Do You Want To Be Deliberately Better?

“Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter.” — Izaak Walton


It was 2016 when I first decided to take on the challenge of being accountable to myself. I later wrote this blog to take responsibility for my actions in an open, transparent way, do what I said I was going to do, and “practice what I preach.”

For me, as a Psychologist, becoming deliberately better is all about evidence-based living. It is about engaging as much as possible in thinking patterns and behaviours that research has shown to lead to a happier, more satisfying, higher quality of life.

The following were five key areas that I planned to focus on for 2016, with the idea of it having positive flow-on effects for my long-term psychological well-being in 2017 and beyond.

The best part is that just by stating these objectives where they can be seen publicly, my desire to be consistent and faithful to my word did seem to help me to stay more committed to achieving these goals:

1. Tuning in rather than tuning out

Too often in Western Culture, we spend all of our day “doing”, rushing around and completing tasks. We do not spend enough time “being”, simply living in the moment with whatever we are experiencing.

People tune out of their experiences by distracting themselves with watching too much TV, spending too much time on social media, or surfing the internet. They could also smoke cigarettes or use drugs, drink too much caffeine or alcohol, eat junk food, and keep busy with too much work. Some of these strategies are successful in blocking out what we feel in the short term. However, suppose you never listen to the signals that your body sends you. In that case, they will only amplify in intensity over time until, eventually, we will have no choice but to notice the message given.

Formal mindfulness practice is the best way to get the most benefits from tuning in and just being. Mindfulness practice consists of maintaining our attention on whatever is occurring at the moment in an open, curious, accepting, patient, non-judging, and non-striving way. I recommend learning guided meditations first and then practising on your own if you’d prefer once you have figured out the various forms of meditation and how they help you. I would recommend a few free apps if you are interested in learning these skills: Smiling Mind, Calm, and Headspace.

Once you have learned the basics of mindfulness, it becomes a lot easier to also engage in informal mindfulness practice, where you apply these same mindfulness principles in whatever task you do throughout the day. By tuning in through Mindfulness, the benefits include reduced stress, pain and anxiety, improved sleep and mood. There is also a higher capacity to soothe yourself when distressed and a reduced risk of a future depressive episode.

2. Turning towards my values rather than away from fear

I regularly bring up values with my clients. It is for a good reason. The way I see it, there are two primary motivators in life. We can either be motivated to move towards what is important to us (our values) or move away from the things we fear.

As first pointed out to me in Daniel Kahneman’s book ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’, most people are predisposed towards being risk-averse or more motivated by what they may lose rather than what they could gain. As a result, most people play it safe, stay in their comfort zone, try not to change things too much, and don’t take any chances, even if the potential gains outweigh the potential losses.

Most people need at least a 2:1 ratio of things being likely to turn out well before taking a risk, and some people will never take a chance unless a positive outcome can be 100% guaranteed (which isn’t a risk at all). For example, the risk of dying in a plane crash or being eaten by a shark are minuscule. However, I’ve met several people who choose not to fly or swim in the ocean because of these fears. My question to these individuals is, “What do you lose by not taking this risk?” The chance for fun? Excitement? Adventure? Considering that these values are all important to me, I’d allow myself to feel the fear, sit with it, and take the risk so that I can live a more vibrant, enjoyable and meaningful life.

All of the most successful treatments for anxiety involve exposure to the feared stimuli as an essential part of the treatment. By facing our fears, stress can be reduced and no longer cause significant distress or functional impairment. It is uncomfortable but worth it in the pursuit of a goal that is consistent with your values. By living in line with your values and not those of others, you are more likely to feel energised, motivated and satisfied with where you are at and where you are headed.

3. Maintaining an ideal work/life balance

One of the biggest traps that I see with my clients is putting off enjoyment today until some designated time in the future (e.g. once I finish uni, once I get a job, once I pay off the house, once I’ve saved a certain amount). What tends to happen in the meantime is that they dedicate most of their life to study and work and saving, and postpone looking after themselves or having fun, exercising, engaging in hobbies, being creative, learning a new skill, travelling, and socialising with others.

The Grant Study, which began in 1938 with 268 Harvard undergraduate men, is still running and collecting data over 77 years later. Across all of this data, they found that one thing was the most significant predictor of health and happiness later in life: relationship warmth. Individuals in loving relationships with close families and good friends outside of their partner were the most satisfied with life. But, of course, it wasn’t just about the number of friends or family either. It was about having those quality relationships where you knew you could depend on the other person when you needed them the most.

Making more money did correlate with overall happiness and health outcomes, but individuals with higher relationship warmth also tended to make more money. Therefore, it is crucial to spend time with others and put energy into cultivating positive relationships. Given this data, socialising with those we care about should never be seen as a waste of time.

4. Writing things down rather than keeping things in

Planning and reviewing are essential for minimising stress and ensuring that we stay on track with our goals. In the excellent book ‘Getting Things Done’ by David Allen, he recommends both a daily review and a weekly review. In these, you can go through everything and process it into an all-encompassing management system. By having everything where it is supposed to be, and either filed away or waiting to be done at a particular time and place, it is meant to ensure that our head is as straightforward as possible. In addition, it can enable us to focus on whatever is most important to us at the moment (e.g. the task that we are doing).

I recommend that my clients quickly jot down whatever is incomplete or still to be done at the end of the workday. It is crucial to follow this with a quick plan on when you can address this task and the first step that you would take. It shouldn’t take any longer than 5 minutes a day and can help make sure that you can switch off from work once you are at home. For individuals who don’t sleep well due to a racing mind, doing this same process with anything on their mind two hours before they go to bed will also reduce their likelihood of being up all night thinking.

The crucial step is to write down when you will do it (and what the first action is), rather than just making a to-do list. The Zeigarnik effect shows that our brains will continue to remind us of something incomplete until we have done it or have a plan to do it. But, surprisingly, once we have a plan in a place that we won’t forget, our brains treat the task as already being done, and the result is a less busy mind, less stress and more energy. So even if you want to finish painting the house but won’t have time until your annual leave in 3 months, write it down. Or create a someday/maybe file, and put it in there.

5. Developing a growth rather than a fixed mindset

In her book ‘Mindset: The New Psychology of Success’ Carol Dweck has identified a more crucial concept towards academic and occupational success than intelligence.

Individuals with a fixed mindset believe most of their traits, including intelligence and personality, are fixed or unchangeable. Because of this, they tend to view successes as evidence that they are amazing and mistakes as evidence that they are horrible or not good enough. Unfortunately, this means that whether they win or lose carries massive consequences because their identity is on the line with everything they do in many ways. If they experience a setback, they won’t try to learn from it or improve because what’s the point? They aren’t good enough, so why bother trying. They’ll also give up more quickly when things become challenging and demanding.

Conversely, the individuals with a growth mindset will view their performance on a task as just that — their performance, and not an indication of how smart or capable they are. Instead, they see setbacks as chances to learn and grow and improve their skills in the future. Because of this, they are happier to challenge themselves and persevere through difficulties. They are also much more compassionate and understanding when they make a mistake, rather than self-critical like the individuals with a fixed mindset.

Fortunately, you can teach a growth mindset. By praising behaviour and effort (“You tried so hard”) rather than characteristics (“You are so smart”) and viewing mistakes as an essential part of the learning process, growth mindset training increases motivation, resiliency and achievement. So even if you don’t naturally look at things in this way, it’s never too late to learn and grow.

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

How Should We Define Success As A Nation?

The Olympic Slide

Following the completion of the Rio Olympic Games, a theme of concern became evident across the various media platforms in Australia. Our overall medal tally at the Olympic Games has declined since its peak of 58 in Sydney in 2000, with 49 in Athens in 2004, 46 in Beijing in 2008, 35 in London in 2012, and now 29 in Rio.

