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    Minimalism as the examined life

    A couple of thousand years ago, an uncompromising Athenian philosopher by the name of Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living. It’s a provocative idea. Similar sentiments surface and resurface across history, and across cultures. Perhaps we need to hear this message again and again precisely because we find it so hard to take on board. Perhaps, as Simon Longstaff has suggested, it is because living an examined life can be challenging that Socrates adopted such strident language. (Or perhaps that was the doing of one of his students. We’ll never know, as Socrates didn’t make free and loose with a pen.) Socrates’ message is as relevant…

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    Mindfulness meditation: Reinventing the wheel?

    “You’re just reinventing the wheel! This has all been said before! What’s the point?” Some people imagine that inspiration comes from nothing, that creativity is like a sort of psychological Big Bang. It doesn’t. It isn’t. Scientific ideas evolve over time, and they’re often based on earlier, non-scientific ideas, at least to start. Take the atomic theory — the idea that the stuff we see around us, be it water, tables, or cats, is made of little particles. The idea was first talked about in ancient Athens. But, and this is the crucial point, the ancient philosophers also had a bunch of other ideas about how the world works that…

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    Don’t wait on confidence

    You wake up, uncomfortable, to beeping sounds and urgent voices. “He’s awake!” There are voices. Hurried footsteps. You notice the uncomfortable tubes. You’re in hospital. Over the next hour you learn you’ve been suffering from a mysterious it-could-only-happen-in-Hollywood illness. You’re recovering now but you have completely forgotten who you are. You have simply no recollection of your previous life. You can still speak English but many commonplace things are now mysterious to you. All the same, you’ve not forgotten everything. For instance, you can still walk. People arrive and they say they’re your friends and relatives. Some of them do indeed bear a physical resemblance. They take you to an…

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    Use your brain’s processing power wisely

    Back in the day it was common to charge by the hour for time on a computer. I suppose that dying institution, the cyber café, still does this, and of course in research facilities and university departments across the globe, time on a mainframe or supercomputer is still allocated on a chargeable basis. Computer scientists break down complicated things (like showing you cat video on your phone) into individual calculations. Each design of computer processor can figure out a certain number of these calculations per cycle, and it cycles a certain number of times per hour. It takes a certain amount of work (let’s define that as processing power multiplied…

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    Our ironic attitude to death

    As a culture, we avoid talking about death. Whether it’s because of existential angst (the worry about what’ll happen to us after we die?), a simple association with sadness and sorrow (we’ve experienced other peoples deaths but by definition we’ve never died ourselves), or because of an empathic understanding of how sad our death may make our friends and loved ones (at least, we assume so). This is very understandable but it’s counterproductive all the same. By treating death as something unspeakable we avoid it’s consideration at all cost. The effect of this avoidance is huge. Though it might feel like bringing a sledgehammer to break a nut, remembering that…

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    Why I am a Coaching Psychologist

    Last semester, a student asked me “Why are you a Coaching Psychologist, and not a therapist, when you clearly know so much about psychotherapy?” (I paid him for the flattery later.) I gave a rather glib answer at the time, and since then I’ve been wanting to find time to marshall my thoughts and be honest and upfront about my reasons for preferring to be part of a young upstart of a discipline, rather than adopting a label with a century-long pedigree. Today’s the day. I think Freud did the world a great service. He did more than most to illuminate how we have rather little conscious awareness of the…

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    Mindful eating helps your brain control appetite

    As a psychologist, I probably shouldn’t be surprised, but I still am. I remember drawing hugely complex diagrams of the nervous system for my masters degree, showing all the nerves going into and out of the brain, making contact with virtually every organ and system of the body. I know, intellectually speaking, that the nervous system, and thereby the brain, is hugely influential in everything the body does, but I still can’t help it. I just figure if you were inventing a machine that needs fuel, you’d have a fairly simple fuel gauge — a little meter that says “stomach full, well done”. Nope. I’ve written in other posts about…

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    5 ways procrastination can happen and what to do about them

    All of us procrastinate at some point. Some of us do it quite a bit. Quite a few of us do it so much that it seriously gets in the way of us achieving our goals and getting what we want in life. Here’s a quick run-down of some of the ways you’ll spot procrastination, and my ideas on beating them. Many of the solutions are in fact interchangeable because procrastination has only a couple of underlying causes, but these pairings up of procrastination type and solution seem to be the ones my students have best luck with. (Obviously these are things I’ve seen in other people, not myself. I’m perfect.)…

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    How to bring creative thinking into your work — become playful

    Unless you’re an artist, you may not often think about creativity as being important for your work (or your life), but unless you work on a factory production line with a particularly autocratic boss, creativity matters. At its core, creativity is nothing more than coming up with new ways of doing things, and it’s the keystone of interesting work. You might think of progress itself as nothing more than the creativity that stuck around. When we feel stuck on a project, the sense of dissatisfaction comes from the fact that we have a problem to solve and none of the solutions currently on the table feel quite adequate. We need alternative…

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    Three signals that you’ve eaten enough

    You may not have spent much time thinking about what it means to have had enough food. It’s obvious, isn’t it? You stop when you’re full. If someone asks, “how do you know when you’re full?” you might respond that it’s just like asking, “how do you know you have a pain in your knee?” The answer is, “you just do.” Of course there are different types of knee pain. Sharp and stabbing, dull and aching, and so on. In just this way there are different types of “feeling full” (though I prefer the phrase “had enough” to “full” and you’ll see why later). If we pay attention to these…