Holidays and stereotypes content: Confessions of a ‘Hippy Parent’.
This last week my family and I have been on holiday. I for one needed it – the end of the academic year is pretty busy and I usually come out of it pretty beat. For our holiday we went to a resort on the south coast. We rented a small apartment in a block of 4 in the resorts ‘holiday village’. We had a super time and have returned back to work and family life much refreshed. However, something happened which was a bit thought provoking. I was (in a fairly nice way – all things considered!) reduced to a stereotype.
Procrastination, as we all know, is a productivity killer. I have a list of jobs (sometimes written down, and sometimes in my head) I need to do on a day to day basis. Some jobs – particularly ones I am worried about, or where a poor outcome has dire consequences- seem to sit on that list for a long time. This often makes them more difficult when I finally get to them! Why do we do this to ourselves? What is the psychology which underpins it, and how can we avoid getting bogged down in procrastination?
I am thrilled to say that my new book, Psychology Squared: 100 Concepts in Psychology You Should Know is now out, published by Apple Press and available in physical form via Amazon and other channels. Written by myself and Dr. Christopher Sterling, this volume outlines 100 interesting ideas and concepts in psychology, each accompanied by a beautiful illustration or fantastically informative diagram. I’m really proud of what we have achieved, and writing it was really the inspiration for the blog. You can read more about it by visiting my little bookstore here.
Implementation intentions and behavioural follow-through
Like many people (I suspect!) I am sometimes not so good at following though on my goals. Here are a bunch of things which this week I fully intended to do, but failed epically to achieve. Note this is the abridged version – the full list runs to 3 volumes.
Buy light bulbs for the kitchen
Call an old friend I ran into on the train last week (Hello J!)
Write down when my annual leave is on our kitchen calendar
Call a work colleague to discuss a new project
Write up some work related expense forms
For many of these things I actively thought about doing them several times a day (as well as whilst cooking crazily calorie laden food in a near pitch-black kitchen).I’m not alone here – these sort of goals only seem to account for around 30% of the variance in our behaviour. Now, I am a reasonably well motivated guy, so why the apparent multiple lack of follow through? Part of the is probably due to the way I formulate my intentions.
It all began with a perfectly ordinary event – my partner, daughters and I were invited around for a late afternoon dinner with some friends one Sunday last month. Usually when you go to someone’s house you bring something – some flowers, something you have made, or a bottle of something (not so much the latter for us now as we are basically drunk all the time in my household). In this instance we’d been quite disorganised and been unable to sort anything out in advance. No problem – we would just pick something up on the way right? Wrong. Just as we were leaving our baby (with impeccable timing) needed a full nappy / outfit change and a comprehensive hosing down(I’ll let you guess why). As a result we arrived at the supermarket at one minute past four, 60 full seconds after it closed, and were barred entry. Even though we knew the people we were seeing (who are super nice squared) would not automatically expect us to bring something we still felt we had a dilemma – walk across town to another shop which may be open, but be quite late (which with kids and eating can be a deal breaker in terms of a pleasant afternoon!) or go empty handed, which felt wrong (or so half of our partnership thought). OK, so it’s a bit of a exaggeration to say my marriage was nearly destroyed by this discussion. But my partner and I did have quite a falling out! In the end we picked something up, were a bit late, and had a fantastic evening. The tension this seemingly minor issue raised did lead me to reflect on why the drive to bring something when we go to someone’s house to eat is so strong, and what psychology has to say about it.
Psychological research shows us that meditation can increase your immune function and health, improve levels of happiness and bolster emotional self-regulation. It can also decrease negative emotions and massively reduce stress and anxiety. It can also make you more productive in your day to day lives. It’s not complicated, and it need not have a spiritual component to it. Neither should it take up hours of your day. Even 10 minutes done regularly can have an impact on your life.
What predicts performance differences in two people with equal preparation? Challenge!
Tests, performance and stress.
We all face tests in our lifetime. As I write, all across the country people are preparing for, or sitting exams. My own students are no exception – I have 180 undergraduates who are busy revising (I hope) for a exam on social psychology next week. There are a lot of things which predict success in such tasks. Some are out of our immediate control – some people simply have an aptitude for exams and some (like me!) find them more difficult. Other things are more within our control – how much you engaged with the course when it was presented, how much extra reading you did and how thorough your revision was. But what predicts the differences between two people of equal aptitude, who have prepared similarly? The ‘edge’ the stronger person have may be less to do with how much they know or how skilled they are, and more to do with how they perceive the situation. I understand this via something called the biopsychosocial model of challenge and threat [BPSM]
Lack of sleep can affect us in many ways, but did you know in some ways it is the equivalent of being drunk?
I love my children, but boy, do they keep me up at night. I reckon over the last three years, 98% of my nights have involved being woken up multiple times, often for stretches of 30 minutes plus. The other 2% of the time I am away at conferences. Things were just settling down with our last one (by settle down, I mean just up once a night) when we had the next one. I think my partner has it even worse at the moment with our four month old!
I am a grown man who is terribly pleased to get a sticker. What is worse is, this sticker is not even real. Yep. My partner bought me an activity monitor (if you’ve not heard of these think footstep pedometer on steroids).
Today I am mostly pleased because, since putting this device on, I have walked the same distance which emperor penguins migrate (112 km if you are interested). For this, my phone displayed a little picture of a penguin when I logged in. Super! Next, I want to climb stairs equivalent to a helicopters cruising altitude. I vow to avoid all elevators from this day on!
What does psychology make of alien abductions? And what does this study tell us about the discipline?
Last night, my partner and I were watching a rerun of the X-Files. It was great, Mulder and Scully being curious and sceptical, hints of conspiracy, images of alien abduction and some great dry humour. But it got me thinking – what does my discipline make of belief in alien abduction? And what does it study tell us about the wider context of psychological science?