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, 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, yet, amazingly, 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 will never fully understand myself or someone else, which is okay 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, and now I can see how it is better 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 regarding 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 many 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

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

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

If you want 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 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 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

I have taken the Young Schema Questionnaire (YSQ-L3) three times 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. I had also stopped playing basketball at such an intense level and played 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 part of the Australian Volunteers Program (funded by the Australian Government).

I want 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, which is okay. It’s about identifying 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 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

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, seven out of the 2017 top ten life traps had improved yet again, with one staying the same and two becoming worse. One additional trap (Vulnerability to harm/illness) had increased. Still, 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 in 2014 and 2017. For example, 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. However, they still 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 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. For this reason, psychologists must get their relational needs met outside of their job and get their own therapy if needed to ensure that they can have a space about them. I wonder how these life traps will continue to evolve over the next two years in Vanuatu…

How Can Life-traps Be Overcome?

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 are aware of your traps, the next step is 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. This means 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 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, others couldn’t blame me. 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.

However, once you move out of the family home, these coping methods are generally ineffective. They tend to become maladaptive ways of interacting with yourself, others or the world. If I keep playing the martyr and refuse to 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 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 must learn to speak up reasonably when 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 you are getting anywhere, please seek a Psychologist with experience in Schema Therapy. Also, 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. I know that I will continue to improve with acceptance, self-compassion, patience, reflection, and perseverance, and I am confident 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 many 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 funded by the Australian government.

The title of the role is Mental Health Specialist (Clinical Psychologist). I will be assisting the Ministry of Health in Vanuatu with implementing their National Mental Health Policy and Strategic Plan. While my exact role description 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 implement effective ways to increase mental health awareness, reduce stigma and increase access to effective psychological interventions for anyone who could benefit from them. 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 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 years 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.

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. But, unfortunately, I don’t tend to see my spiritual beliefs as 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 think 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 courageous, and I continue to aspire towards it myself, but I find myself 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 I 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 help the team win. However, even though my agreeableness and co-operation are extremely high, I probably don’t always see this 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 many 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 my doubting how much I can pick up on how people really feel. I like to try and see things from others perspectives but prefer to clarify what someone thinks 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 try to persevere with important projects, 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. A 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 my guilt at leaving clients, 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 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 to step into a new culture with Ni-Vanuatu, French, Chinese, and many other people in Port Vila. Engaging with them all regularly without fully knowing their cultural norms and mores is challenging, and I’m sure I’ll offend people without meaning. Nevertheless, I 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 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 things were as fair as possible and have continued to stand up for people who 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 I took a back seat when I married and bought a house in the suburbs. Then, 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 value changing 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 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. However, over the past few years, I have become less concerned with my personal issues and much more interested in making 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. However, once I began studying for 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.

Can Our Key Strengths Change?

A key strength is what you would put in your top 5 strengths. Fairness, equity and justice have dropped out of my top 5, and humour and playfulness have climbed in. I became more hopeful, forgiving, and socially intelligent over the past year, 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, I’m pretty happy with the changes I’ve made and the overall direction 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.

Does It Matter Which Strengths We Have?

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

Seeing that our strengths can change over time, 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 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 my strengths and aim to put them into practice on a more regular basis.

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

How Much Could You Change Your Personality in a Year?

In April 2017, I looked at how my personality changed from 2011 to 2017 on the IPIP-NEO, my favourite free online personality test (see the website personality assessor and choose the IPIP-120 if you are interested in taking it). So I wrote this up for the article: Is it possible to change your personality?

Before April 2017, I had never really looked at how my personality changed over time — I was looking at how I rated myself compared to other males of my age from Australia. I then recently read Jordan B. Peterson’s 12 rules for life, and my favourite rule was #4:

“Compare yourself with who you were yesterday, not with who someone else is today.”

After reading this book, I thought it would be a good time to go back and see how my personality has changed over the past 15 months since I last took the IPIP-120. Of course, I already know that my psychological, emotional, spiritual, and workplace self-care have improved this year, but do these changes also contribute to positive personality changes? Let’s find out…

My Personality Assessment Results From April 2017 — August 2018

The IPIP-120 results below are from April 12th 2017, to August 1st 2018, with the description of each factor and facet written underneath it copied or paraphrased from the reports found at personality assessor.

The Factor or Facet will be presented first, followed by a series of …, then the 2017 percentile score results, which are surrounded by ( ), then the 2018 results, which are not in any brackets or parentheses.

Extraversion…………… (48) — 74

I am high in Extraversion. Extraverts are sociable and like to take risks and feel lots of positive emotions.

This change is interesting to me. I agree that I have been focusing on connecting with others more and have been feeling more energetic recently, but I am still surprised to see this factor increase. I find socialising with others quite tiring after a while, and I often need time to unwind and recharge.

The six facets of extraversion are:

Friendliness…………… (58) — 88

I’m very high in my desire to be around other people and show an interest in their lives.

This has increased a lot over the past 15 months. I value quality time more than quantity time when it comes to spending time with friends but have realised just how important connection and belonging is for overall health and well-being.

Gregariousness……… (42) — 77

I’m very high in flocking toward other people and being talkative and sociable around them.

I am much more comfortable having downtime by myself or with one or two people these days, rather than going out to clubs or big parties or festivals. Even so, this increase over the past 15 months supports my resurgence towards being more sociable again like I was when I was younger.

Assertiveness………… (13) — 34

I’m more assertive than I used to be with others, but there is still a low chance that I’ll take charge and lead others.

I have begun to speak up more for myself and express my needs better over the past 15 months. However, I still prefer to help people be the person they want to be, rather than try to lead them or tell them who I think they should be.

Activity Level………… (79) — 90

I prefer very high levels of activity, such as being on the go and staying busy.

This has increased over the last 15 months and may indicate that I am feeling more energetic or that I am currently rushing around too much and trying to do too many things all at once. I hope that if it is the latter that I manage to slow down, relax more and be more mindful of this going forward.

Excitement-Seeking… (87) — 81

I like to seek very high levels of thrills.

This has decreased a little over the past 15 months, which indicates that I have increased the amount of excitement I have in my life and enjoy it when I experience it.

Cheerfulness………… (54) — 70

I experience high levels of happiness, joy, and other positive emotions.

This is a great improvement and indicates that the regular mindfulness, gratitude, savouring and reflective practices I have been engaging in make a positive difference for me. I am also finding it easier to express positive emotions with others, including love, hope and excitement.

Agreeableness…………… (89) — 90

I am very high in agreeableness. Highly agreeable people tend to do whatever it takes to have positive relationships with other people.

This hasn’t changed much over the past 15 months. However, I don’t think it needs to be any higher either, as there could be some negatives with being too agreeable all the time.

The six facets of agreeableness are:

Trust……………… (89) — 90

I’m very high in believing that other people are generally good and not out to harm others.

Given a choice, I’d always rather give people the benefit of the doubt, to begin with, until I see evidence to the contrary. This is better than distrusting everyone except for those who prove themselves to me. If you believe others to be good and portray this in your dealings with them, it gives most people a reputation that they’ll want to uphold.

Morality………… (65) — 79

Sticking to the rules and treating everyone fairly is of very high value to me these days.

Reading the essay “Lying” by Sam Harris really helped highlight the importance of being honest or not lying to people. It’s also Jordan Peterson’s 8th rule for life. The more straightforward and congruent we can be with others, the better outcomes and connections we will have. Unfortunately, secrecy often creates a chasm that can be difficult to bridge, and having to remember which lies you told to which people is just too tiring.

Altruism………… (85) — 90

I am very high in wanting to be good to other people, including helping them when they need it.

This has continued to increase over time, which is great to see. The more people I can help with the time that I have, the better, as far as I can see. It could lead to burnout if I don’t look after myself too, but generally, kindness has more positive health benefits than negative in the long run.

Cooperation…… (99) — 99

There are extremely high chances that I’ll try to get along with other people.

This has remained as high as it can be. So that means that if you have an issue with me or something that I have written and want to try to sort it out, please do contact me. I will do my best to try to resolve it in whatever way I can.

Modesty………… (71) — 44

I have about average levels of modesty, which means that I don’t like to brag or show off too much because these behaviours can be harmful to relationships.

Too high a modesty can sometimes mean low self-esteem, and the drop in this score indicates a greater level of self-confidence. I hope it doesn’t swing too far, but it’s nice not to see myself as any better or worse than anyone else.

Sympathy………… (84) — 76

I have very high levels of sympathy for other people, including caring about them and wanting what’s best for them.

This has dropped a little bit over the last 15 months. I think it’s better to be empathetic (“I will try to feel and understand what you feel”) rather than sympathetic (“I feel bad or sorry for you”). I definitely care about others and want the best for others, but I never want to come from a position of superiority.

Conscientiousness…………… (70) — 74

I am high in conscientiousness. Highly conscientious people are diligent, hard-working, and responsible.

This is the highest that my conscientiousness has been in the 6 times I have taken the test since 2011. In the book “The Longevity Project”, which tracked individuals across 80 years to look at factors influencing healthy ageing, conscientiousness was the only personality variable associated with longer and healthier lives.

The six facets of conscientiousness are:

Self-Efficacy………… (62) — 77

When I need to do something, I have a very high level of belief that I can get it done and do it well.

This has increased quite a bit over the past 15 months and has been boosted by the various challenges that I have taken on.

Orderliness……… (80) — 88

I prefer very high levels of cleanliness and order in my environment.

It wasn’t that I didn’t prefer this in 2011 and before that, but that I really struggled to stay organised with everything. Doing a Doctoral degree definitely helped with this, as did having a very organised partner in 2014 and reading the book ‘Getting Things Done’ by David Allen.

Dutifulness……… (27) — 28

I’m low in sticking to my word, keeping my promises, and upholding my obligations.

As bad as this description makes it sound, I am actually happy that I do fewer things out of a sense of duty or obligations these days. I am more likely to tune in and figure out if something is consistent with my values and my best long-term interests before committing to something or just saying yes and then later regretting it. It means that resentment is less likely to build up for me because I am doing what I want, not what others want me to do.

Achievement-Striving… (88) — 79

I have a very high desire to work hard and get ahead.

This has dropped a little over the last 15 months, and this is because I now see just how important social connection and relationship warmth is for long term health and happiness.

Self-Discipline………. (49) — 69

I have above average self-discipline — which is the ability to get to work quickly, stay focused, and avoid distractions or procrastination.

I’m super happy that this has improved over the past 15 months. After not making videos for most of 2017, I created 31 videos for my youtube channel in 2018. I’ve also been able to stick with some of the challenges I have set for myself this year.

Cautiousness……… (89) — 88

The odds are extremely low that I’ll jump into things without really thinking them through.

This hasn’t changed much over the years, and I continue to spend high amounts of time planning what to do. I probably would benefit by being a bit more spontaneous at times with less important things and getting into more productive action as soon as I know what the right path is for me to take.

Neuroticism…………… (29) — 13

I am very low in Neuroticism. This means that I experience low levels of negative emotions, like anger, fear, and stress.

The six facets of neuroticism are:

Anxiety…………… (25) — 6

Compared with other people, I have extremely low stress, fears, and worries about the future.

This is the lowest that my anxiety score has ever been. I now feel much more resilient, which means that no matter what comes my way in the future, I have a strong feeling that I’ll be okay and that I will be able to figure out how to get through it.

Anger………………… (7) — 8

My levels of anger and irritability are extremely low.

This has increased slightly since 2011, so I am now more aware of when I feel resentful, irritable, frustrated, or angry. I basically never lose my cool but can identify what does tick me off much more than I used to, which helps me stand up for myself.

Depression……… (10) — 9

Compared with other people, I now feel extremely low amounts of sadness and like myself to a high degree.

This has continued to improve over the years’ thanks to much psychological therapy, better relationships and ongoing self-improvement.

Self-Consciousness… (71) — 50

I like to draw very low levels of attention to myself and feel high amounts of unease when interacting with others socially (especially strangers).

I have been drawing more attention to myself over the last few years through blogs, podcasts and videos, making me feel a bit self-conscious at times. However, if it helps even one person, it is worth putting my ideas out there, even if it is scary.

Immoderation…… (46) — 32

I have average self-control when it comes to resisting temptations; there are about average chances that I’ll give in to my desires and binge (on shopping, eating, drinking, or whatever my vices are).

This has decreased a bit over the past 15 months, which is consistent with my increase in self-discipline. I’ve been saving a lot more money lately and making less impulsive choices in what I buy. Having a mortgage to pay off now does help, too, especially with an offset account that I put all my money into every month. It leads to a sensation of less disposable income that I have to waste on whatever I feel like at the moment.

Vulnerability…… (45) — 14

The chances that I’ll be overwhelmed by difficult circumstances are about average.

This has decreased heaps over the last year. Similar to the anxiety drop, I feel less under threat and more resilient no matter what occurs.

Openness to experience…… (93) — 95

I am extremely high in openness to experience, and increasingly so over the past seven years. Openness is a broad, diffuse personality dimension with many seemingly different facets. In general, highly open people like various new experiences, whether physical, emotional, intellectual, or cultural.

The six facets of openness are:

Imagination………… (15) — 14

I have very low imagination and therefore tend not to use it too much to escape reality or daydream.

This has continued to decrease over time. I tend to stick more to the facts of a situation and how I can improve it than wistfully imagine that it will fix itself or that I will win the lottery.

Artistic Interests…… (69) — 71

I have high openness for art, music, culture and other aesthetic experiences.

This has been consistent over the years, especially my love of music, movies, good TV shows and reading.

Emotionality……… (89) — 90

My attunement to my own and others’ emotions are very high. Whereas cheerfulness and excitement seeking (facets of extraversion) capture my propensity to feel positive emotions and neuroticism capture my propensity to feel negative emotions, emotionality refers to my overall openness to/desire to truly feel emotions.

This has improved a lot since 2011, and regular mindfulness meditation has helped a lot.

Adventurousness…… (90) — 95

I prefer very high amounts of variety and new experiences in my life and have a very high openness to new experiences.

This has increased even more over the last 15 months and comes out in my love of travel, learning new things, and taking on new challenges.

Intellect…………… (90) — 89

My desire to play with ideas, reflect on philosophical concepts, and have deep discussions is very high.

I love to read widely and am willing to have interesting conversations about anything, even if they disagree with my viewpoint. Learning about different cultures and their different expectations and belief systems is especially interesting to me and something I look forward to doing more of in the future.

Liberalism………… (97) — 97

My political liberalism is extremely high, and my political conservatism is extremely low. I desire progressive change.

I fully believe that everyone should be free to live the right life for themselves as long as it doesn’t harm others. Therefore, I believe that governments should help guide people to make healthier choices but still allow them to do what they want.

Which Areas Changed the Most?

The two factors that changed the most were extraversion (26 percentile point increase) and neuroticism (16 percentile point decrease) over the past 15 months. The biggest facet changes for extraversion were an improvement in gregariousness (35 point increase), friendliness (30 points) and assertiveness (21 points). The biggest facet changes for neuroticism were a reduction in vulnerability (31 point decrease), self-consciousness (21 points) and anxiousness (19 points).

