Is there a positive takeaway message behind the cynical celebrity endorsement? David Beckham and Lego

In a seemingly quiet day in the news, David Beckham reveals that he likes to unwind and relax with expensive building brick construction kits (Lego). The story has made most of the British tabloids.Some have pointed out that this is rather an expensive ‘addiction’. I suspect it has nothing at all to do with addiction and everything to do with money and column inches in the press. The story screams of free advertising and celebrity endorsement. Imagine how much it would cost in advertising for Lego? Furthermore, if Mr Beckham has ever paid for these £200 (plus) construction kits of famous buildings and landmarks, it is unlikely that he will have to do so in the future!

The therapeutic importance of play

So is there a message for ordinary people? Yes. Despite the cynical nature of the story, it’s actually about the human capacity to play throughout our lives. Play is a significant method in learning about the world from an early. We get to try out scenarios and express ourselves in a low threat way. Why should we be surprised that David Beckham likes to play? After all he has made a career out of playing a game and dressing up. Other famous people like to play. Who can forget ‘Prince of Darkness’ Ozzy Osbourne’s fondness for ‘colouring in’ the reality programme, The Osbournes? We only have to think of grandparents playing with their grandchildren to see how easy it is to forget to act your age. Play is incredibly therapeutic. It is also used in the training setting, where role-play, loved by some and loathed by others, is a mainstay. Play is good for us, whatever our age or income bracket.

The importance of goals and the concept of ‘flow’

As a hobby, construction kits and jigsaw puzzles also offer us ready-made goals. The goal is simple: just make it look like the picture on the front of the box. When we are motivated to do a task that stretches us, it puts us in a state of flow. This is a state where we lose sense of our selves and lose all sense of time as we become totally absorbed by the task. Another phrase for this is ‘being in the zone’. According to positive psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Chick-Zent-Me-Hi), ‘being in flow’ is a state of happiness. The more time spent in flow, the happier we are.

Takeaway value – play more – create flow

So yes, this celebrity endorsement story does have takeaway value. The answer does not lie in lashing out on expensive toys. You don’t have to ‘break the bank’ to get a similar beneficial effect. Instead, just get a hobby. Find something that absorbs you and uses your skills and helps to develop those skills. If you already have a hobby, spend a bit more time doing it. Spent more time in flow. That’s it.

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About the author

Picture: Dr Gary Wood author of Unlock Your ConfidenceDr Gary Wood is a social psychologist and life coach. He is based in Birmingham and Edinburgh where he runs his own training and coaching practice and research consultancy. He is author of Unlock Your Confidence which is based on his confidence-building workshops. Contact Gary to see how his solution focused coaching approach would benefit you or your organization.

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2 Attitudes to Increase Hopefulness in Your Life

Each year we experience an oceanic feeling of hope. On New Year’s eve and New Year’s day there is a proliferation of good wishes for a happy new year. One friend describes this as an overdose of ‘wish upon a star, fortune cookie wisdom’. The question is how do we maintain a sense of hope when the euphoria wears off? In this post I explain how we can create a sense of hopefulness by changing two key attitudes.

Positive Psychology over ‘positive thinking’

It is through out attitudes that we explain and shape our perception of the world. So we don’t have to rely on the fleeting euphoria inspired by the symbolism of a brand new start from a brand new year. This is not the deluded philosophy of ‘positive thinking’ that tells us that we create our world through our thoughts. Instead it is the rooted in evidence-based positive psychology. The former is based on a philosophy, the latter is an academic discipline.

How you explain the world shapes your experience of the world

In Learned Optimism, Martin Seligman argues that we maintain our sense of optimism and pessimism through an explanatory style, that is, the way we explain positive and negative events in our lives,

The two attitudes related to hopefulness are:

  1. Making it permanent – it’ll never end (permanence)
  2. Making it pervasive – it affects everything (pervasiveness)

Recipe for Hopefulness

  • Negative Outcomes: When faced with negative outcomes to events instead of jumping to the premature/automatic conclusion that the situation is never going to end / change and it affects all aspects of your life. Instead, balance out the negative default conclusion by looking for explanations that emphasize the temporary nature of the situation and take stock of other areas of your life not affected by it. For example, don’t think of a bad day at work as the beginning of the end. You may just have been tired rather than ‘all washed up’. If you get knocked back after asking someone out on a date, it’s more likely that you are just not their type or they are not looking to get involved. The aim is to look for a specific explanation rather than a universal one. It’s important not to go beyond the evidence.
  • Positive Outcomes: When things go well, the tendency sometimes is to write-off such outcomes as flukes and exceptions to the rule. Instead look for explanations that emphasize things can be enduring and may well spill over into other areas of your life. So rather than writing things off to luck, take stock of the things that you did to bring about the positive results. When someone does accept your invitation it’s not because they are weird, it maybe because they see you have something to offer.

By adopting these hopeful attitudes we embrace the possibility that bad things may get better and good things can endure.BooK: Don't Wait For Your Ship To Come In. . . Swim Out to Meet It by Dr Gary Wood It’s not a Pollyanna-rose-tinted glasses approach, rather it balances out a social and cultural bias.We talk about bad news coming in threes but don’t seem to have a standard multi-pack for good news. We are encouraged to indivualize problems rather than to consider social injustice and social inequalities. There is a bias to self-blame.

Keeping a ‘hope’ journal

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodA helpful way to ensure that we adopt and maintain hopeful attitudes is to keep a journal. It’s also a key strategy that I recommend for getting the most from a self-help book. Hope needs to be nurtured and it’s more difficult to do so purely in our heads. It helps if you can see things in black and white. Like everything else in psychology, the more we practise things, the more deeply ingrained they become. The journal becomes a useful resource in less hopeful times.

Hope is a precursor to courage and confidence building. All begin with a change of attitudes.

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Being Happy: Memories and Goals

In a recent radio interview I was asked about the process by which we recall happy moments in our lives whilst less happy times tend to fade. Of course, it’s not the same for all everyone. Some people are adept at recalling past events as reasons for not engaging with the present or the future. I’m not referring here to recalling serious trauma but more the refusal to move on in the coaching context.

Working with mature students there have been numerous examples of people who have held on to the callous remarks of (poor) teachers. It took some of them 30 years to go back into the classroom. It wasn’t that they had suddenly found the confidence to do so, it’s just that the ‘pain’ and regret of not doing so became greater. As well as teach the syllabus it was also my job to convince them that it was the right decision. These students are the main reason I got into (life) coaching.

Social Media and Memories

A recent research study at Portsmouth University by Alice Good and Claire Wilson suggests that we use social media like Facebook, not just to interact with others but also to interact with our former selves. Some people spend a great deal of time looking through the old photographs the post on networking sights. The process of looking back can create have an emotional buffering effect especially during tough times. It can create a sense of well-being and optimism to help us to deal with present challenges and to face the future.

Constructed Memories

The human memory is not an infallible storage device. Cognitive psychologist  Frederic Bartlett demonstrated in the 1930s that memories are highly constructed. When things don’t make sense or when there is missing information, we fill in the gaps based on memory default values based on our experiences of likelihood, Often our memories bear little relation to what actually happened, which is why the accuracy and reliability of eye-witness testimony (in the justice system) has been challenged by psychology, most notably by cognitive psychologist Elizabeth Loftus. In cognitive-behavioural therapy questioning techniques centre on cognitive distortions, most often on black-and-while, absolutist thinking. Similarly by exploring exceptions to negative evaluations, in the solution-focused approach, we can reveal small nuggets of possibility to build upon. In classic psychoanalysis we have he concept of defence mechanisms, where sometimes memories of painful experiences are blocked at an unconscious level in order to protect us emotionally and psychologically. Often memories seem to have a life of their own.

Being Happy

Happiness is no longer just in the realm of pop psychology, it has become a legitimate topic in academic psychology led by pioneering Positive psychologist Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. For Seligman, happiness is about living our lives according to our values and strengths. For Csikszentmihalyi happiness is about setting goals that stretch us and put us into a state of flow. ‘Flow’ is that state of total engagement in what we are doing, when we are totally ‘in the present moment’ and lose a sense of time and of ourselves. We can actively do something about our own happiness. Along with confidence-building it is one of the main motivations for seeking (life) coaching.

The Past-Present-Future Balance

As with all aspects of life, balance is key. It’s good to reminisce and look back and be reminded of the good times. The best times in our lives are often when we most in tune with our strengths and values. For some people the past has a powerful lure, so much so that it taints the present and the future. Philosopher Walter Benjamin said that ‘History is an angel blown backward through time’.  It means that, essentially, we walk backwards into the future. We cannot help but look back but still need to move forward. It’s important to value the past for its lessons, for uncovering our strengths and for providing us happy memories to see us through challenging times. Perhaps it’s greatest value is to help propel us into the future. There lie new opportunities to live according to our values, to use our skills and strengths and more opportunities to experience a sense of flow, those moments where time appears to stand still. Over the past few years there has been an explosion of interest in mindfulness – the ability to live in the present moment for what it is without letting it get crowded out by the past or the future. It’s all a delicate balance that becomes a whole lot easier when we take a few moments out of our day to settle our minds and take a few, long, slow deep breaths. Taking control of our stress/relaxation is the first step to confidence and happiness.

(In conversation with Annie Othen, BBC Coventry and Warwickshire, 21/3/13 )

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