Podcast: Working for Progress

I was interviewed by social entrepreneur, Dani Trudeau, on Working for Progress, a podcast that connects us all through conversations about how we craft our working lives and make progress for ourselves and others.

In this episode, I talk about my personal struggles and growth in searching for my place in the world over the last 25 years, as I globetrotted and career-hopped under the taunts of a fierce inner critic until I finally started learning how to live in harmony with myself – to like myself, in fact.

We talk about:

  • living and working in alignment with what matters to us
  • anxiety and depression in conforming and performing
  • taking risks and knowing when to quit
  • decoupling self-value from achievement
  • awe, human connection and being yourself
  • stepping out of the fast lane
  • doing our best for others by taking care of ourselves

I felt like I’d leapt off a cliff…It was painful and scary and uncomfortable, which sounds like I’m saying don’t do it. In retrospect though, that was the career path. I started to gleefully leap off, as I realised it wasn’t an abyss.

Have a listen to the 30 minute episode here:

Photo by Weaver Ignrvr on Unsplash

Video: Body Image and Self-value

I was interviewed by Kat Borrowdale, performer and director of Edinburgh-based social enterprise Think Circus, for their 2021 film, Imagined Bodies, which was supported by the National Lottery through Creative Scotland.

We talked about body shame and improving self-talk and self-understanding:

“Your body is political. You don’t feel bad about it because there’s something wrong with you. You feel bad about it because the powers that be have decided it’s in their interests for you to feel bad about it”.

Have a watch of our interview (30 minute video):

From the Think Circus website: “Imagined Bodies presents short duets exploring the negative thoughts that one third of adults in the UK experience in relation to their physical bodies.

“Responding to months of social isolation during the lockdowns of 2020, and increased focus on body image, the work is based around the insidious, everyday negative thoughts people experience in relation to their physical bodies.

Imagined Bodies explores the opposing forces of body appearance verses body capability. It exposes tensions between expectation and self-esteem, self discipline and compassion”.

Photo by Keenan Constance on Unsplash

Be You

Why is it so important to feel like we’re doing what’s truly in line with ourselves?

Because doing so makes us feel incredible and leads us to perform at our best.

To live life well, Aristotle said we must “strain every nerve to live in accordance with the best thing in us”. In other words, we live our lives at their best when we live in line with our strengths.

Why does using our strengths matter so much? According to strengths researcher and psychologist Dr Alex Linley, the answer’s really quite simple.

When we use our innate capacities, we feel authentic – like we are being our truest selves – and that influences our sense of fulfillment. It also energises us. Like a car alternator, using our strengths actually tops up our batteries.

Linley’s research found that when people use their strengths they have higher levels of vitality and a greater zest for life. They also don’t burnout, unlike when we’re working hard without tapping our key capabilities.

Such fulfillment and energy leads us to perform at our best. We’re at the top of our psychological functioning, feeling more alive, engaged and in flow. We learn better, because it’s easier to put down neural pathways where they already exist than to forge new ones. Naturally then, we also perform better.

The beauty of fully using our strengths is that doing so is actually the path of least resistance to reach our greatest potential.

Realising Strengths

It’s exciting to recognise the win-win nature of using our strengths. Of course, we must first know what they are, and there’s a good scientific reason for that. In his illuminating book, Average to A+, Linley asks us to run an experiment. Look at these words and notice how you feel:


Now notice how you feel when you read these words:


You probably feel somehow reduced by the first line of words, but elevated by the second. Words have a powerful impact on the way we feel, which in turn affects our thoughts and actions.

The power of such labelling is well known in psychology. When we label something, we pay it attention and treat it as real (good or bad). That’s why we need to identify our strengths so that we keep them in the forefront of our minds. Then we can really harness them. As Linley says,

“Without the capacity to describe them, it is easy for our strengths to fall between the cracks of our existence, becoming lost and forgotten rather than identified, nurtured, celebrated, and fully realised”.

When we realise our strengths – as in, identify them and fully understand them – we can then also ‘realise’ them in the sense of bringing them fully into being.

There is another good reason to identify our strengths:

“When someone has a strength, and we reflect it back to them, they have a eureka moment of realisation and recognition. They feel understood, validated, and valued. They feel appreciated for who they really are”.