I also became less modest (27 point decrease), more self-disciplined (20 point increase), more self-efficacious (15 points), and more moral (14 points).

Which Areas Stayed the Same?

The other three factors barely changed, including Conscientiousness (a 4 point increase), Openness to Experience (a 2 point increase) and Agreeableness (a 1 point increase).

Only two facets didn’t change at all — co-operation and liberalism (both very high). Trust, dutifulness, anger, depression, imagination, emotionality, and intellect only changed one percentile point, and four other facets changed less than five percentile points.

In all, 18 facets changed less than 10 percentile points from 15 months ago, and 12 changed more than 10 percentile points.

What do I recommend?

If you have been trying to change something for a long time and haven’t been able to, maybe it is worth seeing if you can accept and embrace this quality about yourself, or if you can at least see some of the positives that come with it.

If there are things about yourself that you would like to improve, seek out people who seem to do these things well, and learn from them what you can. If you don’t have anyone in your life who represents these qualities, a book, Youtube and many other online resources are now available to help give you the skills, knowledge, motivation, perseverance and ongoing support that is required for successful long-term change.

I’ve either accepted or changed many things about myself over the past seven years and am now much happier with the person I am. I wish you all the same too.

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

Can Your Personality Type Change Across Time?

I tried out a new personality test website the other day called 16 personalities. I came up as an Advocate or an INFJ-A. This is a Myers-Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI) type personality test for those who aren’t familiar with the letters:

  • The I means I am an introvert (63%) more than an extrovert (37%) and can “get exhausted by social interactions”. It also means that I recharge my energy through solitary activities.
  • The N means I am intuitive (58%) rather than sensing or observant (42%) and that I am “very imaginative, open-minded and curious”. Intuitive individuals “prefer novelty over stability and focus on hidden meanings and future possibilities”.
  • The F means that I am feeling (72%) rather than thinking (28%) and am “sensitive and emotionally expressive”. Feeling individuals are “more empathic and less competitive than Thinking types, focusing on social harmony and co-operation”.
  • The J means that I am judging (60%) rather than perceiving or prospecting (40%). This means that I “approach work, planning and decision making” in a “decisive, thorough, and highly organised” way. Judging individuals “value clarity, predictability and closure, preferring structure and planning to spontaneity”.
  • The A means that I am assertive (65%) rather than turbulent (35%). Assertive individuals are “self-assured, even-tempered and resistant to stress. They refuse to worry too much and do not push themselves too hard when it comes to achieving goals”.

HOW HAS MY PERSONALITY CHANGED OVER THE YEARS?

Interestingly, I have taken the MBTI on several occasions and have achieved very different results. Way back before I sought any personal therapy, about 10 years ago, I was an ENTJ, which is a Commander. This does not seem to fit me anymore, but it did back then when I was much more competitive and egotistical. I was young and thought I had it all figured out. My father called me “un-coachable” when he was my basketball coach for 2 seasons, which isn’t great news. It might explain why I have one of the ugliest jump shots going around and no range from outside the key.

I became an ENFJ when I took the test about 5 years ago, which is sometimes referred to as a Protagonist. It meant that I was still an extrovert, but I had switched from thinking to a feeling subtype. Interestingly, this doesn’t seem to fit me too much anymore, as I really don’t try to lead others. Instead, I try to help them understand themselves and become the person they want to be, not who I think they should be.

IS IT WORTH COMPLETING A PERSONALITY TEST?

Normally, I’ve been fairly dismissive of the MBTI, as it doesn’t have much scientific evidence supporting it. However, the description of the Advocate personality type on the 16personalities website was creepily spot on in some regards for me, including:

INFJs are not idle dreamers, but people capable of taking concrete steps to realize their goals and make a lasting positive impact.”

INFJs tend to see helping others as their purpose in life, but while people with this personality type can be found engaging rescue efforts and doing charity work, their real passion is to get to the heart of the issue so that I need not rescue people at all.

It makes sense that their friends and colleagues will come to think of them as quiet Extraverted types, but they would all do well to remember that INFJs need time alone to decompress and recharge and not to become too alarmed when they suddenly withdraw.

The passion of their convictions is perfectly capable of carrying them past their breaking point, and if their zeal gets out of hand, they can find themselves exhausted, unhealthy and stressed.

One of the things INFJs find most important is establishing genuine, deep connections with the people they care about.

There is a running theme with INFJs, and that is a yearning for authenticity and sincerity — in their activities, their romantic relationships, and their friendships.

INFJs seek out people who share their passions, interests and ideologies, people with whom they can explore philosophies and subjects that they believe are truly meaningful.

“People with the INFJ personality type make loyal and supportive companions, encouraging growth and life-enriching experiences with warmth, excitement and care.

“INFJs don’t require a great deal of day-to-day attention — for them, quality trumps quantity every time.

First and foremost, INFJs need to find meaning in their work, to know that they are helping and connecting with people. This desire to help and connect makes careers in healthcare, especially the more holistic varieties, advantageous for INFJs — roles as counsellors, psychologists, doctors, life coaches and spiritual guides are all attractive options.

INFJs crave creativity too, the ability to use their insight to connect events and situations, effecting real change in others’ lives personally.

INFJs often pursue expressive careers such as writing, elegant communicators that they are, and author many popular blogs, stories and screenplays. Music, photography, design and art are viable options too, and they all can focus on deeper themes of personal growth, morality and spirituality.

Other people may disagree with me, but these quotes were consistent with how I’d like to see myself and what I truly value in life.

RECOMMENDATION

If you’ve never taken an MBTI personality test before, check it out at 16personalities.com and let me know if it was as accurate for you as it was for me. If you’ve already taken it, I’d love to hear about if it has changed over time and if your description now feels more accurate than how it defined you in the past?

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

How Do You Deal With Your Problems?

Throughout my schooling years, I was a horrible procrastinator. I would leave everything to the last minute, sometimes even having to take a day off high school to finish an assignment that was meant to be due that day.

Once I got to university, I couldn’t do this anymore, as the due date remained the same whether I went to classes or not. So I would instead consume a lot of energy drinks the night before an assignment was due and generally do the majority of the assignment in an anxious, tense and sleep-deprived state, printing it out and submitting it 20 minutes before the deadline.

Exams were the same. I’d miss classes, not pay attention when I was there, and then try to cram an entire semester’s contents into the last 4 days before an exam. I would lock myself in my room and study up to 12 hours a day, only leaving for toilet breaks and something to eat until I was utterly exhausted. Luckily, I have a knack for remembering vast amounts of information in short periods of time, so I always passed, but it wasn’t easy or fun.

I sometimes tried to start early but never found this effective, as the negative consequences seemed far away. So eventually, I figured I would follow the mantra, “if you leave everything to the last minute, it only takes a minute”. This mantra actually helped me fit a lot of things into my life by being more efficient, but it did have its limitations.

Once I got to my Doctorate of Clinical Psychology degree at Monash University, I was suddenly faced with the prospect of having to do a 70,000-word thesis that was meant to take 3.5 years to do. How could I possibly cram something so big, especially when it consisted of making a research proposal, ethics application, recruiting participants, conducting a clinical trial, collating all the results, running data analysis and writing up the thesis and journal articles? It turns out I couldn’t.

The thesis ended up taking me 4 years to complete, and there wasn’t too much of it that I enjoyed. Moreover, it required a direct challenge of my usual defence mechanisms, which was no easy feat, especially because I didn’t know what they were. I knew that I had always procrastinated with my studies, but I was never entirely sure why.

