• All posts,  Self development

    Finding meaning in life

    What do humans need to be happy in life? The argument has sparked numerous debates for centuries. Some have argued that we can be happy so long as our basic needs for food and shelter and social connection are taken care of. Others have argued that we can be happy even in the face of indescribable suffering so long as…

  • All posts,  Self development

    Arguing with the universe

    Social media provide a strange playground for a psychologist. You get to watch people interacting, like a fly on the wall, much less intrusively than in real life. Each platform has its idiosyncrasies. Facebook ‘friendships’ mostly follow real-life ones, whilst Twitter and Reddit are dominated by relationships that exist only in cyberspace. Over the last couple of years, people have…

  • Self development

    Enough information already

    “If [more] information was the answer, then we’d all be billionaires with perfect abs.” — Derek Sivers Thinking about a problem can often feel the same as dealing with it. This can be a dangerous psychological effect, which threatens to undermine your attempts at self-improvement. Behavioural scientists have published dozens of studies on this over the last two decades. Let’s…

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    Opportunity cost

    Our wonderful, complex, modern world provides myriad opportunities. And so, of course, it presents us with many thousands of choices to make, and just as many opportunity costs. Unlike 99% of everyone who ever lived on this planet, you can take a glowing rectangle out of your pocket, tap it a few times, and have food delivered to your home…

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    How to spend less money

    There are many ways to get better at money management, though you wouldn’t know it from reading personal development blogs. They pretty much all recommend you plan out a budget and stick to it strictly, month in, month out. You set up a spreadsheet or pay for some shockingly expensive bespoke software and audit your expenditure at the end of…

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    Using social media to live a better life

    We live in the age of the selfie, of Facebook, of Instagram, of self-generated content. This isn’t unprecedented narcisism, as some would have us believe. It’s the modern equivalent of boring your friends with four packets of photographs from you recent trip. In many ways, the modern approach is better. Tweaking an Instagram filter is fun. Re-taking a selfie until…

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    The power of ritual

    Not too long ago, I read Mason Curry’s Daily Rituals — How Artists Work. It’s a fascinating book. Literally. I could hardly put it down. And yet, I hesitate to recommend it. The reason for my hesitation has more to do with the book’s reception than with the book itself. Oliver Burkman, writing for the Guardian describes how he was inspired…

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    In pursuit of happiness

    Since the time of Aristotle, great thinkers have discussed two types of happiness. One type can come from chocolate, an expertly made cup of coffee, a spot of sunbathing, or a good back scratch. Such things are said to bring hedonic happiness. If we were being a little less pompous, we might say ‘pleasure’. Hedonic happiness might also be identified…

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    Monkey brain, lizard brain

    Thoughts and feelings get in the way more often than we would like. We don’t often acknowledge the fact, perhaps because we’re too close to the phenomenon to see it for what it is. Let’s say you decide to lose weight. What’s likely to be your biggest obstacle? You’ll almost certainly have urges to eat unhealthy foods, and these will…

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    Everything popular is wrong

    You probably know that in 1912 China banned the practice of foot binding. Until then, for a millennium, many thousands of young girls were subjected to a culturally supported but dangerous practice wherein the foot was broken, twisted, and bound, so as to give it a more aristocratic appearance. It lead to disability and life-long pain. Why then was it…