Mental Illness and Mental Health

MINISTRY OF HEALTH –VANUATU

MOH logo.png
Mental Health Newsletter January 2019

Welcome to the first Mental Health Newsletter in 2019. The topic for the month of January is Mental Health and Mental Illness.

three women sitting on grass
Photo by Luis Quintero on Pexels.com

What is Mental Health?

The World Health Organisation defined mental health in 2014 as “a state of well-being in which every individual:

  • realises his or her own potential
  • can cope with the normal stressors of life
  • can work productively and fruitfully, and
  • is able to make a contribution to his or her own community.”

What is Mental Illness?

  • Mental Illnesses are health conditions involving changes in emotion, thinking or behaviour (or a combination of these).
  • For something to be considered a mental illness, It must cause significant distress or functional impairment at work, with studies, at home, or socially with family and friends
  • Males are more likely to externalise their distress or act out – they experience more substance abuse, anger, violence and suicide than females
  • Females are more likely to internalise their distress or struggle on the inside – more depression, anxiety, eating disorders and sleep problems than in males

5 Facts About Mental Illness (WHO’s Fact File):

  1. Around 20% of the world’s children and adolescents have mental health difficulties
  2. Mental health and substance use difficulties are the leading cause of disability worldwide
  3. About 800,000 people commit suicide every year, making it the second leading cause of death for individuals aged 15-29
  4. Rates of mental health difficulties tend to double after emergencies (including natural disasters)
  5. Stigma and discrimination against individuals with mental health difficulties and their families often prevents them from seeking help
two women with man hugging by the sea

Common forms of Mental Illness

Anxiety and Depression are the two most common forms of mental health issues, but there are many others, including sleep difficulties.

Below is a chart from https://ourworldindata.org/mental-health that highlights the worldwide prevalence rates of mental illnesses:

Disorder Share of global population with disorder (2016) Number of people with the disorder (2016) Share of males:females with disorder (2016)
Any mental or substance use disorder 15.5%[13-22%] 1.1 billion 16% males 15% females
Depression 4%[2-6%] 268 million 3% males 4.5% females
Anxiety disorders 4%[2.5-6.5%] 275 million 3% males 4.7% females
Bipolar disorder 0.6%[0.4-1.5%] 40 million 0.55% males 0.65% females
Eating disorders (clinical anorexia & bulimia) 0.14%[0.05-0.55%] 10.5 million 0.07% males 0.2% females
Schizophrenia 0.3%[0.2-0.45%] 21 million 0.29% males 0.28% females
Alcohol use disorder 1.4%[0.5-5%] 100 million 1.9% males 0.8% females
Drug use disorder (excluding alcohol) 0.9%[0.4-3.3%] 62 million 1.1% males 0.5% females

Symptoms of Depression:

  • Feel sad most of the time
  • Don’t feel like doing anything
  • Don’t enjoy things you used to enjoy
  • Difficulties sleeping
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of energy and fatigue
  • Feelings of guilt and worthlessness
  • Suicidal thoughts or plans

Symptoms of Mania (Part of Bipolar Disorder):

  • Elevated or irritable mood
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Increased activity and energy
  • Increased talkativeness or rapid speech
  • Risky behaviour without thinking of consequences (spending, sex, gambling, drugs, driving, big life changes)
  • Easily distracted
  • Grandiosity or inflated self-esteem

Symptoms of Psychosis or Schizophrenia:

  • Delusions: fixed false belief not shared by others in the person’s culture
  • Hallucinations: hearing voices or seeing things that aren’t there
  • Disorganized speech or behaviour:
    • Mumbling
    • Laughing to self
    • Strange appearance
    • Signs of self-neglect or unkempt appearance

Symptoms of Substance Use Disorders (Alcohol or other drugs):

  • Acute intoxication: a transient condition following intake of a substance resulting in disturbances of consciousness, cognition, perception, affect or behaviour.
  • Overdose: When a person has had too much of a substance and they have acute adverse physical reactions or mental effects.
  • Withdrawal: Unpleasant symptoms following the cessation of a substance – usually the opposite symptoms of the substance used.
  • Harmful use: Using a substance to the point where it damages health, relationships or work and/or study.
  • Dependence: A loss of control over how much someone uses a substance and a reliance on the substance on a regular basis. Includes strong cravings and withdrawal symptoms when not using.
people taking group hug
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Managing Mental Illness

  • Mental illnesses are preventable. There are effective strategies for preventing mental disorders such as depression.
  • Mental illnesses are treatable. There are effective treatments for mental disorders and ways to alleviate the suffering caused by them.
  • Some mental illness may need to be managed by medication, especially Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia and Severe Depression.
  • Other mental illness can be managed effectively through talking strategies such as Mental Health Psychosocial Support or Psychological Therapy. Especially anxiety, panic disorder, insomnia, post-traumatic stress, and mild to moderate depression.
  • Access to health care and social services capable of providing treatment and social support is key. This is where you can all help by referring anyone that you think may be struggling with a mental illness to the MindCare clinic at the hospital in your province.

If you are in Vanuatu and would like further information and assistance regarding mental health please contact:-

Mind Care Clinic
Psychiatry Department
VILA CENTRAL HOSPITAL
SHEFA
VOIP: 1972

Namalinuan Clinic
LENAKEL HOSPITAL
TAFEA

Mental Health Clinic
NORTHERN PROVINCIAL HOSPITAL
SANMA

Mental Health Clinic
NORSUP HOSPITAL
MALAMPA

Mental Health Clinic
LOLOWAI HOSPITAL
PENAMA

or reach out to us via the Mental Health Vanuatu Facebook page.

 

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

Which Archetype Are You?

Ever notice how any successful story throughout history tends to have a similar cast of characters?

If you haven’t bothered counting, I’ll let you know that most characters will fall into one of 12 principal roles, and this explains why and how we can find favourite stories so relatable. Carl Gustav Jung, a famous psychoanalyst, defined these characters and the journey they go on as Archetypes.

activity adventure backlit backpack

What is an Archetype?

An archetype is something that symbolises primary human motivations, drives, desires and goals. It influences how one finds meaning in life, what one values, and the personality characteristics that one has. Most people tend to identify primarily with one archetype, although it is possible to be a mix of a few different ones.

Below are the 12 archetypes, with a brief description below them:

visonary-report

If you’re a visionary, you value innovation above all else. You look for patterns in the ordinary and try to create order out of chaos. You are intuitive and tend to find it much more comfortable than others to accurately predict trends and look into the future. You love to exchange ideas, share your opinions, and try out new gadgets. But you also have a tendency to overthink things or catastrophise if stressed and overwhelmed. When this happens, it is essential for you to retreat to somewhere secluded and/or scenic so that you can once again focus in on your next innovative idea that you would like to put into action.

The visionary archetype tends to include the designer, the detective, the director, the entrepreneur, the hermit, the futurist or the strategist.

caregiver-report

If you’re a caregiver, you value being compassionate, caring and kind to others, but especially your family and friends. You struggle to say no to people because you love to help out and give as much as you can. Burnout is a risk if you spread yourself too thin, however. You are easy to get along with, flexible to various situations, and always willing to do what is required to adapt to and fit in with others without losing your sense of self. Your favourite activities involve spending time with those you love, and you are the person that people call or talk to if they have been going through something tough or are in crisis.

The caregiver archetype tends to include the loving parent, the teacher, the nurse, the doctor, the best friend forever, the rescuer, the mentor, the healer, the veteran and the civil servant.

royal report

The royal wants power and to be in control. They love being a leader and the boss and love living the high life and the sense of entitlement that comes with this. The royal is not afraid to throw money at a problem so that it will go away, and is willing to use their status, title or name to get what they want and feel that they deserve. Activities, holidays and clothes all need to be the best that money can buy.

Royal archetypes include the king, the queen, the prince or princess, the boss, the executive, the politician, the diva and the networker or social climber.

performer report

The performer is all about entertaining others and being the centre of attention. Even at social and family gatherings. Like Lady Gaga, they live for the applause and moving others emotionally or making them laugh. The performer wants to be seen and believes that being dramatic and in the right places with the right people is the best way to achieve this.

The performer archetype includes the actor, the entertainer, the comedian, the clown or fool, the eccentric, the trickster, the storyteller, the spellcaster, the magician and the provocateur.

spiritual report

The spiritual person has their faith as the cornerstone of who they are. They are belief driven, and pray and seek for what they know to be true to come to fruition. They love to engage in yoga, meditation, and connecting with others on a deeper level and can feel very connected with others and the world around them. The biggest trap for the spiritual person is magical thinking and not doing enough to take action and change the questionable things in their lives. They instead have hope and faith that things will work out the way they want, even when all the evidence suggests otherwise.

The spiritual archetype can include the shaman, the saint, the mystic, the guru, the angel, the missionary, the martyr, the disciple and the Samaritan.

tastemaker report

The tastemaker values the beautiful nature of things above all else. They pay attention to trends, fashion and decor, and ensure that whatever they have is as aesthetically pleasing as possible. Different from the royal, they don’t assume that this is just about what is most decadent or expensive. A tastemaker loves to explore new restaurants, shops, technology and holiday spots. Their weakness is judging others who do not prioritise aesthetics as much as them.

The tastemaker archetype includes the fashionista, the goddess, the gentleman and the metrosexual.

explorer report

The explorer loves adventure, exploring the world, and seeking excitement wherever they are. They are curious about everything new and things they are yet to encounter, and as a result, fear commitment and being stuck in one spot or tied down by someone else in any way. The explorer feels drawn to things unseen and undiscovered and is willing to be practical about what it takes to live their life in this way. They love meeting new people and immersing themselves in new cultures and experiences.

The explorer archetype includes the adventurer, the traveller, the seeker, the discoverer, the wanderer, the individualist, and the pioneer.

advocate report

The advocate is always being a champion for a good cause and hoping that things will get better if they put up a fight for what they believe in. They may have a tendency of getting too caught up personally in the cause but are willing to back up what they believe in by getting signatures for a petition, fundraising money for a campaign, or organising a protest. They also try to live their lives in a way that is consistent with their values and standing up for those less fortunate or those without a voice, such as flora and fauna.

The advocate archetype includes the hero, the environmentalist, the crusader, the vegan, the lawyer, the feminist, and the human rights advocate.

intellectual report

The Intellectual takes pride in their extensive knowledge about things that are important to them. They are always seeking new information and trying to apply this information in a useful way to increase their wisdom. The intellectual can come across as a know it all, but they never feel like they have enough new things to learn. They love to spend time reading books and going to museums and are happy to impart their knowledge to anyone who is willing to listen.

The Intellectual archetype includes the philosopher, the student, the geek, the sage, the scientist, the theologian, the crone, the inventor, and the judge.

rebel_report

The rebel’s core values are justice and autonomy. They are fiercely independent and cannot be contained by the social niceties, order and dutifulness. They do what they want at all times, and like adventure and excitement, challenging convention and being deliberately provocative too. They are at risk of not thinking through the consequences of their decisions, and as a result can overconsume drugs or alcohol or get into trouble with the law, at work, or with those closest to them.

Rebel archetypes include the warrior, the hedonist, Don Juan, the femme fatale and the wild man or wild woman.

athlete_report

The athlete lives for staying active, fit, and in shape. They love to compete in anything involving physical activity and are happiest when they have achieved a big, athletic goal.  The athlete has a tendency to turn everything into a competition, which can annoy others, but they are just as happy pushing themselves to improve their health and body. Clothing is worn for comfort and performance only, not aesthetics. The athlete loves to attend sporting events and is also happy to watch sport on the TV.

The Athlete archetype includes the competitor, the outdoorsman, the dancer, and the tomboy.

creative_450x44

The creative loves being original and genuinely expressing themselves. The creative hates to just repeat or copy what others have done before them. They are happiest creating something from nothing, and this may include a piece of art, but it could also be a meal, an outfit, room in a house or even an idea. The creative does have a tendency to be a perfectionist, and this can make it difficult to begin a new project. Once you get started, you then tend to get into the zone until a project is complete or you need a break.

The creative archetype includes the artist, the chef, the child, the poet, the novelist, the shapeshifter and the romantic.

bench chair friends friendship

What Are Your Main Archetypes?

At archetypes.com it’s possible to find out which archetypes you are most similar to. This may help you to identify what journey it is you need to take in life, or what areas may be best for you to focus on going forward. Included below are my results:

I’m pretty happy with these results, and not surprised by my top 2, but I was surprised to see visionary my third highest archetype. I’ve never thought of myself as that imaginative or innovative, but I do want the world to change for the better and am willing to do what I can to improve the mental health of others.

Based on these results, it’s apparent that I love to help others, but I need to be cautious about taking on excessive responsibility for others or feeling too guilty or inadequate when I can’t help as much as I would like to. I love to learn and be curious about new things, but I still need to be humble and understand that there’s still so much that I’ll never know. I also need to realise that not everyone wants to learn like I do, and that is okay too.  Lastly, when I have an innovative idea, it is vital that I put this plan into action so that I can make a real difference. I would also benefit from making sure that I connect with others and collaborate with the right people to help make these dreams become a reality.

 

I know that archetypes and the test are not highly scientific, but I still found them useful to think about what story I am trying to live out, and what values or principles I am being guided by. Caring for others, learning new things, and creating positive change is what I care about. What about you?
Dr Damon Ashworth
Clinical Psychologist

33 Thoughts About Turning 33

This will be an unfiltered post. No thinking things through. No edits. Just reflections on life, age, and anything else that pops into my head. Here goes nothing:

  1. Turning 33 feels weird
  2. I feel old at times, especially in my body
  3. I still feel like a child at other times too, and I wonder whether I will ever feel like a proper adult
  4. I can’t believe I have so much grey hair now
  5. It’s strange to wonder where the time has gone
  6. Yet when I think about it, I really have done a lot and had many amazing experiences in my time on this planet
  7. I’m happier now than I have ever been before
  8. We never really know how our life will turn out
  9. I couldn’t have planned for what has occurred in my life, and yet it’s pretty amazing that things have turned out the way they have
  10. I’m excited about the future
  11. I used to get scared about the idea of getting older, but I don’t anymore
  12. I’ve stopped searching for the right answers these days, and instead focus on asking and living the right questions
  13. I don’t regret much from my past, even though some of it really sucked at the time
  14. I still don’t fully understand people, even after I have studied psychology for 8 years, seen patients since 2010 and read over 200 psychology books
  15. I probably never will fully understand myself or someone else, and that is okay by me, as long as I keep trying to learn and grow
  16. 33 is a palindrome
  17. When I was younger, I would have seen 33 years old as “really old” and “over the hill.”
  18. I thought that I would have been a parent by now
  19. I am glad that I haven’t just tried to follow the crowd and live a traditional life
  20. I used to think it was better to receive gifts from others, now I can see how much better it is to give
  21. I worried and stressed way more than I needed to as a child
  22. I focused on my body image and appearance way too much as a teenager
  23. I’ve never really looked after myself that well when it comes to what I put into my body. This will eventually catch up to me if it hasn’t already
  24. I’ve let go of being perfect, which feels great
  25. Not everything happens for a reason, but we can learn something from everything that we go through
  26. Everyone suffers in life to some degree
  27. Everyone has baggage
  28. Life isn’t about getting the best job, house, partner, but the best one for you and your lifestyle and values
  29. No one truly knows what the future holds, and that is both exciting and scary
  30. It’s much better to only focus on trying to change what is in my control
  31. Having unconditional positive regard and compassion for others is tough to do but really rewarding if you can
  32. Living an honest and ethical life is so much less tiring in the long run than being dishonest, self-centred and egotistical
  33. There are a lot of kind people out there, and being kind to others is the best way to see it.

Thanks for reading these last three years, and happy holidays to you all!

 

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

Do the Little Things We Do Matter?

https://inspirationboost.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/8-Lao-Tzu-Quotes.jpg

I love the above quote by Lao Tzu. It really highlights to me that all of the little choices we make in life are important, especially in the long run.

Not any one choice, or any particular action, unless it is unusually severe or unforgivable. I’m talking about the little things that we do on a regular basis which cumulatively build up over time and define the type of person that we are, and who others see us as.

This may be something like choosing to make your bed every morning or getting up to go the gym before work or having a veggie smoothie rather than a jam-filled doughnut and caramel macchiato for your 3pm work snack. Taking the easy or not so healthy option may not seem like such a big deal if it’s just the once, but what if this then becomes habitual over time?

Without even realising it, you may wake up one day and recognise that you have a severe sugar, junk food, caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, TV or smartphone dependency, and it’s no longer as easy to stop this behaviour as you may have hoped for or believed.

Most obese, unfit and unhealthy individuals probably didn’t expect that they would be where they are, but it didn’t just happen overnight either. They started with an initial thought, felt something, experienced an urge or craving, and made a choice to act in a certain way. The more they repeated this action in similar situations, the more the brain learnt that this is just what they needed and that this behaviour should be repeated whenever they thought or felt this way.  Eventually, the action no longer felt like a choice, but a compulsion, where they may not have even realised what it was they were doing until it was too late, let alone be able to change it going forward.

William James said something similar, but offers a solution out of this trap:

Thoughts become perception, perception becomes reality. Alter your thoughts, alter your reality. - William James

I’m not sure if I agree with William James completely, because in my experience it is often easier to act ourselves into new ways of thinking, rather than think ourselves into new ways of acting. While how we think and feel about things is important, if we don’t also challenge and change our behaviour, it is going to be very difficult to make any type of positive long-term change. Change our behaviours first regardless of our thinking, however, and we will have more and more evidence that is contrary to the unhelpful thoughts or beliefs that we hold. In time, it then becomes more comfortable to shift these negative thoughts and perceptions, shaping your reality.

Why Bother Trying to Change?

Someone asked me the other day “will you ever just be satisfied with how you are, and eventually stop using questionnaires and other measures to keep trying to track and change your life?

It seemed like a weird question to me, but it is consistent with how my father tends to view life too. He knows what makes him happy in life, and does it. He’s not too worried about changing or growing and just focuses on enjoying each day, even if it’s the same as yesterday.

That’s great for him, and on some level, it would be nice, but I just don’t think I’m built that way. Maybe it was because I was a pretty stressed out, anxious and sometimes unhappy child. Or perhaps I have seen how much I’ve been able to improve my life and my relationships with others through learning about psychology, reading a lot, going to therapy, making specific behavioural changes, and continuing to monitor and challenge myself over time.

A quote by Charles Bukowski probably sums it up better than I ever could:

Image result for charles bukowski people are strange quote

Some Worrying Statistics

We’re meant to do at least 4 hours of moderately vigorous physical activity each week according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and yet researchers have found that the average American adult only does 17 minutes each day.

According to the 2017 OECD findings, more than 50% of adults and nearly one-in-six children are overweight or obese and this figure is projected to increase further by the year 2030.

The World Health Organisation says that 3 million people died worldwide in 2016 as a result of harmful alcohol use in 2016. Fortunately, the drinking of alcohol has continued to decrease in Australia since its peak in 1974-1975. However, regular teen consumption of alcohol is still the most significant risk factor for problematic drinking of alcohol in adulthood.

In 2014 in the US, 6.2 million people were reported to suffer from an illicit substance use disorder, and more than 115 people die every day from opioid abuse or misuse.

Social isolation and loneliness are becoming much bigger problems these days, with one-quarter of all Americans reporting in a survey that they have no one that they can discuss important matters with or call in case of an emergency. Both social isolation and loneliness are correlated with an increased risk of dying younger too.

The average American household was watching 8 hours and 55 minutes of TV a day in 2009-2010 (the peak), but this has only dropped down to 7 hours and 50 minutes per household in 2018, which is still an extremely high amount. Viewing time per household increased every decade since the 1950s, and now seems to be the thing that Americans do for leisure, as was brilliantly documented in Robert Putnam’s sociological book “Bowling Alone”.

59% of all Americans and (48% of Europeans) now play video games, including 97% of teenagers in the US. A 2016 study found that 6% of gamers worldwide could be considered to be addicted, and another study found that 7% were problematic gamers, who played at least 30 hours each week.

Lastly, smart-phone usage continues to increase around the world, with excessive social media and smartphone usage also being linked to adverse mental health outcomes. As I’ve previously mentioned in another blog post, Australia is now fourth in the world regarding smartphone usage. The average for all Australian mobile phone users is 2.5 hours a day, which adds up to 38 days per year. We check something on our phone 30 separate times each day, and 45% of Australians now say that they couldn’t live without their phones.

Putting all of these statistics together, it’s pretty easy to see the long-term consequences of our brains wanting to conserve energy, take the easy option, or avoid pain. These little, seemingly insignificant moments probably happen at least 20 times a day, and in each moment, as long as we are paying attention, we have a choice. We can stay on autopilot and do what is easy, or we can tune into our core values, ask ourselves what type of person we would like to become in the long-run, and then take the action that is consistent with this vision, even if it feels strange or different or outright uncomfortable.

Going to the gym will always hurt the first time you go, but the 20 minute walk that you choose to do today is better than the 10km run that you put off until next week. It may be tempting to say that you’ll start a new diet next Monday, but why put off making a healthy decision in the here-and-now if you don’t have to? It is these moments that will eventually define who you become, and you can begin to make a positive long-term change today…

scenic view of snow capped mountain
Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Pexels.com

But What Do We Do if We Want to Change?

So let me ask you the following three questions:

  1. Is there anything in your life that you wish you could do more of?
  2. Is there anything in your life that you wish you could do less of?
  3. What is stopping you from making these changes?

If you answered YES to either question 1 or 2, and you don’t know the answer to number 3, it is worth exploring deeper…

It is worth finding out what makes you tick. It is worth finding out what your values are, what your personality is like, what your strengths are, and maybe even your attachment style. Change is possible…and inevitable. You just have to know what steps to take. Here are 25 ideas that could change your life, and 20 of my favourite quotes to motivate and inspire you to take action. I wish you the best of luck on your journey of self-discovery and growth. Like me, I doubt that you will regret it.

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

20 Fascinating Paradoxes About Life

What is a Paradox?

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

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

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

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

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

young game match kids
Photo by Breakingpic on Pexels.com

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

man wearing brown suit jacket mocking on white telephone
Photo by Moose Photos on Pexels.com

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

hi haters scrabble tiles on white surface
Photo by Shamia Casiano on Pexels.com

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

black steel welcome hanging signage
Photo by Henry & Co. on Pexels.com

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

woman holding teacup
Photo by Ivandrei Pretorius on Pexels.com

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

man wearing brown jacket and using grey laptop
Photo by bruce mars on Pexels.com

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

adventure cliff lookout people
Photo by Snapwire on Pexels.com

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

man in blue crew neck shirt staring at woman trying to lift barbell
Photo by Victor Freitas on Pexels.com

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

action adventure challenge climb
Photo by Martin on Pexels.com

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

man and woman holding hands walking on seashore during sunrise
Photo by Ibrahim Asad on Pexels.com

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

group hand fist bump
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

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

man person street shoes
Photo by Gratisography on Pexels.com

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

red and blue hot air balloon floating on air on body of water during night time
Photo by Bess Hamiti on Pexels.com

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

active activity adventure backpack
Photo by Krivec Ales on Pexels.com

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

man person mountain hiker
Photo by Ingo Joseph on Pexels.com

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

close up photo of jack o lantern
Photo by Bartek on Pexels.com

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

microphotography of orange and blue house miniature on brown snail s back
Photo by Sarah Trummer on Pexels.com

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

battle black blur board game
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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

two men assisting woman riding on swing
Photo by Artem Bali on Pexels.com

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

bench cold dawn environment
Photo by Anthony on Pexels.com

 

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

Ten Traits of Highly Successful People

10 Qualities of Successful People

In 2004, Tom Butler-Bowden, an Australian born author based in England, released the book ’50 Success Classics: Winning Wisdom for Work & Life from 50 Landmark Books’.

As well as summarising classic books such as Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War’, and Napoleon Hill’s ‘Think and Get Rich’, Butler-Bowden also suggests his own list of 10 characteristics that successful people all have in the introduction to his book. Let’s see if there is any research to support his claims:

1. An optimistic outlook

In ‘Learned Optimism,’ Martin Seligman shows that having an optimistic mindset, or favourable expectations towards the future, leads to better mental and physical health. Optimistic individuals have better immune functioning and are less likely to develop depression (Carver et al., 2010). They are also more likely to persevere in tough challenges and are therefore more likely to experience psychological growth following a traumatic experience (Prati & Pietrantoni, 2009). Optimism can also reduce mortality rates over a four year (Galatzer-Levy & Bonanno, 2014) and forty year period (Brummett, Helms, Dahlstrom, & Siegler, 2006).

The good news is that an optimistic mindset can be taught and developed. A recent meta-analysis by Malouff and Schutte (2016) showed that across 29 studies, an individual’s optimism level does significantly increase with training. The most effective way to do this is with the ‘Best Possible Self’ intervention: “Imagine yourself in the future after everything has gone as well as it possibly could. You have worked hard and succeeded in accomplishing all the goals of your life …” – Boselie et al., 2014, p. 335

Optimism training works. However, you must keep it up as the benefits typically wane once the intervention has finished.

road-to-success

2. A definite aim, purpose, or vision

“The primary cause of success in life is the ability to set and achieve goals. That’s why the people who do not have goals are doomed forever to work for the people who do. You either work to achieve your own goals or work to achieve someone else’s.” — Brian Tracy

Although I like this quote, Stephen Covey provides a caveat to this when he says that there is no point exerting all of your energy climbing up a ladder that is leaning against the wrong wall. First, we must determine where it is that we would like to climb.

“The key to prospering and adapting in the coming decades amidst an ever-escalating rate of change is to first be clear about and resolutely dedicated to what you stand for and why that should never change. You must then be just as resolutely willing to change absolutely everything else.” — J.W. Marriott Jr.

Successful people are clear on what their values are and what they stand for before taking purposeful action. Values clarification and committed action are two of the six essential components of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, or ACT, with the other four elements focused on teaching clients mindfulness skills. According to the American Psychological Association, ACT has strong research support for chronic pain, and modest research support for depression, anxiety, OCD and psychosis.

An interesting study by Chase et al. (2013) found that goal setting alone had no effect on students grade point averages (GPAs) across a semester. However, it did when training in values clarification was provided alongside the goal setting. The clarifying of values before setting goals also significantly reduced the drop out rate of these students the following semester (Chase et al., 2013).

3. A willingness to work hard and persevere 

“There is absolutely no limit to what plain, ordinary people can accomplish if they’re given the opportunity and the encouragement and the incentive to do their best. It takes risk, hard work, knowing where you want to go and being willing to do what it takes to get there.” — Sam Walton

Professor Angela Duckworth studied the students at West Point Military Academy over some years and tried to determine which ones made it through to graduation. She was aware that each cadet admitted to West Point was intelligent, physically fit and had excellent grades and test scores. She was also cognizant that nearly 6% of the cadets dropped out during the first seven weeks (Beast Barracks training), and one-fifth dropped out before graduation.

Eventually, Duckworth identified two qualities that were more predictive than anything else for determining which students made it to the end: 1. passion and 2. perseverance. Together, they make up a quality known as grit. People who score high in grit are much more likely to put in the effort required, do whatever it takes and persist until they succeed. She has since found that grit is a great predictor of success in other areas too.

“Often we are caught in a mental trap of seeing enormously successful people and thinking they are where they are because they have some special gift. Yet a closer look shows that the greatest gift that extraordinarily successful people have over the average person is their ability to get themselves to take action.” — Anthony Robbins

william-stitt-111353

4. Discipline to consistently work until goals are achieved

Undoubtedly, we become what we envisage… Genuine success requires both courage and character – patience, discipline and rationality.” — Claude Bristol

Duckworth and colleagues (2010) have also researched self-discipline, and show that this needs to be sustained for long-term goal commitment and implementation. Without this self-discipline, adolescents struggle to set long-term goals and strive towards them.

Fortunately, it can be improved using two strategies:

  1. Mental contrasting – elaborate upon a future that you desire with the relevant obstacles that you currently face.
  2. Implementation intentions – identify the action that you will take when an opportunity arises that is relevant to your goal.

In comparison to a control writing exercise, eleventh-grade students who spent 30-minutes writing on the above two strategies completed over 60% more practice questions in preparation for a high-stakes exam. This indicated a higher level of self-discipline in the pursuit of a meaningful goal (Duckworth et al., 2010), which over time could result in higher knowledge, deeper understanding, and better results and grades.

“The first step on the road to success is good character. The second is openness to new perspectives. The third is ensuring that daily action is shaped by higher aims, with the knowledge that you always reap what you sow.” — Stephen Covey

5. An integrated mind utilising both logic and intuition

In his excellent book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” Daniel Kahneman talks about our two systems of interpreting the world.

The first one, appropriately named ‘system one’ is perceived quickly, is instinctual and is generally our emotional reaction, or our intuition. ‘System two’ takes more effort and time to access but is also more rational and logical.

As Kahneman shows in his research, people typically use heuristics when making decisions or judgments, which are generally adequate but not optimal solutions to severe problems. This uses our first system and helps us to conserve brain power, but it is only accurate about 80% of the time.

Successful people are able to utilise both system one and system two. If the decision has minimal long-term consequences, such as what to have for dinner, system one is excellent. If the decision has potentially significant implications, however, such as whether or not to buy a house or change jobs, the more energy depleting and more accurate system two going to be better, even if it takes more time to come up with the right answer for you.

“Stroll through the open spaces of time to the center of opportunity. Wise hesitation ripens success and brings secrets to maturity. The crutch of time can do more than the steely club of Hercules.. Fortune gives large rewards to those who wait.” — Baltasar Gracian

6. Prolific reading

Reading fiction has been shown to be great for developing empathy towards others as it really does provide an opportunity to see inside the characters head and experience their internal world in a way that you often don’t get in movies or TV shows. It’s helpful for developing imagination, as the brain works to create the visual images that it reads in words on the page. 30 minutes of reading has also been shown to significantly reduce acute stress as indicated by lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure and lowered heart rate (Rizzolo, Zipp, Stiskal & Simpkins, 2009).

I love reading non-fiction because of how much I can learn from the experts in psychology and related fields for such a low cost. If I were to see them give a talk or book a one-on-one consult, I might be paying up to a $1000, and it would only be scratching the surface of all of the fantastic knowledge that they have accumulated in their lives. That is if I could even get a chance to see them. A book in comparison is $30 or less and contains the majority of their pearls of wisdom in one place. Sure, some books can take a while to get through. However, the value for money and knowledge gained is definitely worth it.

“The movers and the shakers of the world are often professional modelers – people who have mastered the art of learning everything they can by following other people’s experiences rather than their own.” — Anthony Robbins

7. The willingness to take risks

There is a big difference between always engaging in risky behaviour, and being willing to take risks when it is the sound decision to make. Someone like Sir Richard Branson has taken many chances with his Virgin empire, and if it weren’t for these risks, then he wouldn’t have been able to expand and grow at the level that he has. For optimal success, some degree of risk does need to be taken.

“People that don’t risk anything will inevitably find themselves behind those that do. You can lead a change or it can lead you.” — J.W. Marriott Jr.

However, recent research looking at female and male CEOs supports the notion that too much risk isn’t a good thing either. Faccio, Marchica and Mura (2016) found that firms run by male CEOs tend to make riskier decisions, with generally higher leverage and more volatile earnings than firms run by female CEOs. They are also less likely to remain in operation in comparison to firms run by female CEOs (Faccio et al., 2016). More significant risks may lead to higher growth, but also a higher risk of overall collapse.

8. Understanding the power of expectation

Successful people think big instead of small, and believe that they can achieve anything they set their mind to, even if it takes more effort, setbacks and time than they initially envisioned. If thinking big is combined with grit, a growth mindset, and the right timing, look out. There’s no saying how much someone could achieve.

“When our attitude toward ourselves is big, and our attitude towards others is generous and merciful, we attract big and generous portions of success.” –Napoleon Hill and W. Clement Stone

Research indicates that individuals who believe that they can improve are more likely to actually grow (Bergsma, 2008). Higher expectations have been shown to strengthen hope, increase determination and goal completion (Geraghty, Wood, & Hyland, 2010). Higher expectations of outcome can also improve distress tolerance (Williams, Thompson, & Andrews, 2013).

9. Developing mastery in what is most important to them

“The world does not dictate what you shall do, but it does require that you be a master in whatever you undertake.” — Orison Swett Marden

While it may be tempting to try to learn as many different things as possible, the saying “jack of all trades; master of none” often becomes the consequence for people that try to take on too many different projects or career paths all at once.

Warren Buffett has been quoted as once saying to his pilot that he should write down the top 25 things that he wanted to do in life, then circle his top 5 priorities, and finally label items 6-25 as “avoid at all costs” until items 1-5 were completed.

The reason for this is that to reach full mastery can take a long time. Up to 10,000 hours of deliberate practice in many cases, as proposed by Malcolm Gladwell and Anders Ericsson. This equates to nearly 7 hours a day of deliberate practice, every day, for four straight years. If we take these numbers seriously, it makes sense to not spread yourself too thin, unless you don’t want to develop mastery in anything.

“I believe the true road to pre-eminent success in any line is to make yourself master of that line. I have no faith in the policy of scattering one’s resources.” –Andrew Carnegie

10. Well-roundedness and balance

Developing proficiency and accumulating achievements in one area of your life isn’t going to mean much if you are not also a success as a person.

“No kind action is ever lost. You will be indebted to these trifles for some of the happiest attentions and the most pleasing incidents of (your) life.” — Andrew Carnegie

After watching ‘The Founder’ movie based on the life of Ray Kroc, I was appalled by how willing he was to trample on anyone in his way throughout the pursuit of wealth and power without a second thought. This included ignoring his first wife, poaching the wife of another business associate, not keeping his word, and screwing the initial founders of McDonald’s for millions of dollars annually.

“Systematic giving is a powerful practice that blesses every phase of our lives, as it keeps us attuned to the wealth of the universe.” — Catherine Ponder

Ray Kroc was a workaholic, with his famous catchphrase “if you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean” still repeated throughout McDonald’s franchises worldwide.

“Without time for recovery, our lives become a blur of doing unbalanced by much opportunity for being.” — Jim Loehr & Tony Schwartz

If no time is dedicated to personal growth, spiritual growth, health, relaxation, leisure, relationships and community, it becomes difficult to have the well-being, vitality, meaning and support required to achieve ongoing success.

herson-rodriguez-96113.jpg

My two cents

Remember, relationship warmth is the number one predictor of long-term health and happiness, not how much money you have in the bank, or how hard you have worked.

Focus on building genuine connection and a sense of belonging with others who embrace you for who you are. Don’t let old friendships go by if they give you these things.

“Various scientific studies have proven that if you learn how to deal with other people, you will have gone about 85% of the way down the road to success in any business, occupation, or profession, and about 99% of the way down the road to personal happiness.” -– Les Giblin

Try to be kind, compassionate, patient and accepting. To others, but mainly to yourself. No one is perfect, and we all fall into the same traps time and time again. If you can learn from these mistakes, you will improve and grow.

sophie-higginbottom-133982

Lastly, try to accumulate positive experiences, not things. Materialism and consumerism are empty pursuits, void of meaning and purpose. Doing fun, new or helpful things alongside the people you love never is.

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

How to Become Deliberately Better at Anything

At the start of 2018, I launched an idea called Deliberately Better.

IMG_7015

Deliberately Better was created with two main aims in mind:

  1. It was intended to inspire people to believe in positive change, and
  2. It was meant to motivate others to want to put some tangible and small steps into place towards achieving their overall goals and improving their life.

While these are admirable aims, I’m not quite sure if this vision has been fully realised. The Facebook group has over 300 members presently, but engagement has been variable, and it hasn’t been as much of a community of people sharing their positive improvements as I initially hoped…yet!

One of the reasons for this could be put down to how busy everyone is. But that is the case for every group on Facebook, so I’m not going to rationalise it away like that. Another possible explanation is that I haven’t been clear enough with the basics of skill acquisition, to begin with. Before we can improve anything, we must first know what steps to take if we want to develop something.

person sitting on hill
Photo by Manoj Bisht on Pexels.com

My Journey Towards Becoming Deliberately Better

My love of learning has now been my #1 key strength the last two times I have taken the VIA Character Strengths Survey. My curiosity and interest in the world have also climbed from 3rd to 2nd, which means I am always taking in new information and trying to see how I can apply these findings into my own life. I haven’t always been like this, and I definitely don’t expect everyone else to be either.

Growing up, I had a fixed mindset for sure. It meant that I thought that things like personality and intelligence and even sporting or academic capabilities were what they were and could not be changed, even with practice. It is for this reason that I hated training for sports such as basketball, and hated homework even more. It’s also why I managed to go from being second in my class and getting A+ in Mathematics in year 9 to nearly flunking out in year 11 and getting an E+ on my end of Semester exam. I had always been told how “good I was at Maths”, and equated this with being able to do it quickly without putting in much effort. That is the definition of talent, and maybe I was naturally talented with Maths to some degree, but talent can only take us so far…

Some books really helped me to change my view on this:

  1. ‘Outliers: The Story of Success’ by Malcolm Gladwell
  2. ‘Mindset: The New Psychology of Success’ by Carol Dweck
  3. ‘Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance’ by Angela Duckworth
  4. ‘Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise’ by Anders Ericsson

‘Outliers’ was the first book that I read. The main takeaway message I got from this is that to really become an expert at something, it requires a lot of effort and a lot of time, and there is no such thing as an overnight success, even though the media likes to portray things in that way. The Beatles, Bill Gates, and especially any fantastic violin player all had to put in many hours of deliberate practice – as many as 10,000 hours before they are truly exceptional.

‘Outliers’ helped me to focus less on what I was talented at, and more on thinking about what I would be willing to spend 10,000 hours doing. Psychology came back as the logical answer for me, and I’ve been applying myself towards learning as much as I can about the field and the latest research ever since.

‘Mindset’ was the second book I read and taught me that a fixed mindset can be turned into a growth mindset. The way to do this is to focus on the process rather than the outcome, and to focus on effort applied rather than results achieved. By being happy with how much I apply myself towards something and how quickly I try something again after a setback, I just feel more and more encouraged to keep pushing myself and growing rather than being afraid of making a mistake or staying in my comfort zone.

‘Grit’ was the third book and highlighted to me the simple equation that success = talent x (effort x effort). Essentially, how much effort we put into getting better at something is much more important than how talented we are initially at something. Talent is still valuable, and factors such as height do play a role in likely someone is to be a successful jockey, gymnast or basketball player. However, it will never carry you all the way to the top or help you stay there.

Both Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have remained atop the tennis world for so long based on how meticulous and reflective and hard-working they are. Bernard Tomic never realised his potential for the opposite reason. He didn’t like to work hard, and even found the “I’m a celebrity…get me out of here!” jungle to be too harsh an environment to stick around in. If we want to be grittier, we need to identify our passion first, and then persevere through whatever obstacles and challenges may come along in pursuit of our goals.

The last book that I read was ‘Peak’, and this really highlighted the difference to me between play and deliberate practice. Play is generally fun, not too specific and not too challenging. Deliberate practice is very focused on learning a particular skill, that is challenging and just outside of one’s comfort zone, and can be very draining and often not that enjoyable. I’d previously wanted to get better at things while having fun, but knowing that this may not be possible was actually a relief. Now if I want to get better at something, I expect it to be painful and frustrating at times. The fun comes when I see my improvements, and the next time I apply these newly acquired skills through play.

silhouette people on beach at sunset
Photo by Dana Tentis on Pexels.com

How Do You Get Better At Something Though?

With most things, people do get better quite quickly when initially learning something new, even without too much effort. If you are willing to spend 20 hours on actually trying to learn a skill, and schedule these hours into your daily and weekly schedules, you will always get better than someone who doesn’t prioritise the task or put in the time.

If you follow the following 10 principles of rapid skill acquisition, as set out by Josh Kaufman in his book ‘The First 20 hours: How to Learn Anything Fast’, you will improve:

  1. Choose a loveable project
  2. Focus your energy on one skill at a time
  3. Define your target performance level.
  4. Deconstruct the skill into sub-skills.
  5. Obtain critical tools.
  6. Eliminate barriers to practice.
  7. Make dedicated time for practice.
  8. Create fast feedback loops.
  9. Practice by the clock in short bursts.
  10. Emphasise quantity and speed.

After 20 hours, learning and further skill acquisition then begin to plateau off, and you will then have a further choice:

  1. If you are happy with where you are at concerning this skill, then enjoy it. Go out, have fun, and put any of the time that you spend on this skill into play. You will have fun, but may not get much better, and that’s okay too. I’ve been that way with juggling since high school, and still enjoy it when I do it. OR
  2. Keep striving to improve, highlight areas for continued improvement and what skills to focus on, get feedback on your progress and/or coaching from an expert in that field, and alternate periods of deliberate practice with periods of play too. It won’t always be fun, but you will get better.

Tim Ferriss is also a bit of a role model for me when it comes to his dedication towards lifestyle design or self-improvement. His third book ‘The 4-Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life’ is mostly a cookbook but also goes into skill acquisition in the first 100 pages, which makes it the most random cookbook I’ve ever seen. He uses the acronym DiSSS to help you to remember the steps of getting better at any skill:

D = Deconstruction: What are the minimal learnable units, the LEGO blocks, I should be starting with?

i = Nothing, DiSSS is easier to remember than DSSS.

S = Selection: Which 20% of the blocks should I focus on for 80% or more of the outcome I want?

S = Sequencing: In what order should I learn these blocks?

S = Stakes: How do I set up stakes to create real consequences and guarantee I follow the program?

Now that you know what the experts say about improving any ability quickly and efficiently, I want to share with you my 8-step process towards becoming deliberately better.IMG_7016

The Deliberately Better 8-Step Process

Step 1: Determine if there is a skill that you would like to learn that you would be willing to spend 20 hours learning. If there is, write it down.

Step 2: Find an expert in this skill who has done what you would like to do or has helped at least five people to do what you want to do. This could be either in person, in a book or over youtube.

Step 3: If their learning process is not easily described, ask them if you can book an appointment in with them in person or over the internet or if you can send them a few questions via email.

Step 4: Ask them to deconstruct the skill for you, help you to select the 20% of this learning process that is likely to give you at least 80% of the outcome you are going for, and what you should be tracking to assess progress and get feedback along the way when you are stuck or need help.

Step 5: Obtain a baseline assessment of where you are at with the overall skill or the areas that you would like to improve so that you can monitor your progress and see how much you have grown by the end.

Step 6: Learn the skill for 20 hours and track what you did and your progress by writing it down or recording it in some way (audio or video), getting feedback along the way as needed.

Step 7: Conduct a final assessment to measure how much you have improved since you first began at the skill and all crucial areas that you wanted to upgrade.

Step 8: Share how you found the whole process with the Deliberately Better Facebook group, show us (and the expert if you want to) how much you improved, what the science suggests for people who wish to develop this skill themselves and where people can go to learn more, including:

  • experts to see
  • books to read
  • videos to watch
  • courses to take

This is where I see the real benefits of having a community of like-minded people, all coming together to support and encourage each other with whatever it is that we are trying to improve, and providing guidance wherever it is needed along the way.

beach ocean sand sea
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I hope that you found some of this information interesting, but more importantly, I hope that it does inspire you to believe that change is possible and motivate you to try something new and grow. If you do, we’d love to hear about your challenges and successes over at Deliberately Better. I wish you all the best on your journey!

 

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

What Makes Some Things Fade Fast, and Others Stand the Test of Time?

After writing this blog for just over three years now, I find it quite interesting to see what types of posts are immediately successful, and which articles continue to be successful over a long period of time.

The most popular blog post that I have written since 2015 is titled ‘How Have Intimate Relationships Changed Over the Years, and Where Does It Leave Us Now?‘. It was first published in May 2016, and did okay initially, but continued to build over time, and its most successful month for post views was April 2018, nearly two years after it was first released!

affection benches black and white boardwalk
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Most posts tend to track like the typical movies being released at the cinema, or book at the book store, or song at the record store (back when they still existed). Their biggest week of views (or sales) tends to occur right near the start, and a lousy opening release indicates that the overall views (or sales) aren’t likely to be that great either. Very rarely, this isn’t the case.

Movies

At boxofficemojo.com, they even talk about and predict opening multipliers for films, or how much a movie will gross in comparison to its opening weekend takings. One of the most significant drops was the remake of ‘Friday the 13th’ in 2009. It grossed over $40 million in the first week, less than $8 million in the second week, and only $65 million all up on the US Box office. This was a multiplier of only 1.625, indicating that it had no staying power. Essentially, anyone who wanted to see it saw it as soon as it came out, and that was it.

pexels-photo-1200450.jpeg
Photo by Louis on Pexels.com

At the opposite end of the spectrum you have ‘La La Land’, which started out with just over $9 million in ticket sales in the US in the first week, but over $12.5 million the second week and more than $151 million at the US box office all up. Good reviews and Oscar buzz must have played a bit of a role, as its overall take was nearly 17 times that of its opening weekend. In 2005, ‘Sideways’ produced a multiplier of nearly 30 times that of its opening weekend, and ‘Titanic’ and ‘E.T.’ remained at #1 at the US Box office for 15 and 16 weeks respectively.

Avatar is the highest grossing movie of all time worldwide. It stayed in release for 238 days and grossed nearly 2.8 billion dollars, or $600million more than Titanic, the second place movie of all time worldwide, also directed by James Cameron. Apparently, he knows how to make films that impact people.

Songs

In the U.K., Wet Wet Wet pulled their song ‘Love is All Around’ after 15 weeks at number 1 on the charts, and Gnarls Barkly did the same with their song ‘Crazy’ after 9 weeks at #1. While most bands would love nothing more than for their song to reach the top of the charts, sometimes other artists want to pull their song before everyone gets sick of it, worrying that they will become forever known as one-hit wonders otherwise (can anyone remember or name another Wet Wet Wet or Gnarls Barkly song?).

silver colored microphone
Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

Other songs may not have even been that big at the time, but continue to be hits months and years after first being released. ‘Mr Brightside’ by the Killers, ‘Chasing Cars’ by Snow Patrol and ‘My Way’ by Frank Sinatra never even reached number 1 on the UK charts, but remained in the top 100 singles chart for 203, 166 and 133 weeks in total respectively.

Books

With books, ‘The Alchemist’ by Paulo Coelho stands out like no other. Initially, sales were so slow when it was first published in Portuguese in 1988 that the rights of the book were given back to the author after a year. Since then, it has gone on to win over 100 international awards, been translated into 80 languages, and sold over 65 million. And most people already know that Harry Potter was rejected 12 times before it was finally accepted, and then sold 120 million.

books on bookshelves
Photo by Mikes Photos on Pexels.com

So how is it that some movies, books and songs defy the odds and have seemingly miraculous staying power? I’m not sure if the exact reason is fully known, but it does seem to be that they all make an emotional impact on the audience and come out at the right place and the right time to have the effect that they do. One year earlier or later, and the same magic just may not be recreated. It’s why remakes often fail.

What if you could recreate that though? Are there certain elements that all big successes have? That helps things go viral? That lead to box office or New York Times bestselling gold?

Let’s find out what makes ideas genuinely stick, why relationships always seem to interest people and the most important thing you need to know if you want your relationship to endure and stand the test of time…

What Makes Ideas Hang Around?

Top 100 most-viewed YouTube videos[14][15]
# Video name Uploader / artist Views (billions) Upload date
1. Despacito[16] Luis Fonsi featuring  Daddy Yankee 5.53 January 12, 2017
2. Shape of You[21] Ed Sheeran 3.81 January 30, 2017
3. See You Again[22] Wiz Khalifa featuring  Charlie Puth 3.78 April 6, 2015
4. Masha and the Bear: Recipe for Disaster[29] Get Movies 3.28 January 31, 2012
5. Uptown Funk[30] Mark Ronson featuring  Bruno Mars 3.24 November 19, 2014
6. Gangnam Style[31] Psy 3.21 July 15, 2012
7. Sorry[36] Justin Bieber 3.01 October 22, 2015
8. Sugar[37] Maroon 5 2.75 January 14, 2015
9. Shake It Off[38] Taylor Swift 2.65 August 18, 2014
10. Roar[39] Katy Perry 2.63 September 5, 2013

Looking at the above list of top ten videos on YouTube, are there any similarities that seem evident to you?

Yes, 9 out of the 10 are music videos, and all have been released since 2012. This indicates to me that YouTube is getting more and more popular as a platform to watch videos, and music videos have something about them that makes people want to watch them again and again. But what is it?

In their book ‘Made to Stick’, Chip and Dan Heath show that any idea that is successful has two essential qualities:

  1. It is memorable, and
  2. People are eager to pass it onwards

They also say that successful ideas all tend to have the following six elements, which they use the acronym SUCCES for. They are:

S – Simple: They manage to uncover the core of the idea, and don’t complicate it too much beyond that. Like a boy survives evil, but his parents don’t; gets rescued from an awful family; goes to wizard school, and is the one chosen to save the day.

U – Unexpected: They surprise people and grab their attention by doing something unexpected. ‘Gangnam Style’ definitely did this.

C – Concrete: They make sure an idea can be grasped and remembered later. Like this plot: Poor boy meets rich girl on a big boat; they fall in love; the ship hits iceberg and sinks; the rich girl doesn’t share the door; the poor boy dies.

C – Credible: They make an idea believable or give it credibility. Expert or celebrity testimonials in ads might be the best example of this.

E – Emotional: They help people to see the importance of an idea. Watch ‘Sugar’ by Maroon 5, and you’ll see that it has a clear emotional tone (surprise, joy), and the message is obvious (Having a famous band randomly turn up to play at your wedding would make a pretty cool story to tell the grandkids one day).

S – Story: They empower people to use an idea through the power of story. Think of how successful Marvel has been with their movies through the power of storytelling, and how DC hasn’t quite managed the same. ‘Batman vs Superman’ sucked.

Yes, I am aware that they didn’t include a final S in their acronym, but maybe that is the Heath’s way of being unexpected. I still find it annoying.

Why Does the Topic of Relationships Always Seem to Interest People?

adventure boy girl idyllic
Photo by Nandhu Kumar on Pexels.com

As I was saying earlier, my most successful post looked at how dating has changed over the years, especially since the invention of online dating. The article does try to tell a story, is surprising for people to see how times have changed, and is broken down into small, simple, easy to digest parts. It is also credible because it’s based on a book by a celebrity and a Sociology researcher, and has some concrete do’s and don’t for texting in the courting phase of dating. This essentially means that the post was sticky, even though I didn’t realise at the time.

Having said that, people do seem to love learning or reading about relationships, and this may have played a bigger role than anything I wrote about or didn’t do in my other posts. Would ‘Titanic’ or ‘Avatar’ been as massively successful as they were if it weren’t for the central role that the relationships played in the movies. I highly doubt it.

Looking at any celebrity gossip magazines, a lot of them centre around who may or may not be getting together with each other or breaking up or cheating on one another. Even I have read far and wide on the topics of relationships, with ‘Mating in Captivity’ by Ester Perel and ‘Essays in Love’ and ‘The Course of Love’ by Alain de Botton being the three best books about relationships that I’ve read already in 2018.

I’ve also mentioned plenty of times just how important a good relationship is for overall well-being, including on my posts about positive psychology, the need to belong, and the dangers of isolation and loneliness. There are others too.

What Makes Relationships Last?

close up of padlocks hanging on heart shape
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Now that you know how to create something that can stand the test of time let’s look at how to make relationships last. The most important predictor, according to the most productive and scientific relationship researcher John Gottman, is something known as conflict style. He can predict with over 90% accuracy whether or not a couple will make it in the long-term after watching them discuss a contentious issue together for only 5 minutes. This is about how long it takes to get a good sense of what someone’s preferred conflict style is.

Conflict styles are something that exists on a spectrum, but there are three main points along the continuum:

  1. At one end, we have an avoidant conflict style. These individuals will try to avoid conflict at all costs, and would rather focus on the good things in their relationship and sweep the bad stuff under the rug. Their motto may be “if it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it!” even if a vase has just broken in the living room.
  2. At the other end, we have a volatile conflict style. These individuals don’t care what they say or how they say it, as long as everything that is on their mind is out in the open and the other person has heard it. Their motto may be “better out than in!” no matter who’s feelings get hurt.
  3. In the middle, we have a validating conflict style. These individuals won’t bring up every little issue that they have in a relationship, but they will discuss the important stuff in a calm, rational manner until a nice compromise has been reached that works well for both parties. Their motto may be: “be honest AND respectful, and we can get through anything!”

Now most psychologists will say that the validating conflict style is ideal, but Gottman’s research actually suggests that all three approaches can lead to long and happy relationships – the key is whether or not your conflict style matches up with your partner or not.

If your ideal style is avoidant and your partner is volatile, then the four horsemen of the apocalypse will appear in the relationship sooner rather than later, and break-up town will be the destination. Same with avoidant-validating and validating-volatile relationships. Unless you can find common ground with how you want to deal with the inevitable disagreements that will occur, the connection cannot last. Not happily anyway.

If you found any of this information memorable or useful, please feel free to share it or pass it onto others. This post probably won’t be the next ‘Mr Brightside’, and that’s okay by me. I’m happy to compromise…

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

 

It’s Okay to Still Fall into Life Traps… We All Do!

Life-traps are self-defeating ways of perceiving, feeling about and interacting with oneself, others and the world.

If you are wanting to get a sense of what your life-traps may be, the book ‘Reinventing your life’ by Jeffrey Young is an excellent place to start, as it goes into 11 different ones. If you want a more in-depth analysis, however, then do go and see a Psychologist who specialises in Schema Therapy.

A Psychologist has much more thorough and scientific questionnaires that can give you results on 18 schemas (life-traps), help you to identify your most common traps, and show you what you can do both in therapy and outside of it whenever you realise that you have fallen into a trap.

My Life-traps

man standing inside building
Photo by Vusal Ibadzade on Pexels.com

I have taken the Young Schema Questionnaire (YSQ-L3) three times now to help identify my main life-traps. The first time was at the beginning of 2014 when I was stuck in the middle of a complicated relationship while also trying to complete the last part of my Doctoral thesis and play basketball at a semi-professional level.

The second time was in April 2017, when I was in a Clinical Psychology job that I loved and a warm and supportive relationship. I had also stopped playing basketball at such an intense level, and was just playing with some friends (and without a coach) twice a week, which was way more fun.

The most recent time was August 2018, where I had just finished up my work in private practice in Melbourne, Australia and was about to leave my friends and family to volunteer for two years in Port Vila, Vanuatu as past of the Australian Volunteers Program (funded by the Australian Government).

I’d like to share these results with you to show you that:

  1. context influences personality and how people view themselves, the world and others,
  2. personality and ways of perceiving yourself, relationships and the world can change, and
  3. even though it is possible to grow and improve over time, we all still fall into traps at times, and this is okay. It’s about trying to identify when you have fallen into a trap, and then knowing what you need to do to get out of it. 

When looking at the results, a 100% score would mean that I have answered every item for that life-trap a 6, which means that they describe me perfectly. The higher the % score, the more likely it is that I will frequently fall into this life-trap.

YSQ-L3
2014 Results 2017 Results 2018 Results
Schema or life-trap Schema or life-trap Schema or life-trap
1. Subjugation – 75% 1. Self-sacrifice – 60.78% 1.Self-sacrifice – 60.78%
2. Dependence – 64.44% 2. Punitiveness (self) – 57.14% 2. Emotional Deprivation – 59.26%
3. Self-sacrifice – 61.76% 3. Emotional Deprivation – 51.85% 3. Punitiveness (self) – 50%
4. Approval seeking – 54.76% 4. Unrelenting Standards/ Hyper-criticalness – 48.96% 4. Subjugation – 50%
5. Punitiveness (self) – 51.19% 5. Approval Seeking – 48.81% 5. Unrelenting standards – 43.75%
6. Unrelenting standards – 48.96% 6. Subjugation – 48.33% 6. Approval seeking – 41.67%
7. Insufficient self-control – 46.67% 7. Negativity/ Pessimism – 43.94% 7. Vulnerability to harm/illness – 40.28%
8. Emotional inhibition – 46.30% 8. Mistrust/ Abuse – 41.18% 8. Negativity/Pessimism – 39.39%
9. Emotional deprivation – 42.59% 9. Dependence/ Incompetence – 41.11% 9. Dependence/ Incompetence – 38.89%
10. Abandonment – 41.18% 10. Emotional Inhibition – 40.74% 10. Mistrust/Abuse – 37.25%

What’s Changed?

people riding canoe boat view from inside pipe
Photo by Mark Lin on Pexels.com

By looking at the table above, the green items indicate an improvement in comparison to the prior assessment, meaning that these life-traps are a little bit less powerful for me. The yellow indicates no change since the last assessment, and the red indicates a worse score, meaning that these life-traps may have a more powerful sway over me.

From 2014 to 2017, 7 out of the initial top-10 life-traps had improved, one stayed the same, and two had worsened. Two additional traps not included in the initial top 10 had worsened and made the list (Negativity/Pessimism & Mistrust/Abuse).

From 2017 to 2018, 7 out of the 2017 top-10 life-traps had improved yet again, with one staying the same and two worsening. One additional trap (Vulnerability to harm/illness) had increased, but I believe this was due to the medical and safety briefings that I had been going through in the preparation of moving to Vanuatu for 2 years.

 

Overall, I am less likely to fall into any life-trap in 2018 than I was in 2014 and 2017. The average of my top ten in 2014 was 53.29%, whereas in 2017 it was 48.28% and in 2018 it was 46.13%.

I also rated 21 items a 6 (= describes me perfectly) in 2014, only five in 2017, and none in 2018. This means that I am much less likely to get completely pushed around by my life-traps, but they still do have some sway on me, especially the self-sacrifice and the emotional deprivation schemas, and to a lesser degree punitiveness and subjugation.

Here is Young’s description of these schemas:

SELF-SACRIFICE: Excessive focus on voluntarily meeting the needs of others in daily situations, at the expense of one’s own gratification.  The most common reasons are:  to prevent causing pain to others; to avoid guilt from feeling selfish; or to maintain the connection with others perceived as needy. Often results from an acute sensitivity to the pain of others. Sometimes leads to a sense that one’s own needs are not being adequately met and to resentment of those who are taken care of.

EMOTIONAL DEPRIVATION: Expectation that one’s desire for a normal degree of emotional support will not be adequately met by others.  The three major forms of deprivation are:

  1. Deprivation of Nurturance: Absence of attention, affection, warmth, or companionship.
  2. Deprivation of Empathy: Absence of understanding, listening, self-disclosure, or mutual sharing of feelings from others.
  3. Deprivation of Protection: Absence of strength, direction, or guidance from others.

SUBJUGATION: Excessive surrendering of control to others because one feels coerced – usually to avoid anger, retaliation, or abandonment. The two major forms of subjugation are:

1. Subjugation of Needs: Suppression of one’s preferences, decisions, and desires.

2. Subjugation of Emotions: Suppression of emotional expression, especially anger. 

Subjugation usually involves the perception that one’s own desires, opinions, and feelings are not valid or important to others. Frequently presents as excessive compliance, combined with hypersensitivity to feeling trapped. Generally leads to a build up of anger, manifested in maladaptive symptoms (e.g., passive-aggressive behaviour, uncontrolled outbursts of temper, psychosomatic symptoms, withdrawal of affection, “acting out”, substance abuse).

PUNITIVENESS: The belief that people should be harshly punished for making mistakes. Involves the tendency to be angry, intolerant, punitive, and impatient with oneself for not meeting one’s expectations or standards.  Usually includes difficulty forgiving mistakes in oneself, because of a reluctance to consider extenuating circumstances, allow for human imperfection, or empathize with one’s feelings.

Three out of my top four life-traps have improved since 2014, but emotional deprivation unfortunately continues to climb with each assessment. I’m not entirely sure why, but I do think that self-sacrifice, subjugation and emotional deprivation schemas may be common life-traps for people who decide to become psychologists. The therapeutic relationship is meant to be one sided, and focused on the patient or client’s needs, not the psychologist’s needs. It is for this reason that it is crucial for psychologists to get their relational needs met outside of their job, and to get their own therapy if needed to ensure that they can have a space that is about them too. I wonder how these life-traps will continue to evolve over the next two years while I am in Vanuatu…

How Can Life-traps Be Overcome?

grayscale photography of person at the end of tunnel
Photo by Anthony DeRosa on Pexels.com

The first step to changing anything is awareness. If you are not aware that you are falling into any traps, it means that you either don’t have any, or you are so enmeshed in your experience that you cannot see them.

Once you have an awareness of your traps, the next step is to try to understand them and why they occur for you. Most life-traps originate in childhood typically, which is why most psychologists and psychiatrists will ask about your upbringing and your relationship with your parents in particular.

Life-traps are actually considered to be adaptive ways of coping with maladaptive environments. What this means is that your life-traps were probably quite useful in the particular family dynamic that you had, or you wouldn’t have developed them in the first place. For example, my family often called me a martyr when I was younger, because I said that it didn’t matter what I wanted. In reality, it was just much more comfortable to let everyone else decide and take charge. Then if things didn’t work out, I couldn’t be blamed. I saw it as a win-win, but often didn’t get what I wanted, because I didn’t speak up, and then complained that my parents loved my siblings more, who were more than happy to speak up and ask for what they wanted.

Once you move out of the family home, however, these ways of coping are generally not as effective, and tend to become maladaptive ways of interacting with yourself, others or the world. If I keep playing martyr and refuse speak up as an adult, my needs still don’t get met. As a result, I may become excessively demanding of others as a counterattack measure (not likely for me), or I may try to escape from all relationships where I need to speak up about my needs. Either way, it keeps the life-trap going, and it isn’t helpful.

I need to realise that there are relationships out there where it is beneficial for me to speak up, as people then know what I want, and can then respond effectively to the situation at hand. It still doesn’t “feel right” when I think about telling others my wants or needs (and I’m not sure if it ever will), but I logically know that it is the best approach for me to take going forward. If I want to break free from my main life-traps, I have to learn to speak up, in a reasonable way, when it is important to me (and others). By doing this, eventually, the life-traps will become much less prevalent and less powerful too.

If you have been trying with therapy for a long time but don’t think that you are getting anywhere, please do seek out a Psychologist with experience in Schema Therapy. If you are stuck in a relationship where your needs aren’t being met, it could help too.

Learning about Schema Therapy and undergoing training in it has taught me more about my own personal life-traps than anything else that I have done before and really does give me a sense of what my most significant challenges are going forward. I’ve made a lot of progress so far, but there is still a long way to go, and that is okay. With acceptance, self-compassion, patience, reflection and perseverance I know that I will continue to improve, and I am confident that you can too!

 

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

 

P.S. For a full description of the other 14 maladaptive schemas, please click here.

Change is Possible (and Inevitable)!

I haven’t announced it on my blog until now, but there have been a lot of changes for me lately…

After an amazing five years of Clinical work at the Melbourne Sleep Disorders Centre and Victorian Counselling and Psychological Services, I have decided to finish up and take on a brand new and exciting challenge.

On August 16th, I left Melbourne, Australia, and flew to Port Vila Vanuatu, where I will be living for the next two years. I will be taking on a volunteer role as part of the Australian volunteers program, which is funded by the Australian government.

beach birds calm clouds

The title of the role is Mental Health Specialist (Clinical Psychologist), and I will be assisting the Ministry of Health in Vanuatu with the implementation of their National Mental Health Policy and Strategic Plan. While my exact role description still remains vague, already I’ve met some great people, given a talk to Police Academy cadets about mental health, substance abuse and self-care, and assisted in the facilitation of a five-day training with 60 health care professionals, service providers and community leaders from all over the Shefa province in Vanuatu.

I came over to Vanuatu hoping to put into place effective ways to increase mental health awareness, reduce stigma and increase access to effective psychological interventions for anyone who could benefit from them, and it looks like that process has already begun!

Finishing up with my clients and leaving behind my life in Australia has been hard, but it’s also helped me to really appreciate what I have in my life in a way that I maybe wouldn’t have been able to without making this move. It’s really led to me reflecting on my life, in particular my last five year and the challenges I’ve been through, the amazing experiences I’ve had, and the people I’ve met along the way. I’ve changed and grown in many ways I couldn’t have imagined, and for that reason I’ve decided to do a pre-departure assessment of where I am at on all of my favourite psychological assessments.

This article will focus on the changes to my character strengths over the last year. I’ve already compared them from 2013 to 2017. This looks at how they have changed since then. Positive psychologists believe that happiness can be sought out and fostered by discovering our natural character strengths and virtues, and then putting them into action on a more regular basis.

beach beautiful bridge carribean

My Top Character Strengths

I will present my 2018 results from 24th through to 1st, with the description from the authentic happiness website and the core virtue from the VIA character website. I will then display my previous survey rankings under each description:

24: Spirituality, Sense of Purpose and Faith

Having coherent beliefs about the higher purpose and meaning of the universe; knowing where one fits within the larger scheme: having beliefs about the meaning of life that shape conduct and provide comfort.

Core Virtue: Transcendence

2017: 23rd
Average score = 23.5.

I do think that having a belief system about how things work in life is crucial to well-being, as is having a higher purpose and meaning in life. I just don’t tend to see my spiritual beliefs to be much of a strength.

23: Self-Regulation and Self-Control

You self-consciously regulate what you feel and what you do. You are a disciplined person. You are in control of your appetites and your emotions, not vice versa.

Core Virtue: Temperance

2017: 24th
Average score = 23.5.

I do think that it is pointless to try to control my emotions, as accepting them and trying to understand them has been much more fruitful for me than trying to control them. Trying to control my appetite is a different story, however. I’d love to be able to do it.

22: Bravery and Valour

You are a courageous person who does not shrink from threat, challenge, difficulty, or pain. You speak up for what is right even if there is opposition. You act on your convictions.

Core Virtue: Courage

2017: 22nd
Average score = 22.

I wish that this was more of a strength for me, but it is something that I struggle with. I admire others who are consistently brave and courageous, and I continue to aspire towards it myself, but find myself to be more cautious than I would like to be.

21: Humility and Modesty

You do not seek the spotlight, preferring to let your accomplishments speak for themselves. You do not regard yourself as special, and others recognize and value your modesty.

Core Virtue: Temperance

2017: 19th
Average score = 15.25. Overall rank = 19th

When I was younger, I struggled to be modest due to insecurities. This improved as I sought therapy and felt much more comfortable with myself. I try to be humble, but do believe that I have psychological skills and knowledge that can be useful to others.

20: Zest, Enthusiasm and Energy

Regardless of what you do, you approach it with excitement and energy. You never do anything halfway or halfheartedly. For you, life is an adventure.

Core Virtue: Courage

2017: 20th
Average score = 20.

I would love it if this were a greater strength for me, but low energy has unfortunately been a long-term issue. Maybe this will change in Vanuatu!

19: Teamwork, Citizenship and Loyalty

You excel as a member of a group. You are a loyal and dedicated teammate, you always do your share, and you work hard for the success of your group.

Core Virtue: Justice

2017: 21st
Average score = 20.

I have played competitive sports since the age of five, and I am always happy to do what is needed to be done to help the team win. Even though my agreeableness and co-operation are extremely high, I probably don’t always see this as a key strength.

18: Prudence, Caution and Discretion

You are a careful person, and your choices are consistently prudent ones. You do not say or do things that you might later regret.

Core Virtue: Temperance

2017: 17th
Average score = 17.5.

My cautiousness levels are usually really high. Taking the risk of moving to Vanuatu is a big one, but I spoke to a lot of previous volunteers before I left, and they all seemed to love it here. So far, I do too.

17: Perspective Wisdom

Although you may not think of yourself as wise, your friends hold this view of you. They value your perspective on matters and turn to you for advice. You have a way of looking at the world that makes sense to others and to yourself.

Core Virtue: Wisdom

2017: 12th
Average score = 14.5

This has gotten worse, but this could be related to me doubting how much I can pick up on how people are really feeling. I like to try and see things from others perspectives, but prefer to clarify what someone is thinking rather than assume that I already know.

16: Perseverance, Industry and Diligence

You work hard to finish what you start. No matter the project, you “get it out the door” in timely fashion. You do not get distracted when you work, and you take satisfaction in completing tasks.

Core Virtue: Courage

2017: 10th
Average score = 13.

This has dropped a little. I do try to persevere with projects that are important to me, but my low energy and fatigue can get the better of me sometimes.

15: Gratitude

You are aware of the good things that happen to you, and you never take them for granted. Your friends and family members know that you are a grateful person because you always take the time to express your thanks.

Core Virtue: Transcendence

2017: 11th
Average score = 13.25. Overall rank = 17th

My gratitude has dropped, but not because I don’t value it. Gratitude practice can do wonders for some people. For me, I try to do it whenever I am getting too caught up in all the little details of life or catastrophizing about something.

14: Leadership

You excel at the tasks of leadership: encouraging a group to get things done and preserving harmony within the group by making everyone feel included. You do a good job organizing activities and seeing that they happen.

Core Virtue: Justice

2017: 16th
Average score = 8.75. Overall rank = 5th

Leadership used to be a key strength back in the day, but now I try to work in a much more collaborative way and seek first to understand where others are coming from and what they want rather than just telling them what to do.

13: Hope, Optimism and Future-Mindedness

You expect the best in the future, and you work to achieve it. You believe that the future is something that you can control.

Core Virtue: Transcendence

2017: 18th
Average score = 15.5.

I’m glad that this has improved as much as it has over the past 14 months. Optimists tend to take more risks in life and experience better health in general. Sometimes caution is good, but not if it stops you from doing the things you really want in life.

12: Capacity to Love and Be Loved

You value close relations with others, in particular those in which sharing and caring are reciprocated. The people to whom you feel most close are the same people who feel most close to you.

Core Virtue: Humanity

2017: 6th
Average score = 9.

It’s interesting to see this drop so much over the last year. I wonder if it has to do with the guilt I felt at leaving clients and family and friends in Australia when moving to Vanuatu. I would like it to go back up next time.

11: Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence

You notice and appreciate beauty, excellence, and/or skilled performance in all domains of life, from nature to art to mathematics to science to everyday experience.

Core Virtue: Transcendence

2017: 9th
Average score = 10.

I do try to appreciate the natural beauty of life, and love visiting national parks and going hiking. All the beaches and sunsets in Vanuatu are beautiful too, and it’s nice to sit on the balcony of where I live, and have a great view of the water.

10: Social intelligence

You are aware of the motives and feelings of other people. You know what to do to fit in to different social situations, and you know what to do to put others at ease.

Core Virtue: Humanity

2017: 13th
Average score = 11.5.

This has improved too, but it is particularly tough stepping into a new culture with Ni-Vanuatu, French, Chinese, and many other people in Port Vila too. Engaging with them all on a regular basis without fully knowing what their cultural norms and mores are is challenging, and I’m sure I’ll offend people without meaning to, but hope to become more familiar with all of this over the next two years.

9: Honesty, Authentic and Genuineness

You are an honest person, not only by speaking the truth but by living your life in a genuine and authentic way. You are down to earth and without pretense; you are a “real” person.

Core Virtue: Courage

2017: 8th
Average score = 8.5.

Authenticity is something that I value a lot. I strongly believe that more genuine and authentic people tend to live happier and more fulfilling lives, and being honest is so much easier than having to keep remembering what you said and who you said it to.

 

8: Forgiveness and Mercy

You forgive those who have done you wrong. You always give people a second chance. Your guiding principle is mercy and not revenge.

Core Virtue: Temperance

2017: 14th
Average score = 11.

It’s nice that this has improved. I do want to be able to forgive those who have erred and have done wrong towards me, as I understand the benefits of this type of forgiveness.

 

7: Fairness, Equity and Justice

Treating all people fairly is one of your abiding principles. You do not let your personal feelings bias your decisions about other people. You give everyone a chance.

Core Virtue: Justice

2017: 4th
Average score = 5.5.

Being a middle child influenced my focus on fairness and equality growing up, as I always felt my older brother could do more than me, and my younger sister never had to do anything. I remember creating rules to make sure that things were as fair as possible and have continued to stand up for people that are not given equal treatment or legal rights since then.

 

6: Creativity, Ingenuity and Originality

Thinking of new ways to do things is a crucial part of who you are. You are never content with doing something the conventional way if a better way is possible.

Core Virtue: Wisdom

2017: 7th
Average score = 6.5.

Being original and non-conventional was quite important to me while growing up, but took a back seat when I got married and bought a house in the suburbs. I realised the traditional life was not right for me, and I strongly advocate for you to do what is right for you rather than just going along with familial or societal pressures.

 

5: Judgment, Critical Thinking and Open-Mindedness

Thinking things through and examining them from all sides are important aspects of who you are. You do not jump to conclusions, and you rely only on solid evidence to make your decisions. You are able to change your mind.

Core Virtue: Wisdom

2017: 2nd
Average score = 3.5.

This has decreased a little bit since 2017, but is ahead of where it was in 2013. I am glad that it is still in my top 5, as I do value being able to change my mind over time, especially when there is evidence contrary to what I previously believed.

4: Humour and Playfulness

You like to laugh and tease. Bringing smiles to other people is important to you. You try to see the light side of all situations.

Core Virtue: Transcendence

2017: 15th
Average score = 9.5

I love stand up comedy and have always wished that I was a bit more playful than I have typically been. It’s so refreshing to see how much this has jumped over the past year, and how it is now one of my key character strengths.

3: Kindness and Generosity

You are kind and generous to others, and you are never too busy to do a favor. You enjoy doing good deeds for others, even if you do not know them well.

Core Virtue: Humanity

2017: 5th
Average score = 4.

Doing the random acts of kindness challenge in January 2018 was a nice way to increase this. Volunteering is also a way to be kind and generous with my time and clinical skills.

 

2: Curiosity and Interest in the World

You are curious about everything. You are always asking questions, and you find all subjects and topics fascinating. You like exploration and discovery.

Core Virtue: Wisdom

2017: 3
Average score = 2.5

This has never been a key character strength for me until 2017. Over the past few years, I have become less concerned with my personal issues and much more interested in how I can make a lasting difference on a larger scale.

 

1: Love of Learning

You love learning new things, whether in a class or on your own. You have always loved school, reading, and museums-anywhere and everywhere there is an opportunity to learn.

Core Virtue: Wisdom

2017: 1st
Average score = 1.

This was definitely NOT a strength of mine back in school. Up until 3rd grade, I loved learning new things. Then I stopped reading for fun and put my energy into sport and video games. Once I began studying my Doctorate in Clinical Psychology, I re-found my love of learning new things, and haven’t stopped since then!. I’ve read over 70 books already this year, and my thirst for new knowledge on how people can improve their mental health and overall well-being seems insatiable.

photo of a man standing in the cliff

Can Our Key Strengths Change?

A key strength is what you would put in your top 5 strengths. Fairness, equity and justice has dropped out of my top 5, and humour and playfulness has climbed in. I became more hopeful, forgiving and socially intelligent over the past year too, although these are still not considered key strengths of mine. If all of this means I am getting back to being a little less serious and having some more fun over the past year, then I’m pretty happy with the changes I’ve made and the overall direction that I’m heading!

My Top Virtues

Based on my 2018 findings, my top virtues are as follows:

Wisdom – 1st, 2nd, 5th, 6th, 17th. Average score = 6.2

Humanity – 3rd, 10th, 12th. Average score = 8.33

Justice – 7th, 14th, 19th. Average score = 13.33

Transcendence – 4th, 11th, 13th, 15th, 24th. Average score = 13.4

Courage – 9th, 16th, 20th, 22nd. Average score = 16.75

Temperance  8th, 18th, 21st, 23rd. Average score = 17.5

My transcendence scores improved the most, with my wisdom dropping slightly over the past year but still holding onto the top spot. I’d love for courage to improve more by the next time I do the test.

boy wearing orange shirt blowing on dandelion

Does It Matter Which Strengths We Have?

Maybe. What is most important I think is that we are aware of what our individual key strengths are and that we can put these character strengths into action as often as possible.

Seeing that our strengths can change over time, however, it is worth looking at if some character strengths predict a higher level of well-being than others. In the excellent book ‘Curious: Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life’, Dr Todd Kashdan (2009) found that curiosity was one of the five strengths most highly associated with:

  • meaning
  • engagement
  • pleasure
  • satisfaction in one’s work, and
  • happiness in life.

In research conducted by Seligman and Peterson (2004), the only strengths that were rated higher than curiosity for being substantially related to satisfaction in life were hope, zest and gratitude. The other strength in the top 5 was capacity to love and be loved.

Only curiosity is in my top 5 (at #2), so either I try to build more hope, zest, gratitude or love in my life, or I accept that this is currently what my strengths are and aim to put them into practice on a more regular basis.

animal animal world bark city park

What do you think? Should we all try to have the same strengths that have been linked with increased life satisfaction on average, or should we put our own unique strengths into action more?

Even better, why don’t you find out what your key strengths are by taking the VIA Survey of Character Strengths at the VIA character website, and then let me know what your key character strengths are and if you would prefer for other items to be in your top 5!

 

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist