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?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Audience (Channel 4 TV) Live Blog of Episode 2: Should Andreena send her daughter to live with her father in Devon?

Live Blog of The Audience,hosted by Tim LeBon & Antonia Macaro 2 of the co-authors (with David Arnaud) of Progress Wise Decision-Making process ( Is tonight's show going to demonstrate the wisdom of the crowd- or the folly of Reality TV?

The Audience (Channel 4 TV) Episode 1 - Reality TV meets Wise Decision-Making ???



The Apprentice, Big Brother, I'm a Celebrity .... let's face it, Reality TV shows are one of the phenomena of the century. Whilst it's very easy to be snobbish about such programmes, the viewing figures suggest that very many people enjoy watching them.

So it was probably only a matter of time before two unlikely bedfellows, Reality TV and Philosophy, came together. Channel Four's new show The Audience (Thursdays at 2100) does just that. Every week someone with an intractable dilemma puts themselves at  the mercy of 50 - yes, fifty, people - "The Audience" - who follow the victim decision-maker around for a week - and then make the decision for them. As other reviewers  have commented, the whole idea sounds absurd, a reduction ad absurdum of Reality TV.  Yet, on the evidence of the first show, the formula was strangely compelling.

This article is not a review of The Audience so much as an attempt to look at to what extent, if any, it  is likely to produce wise decisions. It's not a question he programme spent any time at all analyzing, but, if you think about it, it is a pretty key question -especially from the point of view of the main protagonist.

When I said earlier that The Audience sees "Reality TV meeting Philosophy", that isn't actually 100% true. There wasn't any explicit philosophy in The Audience. Maybe there has to be a warning at the start of a programme these days -  "Warning. This programme contains explicit philosophy. People who find the idea of people thinking disturbing may wish to change channels now".  The 50 people constituting the audience didn't appear to contain any philosophers, psychotherapists, or even priests or anyone else with any specialist knowledge of wise decision-making. The concept here was not Plato's "Rule of the Wise" but more that of a (somewhat oversized)  jury - 50 people plucked from all walks of life to listen to all the evidence and reach a verdict.

As a counsellor and coach who specialises in helping people make wise decisions,  frankly I was very sceptical about the whole conceit. The model of wise decision-making I use makes sure that a broad range of questions are asked and issues considered.  These include

  • What exactly is the situation? What are the facts that a good investigative reporter would get from you? What exactly is the decision to be made?
  • What emotions are present both when you are in "limbo" and when you consider either alternative? Are these emotions existential messages about what is important to you, or do they involve cognitive distortions to be untwisted?
  • What important values are at stake? How will your well-being be impacted by either option? What are your responsibilities? Who else is affected by the decision? What are your duties to them?
  • What options do you have? Is it possible to find a "win-win" option which satisfies as many as possible as the important values at stake?
  • Choosing wisely. Choose the option that satisfies the most important values.
  • What do you need to do to implement the wisest option? Are there still emotions holding you back from carrying it out? Do you find yourself on a see-saw of conflicting emotions whenever you commit to one option? Do you need to persuade others?
So how did The Audience do? It has to be said they did a very incomplete job.  Let's have a look at each in turn
  • Understanding the Situation. This they did quite well. We learnt  that Ian was 48 years old, had been brought up  by his uncles on the farm, had a girlfriend, Sandy, who was being neglected because of his responsibilities to the farm, was paid the minimum wage .... We understood that Ian had to choose between his uncles and his girlfriend - there was no way he could keep the farm and the girl.
  • Exploring emotions.  We certainly got to explore the emotions of the audience. There was hardly a dry eye in the house as they heard about how his uncles had brought him up and how they believed their lives would be over if Ian deserted them.  They didn't ask Ian out his own emotions, but it was pretty clear that he was experiencing extreme guilt at the prospect of leaving his uncles -made worse by his mother's forceful reminding  him of the debt he owed them. He was also feeling very frustrated at their interference and concerned that he would lose his girlfriend if he chose to stay at the farm. The Audience didn't ask a question that was surely key -  "Do you love your girlfriend?", though this was perhaps answered for them at the end of the show. Nor did they help him clarify whether these emotions were justified or not - since he had spent five years helping them on the farm already, was his guilt justified, especially if he made arrangements for the uncles to be supported without him doing all the farm work for them. 
  • Understanding what matters. The Audience grasped that there was a conflict between Ian's well-being and his staying on the farm. But we didn't learn whether Ian got something positive from being on the farm. Did he just stay on the farm  out of guilt? Or was there something positive for him about being connected to nature and animals and returning to his roots? We also learnt that the uncle's well-being mattered. However we didn't really learn to what extent this depended on them staying on the farm and having Ian as their worker.  They also failed to make a key distinction between Ian's duties and responsibilies as a nephew and his duty to the farm.  Yes, he had duties to his uncles - but these these really extend to being a slave to the farm?
  • Exploring Options. The show presented this as a stark dilemma - either stay on the farm or abandon your uncles. But were there other options - such as the uncles employing someone else, Ian working on the farm part-time, or Ian being passed control of the farm? Or perhaps his  mother could look after her brothers instead of Ian ...
  • Making and Implementing a wise decision that satisfies most of what matters.  Unfortunately we didn't really see The Audience's deliberations.  However, they came up with what appeared to be a wise decision - that he should leave. The closing scenes gave us a happy ending - Ian proposing to Sandy and his uncles moving nearby, being supported by his family and being in close contact with Ian.
So should I abandon my decision coaching practice and tell clients to sign up to being on Reality TV instead? I think this judgement would be a little premature at present. On reflection, the decision does seem a bit of a no brainer. Of course Ian had to leave the farm. Of course he had to do what he could to ensure the uncle's well-being.
Ian didn't really need a wise decision he knew what he should do. What he wanted to do was avoid the responsibility of making the decision. What better than to get fifty people to tell him what to do? You could say that the process of The Audience was a great way of getting Ian to implement the wise decision (step 5 of the decision-making process) - though there might be other, simpler ways to helping people accept responsibility?

Will the wisdom of the crowd be in evidence next time? I can't wait to see. So much so I will be writing a live blog about it - on this site ( and also on my twitter feed - @timlebon

Hope to see you then

Reviews of The Audience
The Independent  " The Audience, despite its surreal, seemingly flawed, set-up is actually one of the freshest, most absorbing TV shows I've seen on for a long time. "
Radio Times  "Fifty people following someone, making life decisions for them – this reality-TV gimmick had 
emotional power"
The Guardian "I could easily imagine such a show being absolutely terrible (to be honest, I did imagine it being absolutely terrible), but this was executed with considerable skill and sensitivity. The Audience appeared to take their responsibility seriously, deliberating like jurors,"

Wise Decision-Making    Site constructed by David Arnaud, Antonia Macaro and myself describing the stages of our Progress model, with plenty of case illustrations.