If You’re Not Sleeping Well, Your Sleep Hygiene Is Probably Not the Answer

If you’ve ever experienced difficulty getting to sleep at night, you may have heard about the importance of ‘sleep hygiene.’ 

 Just like ‘dental hygiene’ is about recommendations that help you to look after the health of your teeth, sleep hygiene is about doing the right things to ensure a good night’s sleep.  

The problem with sleep hygiene recommendations, though, is that everyone seems to have their unique list of the essential things you need to do to sleep well at night. 

A 2003 review study attempted to define sleep hygiene recommendations and found 19 different rules across seven studies. 

I don’t know about you, but if I am already worried about my sleep, following 19 different rules each night probably won’t be relaxing. The more stressed and tense I am, the lower my sleep quality could be, even if I practice good sleep hygiene. 

For this reason, little evidence supports sleep hygiene as an effective strategy for significantly improving your sleep. 

For example, someone may have bought an expensive bed and pillows, worn earplugs and eye masks, stayed away from caffeine, and slept poorly. However, another person might not do any of these things but feel confident about their ability to sleep, go to bed when they feel sleepy at night and sleep excellently. 

How our brains work, particularly our fear circuit, can keep us up at night. All it takes is a few horrible nights of sleep where someone sees the negative consequences that not sleeping can have. They then begin to lose confidence in their natural ability to switch off and let sleep come once they are in bed. They then try to force themselves to sleep, sometimes well before their natural body clock is ready for sleep. 

Once sleeping difficulties begin, a person’s brain is likely to perceive not sleeping well or enough as a threat. Our brain’s fear centre activates and triggers the fight-or-flight mechanism in response to the perceived threat. Changes occur in the brain and body to prepare the person to attack or run away from the danger. But if the threat is not sleeping, how helpful is the fight-or-flight response in helping that person drift off to sleep?

Unfortunately, the fear of not sleeping well can become the very thing that prevents people from sleeping well. By feeling like you need to worry about 19 things every night in order to sleep well, this fear probably isn’t going to improve.

Chronic insomnia is a big problem in our society, and sleep difficulties impact at least 30 percent of us. However, unless you are not prioritising sleep enough, making you worry more about the sleep you’re not getting enough of each night will not help you sleep any better.

Instead of focusing on all the sleep hygiene tips, see if there is one or two things that you could try that you think could make a big difference for you. Let’s say that you are drinking five cups of coffee a day. Maybe it would be worth cutting it down a bit or having your last coffee before 2pm. If you are already not drinking much caffeine and only having it in the mornings, being more strict about it probably won’t be worth it. Instead, see if there is something else that could be more helpful, such as having a regular wake time each day, waiting until you feel sleepy before going to bed, or getting some morning sunlight exposure.

By trying one or two things at a time, you are likely to be less overwhelmed. You are also going to be more likely to stick to any changes that you try, and then see if it makes any positive difference for you. If it doesn’t, switch your focus to something else that you think might help, try it for at least a week, and then review. If you keep doing it this, eventually you will learn what does and doesn’t work for you, and be able to turn to the most helpful strategies for you when you really need it.

If you aren’t sleeping well and haven’t been for some time, it might be worth getting some expert help. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) is the gold standard treatment for people with difficulties falling asleep, remaining asleep, and not feeling refreshed during the day. A lot of research has shown that it can help people improve in as little as two sessions of treatment, and improvements are often maintained one year later. Sleeping pills can sometimes help in the short term, but your insomnia is likely to come back as soon as you stop taking them, and they’re not recommended on a long-term basis. 

If you can’t find a sleep physician or psychologist trained in CBT-I, there are also some good online CBT-I courses that can teach you all the skills you need. If that doesn’t help, please check out my latest book, Deliberately Better Sleep. It will help you set up your own sleep experiment tailored to you as an individual and assess how much difference it makes for you. Most importantly, it will help you regain confidence in your sleep so that if you ever have a poor night’s sleep, you will understand why and what you can do about it.

Dr Damon Ashworth, Clinical Psychologist and Author of Deliberately Better Sleep.

Are You Playing the Right Games in Your Life?

A fascinating book that I read recently was The Status Game by Will Storr. I have enjoyed reading a few of his prior books too, including Selfie and The Science of Storytelling.

In it, Storr says that it is impossible to not be part of some hierarchies. In other words, we can’t go through life without having a sense that we are competing against other people in some areas of our lives.

This is what he means by games. Not just basketball, monopoly, or poker. A game is anything where there is a set of rules about how things should be. Based on this, it is possible to get a sense of if you are doing well, winning, or losing.

“The fastest person on the planet” is a game that has been played better by Usain Bolt than anyone else ever. Michael Phelps is at the top of the “best swimmer of all-time” hierarchy. Whilst I had some moments when I was younger when I did Little Athletics and swam competitively, I’m not trying to play either of these games these days. Therefore, I don’t really care about where I am in either of these hierarchies.

Joe Rogan has been at the top of the “most listened to podcast” hierarchy for a while now with his Joe Rogan Experience. I wouldn’t mind having a few more listeners and some of the financial security that comes along with it, but being at the top of that game is really not what I’m aiming at either.

I podcast because I like to have a creative outlet and share some of my insights with people who may be interested. It’s also fun to be sharing the project with one of my closest mates who I don’t get to see as often as I would like to anymore. Therefore, as long as I am making and putting out a podcast episode once a month, I’m happy with the game I am playing.

Bernard Arnault is currently winning the game of the “richest person in the world” with $208.7 billion. Being high up on that hierarchy sure wouldn’t be important to Will MacAskill, who is an effective altruist and author of the excellent 2015 book Doing Good Better. He committed a while back to donating to charity all money that he makes every year beyond £24,000. Being the richest person in the world would be even less important to a Monk that has given away all of his earthly possessions and is spending his life in a monastery.

When it comes to money for me, all I am aiming for is a healthy and happy life. If the money I am making and saving allows me to do that, I feel like I am winning. Especially if I get to live in a sustainable way where I am not too stressed, helping some people in my work and connecting with the people that are most important to me outside of it.

I might not have as many fancy things as Kim Kardashian, or get to travel into space like Jeff Bezos, but I am also glad that I am not like either of them in these ways and many others too. Because I am not competing against them for things or money, we are not playing the same games, I am not lower in the hierarchy of those games, and I do not have to feel worse about myself.

It is only when I am not being the person that I want to be, and I can see that others are living the life that I want better than I am that I experience feeling lower in the hierarchy and worse off. The moment I can make the necessary changes to start living my life consistently with my core values, the more I am playing the games that are really important to me, the better I am doing and the more satisfied I am likely to feel.

At the end of The Status Game, Storr shares what he says are the core rules of status games to keep in mind so that you can improve your life and be protected from potential traps and danger. Sometimes certain dreams can be persuasive, but it doesn’t mean that striving toward something will necessarily give you what you need. I’d like to summarise these for you here.

Photo by Marc on Pexels.com

Seven Rules of the Status Game

Rule 1: Practice warmth, sincerity, and competence

These three components are essential if you want to optimally present yourself to others and successfully play a status game. If another person is trying to gauge what type of person you are, they are most likely to assess you to see if you are a kind person, if you are genuine, and if you know what you are talking about and are good at what you do.

If you have competence, sincerity, and warmth in whatever it is that is important to you, others will know that you will not try to dominate them, that you will treat them fairly, and that you will probably be able to help them.

Rule 2: Make small moments of prestige, not dominance.

Wherever you can, try to create win-win situations, where you are trying to benefit both yourself and the other person in an interaction. If you are trying to win by making the other person lose or be worse off, it can lead to a worse reputation for who you are over time.

Try to be respectful to others, even if you disagree about something. Be gracious and thankful for the efforts that they have put in. You might not always get what you want if you conduct yourself in this way. However, both parties will leave the situation feeling better about who you are as a person, including yourself. If you take care of developing your character in the ways you would like, your reputation is likely to speak for itself over time.

Rule 3: Play a hierarchy of games and resist tyranny.

Whichever game you are playing, try to see if you can notice how status is awarded. If higher-status people are the most obedient ones, believe more strongly in the dogma, and are most concerned with defeating the enemies or non-believers, you may be caught up in tyranny. Tyrannies are virtue dominance games.

To best protect yourself from becoming too caught up in tyranny, try to play a wide diversity of games and have different aspects to your identity.

If someone’s identity is entirely tied up with being a good Democrat or a good Republican, it can be hard to go against anything that their party stands for. However, if your political beliefs are only a small part of who you are, it may be a lot easier to disagree with the party that you usually support on a particular topic.

Storr says that life is easier when we organize it as a hierarchy of games. By choosing what is most important to you, and then putting effort into these different things in a proportional way, you are likely to obtain a lot of meaning in your life.

Rule 4: Reduce your moral sphere.

Where you can, try not to spend too much time judging other people for what they do. Instead, turn your focus to your own life and behaviors, and see if you are being the person that you want to be. It is so much easier to judge other people for falling short than putting in the consistent effort to improve yourself in the ways that you would like to.

If someone else is playing a game that doesn’t matter to you, why do you need to judge them? They might have different values from you and are okay with the choices they are making. Isn’t it more important to find out if you are living consistently with your values?

Rule 5: Foster a trade-off mindset.

One of the quickest ways to poison the empathy we have towards someone or something is to become moralistic about it. The truth of most matters is often more complex than you realise if you only think about it as right or wrong.

If you can, try not to view the world in terms of heroes and villains, but different groups negotiating trade-offs. Most people are simply wanting what they perceive is the best for themselves, their family, or their group.

Pain is pain, regardless of who it is happening to. If you perceive someone as an enemy, try to understand the pain that they are in. Also, see if you can see the games that they are playing in an attempt of gaining status and feeling less pain.

If you can understand why someone is doing something, even if you would never want to play their game or see it as valid, it may be easier to remain compassionate or empathetic towards them. We need to all fight the bigotry that exists on both sides, and see if it is possible to reduce pain and improve the quality of life for all.

Rule 6: Be different.

It’s not easy to play a status game, nor is it often rewarding. If there can only be one winner, it can make everyone else feel worse off. Especially in your live in a more individualistic culture. If you live in a more collectivist culture, if anyone in your group has success, it can be possible to feel some of that success yourself too.

There is another way towards feeling good about yourself rather than continuing to try to be perfect or better than everyone else at something. That is through having the courage and determination to live by your own values and do your own thing, regardless of what everyone else says is important.

It may be tough to not conform if you feel a lot of external pressure to do what everyone else is doing. However, minor acts of non-conformity that do not violate the core standards of the group can attract attention rather than make you an outcast. As long as you remain helpful and useful to the group at times, you can rise in your status rather than being ostracised.

Being original also makes it very difficult for others to compete with you. Keep trying to be yourself rather than trying to be perfect. No one else is ever going to be as good at being you as you are, no matter how hard they try.

Rule 7: Never forget your dreaming.

At the end of the day, most things are not as important as people think when they are caught up in a status game. People strive for status because they want to feel like their life is essential and really means something to others and the fate of the world.

But if you look at the 8 billion people on the planet, there may not be too many people that are remembered 450 years later like Shakespeare, or over 200 years later like George Washington. This doesn’t mean that your life isn’t important to some people.

Your life probably already means a lot to your inner circle, including your closest family, friends, and co-workers. I guess a big question then is what is more important to you? Being the person that you would like to be towards your parents, partner, children, best friends, and colleagues? Or worrying about what a random person in your town, the other side of the world, or in a few hundred years thinks about you?

Once people have met their basic needs for shelter, water, food, and safety, the next most important things become love, connection, and esteem. Sometimes it is at this point that many of us become caught up in a status game. We feel that we need to have as many symbols of status as possible.

We can think we want deference and flattery from others, influence and lots of money, fast cars and big houses, expensive clothing and jewellery, and lots of attention. But are any of these things really what is most important to you? If someone was writing your obituary after you died, what would you hope that they would say about the person that you have been and the people that you had the biggest positive impact on?

We can never fully escape from the various status games, as most people naturally compare themselves to others to see how they are going. This can then impact how people feel about themselves. However, there is some wisdom in just knowing that these games are there, and we can choose which things matter or don’t matter in our lives.

If my neighbor goes out and buys a fancy sports car or flies first class, I do not have to feel worse about myself if these games do not matter to me. The answer lies in finding and playing the games that do matter.

It’s also not about getting to a destination, and then enjoying the rest of your life. Chances are that your mind will continue to strive for status in one way or another for the rest of your life. Therefore, there is no end or a happily ever after.

Storr says that the key is to be happy with the direction that you are heading in and the progress that you are making. If you can live in a sustainable way with the things that really matter to you and feel connected to the people that you care most about, you will know that you are on the right track. Hopefully, your physical and mental health will be better off for it too.

The final thing that he says, and one that I never used to understand, is that the meaning of life is about being able to keep playing in the ways that are most important to you. It is not about winning.

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

What’s a Better Life Goal than Happiness?

When I type ‘Happiness books’ into Amazon.com, over 60,000 results appear.

Happiness is clearly a popular topic. However, when I hear people say to me in therapy that they “just want to be happy”, I find it hard to write this down as a goal for them to achieve in therapy.

The problem with striving for happiness is that it is simply one of many emotions. Sometimes we can feel happiness or joy, and other times we can feel sad, angry, jealous, disgusted, guilty, surprised, anxious, or many other things. Not only is it okay if we feel these things at times, but it is normal and healthy.

To say that we only want to feel happy is unrealistic and unhealthy. The movie ‘Inside Out’ taught this message that it is essential to allow ourselves to feel whatever we do at the moment, whether it is sadness, fear, disgust or anger. To live our lives to the fullest, we need to make room for our emotions instead of changing them or pushing them away.

So if feeling happy all the time is not the healthiest goal to aim at, what is?

Life satisfaction?

Life satisfaction (Diener, Emmons, Larsen & Griffen, 1985) has been widely measured worldwide. People from different cities and countries have even had their life satisfaction scores compared to each other.

To determine your life satisfaction, simply ask yourself how satisfied you are with your life currently from 0 to 10, where 10 is the best life you could imagine, and 0 is the worst.

Finland has the highest life satisfaction in the latest World Happiness Report findings. But how do we know if one person’s 8 out of 10 is the same as someone’s from another city or country? For example, both Uzbekistan and Somalia have cities that are the two most hopeful in the world regarding their expected life satisfaction in the future. However, neither country has any cities in the top 20 for their current life satisfaction.

Is it better to be satisfied now but expect that things will worsen in the future, or not be fully satisfied now, but hope that things will continue to improve?

High positive affect and low negative affect?

The positive and negative affect scale (PANAS; Watson, Clark & Tellegen, 1988) has also been widely used to assess how strongly people tend to experience positive and negative emotions. Including ten positive and ten negative emotions represents what people feel more than just focusing on happiness, but it can still be hard to determine the ideal.

Asuncion in Paraguay has the highest levels of positive emotion, and Taipei in Taiwan has the lowest negative emotions. Still, neither country has a city in the top ten globally for both.

‘Inside Out’ and I believe it is better to fully experience all emotions rather than not experience feelings at all. But it may be different depending on the culture that you live in. Should negative emotions even be considered “negative” if all feelings have a purpose or function?

Psychological well-being?

Ryff’s (1989) model of psychological well-being proposed additional aspects of life as crucial to well-being rather than just emotions or life satisfaction. She included self-acceptance, positive relations, autonomy, environmental mastery, purpose in life, and personal growth. Now, these seem like good things to measure if you want to see if someone is psychologically healthy.

Seligman also formulated his PERMA model of well-being. He said that we needed five main things in our lives to thrive or flourish. He detailed these five things in his 2012 book ‘Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being’. They were p = positive emotions, e = engagement, r = (positive) relationships, m = meaning, and a = achievement.


Ryan and Deci (2000) came up with self-determination theory (SDT) over twenty years ago. The researchers derived three core needs that they said each human must-have for optimal functioning. They are needs for competence, relatedness and autonomy. Competence covers environmental mastery and personal growth from Ryff’s model and achievement from Seligman’s, and autonomy is in Ryff’s model too. Relatedness and positive relations with others and positive relationships are all similar. However, SDT doesn’t adequately account for self-acceptance, positive emotions, engagement, purpose in life and meaning.


Kashdan and colleagues (2009; 2017) defined curiosity as “the recognition, pursuit and intense desire to explore novel, challenging and uncertain events“. There are five dimensions of curiosity, including joyous exploration, deprivation sensitivity, stress tolerance, social curiosity and thrill-seeking.

These aspects definitely consider positive emotions, engagement and achievement from Seligman’s well-being model, but less so positive relationships and meaning. Unless social curiosity leads to positive relationships and meaning can be found in trying new things and being curious about everything you encounter?

A Good Life?

The Good Lives Model is a strengths-based approach to rehabilitating offenders. Ward and colleagues (2004) first proposed nine classes of primary goods, which have since been extended to 11 because of further research by Purvis (2010).

The 11 classes of primary goods are life, knowledge, excellence in play, work, agency, inner peace, relatedness, community, spirituality, pleasure, and creativity. If people do not have much of a primary good in their life, approach goals are set to help them achieve more of this good. It can then reduce the person’s risk of reoffending or committing another crime.


Maslow put self-actualisation at the top of his hierarchy of needs. But, according to Scott Barry Kaufman in his excellent book, ‘Transcend: The new science of self-actualisation’, Maslow never intended his hierarchy to be a pyramid of needs, as most people think of when they hear Maslow’s name.

Maslow thought human maturation was an ongoing growth process towards the transcendent experience of being “fully human“. You don’t tick off an area and never think about it again. Instead, over time, you become less concerned with the security needs of safety, connection and self-esteem and more interested in growing and exploring, loving and finding purpose.

The more self-actualised one becomes, the more they understand themselves and their identity. People who have become self-actualised can utilise who they are and their strengths to best help others and the world.

Kaufman has since developed the characteristics of self-actualisation scale (CSAS). In it, there are ten elements of self-actualisation that are assessed. To see how self-actualised you are in each area, say whether you strongly disagree with each statement (1 point), disagree (2 points), are neutral (3 points), agree (4 points), or strongly agree (5 points). Then add up your total for each element, or complete the test here.

1. Purpose

“I feel a great responsibility and duty to accomplish a particular mission in life.”

“I have a purpose in life that will help the good of humankind.”

“I feel as though I have some important task to fulfil in this lifetime.”

2. Humanitarianism

“I feel a deep sense of identification with all human beings.”

“I feel a great deal of sympathy and affection for all human beings.”

“I have a genuine desire to help the human race.”

3. Equanimity

“I tend to take life’s inevitable ups and downs with grace, acceptance, and equanimity.”

“I am relatively stable in the face of hard knocks, blows, deprivations, and frustrations.”

“I am often undisturbed and unruffled by things that seem to bother most people.”

4. Continued freshness of appreciation

“I can appreciate again and again, freshly and naively, the basic goods of life, with awe, pleasure, wonder and even ecstasy, however stale these experiences may have become to others.”

“I often feel gratitude for the good in my life no matter how many times I encounter it.”

“A sunset looks just as beautiful every time I see one.”

5. Peak experiences

“I often have experiences in which I feel new horizons and possibilities opening up for myself and others.”

“I often have experiences in which I feel one with all people and things on this planet.”

“I often have experiences in which I feel a profound transcendence of my selfish concerns.”

6. Creative spirit

“I bring a generally creative attitude to all of my work.”

“I have a generally creative spirit that touches everything I do.”

“I am often in touch with my childlike spontaneity.”

7. Authenticity

“I can maintain my dignity and integrity even in environments and situations that are undignified.”

“I can stay true to my core values even in environments that challenge them.”

“I take responsibility for my actions.”

8. Good moral intuition

“I have a strong sense of right and wrong in my daily life.”

“I trust my moral decisions without having to deliberate too much about them.”

“I can tell deep down right away when I’ve done something wrong.”

9. Acceptance

“I accept all sides of myself, including my shortcomings.”

“I accept all of my quirks and desires without shame or apology.”

“I have unconditional acceptance of people and their unique quirks and desires.”

10. Truth-seeking or efficient perception of reality

“I try to get as close as I can to the reality of the world.”

“I am always trying to get at the real truth about people and nature.”

“I often have a clear perception of reality.”

Once you have scored up the totals for all of your elements, you can see which ones are strengths or weaknesses for you. For example, authenticity was my top score, with peak experiences being my lowest.


Self-actualisation is not precisely the same as psychological well-being or curiosity, but it seems to include elements from both.

Being more curious, psychologically healthy or having optimal psychological well-being are all worthwhile goals in therapy. They are also better to aim for than wanting to “just feel happy”.

Striving for self-actualisation is also another worthy target to aim for in therapy.

Self-actualisation is associated with emotional stability, goal attainment, constructive thinking, authenticity, and meaning in life. It can reduce disruptive impulsivity. Self-actualisation can also increase life satisfaction, curiosity, positive relationships, personal growth, and environmental mastery. Higher self-actualisation scores can also improve work performance, work satisfaction, skill development, creativity and humour ability. Lastly, it can increase one’s feelings of connectedness with the world.

Interestingly, self-actualisation is not correlated with age, education, ethnicity, gender, childhood income or school performance. So while many variables, including one’s environment, can impact a person, it does not look like it has to stop them from becoming more self-actualised.

Exactly how to reach self-actualisation isn’t fully known, but practising Mindfulness Meditation or Loving-Kindness Meditation daily could help. You could write a gratitude letter to thank someone you really care about. Or write down three things that either went well or you appreciated or felt grateful for each day. Or try to look for opportunities to help others, volunteer your skills or time, be curious about others or the world, or engage in a random act of kindness.

Different fields, including mindfulness and positive psychology, are looking into ways to help build psychological health and optimal well-being. Many of these strategies and practices are also likely to help people become more self-actualised.

Now that there is a modern instrument for measuring self-actualisation and its ten components, it will be possible to also create interventions that directly aim to improve these areas over time.

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

What Are the Secrets to Living Longer?

During my summer holidays, I read an interesting book called The Blue Zones: 9 lessons for living longer from the people who’ve lived the longest by Dan Buettner.

Buettner travelled to five geographical areas around the world where people lived healthy lives for the longest time. These five areas included Sardinia in Italy, Okinawa in Japan, Nicoya in Costa Rica, and the seventh-day adventist (SDA) population in Loma Linda, California.

Throughout the book, Buettner identified several essential lifestyle habits that could explain some of their excellent health and longevity outcomes. This included things such as how people connect, how they move, how they eat, and the outlook on life that they have. Let’s break down each of these habits in more detail:

1. Prioritise the connections that you have with others.

A deep sense of belonging does seem to be especially important to people that reach 100 in the blue zones. Over 98% of those identified and interviewed said they were active participants in a faith-based community.

The denomination you are a part of doesn’t seem to matter much. However, certain faiths, such as SDA, recommend that their believers adopt a healthy lifestyle.

Attending religious services once a week can add four to fourteen years to your life. Of course, belonging is still possible without religion. Still, achieving the same level of community, regular gatherings, and belonging in non-faith-based groups can be tricky.

Being active in social circles that support healthy living is also really important. Smoking, loneliness, inactivity, unhealthy eating and weight gain are more likely if a number of your friends are also going through this.

Fortunately, happiness, connectedness and movement can also be contagious if your friends live in specific ways and you associate with them regularly. Therefore, the people closest to you can impact your long-term health and happiness, whether you want them to or not.

Finally, people that live to 100 all tend to put their families first and have strong relationships with their partners, children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren. By prioritising a close and connected relationship with your children and grandchildren, they are more likely to care for you once you are older and need their love and support. In addition, living with younger generations makes the children less likely to be sick or die young.

You can live, on average, three years longer by having a life partner. It can significantly benefit males, who are more likely to become isolated or engage in healthy behaviours such as a poor diet or substance abuse issues. For females, having a life partner can also be helpful if you have a good-quality relationship. However, single women do better than those in long-term relationships with abusive or controlling partners.

Photo by Jan Krnc on Pexels.com

2. Move regularly as part of your daily life.

Most people that live to 100 in the blue zones are not regular gym goers or marathon runners. Instead, they make moving, particularly walking, a normal part of their daily life. It may be their work on their farms and gardens, or visiting friends and families. However, regular movement does seem to help people stay healthier for longer.

Photo by Dana Tentis on Pexels.com

3. Eat lots of plants in your diet.

Beans, soy, lentils and vegetables are crucial elements of the diets of people that live to 100 in the blue zones. They don’t tend to go on strict or regimented diets but don’t eat much processed or junk food either. They usually only eat small amounts of meat about once a week.

People living to 100 in the blue zones don’t tend to overeat too much and maintain a healthy weight. One way they do this is by aiming to eat until they are about 80% full rather than 100%. This can be the difference between gaining or maintaining weight over time.

Finally, an occasional red wine doesn’t prevent someone from reaching 100. On the contrary, it can lead to more longevity for people than those who abstain entirely. If you ever do drink alcohol, aim for no more than one or two glasses at a time, and try to do this only at times when you are socialising with friends or family if you want to so that you also get the benefits of connection and belonging.

Photo by Om Thakkar on Pexels.com

4. Find and strengthen your sense of purpose, even after you have retired.

Those who lived the longest continued to feel that they had meaning and purpose in their everyday lives. The Japanese call it their “ikigai”, and the Costa Ricans call it their “plan de vida”. It gave the people in each country a good sense of their main reasons for waking up each day.

Knowing what feels meaningful to you or gives you purpose can add up to seven years of life expectancy.

Finally, people who lived to 100 in blue zones knew how to downshift, relax, and process their stress whenever it was building up for them. Conversely, people who do not learn how to effectively manage or reduce their stress when it arises are much more likely to experience more inflammation and chronic diseases over time.

Some of the strategies those in the blue zone use are:

  • Taking a few moments each day to remember their ancestors and be grateful for what they have done
  • Praying to God daily for the things that they are thankful for and the things they hope for
  • Taking daily naps
  • Trying to stop working by a specific time each day and socialise and connect with friends and family over food or a drink.
  • Spending time out in nature

Some of the secrets of longer living in the blue zones are probably genetically based. However, not all of it is. Therefore, adopting some of the above tips and strategies could add a decade or so of good years to your life.

Are there any changes you could make that wouldn’t be too challenging for you to make? If so, would there be any downsides to doing this? Conversely, what could be the potential benefits?

No matter your age, there is still time left to make some of the changes that you would like to in your life. If you do, I’d love to hear about how it goes.

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

How Does It Feel to Have Your To-Do List at Zero?

It’s quite strange. Yesterday, I managed to finish off the last thing on my to-do list for the week. For the first time in a long time, I had nothing that I had to do. Sure, there are some things that I would like to do in the future. However, nothing required me to take any steps towards them until Friday next week. This is definitely the first time that this has been the case in 2021. I’m not even sure if I reached this point at all in 2020.

I feel lighter to have all of these items gone. They are no longer hanging over my head or telling me that I shouldn’t be relaxing when I am. But I also feel a bit lost. Today, I have already done my morning meditation, journaling, Elevate brain training and Duolingo French language training. I then did my daily weight training, hips and balance exercises, and went outside and walked 10,000 steps. I shopped for the food I needed at the local supermarket, meal prepped for the next few days, and cleaned up my place.

I then tried to relax and watch some TV and a movie, but both of these activities already felt boring. One of my friend’s said that he had clocked Netflix because of this pandemic. I haven’t, but the returns of these activities are definitely diminishing.

My brain told me that I would feel amazing, no longer having anything that I needed to do. But I do not. So now, having just eaten half a salad and a tasty Magnum ice cream, I find myself here at the computer putting down my thoughts into words.

Goals vs Values

blue sea under blue sky
Photo by Riccardo Bertolo on Pexels.com

Exactly how I feel now is why I tell my clients not just to live their lives by their goals. Sure, having things to aim for is great. So is hitting these targets and crossing these items off our to-do lists. It gives us a nice little surge of dopamine and fires up the reward pathways in our brain when we achieve something. And our brains feel good for a temporary moment until we start searching for the next target to hit.

But it is never-ending and generally always future-focused. We think, once I have achieved this, then I will be happy. But then we meet this goal, and our brain says, “great… what’s next?” We begin looking again to the future for the imaginary thing that will make us happy and satisfied forever once we achieve it.

Unfortunately, the long-term rewards of this future goal are mostly a mirage. Our brains telling us that it will satisfy us forever helps us not give up pursuing the goal. However, once we have achieved it, the reward is fleeting and less satisfying than we imagined beforehand. This is because dopamine is more about desire than reward.

Imagine if we were forever satisfied after achieving a goal. I doubt that our ancestors would have lasted long enough to reproduce. A slightly unsatisfied person, always craving for more and an ideal future that never comes. Those humans are the ones that will keep moving, growing, meeting and breeding. And now, here we are…

Enjoying the Process vs Desiring a Future Outcome

photo of mountain under cloudy sky
Photo by Evgeny Tchebotarev on Pexels.com

As I have already said, a goal is set for the future. You want to lose weight, buy a house, run a marathon, or climb Mount Everest. As an extension of this, you are saying that you lack something in the present when you set a goal. You are heavier than you want to be. You don’t have the house that you want to be in. You haven’t run the marathon this year, and you are yet to climb the tallest mountain in the world.

Values are different to goals. Values are followed in the present. They are guiding principles for life. You are either living by them at the moment, or you are not.

By clarifying why you want to achieve your specific goals, you can determine if you are living by these values in the present or not. Let’s take the first example. You might want to lose weight because you value looking attractive, but I want to lose weight because I value being healthy. I have lost weight through not eating much, not exercising and taking diet pills. The goal has been achieved, and if it was you, you might even live by your values. But I am not. Deep down, I would know that I am not healthy, and even if I have lost some weight, I would feel inconsistent rather than consistent with what is most important to me.

You might want to climb Mount Everest because your husband is too and you value doing things together, whereas I am training for it because I value pushing myself to reach my potential. We both head off on the expedition, and we can’t climb beyond base camp because our guide says that the weather is too bad for the next few weeks. Because I am unable to live by my value, I feel disappointed and unhappy. Because you are still consistent with yours, you are happy and don’t mind getting to enjoy your downtime in Nepal with the love of your life.

What Do You Want Your Legacy to Be?

This question needs to be asked more often, in my opinion. I’m not too sure how many people could answer this clearly and succinctly. But if we aren’t clear on what principles or values are most important to us, how are we meant to decide if we are on the right path or not? How will we know if what we are doing is time well spent or just a waste of time?

Epitaph On Your Gravestone
monochrome photo of man walking in cemetery
Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

Imagine that you have lived your whole life and have recently died. Someone really close to you has decided to bury you, and they are deciding what will be written on your gravestone. What would you want them to write?

If you aren’t sure what you would want your legacy to be about, this question can often help. Even though I would prefer to be cremated instead of buried, the main thought that pops into my head when I think of this exercise is:

“Here lies Damon…He tried his best”

Maybe that is cliched or lame, but it highlights that a core value in my life is around effort. I care much less about how much I manage to achieve in my life. I want to know that I gave things a proper go and put in the effort required. That I focused on the process of what I am doing, which is within my control, rather than the outcome, which is often outside of it.

Your 80th Birthday Party

If thinking about after your own death is too morbid an exercise for you, this thought experiment may be more appealing. Imagine that it is your 80th birthday party, and all of your closest family and friend’s are there to celebrate the life you have had so far. Someone close to you stands up and tells everyone in the crowd about the person you have been from now until your 80th birthday. What would you want to hear them say about you? I’d love to hear my partner’s daughter stand up and say:

“Even though I wasn’t convinced about Damon initially, he’s turned out to be a pretty cool role model as a father figure for me. He’s consistently been there for me and tried his best to be emotionally supportive and understand me and what I was going through. Damon’s always wanted the best for me in life, and I could feel this. But he also didn’t care if I won things or where I came as long as I was willing to try and give new things a go. Damon was always willing to do things for me and be there when I needed him to help or listen. But he also didn’t do things for me if he knew that it would be better for me to give something a go and learn how to do it myself. Damon encouraged me to explore the world and not be held back by fear. He also offered a safe space with mum to come back to when I needed comfort, care and support. I’m glad that Damon came into my life, and I am happy about the person I am today partly because of the role that he has played. Above all, I feel loved for who I am by Damon, no matter what, and that is a pretty cool thing to have. So thank you, and happy 80th birthday!”

Your answer to this question should help you clarify what values are most important to you or what you would like your legacy to be about. Based on the above passage, I want to be a good role model as a father, present, supportive, understanding, encouraging, helpful, loving and unconditional. Many people think of their legacy in terms of work, but is that really what you value most in this life?

Are You Travelling in the Right Direction?

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Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh on Pexels.com

In her excellent post and subsequent book, Bronnie Ware shared her top five regrets of people who were dying. Having worked as a palliative care nurse for several years, Bronnie identified them as:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

This list highlights that my life was imbalanced before I had my stroke in January. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was separated from my partner and her daughter back in Vanuatu on March 20th, 2020. I could not see any of my friends or colleagues back there and did not say a proper goodbye to them. Thanks to the months of lockdowns in Melbourne, I could not do many things I enjoyed or see my friends and family here in Australia that I wanted to either. I was working too much for too long each day, spending too much time on my phone and watching TV, and wasn’t eating as healthily or being as active as I wanted to be.

What about you?

How Much of the Day Are You Spending in the Way that You Want?

For this exercise, draw a pie chart of what a typical workday looks like for you and another pie chart for what a typical day off looks like. It doesn’t matter what time you go to bed or get out of bed or start and finish work, because the whole pie represents 24 hours.

When you are drawing your two pie charts, think about:

  • How much time are you just in the moment vs trying to do things for a better future?
  • How much are you socialising and connecting with others, including family and friends?
  • How much time are you spending inside vs outside in nature?
  • How much are you dedicating towards being physically fit or exercising?
  • How much time are you resting, sleeping and relaxing?
  • How much are you dedicating towards doing creative or fun vs passive hobbies?
  • How much time are you working and doing tasks related to work?

Above is an example pie chart that I drew up in less than five minutes, so it really doesn’t have to take a long time. For some people, their workdays and non-workdays are very similar. For others, their weekend’s are spent very differently. There are no right or wrong answers. The key is to draw down what is typical for you.

Now that these pie charts have been drawn up, reflect and ask yourself:

  • Are there things that you would like to do more of?
  • Are there things that you would like to do less of?
  • What’s making it hard or stopping you from making these changes?

Once you have identified what you want to change and why the most important thing is getting out there and starting. Behavioural change is hard, especially at the start. But as Zig Ziglar says, “no one just walks around and finds themselves atop Mount Everest“. If you try something new and get stuck, my next blog post will give you a few tips and tricks to overcome these barriers.

The best thing about living by our values instead of just chasing after goals is that this can happen at any chosen moment. It doesn’t have to be New Years Day, and it doesn’t have to take a long time. I want to be more creative and present and connect more with those I care most about starting now. I don’t want work, focusing on the future or distractions on my phone or TV to get in the way.

What about you?

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

The Importance of Seeing Fully Qualified Professionals

Please consider the following scenario:

You require open-heart surgery to fix something that could otherwise severely impact your quality of life or kill you prematurely.

I’m guessing that you would have a pretty similar hierarchy to most people of who you would try to book for the surgery:

  1. The best heart surgeon in the world
  2. The best heart surgeon in your area/state/country
  3. A fully qualified heart surgeon with lots of experience doing the procedure you need
  4. A registered heart surgeon with some experience doing the operation you need
  5. A fully qualified surgeon with lots of successful heart operations
  6. A fully trained surgeon with some successful heart operations
  7. A supervised heart surgeon intern with some successful heart operations
  8. A fully qualified surgeon who has performed successful surgeries
  9. A registered medical doctor (such as your General Practitioner) with some surgical experience
  10. A fully qualified nurse with some surgical experience

Notice that everyone else who is unqualified to perform surgeries is not on the list, regardless of how highly they think of themselves or how much they care about hearts or surgery. Suppose an unqualified person has some experience completing surgeries or comes highly recommended by someone. Even in that case, there is still no way I would risk myself or someone that I love going under the knife with them.

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Now let’s compare this to if you have a mental health issue and want additional support:

Imagine that you are a top athlete and want to improve the mental side of your game.

What would your hierarchy look like for who you’d see to help improve your psychological health and overall performance?

For me, it would look like this:

  1. The best Sports Psychologist in the world
  2. One of the best Sports Psychologists in your area/state/country
  3. A fully qualified Sports Psychologist
  4. A recommended and fully qualified Psychiatrist with some experience successfully helping top athletes
  5. A recommended and fully qualified Psychologist with some experience successfully helping top athletes
  6. A fully supervised Sports Psychology intern with some experience helping top athletes
  7. A fully qualified Psychiatrist
  8. A fully qualified Psychologist
  9. A fully qualified Psychiatric or Mental Health Nurse
  10. A fully qualified Social Worker
  11. Someone who has completed a Master’s Program in Counselling at an accredited university

Notice again that I do not put anyone on my list who is not a fully qualified and registered mental health professional, regardless of how much they love sports or mental health. Like surgery, I believe that if you are going to pay for mental health support, try to obtain it from fully qualified people.

A fully qualified Psychiatrist has studied at University for at least 12 years, including a complete medical degree and then a four-year residency in Psychiatry. A Psychologist has completed at least a Doctorate or a PhD in the USA. In Australia, they need to study mental health for at least six years before becoming a Psychologist. Both Psychiatrists and Psychologists must also be registered each year with a regulatory body, have professional indemnity insurance, continue to abide by their respective code of ethics and provide empirically supported treatment. They must also continue their professional development and keep a logbook of everything they have learned and the supervision they have sought.

As a Psychologist, if treatment is not effectively helping someone, you cannot continue treating them indefinitely. Because of our ethical code of practice, if someone is not getting any better, we need to refer them to another mental health professional who can hopefully help them more. We’re also not allowed to use testimonials or make unsubstantiated claims about how much we can help you. If these marketing strategies are not banned, someone can use them to persuade you unfairly.

A person working in the mental health field without any qualifications or protected titles does not have these limitations. They can practice unscientifically and unethically. They can continue charging you to see them regardless of the harm they are causing you. They can breach your confidentiality and tell others that they see you. They don’t have to get any professional supervision or do any continued professional development. They also don’t have to keep any notes or records of your sessions together or keep them in a secure and locked place for the next seven years. And they can make up fake testimonials saying how exceptional their services are and how much they help people just like you.

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A Difficult Lesson to Learn

In 2017, the Adelaide Crows Football Club was one of the strongest teams in the AFL. They were hoping to win the club’s first premiership in 19 years. But, unfortunately, they lost to Richmond by 48 points in the Grand Final.

After their loss, the football department questioned the players’ mental fortitude. The department told them that they must improve the mental aspect of their game and build resilience to win it all in 2018.

Hoping to gain a mental edge over the rest of the league in preparation for the 2018 season, they decided to head off on an experimental preseason camp involving knives, blindfolds, army gear and the removal of personal phones for the duration of the four-day camp. Run by Collective Mind, a consultancy group of two people who are self-proclaimed Executive Coaches and Trainers.

Since this camp, things have only gone downhill for Adelaide. As of July 4th, 2020, head coach Don Pyke, head of football Brett Burton, senior assistant coach Scott Camporeale and eight of the best 22 players from 2017 left the club.

Eddie Betts left Adelaide to head back to Carlton in 2019 and said in February 2020, “that (camp) was one of the main reasons it was so hard to enjoy footy.”

Mitch McGovern was another player who left the crows. Furthermore, his manager said, “the reasons Mitch left the Crows was because of the camp and the Adelaide football department, and that’s it.

After finishing minor premiers in 2017, Adelaide dropped to 12th in 2018. In 2019, they won fewer games but finished 11th. They then lost 13 games to start the season and finished last in 2020. This year they improved slightly again and finished 15th out of 18. Collective Minds do not blame themselves for this decline, even though they credit themselves for Adelaide’s first place at the end of the regular season in 2017. Perhaps this drop from first to last in three years was just a coincidence.

I first wrote this Facebook post back on June 26th 2018:

Dear Adelaide Crows,

If you want to get the mental edge over other AFL teams, why would you choose a company run by two individuals who do not even have an undergraduate degree in psychology?

There are 92 endorsed sport and exercise psychologists in Australia, 322 health psychologists, 513 organisational psychologists, 615 clinical neuropsychologists and over 8,000 clinical psychologists. Generally speaking, there are over 29,000 registered psychologists in Australia in 2018, and 1,469 psychologists in South Australia alone.

Psychologists… are held accountable by the Australian Health Practitioners Regulation Agency. Not all psychologists are amazing, but it is a nice way to monitor psychologists’ behaviours and ensure a certain level of quality control.

Let’s hope that other professional teams, sporting clubs, organisations, businesses and individuals learn from this experience and try to seek support from people that are adequately qualified in whatever services they are offering.”

More than three years later, I still think that hiring people without even a Bachelor’s degree in a mental health field can be pretty dangerous if you want them to improve the mental side of your game.

two man hiking on snow mountain

But Have we Learnt Our Lesson?

It sure doesn’t look like it.

I enjoyed reading ‘The Resilience Project: Finding Happiness through Gratitude, Empathy and Mindfulness’ by Hugh van Cuylenberg. My brother first read it and said he loved it and found it an emotional read. He recommended that I check it out.

The author was a great storyteller, and it was nice to see someone talk about the benefits of gratitude, empathy and mindfulness. Van Cuylenberg calls these three components GEM and says that they are the key to resilience and finding happiness.

I’ve never seen him run a presentation to a group before, but Hugh is a compelling public speaker. He is a qualified teacher who has previously worked in schools as a teacher and has a Master’s degree in education. Hugh has some skills in how to craft and portray an engaging message. 

His Resilience Project website says that he has worked with the Australian Cricket Team, Australian Netball Team, Australian Women’s Soccer and Rugby teams, National Rugby League, and ten Australian Football League teams. He highlights that he works closely with the Port Adelaide Football team and has worked individually with Steve Smith and Dustin Martin.

He is not working with these teams or individuals on how to best teach others. Or how to give effective presentations.

He is talking to them about improving their mental health or ‘resilience’. And he has zero mental health degrees, as far as I can see.

He has mentioned reading some of the work by Dr Martin Seligman on Positive Psychology and the benefits of GEM. But doing some personal reading on topics is not the same as passing examinations and observations year after year and meeting all of the requirements to be fully qualified and endorsed as a practising mental health specialist.

Remember, there are over 100 specialised sports psychiatrists and sports psychologists in Australia and 29,000 psychologists. They are all much more qualified to provide practical mental health support to these teams and athletes. Yet, these athletes and teams overlook this expertise and go with someone with no formal training in mental health. And they are not alone.

The resilience project claims that they have worked with 500 workplaces, 1000 schools, and over one million Australians. Yet, interestingly, none of the 14 Resilience Project employees indicates that they have an undergraduate or postgraduate degree in mental health.

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The #1 player in the world

Ben Crowe calls himself the Director of Mojo Crowe and a Mindset Coach. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree majoring in Creative Writing and has studied sports management for three years. He convinced Ash Barty, the current #1 female tennis player globally, to be her mindset coach. She seems happy with their working relationship so far.

With his previous experience as a director of sports marketing at NIKE in the Asia Pacific, Ben is well experienced and suited to working with athletes as the co-founder of his company Unscriptd.com. He says that he helps athletes share and market themselves to the world.

If Barty were working with him in this regard, that would be entirely appropriate and possibly very helpful. Regarding her mental health or ‘mindset’, I don’t see how his education or qualifications relate to this. But he does say that he works with Dylan Alcott, Stephanie Gilmore, the Australian Cricket Team, Richmond Football Club, leaders at Macquarie Bank, and the World Health Organisation. So again, she’s not alone. These individuals and companies have enough money to hire the best professionals in an area. How do people think that the best person to teach about mindset is someone without mental health training?


There is a need for more mental health funding and education to increase access. 75–95% of people in lower to middle-income countries cannot access specialised mental health services.

Until we can have more qualified mental health specialists, there will be a role for life coaches, counsellors, and psychotherapists.

However, the public needs to be well informed about the differences between the education and regulations required to work in each profession. Twelve years of study after high school for Psychiatry. At least six years for Psychology. A personal coach, counsellor, or psychotherapist may have no formal mental health education or qualifications at all.

As ‘life coach’, ‘counsellor’ and ‘therapist’ are unprotected titles in Australia, you could open up your own business or practice tomorrow and start treating and managing mental health or ‘mindset’ or ‘resilience’ problems. You could also start working with some top athletes and teams if you are a great self-promoter and they are uninformed enough to hire you.

I know it seems like an extreme comparison, but would you allow yourself to be operated on by someone who wasn’t qualified or didn’t go through a long and formal education process to develop and maintain their skills? If not, why should your mental health treatment and support be taken any less seriously?

If there are no psychiatrists, psychologists, mental health nurses or social workers available in your area, see if you can access any of these individuals online. If you still can’t and need mental health support, unregulated professions like life coaches, therapists, or counsellors might help. I would make sure you know how long they have studied first and hope they practice ethically and scientifically.

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

Five Lessons I Learned After Being Fired

When I was 18, I graduated from high school in Virginia in mid-2004. After a fantastic road trip across the USA, I returned to Australia and needed to find some work until I could attend University in February 2005.

My first job after I returned was walking around and doorknocking at people’s houses, trying to sell the residents a subscription to daily delivered newspapers. I lasted two hours, sold zero subscriptions, and made zero dollars before deciding that the job was not for me. I really feel for anyone who does this type of work. Basically, no one wants a stranger trying to sell them things at their front door.

After applying for a few other jobs, I worked as an assistant manager at Hungry Jacks, a fast-food restaurant. It did not pay well and required sometimes working 11 hours straight without a break from 3:30pm to 2:30am.

Fast food work is not glamorous. It was hot working out the back. The oil from the fryers clogged up my pores, and minor burns were not out of the ordinary.

It can also be a lot of pressure and stress. Cars turning up to buy something in the drive-thru needed to be given all of their order in under 2.5 minutes. The recommended time for in-restaurant orders was even faster.

Eventually, I began turning up to work late a few too many times, especially to morning shifts. I was 18 years old for most of my time at Hungry Jack’s and enjoyed going out with my friends and having some drinks.

After one shift where I slept through my alarm by a few hours, the two store managers called me into a room and asked me not to come back to work anymore. I was shocked, but I also understood why they didn’t want me to work there. I wasn’t really trying to learn the things I needed to and had been coming in later and later.

Here are the five main things I learned from being fired:

1. It doesn’t matter how intelligent you are if you don’t put in the work

One of my favourite personality assessments I recommend to many people is the IPIP-NEO or the five-factor personality model. It is available to be taken for free online and compares your answers to other people of your gender, age and country across five factors and thirty facets.

Conscientiousness is the most crucial factor for determining how successful someone will be at work out of the five personality factors. This finding is independent of intelligence. This means that even if you do not have a high IQ, you can still do really well at work if you apply yourself consistently. Having high self-efficacy and belief in your ability to get things done, being orderly, self-disciplined, dutiful, striving to achieve something and thinking things through before acting can help you be more conscientious and perform better at work.

2. A growth mindset is far better than a fixed mindset

I definitely had more of a fixed mindset in high school than a growth mindset. I didn’t see the point in practising things or working hard to get better at something. Instead, I thought that how good I was at something was as good as I could ever be and tried to only do things that came naturally to me.

I excelled at math until year 10, and then finally, my natural aptitude for the subject couldn’t take me much further. My grades in the subject quickly plummeted. I went from receiving A+ on tests in year 9 to nearly failing my Maths Method exam and obtaining an E+ at the end of Semester One in year 11.

At Hungry Jack’s, I again tried to stick to what I enjoyed or found easy. However, after months of working there, I still didn’t know how to set up the broiler properly, preferring to stick to salad prep or changing the oil in the fryers. Once the store managers realised this, I could only do broiler set-up. I think I stopped turning up in the mornings shortly after this.

If I had instead realised that my performance could indeed get better with more practice and more effort, I might not have been late so much and kept my job.

3. It is hard to motivate yourself to do things that you don’t enjoy

For the six months I worked at Hungry Jack’s, I really didn’t enjoy going to work. I would dread getting up early in the morning for a shift. I would also count down the clock at work until I finally could go home.

I compare this to working as a Clinical Psychologist. The feeling is entirely different. Some days I still can’t be bothered going to work, but I enjoy the process of being there and helping others as much as I can in the time that we have together.

We can’t always find things that we love doing. But if you hate what you do for a job or where you are working, it can really get you down. I’ve had a few undesirable jobs with difficult managers, and they nearly drove me crazy after only a few months.

If you are in one of these situations and can look for other opportunities, please do. Then if you have a chance to move to another job that you think might be better, go for it. If you still feel stuck, compare what you would lose by leaving to what you would lose by staying. Taking a risk can be scary, but ask yourself what you usually regret more: what you decide to do? Or what you want to do but do not?

4. Try to find a job that suits you, not what other people tell you to do

Out of the 10+ jobs I did from 14- to 28-years-old, my favourite job by far was night-fill at a Woolworth’s Supermarket. I would mostly work from 9pm to 2am or 10pm to 3am, with a 10pm to 6am Saturday night shift that paid double-time. It was a decent workout, with lots of walking and carrying boxes. It also led to a lot of reflection time while working, as the store was generally quiet until midnight and then closed after that until 6am. Once it was closed, we could play our iPods and listen to music and not have to engage with anyone at all.

For a casual job, it paid really well. But it also allowed me to do everything else I wanted in my life. I could see my friends and family as often as I wanted to, play lots of sport, and go to all the university classes that I needed to during the day. It also suited my delayed sleep schedule and helped me save enough to travel around the world for eight months after finishing my Honours degree in 2008.

Other people may have hated the exercise or the timing of the shifts at the supermarket, but I loved it, unlike the job I had at Hungry Jack’s. The more you understand yourself, your personality, and your strengths and weaknesses, the easier it will be to know what type of job is right for you.

5. Education is much more important than I realised it was back when I was in school

None of the 10+ jobs I did before I completed my Doctoral degree required a university degree. Many paid minimum wage, including working at a fast-food Tex-Mex restaurant in the USA and as a bartender in the UK.

Comparing how much I was paid in some of these jobs, it would have taken me over 20 hours to make as much as possible in one hour of private practice psychology work in Australia. The difference in pay between working as a clinical psychologist in the USA and the minimum wage is even more extreme.

I agree that schools could have a bit of an overhaul and teach more about mental health and life skills. However, it doesn’t mean that doing well in school and getting a good education doesn’t help give you a more financially secure future.

Sure, there are high school and college dropouts that have more money than I could ever make. But, unfortunately, these are the exceptions rather than the rule. If you don’t believe me, check out the ten points that this article makes on the benefits of obtaining a bachelor’s degree. Not only are you likely to make more money, but you could have higher self-esteem and better job satisfaction too.


Being fired for the first time just before starting my university career may have been a blessing in disguise. It helped me to take my university studies more seriously, taught me that if I wanted to get anywhere, I needed to work hard at it and that I also needed to try to find the right job for me if I was going to do well and stick at it for a long time.

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

20 Fascinating Paradoxes About Life

What is a Paradox?

According to the Oxford dictionary, a paradox is a noun that has two meanings:

1. A seemingly absurd or contradictory statement or proposition which when investigated may prove to be well founded or true.

2. A person or thing that combines contradictory features or qualities.

I love paradoxes because they are sometimes funny and usually also quite insightful. Listening to the audiobook version of the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu was like listening to one paradox after another. This was especially surprising to me because it is an ancient book of wisdom. So a great paradox is much more than just a cliche, even though it can appear like that over time.

Below is a list of some of my favourites, starting with one from the Tao Te Ching:

  1. New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings” – Lao Tzu

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2. “Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

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3. “I’d rather be hated for who I am, than be loved for who I am not” – Kurt Cobain

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4. “I refuse to join any club that would have me for a member.” – Groucho Marx

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5. “You know what the issue is with this world? Everyone wants a magical solution to their problem, and everyone refuses to believe in magic.” – Alice in Wonderland

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6. “I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.” – Socrates

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7. “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” – Rumi

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8. “We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behaviours.” – Stephen Covey

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9. “If you don’t risk anything you risk everything.” – Mark Zuckerberg

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10. “The more we do, the more we can do; the more busy we are, the more leisure we have.” – William Hazlitt

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11. “Only you can take responsibility for your happiness…but you can’t do it alone. It’s the great paradox of being human.” – Simon Sinek

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12. “If you try to fail and succeed, which have you done?” – George Carlin

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13. “Seek freedom and become captive of your desires. Seek discipline and find your liberty.” – Frank Herbert

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14. “Nowadays most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one’s mistakes.” – Oscar Wilde

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15. “Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.” ―Mahatma Gandhi

man person mountain hiker

16. “He who fears he shall suffer, already suffers what he fears.”― Michel de Montaigne

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17. “A lot of people never use their initiative because no-one told them to.” – Banksy

microphotography of orange and blue house miniature on brown snail s back

18. “If someone doesn’t value evidence, what evidence are you going to provide to prove that they should value it? If someone doesn’t value logic, what logical argument could you provide to show the importance of logic?” ― Sam Harris

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19. “Let go of certainty. The opposite isn’t uncertainty. It’s openness, curiosity and a willingness to embrace paradox, rather than choose up sides. The ultimate challenge is to accept ourselves exactly as we are, but never stop trying to learn and grow.” Tony Schwartz

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20. “If you don’t get what you want, you suffer; if you get what you don’t want, you suffer; even when you get exactly what you want, you still suffer because you can’t hold onto it forever. Your mind is your predicament. It wants to be free of change. Free of pain, free of the obligations of life and death. But change is law and no amount of pretending will alter that reality.” – Socrates

bench cold dawn environment

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

What Things Really Matter to You?

When I think about how to best help someone, I am reminded of what psychiatrist Irvin Yalom found when he asked 20 clients what was most beneficial to them about their time in therapy (Yalom & Leszcz, 2005). The average client had spent an average of 16 months in therapy, and was just about to finish up.

The top four categories of responses they gave consisted of:

4. Self-understanding: learning more about thoughts, feelings, the self, and their origins

3. Cohesiveness: being understood, accepted and connected with a sense of belonging

2. Catharsis: expressing feelings and getting things out in the open

1. Interpersonal input: learning more about one’s impression and impact on others

Out of the 60 individual statements that the clients could endorse, they most often endorsed statements about therapy helping them to:

  • Trust other people more
  • See and experience the benefits of revealing embarrassing things and taking other emotional risks.
  • Learn how they come across to other people and the impression they make on others
  • Learn how to more effectively express positive and negative feelings, including towards others
  • Be honestly told what other people think of them
  • Be able to say what is bothering them instead of holding it in
  • Discover previously unknown parts of themselves and accept things about themselves or their past that were previously difficult to accept.

If you look at the above lists, you will notice that most of the highly endorsed benefits of therapy are difficult to obtain individually outside of greater self-understanding and awareness.


Many of the true benefits of therapy are the result of taking emotional risks and being honest about things that are really bothering you or you are concerned or unsure about. The rest of the benefits come from the acceptance, understanding, feedback and connection that the therapist gives back to client, as well as the quality of the therapeutic relationship they have together. If it is group therapy rather than individual therapy, the other group members can provide many of the benefits that the therapist might in individual therapy.

Because the quality of the relationships in our lives has such a large impact on how happy and healthy we are and become, it makes sense that many of the key benefits of therapy are also relational. If you would like to improve the quality of your relationships, making the investment in therapy could potentially be well worth it for you in the long run.


If you are 100% satisfied with how all the key relationships in your life are going, and you feel like all of your needs are being met in these relationships, then it may be less important for you to undergo person-to-person therapy.

Self-awareness and understanding and more internal cohesiveness and acceptance can also be developed through reading books or taking online courses. Or, as I have previously mentioned, can also be developed by taking personality assessments that help you to answer the question “who am I?”, including the five-factor personality model.

Once you have a good sense of who you are, it is then important to ask yourself “what’s most important to me?” This can be done by taking the VIA character strengths survey, or doing any form of values clarification exercise, such as the ones I outlined in the article ‘what values do you try to live your life by?‘ and ‘three steps to an improved life‘.

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Another values clarification exercise that I tried the other day was recommended to me by a client. It can be taken for free by clicking this link.

Firstly, it asks if you understand what an intrinsic value is. Once you know that it is something that you value not for what it can give you, like money, but in and of itself, you are ready to take the quiz.

The quiz then asks you about a bunch of different values, and then gets you to say if it is an intrinsic value to you or not, and if it is, how important it is to you.

Once you have answered all of the questions, it asks you to pick your top seven values in order.

For me, my most important values were as follows:

  1. That I show courage in the face of difficult challenges
  2. That I am grateful for what I have
  3. That I achieve my full potential
  4. That I experience a sense of meaning and purpose in my life
  5. That I feel connected to other people
  6. That I have agency and can make choices for myself
  7. That the way I behave is consistent with my values

You are then asked to reflect on each value and see how you might be able to create more of what you value in the world.

I already ask myself the question “what am I being motivated by here – my fears or my values?” when I am feeling unsure or uncertain about what to do.

A similar question that I heard about in the book I was listening to yesterday called ‘Four Thousand Weeks‘ by Oliver Burkeman was “does this decision help to enlarge my life or diminish it?” Sometimes our brain wants us to do what feels least scary or most comfortable. However, the author recommends choosing the option that is scary or uncomfortable but is likely to enlarge your life over one that is comfortable but is likely to diminish your life over time.

What Are You Likely to Regret More?

Joseph Campbell says that the hero’s journey begins when the main character is called to action by something unexpected at the end of the first act of any good story. The second act of the story begins when the hero answers the call to action and goes off on the adventure, not entirely sure how things will turn out but willing to face whatever challenges may come. Hopefully, they continue to keep learning and growing and eventually prevail and succeed. Or they can choose to not answer the call, stay where it is safe and familiar, and not get to experience the adventures and challenges that may await.

What would you rather? What do you think you would regret the most in the long run?

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

Which Activities Make Us the Happiest?

The app Mappiness pings people twice a day and asks them what they have just been doing, who they are with, and where they are. It can also tell what the temperature and weather are. It then asks people three questions:

  1. How happy are you?
  2. How relaxed are you?
  3. How awake do you feel?

People can answer anywhere on a scale from “not at all” at one end to “extremely” at the other end.

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Can the weather impact people’s happiness?

Mappiness has looked at the data from 15,444 people across 138,407 observations. Warmer temperatures tend to help the average person feel happier than colder temperatures (+4). However, rain negatively impacts people’s moods more than cold weather (-11). If it is sunny, it makes a slight positive difference to how people feel, but not too much (+1.1).

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The average person doesn’t enjoy working or studying

Working and studying tend to make people less happy while they are doing it (-5.43). It doesn’t mean that we should all go out and quit our job tomorrow. Most people need the money and are likely to be more satisfied in their overall lives with a job than if they are unemployed. However, while at work, the average person would rather be doing pretty much anything else. Out of the 39 activities, only being sick in bed was rated less enjoyable. Friday is the happiest day of the workweek because people look forward to not having to work on the weekend. Saturday and Sunday have the highest happiness ratings throughout the week and are pretty similar to each other.

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Socializing more can make you happier, as long as it’s not with your boss

Spending time with close friends makes us the happiest (+8.19). Followed by time with a spouse or partner (+5.91). Then other family members (+2.94). Time with children produces slightly more happiness than being alone (+1.4), but higher than time with clients, customers (+0.72), colleagues, classmates (+0.64), and other people the participant knows (+0.66). Notice how these social interactions produce more happiness for the average person than being alone. Being with one’s boss is the only social interaction rated less pleasantly than being alone (Kahneman et al., 2004).

Which activities do people do the most?

Regarding the type of activities, the most frequently reported activities were working or studying (27.4%), watching TV or a film (17.8%), talking, chatting, socializing (14.2%), sleeping, resting, relaxing (9.6%), eating, snacking (9.5%), travelling, commuting (9.1%), listening to music (6%), drinking tea/coffee (5.4%), drinking alcohol (5.2%), or housework, chores, DIY (4.9%).

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Which activities increase your happiness?

The activity that tends to make us feel the happiest at the moment isn’t too much of a surprise, with intimacy or making love the highest rated by a long way (+14.2). Going to the theatre, a dance, or a concert is the second highest (+9.29), followed closely by an exhibition, museum, or library (+8.77).

Physical activities or being in nature all seem to score high, with sports, running, exercise (+8.12) the fourth highest, and then gardening (+7.83). Birdwatching or nature watching (+6.28), walking or hiking (+6.18), and hunting or fishing (+5.82) all continue this trend. The activities rated higher are singing, performing (+6.95), and talking, chatting, and socializing (+6.38), especially with close friends and partners.

Typically overrated activities include more passive ones, including watching TV or a film (+2.55), drinking tea/coffee (+1.83), reading (+1.47), listening to a speech or a podcast (+1.41), sleeping, resting or relaxing (+1.08), browsing the internet (+0.59), texting, email or social media (+0.56).

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Which activities reduce your happiness?

Activities that tend to reduce happiness levels include housework, chores, DIY (-0.65), commuting (-1.47), or being in a meeting or class (-1.5). Worse still is doing admin or organizing or doing finances (-2.45), waiting, queueing (-3.51), caring or helping adults (-4.3), working or studying (-5.43), and being sick in bed (-20.4).

You can’t avoid all of these activities. Still, knowing how negative they typically are can be helpful. For example, choosing a place to live closer to work where you can walk or ride rather than commute could make a positive difference in your mood. As could paying for someone to clean your house or iron your clothes if you don’t enjoy doing this.

I don’t enjoy unnecessary meetings, so minimising these as much as possible could help. Likewise, I could try to find a job with more of the work I enjoy and less of the stuff I do not. I could try not to work too many hours each week. Finally, I could try to look after my health as much as possible so that I am not in bed sick too often.

I want to thank Seth Stephens-Davidowitz for sharing these interesting insights alongside many others in his latest book, ‘Don’t Trust Your Gut’. If you’d like to see how Big Data can help you to understand yourself or people better, I’d recommend checking out this book as well as his first one ‘Everybody Lies’.

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist