Monday, December 31, 2018

Favourite Books and TV of 2018

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

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

1. Seneca On Anger

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

This is not a particularly trendy view .

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

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

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

2. Thinking Fast and Slow Daniel Kahneman

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

3. Moral Tribes  Joshua Greene

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

4. The Happiness Hypothesis Jonathan Haidt 

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

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

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

5. Character Strengths Interventions Ryan Niemiec

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

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

The Good Place

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

CBT for Counsellors and therapists course starting in January 2019

  1. CBT For Counsellors and Therapists

  1. If you are a counsellor or therapist and would like to learn more about CBT then this is a good way to learn it. No knowledge of CBT is assumed, though you should be willing to devote a couple of hours a week to study and practice as well as attending classes.   This is what we plan to cover:-

What is CBT?  
•       Formulation and Case Conceptualisation  in CBT
Guided Discovery & Socratic Questioning
Cognitive Techniques 
Behavioural Techniques
CBT for Depression
CBT for Panic
CBT for Worry
CBT for Anger
Consolidating your CBT practice.

  1. I have been teaching CBT for over 20 years and also provide supervision for CBT practitioners. I regularly practice CBT in the NHS and in private practice and am a BABCP accredited CBT therapist.  I am enthusiastic about CBT and particularly enjoy helping counsellors new to CBT to learn more about it.

  1. Course Dates: 24/01/19 - 28/03/19 (no class 21/02) Thursday evenings
    Time: 18:00 - 21:00 
    Location: Keeley Street,Central London, near Convent Garden & Holborn.
    Read review
    Call City Lit Enrolments line: 020 8023 7740

Here are all the courses I am currently set to offer in 2019.

You can see when these are on this handy calendar

Thursday, November 15, 2018

How to get the Most of people by understanding and activating their strengths - Practical Wisdom for Busy People Episode 5

Today I am going to share with you an idea that will help you get the most out of people.

So – are  you completely happy with how you interact with everyone in your family and at work?  Is there any scope for improvement?

If so, here’s an  true story  which I still find rather enlightening.

Years ago I worked with someone, let’s call him Tom, who was in most ways a really nice guy -  except for one thing.

It was part of our  office culture to make rounds”of tea  for each other. Now Tom liked   his tea as much as the next person. He was a very willing beneficiary of the  system. Months passed yet Tom had never made tea for anyone else. He was a free rider.  After a while we started to notice and whispers began  about whether we should stop making tea for Tom. He appeared completely  oblivious to this resentment. He wanted to do as much work as he could and would probably have said he was far too busy to make a round of tea

One day this all of this changed when the technical whizz-kid in our team devised an on-line system which recorded tea rounds. You scored a point for every tea you made. You lost a point for every tea that was made for you.  You would be plus or minus depending on how many rounds you made

Obviously, after a day or two, Tom was bottom of the league table, Once his lowly league position was brought to Tom’s attention, a dramatic change took place. Whereas before it had seemed as if Tom knew neither the location of the kitchen or the tea tray, now he and the tray were seldom parted.

Tom made two or three rounds every day and  before long he leapt to the top of the tea-makers table.

A key question. What do you think was Tom’s dominant strength?  You guessed it, Competitiveness.

The moral? If you want to change someone’s behaviour, think about their strengths and how to activate them. Once Tom’s competitiveness strength was activated, his behaviour changed dramatically and in a positive direction

This works  with other strengths too
If his strength had been leadership, we could have put him in charge of finding a fair system for making tea.
If it had been kindness, we could have framed making a cup of tea as a random act of kindness to brighten up his colleagues’ day.

I’m sure you You get the idea. If you want to know more about strengths, have a  look at Chapter 4 of my book Achieve Your Potential With Positive Psychology or  visit the via website at

One final thought. This absolutely is not about manipulating other people for your own benefit, its about finding solutions that work best for you and them.
It’s about finding  what the legendary self-help writer Stephen Covey called win-win solutions.Tom benefited - he enjoyed being top of the table. And we all enjoyed the tea he made. It was a win-win.

So why not when spend a few minutes  now thinking about the strengths of someone you interact. It could be a family member, it could be a work colleague. 
Then spend  a moment or two thinking about their strengths. What are they good at? What are their character strengths? Which strengths energise them?

Finally, reflect on how you can activate their strengths perhaps by redesigning or reframing a task.

We got the most out of Tom by activating his strength. Who can you turn from villain to hero?

Sunday, November 11, 2018

How to Create Meaningless Work - Practical Wisdom for Busy People Episode 4

Today’s episode is all about how to create meaningless work

Seriously, what could you do to make  someone’s work utterly pointless?
Think about the worst managers you have had. What did they do to make you dread going into work?
I asked this question to my Positive Psychology students at City University in London this week. I can’t recall a more animated discussion.
I’ll tell you my students’ answers later.  First let’s hear what the research has to say
 Catherine Bailey and Adrian Madden researched meaning in work and concluded that there are 7 Deadly Sins to steer clear of.  They  interviewed 135 people working in 10 very different occupations ranging from lawyers to garbage collectors. This is what they found.
The first and gravest sin is to disconnect people from their values. Force them do things they know are wrong.  So imagine that  you are boss trying to promote a product  that  worsens pollution.  To commit this first and worst deadly sin all you have to do is ask a  climate change campaigner  in your team to lie about the benefits of this product
Taking your employees for granted is the second sure way to reduce meaning in the workplace This one’s easy. Just never say good morning to your staff even if you are in the same lift . Also, remember  never  to  thank them even when they’ve worked hard to achieve an important milestone.
Deadly sin number three is to give people pointless work to do. This a no-brainer. All you need to do is arrange long meetings, have agenda items which are pretty irrelevant to most attendees, and  then decide nothing. If you do decide something, make sure you don’t follow it through. A pretty meaningless waste of time, don’t you agree?
The fourth deadly sin is to treat people unfairly. You will get ample opportunity to do this comes to pay-rise season. Give a pay rise to someone who is good at being friendly to management but bad at their job. That should do it.
Overriding people’s better judgement is the fifth way to make work meaningless. Give people targets they can  reach only by cutting corners.
Sin  number 6 is to disconnect people from supportive relationships.  Make sure your staff work on their own, especially if they are inexperienced. Don’t bother to give then any training.
The seventh deadly sin according to Madden and Bailey is to put people at risk of physical or emotional harm. Come winter time  turn all the heating off and you can achieve this goal and save some money at the same time!

My students argued convincingly that there are other good ways to prevent work from being meaningful. Find fault in everything, Say no to positive suggestions. Say one thing then  do another. Remove interesting challenges  These are all extra ways tht you can ruin even the most potentially meaningful job.
So who was the worst manager you ever had when it comes to making work meaningless? How many of these deadly  sins did they commit?
Well, That’s all very  interesting, you may be thinking, but is anything I  can you do to make the  workplace better? I’d suggest that sharing this podcast and its associated blog at with some colleagues or, if you  dare  with your manager.

Wishing you happiness, wisdom and meaning -  until next time,

More Resources

Saturday, November 03, 2018

Practical Wisdom for Busy People Podcast. Episode 3 - 3 Good Things

Would you like to hear about a mental exercise you can do that will take less than 5 minutes a day and has been shown to increase happiness and reduce depression for as long as 6 months after you’ve practiced it every day for a week?
If you would, then stay tuned. It’s called 3 good things in Life and its one of the most powerful exercises to have come from Martin Seligman’s new branch of psychology, called Positive Psychology.
This is what you do:- 

Each night for one week, write down three things that went well that day. 
In addition to writing three things that went well, reflect on what you did that contributed to the good thing happening, directly or indirectly.

That’s it. Do that for a week and if you are like most people your happiness will increase and remain elevated for at least 6 months.

The only thing to remember is not to set the bar too high – the good thing doesn’t have to be that you just won the Nobel Prize! Remember to include how you contributed to that good thing happening as its empowering to realise that what you do makes a difference.

Here are some examples
Example 1) I went for a nice walk at lunch instead of snacking at my desk - I made this happen by planning it.
Example 2) I had a nice chat with my friend – at first I was tempted to say I didnt contribute to this, because she called me - then I realised that over the years I have done plenty to build and maintain this friendship 
Example 3 The sun shone today – I noticed it!

In all 3 cases I contributed to the good things happening, even in the case of the sun shining, as there is a version of me that might not have noticed it in which case the good thing wouldn’t have happened for me.

Why is 3 Good Things in Life such a potent exercise? Like any successful recipe, it combines ingredients that enhance each other. It’s a gratitude exercise, it builds optimism and it facilitates positive planning. You can do it on your own or within teams at work or with your family. Why not try it today?

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Practical Wisdom for Busy People Episode 2: What's your Superpower?

Today’s episode is entitled “What’s your Superpower?”
Would you like to have a superpower?
What superpower would you like to have?
Maybe the power of invisibility like Harry Potter?
Or the ability to  travel in time,  like Dr Who?
Perhaps you would like to fly like Superman?

Next question - what would you say to someone who had a superpower but didn’t know what it was or didn’t use it very much?
What would you say to  a version of Harry Potter who kept getting caught by Professor Snape because he forgot to wear his  cloak of invisibility ?  Or To a  Dr Who who was getting really bored on 21st century earth but didn’t use her Tardis?
I’d say -  “Why don’t you use your superpowe?”

Well the good news is that you do have a superpower and the chances are that you aren’t using it to its full potential.
We each have unique strengths, talents and skills  - and these are your superpower. What’s yours?
Perhaps it is the ability to work really hard?
Or To motivate  people? Or be a very positive person?
Perhaps people talk to you because they value your advice ?
Buy don’t have to guess, because there’s a more scientific way of discovering your strength, your superpower.
Psychologists have identified 24 key character strengths valued  across most cultures.
Taking the questionnaire will enable you to find your top strengths, in other words to identify your superpower. You can take it for free at the VIA website at

I’ve taken the test a number of times, and every time a love of learning comes out as one of my very top strengths. 
Having identified my superpower, the next step is to use it more often and to overcome challenges.
When faced with a challenge I  now ask myself “How can my love of learning help me here?”.
I’ve learnt to listen to audiobooks on my way to work, thereby making sure I get a regular dose of my top strength every day.
I’ve found that the more I use this strength, the more I enjoy life and the more I contribute to others. It really is my superpower.
Of course your top strength -your superpower – might be completely different to mine. It might be perseverance, or kindness or zest or honesty.
So my challenge to you today is to  go to to discover your superpower –and then use it every day
Otherwise you would be  like a version of Harry Potter who  keeps his invisibility cloak in his wardrobe or like a Dr Who  who put her Tardis in storage. And that would be practical folly, not practical wisdom.
Wishing you  more happiness and wisdom today and every day
Until next time

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Stoic Week starts tomorrow

Stoic Week starts tomorrow!

You can enroll at

Yesterday we had a good day at Stoicon.

My Stoic Week 2018 Presentations
           What have we learnt so far from 6 years of Stoic Weeks?
           Stoic Anger Management

Look out on the Modern Stoicism site for other workshops and presentations including Antonia Macaro's excellent talk on Buddhism and Stoicism based on her new book More than Happiness.

Also look out for posts on this site in the next week.


Saturday, September 01, 2018

Courses Sept -Dec 2018 (Stoicon on Anger, City Uni 10 week Pos Psych, 1 Day City Lit Pos Psych)

Here is a  Google Calendar with my courses until the end of 2018.
You can scroll the month to see later months

This link will also take you there ...
Positive Psychology: building happiness and flourishing



Course Information

This Positive Psychology: building happiness and flourishing course in London focuses on the positive, including strengths, positive state and happiness in both your personal and working life.

Course Code


Course Dates

4th October 2018  6th December 2018o

Places Available


Course Fee

Course Description

  1. Positive Psychology and Happiness

        View Full Course Information
      Course Dates: Saturday  24/11/18 (One day course)
    Time: 09:30 - 17:30 Course Code: PG658
    Location: KS - Keeley Street  
    Call our Enrolments line: 020 8023 7740

Stoic Anger Management Quiz - how Stoic are you?

Interested in Anger Management? If so, I’d love to see you at the workshop on Seneca and Stoic Anger Management at LondonStoicon Saturday Sept 29th 

As a warm-up, here’s a slightly tongue-in-cheek diagnostic check on your degree of Stoicism.

 1. In the middle of a dinner party at your house, a hired waiter drops a valuable glass. Do you
     a) Remain calm, reminding yourself that  we all make mistakes.  A glass is just a glass.
b) Give them a  real bollocking and sack them on the spot without pay
c) Have them  thrown into a pool of kiler fish where they will be eaten alive.

2. A friend criticises you for drinking too much. Do you
a) Take it on the chin and make plans to reduce your drinking
b)  Remind your friend that they aren’t perfect either and tell them that you’d rather they keep their opinions to themselves
c) Make a point of drinking more than ever that evening. Then prove to your friend that you can take your drink by firing your crossbow with precision at the heart of his child.

3.  When you are out in town someone carelessly barges into you. They apologise. Do you
a) Accept the apology with  good grace, adding “I didn’t really notice”
b) Glare at them,  mumbling under your breath about how they should watch where they are going.
c) Get someone to follow them home and  beat them up.

4. You are really annoyed that someone you know takes too much care over their appearance. Why do they always have to look SO smart? Why is their hair ALWAYS perfect? Do you
a) Recognise that your reaction as irrational and remind yourself that it is not looks but character that is important
b) Gossip about how vain this person is.

c) Order their execution.

5. Whilst away on an extended trip your partner leaves you for someone younger, leaving you to fend for you (and your (ex-) partner's) young children by yourself. Do you
     a) Accept that there is nothing you can do about their behaviour, and channel your energies into bringing up your children as well as you can
     b) Sue for divorce and hire a top lawyer to to bleed the bastard dry

     c) Extract your  revenge by murdering your young rival and  your (and your ex-partner's) children.

6. You happen to be well known for your outspoken views.  Whilst you are out an opponent boxes your ear. 
Do you
a) Make a joke of it,  perhaps by saying “It's a pity I dont know when to wear a helmet when I  leave the house”
b) Call the police
c) Take the law into your own hands, planning a grisly end for your assailant

How did you do? 
Did you get mainly As, Bs or Cs?
Mainly As – You are indeed a Stoic sage, no need for any Stoic anger management
Mainly Bs – You aren’t a  tyrant, but you definitely could benefit from some Stoic anger management
Mainly Cs  - Is your name Caligula or Medea by any chance?

Anyone with 3 or more As, that’s great, let us know in the comments!

Part II) 
All these questions are based on examples of sagehood or extreme anger described by Seneca.
Who was the Stoic sage (answer a) or example of extreme anger (answer c) as described by Seneca in each case
1. a or c? Who was it?

2. a or c? Who was it?
3. a or c? Who was it?
4. a or c? Who was it?
5. a or c? Who was it?
6. a or c? Who was it?
(half a mark for each part of each answer)

1)     This was one Publius Vedius Pollio (answer c) , notorious for his extravagant luxury and cruelty. (Seneca, On Anger  (3:40)
According to Wiki he “owned a massive villa at Posillipo on the Gulf of Naples, later described by the poet Ovid as "like a city". Most notoriously, he kept a pool of lampreys into which slaves who incurred his displeasure would be thrown as food[8] – a particularly unpleasant means of death, since the lamprey "clamps its mouth on the victim and bores a dentated tongue into the flesh to ingest blood".
…  On one occasion,[the Emperor]  Augustus was dining at Vedius' home when a cup-bearer broke a crystal glass. Vedius ordered him thrown to the lampreys, but the slave fell to his knees before Augustus and pleaded to be executed in some more humane way. Horrified, the emperor had all of Vedius's expensive glasses smashed and the pool filled in”.

    2)  King Cambyses was the tyrant upon whom answer c) is based (Seneca on Anger (3.14))
 King Cambyses was excessively addicted to wine. Præxaspes was the only one of his closest friends who advised him to drink more sparingly, pointing out how shameful a thing drunkenness was in a king, upon whom all eyes and ears were fixed. Cambyses answered, "That you may know that I never lose command of myself, I will presently prove to you that both my eyes and my hands are fit for service after I have been drinking." Hereupon he drank more freely than usual, using larger cups, and when heavy and besotted with wine ordered his reprover's son to go beyond the threshold and stand there with his left hand raised above his head; then he bent his bow and pierced the youth's heart, at which he had said that he aimed. He then had his. breast cut open, showed the arrow sticking exactly into the heart, and, looking at the boy's father, risked whether his hand was not steady enough. He replied, that Apollo himself could not have taken better aim

3) Cato was the Stoic sage exemplifying answer a) (Seneca On Anger (2:32)

"But anger possesses a certain pleasure of its own, and it is sweet to pay back the pain you have suffered." Not at all; it is not honourable to requite injuries by injuries, in the same way as it is to repay benefits by benefits. In the latter case it is a shame to be conquered; in the former it is a shame to conquer. Revenge and retaliation are words which men use and even think to be righteous, yet they do not greatly differ from wrong-doing, except in the order in which they are done: he who renders pain for pain has more excuse for his sin; that is all. Someone who did not know Marcus Cato struck him in the public bath in his ignorance, for who would knowingly have done him an injury? Afterwards when he was apologizing, Cato replied, "I do not remember being struck." He thought it better to ignore the insult than to revenge it. You ask, "Did no harm befall that man for his insolence?" No, but rather much good; he made the acquaintance of Cato. It is the part of a great mind to despise wrongs done to it; the most contemptuous form of revenge is not to deem one's adversary worth taking vengeance upon. Many have taken small injuries much more seriously to heart than they need, by revenging them: that man is great and noble who like a large wild animal hears unmoved the tiny curs that bark at him."

4) Caligula  was the tyrant  of answer c) as described by Seneca in On Anger  (2:33)
“Gaius Caesar (Caligula), offended at the smart clothes and well-dressed hair of the son of Pastor, a distinguished Roman knight, sent him to prison. When the father begged that his son might suffer no harm, Gaius, as if reminded by this to put him to death, ordered him to be executed,”

5) Medea, about whom Seneca wrote a play to illustrate the extreme perils of anger, according to some versions of the story carried out c)

Wiki says
“According to Euripidesversion, Medea took her revenge by sending Glauce (her rival) a dress and golden coronet, covered in poison. This resulted in the deaths of both the princess and the king, Creon, when he went to save his daughter. Medea then continued her revenge, murdering two of her children herself. “

6) Socrates demonstrated Stoic sagehood, answer a) (On Anger, 3.11)
 “There are many ways in which anger may be checked; most things may be turned into jest. It is said that Socrates when he was given a box on the ear, merely said that it was a pity a man could not tell when he ought to wear his helmet out walking.”

If  you got 3 or more, that’s very good, let me know in the comments!