What Are Your Defence Mechanisms?

Fortunately, a fun test over at personalityassessor.com on coping styles’ titled ‘How Do You Deal?’ helped me identify which defence mechanisms I typically used. So if you are interested in knowing what yours are, I definitely recommend taking it.

It is a bit time-consuming as there are 2 parts and over 200 questions, but I like this questionnaire so much because it is tough to fudge the test to get desirable results. This is because the survey doesn’t have face validity, and therefore doesn’t appear to measure how much someone engages in a particular defence mechanism. Two examples of questions are:

“I am bothered by stomach acid several times per week” or

“It is annoying to listen to a lecturer who cannot seem to make up his mind as to what he really believes”.

I’m not sure which defence mechanisms these questions are tapping into or if the correct answer is true or false. However, previous research has shown that specific patterns of responses on the questionnaire are quite good at identifying people who regularly use 10 common defence mechanisms, including repression, displacement, denial, regression, projection, reaction formation, intellectualisation, rationalisation, isolation and doubt. My results were astonishing to me.

My Defence Mechanisms

I first took the ‘How Do You Deal?’ questionnaire in February 2013. I had just finished a year-long practical internship at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, and I found supporting individuals with cancer really rewarding and meaningful, but also quite challenging as I had lost a dear friend to cancer when I was 21. In addition, I wanted to finish my thesis by July but was falling way behind, and I was also a month away from getting married and moving in with my then fiancé. So I had many big changes coming up, and I was both stressed and scared about how everything would go.

Here are my February 2013 results, alongside the descriptions of these defence mechanisms given by the personality assessor website:

1. Denial — 94th percentile — extremely high

Denial is a defense mechanism where people avoid thinking about problems, or even pretend like their problems don’t exist. For example, someone might deny that they have a drug problem. Or someone might deny that they’re currently having conflict in their romantic relationship.

Since denial can be subconscious, people who use denial might honestly believe that their problems don’t exist!

2. Isolation — 91st percentile — extremely high

Isolation is a defense mechanism where people compartmentalize their thoughts and feelings so that their thoughts don’t affect their feelings.

Isolation differs from denial. Using denial, a person with a drug problem might refuse to even see that they have a drug problem. Using isolation, a person with a drug problem would acknowledge they have a problem, but would not let the fact they have a problem affect their feelings. If intellectualization is all about staying in your head to avoid your heart, isolation is about keeping your head and your heart separate.

3. Displacement — 81st percentile — very high

Displacement occurs when we “take out” our frustrations on someone/something else. For example, imagine that you hate your boss. It might have dire consequences if you expressed your hate toward your boss. So, if you displaced those feelings, you might go home and yell at your family.

This is different than projection. In projection, we don’t see our own feelings — we see them in other people (e.g., I am not angry, my boss is). In displacement, however, we still “own” our feelings (e.g., I am angry) but we “take out” those feelings on the wrong target (e.g., angry at boss, but kick dog instead of boss).

4. Regression — 73rd percentile — high

Regression is a defense mechanism where people essentially start acting or thinking like a child. The idea is that when life feels too overwhelming or our problems feel too big, that we regress to an earlier, easier time when other people (our parents) used to take care of us. As such, regression can include:

* desiring for other people to take care of your problems for you

* acting dependent on other people

* acting like a child (e.g., temper tantrums)

* refusing to take responsibility for your actions

5. Doubt — 72nd percentile — high

The defense mechanism of doubt occurs when people doubt their senses or thought processes when they encounter problems. For example, imagine a good friend tells you they don’t really like you. You might utilize the defense mechanism of doubt by thinking “I must have misunderstood what they meant.”

Doubt is kind of like a mixture of denial, intellectualization, and rationalization. Doubt lets us deny that our problems are real (or avoid making big decisions we’re afraid of) by questioning our ability to accurately see the world and make good decisions. In contrast to denial, when people use doubt, they are aware of their problems on some level.

6. Rationalization — 68th percentile — high

Rationalization is when people excuse their actions with usually irrational false explanations. For example, if someone binges and eats an entire large pizza, they might think “Well, the food was going to waste anyway! I might as well have eaten it.”

Rationalization is kind of like a mixture of denial and intellectualization. Essentially, rationalization allows people to “explain away” their problems (usually bad habits, personal flaws, etc.) with a superficially valid explanation. The biggest difference between rationalization and intellectualization is that intellectualization is used to avoid feelings, whereas rationalization is used to avoid seeing our own personal flaws.

7. Intellectualisation — 64th percentile — high

Intellectualization occurs when people avoid painful feelings by thinking oftentimes inappropriate impersonal thoughts. For example, if someone’s pet dies, they might think, “Pets die every day. Why should I be upset?”

Basically, the idea is that people who use intellectualization minimize their problems — or at least their feelings — and avoid the pain in their hearts by staying lodged solidly in their heads.

8. Projection — 47th percentile — about average

Projection occurs when we project our own thoughts and feelings onto other people. For example, you might really hate your boss. If you used the defense mechanism of projection, you might be unaware of your own feelings toward your boss, but instead think your boss hated you. This defense mechanism would allow you to deny your feelings and, in turn, believe that any conflict between you and your boss is your boss’s fault (not yours).

Projection basically lets us believe that are problems aren’t really ours — they’re someone else’s!

9. Repression — 37th percentile — low

Repression occurs when people push down or block-out memories or desires that they feel are threatening. For example, someone might repress painful childhood memories and try to not think about them. As another example, someone might repress their attraction to a friend that they fear wouldn’t reciprocate their interest.

Repression is similar to denial, but slightly different. Denial is about convincing yourself that your problems don’t exist. Repression is about blocking out part of yourself — memories or desires, usually — perhaps to avoid creating a problem!

10. Reaction formation — 15th percentile — very low

Reaction formation is a fascinating defense mechanism where we do the opposite of what we really want to do. For example, imagine you are very attracted to another person. If, for some reason that attraction is a problem (e.g., you are married, they are married, etc.), you might start to feel the opposite toward them — you may think they are disgusting and/or actively dislike them.

Reaction formation allows you to avoid your problems — and also creates a buffer to ensure you avoid your problems. In the example above, you’re not merely repressing your attraction toward the other person — you’re actually feeling negative feelings toward them. These negative feelings will ensure the attraction doesn’t resurface.

Seeing that my marriage ended up being far worse than I had predicted, I maybe should have paid attention to these results a bit more, especially my denial and doubt scores.

It did help with the writing up of my thesis. I stopped trying to avoid the problem, started coming into the lab from 9 am — 5 pm every weekday regardless of how I felt and began making some real and consistent progress without cramming for the first time in my life. I finished a full draft of my thesis by September 2013, started working as a Psychologist in private practice shortly after that, and submitted the final copy of my thesis for examination in February 2014.

Have My Defence Mechanisms Improved?

I retook the ‘How Do You Deal?’ questionnaire at the end of April 2017. I now live a life that is much more consistent with the experiences I want to have rather than what society says that I should be doing. I believe that I am a lot happier and in the best place that I have ever been psychologically. But have my defence mechanisms actually changed?

Defence Mechanisms 2013 2017
Denial 94th percentile 75th percentile
Isolation 91st percentile 92nd percentile
Displacement 81st percentile 77th percentile
Regression  73rd percentile 68th percentile
Doubt 72nd percentile 64th percentile
Rationalisation 68th percentile 53rd percentile
Intellectualisation 64th percentile 18th percentile
Projection 47th percentile 56th percentile
Repression 37th percentile 20th percentile
Reaction formation 15th percentile 9th percentile

As you can see, eight of my results had improved, with denial dropping 19 percentile points and losing its position as my most used defence mechanism. This is great, as I am now more aware of my issues and can actually do something about them.

My most noticeable improvement was my reduction in intellectualising things, but I also repress things much less than I used to, rationalise my actions less, and doubt myself less too. This means that I am now turning into what I feel and need more, not just remaining in my head. By understanding and accepting my emotions rather than avoiding them or explaining them away, it really does make it easier to know what action I need to take. Regular journaling, mindfulness and therapy have definitely helped me to create these changes. So has being more honest and authentic with others.

The two defence mechanism scores that have increased are projection and isolation. The increase in projection isn’t helpful, as this means I could be externalising some problems rather than taking responsibility for my role in creating them. The high isolation score isn’t so bad, though, as separating my head and heart is something that I have worked on to make sure that I am making decisions in line with my values and not my fears going forward. If this never changes, that will be fine by me.

Can We Change How We Deal With Problems?

It’s not possible to completely avoid engaging in defence mechanisms. We all have different coping methods, and many of these coping styles are developed in childhood and modelled on what everyone else in our family did.

However, some defence mechanisms are more helpful than others, and they can change in time with deliberate practice. Head researcher of the Grant longitudinal study, George Vaillant, has separated defence mechanisms into immature, intermediate and mature defences. Acting out, projection, passive-aggressive behaviour, and denial are considered immature. Reaction formation, repression and displacement are intermediate defences. Mature defences include:

  1. humour: seeing the funny side of things,
  2. sublimation: channelling difficult emotions into something prosocial and constructive,
  3. anticipation: planning for upcoming situations that might be challenging,
  4. suppression: not reacting to your feelings or letting them show if this would interfere with you achieving your goals, and
  5. altruism: deriving pleasure from helping others.

A 2013 study by Malone and colleagues found that men who used more mature defence mechanisms between 47 and 63 years of age had better health between 70 and 80. This was mostly because the people who regularly engaged in more mature defence mechanisms had better social support and stronger interpersonal connections than individuals who used immature defence mechanisms (Malone et al., 2013).

If you want to build up healthier coping strategies, understanding which defences you currently use is a great place to start. The best way to do this apart from taking the ‘How Do You Deal?’ questionnaire is consulting with a therapist, especially a psychologist or a psychiatrist trained in psychoanalysis or psychodynamic psychotherapy. Friends and family might be able to point out some potential defence mechanisms that you use, but I think it is better to get this feedback from professionally trained and impartial. They can then help you replace these defences with more mature and adaptive coping strategies to have more supportive relationships and better long-term health and well-being.

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

What if You Could Change Your Attachment Style?

In my top 40 recommended psychology books, I put the 2012 title, ‘Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment, and How It Can Help You Find — and Keep — Love’ by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller in there; thanks to its Amazon.com star rating of 4.6/5.

Attachment styles research is an area that I’ve been fascinated in since I first learnt about it in year 11 psychology class. If you are interested in learning more about it, I recommend checking the book out, as our attachment styles tend to have a much more significant impact on how we are in intimate relationships than most people are aware of.

What Are Attachment Styles?

Attachment styles are initially developed in the context of our relationship with our primary caregiver growing up. This is usually the mother, but it can be the father, guardian, or potentially even a nanny in other cases.

Almost all children can usually be categorised as having one of four attachment styles based on how they respond to the strange situation test, initially designed and researched by Mary Ainsworth in 1969. They can be considered to have a secure attachment, an ambivalent insecure attachment, an avoidance insecure attachment, or a disorganised attachment.

In the strange situation procedure, an infant between the ages of 9 and 18 months is placed in a room with some toys for 21 minutes and is observed playing through a two-way mirror while the primary caregiver and a stranger enter and leave the room. Ainsworth used this situation to recreate what may happen in a normal infant’s life to observe their typical reactions.

The strange situation procedure went as follows:

  1. The primary caregiver and infant enter the room.
  2. The infant explores the room while the caregiver watches but doesn’t play with the infant.
  3. A stranger enters and talks with the caregiver, then approaches the infant. Caregiver leaves while this occurs without saying goodbye.
  4. The stranger tries to engage with the infant.
  5. The primary caregiver then returns and greets and comforts the infant. Stranger leaves.
  6. The caregiver leaves again, and the infant is alone.
  7. The stranger comes back in and tries to interact with the infant.
  8. The primary caregiver then comes back in, greets and picks up the infant, and the stranger leaves.

What is worth looking at during this process is how the infant interacts with the new environment and toys in the room, how they associate with the stranger, and how the infant reacts to when the primary caregiver leaves the room (departures) and comes back in to greet or soothe the infant (reunions). These responses are very predictive of what attachment style the infant has and what attachment style the primary caregiver may have.

Attachment styles are not set in stone, and they can change over time, but like most things I write about, gaining an awareness of your own attachment style is a crucial first step before you try to look at how you can improve it.

A Secure Attachment

Infants securely attached to their primary caregiver will be willing to explore a new room when they enter it. They will turn around and check-in with their parent from time to time as they are their “secure base”. They may even come back if they are starting to feel too scared or overwhelmed, as their parents are their “safe haven” and help them calm down emotionally and physically when they are distressed. Once they feel calm and safe again, which may be very quickly, they will then go back out and explore once more.

The secure infant will engage with the stranger when the primary caregiver is there but might be warier when alone with the stranger and could become upset when the parent leaves, but can calm themselves down after a little bit. However, they are thrilled to see their primary caregiver once they return and will be responsive to their communication and interactions.

Essentially, a secure child feels that their primary caregiver will meet their needs appropriately and responsively, and they learn to turn to them when they need it and do things by themselves when they do not. It is the ideal attachment style for learning, developing skills, and forming and establishing healthy, long-term relationships.

In intimate relationships, being securely attached is ideal. It means that you enjoy being close and intimate with your partner when they are there and are happy to do your own thing when they are not. You feel comfortable opening up to them or talking to them about your feelings or concerns, and feel comfortable helping your partner out with their issues too. As a result, relationships seem relatively natural to you, and you are more likely to have a happy, long-term relationship.

An Anxious/Ambivalent Insecure Attachment

Infants who are anxious or resistant are usually this way due to unpredictably responsive caregiving, where sometimes their caregiver is too full-on, sometimes they are appropriately responsive, and other times they are not responsive. As a result of these inconsistencies, the infant usually amplifies their emotional needs to try and get them met on a more regular basis.

Anxiously attached infants are distressed even before the separation in the strange situation procedure, do not like to explore the area or interact with the stranger, show resentment for being left alone and are quite clingy and unable to calm down or be comforted easily once the parent returns.

In intimate relationships, being anxiously attached is tough. It means that you love being close with your partner but find it quite difficult to be apart, often fearing that they don’t care or that they will stop loving you or will be unfaithful towards you when they are not around. As a result, you tend to become preoccupied with fears of abandonment, especially in times of high stress. You may inadvertently push your partners away by making them feel like they don’t have enough independence or that you don’t trust them enough.

An Avoidance Insecure Attachment

Infants who have this style will try to ignore or avoid the primary caregiver in a strange situation. They outwardly show little emotion during departures and reunions with the caregiver, and they will also not explore too much regardless of who is in the room.

Ignoring or turning away from the primary caregiver is actually a mask for internal distress. Heart rate and other physiological responses are similar to that of the anxiously attached infants upon the separation from their primary caregiver. It seems to be that these infants want to be comforted when distressed, but over time try to suppress their emotional needs because their parents are not attuned or responsive to their distress or able to meet their needs in ways that would help them. As a result, they try to pull away, keep to themselves, and show the world they don’t have any needs.

