Sep 092013

Happy Quinta Feira

If you had met me a couple of weeks ago I would have probably told you about my impending trip to India to deliver some training there. While you might have thought that sounded exciting I would have quickly reassured you that it REALLY wasn’t so.

For weeks all I could think about was the 15 hour flight to get there, the jet lag and the pretty demanding client I was going to be working for. I kept telling myself I shouldn’t have accepted the work.

It turns out I was dead wrong. My short trip was fantastic. The course went really well and my client was delighted. The hotel I stayed in was an experience in itself. They brought me a free glass of hot milk with Horlicks at night to help me sleep and even ironed my clothes for free! I tasted some of the best food I’ve ever tasted in my entire life and I got to watch some great movies on the way back home. Yes I was exhausted but the trip felt like a real triumph and I’m so glad I got to go.

This got me thinking about how easy it is to be distracted by what’s wrong instead of paying attention to what’s right. As humans we’re hard wired to look at what’s not working around us, and it is so easy to find fault with whatever we’re involved with, whether it’s a job, a relationship, a neighbourhood or a project. In doing so we end up ignoring the good stuff, or we take it for granted.

How sad is it that I wasted weeks worrying about India when I could have spent my time feeling excited about the adventure that awaited me. And knowing that I’m normally a naturally positive person, makes me think that all of us can fall into this trap, making us think that life is merely ‘meh’ while we’re ignoring all the things that make it great.

So I decided to be a little more mindful about the good stuff in my life and I did a couple of experiments.

The first was with the hubby-to-be. I got us a little notebook each and every night we wrote down 3 things we appreciated about what the other half had done that day.

It was an exercise in getting us to focus on the good stuff in our relationship and we were quickly reminded that there was a lot of it. This simple exercise helped us pay attention to all the little things we do for each other, from making cups of tea to a welcoming hug when one of us gets home.

It’s a great exercise and even though it only takes us a minute to do at night, it is having a fantastic effect. We feel more connected and happier together, even though we were already starting from a good place.

The second experiment was to start the day thinking about 3 things I was grateful for. Again it got me focusing on the good stuff in my life and cheered me up no end. There’s quite a bit of research that shows how expressing gratitude can make a person feel happier and it was nice to feel the effects for myself.

The experiment can be applied to any area of our lives whether it’s our job or our new business venture, our big dreams and projects, our friendships and even our abilities.

So if there’s a part of your life which feels a little ‘meh’ right now, try your own experiment. Find 3 things you appreciate in that part of your life every day for a week. I have a feeling that by the end of the experiment you’ll be feeling a lot better about it.

I’d love to hear how this worked for you. What changes did you notice?

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Mar 052013 - change how you think

In the past 15 years Psychologists have turned their attention to what makes us happy in life. The research is loud and clear, your thinking has a huge impact on this. This post looks at what the research shows is ‘good’ thinking, what is not and shows an easy way to change how you think.

A group of us were discussing the idea of luck during a workshop I was running. One participant piped up, ‘I not one of those lucky ones, I’ve never been lucky and probably never will.’

It was a typical response from someone who has a pessimistic explanatory style. The bad news for this participant is that his thinking makes him right.

When doing research for a book called ‘The Luck FactorRichard Wiseman discovered that people who considered themselves lucky in one area of their life, were usually also lucky in other areas. This led him to believe that luck is not something that occurs randomly, but instead it’s something that people create through their thinking.

Enter Martin Seligman, the father of Positive Psychology, with a fantastic explanation as to the kind of thinking that creates luck in our lives.

We’ve all heard the terms optimist and pessimist, but what do they exactly mean? Seligman studied the patterns of thinking of hundreds of individuals and noticed that people could explain events in two different ways.

Imagine you’ve thrown a dinner party and the food you’ve cooked has been exquisite. The night was a roaring success and all the guests told you how much they loved it.

If you’re an optimist you might think something along the lines of, ‘Wow I’m a great host and a great cook. I’m sure this party was the start of many great evenings with my friends. And you know what, I’m sure I can use these same skills to turn that work event I’m planning into a huge success as well.’

In other words you’ve built up the event. You’ve made it permanent (you can repeat it), you’ve made it personal (it was YOUR skills that created the success) and you’ve made it universal (you’ve applied it to other areas of your life). As a result you feel great!

If you’re a pessimist your thinking might be a little different. You might say to yourself, ‘That was a fluke. I’ll never be able to re-create that food. There was something in the air that made everyone have fun’.

In other words, you’ve played down the event. You’ve made it temporary (you cannot repeat it), you’ve made it external (you had nothing to do with the success) and you’ve kept it specific (you haven’t applied it to other areas of your life). Chances are it hasn’t given you the same boost that the optimist got.

What about when something negative happens? This is where it gets even more interesting. Seligman found that in a negative event the exact opposite happens.

Let’s imagine you’ve applied for a job and you’ve just received a rejection letter.

An optimist would think something like, ‘It was only one job, they probably needed different skills. I’m sure I’ll do better in my other applications.’

The pessimist might think, ‘This is a disaster. I’m sure I’ll be rejected in my other applications too. I’m just not good enough.’

This time the optimist has made the event temporary, external and specific, while the pessimist has made it permanent, personal and universal. As a result the optimist might shrug the incident off, while the pessimist might end up feeling very disheartened about it.

When we break down the idea of optimism and pessimism in such a way it becomes much easier to see why research shows that optimists do better at work, live longer and report more fulfilling lives.

If you like the sound of this, here’s what you can do to think more optimistically in life.

When something good happens ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What part did I play in making this a success?
  2. How can I apply these skills to other areas of my life?

When something bad happens ask yourself these questions making sure you find reasons to say NO to each question:

  1. Is this permanent?
  2. Is this widespread?
  3. Is this personal?


You might want to follow this line of questioning with:

What specific action can I take to get a better result next time?

Psychologists also recommend that we avoid ‘catastrophising’ negative events. Here are two more questions to help with that.

  1. Will this matter in 5 years’ time?
  2. What are the overall consequences? And why are these not as bad as they seem on the surface?

Hope this post helps you think more optimistically about events that happen in your life.

What current event will you apply this strategy to?

With love




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Dec 122011

Be Kind

Welcome to the second experiment of this series.

We’re going to look at another experiment that has been shown to increase our happiness. It’s perfect for this time of the year as it’s all about giving, with a difference. So if we do decide to try this one out, it will have the added benefit of adding more meaning to this festive season, which unfortunately has become more about buying stuff than spreading goodwill.

The experiment

One of my favourite happiness psychologists Sonja Lyubomirsky got a group of people to perform five non-financial acts of kindness a week for 6 weeks. At the end of the 6 week period the research team found that all participants reported increased levels of happiness.

What was even more interesting however was that the participants who did all five acts of kindness on a single day every week increased their happiness by an amazing 40%! Wow!


Why it works

Neuroeconomist (yep it’s a profession) William Harbaugh found that when we see ourselves giving to others it activates a part of our brain that is usually activated when our basic needs, such as eating tasty food, are met. It’s pretty awesome to think that there is a direct link between giving to others and happiness in our brains.


What to do

Rate your current level of happiness on a scale of 1 to 10.  With 1 being ‘very unhappy’ and 10 being ‘extremely happy – couldn’t be any happier’.

Brainstorm for 10 minutes, 30 acts of kindness that you could do throughout the day. They could be as simple as making someone a coffee, helping a tourist who looks lost, stopping to let another driver get out of a side street, giving blood, singing carols in an old people’s home…the list is endless.

Decide which day of the week is going to be your ‘great virtue and kindness’ day. On that day look for opportunities to carry out 5 of your acts.

Repeat for 6 weeks.

Rate your levels of happiness once more. Ta Daaa you’re officially a kinder and happier version of yourself.

I would love to hear what acts of kindness you’re planning on doing, or have done. Please comment on this blog or e-mail me at

Nov 232011

We’ll kick off this series with an experiment that has been shown to increase our levels of happiness.  (If you don’t know what this series is about you can read the intro here.)

For those of us in the Northern hemisphere winter is well and truly on it’s way, the European economy makes the Dickens era look glamorous and so a little cheering up might be just what we need. 

The experiment

This experiment was carried out by psychologists Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough. They found that people who listed 5 things they were grateful for, on a regular basis reported higher levels of happiness and felt more optimistic about life in general. Interestingly they also reported exercising more (which in itself has also been found to increase our level of happiness). 

Why it works

Do you know how when we wear a new perfume we can really smell it on us, but after using it for a while we can hardly tell when we’re wearing it? Apparently just like we get used to our perfume, we’re also conditioned to get used to the good things in our lives. Keeping a journal about the things we’re grateful for is a way of reminding ourselves about the good things that already exist in our lives. 

What to do

For the next 10 days, keep a gratitude journal. Write 5 things you are grateful for – it could be big things, like your relationship, or little things like managing to get the train in the morning. 

Write your journal at the same time each day – to create a little routine.

The important thing is not to treat it as a chore. Further research showed that when people felt that they HAD to write the journal they got no benefit from it at all. 

Before starting the journal, as well as 10 days after starting the journal, rate the following statements on a 1 to 10 scale as follows:

1: Very much unlike me, 5: Somewhat like me, 10: Very much like me
  1. In general I would consider myself a happy person
  2. I feel optimistic about what life holds in store for me
  3. I exercise for 30 mins at least 3 times a week.
Remember to keep note of your ratings so you can compare your initial answers with those you give 10 days later. 
Once you’ve done the experiment please comment on this blog whether keeping the journal
  • improved your ratings
  • worsened your ratings
  • there was no change
If you prefer you can also e-mail me your thoughts at

Do a little, change a lot…tiny experiments to transform our lives

 Happiness  Comments Off on Do a little, change a lot…tiny experiments to transform our lives
Nov 222011

Experience has taught us to mistrust anything that offers high returns for very little effort. Get rich quick schemes, politicians’ promises and instant inch loss treatments all induce a rolling of the eyes, followed by a ‘yeah right’ response from us.

But what if experience was sometimes wrong? What if we could actually improve BIG things, like our happiness levels, our relationships, what we achieve in life with very little effort?

And before you roll your eyes and go ‘Pah’, hear me out.

My forays into Psychology journals and Science books have turned up scores of experiments testing this very idea. The result – loads of little actions we can take that have been proven to deliver great returns in our lives.

But why take the psychologists’ word for it? Let’s try these experiments ourselves. Taking part is simple:

  • Every month I’ll publish a single action we can take to improve an area in our lives.
  • Only actions which take 15 minutes or less to carry out will be selected – we’re very busy people after all!
  • We privately rate how we feel in that particular area
  • We try the action out for 10 days
  • Ta daaaa! Hopefully some magic has happened. Just to be sure, we rate the same area a second time to check if there really has been an improvement.
  • We share our results so we can tell the world which actions are worth doing.
If you’d like to take part you can sign up here. If you’ve already signed up to my blog you’ll automatically receive updates about the experiments so there’s no need to sign up again.
Let’s get testing!
With Love
p.s. You can find Experiment 1 (the gratitude journal) here