The final medal tally in Rio puts Australia in 10th place with eight gold medals, 11 silver and ten bronze, well behind the Australian Olympic Committee’s predictions of 13 gold and 37 medals. Australia’s performance wasn’t too bad considering our population size, but we were miles behind the two countries with the most gold medals. First place was the usual victors, the U.S.A, with 46 gold and 121 medals overall. Second place was the U.K., with 27 gold and 67 medals overall.

Australia is a proud sporting nation, and part of our national identity has taken a hit seeing the sharp decline in Olympic glory this century compared to the ongoing ascension of the U.S. and the U.K.

The U.S. has increased their tally from 37 gold and 93 medals in 2000, while the U.K. has dramatically improved from 11 gold and 28 medals overall back in Sydney. We used to be better than the U.K., not even that long ago, and now we are not even close. Let’s not even get started on ‘The Ashes’, where we have now lost five of the last seven test cricket series to England dating back to July 2005.

If we were to look at these statistics alone as a measure of a country’s overall success, then it is a worrying trend for Australia and a very positive sign for the U.S. and the U.K.

If we wanted to reverse this trend, it would be essential to figure out precisely what the U.S. and the U.K. are doing right and try to emulate what they are doing to get closer to their levels of success in the future. It would come down to spending more taxpayer’s money on:

  1. improved programs to get people to participate more in a sport at a young age,
  2. enhanced facilities to increase opportunities to excel,
  3. improved coaching to help bring out the best in athletes, and
  4. more focused investment towards the sports and top athletes with the highest potential of producing multiple gold medals at the Olympic Games.

The problem is that we have already tried to do this, with the Australian Sporting Commission following the lead of the U.K.’s recent success with their own ‘Winning Edge’ program. But, unfortunately, in the four years leading up to Rio, this program unevenly distributed $340m towards summer Olympic sports. These events were the ones that Australia had a better chance to win in, such as Hockey, which cost us $28million for zero medals.

At over $11million of taxpayers money per medal won in Rio, it becomes crucial to wonder if the extra cost is worth it or if there are better ways that Australia can measure ourselves or improve on the world stage?

What if there was a medal tally for non-Sporting indicators of success?

1. Gross Direct Product

Traditionally, apart from Olympic Glory, Nations have utilised their Gross Direct Product (GDP) to compare themselves to other countries and show the world how successful they are. Considering the nominal GDP of all nations in 2016, the U.S. once again smashes the field and collects the gold medal with $18,558,130,000,000. China collects the silver with $11,383,030,000,000. Japan picks up the bronze with $4,412,600,000,000. The U.K. comes in fifth place with $2,760,960,000,000, and Australia is lagging again in 13th place with $1,200,780,000,000.

Per capita, the country with the highest GDP is Luxembourg with $101,994, Switzerland is second with $80,675, and Qatar is third with $76,576, based on the 2015 International Monetary Fund 2015 estimates.

Let’s look at GDP calculations that consider purchasing power parity (PPP) relative to inflation rates and local costs of goods and services. China picks up the gold, the U.S. is relegated to silver, and India comes from nowhere into the bronze medal position. The U.K. drop to ninth, and Australia drop down to 19th.

Per capita adjusted for PPP, Qatar wins the gold, Luxembourg pick up the silver, and Singapore takes home the bronze, based on the 2015 estimates provided by the International Monetary fund.

2. The Human Development Index

The United Nations no longer believe that GDP should be the sole factor when determining which countries are best at helping their citizens develop. Instead, the Human Development Index considers GDP at purchasing power parity alongside life expectancy, education and adult literacy levels. As a result, based on the 2015 results, Norway picks up the gold, Australia claims the silver, and Switzerland the bronze.

Notably, Australia’s score has slightly improved each year from 2013 to 2015, a good indication that we are not in an overall decline as a nation. Our ranking has also improved from 4th in 2008 to 2nd from 2009 onward. Meanwhile, the U.S. rank 8th in the world, a significant drop from their bronze rank in 2013. The U.K. is 14th, a massive jump from 27th in 2013.

Once inequality is taken into account, the average level of human development in Australia is 2nd in the world. Norway wins the gold again, and the Netherlands step up to claim bronze. The U.K. drop down to 16th in the world, and the U.S. slide down to 28th.

What other factors could we also compare nations on to see how Australia stacks up?

3. The World Happiness Report

The first World Happiness Report was released in April 2012 after a resolution in July 2011 invited member countries to measure their citizens’ happiness levels and use these findings to guide their public policies. Reports are now issued each year, with the 2016 release considering six main elements as crucial to how successful we can perceive a Nation. These elements are:

  1. GDP per capita
  2. Level of social support
  3. Healthy life expectancy
  4. Freedom to make life choices
  5. Level of generosity
  6. Trust, or perceived absence of corruption in government and business

Based on the results of this report, Denmark wins the gold medal, Switzerland get the silver, and Iceland the bronze. Australia is currently in 9th place, with the U.S. 13th and the U.K. 23rd.

Once again, Australia has improved slightly since the last report, a good indicator that we are not rapidly declining as a country. The U.S. and the U.K. are both on the decline. No nation has taken a more prominent hit recently than Greece. Their significant financial difficulties are beginning to influence the social fabric of the country.

Surely overall Happiness, as measured by these factors, is more important than sporting or Olympic success. Assuming this is true, shouldn’t we be emulating Denmark or the other seven countries ahead of us on this instead of trying to look up to the U.S. or the U.K.?

4. The Happy Planet Index

The Happy Planet Index has a slightly different take on what matters most, and to them, this is sustainable well-being for all. They combine life expectancy with individual levels of well-being adjusted for inequality of outcomes within a country and divide this by their ecological footprint to obtain the overall result on the Happy Planet Index. Most Western Countries fare poorly on this scale, with Costa Rica winning the gold, Mexico the silver, and Colombia the bronze. The U.K. is 34th, with Australia and the U.S. far behind in 105th and 108th place.

Australia does okay in three out of the four items that make up this scale, coming in 7th place at 82.1 years for life expectancy, 11th place at 8% for inequality, and 12th place at 7.2/10 for subjective well-being. However, our ecological footprint, 139th out of the 140 countries included in the data, really lets us down. Only Luxembourg is worse. The U.S. isn’t much better with its ecological footprint, coming in 137th place, while the U.K. is slightly better, currently in 107th place. More needs to be done by these Western countries to reduce the ecological footprint that they are having on our planet. Haiti wins gold for the most negligible environmental footprint, with Bangladesh the silver and Pakistan the bronze.

For subjective well-being, Switzerland wins the gold with a score of 7.8/10, Norway gets the silver with 7.7/10, and Iceland claims the bronze with 7.6/10, well ahead of the U.S. (7.0/10) and the U.K. (6.9/10).

For the least inequality, the Netherlands claimed the gold with 4%, Iceland the silver with 5%, and Sweden the bronze with 6%. The U.K. is 19th with 9% inequality, and the U.S. is 34th with 13%.

Lastly, Hong Kong claims the gold with 83.6 years for life expectancy, Japan the silver with 83.2 years, and Italy the bronze with 82.7 years. The U.K. is 24th with an average life expectancy of 80.4 years, slightly ahead of the 31st ranking for the U.S. with 78.8 years.

5. Health System

If we were to think of ways to improve our quality of life further, having a sound health system should be a top priority, yet none of the U.K. (18th), Australia (32nd), or the U.S. (37th) can claim a medal based on the World Health Organisation’s 2000 ratings. So instead, France gets the gold, Italy the silver, and San Marino the bronze.

6. Academic Performance

Equally critical to the future of a country should be a good quality of education at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels. When it comes to the 2014 OECD global education rankings, the U.K. is 20th for maths and science, and 23rd for reading, while the U.S. is 28th for maths and science, and 24th for reading. Australia doesn’t fare much better, coming in at 14th in maths and science and 13th in reading.

More worryingly, Australia has dropped from 6th in maths, 8th in science and 4th in reading in the year 2000. When it comes to schooling, we seem to be declining as a nation and are now 17th for the percentage of students acquiring at least the necessary skills in these areas. We are also 19th in secondary school enrollment rates, behind both the U.S. and the U.K.

For reading, China claims the gold medal, Singapore collects the silver, and Japan the bronze. Singapore claims the gold, Hong Kong the silver, and South Korea the bronze for maths and science. South Korea was very similar in their academic performance to Australia back in 2000. Although their increase and our decrease may not seem like such a big deal, a 25 point improvement on what is known as the PISA tests would lead to an approximate expansion of $4.8 trillion to Australia’s GDP by the year 2095. Education matters.

7. Global Gender Gap Index

Based on the 2015 data, Iceland wins the gold with the slightest gender gap between males and females of 88.1%. Norway the silver with 85%, and Finland the bronze, with 85% also. The U.K. rank 18th with 75.8%, the U.S. 28th with 74%, and Australia 36th with 73.33%.

Regarding the gender gap, Australia has improved in their score from 72.41% in 2008 but have dropped 15 places over those seven years. We are closing the gender gap at a much slower rate than many other countries. We’re now 32nd in economic participation and opportunity, 1st in educational attainment, 74th in health and survival, and 61st regarding political empowerment.

8. LGBTIQ Rights

Based on the first countries to legally recognise same sex-unions, Denmark gets the gold, Norway the silver, and Sweden the bronze.

These countries also had to have legalised same-sex marriage and allow same-sex couples to adopt a child to qualify for a medal. In addition, they must have LGB individuals who can serve in the military and ban all anti-gay discrimination. They must also have legal documents be amended based on an individual’s recognised gender without the need for surgery or hormone therapy.

The U.K. nearly ticks all of these items, except same-sex marriage is still illegal in Northern Ireland. Same-sex marriage is now legalised in Australia, finally. Apart from some tribal jurisdictions, the U.S. now has legalised marriage but still has some laws that discriminate based on gender identity and expression, as does Australia.

9. Refugee Resettlement Actions

By the end of 2014, one out of every 122 people were internally displaced, a refugee, or seeking asylum, with half of these refugees being children. Wars, persecution and ongoing conflict now mean that we have more people than ever trying to reach safety and begin their new lives in a foreign land, with 59.5 million forcibly displaced in 2014 alone. In addition, due to their proximity to Syria, both Lebanon and Turkey are taking in vast amounts of refugees annually, with 1.59 million Syrian refugees in Turkey at the end of 2014, and more than 25% of Lebanon’s overall population is Syrian as of the 24th of September 2015.

Based on this article, Germany should win gold, Sweden silver and the U.S. bronze. Meanwhile, the recent Brexit scandal was related to the U.K. not wanting to take on as many refugees and immigrants. Australia’s treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, especially the children, is so notoriously bad that China (not always the best for human rights issues) and the United Nations have publicly spoken out against it.

10. Freedom of Press

Based on the 2008 results, Finland and Iceland both get the gold medal, with Denmark and Norway taking home the bronze. The U.S. was 9th best, the U.K.10th, and Australia 13th.

11. Lowest Infant Mortality Rates

According to the 2015 estimates provided by the CIA World Factbook, Monaco wins the gold with 1.81 deaths per 1000 live births, Iceland wins the silver with 2.06, and Norway and Singapore both claim the bronze with 2.48 per 1000 live births. Australia is 31st, with 4.43, the U.K. is 32nd with 4.44, and the U.S. is 50th with 6.17 deaths per 1000 live births.

12. Soundness of Banks

Based on the 2009 World Economic Forum rankings on a scale from 1 (banks need more money) to 7 (banks are generally sound), Canada picks up the gold with a 6.7/7, New Zealand the silver (6.6/7), and Australia the bronze with 6.6/7. The U.S. comes in at 108th with a rating of 4.7/7, and the U.K. is 126th with a score of 3.8/7. Resilient financial systems are crucial for economic stability, and unstable or unregulated systems were the main culprits in the 2008 financial crisis.

13. Unemployment Levels

Based on 2015 figures, Qatar gets gold with 0.4%, Cambodia the silver with 0.5%, and Belarus, according to their 2014 data, get the bronze with 0.7%. By March 2016, Australia’s unemployment rate is 5.8%, slightly worse than its 31st ranking in 2013 with 5.7%. In 2013, the U.K. and U.S. were 44th and 45th with 7.3% each. However, as of July 2016, the U.K. has improved their rate to 4.9%. The U.S. has improved theirs to 5.0% by April 2016.

And the overall winner is Norway!

Final medal tally:

Country Gold (3 pts) Silver (2 pts) Bronze (1 pt) Total points
Norway II III II 14
Iceland II II II 12
Switzerland I II I 8
China (excl. Hong Kong) II I 8
Denmark II I 7
Qatar II I 7
Singapore I I II 7
U.S.A I I I 6
Australia II I 5
Hong Kong I I 5
Luxembourg I I 5
Netherlands I I 4
Finland I I 4
Japan I II 4
Sweden I II 4
Italy I I 3
U.K. 0


Australia is doing alright. We aren’t the best country in the world in any of the critical issues that I’ve analysed. Depending on what it is, we could learn a lot from whoever is ahead of us in the rankings, especially Norway and Iceland. This would be much better than always just trying to emulate the U.S. or the U.K. or overreacting to the media every time they catastrophise and tell us that the apocalypse is near.

Worldwide murder rates (per capita) have declined since the fourteenth century, especially since the 1970s. In addition, higher levels of equality and rights have been achieved across the globe for different races, ethnic groups, females, spouses, children, people with disabilities, and animals, with some countries being more progressive than others.

Australia still has a long way to go as a Nation. We could be healthier, including have better mental health, indigenous health and well-being. We could have improved climate change policies, LGBTIQ rights, gender equality, refugee and immigration policies, and other areas where people are mistreated.

At least with the National Broadband System, a higher percentage of the population will have access to a reliable internet connection. It could help more people become better informed, talk about the critical issues through social media, put more pressure on the politicians, and bring about more rapid social change.

I invite you all to speak up, take action, and follow in Mahatma Gandhi’s footsteps in being the change that you wish to see in the world.

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

Angry Boys Become Angry Men: The Constraints and Consequences of Idealising Hyper-Masculinity

The messages that we deliver to boys about what it means to be a man can have a powerful impact on who they become

I recently watched a fascinating documentary on Netflix titled ‘The Mask You Live In’ about the American masculine ideal and the consequences of teaching boys not to value emotions, sensitivity, connection, caring, and empathy.

Although the data throughout the documentary is related to American males, the messages that they refer to at the beginning of the film are all things that I remember hearing growing up in Australia:

  • “Man up!”
  • “Be a man!”
  • “Don’t be a mamma’s boy!”
  • “Stop being weak.”
  • “You’ve got to be tough!”
  • “You’ve got to be strong!”
  • “Stop crying!”
  • “Boys, do not cry!”
  • “Don’t be a pussy!”
  • “Grow some balls!”
  • “Don’t let anybody disrespect you!”

The constraints of idealising hyper-masculinity

“Our boys are born with empathy just as our girls are, and yet we socialize that sensitivity, emotion, and empathy out of them.” — Jennifer Siebel Newsom

In ‘The Mask You Live In’, they explain that there are typically more similarities between boys and girls than differences. For example, more males fall on the masculine end of the masculine-feminine spectrum, and more females are feminine. However, there is approximately a 90% overlap between the two populations if you assess 50,000 boys and 50,000 girls, with a normal distribution for males and females. Given this, a large percentage of children identify as girls that are more masculine than some boys, and a similarly large percentage of children who identify as boys that are more feminine than some girls. Yet if you looked in toy stores, or on the TV, or even in playgrounds or schoolyards, you’d never realise this.

Males and females begin with minor biological differences at birth due to having an XX or an XY chromosome. These differences do widen further once children reach puberty. The gender roles that we now perceive to be normal are still much more socially created than biologically predetermined. Thanks to the media, the entertainment industry and marketing, we now see hyper-masculinity and hyper-femininity as the ideal.

If you don’t believe me, pay attention to the first answer that pops into your head when you read these questions:

  1. What are girls favourite colours?
  2. What are boys favourite colours?
  3. What toys do girls play with?
  4. What toys do boys play with?

If you instinctively thought 1. pink and purple, 2. blue and red, 3. dolls, make-up and ponies, and 4. cars, balls, and action figures, then you have proved my point. Most children do not fit into these categories naturally. Instead, they are socialised into these roles as they grow and are encouraged by their parents, TV, or peers.

If boys are generally 90% similar to girls and yet socialised to disavow anything that resembles femininity, how whole or authentic can they indeed grow up to be? Of course, we all want our children to succeed in life, but can this even be done without feeling pain, vulnerability, sadness, and fear of knowing how to deal with these emotions when they arise efficiently? Indeed it has to be damaging to continue encouraging boys to switch off from themselves at such a young age and to externalise their emotional pain by lashing out at others if they feel vulnerable, insecure, disrespected, or under threat.

The consequences of idealising hyper-masculinity

Based on the research presented in ‘The Mask You Live In’, the effects are:

1. Bullying:

  • 1-in-4 boys are bullied at school.
  • Only 30% of bullied boys notify adults because it is considered “weak” to get help or tell someone else.

2. Drinking and Drugs:

  • By age 12, 34% of boys have started drinking.
  • 1-in-4 boys binge drink.
  • The average boy tries drugs at age 13.
  • Boys often use drinking and drugs to treat loneliness.
  • Also, under the influence is often the only time they can be emotional and connect with their friends and tell them how much they love them.

9.3% of Australian males aged 16 to 54 meet the criteria for substance use disorder in the past 12 months. One-in-three (35.4%) males experience a substance use disorder in their lifetime. The highest rate of substance abuse is in males under 24 years of age (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2007).

3. Suicide

  • Every day, three or more boys in the U.S. commit suicide.
  • For boys, suicide is the third leading cause of death.
  • For 10–14-year-olds, the suicide rate for males is three times that of females.
  • By 15–19 years of age, the suicide rate for males increases to five times that of females.

Five out of the nearly seven people who die of suicide in Australia each day are males, equating to 1,885 male deaths by suicide in 2013. For the 15–19 age group, 34.8% of all male deaths are from suicide, with each suicide likely to profoundly impact at least another six people for the rest of their lives (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2013; 2015).

4. Mental Health

  • Fewer than 50% of boys and men with mental health difficulties seek help.
  • Boys are three times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD.

5.3% of Australian males over 15 experienced depression in the past 12 months. One in eight males experiences a mood disorder in their lifetime. For anxiety, 10.8% of Australian males are likely to have experienced it to a clinically significant amount in the past 12 months, with one in five experiencing an anxiety condition in their lifetime (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2007).

5. Academic Performance

  • Compared to girls, boys are more likely to flunk or drop out of school.
  • Boys are less likely to go to College.
  • Boys are two times more likely to be in special education.
  • Boys are two times more likely to be suspended and four times more likely to be expelled.

6. Violence

  • Every nine seconds, a woman is beaten or assaulted in the U.S.
  • One-in-six boys suffer abuse sexually.
  • A gun kills more than three people every hour.
  • That’s over 30,000 lives annually.
  • 90% of homicide perpetrators are male.
  • Almost 50% are under 25 years of age.
  • Mass homicides (where four or more people die) occur on average every two weeks.
  • Males commit 94% of mass homicides.
  • The youngest mass shooter was 11.
  • The rate of mass shootings has tripled since 2011.
  • There has been almost one school shooting per week since the Sandy Hook Massacre.

Girl’s in the US have the same access to guns, so why are males committing nearly all mass shootings?

The documentary suggests that it is because men are taught to externalise their emotional pain. If a girl feels sad or scared, they are usually trained to look within to identify what it is, put a label to it, and express how they feel to someone else (without acting on it). They then decide what (if anything) needs to be done to feel better in time. A boy’s sadness or fear is either dismissed or criticised. The boy is then left on their own to deal with these overwhelming sensations that they struggle to name. Most boys are not taught to be introspective, tune into what they feel, or be self-aware. They are trained to bottle it up, deny what they feel, or distract themselves by keeping busy. The one emotion that often isn’t discouraged in boys, especially in the media, is anger and violence. So in time, boys begin to learn that if they feel inadequate, it must be the fault of someone else who was disrespecting them. In a world void of communicating how they feel, the easy way for boys to get this respect and be heard is through violence.

The Solution

Research by John Gottman in his 2002 book ‘The Relationship Cure’ supports an emotion-coaching (“I understand. Let me help you!“) environment as best for assisting boys. It helps them to develop more prosperous and more connected relationships when they are older. An emotion-coaching environment can also encourage boys to turn towards adults more frequently because they learn how helpful guidance from empathically attuned adults can be when trying to cope with overwhelming feelings.

We need to create an environment where:

  • it is okay for boys to feel scared or sad or embarrassed or vulnerable or ashamed
  • it is okay for boys to share or express how they feel without having to act it out
  • boys are encouraged to learn and identify what is going on for them internally and to develop self-awareness and emotional intelligence
  • boys are encouraged to seek help and support if they are struggling, whether this is from their peers, family, teachers, coaches, mentors or a psychologist or counsellor
  • we try to understand what boys are going through emotionally instead of dismissing their feelings (“You’ll get over it!“) or disapproving of them (“Don’t feel that way!“), and
  • it is not seen as a sign of weakness to be emotional or seek help when things are challenging, as this can help boys develop long-term resiliency.

As they say at the end of ‘The Mask You Live In’:

Everyone deserves to feel whole, and each of us can do our part in expanding what it means to be a man for ourselves and the boys in our lives.

Take the challenge. Exert your influence. We all have a role to play in creating a healthier culture.

If you are a male and want to understand your emotions better, change your behaviours, or feel whole, an appointment with a psychologist could help.

For more information, please check out Man Therapy or The Representation Project.

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

What Do Clients Find Most Helpful About Therapy?

When clients first begin their therapy journey, they often ask to be taught specific skills to help them achieve their particular goals.

Clients believe that if they can be taught these skills, they will overcome their difficulties or the problems that led to them entering therapy. They will then have no subsequent complications or need for additional treatment in the future.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a short-term treatment that clients can easily understand. CBT is based on the premise that all difficulties arise from unhelpful cognitions (beliefs, expectations, assumptions, rules and thoughts) and unhelpful behaviours. Therefore, CBT aims to help clients see that their cognitions and behaviours are unhelpful and tries to teach them skills that can help them replace these unhelpful cognitions and behaviours with more helpful ones. If this is achieved, the assumption is that clients will change and therefore improve.

I believe that if a client can have more helpful cognitions and behaviours, they will have significantly improved psychological health and overall well-being. I’m just not sure if I agree that the process required to get to this outcome is the same as what many CBT clinicians would believe. For example, focus on distorted cognitions has been negatively correlated with overall outcomes in cognitive therapy for depression studies (Castonguay, Goldfield, Wiser, Raue, & Hayes, 1996).

What leads to improvements in treatment?

The article “What Leads to Optimal Outcomes in Therapy?” answers this question in detail and shows that the outcome is dependent upon (Hubble & Miller, 2004):

  • The life circumstances of the client, their resources and readiness to change (40% of overall outcome variance)
  • The therapeutic relationship (30% of total outcome variance)
  • The expectations about the treatment and therapy (15% of global outcome variance)
  • The specific model of therapy (15% of overall outcome variance)

For cognitive therapy for depression, both therapeutic alliance and the emotional involvement of the patient predicted the reductions in symptom severity across the treatment (Castonguay et al., 1996). Many therapists are now aware of these findings, but clients are generally not.

What do clients view to be the most valuable elements of therapy once they have improved?

By the end of treatment, especially if it is a successful outcome, clients tend to have a much different outlook on what they think are the most valuable aspects of therapy compared to what they were looking for at the beginning of their treatment.

Irvin Yalom’s excellent and informative book ‘The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy’ goes into detail about a study he conducted with his colleagues that examined the most important therapeutic factors, as identified by 20 successful long-term group therapy clients. They gave each client 60 cards, which consisted of five items across each of the 12 categories of therapeutic factors, and asked them to sort them regarding how valuable these items were across their treatment.

The 12 categories, from least helpful to most helpful, were:

12. Identification: trying to be like others

11. Guidance: being given advice or suggestions about what to do

10. Family reenactment: developing a greater understanding of earlier family experiences

9. Altruism: seeing the benefits of helping others

8. Installation of hope: knowing that others with similar problems have improved

7. Universality: realising that others have similar experiences and problems

6. Existential factors: recognising that pain, isolation, injustice and death are part of life

5. Interpersonal output: learning about how to relate to and get along with others

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

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

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

1. Interpersonal input: learning more about our impression and impact on others

The clients were unaware of the different categories and only rated each of the 60 individual items concerning how helpful it had been.

When looking at these categories, giving advice or suggestions about what to do is often not found to be a beneficial element of the therapy process, even though this is precisely what most of the clients are initially looking for. Instead, it is far more critical to develop a more in-depth knowledge of themselves, their inner world, and how they relate to and are perceived by others in interpersonal situations.

The top 10 items that the clients rated as most helpful were (Yalom & Leszcz, 2005):

10. Feeling more trustful of groups and of other people.

9. Seeing that others could reveal embarrassing things and take other risks and benefit from it helped me to do the same.

8. Learning how I come across to others.

7. Learning that I must take ultimate responsibility for the way I live my life no matter how much guidance and support I get from others.

6. Expressing negative and/or positive feelings toward another member.

5. The group’s teaching me about the type of impression I make on others.

4. Learning how to express my feelings.

3. Other members honestly telling me what they think of me.

2. Being able to say what is bothering me instead of holding it in.

1. Discovering and accepting previously unknown or unacceptable parts of myself.

All 20 clients had been in therapy an average of 16 months and had finished or were about to complete their treatment. These items were about group therapy, so the most critical factors for change in individual treatment may be different. However, even with individual treatment, Yalom believes that the relationship heals in the end.

For more information, feel free to check out Chapter 4 in ‘The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy’ by Irvin Yalom and Molyn Leszcz (2005) or any of the other studies out there that look into the outcomes or therapeutic factors involved in change across psychological treatment.

Suppose you have ever wanted to discover and learn more about yourself, accept yourself more, express yourself better or develop more trust in others. In that case, longer-term psychological therapy may be just what you need!

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

How Have Intimate Relationships Changed Over the Years, and Where Does It Leave Us Now?

I just finished reading the book ‘Modern Romance: An Investigation’ by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg and was pleasantly surprised to see such a well-researched book written predominantly by a Stand-up Comedian (with a helping hand from a Sociologist).

For those of you who don’t know Aziz, his stand-up shows typically consist of interesting observations about relationships, as does his new series ‘Master of None’.

Considering that I liked his stand-up and show, I was intrigued to see his book about relationships in my local bookstore. Here’s what his research found:

How Has Dating Changed?

1. Distance

Back in 1932, a Sociologist named James Bossard examined 5000 consecutive marriage licences in the city of Philidelphia, USA, and looked into how close the partners had lived to each other before they married. Here’s what he found:

  • Same address — 12.64%
  • Same block — 4.54%
  • 1 to 2 blocks — 6.08%
  • 2 to 4 blocks — 7.3%
  • 4 to 10 blocks — 10.16%
  • 10 to 20 blocks — 9.62%
  • 20+ blocks — 17.8%
  • Different cities — 17.8%

More than half of Philidelphia in the 1930s married someone who lived in a ten-block radius to them. More than one-in-six didn’t even cross the road to find their marriage partner.

Other Sociologists looked to see if this pattern remained in smaller towns and found that it did whenever suitable marriage partners were available. For example, John Ellsworth Jr., who examined marriage patterns in a Connecticut town of less than 4,000 called Simsbury, declared:

“People will go as far as they have to to find a mate, but no farther.”

While this quote may still be somewhat applicable in modern times, it does seem that we are much more likely to date people of different origins, cultures and addresses to us, rather than settling down with someone who lived on the same street.

2. Places

Where we meet our romantic partners is much different too. Sociologist Michael Rosenfeld’s survey ‘How Couples Meet and Stay Together’ asked over 3,000 American adults of all ages when and how they met their spouse or romantic partner. Because the age of the respondents differed, it made it possible to see the changes between 1940 and 2010. Here’s what he found:

  • In 1940, the most common way couples met was through family (approximately 25%). The second was meeting through friends (21%), followed by meeting in church (13%), and being neighbours (12%).
  • In 1950, meeting via friends had become the most popular method to meet someone (approximately 26%). Meeting through family was still popular (24%) and was a clear second. Meeting in a bar or a restaurant (14%) was becoming more popular, and meeting at work (12%) or being neighbours (12%) was now more popular than meeting at church (10%).
  • In 1970, meeting through friends was the preferred method to find a partner (approximately 31%). Matching through family (20%) was challenged by meeting at a bar or restaurant (18%). Meeting at work was fourth (15%), followed by neighbours, church and college.
  • In 1990, meeting through friends was just below 40%, finding your partner at work was now second (20%), followed by meeting at a bar or a restaurant (18%). Meeting through family and being neighbours had declined as ways to find a partner. Instead, more people were meeting in college, presumably because more people were also going to college and studying longer. Some early adopters were starting to date online too, but this was still the least favourite method of meeting potential partners.
  • Fast forward to 2010, and meeting through friends was still the most common way couples met, but it was under 30% for the first time since 1960. Meeting at a bar or restaurant fought with meeting online for the 2nd most popular method, with both around 20%. Meeting online was already the most popular option for same-sex partners in 2005 and was up to about 70% by 2010. Meeting at work, meeting through family, being neighbours and finding dates through the church was now much less popular as ways to meet someone, and even meeting at college was beginning to decline. All thanks to the rise of the internet!

In a separate study looking at how Americans met their spouses between 2005 and 2012, Psychologist John Cacioppo found that more than one-in-three married couples met online (34.95%), which was more than work (14.09%), friends (12.4%) and a bar or club (5.68%) combined. So all of the recent advances in technology, especially the internet and smartphones, really has changed the dating scene dramatically, including how we meet, who we meet, how many potential partners we can meet, and even how we communicate with each other.

3. Communication Methods

The first text ever was by a British engineer called Neil Papworth in 1992. It’s crazy to think how much this form of communication has grown in only 24 years. In 2007, text messages began to outnumber phone calls made in the US each month, and in 2010 the world sent approximately 200,000 texts each minute. Since 2010, the number of people owning smartphones has dramatically increased in the USA. It rose from 17% in 2010 to 58% in 2014. 83% of 18- to 29-year-olds already owned a smartphone in 2014. With greater smartphone use comes an increasing use in apps such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Viber, which further increases instant messages sent.

Calling vs Texting vs Face-to-Face?

First Dates

Seeing that text messages have been a more popular way of communicating since 2007, does this mean that it is now okay to text someone to ask them out on a first date?

  • In 2010, only 10% of adults under 30 used texts to ask someone out for the first time.
  • By 2013, a survey found that this number had increased to 32%, with face-to-face still leading the way with 37%, a phone call less popular at 23%, and e-mails virtually non-existent at 1%.
  • For adults over 30, this same survey found that a phone call (52%) was the most likely method of communication when asking someone out on a date, followed by face-to-face (28%), text messages (8%) and e-mail (7%).

Older females tended to appreciate phone calls in the focus groups that Aziz and Eric ran about whether to phone or text. They saw them as a sign of confidence and helped separate the person from other potential suitors. It also helped them feel more safe and comfortable going out on a date with someone they may not know very well.

Younger females seemed just as afraid to receive phone calls as younger males were in making them. They preferred not having to respond on the spot and having time to think of a witty or genuine reply or not even reply at all if they weren’t interested, and texting provided them with these options.

Breaking Up

What about breaking up — can this too be done via text without seeing the reaction of the heart that you are potentially breaking? It sure sounds more comfortable, but is it socially acceptable?

  • In a 2014 survey of 2,712 18- to 30-year-olds, 73% said they would be upset if their date broke up with them via text, social media or email.
  • In this same survey, out of those who had ended a relationship in the previous 12 months, 25% had used text, 20% had used social media, 18% had split face-to-face, 15% had broken up through a phone call, and 11% had used email.

With texting, those who had used this method to break up said that they did so because it was “less awkward” and easier to be “more honest.” I still think it is wrong to end a long relationship over text, no matter how much easier it may be. Even though the majority of young adults still agree with me, their actions say the opposite. It’s only a matter of time before their attitudes begin to change in regards to this too.

Texting Guidelines for Dating:

1. Do not just say “hey”, “hi”, “what’s up?”, “what’s going on?”

  • Generic messages like this tend to be a real turn-off for some people, especially females who receive many texts like this from several different guys. It is much better to ask a specific question about them or something that refers to the last time you spoke.

2. Do not just engage in endless banter that never leads to a real-world catch-up.

  • Endless banter gets boring eventually, and older women, in particular, have less patience for constant text exchanges.

3. Do not just ask someone if they want to “hang out sometime?”

  • It’s confusing whether hanging out is a date or just friends, and it may never lead to an actual date. So instead, invite them out to a particular event, or ask them to meet you at a specific time and place.

4. Do try to proofread your text messages for correct grammar and spelling.

  • Incorrect spelling is often a major turn off, as is shortening words or using text slang. Determine the audience first, but stick to “tonight” rather than “2nite” if unsure.

5. Do use a bit of playfulness and humour, but with caution.

  • Make sure that you have a similar sense of humour before engaging in anything too risky or crude, and remember that it can be challenging to pick up on tone in text messages.

6. Follow the other basic rules around texting:

  • Please wait a while to text back instead of doing it right away, especially early in the dating process. Waiting a bit implies that you have a busy life and builds suspense, increasing the emotional intensity and attraction in the person who has to wait.
  • If you have already sent a text, do not send another message to the same person until you hear back from them unless it is an absolute emergency.
  • Write a similar amount in your texts to what the other person does. If you increase it slightly, they should too if they like you due to our tendency to reciprocate. If they do not, this may mean that they are not aware of the cultural norms around texting, or they are just not that into you.
  • If you are not interested, others will tell you to be upfront and honest with them, but most people actually either pretend to be busy or stop texting back.

4. Expectations

When choosing a partner, it seems that our expectations of what the other person needs to provide us have continued to increase over the past 50 years:

  • Before the 1960s, most people were happy enough with settling for a “companionate” or good-enough marriage. People didn’t spend forever looking for passion and love (even though this may have developed over time). Many people saw passionate love as too volatile or irrational to use as the basis for whether or not they should marry someone.
  • When looking for a prospective husband back in 1939, men with a dependable character, emotional stability, maturity and a pleasing disposition were all more highly sought after by women than men they felt mutual attraction and love towards.
  • By the early 1960s, 76% of women were willing to marry a man they didn’t love.

“Marriage was an economic institution in which you were given a partnership for life in terms of children and social status and succession and companionship.” — Esther Perel.

  • When looking for a prospective wife in 1939, men also highly valued emotional stability, maturity, a dependable character and pleasing disposition, and interestingly also appreciated ambition and industriousness over mutual love and attraction.
  • By the early 1960s, however, only 35% of men admitted that they were willing to marry a woman that they didn’t love. Men already had more legal rights and financial freedom and weren’t looked down upon for moving out of the house and enjoying single life before getting married.
  • By the 1980s, things had changed, with 86% of men and 91% of women in the US saying they needed romantic love to marry someone.
  • In 2008, mutual love and attraction were rated #1 for men and women looking for a prospective partner.

No longer do people settle for companionship or what is good enough. We also want passion and the perfect life partner who completes us, gives us belonging and identity, mystery and awe, and makes us happy. Some people even declare that they are looking for their soul mate and refuse to settle for anything less.

This search for the perfect partner seems to take a lot of emotional investment, trial and error, potential heartbreak, and much stress and indecision. However, if we find our soul mate, the potential pay-off should theoretically be much higher than for an old-fashioned “companionate” marriage. However, with more possible options and higher expectations, how can we know if we have found the one to marry?

5. Marriages

At what age do we get married?

From 1950 until about 1968, the average age of first marriages in the US was about 20 for females and 23 for males. In the mid-1970s, this age rapidly increased until it briefly stagnated at about 24 for women and 27 for men between 1999 and 2004. It then began to rise again to about 27 for females and 29 for males in 2014. In bigger cities, such as New York, it is over 30 for both males and females.

After how long do we tend to get married?

Before the 1960s, the average couple wed after just six months, according to Stephanie Coontz, author of ‘Marriage, A History’. However, the dating period and the engagement period tend to be much longer these days, with some couples even choosing to live together in a de-facto relationship without ever marrying.

Do we even need to get married anymore?

Before the 1960s, getting married, buying a house, and moving out were the first significant steps that signified the transition to adulthood. Single women rarely lived alone, and many families discouraged their daughters from moving into shared housing with other working girls. Their parents were heavily involved in their decisions, even who they dated, and typically always knew about their whereabouts.

Women of previous generations would sometimes get married to get out of the house and get their first taste of adulthood and freedom. However, once married, they were not always more free to do what they wanted. Instead, they had to depend on their husbands for legal and financial purposes whilst being fully responsible for looking after the house and the children.

Although things still aren’t fully equal with men and women, with women typically earning less and having to do more housework and child-rearing, they now have equal legal rights regarding property and divorce. Alongside the greater acceptance of various lifestyle choices, including moving out without getting married, marriage is now a choice rather than a necessity for many women.

6. Choices

Thanks to the advances in technology, we now have more potential options available to us at the click of a mouse or swipe of a button than we have ever had before.

Thanks to the greater rights and freedom provided to most women in the Australian culture, we also have a new developmental period between adolescence and adulthood called emerging adulthood (ages 18–29). It is a phase where people can go to university, start a career, travel, move around a bit, and have some fun and relationship experiences before settling down and getting married.

During emerging adulthood, we end up greatly expanding our pool of potential romantic partners. Once you include online dating and other apps for meeting people, the number of possible partners grows exponentially, especially in bigger cities like Melbourne.

But does having more choices make it easier to find “the one”?

Research on the paradox of choice would suggest not. As I’ve already mentioned in a previous post, Barry Schwartz, a Psychologist, describes an experiment at a supermarket where they offered 24 different samples of jelly (jam) to customers on day one and six jellies on day two. The day with only six options outsold the day with 24 possibilities by ten times the amount.

Too many options lead to indecision and paralysis and higher discontent after a decision. So before you are searching for a partner, especially if it is online, make sure that you have a sense of what is truly important to you and what is not, and try to limit your search to these options. Then if you find someone who seems to be alright, give them a real chance before moving onto the next one. You’re likely to be more satisfied on a long-term basis if you do.

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

My Top 5 Psychology TED Talks

In order of fewest views to most, I will present my favourite TED talks, along with a brief description of what they are about, why I think they are great and where you can find out more information about these concepts if you are interested. Enjoy!

5. The Surprising Science of Happiness by Dan Gilbert (13 million views)

Summary: Human beings are the only animals that can simulate experience and imagine what something will be like before we do it. This capacity to visualise future experiences is a helpful tool to have. It is one of the main reasons humans have been able to make all of the advances that we have since the industrial revolution. However, our experience simulator has its limitations and is often not accurate due to what is known as an impact bias.

An impact bias is the tendency to overestimate the impact that a future event will have on our emotional life and overall happiness levels. The most striking example, which I’ve previously mentioned in another article, is that 12 months after becoming a paraplegic or 12 months after winning the lottery, an individual’s level of happiness is usually the same as before the event took place. It is the same with weight loss, moving houses, relationship break-ups and infidelity, and getting a promotion at work. Whether it is a positive or negative event, they will consistently have less impact, less intensity and lesser duration than what people will expect them to have.

When things work out the way we want them to, this is known as Natural Happiness, and most people understand why someone is happy. It makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is Synthetic Happiness, which is the happiness that is created by our “psychological immune system” when we don’t get what we want. Research has shown that even though other people respond to examples of Synthetic Happiness with a “yeah right!” response when they hear about it, it is every bit as enduring as Natural Happiness.

What I liked about it: Even when things don’t go as planned or we don’t end up getting what we want, most of the time, our “psychological immune system” will step into action and help us feel pleased not despite, but because of what has occurred. While most of us might picture ourselves being miserable if things don’t work out, the truth is that we will generally be okay, so don’t spend too much time fretting over all of the bad things that may occur in the future. Humans are amazingly resilient, even in the face of the worst possible outcomes.

On the positive side, we should also try not to sacrifice too much good stuff (fun, leisure, play, excitement, adventure) in the here and now for that eventual pay-off that is likely to be less rewarding and less enduring than you imagine. It is much better to create the type of life that we want now than always putting it off until a later date (after I finish studying; after I get married; after I retire; after I lose weight etc.).

If you’d like to learn more: Read the book ‘Stumbling on Happiness’ by Dan Gilbert.

4. The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain (14 million views)

Summary: Our society, especially in the West, tends to value being social and outgoing, or being an extrovert, above all else. An extrovert is someone who craves large amounts of stimulation, both environmentally and socially, to feel lively and capable. On the other hand, introverts tend to feel most comfortable, switched on, energised, and creative when they are in low-key or isolated environments.

The key to maximising everyone’s talents is finding the best level of stimulation for each individual. However, we design our schools and workplaces and social settings to allow the extrovert to thrive. These designs only further disadvantage the introvert and diminish their performance, confidence and level of well-being. Introverts often feel different from mainstream society or ashamed of who they are, but between a third and a half of all individuals are introverted. It’s just that they are often quieter and tend to get lost in the crowd.

What if, instead of forcing introverts to thrive in an extroverted world, we could instead diversify things to appeal to everyone’s strengths. What if each student and worker could study and perform in the environment that best suited them? Introverts often have talents and abilities in the areas where extroverts are the weakest, so accepting, encouraging, and celebrating the strengths of introverts and extroverts would help society flourish better as a whole.

What I liked about it: Growing up, I always knew that I became overstimulated and struggled to perform at my best in loud, busy environments. I hated going out to clubs on the weekend and tended to enjoy smaller gatherings to large crowds or festivals. I even found large lectures much more challenging to concentrate on than a small tutorial or studying at home by myself. Some of my favourite pastimes include spending a big chunk of time by myself relaxing, reflecting or reading a book. I love excitement and adventure too, which makes me more of an ambivert, but I need my quiet times to recharge and keep functioning at my best. Accepting myself for who I am and working with my strengths is much better than forcing myself to be like someone else that society values the most.

If you’d like to learn more: Read the book ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’ by Susan Cain.

3. The Power of Vulnerability by Brené Brown (24 million views)

Summary: Brené Brown is a social worker who has studied human connection, imperfection, shame, fear and vulnerability. She believes that human connection is why we are here on this planet, and it is what gives us meaning and purpose in life. She says that what prevents us from connecting with others truly is shame and fear and that to connect, empathise, belong and love, we need to be seen, which takes extreme courage and vulnerability. It is possible to be worthy of love, connection and belonging without being perfect. We need to be compassionate towards ourselves and believe that we are worthy. While it may seem appealing to not be afraid before we act, it is actually through leaning into the discomfort, embracing vulnerability, and being willing to take emotional risks that we will find the most rewarding experiences and connections.

What I liked about it: Not only does Brené Brown talk about vulnerability, but she also leads by example by opening up about her struggles with vulnerability. She shows that life isn’t about waiting until we’re perfect or bulletproof before we act upon something or try something out, as seductive as infallibility may be. If we don’t take risks or be vulnerable, we sacrifice the quality of our relationships, and we miss out on opportunities that we may never be able to get again. But, on the other hand, when we are vulnerable, we don’t waste our precious time or turn our backs on our potential strengths. Instead, we manage to connect with others and contribute in a way that is uniquely ours.

If you’d like to learn more: Read the book ‘The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are’. Even better is the book ‘Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead’ by Brené Brown.

2. Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are by Amy Cuddy (33 million views)

Summary: It has been known for quite a while that our body language impacts how others perceive us and how successful our interactions with others are. Amy Cuddy has researched our nonverbal behaviour further and shows that this can also affect our thoughts, feelings, hormone levels and subsequent behaviour. For example, holding any two of the five “power poses” shown in the talk for only 60 seconds each can increase testosterone levels and feelings of power while reducing cortisol levels and stress. It may even change how you perform if done before important meetings, speeches, exams, job interviews, or other stressful occasions. Like Amy says, power posing allows us to “fake it until we become it!”

What I liked about it: The concept of power posing brings about all types of possibilities for helping people with anything that they usually lack confidence in or feel a high degree of stress doing. If only 2 minutes of power posing can increase their likelihood of success, then it should be taught everywhere, from homes to schools to workplaces. In the last chapter of Amy Cuddy’s book ‘Presence’ she includes some examples of people (and even horses) that have successfully applied power posing in their lives.

The Imposter Syndrome is another critical issue that Amy touches on during her talk, and it is an experience that a lot of us (between 60–70%) have at one point or another in our life. I know that I did when I first made the state Volleyball team as a junior and when I first started studying for my Doctoral Psychology degree. The Imposter Syndrome is where people feel like they are a fraud or shouldn’t be in the position they are in because they “don’t deserve it” or that “somebody has made a mistake”. They worry that although they have been able to convince people so far of their capabilities, it is just a matter of time before others catch them out for the imposter they are. Realising how common this is and that in time it can go away would provide hope to anyone watching who is going through a similar experience.

If you’d like to learn more: Read the book ‘Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges’ by Amy Cuddy.

1. Do Schools Kill Creativity? by Sir Ken Robinson (38 million views)

Summary: Our current education system is outdated and fails to adequately prepare today’s children for the uncertainty and unprecedented growth that is likely to occur in the future.

The current hierarchical structure of subjects tends to place maths and languages at the top, followed by the humanities and arts. Furthermore, art and music are considered higher than drama and dance, even within the arts.

Somehow as we go up in school levels, the creative pursuits are pushed aside, devalued and even stigmatised instead of the more serious subjects that are supposed to ready us for the workplace. But schools are still preparing us for the needs of industrialism, not for the rapidly evolving society where we are not even aware of what is ahead of us in five years, let alone what the world will be like in 2065.

Wouldn’t it be better to help each child to utilise their creativity in figuring out where they are most “in their element” and encourage them to pursue a career that is consistent with both their strengths (what they are good at) and their passions (what they enjoy)?

What I liked about it: Considering that we’ll never exactly know what we are preparing students for, teaching them to be curious, creative, innovative, flexible and resilient should be at the top of the list of the skills to help develop in children. If we can do this, then no matter what takes place in the future, today’s children will be in the best position to adapt, grow and evolve.

We should also let go of seeing intelligence so narrowly and know that it is diverse, dynamic and distinct. We should start looking for and nurturing each child’s unique capacities instead of trying to force them into becoming A+ Maths and English students. Ken uses the example of Gillian Lynne, who her school diagnosed at eight years of age as having a learning disorder similar to ADHD. Nowadays, she would likely be put on Ritalin to help reduce her restlessness and remain focused in class, but luckily the specialist that she saw noticed her need to move and dance to music and told her mother to enrol her in a dance school instead. Gillian did this, began to flourish, and went on to choreograph “Cats” and “Phantom of the Opera”, entertaining millions and making millions in the process.

If you’d like to learn more: Read the books ‘The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything’ and ‘Finding Your Element: How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life’ by Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica.

Feel free to comment about which ones you liked the best or if there are other TED talks that you would have included in your list.

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

Personality Assessments – The Way to Figure Out Who We Are

There are many different assessments tools that Psychologists can use to help you answer the big question — “Who am I?”

I will introduce these to you now so that you can determine if you’d like to give any of them a try:

#1 — Psychiatric Assessment

Many Psychologists will take a clinical history during the first session, which is usually the assessment phase of therapy. They may typically start with your presenting issue or the reason that you came to treatment. Next, they will ask when this issue began and if you’ve experienced similar or other problems in the past. Next, they will ask about other current psychological, emotional or physical symptoms that you may be struggling with. They will then see if you’ve had previous treatment before, how you found it (helpful or unhelpful and why), and if you are on any medication or suffering from any medical condition. They will then briefly go into your family history, occupational and educational history, ask about your interests and hobbies, and the main supports and relationships in your life. The assessment phase typically ends with clarification of treatment goals and a collaboratively decided upon plan to help you address your presenting problem and achieve your treatment goals. This process may occur in only one session or spread out over multiple sessions to collect a more in-depth history. Psychologists are likely to revisit these issues at various points during the subsequent treatment. However, the information obtained during this assessment is usually enough for Psychologists to get a good sense of who you are, what you struggle with, and what treatment may help you achieve your goals, address your concerns, and improve your quality of life.

#2 — Self-Report Personality Assessment

There are three self-report questionnaire-based personality assessments that Psychologists may give to you in session if it is essential to be thorough and accurate in determining who you are, what you struggle with, and what your diagnosis might be (if you have one). These are the 567-item Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI-2), the 344-item Personality Assessment Inventory (PAI), or the 175-item Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory (MCMI-III). These Personality Assessments have good psychometric properties, meaning that they are reliable, valid, and useful. They also have questions to determine if you are lying or portraying yourself in an unrealistically positive or negative way. However, they are time-consuming to fill out and score up, so it is essential to determine if it is worth the cost for the extra accuracy that it may bring in helping you figure out who you are.

Another self-report questionnaire that can be given in session to determine what you are struggling with is the Young Schema Questionnaire, but this is likely to be only used if you are undergoing Schema Therapy. This is a longer-term type of therapy recommended for clients who haven’t benefited as much as they would like from traditional Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

There are also free personality assessments that anyone can access on the Internet. My personal favourite and one that I recommend as a homework task for clients who want to find out more about themselves is the IPIP-NEO, based on the five-factor (Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Neuroticism & Openness to Experience) personality model. There is a short-form (120-item) and a long-form (300-item) version, but I usually recommend the short-form, as it produces similar findings. I like the IPIP-NEO the most because it gives you a percentile score on 30 different facets of personality and compares how you see yourself to how other people of the same age from the same country and of the same gender see themselves. I then typically get clients to bring and share their responses if they would like to, which provides me with a much higher understanding of who they are, how they see themselves, and why they may struggle with the things they do. It is much better and more comfortable to accept the client for who they are and help bring out the best in them through treatment rather than force them to change into something that maybe doesn’t suit their natural temperament or personality style. It also helps me overcome any cognitive biases that I have to empathise with the clients I see more accurately.

I have also sometimes recommended the Meyers-Briggs Type Inventory, and this can be good for determining what career may be suitable for you. However, I don’t find it useful because it categorises everyone into 16 personality types, which isn’t much more than the 12 different star signs. I have a similar issue with the DISC personality assessment (4 types) often used in business settings or the Enneagram of Personality (9 types). However, other people swear by their accuracy and usefulness in helping us understand who we are and why we do what we do, so please feel free to check them out and see for yourself if you are interested.

#3 — Projective Personality Assessment

The two primary projective tests psychologists use include the Rorschach Inkblot Test and the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT). These tests aim to clarify further what may be happening in someone’s subconscious or beyond their awareness by assessing how they interpret vague or ambiguous inkblots or pictures. Because they are deliberately ambiguous, it is thought that what the individual says is actually their subconscious processes being projected onto the images. There are structured ways for these tests to be administered and scored so that the interpretations become more valid and accurate. However, the descriptions are still subjective, and the same client responses may be interpreted in different ways by different Psychologists or even by the same Psychologist depending on who the client is. I, therefore, believe that projective tests can be useful, but only alongside other clinical information or forms of assessment so that the therapist can determine a complete picture of the client. Other creative forms of expression, including drawing, painting, writing, sculpture, music, dance, and even dream interpretation and analysis, are other projective tools that a therapist can utilise within or outside of therapy. The interpretation of these forms of expression is even more subjective than projective tests. Still, it can provide a nice window into who we are if we are willing to free-associate and delve deeper into figuring out the potential meaning inherent in what we think about and do.

To summarise, a Psychologist can definitely help you figure out who you are and why you do things, and they are provided with a lot of training to do so. Friends and family can give us useful feedback, but remember that even Psychologists aren’t allowed to assess or treat their friends or family because they are likely to be too biased in their work. There are some great books out there on Personality and the free tests on the Internet that have been mentioned above. The more specific, thorough and scientifically validated the personality assessment is, the better, more accurate, and more useful it is likely to be, but this can be both time consuming and costly. The IPIP-NEO is a great place to start if you are merely curious but not willing to spend any money just yet.

Once we have figured out who we are, it is time to move onto the next big question — “What is important to me, and what do I want to do?”

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist