Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Reviews Are Killing Your Happiness. How To Build Resilience, Reduce Anxiety and Put Some Adventure Into Your Life

Online reviews can be useful for avoiding crooks but they also fuel mental health issues, including anxiety and low resilience.

If you compare living in 1980 (yes, I'm that old!) to living in 2023, there's a huge difference: there is very little spontaneity.

Too much information isn't good for your health
Too much information isn't good for your health

Deciding where to eat

1980s lunch: walk past a new place, like the look of it and go in – or your friend calls to say let's check it out

2023: Google for reviews, to see the menu, then check influencer opinion, maybe Google the owner or the chef, see if anyone you know has been and what they say – oh, and TripAdvisor


Picking a hotel for a week's holiday

1980: look at a travel brochure that lists a dozen or so hotels there and pick the one with the prettiest picture and a price tag you can afford.

2023: Google all hotels and airbnbs, check the different room photos, work out how far local attractions are, see what food they offer and read the top ten good reviews and the top bottom reviews on Google and TripAdvisor, then check Twitter and Insta

The Pros of Checking Online Reviews

Online reviews give us a sense of security. Reading reviews means we can predict what kind of experience we are likely to have and therefore it is easier to avoid poor experiences.  

What's great is that if you are making a big investment, like buying a car or luxury holiday, you are less likely to pick a model or destination that doesn't work for you.

hyper focus on having only joyful or positive experiences kills resilience and adventure
Hyper focus on positives has consequences
How Checking Online Reviews Impacts on Mental Health

What sucks is that we hyper focus on having only joyful or positive experiences.

We are so keen to avoid anything uncomfortable or neutral, that we become less adventurous. We actively avoid taking chances, so we end up removing potential fun and adventure out of life.

Also, it is massively time consuming. You may spend more time fixating on finding the perfect dinner or hotel than you do eating at the restaurant or spending on your holiday.

Hassan won't go to a new restaurant unless it rates a 4+ over more than fifty reviews – and misses out on the 3 star coffee shop that does noodles just the way he loves them.

Jenny spent four evenings checking for rooms with sea views before booking her long weekend break at the beach – time that she could have spent having fun

Maura checks the reviews for every coffee shop in the new mall before deciding where to meet her friends for a trip the cinema – overkill much? It's just coffee!

Bill visits new pubs recommended by influencers even though he walks past two new places on his way to work – missing out on adventure and experiences

Finally, checking reviews is really about trying to control our environment. That is poor strategy because the world is complex. We cannot predict everything, it's not possible.  

As a result, trying and failing to control our environment fuels our anxiety and reduces resilience. We are less good at navigating neutral or poor experiences. So our coping skills suffer. In addition, the false belief "If I'd googled better I would be having a 5 star time" adds to our discomfort, piling on irrational blame and guilt.

Mental Health Boost: How To Add Adventure To Your Life

Gong Xi Fa Cai! May the Year of the Rabbit bring you lots of good luck and health, prosperity and love.
Gong Xi Fa Cai!
So for the Year of the Rabbit, I suggest you embrace adventure. Introduce a bit of 1980 into your life:

·         Go to the mall and eat in the third restaurant you see.

·         Go to the cinema and see whatever is on first.

·         In a restaurant you know, try the dish you've never had before.

·         When you walk past a new place, go in.

Live a little, learn to have a good laugh at stuff that doesn't work out perfectly well.  Embrace life!

Gong Xi Fa Cai! May the Year of the Rabbit bring you lots of good luck and health, prosperity and love.

Images by Public DomainRaka C. and Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Monday, January 2, 2023

The Secret To Building New Habits. How To Train Your Brain

our brains are resistant to change
Our brains are resistant to change

It's the new year and this time we're going to get fit, read a book a week, eat healthily and…. Hang on, are you getting a sense of déjà vu?

New beginnings can inspire, but very often the impulse soon loses steam. And before you know it, all that rah-rah converts into guilt with a touch of shame as we worry we don't have enough willpower.

Here's how you can tweak a bit to help you make effective change.

We Are Designed To Resist Change

We like to think that we are powerful beings who are completely in control. As part of that story, we tell ourselves that all it takes to change a habit is to have the right mindset.

That's probably not entirely true.

The world is complex and dangerous, yet our species survives very well. One theory is that we are so fantastic at surviving because we have some inbuilt approaches that guide our thinking and behaviour.

This includes our tendency to think familiar= safe and unfamiliar=suspicious.

This works great when you're embracing your safe, familiar hunting ground on the plain and avoiding those amazing looking woods teeming with snakes.

It's not so hot when 'familiar' is snacking while watching Netflix and 'unfamiliar' is that spin class you signed up for.

Soooo, accept that building new habits isn't really about your morals or willpower; it's about overcoming millions of years of programming.

Rule #1 Dump the guilt. It's a waste of time.

Rule #2 Dump your punishment mindset

Many of us unconsciously adopt a punishment mindset. That sucks for a lot of reasons. Let me explain:

Supposing you are helping 10-year-old Suzie exercise more. If she goes for a walk three days in a row and then misses a day, would you tell her she's a lazy cow and useless?

Of course not.

If someone did call her names, what effect would that have on Suzie?

It would make her feel awful about herself and it would drain her motivation.

You wouldn't try to terrorise a kid or your friend, so treat yourself with the same kindness.

The secret to creating the right mindset for positive change is Motivate Yourself By Connecting With Your Personal Values

You're not a serial killer, right? You haven't launched genocide lately? Then you're probably a good person. Not perfect, but mostly good with a bit of gnarly here and there.

To give yourself a motivation boost, connect with your values.

For example: I'm exercising because I value my body and my health
Or, I'm exercising because feeling strong and flexible makes me happy

Rule #3 Disrupt your programming by making your brain view the new desired behaviour as more familiar.

The trick lies in keeping it SMALL and EASY.  Ideally, you tack a teeny bit of the new stuff onto a behaviour you already have and enjoy.

For example, when you like to snack in front of the TV, you do so, BUT while you're sitting down, you do ten left leg lifts and then ten right leg lifts. You do this once a night for a week.

Pro Tip: set your phone to remind you to do this. Or do it during the credits of a programme.

It's not difficult, and before you know it, you'll be exercising those legs automatically.

By February, buy a set of super cheap half kilo hand weights. Add ten lifts so you exercise your upper body.

By March, you're feeling pretty good about yourself, so you bookmark a few two-minute stretch workouts on YouTube. You do one or two a week.

Rule #4 You reinforce the behaviour you want

If you're not anxious or depressed, and you like to journal, then go ahead.

Another way is to buy a set of fridge magnets. Make a bet with yourself: for every two-minute YouTube workout you do, you move a magnet into the win area.

Seeing yourself win will give you a boost. Supercharge is by promising yourself a reward; twenty of those and you treat yourself to one of your favourite things.

Little changes add up
Little changes add up

Rule #5 Slow is successful

When you have a teeny bit of change going on, it adds up. Think of it like compound interest.

By April you should be feeling pretty fit. That's when you check out some bigger exercise project.

Don't go for a gym membership yet!  Try a short programme, something limited. Also, it has be something you love!

Maybe you want to go for a dive class. Or perhaps you sign up for ten dance lessons.

Whatever it is, you'll be a lot fitter already, so you'll have extra energy. When you go for that extra exercise, you'll enjoy it more.

And that enjoyment will have you going back. <- that is success!

Extra help: Find a supporting angel

Learning curves are slippery!  We do well and then we slide a bit and then we do well again.

As your brain will try to reset to old and familiar, it helps to have a person cheerlead when you're doing well, and to offer comfort and support when you're sliding.

That's where I come in. When you book me as a coach, we spend an hour working out a workable plan of action.

In addition, you can hire me as an accountability and support agent. We check in a few times a week for 5 minutes for encouragement and support. Basically, your very own angel.

The accountability and support service comprises of 5 ten-minute slots to be arranged at mutually agreeable times. Cost is RM200 if you're in Malaysia or US$45 if you're abroad.

Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed it, please share with a friend. 

Images by John Hain and Kevin Schneider from Pixabay

Friday, December 30, 2022

Book Review: Silent but Deadly By Kirsten Bell

Silent but Deadly: The Underlying Cultural Patterns of Everyday Behaviour By Kirsten Bell    Paperback 228 pages
Silent But Deadly Book Review

Silent But Deadly answers all the questions you never dare ask in polite society: why do we laugh when someone let's rip in public, why are Americans obsessed with body odour and the Brits with dogs, what's the deal with the Aussie blasting out the C word and much more.

Kirsten Bell is an Australian social anthropologist living in the UK. She writes straight up, no messing about, and she's incredibly funny. Think Erma Bombeck crossed with Jilly Cooper and a dash of Tom Sharpe.

Even better, as she's currently Visiting Professor at King's College London, she also knows her stuff. Between giggles, she slides in a tonne of information. 

Also, if you want to chase up original papers, her end of chapter notes and referencing are impeccable.

Silent But Deadly is an absolute delight. I've read it once to enjoy it and will read it again and chase up some of the references. It is also beautifully edited. 

I am not fond of the cover. It doesn't do justice to the book. But otherwise, a huge five stars. Definitely a must-read and also an excellent gift if you're looking for a late Christmas present. 

Silent but Deadly: The Underlying Cultural Patterns of Everyday Behaviour
By Kirsten Bell   
Price: £11.99 or $14.70 for the paperback
Price: £6.99 for the ebook
Paperback 228 pages
ISBN-10 1399936328
ISBN-13 978-1399936323
Publisher Caw Press
Publication date October 31, 2022

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Can You Trust Therapy Ratings?


What you need to know about ratings and therapy
What you need to know about ratings and therapy
Ratings are part of business but they’re a minefield for mental health services

Ratings are everywhere. In a taxi, at a restaurant, if you buy anything online. Ratings are important for deciding if we buy goods or services, and a recent experience prompted me to consider how they affect mental health practitioners.

Frankly, because of the nature of the industry, ratings are generally misleading and sometimes dangerous. Here’s why.

Privacy and Ethics

We’re getting better about talking things out but for many, mental health issues aretaboo.

In Malaysia, being known as a person who is depressed, anxious or seeking help for a mental health issue can affect your livelihood. You can be passed over for promotion or good jobs because bosses decide you can’t cope.

If you’re young, it can affect your relationships. It’s not unknown for families to refuse an engagement or to insist a relationship is ended because they’ve discovered someone is in therapy.

It’s not fair but it’s how things are. Therefore, decent mental health practitioners do their utmost to ensure privacy. Me, I do my own paperwork. I’m very keen on keeping things super private.

As for my peers, I know they worry about this too. They fire secretaries who gossip and they make sure that their paperwork can’t be accessed by random nosy staff.

It also means that we are very careful when we list our businesses. It’s fine to put contacts information but we never invite ratings. This is because ratings automatically identify clients. It outs them.

Even if there is an anonymous rating option, the system remembers email. And many systems gather information and share or sell it.

ransomware image by Pete Linforth
Your data is worth money!

Sounds farfetched? I’m afraid this happens all the time. Mental health sites do it, hospitals do it, and online services lose it on a regular basis even in rich countries.

Anyone who uses a business will have their details scraped and sold.  The people who own and design the system do so for money; they don’t care what their end users’ ethics are.  

So a happy client thinks they’re writing a nice anonymous note but six months later the PR department or some drug company is texting or phoning with special offers.

As we know this, careful mental health practitioners encourage clients not to leave reviews or ratings. This is one issue but there are more.

Mental Health Service is Tricky

Psychology is more art than science, especially if you’re working outside of Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic (WEIRD) societies. Also, with it being such a broad field, it can be tough to figure out a good match.

I offer a free 15-minute first chat so we can see if it’s likely we can work together.

Therapy is about connecting
Therapy is about connecting

Typically, I refer 1-2 out of ten new people to different professionals as they want help with issues I’m not trained in.  There will be another 1-2 who change their minds or go elsewhere. The uptake for me is roughly 6-8 out of ten.

Out of those new clients, not all will be happy with my service. (I KNOW!  Shocking, isn’t it? But there you go.)

Most know by the second session if we’re going to work out. Me, I’m a bit slow, I like to leave it to the third session.

If by then it’s not going well, we have a chat. If it can’t be done, I try to help them find someone else that suits them better.

Occasionally, someone is unhappy. One star unhappy.

If it’s just deep annoyance, the ‘it’s not fair’ emotion, that’s perfectly human. It sucks to pay for a service and to find it’s not what you hoped for. This is why we point out before we start that it may not work out but still, grumph!

However, it is the nature of our business to deal with troubled people, including anger, personality and addiction issues. And that’s tricky.

Fake One Star Reviews Are Hard To Spot

Fake One Star Reviews Are Hard To Spot

Troubled People and One Stars 

People who are not well can react in difficult ways when upset. This includes stalking,accusations of mistreatment and so on. It can be quite frightening.

Also, part of the reaction can include one-star reviews.

Curiously, it is impossible to tell a fake one-star review from a real one. I’ve seen some reviews written by people I know that look perfectly proper but that are completely untrue.

Think, “he didn’t bother talking to me or listening” when the case is, “when I demanded drugs, he talked rehab instead of offering to be my supplier.”

There’s another issue, too.

Cons and Twits Pay for Reviews

One of the most notorious con artists in Malaysia has dozens and dozens of reviews. He runs ‘courses’ for his own ‘school’ and has his own ‘association’ so if you sign up, you have to rate him at five stars.

Awesome, right? I sometimes wish I had no morals or ethics. I should start a cult.

Anyway, because it’s not illegal to pretend to be a psychologist, there’s no stopping him or his friends. One consequence is that this bad behaviour has spread.

People who have professional qualifications but who aren’t too bright in the ethics department see his fancy car and his billboards (I’m not kidding!) and they are now also soliciting reviews. They think it’s okay because they leave out the surname.

Putting it together, mental health service reviews are a minefield. 

What can you do?

I’d listen to gossip. Talk to your friends and find a personal recommendation.

Better still, hire me!

If you don’t want to do either, you should know that my therapist died last year and so I’m shopping for someone new.

My approach is this:

·         Too many reviews = con artist or dodgy practitioner. I avoid anyone who nets more than 5 reviews a year.

·         I consider that a poor review may be inaccurate.

·         If the number of reviews is reassuringly low, I look for a blog or social media account. That will let me see how they think and work, and I’ll take it from there.

Also, I plan to ask in the first five minutes about leaving a review. If the person says they’re awesome, I’m going to run!

What Prompted This Post?

I find some personal ratings problematic. I won’t rate a Grab driver, the clerk in the post office, or the bloke who delivers my groceries. People are much more than my very short interaction with them.

However, I love ratings for shops and services. I bought coffee online last week from ArabicaEstate Academy Sdn Bhd based on their five-star ratings, and Tom bought a computer, also based on five-star ratings, from Lenovo CertifiedStore-Brightstar. Both were totally awesome. Well worth it.  

I found my dentist and doctor through reviews
I found my dentist and doctor through reviews

I found my dentist and general practitioner doctor through online reviews too. I’ve written rave reviews for Tom’s eye doctors, my hairdresser and every restaurant we love.  

But with so many companies cheating online customers, especially those overseas, ratings also work to keep us safe.

I got cheated by a Dutch company recently, for an order of Euros100 (RM500), so I’m miffed. 

They used to be good, I’ve been a customer for years, but I didn’t realise their recent reviews are loaded with one-star ratings for non-delivery.

I’ve added my one star to them. I’m now looking at ratings first, even with companies that are old friends, just in case they’ve changed. Thankfully, I paid with PayPal so I should be able to get my money back.

I thought my mum wouldn’t get her Christmas present on time this year because of that but to my joy, another company that I used to deal with, one that was recently bought over by new owners, just texted to say they’re up and running again.

What’s even better is that they’re letting customers place an order and they only charge once it’s all confirmed. So whoohoo! I’ve put in an order.

I’ll let you know how it goes 😊

One star by mcmurryjulie from Pixabay 
Five star by mcmurryjulie from Pixabay 
Meeting of Minds and Connect images by John Hain from Pixabay 
Cyybercrime by Pete Linforth from Pixabay