So then, what are your core strengths? To find out, try the renowned Clifton Strengths Finder test or the free Via Survey. My personal favourite though is Linley’s Strengths Profile.


Linley, A. (2008) Average to A+: Realising strengths in yourself and others. CAPP Press: Coventry.

5 Lessons from Science about Human Connection

#1 Survival of the Kindest

Among early humans, it was those who could work together and form collaborative relationships who survived the hazards of predators, climate and rival tribes. Evolution favoured cooperation and empathy.

We’ve come to understand that when Darwin spoke of ‘survival of the fittest’ he meant the individual who was strongest prevailed. Here’s what he actually said:

A tribe including many members who, from possessing in a high degree the spirit of patriotism, fidelity, obedience, courage, and sympathy, were always ready to aid one another, and to sacrifice themselves for the common good, would be victorious over most other tribes; and this would be natural selection”.

It is not selfish individuals but mutually supportive groups who have survived and thrived.

The ‘selfish gene’ simply doesn’t stand up to the facts of biology. In the 1980s, scientists discovered we and other species have mirror neurons, which fire whether a person makes an action themselves or sees someone else doing so. It is our empathy circuit: our brains react in the same way to other people’s experiences as it does to our own.

This ability to ‘read minds’ makes us fundamentally compassionate. Research has repeatedly revealed that our instinct is to choose another’s wellbeing over our own interests.

#2 The Importance of Connection

Loneliness is the number one reason people seek therapy today, says Stanford Professor Emma Seppala. It is also terrible for our bodies:

loneliness is a greater detriment to health than obesity, smoking and high blood pressure“.

You may or may not feel that loneliness applies to you, but just how well are you connecting?

For the sake of our psychological and physical wellbeing, we must connect and feel we belong. People who feel they have good, close relationships not only have better psychological health but also higher immunity, faster recovery from disease, and greater longevity.

Having problems in our relationships triggers our body’s stress response. Remember, social conflict was a genuine threat to life and limb out on the prehistoric savanna where we relied on the group for survival. The consequence is that those with poor connections experience more anxiety and depression and have worse physical health.

#3 Positivity Resonance

While good relationships are our life blood, we also benefit hugely from even momentary connections.

Researchers have found that any time we feel a mutual bond with someone, no matter how fleeting, our neurons fire in synchrony and our brains release the same neurotransmitters so that we both experience a burst of positive emotion.

This positive emotion is none other than love???? (The science name is ‘positivity resonance’.)

Biosynchronous moments of shared love improve mood and wellbeing, lower stress and improve physical health. They also deepen the bond and commitment between people – they are the ‘secret sauce’ in fledgling and established relationships.

These micro-moments of connection happen all the time, like when you give way to another driver and they catch your eye and smile, or the times you share a laugh with a co-worker, or when a friend gives an encouraging look in the middle of a hard day.

As with all positive emotions, the key to feeling the benefit of micro-connections is to practise paying attention to them and seeking out more opportunities to experience them in daily life.

Once you start looking, you can feel connected anytime, anywhere to anyone.

#4 Altruism

It’s not just about how much we get from relationships. It’s a lot to do with what we give.

Professor Stephen G. Post’s research has shown that altruism has a positive effect on the giver’s health and happiness. When we can help someone, we feel useful and valued, generating feel-good chemicals that have a positive effect on our bodies and minds.

When I feel myself starting to slide down, I don’t do something for myself. I try to do something for someone else,” says Johann Hari in his powerful book examining depression, Lost Connections.

Darwin showed that natural selection favours not the strongest individual but the most cooperative group with ‘hive emotions’ – shared empathy, love, gratitude, admiration and forgiveness – which bolster connectedness.

When we experience these emotions towards others, we, too, benefit.

#5 Share the Good Times

Research tells us that how we respond to other people’s good news predicts the health of our relationships with them.

When your partner or friend tells you some good news, do you fully pay attention, asking the person all about the experience and showing you’re glad for them? You’ll have a deeper and closer relationship if you do.

When we don’t show enough interest, or when we focus on problems or worries about the news, or when we change the subject and turn away, we damage our bonds.

We need to celebrate together. We need to actively and constructively support the people in our lives for our relationships to thrive.


#1 Goleman, D. (2006) Social Intelligence: The new science of human relationships, London, Arrow Books.

Keltner, D (2009) Born to be Good: The science of a meaningful life, New York, Norton & Company.

Lieberman, M. D. (2013) Social: Why our brains are wired to connect, New York, Crown Publishers.

#2 Seppala, E., Rossomando. T., Doty, J. R. (2013). Social Connection and Compassion: Important Predictors of Health and Well-Being. Social Research Quarterly, Vol. 80, no. 2.

#3 Fredrickson, B. (2013) Love 2.0: Finding Happiness and Health in Moments of Connection, New York, Plume Books.

#4 Post, S. G. (2005) Altruism, Happiness & Health: It’s Good to be Good. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, Vol. 12, No. 2, 66–77.

#5 Seligman, P. (2011) Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Wellbeing, New York, Free Press.

Photo by OC Gonzalez on Unsplash

The Good Life Alternative to Achievement

Forget Goals and Sacrifice!

I rather hate the concept of ‘achieving goals’.

To me it smacks of grit, of grinning and bearing it, of suffering through. That sounds a lot like what Buddhists call craving (tanhā), said to be an origin of suffering (samudāya).

How many times have you set some lofty goal or expectation, imagining that it will bring you fulfilment, only to discover you’ve over-stretched and/or the end result is not all it’s cracked up to be?

Yes, intense focus on accomplishing a remarkable feat can take remarkable effort and determination. But, really, what are the trade-offs?

The gain=sacrifice mentality is a punishing race through life that doesn’t stop to appreciate the intrinsic magic and beauty of life itself. We’re not here that long; it’s a shame to waste it.

As Lennon said, “life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans”.

Flexible Future Focus

So, does that mean we’d be better off abandoning all future aims?

While there might be some persuasive philosophical arguments for that, all things considered, psychologists argue we do need things to look forward to and to give us a sense of direction.

The key is not to pin all hope of happiness and fulfilment on ‘if’ (i.e. if I achieve this, that or the other, life will be better).

Instead, we need to learn how to find joy, meaning and satisfaction in the process by cultivating a flexible future focus.

With that in mind then, here’s our advice (after 25 years of sometimes getting it so wrong and just enough times getting it so right…):

12 Tips to Achieve Goals… the Good Life Way

  1. Ditch the dogma and instead cultivate a ‘flexible future focus’ on where you want to go in life.
  2. Set a focus that matters to you or excites you.
  3. Choose a focus that is something positive you want to reach for, not something negative you want to avoid.
  4. Begin any journey with a single, tiny, first step. Then take another. And another. And another.
  5. When you find gaps, plug them – upskill, seek advice, outsource, trade, collaborate.
  6. Don’t expect it to go without a hitch; be agile in changing tactics when you hit road-bumps and obstacles, and accept that you may well adjust the goals themselves. All goals are provisional, and the process is iterative not linear (remember John Lennon!).
  7. Celebrate successes, even small ones. Even if it’s just a fist-pump to yourself.
  8. When you feel like a failure, remind yourself of all that you can do and everything you have done well.
  9. Take it slow – when you’re sprinting, you’ve no time, space or energy for the magic of serendipity or your own creative and unconscious alchemy to ferment.
  10. Don’t go it alone, no matter what it is.
  11. Be forgiving of yourself – none of us lives long enough to be anything but a beginner.
  12. Forget what they tell you about the necessity of ‘grit’ and ‘suffering’ and ‘achievement’. That’s ego talking. What does your soul need to come alive? Those are the only ‘goals’ we’ll ever feel are worth pursuing.


Seligman, P. (2011) Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Wellbeing. Free Press: New York.

Tolle, E. (2004) The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment. New World Library: Novato.

Wright, R. (2018) Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment. Simon & Schuster Publishing: New York.

Photo by Kalle Kortelainen on Unsplash

Forget Positive Thinking – Try Realistic Optimism

Positive Thinking?

Our beliefs and outlook affect how likely we are to achieve our goals and how we deal with setbacks.

There are benefits to pessimism, such as when we assess risk. Research finds that people who feel sad pay closer attention to detail and make fewer judgement errors, whereas when feeling happy we tend to take greater risks and make more mistakes.

However, research also shows we perform better and have better health and wellbeing when we take an optimistic view. Even when dealing with difficult situations, like health issues or changing careers, taking an optimistic stance leads us to fare better.

What’s the answer, then?!

Realistic Optimism

What we need to practise is ‘realistic optimism’.

It’s not about positive thinking, it’s about critical thinking. As Dr. Gabor Mate says:

“What I really believe in is the power of thinking. As soon as we qualify the word thinking with the adjective positive, we exclude those parts of reality that strike us as ’negative’.”

Having unrealistic expectations can lead to disappointment and a feeling of failure, and then we may feel pessimistic towards future goals. Neither is it helpful, though, to bask in negativity.

Instead, we need to interrogate our thoughts for truth, learning how to distinguish between irrational beliefs that paralyse us and the more probable outcomes.

Being ‘Realistic’

There are two kinds of reality – nonreflexive and reflexive.

‘Nonreflexive reality’ can’t be influenced by beliefs, thoughts, wishes or expectations. This independent reality is the reality that is at play when a snowstorm grounds your plane, or you don’t get the job you wanted – no amount of thinking or wishing will change that reality.

Reflexive reality, however, is influenced (sometimes determined?) by our perceptions and expectations. Scientists find that taking a hopeful view leads to better outcomes because when we’re optimistic our brains perform better and we’re open to opportunities.

As author and depression researcher Johann Hari writes, “a sense of a positive future protects you”. When we are low today but hopeful about the future, we can ride out the storm knowing it will pass.

Most of our thoughts about the future are just guesses anyway, so we might as well take a hopeful view.


Dweck, C. S. (2006) Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Random House: New York.

Hanson, R. (2013) TEDx talk, Hardwiring Happiness

Hari, J. (2019) Lost Connections. Bloomsbury: London.

Mate, G. (2019) When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress. Vermilion: London.

Reivich, K. & Shatte, A. (2003) The Resilience Factor. Broadway Books: New York.

Seligman, P. (2011) Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Wellbeing. Free Press: New York.

Photo by Manouchehr Hejazi on Unsplash

Inner Critic vs Self-Compassion

One of the biggest barriers to moving forward in our lives is our inner critic.

It’s the voice that says:

you’re not good enough

you’re not smart enough

you could never do that

you should…

you’re so stupid/incompetent/arrogant

It’s the voice of doubt and fear, determined to keep you down. It’s also every external voice that ever said or implied, you are inadequate and you need to be better than you are, all now internalised in you.

Why would we give such mean voices so much air time though? The first reason is because they’ve become so embedded we barely hear them; we just ‘feel’ ill at ease, powerless or even guilty.

The second reason is because we’ve come to accept them. But if we stopped long enough to question them, we’d realise how irrational and untrue they can be.

Learning to notice the critical messages is an incredibly powerful first step, as once you face your enemy, you can get the size of them and work out how to disarm them.

When you consider the criticism in the cold light of day, you can see all the ways in which you are good enough, smart enough, capable enough, and deserving enough to do what it is you want to do.

For every criticism, try writing a counter-argument in your journal. Or make a list or collage that represents your strengths and successes and keep it on the wall. If you reach an impasse with your inner critic, walk away and instead do something you enjoy. You’ll generate positive emotions, and the inner critic will quieten down.

These are proven techniques to help overcome our negative self-talk, but it’s not always a cure. That’s because there’s a third reason we talk s*^t to ourselves…

Dr Kristin Neff’s research into self-criticism has found that we don’t want to stop because we believe it keeps us motivated. We believe that if we didn’t ride our own backs, we’d never get anywhere in the world.

What she’s also found is that this is entirely untrue.

Imagine a child gets a bad test mark and he comes home and tells his dad. How would the child feel if dad raged against him, calling him an idiot and telling him he’ll never get anywhere in life?

Pretty bloody awful.

You might be thinking, yeah, horrible dad, but I bet it gets the kid to knuckle down and up his grades.

Well the research shows it doesn’t. When he’s feeling so horrific about himself, he goes on to perform badly. Simple.

What if the boy comes home and his dad says, I’m so sorry, you must be feeling pretty disappointed about it. Don’t worry! This is just one test! Maybe I can help you get your head around the algebra. You’ll be fine.

I imagine you feel it too: relieved, supported, safe, loved, capable.

You might wholeheartedly believe that you must be hard on yourself to achieve anything, but the fact is you get better results – and feel so much better in the process – when you’re kind to yourself, when you practise self-compassion.

Kristin Neff offers eight self-compassion activities and seven self-compassion meditations you can try at home on her website.

To hear more about the science of self-compassion, check out Neff’s TEDx talk here:

The Science of Attachment and Emotional Attunement


According to psychologist D. W. Winnicott (1964), humans are born to be in relationships with others. This is evidenced by infants (and, to a lesser extent, young children) being so helpless that they must rely on others for all needs to be met.

The idea that attachment can be innate is supported by Lorenz’s discovery that goslings attach to (‘imprint on’) the first moving object they see, whether goose, thing or researcher. Given the long period of human infancy, it has been argued that it is adaptive for humans to form attachments to caregivers.

The nature of this attachment was once understood as being purely utilitarian, in that the infant needed practical needs fulfilling, such as nourishment and protection. A hundred years ago, parents were even urged not to pick up their young children in order to encourage independence.

However, Harlow (1958) challenged such assumptions by proposing that infants’ need for ‘contact comfort’ is as essential, if not more so, than their need for ‘primary drives’, such as eating, to be fulfilled. In experiments with infant macaque monkeys raised in captivity and in isolation, Harlow discovered that the monkeys preferred wire frames covered in cloth to cloth-less wire frames with integrated milk feeders. In other words, when offered the choice between sustenance and the comfort of something that approximated a caregiver, the infants chose comfort.

Twenty-first century advances in neuroscience have provided evidence that humans are ‘wired to connect’ (e.g. Lieberman, 2013; Goleman, 2006), but in the mid-twentieth century, Harlow’s findings were revolutionary. They added weight to the ideas of Bowlby, who argued that children are negatively impacted by poor parenting or the loss of or separation from a parent.

Bowlby proposed that how we relate to others and ourselves, and how we experience the relationship between the two, is determined in early childhood based on our repeated experiences with caregivers. While he acknowledged this can be modified with new experiences of relating, he believed that our early lessons in attachment persist across the lifespan.

This internalised belief system he described as an ‘internal working model’ (IWM), which he regarded as templates for all relationships (Bowlby, 1969). It comprises three elements:

Self – how capable we are at getting our needs met, and how worthy we feel of this

Other – how much we can rely on significant others to comfort and care for us

Relational – how well the relationship between self and other can weather challenges and sustain effective communication

Bowlby’s theory was advanced by the work of Ainsworth (1962), who suggested four attachment types as IWMs. She found empirical support through the design of an experiment called the Strange Situation Test (SST) (Ainsworth et al, 1978).

By conducting the SST with 9-18 month olds, Ainsworth found Type B (secure attachment) infants behaved in predicted ways when reunited with their mothers after a short absence during which a stranger interacted with them. Such behaviour included being distressed at the absence of their mother and seeking and accepting comfort and emotional regulation from her when she returned.

In contrast, Type A (insecure-avoidant) infants did not appear distressed when their mothers left, and avoided interaction when they returned. Type C (insecure-resistant or ambivalent), on the other hand, sought contact with the returned mother, but then rejected her. Finally, Type D (disorganised or disoriented) exhibited contradictory behaviour and appeared apprehensive about approaching their mothers.

These researchers proposed three components of a secure attachment: emotional communication, sensitivity and mind-mindedness.

Emotional communication involves children being empowered to show a full range of emotions and learning that all emotions are valid by caregivers responding appropriately to the full spectrum of emotion states.

Sensitivity means caregivers gauge the infant’s needs and emotional states accurately and respond suitably, as opposed to over- or under-stimulating her, responding out of sync, or rejecting her.

Mind-mindedness is akin to sensitivity, in that it involves being in attunement with the infant, but it goes a step further, as to demonstrate mind-mindedness is to show accurate understanding of the child’s mental states by verbalising these. For instance, if a child is crying and the caregiver returns to comfort her, they show sensitivity, but when they also correctly recognise the child is crying because she feels distressed at their absence, and they talk to her about what’s ‘on her mind’ (e.g. “you were worried because I left the room and you wanted me to come back”), this is mind-mindedness.

Research has found that it is the number of non-attuned comments that predicts that the infant will have an insecure attachment type.

Emotional Attunement

An ‘emotion’ has five components:

1. Physiological (e.g. increased heart rate when hearing a noise in the night)

2. Behaviour (e.g. freezing or escaping)

3. Cognition (e.g. perceiving a threat)

4. Affect (e.g. fear)

5. Context (e.g. camping alone in bear country; culture’s and/or family’s attitude toward bears)

These five aspects represent the systemic nature of emotions and explains why emotional triggers, appraisal and expression are highly mediated by culture and personal interpretation.

Emotional experience emerges from the interplay between these five facets of emotion and the complex social environments we exist in (Smith and Thelen, 2003). The dynamic and interpersonal nature of emotional experience is demonstrated in Lavelli and Fogel’s (2005) study in which infants not only responded to caregivers but actively elicited interaction, so that the pairs entered a cycle of “mutual amplification”.

Tronick et al’s (1978) Still Face Paradigm (SFP) showed what happens when this dynamic interplay is interrupted. SFP involves an initial stage where infant and caregiver interact warmly, followed by a period when the carer ceases to interact and adopts a still face, followed by a return to the interaction. The findings revealed that when the interaction was disrupted, the infants were distressed, tried to reengage the carer, and managed their emotions by turning their gaze away. Once interaction resumed, the infants reengaged but with less positive affect.

The implications of this are substantial. It is evidence that infants’ emotional experience is mediated by others, which means this can be shaped – for better or for worse. In a review of the key literature, Morris et al. (2007) proposed that it is in terms of emotional regulation (ER) that caregivers affect infants’ emotional development.

Emotional regulation consists of internal and external processes involved in initiating, maintaining, and modulating the occurrence, intensity, and expression of emotion” (Thompson, 1994, cited in Morris et al., 2007, p. 363).

There are three mechanisms by which caregivers influence infants’ emotional regulation: modelling, parenting practices, and the emotional climate of the family (Morris et al., 2007). Other factors do undoubtedly play a role, such as peers, culture and the bidirectional nature of the carer-infant relationship, but caregiver influences remain important.

Firstly, children learn through observation, and so modelling appropriate emotional responses is a means of positively influencing their development.

Secondly, parenting practices – that is, parents’ behaviour and discourse around emotions, what strategies they teach, and what their meta-emotion philosophy is – are key influencers.

Finally, the emotional climate of the family is shown to play a powerful role in children’s emotional formation, and so ensuring that this promotes emotional regulation and emotional security is essential. Emotions are contagious, and so the (dis)harmony of the familial relationships is absorbed by the child, as is the ‘family expressiveness’ (i.e. the levels of positive/negative emotions exhibited). When negativity reigns, or there is simmering unease or outright animosity between family members, or the parenting style is such that the caregivers are overly demanding or under-responsive, the child experiences emotional insecurity (because they cannot be sure their needs will be met) and emotional dysregulation (because they are overwhelmed by emotions they have not learned to regulate).


Ainsworth, M. D. (1962) ‘The effects of material deprivation: a review of findings and controversy in the context of research strategy’, Deprivation of Maternal Care: A Reassessment of Its Effects, (Public Health Papers, No. 14), Geneva, World Health Organisation.

Ainsworth, M. D. S., Blehar, M. C., Waters, E. and Wall, S. (1978) Patterns of Attachment: A Psychological Study of the Strange Situation, Hillsdale, NJ, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Bowlby, J. (1969) Attachment and Loss: Volume 1. Attachment, New York, Basic Books.

Goleman, D. (2006) Social Intelligence: The new science of human relationships, London, Arrow Books.

Harlow, H. F. (1958) ‘The nature of love’, American Psychologist, vol. 13, pp. 673-85.

Lavelli, M. and Fogel, A. (2005) ‘Developmental changes in the relationship between the infant’s attention and emotion during early face-to-face communication: the 2-month transition’, Developmental Psychology, vol. 41, no. 1, pp. 265-80.

Lieberman, M. D. (2013) Social: Why our brains are wired to connect, New York, Crown Publishers.

Morris, A. S., Silk, J. S., Steinberg, L., Myers, S. S., and Robinson, L. R. (2007) ‘The Role of the Family Context in the Development of Emotion Regulation’, Social Development, vol. 16, no. 2, pp. 361-388

Smith, L. B. and Thelen, E. (2003) ‘Development as a dynamic system’, TRENDS in Cognitive Sciences, vol. 7, no. 8, pp.343-8.

Tronick, E. Z., Als, H., Adamson, L., Wise, S. and Brazelton, T. B. (1978) ‘The infant’s response to entrapment between contradictory messages in face-to-face interaction’, Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry, vol. 17. no. 1, pp. 1-13.

Winnicott, D. W. (1964) The Child, the Family and the Outside World, London, Pelican Books.

Photo by Caroline Hernandez on Unsplash

Podcast: Find the Right Way to Work for YOU

In August 2019, I had the pleasure of chatting with my friend, Stephen Warley, on his brilliant podcast Life Skills That Matter about crafting work that’s fulfilling, balanced and quintessentially ‘you’.

We talked about how stressed and unhappy I’d got after nearly five years running my first business and what that taught me about my own strengths, preferences and need to do things differently.

We spend so much of our lives doing what we think we should do. Realising that it’s not external reality but our deep-seated beliefs that keep us slogging away was a revelation for me and has massively influenced the way I work now.

Have a listen to the podcast (30 minute listen) or skim the show notes if you’re interested in knowing more about finding the right way to work for you.

Do What You Love

Know Thy Strengths

It’s not a question of becoming, it’s a question of uncovering what you already are, of letting yourself be yourself. Of letting everything that is not yourself fall away

Zen Buddhist belief

Each of us has a unique portfolio of innate strengths.

These are the things we look forward to, that we feel most ‘ourselves’ doing, that we’re energised by and lose a sense of time in, and that we sometimes find so natural we don’t even recognise them as talents.

Unfortunately, because of an innate negativity bias, our radars are set to notice our weaknesses, often leaving our strengths under-engaged and under-developed.

This bias is embedded everywhere in our culture. For instance, consider why it is that an appraisal at work quite often focuses on what areas we need to improve. Why doesn’t it identify what we do well and explore ways to apply and boost these aptitudes?

You might be thinking, but that makes sense – we need to get better for progress to be made. The problem, though, is that fixing weaknesses is an endless uphill battle. You’re always on the back foot, and the best you can usually hope for is mediocre outcomes.

Enhancing people’s strengths, however, is the path of least resistance to excellence – not just for the individual, but for the organisations and societies we operate in.

Bear in mind that something you struggle with or find a drudgery is someone else’s favourite activity.

When we each operate in alignment with our strengths, everything still gets done but to a higher standard and with less stress and far more enjoyment!

Labelling Strengths

Words have a powerful impact on the way we feel and think. When we label something, we pay it attention which brings it into the foreground of our lives. That’s why we need to identify our strengths. As psychologist Dr Alex Linley says:

Without the capacity to describe them, it is easy for our strengths to fall between the cracks of our existence, becoming lost and forgotten rather than identified, nurtured, celebrated, and fully realised”.

Consider how you feel when you read these words:


How about when you read the following?


Words have an enormous effect on the way we feel, which in turn impacts on our thoughts, beliefs and actions. Despite what your parents and teachers may have told you about playground teasing, words do matter.

Strengths, Flow and Happiness

Choose a job you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life” – Confucius.

When we are using our highest capabilities, we often enter a state of ‘flow’. Flow is the experience of being so fully engaged in what we are doing that we don’t notice the world around us or time passing. We are ‘in the zone’.

The experience of flow is strongly linked to wellbeing and life-satisfaction. For the sake of our health and happiness, we need to be using our strengths regularly and experiencing flow.


Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2013) Flow: The Psychology of Happiness. Ebury Publishing: London.

Linley, A. (2008) Average to A+: Realising strengths in yourself and others. CAPP Press: Coventry.

Seligman, P. (2011) Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Wellbeing. Free Press: New York.

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash