, capable of high efforts of self-sacrifice, somewhat intolerant of the frailties of others, somewhat hard and unsympathising in the ordinary intercourse of society, but rising to heroic grandeur as the storm lowered upon their path, and more ready to relinquish life than the cause they believed to be true.

 There have also always been men of easy tempers and of amiable disposition, gentle, benevolent, and pliant, cordial friends and forgiving enemies, selfish at heart, yet ever ready, when it is possible, to unite their gratifications with those of others, averse to all enthusiasm, mysticism, utopias, and superstition, with little depth of character or capacity for self-sacrifice, but admirably fitted to impart and to receive enjoyment, and to render the course of life easy and harmonious.

The first are by nature Stoics, and the second Epicureans, and if they proceed to reason about the summum bonum or the affections, it is more than probable that in each case their characters will determine their theories. The first will estimate self-control above all other qualities,will disparage the affections, and will endeavour to separate widely the ideas of duty and of interest, while the second will systematically prefer the amiable to the heroic, and the utilitarian to the mystical.

Lecky, William Edward Hartpole (2012-03-27). History of European Morals From Augustus to Charlemagne (Vol. 1 of 2) (Kindle Locations 2229-2238).
Kindle Edition. (available free of charge from

Monday, September 24, 2012

Progress Live Demonstration - Channel 4 The Audience - Series 1 Episode 3 Live Blog


I'll be writing updates in blue 
This dilemma turned out into something a bit different - however hope this entry is still useful in that it shows steps that would be taken in a normal decision

Tonight is the third episode of Channel 4's Reality decision-making show, The Audience.

 So far we know this:
The Audience meet Anthony Powell, a 28-year-old office worker from Liverpool. He needs help to make the biggest decision of his life: whether to quit his job and go travelling.
At first, his dilemma appears simple, but as the group of 50 strangers get to know Anthony they unearth a deeper story from his past about his upbringing and the grief he endured when he was younger.
The Audience force Anthony to confront the heart of the issue - the loss of his parents - and talk openly about it for the first time in his life.
And for The Audience, it brings out hidden emotions and forces some of them to reflect deeply on their own lives.


Click on this link tonight at 2100 for a live blog of the programme using Progress (

Tonight we are going to do something that we've never tried before. We are going to do a live demonstration of Progress, the wise decision making procedure, but with a twist.

Usually when using Progress I am in the same room as the person who is wrestling with the decision, or sometimes we are on the other end of Skype lines. Either way, I can ask them questions.

Tonight I won't be able to do any of this, because the decision-maker is Anthony from the Audience. As we hear his story tonight from 900pm on Channel 4, I will be writing a Progress report on his dilemma, and in addition identifying the questions I would like to ask him.

You will be able to follow this live by having this post up on your browser and hitting F5 for refresh. I will also be posting my thoughts on twitter - follow @timlebon to see these.

I look forward to tonight's programme...


This procedure integrates insights and methods from philosophy and psychology to help you find a solution to your decision which satisfies as much as possible of what matters. You work through the following 5 stages, writing down your answers in this template as you go along
1) Understanding the Situation and Framing the Decision-Problem
2) Understanding what matters
3) Searching for Options
4) Choosing the Best Option
5) Implementing the Decision.

For a relatively simple decision, you can do this in maybe an hour or less on your own. More complex decisions will require more time and possibly someone to bounce ideas off and facilitate the process.

a)  Initial overview
i) What is the decision you would like to work on?
 Anthony needs help to make the biggest decision of his life: whether to quit his job and go travelling.
ii) Name some options that you’ve already thought of.
1.  stay in job
2.  quit job and go travelling                                                  

iii) What have you been doing regarding the decision so far? Please indicate whether you’ve done any or all of the following
i)              Worrying about the decision.
If you do this, for roughly how many minutes per day?

ii)             Talking to other people about the problem.
If you do this, what has been the effect of this?

iii)            Finding out information.
If so, what have you discovered so far?

iv)           Trying not to think about it..
If so, what do you do (drinking, taking drugs, smoking, immersing yourself in work or some other activity are some things people do so avoid thinking about a decision)

v)            Making a decision but then changing my mind
If this has happened to you, what has made you change your mind?

vi)           Are there any other things you are doing (helpful or otherwise) to help you cope with your situation?

 iv) Briefly write down your situation, as if you were describing it very briefly for someone who didn’t know the situation all.
1. 28 year old office worker from Liverpool

2. Parents died when he was 7 and 13, moved in with grandparents until he was 18

3.he has a steady girlfriend

4.has mates and enjoys football. Lives with brothers, goes on holiday with them. Never went abroad

5.wants to go to South East Asia

6.doesnt know what he would do when he gets back

7.hasnt talked in depth with his brothers about it, thinks they would support him
******************************************************************* the next 2 are Audience speculation rather than hard facts

8.has a bare house - does he feel empty? (The Audience speculation!)

9. More Audience speculation/ and interpretation - has he not dealt with losses and may be running away???
10. travelling has been a dream all his life (according to friend)

11 may be not travelling because of money (according to friend)

12 Before Xmas when he was 7, mum had a bug and went to hospital. Brothers were kept away. He thought she getting better, but dad came home and told him his mum had died - didnt believe it at first

13 dad drank a lot after mum died - dad died unexpectedly again

14 thinks a lot about the deaths (rumination?)

15 Anthony hasn't really processed the grief from his losses fully

b) Making sense of your emotions
It’s really important to pay attention to your heart as well as the head.  Emotions can confuse us or overwhelm us, but they can also help us to understand what matters to us. For example, when you feel excitement at the prospect of  meeting a friend, this makes sense because you anticipate enjoying your friend’s company, and your excitement tells you that you value that friendship. So in this example your emotion helps you understand what matters to you. At other times, however, emotions can lead us astray. For example, after a row with your partner you may tell yourself that he or she does not really love you, when the evidence suggests the contrary, and your anger is biasing you against this evidence. By looking calmly at the emotions relating to your decision and their context it is possible to understand emotions better, deciding whether to take note of , or try to transform, emotions and their messages.

i)What do you feel about the situation, what is the emotion about and how strongly do you feel it?

Examples of emotions include:-
anxious, excited, depressed, angry, hopeful, worried, concerned, happy, guilty, proud, nervous, irritated, frightened, down,

            Emotion                                   About                           Strength (1-10)
e.g.I am anxious that I may never find the right romantic partner
1.scared of leaving job
2. bored with job
3.upset when talking about his parents and grandparents dying
4. feels guilty about not going down to help dad 

ii) Sometimes are emotions change depending on our mood and our present intentions. What else have you been feeling about this situation when either your mood or intentions have been different?
ii) What values lie behind each emotion listed in both i) and ii) above
e.g The values that lie behind this concern are: intimate relationship, having children
iii) Is there any information that I may be missing because I am feeling this emotion?
e.g  I am forgetting that I am often happier when I am not in a relationship
       I am forgetting that there are a lot of prospective partners out there.

c) Taking stock of the situation

i) What do you now want to add or subtract anything to  from  your ‘headline’ account of the situation above?
New headlines

ii) What is the decision you would most like to work on now?
Audience decided that Anthony's real problem was not coming to terms with his grief and that once he'd realised that, it wouldn't feel so important whether he travelled or not

i) Initial thoughts
Begin by jotting down some of objectives and values you would like to see satisfied by the decision (for example, being happier, being more fulfilled)
Hint: If you have looked at this decision using other methods eg Pros and Cons, they can help you with this list as you will implicitly be using your objective to assess options.
My objectives are:
e.g. my objectives are “be well paid, have a lot of freedom, make a difference”
1. I want to do something that makes me feel I have lived 

ii) Creatively thinking up other things that matter

a) What do you advise a good friend placed in a similar position?

b) What sort of person would you like to be in this situation?
(e.g. honest, creative, courageous, wise , rational,  moral,  calm)

c) What do your emotions tell you about what matters?
(look back at your work on the emotions in part 1)

d) Looking ahead in  one year, 5 years and from the perspective of sitting in your rocking chair near the end of your life, what do you think might be most important about this decision?
i) 1 years time

ii) 5 years time

iii) End of my lifetime

e)  Sometimes it’s helpful to take a step back away from this decision and think about what matters to you in life in general.

i)Forgetting about this decision for a moment, what matters to you in life?
This statement will usually consist of a list of values (e.g. happiness, flow) Examples  of such statements are-
·         Love, acceptance and the freedom to be who you want to be without judgement.
·         Kindness and honesty; independent thought and tolerance towards dissent
·         Find something you enjoy doing; like your life depended on it.  And having the opportunity to do it.

ii) Often a series of thought experiments and questions can throw further light on our values.  Here are some questions that may help you develop your view of what matters to you most in life.

1.Who do you admire/envy?
What does your answer tell you about your values?
2.Who do you feel is missing out?
What does this answer tell you about your values?
3.Describe your perfect day (this doesn’t have to have been an actual day)
What does your answer tell you about your values?
4.Looking back from the end of your life in your “rocking chair”, how would you have liked to live it?
 What does this answer tell you about your values?

Is this decision at all relevant to you satisfying any of these important values in your life?

Which ones?

iii) Thinking about  the other parties involved  (if any)
a) Write down the names of other parties involved, and their interests and rights relating to this situation.

b) Does this list suggest other things that matter to you in this situation (for example duties you might have, or objectives you might consider)

Write down your objectives that now appear to matter most.
Rate them from 10 (most important) to 0 (least important)  Rating (0-10)
Objective 1:
Objective 2:
Objective 3:
Objective 4:

Objective  n:

a) Looking at the options you wrote down in stage 1, and what matters most from stage 2, start to brainstorm possible solutions. At this stage, don’t veto options on grounds of quality, just say aloud and write down ideas that spring to mind. Then write down some of the ideas that seem most promising.
1. finish current job and then go travelling (brother's suggestion)
2.go travelling with girlfriend
3.go travelling on own
4.stay in current job
5. move in with girlfriend, do some travelling with her

Are there any new options that perhaps combine existing options and hence satisfy more of what matters?

Choose some of the most promising options and record them in the first column below.

Objective 1
Objective 2
Objective 3
Objective 4






For each option, put a tick if in a grid if it fulfils each objective, a cross if it fails.
If you are not sure whether it fulfils the objective, try to estimate the probability of it fulfilling it.
What further information do you need before you can be more sure? How can you find this out?
Do you need to try some things out? If so, how can you do this?
Try playing devil’s advocate about your preferred option. What could go wrong? How could you find out whether these concerns are to be taken seriously? What can you do to mitigate them?

If you are having difficulty estimating a probability, do your best to make a rough guess as this will be more useful than saying you are completely uncertain.

Choose the option which satisfies most of the important objectives.

i) When is the best time to implement this decision?

ii) If you are having problems implementing this decision now, ask yourself
a) What is the cost of delaying a decision?

b)What are you feeling now, and how can you make sense of these emotions?

c) Is there something you can do to move in the direction of a decision

iii) Once you  about to implement the decision, ask yourself
i)What follow-up activities would help this solution work?

ii) What obstacles might hinder carrying out the solution?

how can each obstacle be overcome?