As an adult, having an avoidant attachment is also tricky for intimate relationships. It means that you are likely to value independence and freedom a lot and tend to feel smothered or trapped if you spend too much time with your partner. As a result, you will push partners away, especially if they are demanding or needy. You are also likely to not share enough of your own emotional needs or desires with your partner and may resent them for expressing these things to you.

Two avoidantly attached individuals may seem like they could have a good relationship together. Still, often there is “not enough glue to keep them together”, and they fade further apart from each other over time.

A Disorganised Attachment

There is a fourth attachment style known as fearful or disorganised. This was later identified by one of Ainsworth’s graduate students, Mary Main. The infant flips between signs that they are overwhelmed with a “flooded attachment system” and desperation strategies. This is often a consequence of significant trauma, as the infant has not established a reliable coping mechanism. For example, they want to be close to their primary caregiver, but they are also terrified of being close to them.

Adults with a disorganised attachment who have been through a complicated relationship with their parents or guardians will find it tough to initiate and maintain a healthy and happy intimate relationship when they are older. They will often vacillate between feeling trapped and smothered and wanting freedom one minute and then worrying about how they would ever cope if they lost their partner the next. Their behaviour and strong emotional reactions can confuse both an individual with a disorganised attachment and the people they date.

But How Do I Find Out What Attachment Style I Have?

If you aren’t too sure what attachment style you have based on the descriptions above or from reflecting on your experience as a child or in intimate relationships, you can also take a free online test to find out. I have taken the test titled “Your Actual and Ideal Attachment Styles” at personalityassessor.com on three occasions now. The first time was on the 22nd of October 2014, back when I was still married, the 12th of April 2017, when I had just bought an apartment, and the 12th of August 2018, 4 days before I was about to leave everyone in my life in Australia to move to Vanuatu for 2 years.

Can Attachment Styles Change Over Time?

These are the results from the three attachment style surveys that I took, followed by the description included in my 2018 results at the personality assessor website:

Attachment Anxiety:

  • 2014 = 13th percentile — very low
  • 2017 = 3rd percentile — extremely low
  • 2018 = 2nd percentile — extremely low

You are currently extremely low in attachment anxiety. People extremely low in attachment anxiety tend to desire extremely low levels of closeness in their relationships, and also experience extremely low concerns about rejection and abandonment.

You’ve decreased a lot in Attachment Anxiety over time.

The decreases that you have experienced in Attachment Anxiety have been extremely consistent over time.

You indicated that you would like to stay the same with respect to attachment anxiety. Researchers believe that most people want to decrease at least a little bit in attachment anxiety.

Attachment Avoidance:

  • 2014 = 89th percentile — extremely high
  • 2017 = 47th percentile — about average
  • 2018 = 52nd percentile — about average

You are currently about average in attachment avoidance. People about average in attachment avoidance tend to desire about average levels of independence in their relationships, and they tend to experience about average levels of comfort with depending on romantic partners and opening up to them.

You’ve decreased an extreme amount in Attachment Avoidance over time.

The decreases that you have experienced in Attachment Avoidance have been consistent over time.

You indicated that you would like to decrease with respect to attachment avoidance. Researchers believe that most people want to become a little less avoidant.

My Attachment Style

Based on the 2014 finding, I had an avoidant attachment style. That makes a lot of sense to me and is how I have typically been in most relationships. I was also a pretty quiet and anxious child growing up and kept to myself a lot even though I really valued and craved for a solid relationship where it was possible to feel connected and have a sense of belonging without losing my sense of self in the relationship. I’ve always struggled to show this to the other person, however, and often got accused of not caring enough in the relationships that I have been in.

While I can definitely see my part in the unhealthy relationships I have been in; I also have tended to get involved with females who exhibited an anxious attachment, which only worsened the issue. If things go well in an avoidant/anxious relationship, which they usually do at the start, the quality of the relationship can feel great. Both of you are getting your relational needs met (maybe for the first time), and it is exciting and fun and nice. Once one person becomes distressed is when the problems begin, however, and they often do.

Before 2015 had a big tendency to shut down emotionally whenever I was overwhelmed or distressed, focus on getting through what I needed to do practically, and minimise my emotional needs. It was classic avoidance attachment behaviour. However, this pulling away causes distress in someone with an anxious attachment, and they would then amplify their emotional needs in response to the greater perceived distance in the relationship. For example, they may have feared abandonment and protested that I didn’t care or needed to give them more so that they would feel secure. I would then feel more overwhelmed and trapped and pull away further to calm myself down. An anxiously attached person would feel even more insecure and distressed and try to protest further. This vicious cycle often played out and escalated, maybe with brief interludes, until the relationship ended, usually in a not so pleasant way.

Based on my 2017 and 2018 findings, it says that I would now be considered to have a secure attachment style:

Your prototypical attachment style is secure. Securely attached individuals enjoy being close with others, and form new friendships easily. They usually desire moderate levels of involvement in their close relationships.

This is good to see because I still feel more avoidant in my attachment than I would like to be. Still, my avoidance is now considered average, and my anxiety is extremely low. Comparatively speaking, I am still much more avoidant than anxious regarding relationships but securely attached overall. I hope that if I keep working on it, I can continue to bring my avoidance down further in the future.

How Do We Improve Our Attachment Style?

Occasional conflict is inevitable in any relationship. However, being in a relationship with someone with a secure attachment will help you get through difficulties in life and your relationship, no matter your age or attachment style.

  • If you have a secure attachment, it is likely to be pretty easy for you to have a happy relationship.
  • If you have an avoidant attachment, a secure partner can give you the space you need when you need it without getting annoyed at you or demanding more.
  • If you are anxious, a secure partner can sit with your distress and hear you out until you have calmed down and met your emotional needs.
  • If you are disorganised, a secure partner will also try to help you work through and make sense of whatever you are feeling and give you what you need, whether that is more space, a calming presence or greater closeness.

In time, a relationship with someone who is securely attached can help you become securely attached.

If you have had similar difficulties in multiple romantic relationships, think that you may be avoidant or anxious in your attachment style, or are securely attached but are in a romantic relationship with someone who you feel may be avoidant or anxiously attached, I hope that this information has been helpful to you.

An understanding of your own and others’ attachment styles really could stop you from falling into the same relationship traps and give you a much better chance to have a long, happy and healthy relationship from now on.

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

The 5 Lessons I Discovered From Being Kind

On January 1st, 2018 we kickstarted our Deliberately Better movement.

Along with other passionate and driven allied health professionals, we aimed to highlight the various ways that people can choose to act if they wish to scientifically improve their health and well-being.

In January, we aimed to engage in a random act of kindness each day.

This was a fun experiment, and I tried to make a video of my acts of kindness every second day, which I was mostly successful with:

  • On day 4, I supported a friend on a hang gliding expedition

  • On day 6, I spent some quality time with my dad and played a round of golf with him

  • On day 8, I donated some spare change to the Royal Children’s Hospital

  • On day 12, I bought a copy of the big issue to support a rough sleeper
  • On day 14, we left a big tip at a restaurant that stayed open for us

  • On day 16, I donated plasma to the red cross blood bank

  • On day 18, I topped up some stranger’s parking meters

  • On day 20, I donated some clothes to charity
  • On day 22, I supported an organisation that was trying to raise money to protect a wilderness area in Tasmania
  • On day 24, I proofread a book that my friend had written and wanted to publish
  • On day 28, I went and played a beach volleyball tournament with my sister.

  • On day 30, I handed out bottles of water to people who were homeless around Melbourne.

Even though it was weird to film and promote the acts of kindness that I engaged in, the month really did teach me a few valuable lessons. These are:

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  1. Trying to be kind to others feels good

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2. Viewing or hearing about others acts of kindness feels great

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3. Hearing about or seeing others acts of kindness encourages people to be kinder too

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4. Trying to be kind to others can improve social anxiety

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5. Trying to be kind to others can enhance energy levels and physical health

To assess changes in how I felt from the beginning to the end of the month of kindness, I completed the Positive and Negative Affect Scale (PANAS), as developed by Watson, Clark and Tellegen (1988). This scale has two 10-item scales; one for positive affect and one for negative affect.

If you would like to assess your levels, please answer from 1 to 5 on the following questions for how much you have felt this way recently:

1 = very slightly or not at all

2 = a little

3 = moderately

4 = quite a bit

5 = extremely

Positive affect items:

_______ active

_______ alert

_______ attentive

_______ determined

_______ enthusiastic

_______ excited

_______ inspired

_______ interested

_______ proud

_______ strong

Negative affect items:

_______ afraid

_______ scared

_______ nervous

_______ jittery

_______ hostile

_______ guilty

_______ ashamed

_______ upset

_______ distressed

If you want to compare your scores to previous norms, first add up your totals for your positive affect and negative affect.

A 1989 study of 815 Detroit adults by Quinn found an average for positive affect of 36.0. For negative affect, the average was 18.2 (Quinn, 1989).

In 1993, an unpublished study by Wilkinson found an average of 33.5 for positive affect in 114 adult men and 33.9 in 115 adult women. For negative affect, it was 14.2 for the men and 15.5 for the women (Wilkinson, 1993).

What I find interesting about these findings is that US adults report both higher positive and higher negative affect, indicating that they may be more expressive (and more aware) of their emotions than Australians.

My score for positive affect before the kindness challenge was a 32, which was below the norms for both Australian and US adults. Given that I was feeling exhausted by the end of 2017, this makes sense to me. Extraverts are more likely to experience higher levels of positive affect also, and I would consider myself more of an ambivert.

After a month of kindness, this score had shot up to 41, which was more than one standard deviation higher than the norm for Australian men, and much higher than the average for US adults too.

My negative affect was less impacted by my acts of kindness, however, with my score remaining at 16 at both the start and the end of the month. I was slightly less irritable by the end of the month, but I was also a little bit more afraid, and this could have been due to the videos that I was putting up.

Either way, I seem to experience slightly more negative emotions than the average 1993 Australian, and somewhat less than the average 1989 individual from Detroit.

My experiment with being kinder didn’t solve all of my problems, but it did help me to take a few risks, challenge myself, put myself out there more, grow as a result, and hopefully put a few smiles on some people’s faces. That is enough for me, for now.

2018 DELIBERATELY BETTER AGENDA:


* In February, we gave up or cut down on something that was having a negative impact on our quality of life.
* In March, we focused on our diets and looked at what were the most effective ways to lose weight or get into the best shape of your life.
* In April, we looked into the different habits of high performers and how they improve their skills and become as effective as they are at what they do.
* In May, we’ll be looking at how to hijack your hormones and get in control of your sleep, metabolism and energy.
* In June, we’ll be checking out the latest and greatest developments in health and wellness literature, and passing on the top tips from the fields of medicine, psychology, neuroscience, behavioural economics, fitness and nutrition.
* In July, we’ll be exploring the benefits of minimalism, looking at ways to develop and stick to a budget, how to financially plan for the future, how to cut back on spending, how to create passive income streams, and the top tips for investing in or trading on the stock market.
* In August, we’ll be getting into the gym and out onto the track to explore how to bulk up, shred down, get ripped and be the most physically capable than you have ever been in your life.
* In September, we’ll be looking at the latest trends in health technology, and exploring the various options that you have if you want to improve your psychological and physical well-being.
* In October, we’ll be focusing on how to stress less, and sharing the latest tips to calm down quickly if you are distressed and want to live a more relaxed lifestyle in general.
* In November, We’ll be trying something new, and looking at the multitude of benefits that novelty can play in our lives.
* Last, but not least, in December, we’ll be taking stock of the year, reviewing what worked and what didn’t, and cultivating gratitude for all of the fantastic things in our lives.

Thanks,

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

Can You Improve Your Sleep By Going to a Sleep Retreat?

Just the other week, I was featured in the Daily Telegraph and the Herald Sun on sleep retreats. It was weird because I had been planning on running some sleep retreats but hadn’t yet. Stranger still, I hadn’t told anyone about my idea yet, and it was the first article that I have been mentioned in that I am aware of without being interviewed or asked for permission first.

In the article, the first recommended retreat was Golden Door in the Hunter Valley, NSW. From what others had told me about it, it is generally known as a well-being retreat rather than a sleep retreat.

An excellent Sleep Physician that I work with at the Melbourne Sleep Disorders Centre, Dr David Cunnington, did inform me that he often goes up there on weekends to be a guest speaker on sleep difficulties and how to improve them. He asked if I wanted to accompany him one time. I willingly obliged.

We flew up to Newcastle on Friday the 18th of May just after midday, drove an hour from the airport to the Hunter Valley, and settled into our rooms just before 4 pm. It was a charming private villa, with my own balcony with a view, a long couch to relax on, a nice big bathtub to relax in, and my own king bed to sleep in. And that was just the room.

The main building where the reception was consisted of a huge golden door opening up to steps and a waterfall running through the building. A chef was on-site to prepare healthy meals for everyone for breakfast, lunch and dinner (no red meat or processed carbs, no caffeine and no alcohol). Not to mention a day spa offering five pages of treatments, an indoor pool for deep water running or lap swimming, an outdoor pool for relaxing, a steam room and spa, a yoga studio, indoor basketball court, a huge gym, two tennis courts and even a table tennis table.

I wanted to get to it all but remembered that this was a perfect opportunity to switch off, relax, and unwind. So instead of participating in the afternoon activities on Friday, I decided to run myself a hot bath, listen to an audiobook, and rest until dinner time.

Golden door seemed to attract an eclectic mix of people, from stressed executives, burned-out executive assistants, and people needing a career, family or relationship break or change. Everyone was friendly and welcoming, and most obliged with wearing their name tags across the weekend, making it easier to approach and ask people what brought them to Golden Door and what they were hoping to get out of it.

The staff were fantastic too, often mingling with the guests at meal times and participating in as many activities as possible. After dinner, at about 7 pm, those interested went for a leisurely walk and stopped to lie back and stare up at the stars. Living in the heart of Melbourne, this is an opportunity that I don’t often get, and I relished just looking up without feeling like I had to rush off and do something else.

After the walk, we headed back to our private villas, where I continued to try to stay away from bright screens. Instead, I did 10 minutes of meditation, listened to an audiobook while relaxing on the couch, and went off to bed once I felt sleepy.

On Saturday morning, I was awoken by a knock on the door, and a doorbell ringing at 6 am. If you don’t want this, you can put a do not disturb sign on the outside of the door, but it is to help people get up for the 6:30 am tai chi session up on meditation hill. I didn’t want my sleep to be over yet, but I managed to get dressed and strolled up the hill just as the sun rose across the Hunter Valley.

With 360 degree views of the valley, Meditation Hill is probably the most picturesque part of the Golden Door retreat (it’s all pretty nice, though). I’d never done tai chi before, but it wasn’t too bad, especially with the hot air balloons taking off for their flights from the valley below.

Following that, it was straight to the pool for some deep water running. I thought it would be some light aqua aerobics for oldies, but it was much more intense. Then there was breakfast and a 10km hike. Followed by tennis after lunch, and table tennis after that. Way more exercise than I expected to do, but I didn’t regret it. I then headed off to yin yoga, another activity I’d never tried before. I may have fallen asleep a little bit during this, but power naps are healthy for you.

A 50-minute deep tissue massage was next at the Elysium day spa. A bit pricey at $140, but it felt amazing after all of the activity I’d done, especially my calves. These treatments are optional, but quite a few guests seemed to be getting them.

David’s talk on sleep was after dinner. Then it was off to bed again. My second night of sleep was longer but not quite as deep as the first one.

When I compare it to how I slept two nights before the retreat and two nights after it, I can see that a wellness retreat really can improve your sleep on the nights you are there. This is because it gives you so many things that can help you to have a good night’s sleep, including:

  • Lots of physical activity during the day but not too late at night
  • A vast amount of morning sunlight helps entrain your circadian rhythms and wake you up for the day. This can also help you to fall asleep earlier that night.
  • Healthy food.
  • No caffeine.
  • No alcohol.
  • Plenty of activities to relax and unwind.
  • More time in nature with beautiful scenery and less time indoors looking at bright screens.
  • Opportunities for engaging conversation with friendly and welcoming people that are also wanting to improve their health.

It doesn’t offer clear guidelines or individual recommendations around sleep or how to keep improving it once you go home. For example, a 6 am wake-up call is perfect for some to help them not spend too long in bed. For others, it could cause anticipatory anxiety or lead to them putting too much pressure on themselves to get to sleep early the night before.

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

Are You Living the Life That You Want?

In 2016, I decided to take on the challenge of accountability. As a Clinical Psychologist, being accountable was all about evidence-based living — engaging as much as possible in thinking patterns and behaviours that have been shown to lead to a happier, more satisfying, higher quality of life.

The following were the five key areas that I highlighted in my ‘Do You Want to Be Deliberately Better?’ Article:

1. Tuning in rather than tuning out

2. Turning towards my values rather than away from my fears

3. Maintaining an ideal work/life balance

4. Writing things down rather than keeping things in

5. Developing a growth rather than a fixed mindset

I made this declaration public as I was aware that people’s desire to remain consistent meant that I would be more willing to follow through on these targets and achieve these goals. All of them were based on solid research and were expected to have a positive flow-on effect for my long-term psychological well-being in 2017 and beyond.

While I did make some progress in being more accountable to myself, especially with numbers 2, 4 and 5, I continued to struggle with numbers 1 and 3.

Part of the problem was that I’ve always wanted to be able to do everything, and I struggle at times to prioritise and separate what is essential to me from what is critical to others. The other part of the problem is that I was working too hard, not saying no to what I didn’t want to do enough, and not leaving adequate time for leisure and socialising or even personal growth, creativity and health.

I was often extraordinarily drained and fatigued by the end of the workweek. I would spend most of the weekend recovering and trying to catch up on chores and paperwork to avoid falling even further behind with administrative duties than I already was. I was also financially in debt even though I was working full-time, and I was stressed out.

Mainly, I didn’t have enough time or space to reflect on where I was or what I needed, and when I did, I still didn’t make the necessary changes to ensure that my life was consistent with how I wanted it to be.

It’s not just me

What seemed to help me a lot was reading the thought-provoking self-help book ‘Take time for your life’ by Cheryl Richardson. She highlights the seven common obstacles that people seem to face in living their best lives. These are:

  1. They generally have difficulty putting themselves first

  2. Their schedule does not reflect their priorities

  3. They feel drained by certain people or things

  4. They feel trapped for monetary reasons

  5. They are living on adrenalin

  6. They don’t have a supportive community in their life

  7. Their spiritual well-being comes last

I don’t know about everyone else, but I could check yes to all of these items except for number 6. I wasn’t spending as much time as I wanted with friends, but I felt well supported by them all when I did. As for the rest, I wondered, “How does she know me so well?” but then I realised how many people there are out there that must be falling into similar traps.

My aim for 2017 was to take time for my life.

Here’s how I’ve gone towards creating my ideal lifestyle so far:

  • I have moved into a fantastic apartment in the city where I am within easy access by bike, foot or public transport to all of my work, sport and leisure commitments.
  • I have begun regularly using the swimming pool, spa, sauna, and gym part of this unique apartment complex. As the gym here is excellent, I have saved by cancelling my external gym membership.
  • I have sold my car to avoid having to pay $70 a week for a car spot, not to mention the registration fees, car insurance, petrol, parking fees, fines, and depreciation in the car’s value. This also has the added benefits of never getting stuck in peak hour traffic and more walking and bike riding to get to places, which reduces the amount of time I need to set aside for these activities elsewhere.
  • I have started listening to audiobooks more whenever I am walking around the city by myself. This has resulted in me getting outdoors more, reading less inside, and opened up more time for other personal growth, leisure and social activities.
  • I have finished working at Mill Park and moved into the city for all of my workdays. This means that I can get up later in the morning on workdays and ride or walk or catch public transport to work no matter where I am.
  • I have cut down the days I see clients from 5 to 4, with Mondays now dedicated to maintenance, administration, health, creativity, and well-being. Because of this reduced workload, I am less stressed and more energetic. I am currently up to date with all of my administrative duties, paperwork, and continued professional development for the first time in 3 years.
  • This has also helped me enjoy my weekends more, as instead of playing catch-up on things, I can socialise and relax and plan various adventures that I may not have had the time or energy to do in the past.
  • Even though I am working one day less per week, by buying less stuff and reducing my expenses, I am no longer in any financial debt and am saving towards buying a place of my own.
  • I have now donated plasma and platelets through the Red Cross Blood Bank three times. This can be done every two weeks and takes about 45 minutes, and really can make a huge difference for those who have leukaemia and certain autoimmune diseases.
  • I have found a new General Practitioner, Nutritionist and Dentist to ensure that my physical health is going well and made the necessary appointments to assess or fix up any of the issues that have become apparent.
  • I have had a DEXA scan to assess my bone density, lean muscle mass and fat. I will be having another one of these in 3 months to monitor my progress and ensure that I remain in the healthy range for a male my age.
  • I have resumed monthly sessions with my Psychologist to ensure that my mental health and clinical practice are as optimal as possible.
  • I have signed up for a year membership with the meditation app Calm, which will help me to continue strengthening my meditation practice. I will aim to practice this for at least 10 minutes per day to make sure that I keep trying to tune in rather than tune out.
  • I have also booked in for a 10-day Vissapana meditation retreat in April and a 12-day P&O cruise at the end of July. Both of these getaways involve switching off from all technology for the duration of my stay. They will provide me with plenty of time for rest, relaxation and reflection, essential elements for tuning in and developing greater insight.

No Regrets?

Now that I’ve shared the changes that I’ve started to make towards my ideal lifestyle, I want to ask you this:

If you only have one life to live, and that life is yours, what changes do you need to make now to ensure you don’t accumulate any more regrets in the future?

In her viral blog post and subsequent book “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying”, palliative nurse Bronnie Ware listed the top five regrets that the dying people she cared for typically had. These were:

  1. They wished they’d had the courage to live a life true to themselves, not the life others expected of them.

  2. They wish they hadn’t worked so hard.

  3. They wish they’d had the courage to express their feelings.

  4. They wish they’d made a bigger effort to stay in touch with their friends.

  5. They wish they had let themselves be happier.

Remember, we tend to regret the things that we don’t do much more than those we do. So be brave, give it a go, and see what happens. If you’re not sure what you want or how to figure it out, booking in for a session with a Psychologist could definitely help!

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist