Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?


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Men, women still want you – but only if you are perfect!

Women only want Mr Perfect!

If you thought the chick-lit era was over, with no more searching for Mr Right a la Bridget Jones or Sex in the City; or that WAGS were now irrelevant –  then you were right, but oh so wrong! At least according to Amy Turner’s piece in the Sunday Times a while ago (which I just found in my draft box); “Mr So-So has no chance with the SAS girls”. That was 7 years ago; has anything changed?

Because it seems that then women still wanted to meet the man of their dreams – Civitas think tank found that 70% of women aged 20 – 35 want to get married – but only if they found Mr Right. In particular so-called SAS women: successful, attractive and single – say they are happy enjoying themselves.

As one SAS women, described as having “endless legs and sparkling repartee” (sycophant-speak for skinny public school girl) said; “I’m fabulous and I want someone equally as fabulous to join my party“. Not much narcissistic self-referencing there then and hardly suggesting an equal partnership (see “Princess on board…”).

Not for them Lori Gottlieb’s advice in; “Marry him: the case for settling for good enough”. As my management consultant colleagues might say, SAS women are taking a “six sigma” rather than just a “fit for purpose” approach and as one of my guest bloggers pointed out recently; “Male modesty doesn’t pay”.

But why should women settle for less now that they are increasingly holding the purse strings? Experts  in the USA think that by 2024 women will be earning more on average than men , particularly in Law, Medicine, and in academia.

There are already more females than males graduating and higher education is the best predictor of future financial success. And the trend is pretty much the same in the UK with more females than males graduating in Law and Psychology for example.

In America five years ago only 1 in 4  women in dual-income households earned more than the men; now it is up to a third and if that trend continues more women in middle-income jobs like teaching and healthcare will overtake men.

In America female graduates have flocked into cities such as New York and Dallas to find “gender-blind” jobs with the result that women in their 20s are now earning 20% more than their male counterparts.

A number of factors have influenced these trends: a sharp decline in the birth rate in cities where more women go to college, more men losing their jobs than women (women occupied more part-time jobs) in the recession (the “mancession“), and an increase in family-friendly – which usually means women-friendly – jobs.  And you could probably add to that the feminising of education.

So what do you think? Will women today settle for second best?

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Is self-help bad for your health?

319hladwknl-_sx279_bo1204203200_Well a scandinavian psychologist and professor at Aaalborg University in Denmark thinks so.

Svend Brickmann, author of the best-selling “Stand Firm. Resisting the self-improvement craze“, says we live in a “culture of social acceleration” and in such a world standing still, being content, and not particularly feeling the need to constantly “grow” is almost heretical (writes Carol Midgley interviewing him in The Times).

What seems to be required in an era of constant change is to keep moving, keep adapting, keep ahead of the game both professionally and personally.

Well Brinkmann doesn’t buy into that at all.

He suggests that you throw away all your self-improvement books, embrace negativity and doubt, and stand firm against the tyranny of positivity. He particularly dislikes the obsession with introspection and self-analysis that risks stress, depression and might even turn us into mini-psychopaths.

His book is essentially an anti-self help book which mimics the self-help genre. So don’t expect any suggestions that you “listen to your feelings“, “trust your inner voice” and similar mantras.

He says “cut out the navel gazing”, “focus on the negatives in your life”, suppress your feelings“, “dwell on the past”, and “sack your coach”! I’d love to see him speak at the UK coaching or psychology conferences.

He wants to get us away from the all the self-analysis and self discovery that is pervasive in today’s culture.  Away from the priesthood of life coaches, therapists and the self-help manuals supporting the new religion of self.

He thinks our inability to accept what we have and our need to continually grow and indulge our feelings and emotions actually infantilises us, swaddling us in our own feelings, as we can’t continue to grow in reality.

He believes that as adults we should admire those who are capable of controlling and suppressing their emotions, not those who let it all hang out.

He also thinks the self-help industry fools us into thinking we are actually in control of our own destinies. “One of the problems with the self-help ethos is that it privatises or individualises social problems. If there are no jobs it’s not due to your lack of positive thinking that you can’t get a job”.

He sees a paradox in the self-help industry where the literature focuses on the individual’s freedom of choice and self-realisation yet helps create people who are addicted to self-help and therapeutic interventions. I know of people who go back year after year to the same NLP experience in Hawaii or to Tony Robbins conference events. Didn’t it work the first time?

He recommends reading a novel instead of a biography (which is about an individual) or a self-help book. (Interestingly there is some research that found that reading a literary – not popular – novel is good for developing your empathy among other things as it introduces you to things outside your experience).

As for the claim that self-realisation creates self-sufficient adults he refutes it saying it actually creates infantile, dependent adults who think the truth lies within them.

He mentions self-help guru Tony Robbins who has coached George W Bush and Bill Clinton. Robbins says “Success is doing what you want, when you want, where you want, with whom you want, as much as you want” (I can see the appeal to Bill Clinton). Brinkmann says that taken to extreme this way of thinking resemble sociopathy or anti-social personality disorder because it encourages you to do whatever is necessary to achieve your aims.

He also notes that this approach has no ethical substance and life coaches encourage people to follow their dreams, be passionate, and do what is necessary to achieve it. Not caring what other people think and being encouraged to “do it now” is similar to the lack of impulse control that is part of what makes a psychopath.

It seem that at heart Brinkmann is a stoic. So rather than practising positive visualisation about things you want practise negative visualisation. What would life be like if you lost everything? This makes you appreciate what you’ve got and prepares you for not having it.

Defensive pessimism – lowering your expectations and preparing yourself for the worst can be an effective way of managing anxiety and be very positive for some people and improve performance. I have experienced this attitude with friends in the Slav and Baltic countries.  I’ve heard “Don’t count your blessings until the day is out” and similar sayings in Ukraine and Lithuania and pout it down to their temperament.

So always looking on the bright side doesn’t work for everyone and can become tiresome and oppressive. In Carol Midgley’s article she starts with a reference to performance reviews and what to say when you are asked the question about your development plans over the next five years.

Brinkmann’s view would be “I don’t want to develop I’m happy as I am” which probably wouldn’t go down well. However several years ago working at a multi-national pharma company based in Sweden I had the same experience.

I was coaching teams on the performance appraisal system to ensure it was rolled out the same in all countries when a Swedish team member asked why his manager kept asking him the same stupid question every year “where do you see yourself in 5 years time?” when he was happy doing what he did and just wanted to continue to do it to the best of his ability. There are definitely cultural differences at work here.

Brinkmann ends his book with an Appendix about stoicism which he sees as a useful anti-self help philosophy. And that’s because it emphasises self-control, a sense of duty,integrity, dignity, peace of mind, and a willingness to come to terms with (rather than find) yourself.

Sounds a bit old-fashioned? But well worth thinking about in our increasingly self-centred and narcissistic society.


Taking the perfect Selfie

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stick_figure_liking_it_500_wht_9170For all you selfie-takers who get frustrated when your photo doesn’t come out right the first (or tenth) time here’s the magic formula according to Andrej Karpathy, a PhD student at Stanford University.

  • Be female – men don’t make the top 100 most-liked selfies
  • Cut off your forehead (probably where Ant & Dec are going wrong)
  • Show your long hair
  • Ensure your face occupies a third of the frame (rule of thirds)
  • Oversaturate the image (and maybe save on self-tanning cream and makeup?)
  • Apply a filter (Black & White selfies are popular)
  • Add a border

Karpathy came to this formula by using a state of the art neural network to analyse 2 million selfies posted on the internet. The system ranked them by likes and dislikes and analysed the top 100.

Now taking selfies can be dangerous. Several people have died taking selfies and others have risked their lives wandering up a mountain…

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Helicopter Parents damage their kids

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The fury over Brock Turner, the Stanford University student who was imprisoned for 6 months after sexually assaulting a woman who was too drunk to know what she was doing, has not only raised the issue of leniency for sports stars (sentenced by a judge with sports credentials) but also the influence of parents.

His father wrote the court arguing that a prison sentence was “a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action“.

A former dean at the university, Julie Lythcott-Haims, said that it was consistent with a phenomenon she had witnesses developing at the university: helicopter parents.

During her tenure she said parents e-mailed professors to complain about their children’s grades, intervened in dormitory disputes, and refused to let their children grow up and take respocibility for their lives.

The father’s statement seems to me to be siding with his son at all…

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Ditch your smartphone, get out in the countryside, and feel better about yourself

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Nature lovers are significantly less anxious and have higher self-esteem than people obsessed with their smartphones according a recent study.

They are also more conscientious, emotionally stable and more open to new experiences than those addicted to technology.

The on-line research at the University of Derby examined people’s mobile phone use and their connection to nature. Participants were also assessed on their personality and self-esteem

It found that those most in touch with nature used their phone half as much each day as the rest of the population and were more emotionally balanced i.e. 2 hrs 15 mins each day (which seems a lot to me) compared to 4 hrs 8 mins for those less connected to nature.

They also took 87% fewer selfies but three times as many pictures of nature.  So we can probably assume that they are also less narcissistic.

Miles Richardson, head of psychology, said “Nature…

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On-line bullying persists

The internet and mobile technology generally has been a boon to bullies.

As well as Facebook, sites such as Little Gossip – recently shut down because of pressure from schools – provide anonymity to cyber-bullies who can make life hell for their victims.

And now there is another such site, Formspring. The comments that are put on the site are not worth repeating but are personal and hurtful and can be completely untrue.

There is even a Facebook group called: “Congratulations Formspring. You’ve just created the No 1 bullying site”. Surely a case of the kettle and the pot?

The sad thing is that to be bullied on Formspring you have to sign up to it. What is it about young people that they can’t/daren’t/won’t be without constant links to their “friends” and the outside world.

I once endured a 30 minute bus ride whilst the young women behind me texted all the way, her phone beeping every time she hit a key and recently at a main-line railway station everyone within a 5o yard radius was texting or e-mailing on their mobile phones. This self-centred and possibly narcissistic activity is an addiction and a curse.


Do we get the customer service we deserve?

Over the years I have experienced some poor customer service – and not all of it in the former soviet republics (“service without a smile”). Some of the best has been in the USA – and not the “have a good day” or “missing you already” stuff, but the fact that even in a basic chain restaurant they will smile, wipe your table, and give you a jug of water, without having to be asked. Scandinavia is pretty good too.

But here in the UK it’s a mixed bag. Some coffee shops are good, in others the staff just talk to each other and ignore the customer. It’s the same in supermarkets with bored checkout staff who talk to their colleagues next to or behind them and who don’t even attempt eye contact once they’ve asked you if you need help packing your bag.

Yet research shows that waiters who touch you when giving you change get bigger tips; smiling will get a positive response 50% of the time depending on whether you are an extravert or an introvert; and remembering your name and your preferences is a good way to create loyalty.

So should it all be one-way? I went to collect a parcel from a depot recently and the first thing I saw was an A4 sized notice saying; “Customers conducting conversations on their mobile phones may find staff are unable to serve them until both parties have each other’s full attention”. Good for you I thought.

Apparently a regular customer would get out of her car and get on her mobile phone before coming to the reception desk and then carry on a running commentary with someone in the office – not just about what she was doing but what the other customers were doing as well!

We’ve all seen, or rather heard, mobile phone conversations carried on in public places with no regard for their intrusion into other people’s space. I have in the past asked people on trams to speak more quietly. It didn’t go down well but I didn’t really want to know what he had been doing with his girl-friend the previous night or what pizza toppings it led to!

People seem to be getting more egotistical or narcissistic, tweeting, texting, sexting and generally talking about themselves. And yes you could argue that bloggers like me are similar but you’re not forced to read this.

Updated 12 January 2010: Bad customer service is unforgivable says Michelin-starred chef Michel Roux Jr. He thinks people are surly, and slapdash and it’s dreadful. “It’s not just in restaurants, you get bad service anywhere,” he says. “Even buying a newspaper you can find that you’re not even acknowledged. There’s no eye contact, no greeting or anything. Bad service is unforgivable and it’s everywhere in the UK.

He has a point. The UK came a disappointing 14th in the 2010 international customer service rankings from the Nation Brand Index and was ranked 13th for its “welcome” by visitors. Top is Canada, followed by Italy and Australia.

It doesn’t bode well for a country just months away from a royal wedding that’s expected to attract millions of visitors to the UK, followed by the Olympics next year. Even for Britons, poor customer service is a national bugbear, up there with the weather. See: “Why is service still so bad in the UK”