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 in 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.

man looking at a rock formation

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 Psychiatrist in the world
  2. The best Sports Psychologist in the world
  3. One of the best Sports Psychiatrists in your area/state/country
  4. One of the best Sports Psychologists in your area/state/country
  5. A fully qualified Sports Psychiatrist
  6. A fully qualified Sports Psychologist
  7. A recommended and fully qualified Psychiatrist with some experience successfully helping top athletes
  8. A recommended and fully qualified Psychologist with some experience successfully helping top athletes
  9. A fully supervised Sports Psychiatry intern with some experience helping top athletes
  10. A fully supervised Sports Psychology intern with some experience helping top athletes
  11. A fully qualified Psychiatrist
  12. A fully qualified Psychologist
  13. A fully qualified Psychiatric or Mental Health Nurse
  14. A fully qualified Social Worker
  15. Someone who has completed a Masters 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.

black bird perching on concrete wall with ocean overview

A Difficult Lesson to Learn

In 2017, the Adelaide Crows Football Club had been one of the strongest teams in the AFL all year. 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 why 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 only 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 a pretty dangerous thing 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 that 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 it looks like Hugh is a compelling public speaker too. He is a qualified teacher who has previously worked in schools as a teacher and has a Masters 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 how to improve their mental health or ‘resilience’. And he has zero mental health Bachelor or Postgraduate 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.

people texture sport ground

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 towards 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. All of 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?

Conclusion

There is a need for more mental health funding and education throughout the world 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 trying to treat and manage 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 for first and hope they practice ethically and scientifically.

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

What Does Australia and the USA Care About in Comparison to the Rest of the World?

Inglehart-Welzel Cultural Map (2020)

If you look at the above findings from the seventh wave of the World Values Survey, neither Australia nor the USA is the most traditional or secular of all the countries surveyed. The USA is about as close to the middle as possible, showing a slight preference for Secular Values over Traditional Values (about 0.10 standard deviations above the average). Australia is more secular than both the USA and the world average.

Neither are Australia nor the USA the highest in terms of Self-Expression or Survival Values. The USA is just under 1.5 standard deviations higher than the world average regarding Self-Expression Values. Australia also prefers Self-Expression over Survival Values and is about 2.35 standard deviations higher than the average, which definitely puts them in the top 2.5% of all countries regarding endorsing these values.

Traditional vs. Secular Values

For the Y-axis, more traditional countries value the importance of family, religion and deferring to and being respectful of authority. Therefore, they tend to be more rejecting towards divorce, abortion, and euthanasia. Countries that are more secular place less emphasis on traditional family values, religion and authority. Divorce, abortion and euthanasia are more acceptable there than in countries that have traditional values.

Australia’s score of approximately 0.55 on the Y-axis means that it is half a standard deviation more secular than traditional. It is more secular than the UK and more secular than many countries in the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. Qatar has the most traditional values, but Ghana, Tanzania, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Trinidad and many others are also quite traditional.

Australia is more traditional than all Scandinavian countries, some Catholic European countries (especially the Czech Republic), and nearly all Confucian countries. In fact, Japan and South Korea are two of the highest-ranked countries globally in terms of Secular Values and are both less traditional than any country in Europe. I was quite surprised by this finding, as my Sociology lecturers at university often used Asian countries (including Japan) as the example of collectivist cultures. People in collectivist cultures are meant to put the goals and needs of the group, including what the authorities and their family say, over their individual needs and desires. Yet, their findings on the traditional — secular continuum do not seem to indicate that.

Survival vs. Self-Expression Values

This is where the findings on the X-axis are also important. Countries that endorse Survival Values prioritise physical and economic security over self-expression. As a result, they are less trusting and tolerant of outsiders or people that don’t fit in with what the average person is meant to be or do.

Countries that endorse Self-Expression Values, on the other hand, prioritise environmental protection and want greater participation in political and economic life decision-making. They also exhibit greater acceptance of differences and equality for anyone previously discriminated against, whether based on country of origin, sexuality or gender.

People from South Korea endorse Survival Values more than Self-Expression Values (approximately -0.50). Australia’s larger preference towards Self-Expression Values (about 2.35) in comparison to Asian countries might also help to explain why Asian countries were referred to in my Sociology lectures as examples of collectivist cultures. However, other countries, especially Egypt and Zimbabwe in Africa, endorse Security Values more than all Asian countries. Both Vietnam and Japan also show a decent preference for Self-Expression over Security Values. Perhaps my university Sociology professors were being influenced by inaccurate stereotypes or not using the best examples.

Based on their answers to the World Values Survey and their positions on the above map, the average Australian is more likely to be happy, accept homosexuality, sign a petition and trust others than the average Japanese person or individual from the USA. Furthermore, the average American or Japanese person is more likely to endorse these four characteristics than the average South Korean, who is more likely than the average Egyptian. However, the average individual from these countries is less likely to endorse Self-Expression Values than the average Swede or Norwegian. These countries are the top two in the world, just ahead of Iceland, Denmark and New Zealand.

Which Areas of Life are Most Important?

As a dual citizen of Australia and the USA, I will include each country’s results on the following questions to the countries that most and least endorsed each item as very important. I doubt that many people will find these results as interesting as I do, but here are six areas of life that people are asked about in terms of how important it is to them:

1. How important is your family in your life?

The country with the highest percentage of people who endorse family as very important: Egypt = 99.7%

USA = 91.0%

Australia = 90.2%

The country with the lowest percentage of respondents who endorse family as very important: Nicaragua = 77.8%

2. How important are friends in your life?

The country with the highest percentage of people who endorse friends as very important: Serbia = 62.6%

Australia = 52.4%

USA = 50.7%

The country with the lowest percentage of respondents who endorse friends as very important: Myanmar = 11.8%

3. How important is leisure time in your life?

The country with the highest percentage of people who endorse leisure time as very important: Nigeria = 67.5%

Australia = 42.8%

USA = 39.5%

The country with the lowest percentage of respondents who endorse leisure time as very important: Vietnam = 12.8%

4. How important is politics in your life?

The country with the highest percentage of people who endorse politics as very important: Nigeria = 34.8%

USA = 14.9%

Australia = 10.3%

The country with the lowest percentage of respondents who endorse politics as very important: Serbia = 4.4%

5. How important is work in your life?

The country with the highest percentage of people who endorse work as very important: Indonesia = 92.9%

USA = 39.4%

Australia = 33.1%

The country with the lowest percentage of respondents who endorse work as very important: New Zealand = 29.1%

6. How important is religion in your life?

The country with the highest percentage of people who endorse religion as very important: Indonesia = 98.1%

USA = 37.1%

Australia = 13.8%

The country with the lowest percentage of respondents who endorse religion as very important: China = 3.3%

Neither Australia nor the USA is the highest or lowest country regarding endorsing any of the six categories as very important in their life. It’s interesting and nice to see that family, friends and leisure time are all endorsed as very important in life to a higher degree in both the USA and Australia than work, religion and politics. I wonder if everyone lives in line with what values they say are most important to them.

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

What if Being a Therapist is Unhealthy?

The Oura ring that I use to track my health gives me three primary scores every day. When I wake up, I receive a readiness score, a sleep score and an activity level score from the day before. All of these are out of 100, with the higher daily score perceived as better. 

To achieve a high score on my activity level, I need to move every hour during the day, not spend too much time being sedentary and complete my daily energy expenditure goal. For example, on a recent day where I exceeded the 600 calorie goal from exercise, I managed to burn 628 calories by walking 9,015 steps or 9.1km. 

 As a clinical psychologist working in private practice, I often see 7 or 8 people for 50–60 minutes each, five days a week. There was essentially no break between clients except for maybe a lunch break in the middle of the day. Which meant that there was little chance of meeting my daily expenditure goal unless I did at least 90 minutes of walking either before or after work.

Add in the time needed to get to work and back home, plus marketing and consulting with doctors or referrers. Then treatment planning, further reading, and writing of case notes, reports and letters. It sure doesn’t leave much time or energy for the exercise I want to do. Let alone quality relationships, housework, hobbies, self-care, and sleep outside of my work responsibilities.

Photo by SHVETS production on Pexels.com

An Unhealthy Trap?

“If you weren’t loved for who you were, then what you are going to do is work to make yourself loveable. And the way you make yourself loveable is to be of service to everybody else and not have any needs yourself”  

Gabor Mate

As a clinical psychologist, I have tested myself on many validated surveys. One that I particularly like is the Young Schema Questionnaire. It helps people determine which of the 18 maladaptive life traps or schemas they fall into most. Some of my top schemas from 2018 were: Self-sacrifice (1st), emotional deprivation (2nd), subjugation (4th) and approval-seeking (6th).

With these schemas, the predominant traps that I can fall into are sacrificing my needs for others and choosing relationships where others can’t meet my emotional needs. I can also pretend that I don’t have any requirements and try to be what others want me to be rather than who I am.

All of these qualities help me to be a good therapist. I can tune into what others want and need, put these things first regardless of what I want to talk about, disregard my own needs and be what others want me to be.

But what are the personal consequences for me?

Seeing too many clients in a week can make me emotionally drained, physically less healthy than I want to be and chronically fatigued. It can result in me cooking less for myself than I would like to. I instead resort to fast food on these nights because it is convenient and more manageable. My brain also tells me that I deserve to treat myself. So I spend more time sitting on the couch and watching TV or scrolling on the phone than I want to. I can’t be bothered being as creative or as expressive as I would like to be. And I isolate myself too much, choosing to take a break from the world instead of connecting with others in ways that I would like to.

What do I need?

Equal relationships. I need to put my needs at the same level as others. I need to choose friendships and partners that are as aware of my feelings and desires as they are of their own. I need them to be as encouraging towards me meeting my needs as we are towards meeting theirs. I need to be authentic and not be punished for this, even if it is different from what is traditional for society or what they want. I need to be aware of what I want and not feel ashamed of doing these activities or meeting these needs.

While this sounds nice and healthy, a therapeutic relationship is ideally not equal. The role is to be there for the other person to help them meet their needs, understand themselves and become the person they want to be. Yes, boundaries are essential to set and enforce, but for the long term benefit of the client, not for me.

Maybe I can look at a therapeutic relationship as equal in some way. It is at least transactionally. Nobody is forcing me to take on the role of therapist. I am choosing to do it. They are paying for a service, and I am being compensated financially for it. I enjoy helping others improve if they want to. I am also trying to be authentic as a person in my role as a therapist. However, the aim is to help meet the client’s emotional needs and improve their psychological well-being, not my own.

A supervisor of mine once said, “a needy psychologist is a dangerous psychologist”. Therefore psychologists who try to get any of their needs met with clients are stepping away from their proper role. Furthermore, they can harm the other person if they are not careful. 

Yes, I can learn things along the way. I can also make genuine connections with the people that I see. However, it must be about what is best for the client, not myself as the therapist.

As long as I can ensure that my life outside of my job meets my needs, being a therapist is not a problem. However, I must achieve a healthy balance between helping others at work while having enough time and energy to help myself in the ways that I want in my life outside of it. 

Is it possible to find a healthy balance?

To not be exhausted from my work as a therapist, seeing five clients has to be the maximum on any given day. However, I’m not too sure if this maximum would be achievable five days per week either. Two to four days per week seems much more desirable if a healthy balance is an overall goal.

During the pandemic lockdowns in Melbourne in 2020, I was working a lot more than that. One week, I did 39 hours of sessions with clients, or five straight days of nearly eight clients per day. On one day, I also saw ten clients without a lunch break. As all of the sessions were via Telehealth, I’m unsure if I even stood up out of my chair. Although I had the capacity to do this, it sure doesn’t mean that it was healthy for me. 

“If you don’t know how to say no, your body will say it for you through physical illnesses” 

Gabor Mate
two person doing surgery inside room
Photo by Vidal Balielo Jr. on Pexels.com

On January 2nd, 2021, I suffered a stroke in my left cerebellum. I nearly died and was in a coma for a few weeks. After brain surgery and having part of my brain removed, the long road to recovery began. 

I am luckily doing quite well now, only six months later. My personality and cognitive functions are essentially the same as what they were before the stroke. My balance and coordination have improved, but I will never return to playing sport at the level I did before the stroke.

Fortunately, I have a second chance at life. I could rush back to how I did things before. However, I want to live in a way that is positive for me and my health. I want to enjoy my life and the relationships that I have with others outside of my work. 

I want to continue helping others meet their needs and express their feelings through their therapy. I don’t want to be a different psychologist from how I have been or care less about the people I see and talk with. However, I do not want to do this at the expense of my vitality and longevity.

 I hope that I can find the balance that means that I can keep living this incredible life in a way that is enjoyable, nourishing and sustainable for me.

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical psychologist

Are You Looking After Both of Your Selves?

Imagine that you could go on a holiday to anywhere that you want to go in the world. However, you couldn’t take any pictures or tell anyone what you got up to while you were away or afterwards?

Furthermore, you can only experience the holiday while away and feel all the emotions you do in the present. Once the holiday is over, you will have no memory of where you went or what it was like.

Where would you go, and what would you do?

Next, imagine that the trip has no limitations. It is just like any other holiday that you have been on, except you have no budget. So you can take as many photos and videos as your heart desires and look back on these as much as you want.

You can tell whoever you want to, both during the trip and for the rest of your life afterwards. You can also think back and reminisce about the trip and your memories of it as much as you would like to in the future.

Where would you go, and what would you do?

Would your dream holiday be the same in the first situation as it is in the second scenario? If so, do you know why? If not, why?

For the first example, I want something fun, easy, pleasurable and relaxing. I want a resort with a pool and a spa, tasty food, 27-degree sunny weather, a cozy bed and a comfortable recliner. The resort would have a nice view, maybe of the ocean, or the mountainside. If other people came, they would have to be okay relaxing and occasionally chatting or playing a game. All cleaning and washing and any chores would all be done for me. And I could enjoy each moment as much as possible without any sign of difficulty or personal strain.

For the second example, now a hike to the Himalayas or Macchu Picchu seems more appealing. More movement, more effort, some beautiful scenery and remarkable experiences. Having a few celebrities who come on the trek is suddenly more enticing because now I can take some snaps and share this with friends or on my social media. Alongside all of the effort that I put into the trip and the natural beauty of the place. Flying first class may even be worth it if I take some videos and photos to show off to everyone else.

Experiential vs Narrative Self

If I’m not going to remember the holiday or talk to others about how it was, why would I bother splashing out on heaps of money or putting in a lot of effort or even hanging out with celebrities? Comfort, ease, and enjoyment become the highest priorities. The things that make for a good story, memory or Instagram post become less so.

This is one of the biggest dilemmas that we all have inside of us.

We have the part of ourselves that wants to enjoy the moment as much as possible. This is the experiential self. It usually wants to do an activity that requires the least effort and is enjoyable in the short term. This is often why people procrastinate, play video games, lie on the couch, watch TV or a movie, eat junk food, etc. To this part of ourselves, it doesn’t matter if the activity is beneficial to us in the long run as long as it feels good at the moment.

EXPERIENTIAL SELF

Want to doHave to doWant to doHave to do
Enjoy in the short-termYESYESNONO
Find beneficial in the long-run????

But we also have the part of ourselves that cares about the stories we tell about our lives to ourselves and others. This is the narrative self. It wants to do activities that are challenging, meaningful and worthwhile in the long run. Doing housework, working hard, eating healthily, exercising consistently, and child-rearing may not always be fun from moment to moment. However, they help us become what we want to tell ourselves and others that we are over time. House proud, successful, fit, healthy, and a good parent. To this part of ourselves, it cares much less about how enjoyable something is in the moment as long as it helps us tell the story about who we are and what we have done.

NARRATIVE SELF

Want to doHave to doWant to doHave to do
Enjoy in the short-term????
Find beneficial in the long-runYESYESNONO

Because these two parts of ourselves seem so different, it can be quite hard to keep them both happy.

Several clients I have seen prioritise the experiential self over the narrative self. They spend most of their day doing enjoyable things at the expense of anything perceived as challenging or uncomfortable. Their experiential self is satisfied, but their narrative self is not. Over time, they are likely to become more and more dissatisfied with where they are in their lives or the story they tell.

The opposite can also happen but is seen less frequently. These individuals work all the time, never eat any junk food, or let themselves relax and have fun. Instead, they clean all the time, put the kids first nonstop, exercise excessively, and never give themselves a break. As a result, their narrative self can view themselves positively and share this with others, but their experiential self is miserable.

Want to do vs Have to do

To see if you could obtain a better balance in your life, ask yourself some of the following questions:

  • What are the things that you have to do in this life?
  • Which of these chores/responsibilities do you enjoy doing in the short term while you are doing them?
  • Which of these chores/responsibilities can you look back at once they are finished and feel glad that you have completed them?
  • Do any of these chores/responsibilities tick both boxes and are fun at the moment and consistent with who you want to be in the long run? Can you do more of these and less of other chores and responsibilities that don’t tick these boxes?
  • Are there any chores/responsibilities that are not enjoyable and don’t help you feel like you are the person you want to be in the long run? In other words, is there anything that you only do because you worry about what others would think if you don’t do them? Can you do less of these chores and responsibilities in your life by not doing them as much? Could you pay someone else to do them or negotiate with someone you live with to do these tasks more in exchange for you doing more of other chores and responsibilities that you enjoy and maybe they don’t?
  • What are the things that you want to do in your life?
  • Which of these activities do you also enjoy doing while you are doing them? Are you doing these things as often as you would like to? Or are you doing them too much for what feels like a good balance? Or too little?
  • Which of these activities do you not enjoy while doing them, but you can look back at them once they are finished and feel glad that you have done them? Are you doing these things in your life as often as you would like to?
  • Which of these activities do you find both enjoyable in the moment and consistent with the person you would like to be in the long run? Do you schedule enough time in your life for these sweet-spot activities?

How balanced does your life feel between your want-to-dos and your have-to-dos?

If your have-to-do responsibilities far outweigh your want-to-do activities, you are unlikely to be as happy and as satisfied with your life as you would like to be.

This is likely to be the same if you are doing many things only because you worry about what others would think if you didn’t do them. For example, if you hate cleaning and ironing and can afford to pay someone to do these tasks for you weekly so that you don’t have to worry about them, what difference could that make to how you feel? Furthermore, what could you do that you might find more rewarding with the newfound time, energy and mental space you would have?

If you are lucky enough to have at least one sweet spot activity, you will find these tasks the easiest to put your energy into and get better at over time.

Sometimes people call these activities their passions, and they will be the easiest activities for you to persevere at for a long time. This can be how I feel editing movies or playing sport, or snow-skiing. I enjoy myself, am no longer in my head, and am fully immersed in the task. Then, before I know it, a long time has passed, and it is lunchtime or the end of the day.

I’m sure that you have heard the famous quote: “Find something you love to do, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” If anything helps you feel this way or get into a state of flow regularly, you won’t regret making it a priority in your life.

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychology

Australia Needs to Have a COVID-19 Vaccination Lottery

As of Friday the 4th of June, 2020, Australia has had 4.79 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccination given to its people, including 557,000 people fully vaccinated. Australia’s percentage of fully vaccinated people is 2.2%, well behind 5.8% of the fully vaccinated people worldwide. 

At our current pace, which equates to just over 700,000 doses a week, we can expect to vaccinate our population fully by mid-2022. As of May 25th, 2020, Australia ranked 113th globally on COVID-19 vaccination rollout for total doses per 100 residents.

But what if the Australian Government utilised some incentives to speed up the vaccination pace across Australia effectively?

One of the fears that hold back Australians from getting the COVID-19 vaccination is the fear of getting a deadly blood clot from the vaccine, especially the AstraZeneca vaccine. This vaccine is now recommended only to people over the age of 50 in Australia. However, to date, only one person has died following the COVID-19 vaccination in Australia. The 48-year-old woman died in April 2021 after developing thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS). This is the only death that has been linked to the vaccines so far. One in 4.79 million is pretty good odds, even though it is horrible for the one victim and her extended family and friends.

We know from the excellent work of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky that losses loom much more prominently than gains. Prospect theory led to these two experts winning the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics in 2002. It describes how individuals assess their losses as more painful and therefore more costly than their gains. For this reason, a person may be willing to avoid the pain of losing $1,000 only by the 50:50 chance of them accepting $2,000 or $3,000 in gains.

They also found that people suck at being able to estimate low probabilities. If something has a 1% chance of happening, we unconsciously treat it as a 5% chance. The opposite is also true. If people only have a 1% chance of winning something, they are more likely to estimate it as a probability of 5%.

Due to the AstraZeneca vaccine being temporarily pulled from being administered in Australia, many people are scared of this vaccine. They fear the very low probability of something wrong happening if they take it versus knowing that nothing bad will happen if they don’t get it. If you understand prospect theory and availability bias, this makes sense. It’s easy to picture getting a blood clot and dying after having a vaccine, even though it’s improbable. We can imagine it, so our minds think it is more likely to die from a COVID-19 vaccine.

But the long-term reality is that if you don’t get it, there is a greater chance that you could catch COVID-19 and get sick or die if you don’t get the vaccine. For example, some Facebook posts say that if you have COVID-19, the risk of you getting a blood clot is 16.5%. I’m not sure how scientifically accurate this is, but the aim is to highlight that the stakes are worse if you don’t get the vaccine.

Today, the 6th of June, 2021, health.gov.au said that there were only four locally acquired cases of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours. In a country like Australia, where the current risk of getting COVID-19 is low, many people prefer the near certainty of not dying to the minimal chance of something horrible happening. 

What if we were able to shift the perceived incentives in Australia, though?

How to Quicken the COVID-19 Vaccination Rollout in Australia

Australia’s rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination began in late February 2020. We were hoping to administer 45 million doses of the vaccine and inoculate the whole country by October 2020. However, by the 6th of June, 2020, Australia is 3.8 million vaccinations behind its initial target, and it is expected to take 12 more months to reach 45 million doses.

The rate of vaccination in Australia is behind the US, the UK, and the European Union. It may be because we have less COVID-19 in our population than in these other countries, especially the US and the UK. Therefore, the risk of not getting the vaccine appears less in Australia than in getting the vaccine.

One strategy that seems to be working well in Ohio, USA, is a COVID-19 vaccination lottery. Their Governor, Mike DeWine, has even said to the New York Times that “the results have exceeded my wildest expectations”.

The COVID-19 vaccination lottery has potentially been less effective in Oregon, where every county will give away $10,000 to someone who gets a COVID-19 vaccination. However, it is hard to tell precisely. The state was already close to reaching 70% vaccination, so the drop in numbers since the lottery announcement isn’t that surprising. Nevertheless, one person over 18 will receive a million dollars on the 28th of June, and five 12- to 17- year olds will receive $100,000 in university scholarships.

To me, this creates more incentives to get vaccinated against COVID-19 for people previously sitting on the fence. This morning, I listened to the latest podcast episode on ‘People I Mostly Admire’, and the host Steven Levitt said that prizes of a million dollars would help incentivise people. To him, putting everyone in a lottery draw automatically and publicly reporting the winners would support it even further. If unvaccinated people lose their winnings, they will have to explain to everyone why they did not receive any money.

A COVID-19 vaccination lottery hasn’t been set up in Australia yet, but I’m pretty sure it could help speed up how many people get vaccinated. In addition, it is likely to encourage people to get vaccinated who may otherwise delay it or choose not to get it.

Think about it. If, on December 24th, 2020, a nationwide lottery announced the winners on television and in the paper, it would be a pretty big deal. Because losses loom larger than gains, it would be essential to have the chance of winning following being fully vaccinated at least three times as large as the risk of having a serious blood clot after a COVID-19 vaccination. Therefore, around 18 people would need to win the lottery per 1-million people in Australia. The overall population 15 years or older on June 30th, 2019, was 20.62 million. So, to be conservative, you could have 400 people winning $1 million each, costing the Australian Government $400 million.

That might sound like a lot, but opening the state and international borders at least five months earlier could save the Australian government a lot of money. A June 3rd, 2020 article on theconversation.com estimated that Australia’s closed international borders cost our national economy $36.5 million a day. Times that by 154 days, and it equates to $5,621 million.

Why wouldn’t we take a $400 million bet to save the national economy over 5 billion dollars potentially? I know that I definitely would. The faster that the country is vaccinated, the earlier we can open up the borders and tourism again, and the less likely we will need to keep having lockdowns and strict restrictions at a local level. This could save the state and federal governments even more money. Not to mention the number of potential COVID-19 related deaths that the vaccinations could save.

A possible reason why people might say that it isn’t fair to have a vaccination lottery in Australia is that some people can’t get vaccinated for health reasons. But having three separate medical doctors sign a vaccination exemption form based on a legitimate medical (health) reason before the lottery is drawn would mean that these people could still win the lottery. Sure, some people may try to get this medical exemption to win the lottery without getting vaccinated. But if it takes more effort to get an exemption than it does to get a vaccination, many people could get the vaccinations out of the way to give themselves a chance to win $1 million. Think about what our country could gain if we reached our vaccination targets earlier. Combined with what we could lose if we do not, the best option seems evident to me. 

I’d be interested to know your thoughts.

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

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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

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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
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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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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

A Stroke of Insight

Back on the 2nd of January, 2021, I suffered a stroke. I was in the sauna at the time, and I felt something “go wrong” in my brain. All of a sudden, I experienced severe balance issues and felt nauseous. I hopped out of the sauna and went outside to lie down, but it didn’t seem to be getting any better.

I then tried to relocate upstairs back to my room eleven floors up, but my balance was still off. I managed to get there eventually, falling into and touching the side walls as I went. Even standing up straight was incredibly difficult, and walking without falling sideways was impossible. I called the emergency hotline in Australia – 000 and informed the other end that I was having a stroke and I needed someone to come over as soon as possible.

Two paramedics came over to my place. By that time, I had already thrown up multiple times into the bathroom sink. They assessed me for a stroke using the acronym FAST and determined that I didn’t meet many of the typical symptoms they would look for in someone suffering from a stroke.

The acronym F.A.S.T. stood for:

F = Face: Check their face. Has their mouth drooped? Mine had not.

A = Arms: Can they lift both arms? I could lift both of my arms.

S = Speech: Is their speech slurred? Do they understand you? I could understand them, and my speech was not slurred.

T = Time: Time is critical. If you see any of these signs, call 000 now. I had none of these signs, but I did call 000.

Even though it is important to get to the hospital as immediately as possible after a stroke, I did not exhibit any general signs that people look for following a stroke. As my stroke occurred in my cerebellum, none of these symptoms was present, and the paramedics told me that I was unlikely to have a stroke. The paramedics said they could take me to the hospital, but it would cost me a few thousand dollars because I was uninsured.

Instead, they encouraged me to get a medical appointment booked that day to see a GP so that they could follow up on how I was doing before they left. The first GP clinic was all booked out for Saturday morning, so I called 13SICK, the national home doctor service in Australia. They said they could come that afternoon at 3 pm, and with that, the paramedics were satisfied and left my apartment.

My parents then called as I said I couldn’t talk to my brother because of my current health concerns. My mum told me to call health direct to speak to a registered nurse about what was going on if I was concerned. I called 1800 022 222, and the female nurse agreed with the paramedics that I was not suffering from a stroke. She thought that I was experiencing vertigo or migraine, and recommended bed rest and medication to assist with the headaches and nausea that I was experiencing.

I called my parents again and informed my mum that I felt scared and wanted dad to come over. As mum had broken her leg playing tennis in 2020 and was still in a moon boot, I thought that dad coming over and spending the night was a better way to ensure that he could help me if I needed it.

At 7 pm, the doctor called 4 hours after he was scheduled to visit in person. Following his brief assessment, he agreed with the paramedics and nurse that I was not having a stroke and was instead suffering from vertigo or a migraine. The doctor suggested medication to my father, who went and bought this from a pharmacy for me. My sister had also ordered paracetamol for me by this stage and had it ubered to my apartment complex and delivered upstairs by a concierge at the place where I lived.

The night of sleep was horrible, and I kept waking up with a severe headache, vertigo, and frequent nausea that resulted in me vomiting multiple times. By early the next morning, I told my father, who was asleep on the couch, that I needed him to take me to hospital, as things seemed to be getting worse rather than better.

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The Next Day

We drove to the Alfred Hospital nearby. My dad assisted me to the car from the apartment and to the hospital’s emergency department. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he was not allowed inside to wait with me at the emergency department. Being early on a Sunday morning, very few people were waiting, and a doctor called me to move to another waiting room in the hospital soon. I remember walking there and sitting down, but I don’t remember anything else for a few weeks until I woke up in a ward of the Alfred Hospital.

I later found out that my condition was treated conservatively initially but then deteriorated quickly. My blood pressure spiked, and my stroke had worsened. I required surgery to remove most of my left cerebellum, and I woke up a few weeks later with several tubes and stitches at the back of my head. My head hurt a lot, both in the middle and at the back. They had me on a lot of medication to assist with my blood pressure, cholesterol, pain, and bowel movements. I wasn’t allowed to move out of my hospital bed at all because of my high risk of falls.

Before I realized that I was back in the Alfred Hospital, I thought I was in Nepal on a hiking expedition, in New Zealand, or somehow in an NBA JAM game back from the 1990s. It also felt like I was in an old exercise contraption with tubes up my nose and all over my face. Eventually, I came to and realized that I was back in the hospital that I had arrived at. Still, everything seemed so surreal.

My family kept coming by, especially my parents, even though they were limited in how much time they could spend with me due to the COVID-19 pandemic. One of my closest friends, a Neuropsychologist, decided to start up a chat group to let as many people as possible know how I was doing and whatever the latest update was. My mum tried to get a few people to send video messages to me but was told not to do this by the hospital staff as my brain needed to recover. Watching the videos would be too stimulating.

I remember feeling so uncomfortable with the tubes coming out of my face and head that I kept trying to pull them out. I was fed up with some of the nurses and their inconsistent rules for what I was meant to do or not do every day. Eventually, they tied my hands down or together so that I didn’t keep pulling at all of the new things attached to my head.

Even going to the toilet or having a shower was a massive ordeal. I wanted to do it myself, but they kept telling me that I needed to buzz the nurses before moving anywhere. I remember waking up once during the night and trying to move to the toilet by myself. I fell on the ground as soon as I tried to move by myself in the dark, only barely saving myself from a hard fall by holding onto the edge of the bed as I went down.

After a month in the Alfred, I moved to Caulfield Rehabilitation Hospital to continue my recovery. After 10 days in there, I was back to trying to continue my rehabilitation at home.

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A Big Challenge

One of the hardest things was being away from my partner and her daughter back in Vanuatu. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I couldn’t easily see them either, but after about three weeks, I was slowly able to talk to them via an audio or video chat again.

Knowing that I had some life-saving surgeries and was in intensive care for a few weeks, this really did feel like a near-death experience for me. Not being able to see my partner and her daughter, who I had been separated from since the 20th of March, 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, really hurt. Luckily, my partner agreed to come and visit for 2 weeks at the end of March/start of April 2021.

I am so grateful that she was willing to quarantine for two weeks before seeing me in Australia and for another two weeks once she returned home to Port Vila. Having those two weeks together definitely helped with my recovery. It also helped me overcome my disappointment at the medical insurance company delaying my return to volunteering.

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How Things Are Now

It has been nearly five months since my stroke, and things feel like they are returning somewhat to normal. I am back riding my bike and running, and I have even tried to shoot some hoops and play some doubles in tennis. Of course, things are not the same as before the stroke, especially with my high-end balance and coordination, but I am doing everything that I can to do most of the things that I could do before the stroke.

One of the biggest changes is how much work has decreased in my overall priorities since suffering the stroke. Instead, spending time with friends and family has become much more important, and I try to fully give my time and attention to whoever I am with instead of thinking at the back of my head about all the other things I need to do.

Yes, working hard for the future is great, especially financially. But it should not occur at the point of hurting my health or saying no to connecting with the people that mean the most to me in my life. I hope that I can keep this insight in my mind going forward to earn enough to have a good future, but not at the expense of the quality or quantity of life that I have left.

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

What Are the Virtues and Faults of Your Personality Style?

The five factor personality model has been researched and written about extensively. If you have never taken a Big Five Aspects Scale before, you can find out what your results are for under $10 at the Understand Myself website. A free version called the IPIP-NEO can also be found here.

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My Big Five Results

All of the below descriptions are taken from my Understand Myself test that I completed on the 7th of September, 2020. This was in the middle of a Stage 4 lockdown in Melbourne due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and I was stuck in a one-bedroom apartment by myself, so this may have influenced my results a little bit.

EXTRAVERSION: 40th Percentile = Typical or Average

You are average in extraversion, which is the primary dimension of positive emotion in the Big Five personality trait scientific model. Extraversion is a measure of general sensitivity to positive emotions such as hope, joy, anticipation and approach, particularly in social situations. Women are slightly more extraverted than men.

Extraversion has two aspects: Enthusiasm and Assertiveness.

ENTHUSIASM: 30th Percentile = Moderately Low

Individuals who are moderately low in enthusiasm are rarely excitable, not particularly easy to get to know, and not known for their talkative nature. When they do talk, it tends only to be about things in which they find particular interest. They do not easily open up to people, particularly in larger social gatherings or parties. They laugh more rarely than others. They tend to prefer solitude, although they can enjoy themselves around other people, in moderation. They are more private people, and are not particularly positive or optimistic. They do not crave the spotlight and, if creative, may find performing less desirable.

ASSERTIVENESS: 52nd Percentile = Typical or Average

People of average assertiveness will sometimes take charge, spontaneously, but often let others step in first. They can put forward their own opinions but do not feel compelled to do so. They are not particularly dominant and do not generally strive to control social situations. At times, they can act in an influential or captivating manner, but it is not habitual. They can act, in ambiguous situations, but will often let others lead the way. They tend not to be particularly impulsive, and tend not to act without thinking.

AGREEABLENESS: 77th Percentile = High

You are high in agreeableness, which is the primary dimension of Interpersonal interaction in the Big Five personality trait scientific model. People high in agreeableness are nice: compliant, nurturing, kind, naively trusting and conciliatory. However, because of their tendency to avoid conflict, they often dissemble and hide what they think. People low in agreeableness are not so nice: stubborn, dominant, harsh, skeptical, competitive and, in the extreme, even predatory. However, they tend to be straightforward, even blunt, so you know where they stand. Women are higher in agreeableness than men.

Agreeableness has two aspects: Compassion and Politeness.

COMPASSION: 88th Percentile = High

Highly compassionate people are much interested in the problems of other people, and other living things, particularly if they are young or helpless. They are quite concerned about helping other people avoid negative emotion. They make more time and do more kind things for others, even when doing so may interfere with fulfilling their own needs and interests. They have a markedly soft side. Other people consider them sympathetic and nice, and will turn to them often for a listening ear. They are highly empathetic and caring. However, because they are so other-oriented, they may find it difficult to negotiate on their own behalf, and may not get what they deserve (for their hard work, for example). This can lead to resentment.

POLITENESS: 52nd Percentile = Typical or Average

Typically polite people can be deferential to authority, but can also be challenging, when necessary. They are not particularly obedient. They can be respectful, but will also push back if pushed. They are not made uncomfortable by the necessity of standing up to other people. Typically polite people will avoid conflict, reasonably, but are not completely averse to confrontation.

CONSCIENTIOUSNESS: 80th Percentile = High

You are high in conscientiousness, which is the primary dimension of dutiful achievement in the Big Five personality trait scientific model. Conscientiousness is a measure of obligation, attention to detail, hard work, persistence, cleanliness, efficiency and adherence to rules, standards and processes. Conscientious people implement their plans and establish and maintain order. Women are slightly more conscientious than men

Conscientiousness has two aspects: Industriousness and Orderliness.

INDUSTRIOUSNESS: 88th Percentile = High

Highly industrious people are likely to believe that people fail because they don’t apply themselves or work hard enough. They feel guilty, rapidly, if they do not do their duty. However, because they typically stay on or ahead of schedule and accept their responsibilities, they rarely experience actual guilt.

ORDERLINESS: 60th Percentile = Moderately High

Moderately orderly people would rather keep everything tidy and organized. They tend both to make and stick to schedules. They like everything where it should be—and are happier if it stays where it should be. They are somewhat detail-oriented but tend not to be obsessive. They are generally aware of social rules and tend to abide by them. They like routine and prefer the predictable. They can be good at ensuring that complex, sensitive processes are managed properly and carefully.

NEUROTICISM: 5th Percentile = Very Low

You are very low in neuroticism, which is the primary dimension of negative emotion in the Big Five personality trait scientific model. Neuroticism is a measure of general sensitivity to negative emotions such as pain, sadness, irritable or defensive anger, fear and anxiety. Females tend to be higher in Neuroticism than males.

Neuroticism has two aspects: Withdrawal and Volatility.

WITHDRAWAL: 19th Percentile = Low

Individuals low in withdrawal rarely suffer from or are impeded by anticipatory anxiety. They can handle new, uncertain, unexpected, threatening or complex situations well. They are substantially less likely to avoid or withdraw in the face of the unknown and unexpected.

VOLATILITY: 1st Percentile = Exceptionally Low

Individuals exceptionally low in volatility are extraordinarily stable and predictable in their moods. They are virtually never irritable, and very rarely experience disappointment, frustration, pain and loneliness. People find them extremely easy and calming. They very infrequently express their frustration, disappointment and irritability and appear remarkably reasonable when they do so. Even on those unusually infrequent occasions where they become stirred up, upset, angry or irritated, they calm down almost immediately. They are not at all argumentative and almost never lose their composure.

OPENNESS TO EXPERIENCE: 95th Percentile = Very High

You are very high in openness to experience, which is the primary dimension of creativity, artistic interest and intelligence (particularly verbal intelligence) in the Big Five personality trait scientific model. Openness to experience is a measure of interest in novelty, art, literature, abstract thinking, philosophy as well as sensitivity to aesthetic emotions and beauty. Men and women differ very little in openness to experience.

Openness to experience has two aspects: Intellect and Openness.

INTELLECT: 94th percentile = Very High

People very high in intellect find complex, rapidly changing occupations necessary and will generally excel at them (particularly if they are also high in conscientiousness and low in neuroticism). However, they are very much less well-suited to stable, straightforward and more traditional occupations, where the rules don’t change, and will experience frequent periods of boredom and intolerable levels of frustration in such positions.

OPENNESS: 87th Percentile = High

Highly open, creative people can be impractical and flighty (particularly if low in conscientiousness). It can be extremely difficult to transform creativity into money, or into a career. High levels of openness are, furthermore, necessary for entrepreneurial success, and often prove useful at the top of hierarchies, even in very conservative occupations such as banking, accounting and law, which need creative people in leadership positions to provide new vision and direction.

black psychologist with african american client

Main Findings Based on the Five-Factor Personality Model

Judge, Heller & Mount (2002) found that highly conscientious people are most satisfied with their job (.26 correlation), followed by highly extraverted people (.25 correlation), then highly agreeable people (.17 correlation), then those who are high on openness to experience (.02 correlation) People high on neuroticism were negatively correlated with job satisfaction (-.29 correlation). My introversion is the only aspect that may negatively impact how much I enjoy a job.

For academic performance, Poropat (2009) found that agreeableness, conscientiousness and openness to experience correlate significantly to academic performance. Conscientiousness was related to academic performance in a way that was largely independent of intelligence. My personality style likely helped me to do well in school and complete eight years of university studies.

For intimate relationship satisfaction, Malouff, Thorsteinsson, Schutte, Bhullar and Rooke (2009) found that low neuroticism, high agreeableness, high conscientiousness and high extraversion were all correlated with greater relationship satisfaction. These variables did not vary significantly from men to women or from unmarried to married individuals. Unfortunately, my introversion and low enthusiasm in particular make it a bit harder for me to be satisfied in intimate relationships.

For citizenship, Chiaburu, Oh, Berry, Li, and Gardner (2011) found that people that are low in neuroticism, high in extraversion and high in openness to experience are more likely to engage in more individual, organization and change-oriented citizenship. Again, not being too extraverted and enthusiastic holds me back a little here.

For occupational type, Barrick, Mount and Gupta (2006) found that extraverts are most likely to enter an enterprising career (.41 correlation). People that are high on openness to experience are most likely to enter an artistic career (.39 correlation). Some say therapy is more art than science, which may indicate why I have chosen this over a career in research.

For clinical disorders, Malouff, Thorsteinsson and Schutte (2004) found that psychological disorders are more closely linked with high neuroticism, low conscientiousness, low agreeableness and low extraversion. Healthy populations in comparison to clinical populations show higher levels of extraversion and lower levels of neuroticism. Again, my introversion puts me at a greater risk.

For alcohol abuse, Malouff, Thorsteinsson, Rooke and Schutte (2007) found that people that are low on conscientiousness, low on agreeableness and high on neuroticism are more likely to have difficulties with alcohol. These individuals are less likely to improve through treatment. Another meta-analytic finding by Malouff, Thorsteinsson and Schutte (2006) found that these three factors are also significantly related to smoking prevalence. Never smoked, but have drunk more than I should have at times. If I want to cut down, my personality style should help me.

For physical activity, Sutin and colleagues (2016) found that lower neuroticism and higher conscientiousness is associated with more physical activity and less sedentary behaviour. Higher extraversion and more openness to experience is also associated with more physical activity ,and that these variables don’t change much based on age or sex. Consequently, being a bit introverted is the only factor that lets me down.

For workplace harassment, highly neurotic people are most likely to be exposed to workplace harassment (.25 correlation), with highly extraverted and conscientious people least likely to be harassed (.10 correlation). I thought Susan Cain said it was good to be an introvert in her book ‘Quiet’, but there doesn’t seem to be much that is positively linked with Introversion?

black and white people bar men

What About Individual Faults and Virtues?

Even though across the population as a whole there seems to be benefits to being extraverted, agreeable, conscientious, open to experience and not neurotic, there are advantages and disadvantages to each trait, particularly at the extremes.

Extremely sociable, extraverted people can be dominant and impulsive, while introverted, quiet people can easily become isolated and depressed.

Extremely open people can be scattered and overwhelmed by their own thoughts and ideas, while closed-minded people may become narrow and inflexible.

Exceptionally conscientious people can be obsessive about order, judgmental and rigid, while their more carefree counterparts may be messy, undisciplined and careless.

People very high in emotional stability may engage in risky, dangerous behaviour, while those who are more neurotic can become so preoccupied by anxiety and pain that they are unable to function.

Finally, extremely agreeable people may never stand up for themselves, while those who are too disagreeable can be aggressive, callous and bullying.

To find out your individual faults and virtues on each of the five personality factors, the Self Authoring program can help you to clarify your own personal traits and help you to clarify what you would like to strengthen and improve. Below are my results:

Extraversion/Introversion Faults

  • Can spend too much money
  • Keep in the background
  • Lose opportunities because I am too isolated
  • Am too quiet around strangers
  • Find it difficult to approach others
  • Bottle up my feelings
  • Feel drained by social interactions
  • Have a social circle that is too small

Extraversion/Introversion Virtues

  • Feel comfortable around people
  • Don’t mind being the center of attention
  • Can take charge and lead
  • Am skilled in handling social situations
  • Am often happy
  • Can listen well
  • Do not always talk about myself
  • Enjoy time in natural surroundings
  • Let other people have the spotlight
  • Think before I act

Agreeable/Assertive Faults

  • Avoid conflict even when it is necessary
  • Will sacrifice my own feelings for the comfort of others
  • Can bottle up my feelings until I become resentful
  • Am polite to a fault
  • Trust people too easily
  • Can be detached and cold when others are hurt and upset

Agreeable/Assertive Virtues

  • Trust people
  • Am interested in people
  • Feel others’ emotions
  • Inquire genuinely about others’ well-being
  • Know how to comfort others
  • Make people feel at ease
  • Am a good peacemaker
  • Am aware that malevolence exists in the world

Conscientiousness/Carelessness Faults

  • Get obsessed with details and lose the big picture
  • Cannot stand to be late for an appointment
  • Feel that I am being unproductive if I relax
  • Believe that I have to be flawless
  • Can be contemptuous of other people and of myself
  • Find it difficult to get down to work
  • Neglect my duties
  • Frequently make excuses
  • Am sometimes willing to bend the truth to get out of an obligation
  • Feel unmotivated to complete my work

Conscientiousness/Carelessness Virtues

  • Have a very long attention span and can work without being distracted
  • Do things according to a plan
  • Strive for efficiency and economy
  • Pay attention to details
  • Am extremely reliable
  • Always arrive at appointments early or on time
  • Am very goal-oriented
  • Do what I say I am going to do
  • Know how to go with the flow
  • Don’t waste my time thinking about little details

Emotional Stability/Low Stress Tolerance Faults

  • Am sometimes not afraid of things I should be afraid of
  • Don’t appear to learn as well from my mistakes as others do
  • Don’t pay enough attention to costs and potential future dangers 
  • Often take counterproductive or unnecessary risks
  • Blow little things out of proportion
  • Let my fears stop me from doing things I want to do

Emotional Stability/Low Stress Tolerance Virtues

  • Am difficult to offend
  • Am in control of my emotions
  • Calm down quickly when I do get upset
  • Seldom get disturbed or upset
  • Am rarely incautious
  • Am a cautious, careful person
  • Don’t rush into things before I feel comfortable
  • Am good at identifying the risks in new situations

Openness/Traditionalism Faults

  • Pursue too many activities at the same time
  • Am interested in so many things that I don’t know what to focus on
  • Have a hard time planning for the future because I am interested in everything
  • Have a hard time making up my mind because I can always see all the sides of an argument
  • Am so interested in creative activities that it is hard to concentrate on things that are practical
  • Have had a hard time forming a clear identity
  • Have done crazy things just because I was curious about what might happen

Openness/Traditionalism Virtues

  • Am quick to understand things
  • Can handle a lot of information
  • Catch on to things quickly
  • Am always learning new things
  • Spend time reflecting on things
  • Can always see new possibility in things
  • See the value in tradition and custom
  • Am resistant to radical, dangerous thoughts
group of young multiethnic cheerful colleagues having party after workday

So, as you can see above, your personality style is never all good or all bad. I’m sure that even if you are introverted, disagreeable, careless, neurotic and closed to new experiences, there will still be some virtues associated with your personality style. I also think that, even though it may be more of a challenge, it is still possible to find the right career or job and the right relationship and friendships for you.

You may not be the right fit for everyone or everything, but no one is. What is more important is to first try to understand yourself, change what you would like to and are able to, accept what you do not want to or cannot change, and then find the places and people that love and appreciate you for who you are.

Happy New Year, and all the best for 2021!

Where Are the Happiest Cities in the World?

For the first time ever, the 2020 World Happiness Report ranked 186 cities around the world in terms of their level of subjective well-being. By looking at the Gallup World Poll data across more than 160 countries and 99% of the world’s population, we can now tell which city’s residents evaluated their current life the highest. Well, at least how they evaluated their life satisfaction before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

If you would like to determine your life satisfaction, you could also ask yourself the following question: “imagine yourself on a ladder with steps numbered from 0 at the bottom to 10 at the top. Zero represents the worst possible life and ten the best possible life you can imagine. Which step would you put yourself on based on your life currently?”

Here are the top 20 cities, based on their inhabitants’ responses to the above question:

  1. Helsinki, Finland = 7.828 average
  2. Aarhus, Denmark = 7.625 average
  3. Wellington, New Zealand = 7.553 average
  4. Zurich, Switzerland = 7.541 average
  5. Copenhagen, Denmark = 7.530 average
  6. Bergen, Norway = 7.527 average
  7. Olso, Norway = 7.464 average
  8. Tel Aviv, Israel = 7.461 average
  9. Stockholm, Sweden = 7.373 average
  10. Brisbane, Australia = 7.337 average
  11. San Jose, Costa Rica = 7.321 average
  12. Reykjavik, Iceland = 7.317 average
  13. Toronto, Canada = 7.298 average
  14. Melbourne, Australia = 7.296 average
  15. Perth, Australia = 7.253 average
  16. Auckland, New Zealand = 7.232 average
  17. Christchurch, New Zealand = 7.191 average
  18. Washington, USA = 7.185 average
  19. Dallas, USA = 7.155 average
  20. Sydney, Australia = 7.133 average
photo of cathedral near buildings and river

Scandinavian cities dominate, with more than half of the top ten cities worldwide. Australia’s happiest city is Brisbane, but three other Australian cities make the top 20, with Melbourne beating Sydney (yes!). NZ also fares pretty well, with Wellington the happiest city outside of Finland and Denmark, and Auckland and Christchurch in the top 20 too. The happiest city in the US is Washington D.C. surprisingly at #18, with Dallas just behind it in 19th.

Which Cities Are Improving their Happiness Levels the Most?

Here are the top ten cities with the biggest improvement in life satisfaction from 2005 to 2018:

  1. Abidjan, Ivory Coast = 0.981 average improvement in subjective well-being
  2. Dushanbe, Tajikstan = 0.950 average improvement
  3. Vilnius, Lithuania = 0.939 improvement
  4. Almaty, Kazakstan = 0.922 improvement
  5. Cotonou, Benin = 0.918 improvement
  6. Sofia, Bulgaria = 0.899 improvement
  7. Dakar, Senegal = 0.864 improvement
  8. Conakry, Guinea = 0.833 improvement
  9. Niamey, Niger = 0.812 improvement
  10. Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo = 0.787 improvement
grayscale photograph group of children

Some of the biggest improvements in subjective well-being come from the continent of Africa, with six out of the top 10 cities coming from there. Central Asia and Eastern Europe are the other two main areas with the biggest jump in subjective well-being in the early part of the 21st Century.

Which Cities Feel the Most Hopeful About the Future?

Below is the top ten most optimistic cities and how they imagine their subjective well-being will be in the future:

  1. Tashkent, Uzbekistan = 8.390 average future subjective well-being
  2. San Miguelito, Panama = 8.372 average
  3. San Jose, Costa Rica = 8.347 average
  4. Accra, Ghana = 8.297 average
  5. Panama City, Panama = 8.286 average
  6. Aarhus, Denmark = 8.286 average
  7. Copenhagen, Denmark = 8.208 average
  8. Helsinki, Finland = 8.206 average
  9. Atlanta, USA = 8.204 average
  10. Freetown, Sierra Leone = 8.203 average
Tashkent, Uzbekistan

Central America seems to be very optimistic about their future, especially the two countries of Panama and Costa Rica. Atlanta is the only USA city to crack the top ten in any of the categories in this article, and Scandinavia remains hopeful about things continuing to improve going forward, especially Denmark and Finland. Tashkent in Uzbekistan comes out of nowhere to win this category, although Central Asia has had some big improvements in their subjective well-being over the last 15 years. Ghana and Sierra Leone are also expecting that things will continue to improve for them, with greater levels of happiness predicted in their main cities than anywhere in Australia or Western Europe in the future.

Which Cities Experience the Most Positive Emotions?

Here are the top ten cities in the world with the highest levels of positive affect:

  1. Asuncion, Paraguay = .892/1
  2. Mogadishu, Somalia = .877/1
  3. Vientiane, Laos = .873/1
  4. San Pedro Sula, Honduras = .867/1
  5. Quito, Ecuador = .862/1
  6. San Jose, Costa Rica = .860/1
  7. Cork, Ireland = .857/1
  8. Reykjavik, Iceland = .855/1
  9. Santiago, Chile = .853/1
  10. Montevideo, Uruguay = .850/1
Asuncion, Paraguay

These rankings are based off of people’s responses to the positive and negative affect scale (PANAS). The 10-item positive affect scale measures how much people describe feeling active, alert, attentive, determined, enthusiastic, excited, inspired, interested, proud and strong on a 5-point scale from 1 = not at all to 5 = very much. South American cities seem to rate quite high on this scale with Asuncion in Paraguay winning by quite a bit, Quito in Ecuador landing in the top 5, and Santiago in Chile and Montevideo in Uruguay rounding out the top 10. Central America have two cities in the top 6, with Somalia having the lone city from Africa, Laos the only city from Asia, and Ireland and Iceland representing Europe.

Which Cities Report the Fewest Negative Emotions?

The top ten cities with the lowest levels of negative affect:

  1. Taipei, Taiwan = .110/1
  2. Prishtine, Kosovo = 0.132/1
  3. Shanghai, China = 0.140/1
  4. Talinn, Estonia = 0.144/1
  5. Singapore = 0.144/1
  6. Ashgabat, Turkmenistan = 0.144/1
  7. Baku, Azerbaijan = 0.145/1
  8. Wellington, New Zealand = 0.152/1
  9. Almaty, Kazakhstan = 0.158/1
  10. Moscow, Russia = 0.159/1
city during nighttime

These rankings are also based off of people’s responses to the PANAS. The 10-item negative affect scale assesses how much people report feeling afraid, ashamed, distressed, guilty, hostile, irritable, jittery, nervous, scared and upset on a 5-point scale from 1 = not at all to 5 = very much. Unlike many of the other findings, Asia and Eastern Europe come out on top, with no sign of African or North, Central or South American countries in the top 10. Taiwan, China and Singapore all rank in the top 5, indicating low levels of negatively reported emotions in this region. Unfortunately, low negative affectivity doesn’t seem to result in super high levels of reported happiness or life satisfaction, as the only city to rank in the top 10 in any other section is Wellington, New Zealand.

road between trees near snow capped mountains

Conclusion

If you want to go where people are most satisfied with their life, Finland is the place to be, as it has been rated the happiest country in the world for three years now. Helsinki also takes the crown for the city with the highest life satisfaction at present, but other cities in Scandinavia aren’t too far behind.

When you explore the data a little further, it gets a bit more complicated as to where the happiest places in the world are. No Australian city ranks in the top 10 in the world for recent improvement in life satisfaction, optimism about life satisfaction in the future, or levels of positive or negative affectivity. Only one US city (Atlanta for optimism about the future) makes the top ten for any of these categories, and UK countries are nowhere to be seen for any of them.

Conversely, there are many cities in Africa and Central Asia where well-being has been improving at a fast pace over the last 15 years and their citizens remain excited about the potential for what is yet to come. None more so than Tashkent in Uzbekistan. Central America also has a number of cities that are feeling happy and hopeful about their future, especially in Panama, Costa Rica and Honduras.

Based on the findings, South America has the most cities that report a lot of positive emotions in the present, and Asia and Eastern Europe win out on minimal negative emotions. Personally, the idea of living somewhere with minimally reported negative emotions and a high level of life satisfaction sounds pretty good to me. Wellington, you might be just what I am looking for…

Feeling Fatigued? What Would Happen if We Worked Less?

Back in the 18th Century, employees worked up to 16 hours per day. Everyone knew this was unsustainable and that it led to severe fatigue and horrible quality of life for most of the working class. Then in 1856, the 8 hours movement began in Victoria.

The Labor unions fought hard for the idea of 888. They wanted 8 hours for sleep, 8 hours for work, and 8 hours for family, rest and play. This statue was erected at the top end of Russell Street in Melbourne in 1903, meaning that they had achieved this goal for most people sometime between 1856 and 1903 in Victoria.

Eight Hour Day Monument (Melbourne): UPDATED 2020 All You Need to ...
Eight Hour Day Monument (Melbourne): UPDATED 2020 All You Need to ...

In the US, the railroad workers began to work eight-hour shifts in 1916. Ford Motor Company followed suit in 1926 when they cut the working hours of their employees to 8 hours per day while doubling wages. The reduced work hours and better pay led to a happier and more committed workforce, and productivity increased. More leisure time and money also led to more workers buying more stuff (including Ford cars), which the government realised was better for raising GDP. Other companies also began to realise that workers were more focused and productive when they worked less. An eight-hour workday subsequently became the new norm.

Since then, the working hours have begun to creep back up again, especially in the US. Among people employed full-time, the average employee works 47 hours per week. 40% of full-time employees now work over 50-hours per week, with only 8% working less than 40 hours. So much for 8-hour workdays being the standard. 

The Negative Consequences of Long Work Hours

Research has shown:

  • Working more than 10 hours per day can increase your risk of cardiovascular issues by 60%
  • Regularly working more than 10 hours a day can also increase your risk of stroke by 29%.
  • Working more than 11 hours of overtime a week leads to increased depression risk.
  • Working 12 hours days increases your risk of making mistakes at work by 23%.
  • In companies where the average weekly work time is under 43.5 hours per week, barely any fatigue-related problems are found.
  • In companies where the average weekly work time is between 43.5 hours and 46 hours, minor fatigue problems are detected.
  • In companies where the average weekly work time is over 46.5 hours, severe fatigue-related issues are seen.
  • The rate of relationship problems in those working 50-60 hours per week is 10%
  • The percentage of relationship problems in those working more than 60 hours per week is 30%.
  • Long working hours are linked to poorer mental health and sleep quality.
  • Long working hours are also linked with increased smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and weight gain.
  • Long working hours are related to lower job performance, as well as less job satisfaction and lower overall life satisfaction.

What if We Did Work Less?

Six Hour Workday infographic

The above infographic by Ohio University highlights why we need to work less. If the top 10% of employees in terms of productivity work in 52-minute blocks followed by 15- to 20-minute breaks, they can only do seven 52-minute work blocks in a day. That is 7 x 52 = 364 minutes of work per day. That means we really shouldn’t be putting in more than 6 hours and 4 minutes of work per day.

We also should be taking 1 hour and 56 minutes of breaks spread out across the day if we want to be at our most productive too. That’s six breaks that are 19 minutes and 20 seconds long, or five 15-minute breaks and one 41 -minute lunch break. Like they say in the infographic, eight-hour days are only productive when we take sufficient breaks, and few people do.

An alternative for the people or organisations that don’t want to take regular breaks is a shorter workday. The average person is only productive for 2 hours and 53 minutes every day. What do you think would happen if we reduced the workday to only 6-hours per day and paid people the same amount?

For a 6-hour workday to be effective, it would be necessary for companies to make it harder for their employees to waste time. Just putting a block on news websites and social media sites would give the average person 1 hour and 49 minutes of their typical workday back. With the extra time after work, these employees could check the news and social media if they wanted to. If the average employee is 20% happier and healthier with six-hour workdays, they are going to be less likely to look for other jobs too.

Microsoft has also recently experimented with four-day work-weeks in Japan. When workers took the Friday as well as the weekend off, productivity went up 40%. Only 10% of the staff who tried this weren’t more productive overall. They also cut meeting times down to a maximum of 30-minutes each. I’m sure that this helped as well.

When other companies have tried four-day work-weeks, they manage to produce 25% more output with the same size staff. They also find it easier to fill vacant positions when they arise, as more people are enticed by the four-day-a-week full-time job than a typical five-day-a-week role.

Conclusion

Since coming back to Melbourne and returning to full-time work, I have noticed that a lot of my stress and fatigue has returned. Finding the right work/life balance isn’t easy, especially with the uncertainty and anxiety created by the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m grateful to have full-time work doing what I love to do, but working in a way that isn’t harmful to my health and well-being is still a work in progress for me.

However you decide to manage your workload, please understand that working long hours without regular breaks is not sustainable. We can address this by working fewer hours in a day or fewer days in a week. Or you can merely get up from the desk and walk around a bit more when you notice that your productivity and energy levels are dropping. Getting outside for lunch and away from screens can also help. As can taking some pressure off of ourselves.

Working hard and being busy are still seen as status symbols in Western society on too frequent a basis. Stepping out of this culture and into “island time” for 18 months was one of the best things I could have done for my fatigue, happiness and overall well-being.

The biggest question I still have is whether or not we can learn from our experiences and from what the research says. It seems counter-intuitive, but working less could help us to be a healthier, happier and more productive society going forward. We need COVID-19 to go away to enjoy the free time we have doing the things we enjoy and connecting with the people we love.