• WELLBEING

    Love of learning

    One of my top character strengths is love for learning. Learning has never been too difficult for me, although in the past I struggled with dry memorising of facts and dates. I needed to understand the causality of things to learn them properly. Before I took the VIA Character Strengths test I did not think much of it, but now I know that learning is actually quite important to me. It actually makes me happy. 


    I was due to write this post on Thursday but it was the last day of my university course. I started it with my personal therapy, did a bit of work and then met my peer support friend to sum up the term. The last session was all about endings but also plans for the future. As I was talking about my plans people found me really structured and determined, some nodded wondering if maybe I should take studying a little bit easier. Even though I pointed out that exploring new questions and challenging myself intellectually is a pleasant and stimulating effort for me.  We still perceive learning as effort or a chore, it seems.


    I think there is an assumption about learning – we are told that it has to be boring, mandatory and hard. We are also told that successful academics know a lot but we never talk about the actual learning process. We forget that the mandatory learning at school was actually good if we had a good teacher, it was the system and unkind and uninspiring teachers who killed our love for learning. We forget that in order to learn effectively it helps to be invested, excited and passionate about the subject – so of course, a lot of mandatory training might be boring. We forget that in order to learn we have to feel a certain level of challenge, put some effort into it, often fail and review how we could do things better. Failure is not stylish nowadays, of course. We are so failure-resistant that we don’t talk about it. We beat ourselves up instead of looking honestly at our actions and learning from the mistakes.  Falure is an important part of personal growth!


    I am particularly hard on myself and I do not like making mistakes. Realising that love for learning is actually my strength really helped me. I have learned to accept my mistakes as a part of that process. I embraced the fact that I am an explorer at heart so every learning journey is about the voyage, not about the wrong turns, nor the destination. I have learned to let go of my old Catholic sense of guilt in failure and simply move on. No matter which way we go, we will always find something new, interesting and if embraced: enriching. 


    This year I have completed a Certificate in Counselling. It was my third year of counselling studies and this one was really hard. I had Brexit and two bereavements to deal with. I had a lot of new discoveries across my private life, work, studies and my active listening practice. I was also in therapy. So it feels like after months of really intense voyages I have arrived at a quiet bay and I am starting to take stock. I am starting to talk to my friends about my adventures and new discoveries – most of which in this case are all about myself and my relationship with people. It’s fascinating and really important in this line of work. It is also fun. As hard as it sounds, counselling studies really teach people to work with our own selves at a deeper level. It’s a never ending journey. Often we are joined by new friends and I am glad to have two new people in my life now that’s to this course. Juggling work, voluntary jobs, family, company and university was to be honest bonkers, but it showed me just how much can be done in a week! I did not feel the effort of this journey as daunting as it could have been because I simply like the process of learning. 


    Going to university is something unique for me now, but there are many ways to study in the new connected world, so for my list today here are my favourite ways of using social web and Internet in general to learn. Enjoy and let me know how you use the web for learning. 

    • Online courses – I often sign up for courses on Coursera, MIT and FutureLearn but recently I have also studied over at Oxford University. Some courses are paid, but affordable and you can save all your training materials for later. 
    • Good newsletters – I could not imagine my week without Brainpickings or Narratively stories, but there is so much more out there!
    • Amazon books – I cannot live without books so I spend too much money on them, actually. The great thing about ebooks is the accessibility but also additional highlights (which you can then download with Evernote)
    • Audible – audiobooks are so handy on a day when I cannot look at screens or during longer trips. What I love about Audible is their trend to ask authors to read books. Listening to Michelle Obama reading her autobiography is a sublime experience.
    • Wikipedia – I know it sounds really basic, but my parents had the full Encyclopaedia Britannica in their living room so I grew up with the idea of browsing through it and so I love the online dictionaries and definitions on Wikipedia (especially when I need to catch up on lives of psychologists or learn more about psychological concepts). 
    • Twitter – this is still the most open network where we can follow scientists but also see their inspirations so expanding our sources is way easier than elsewhere 
    • Pinterest – if I look for ideas or specific tips I use Pinterest because their good image recognition leads to fast similar results but it is also open enough to come across alternative solutions. I guess this is a space more used for practical tips (so I use it for gardening) but sometimes you can come across good academic articles and visuals too.
    • Podcasts – again easy to use and easy to follow, what I like about podcasts is the intimacy of connection with the author and their unique styles
    • YouTube premium – it’s my new channel and I think they need to work on their paid value but I like learning from YouTube documentaries and find older movies there too so using it without adverts is a real treat.
    • Medium and personal blogs – regardless of social media conversations, personal blogs still are my preferred destination. They are our personal spaces so we learn a lot about each other there. I love catching up with friends this way.


    All the above channels seem basic. However, when interconnected you can jump between a tweet, bio to a blog than to a book on Amazon and to Wiki page on the topic. Finally, you can find a content summary in a good visual on Pinterest. You just need to be open, flexible and curious. I know the above might sounds obvious but I hope it shows just how easy it is to practice love for learning online. What have I missed? Let me know. 

  • WELLBEING

    Critical thinking

    Today I am looking at another Via character strength: critical thinking. I wasn’t entirely sure what is the official definition so here it is: 


    Critical thinking is the analysis of facts to form a judgment. The subject is complex, and several different definitions exist, which generally include the rationalscepticalunbiased analysis, or evaluation of factual evidence. Critical thinking is self-directedself-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking. It presupposes assent to rigorous standards of excellence and mindful command of their use. It entails effective communication and problem-solving abilities as well as a commitment to overcome native egocentrism and sociocentrism.


    I personally feel really strongly about this one – although to be entirely honest it is not one of my top strengths. I was however raised to make informed decisions so I am still learning and hoping to get better at this. Oftentimes I am noticing people around me forming opinions based on commonly accepted norms and myths, not facts and I tremble – because I know I am doing that too. Sometimes I catch myself on repeating those myths but I am working hard on changing that. 


    The idea of a fact is quite tricky anyway. Most of us know that even academic research can be political, of course, but the bottom line is this: when we read an article, any article (no matter how academic it is) our inner biases scan it not for facts but our own inner truths. How do we form our own truths? Based on our culture, upbringing, social norms, current trends, our peers even. Oftentimes we navigate our lives with confidence that what we hold as truth is objectively the ultimate fact. That makes sense – that’s what keeps us going.


    So let’s go back to the idea that we all have a different, individual version of reality. We all experience the very same event or statement differently. We decode it and assign a meaning to it. We act based on that analysis. But is this process actually critical?  Do we examine our topic enough? How do we do it anyway?


    Critical thinking definition contains few elements:

    • First of all, it is an analysis which implies focused effort to explore a topic. 
    • Secondly, the topic itself is complex and so it requires deep analysis. 
    • The process should be objective, unbiased and evidence-based
    • It also has to be self-driven – originating from us, driven by our commitment to this exploration. 
    • The definition also mentions excellence which implies it is not a destination but a process itself – we can strive to get better and better at it and always aim for higher standards
    • It requires good communication skills 
    • It requires good problem solving skills.
    • It also requires accepting that our perspectives tend to be egocentric (self focussed) but those perspectives can be shifted to a more general, universal view on the topic.  

    Well, that’s a lot! If this is critical thinking than quite frankly it’s a lot of work. I am not sure if critical thinking is required in every single situation in our life, of course. But I am often surprised just how the above-mentioned elements of it are missing from significant conversations in our daily lives. How often we make statements that are quite quick and not entirely thoughtful. However, it is also due to the fact that in social interactions the sense of belonging to a group is important – way more important than being right. Our need to conform can be really strong and that’s understandable. We want to fit in and belong. But since we don’t need to be perfect at everything maybe critical thinking can be practised and developed in line with our need to belong to our group as well?

    In my last two posts, I made a list of practical tips. Today I would like to continue with another one. This time I will leave you with a list of assumptions people tend to make when discussing digital technologies with me. I would like to ask you to explore your views on those terms and concepts in a more critical way. Treat it as a simple exercise and let me know how it goes:

    • Facebook blackout – blackout is a word associated with electricity, something we deeply rely on, so I personally found myself wondering why some people feel so strongly about this prominent social media network. The term was used in a negative context to implying that we rely on Facebook a bit too much. At the same time, the term resonated with fear of the lost connection with our fellow friends and family. So I was wondering about a few questions: what is the real importance of Facebook in people’s lives? Is this about Facebook or our inner need to connect with others? Was this term also implying access to information? Or was it a term born out of the idea that for some people Facebook is taking over their lives – in which case I am wondering why is that? Why do some people allow for this to happen and actually blame the tool for their own choices?
    • Content overload  – I hear this one a lot, but as a person born in a generation of people who still had to wait for access to books in the library I personally celebrate any access to content online, I crave it and I marvel when I can learn, study and explore things online for free (or for affordable prices). I can relate to the idea of emotional or intellectual overload, of course, I am just wondering why people use this term. To me personally, it implies the inability to manage your online sources and subscribing to too much. Why do people do that? There is also the idea of “less is more” which I personally really disagree with – I think that most of the time we are just lazy and do not pay enough attention. It happens to me when I attempt to read a book after a long and tiring day – but I do not blame the book for it. So I wonder if it’s the content or lack of time, or maybe our lack of skills in filtering through the content and choosing the right sources and amount of it? I much prefer to stay online where I can choose my content than to watch TV channels full of adverts and have no control over those whatsoever.
    • Internet addiction and gaming addiction – here I would really love to know what feelings come up for you when you are reading those terms. Oftentimes, most of the time, to be honest, my clients use them in very negative sentiment. In my opinion, both terms need to be used really carefully as they can very easily stigmatise people who use the Internet and online gaming. Those terms were introduced into the scientific world with a clear note that they both still need more research to be confirmed. Additionally, they are also quite political: I am yet to see a government happy to see its citizens accessing information freely and collectively building strong, opinionated communities without any limitations. So when I hear those terms I always ask: what do we mean by that? Addiction to what (content, networking, information, upsetting content, etc)? The compulsion to do what or to distract ourselves from what? What is the detrimental impact of Internet and gaming on our lives? When it comes to online gaming I also sometimes worry that in the new economies with a lot of pressure on individual and fairly new open conversations about mental health the play, joy of simply hanging out with friends online, having fun and not being productive but simply resting somehow is labelled as bad habit or even failure. Why? The real problem with over-using this term is the fact that when some of us really get into unhealthy habits online, we might not have the courage to recognise it and seek help.
    • FOMO vs. the need to disconnect, switch off and go outside – fear of missing out is a well-known sensation. We experience it when we travel and cannot attend our partner’s Birthday party or cannot witness an important event in our child’s life. We also experience it when we cannot access social networks to check in with our friends (now with the algorithms on social media channels this sensation is probably less common – we do not see all our networks in the chronological order anyway). It can make us feel really anxious and uneasy about the technology, but really deep down originates in a difficult truth: we miss something or someone. FOMO is a commercial tactic too so we see it on a daily basis in timed discounts and rushed offers – that can put a lot of pressure on us. On the other hand, we often express the need to switch off and disconnect because we feel overloaded with content and the amount of noise online. We cling on to our mobiles and check them out even if we do not have to and really wish we could go outside. So what is really going on? What is missing? Why do we feel this way? I find the two concepts really important because in my personal experience a lot of my clients actually have the need to reconnect – with their friends, family and with themselves. So I wonder: what happened to the idea of dreaming, hoping and connecting? Why do we blame ourselves for wanting to travel when our reality is suffocating? Why is it not OK to wish to be on that beach with our friends? Yes, it is a heavy feeling but it also means that mentally the moment we feel with our friends we are actually resting too. With a little bit of mindfulness and positive take on their holiday updates, we could simply be happy to them and feel with them for a bit? It’s a great opportunity to connect and emotionally bond with another person. So why do we choose to feel depressed? And if we do, why is that not OK? We are not perfect? Again, overusing this term means that some of us who have severe anxieties (and we know now that online networks can amplify those) might need help but never ask for it.
    • Minecraft/Fortnight obsession – both terms are used notoriously by parents who seem to worry about their children’s use of both of those games. In reality, in most cases, the obsession is actually a passion, a hobby shared by masses of other young people who simply find it a fun thing to do. Younger children hang out on Minecraft and build amazing structures collaborating with their friends. Older children and teens hang out on Fortnite and with the help of skins shift between various outfits and vitual identities. They do that at an age when searching for your identity and expressing yourself is an important part of our growth. Yes, Fornite does have addictive and gambling elements. Yes, both games can be taken to extreme levels and can lead to addictive behaviours but most of the time, they simply don’t. But when does that happen? If parents do not put rules, boundaries in place. Sometimes because parents do not make time for their children or do not have that time due to the amount of work and other commitments. Yet, we use the term obsession really lightly. Why do we use it? Are we worried about our children – that’s a good thing, we should care. Are we doing anything about it? I am not sure. Do we engage in open conversations about those games? Do we, possibly, envy our children for having free time and having fun? Or do we know better? Whatever the questions are, we need to ask more of them and find more answers – together with our children. Because most of them seem just fine. And if we replace the word “obsession” with “passion” suddenly the game is just another hobby – one that keeps our teens off the street and away from alcohol and drugs. Someone used the word “passionate” with the word “lunch” at work today and I found myself repeating it. I was thinking about the negative connotation of even that word, but I guess it’s a different topic altogether. It should be a good thing to have a hobby, anyway.
    • Social media having a negative impact on mental health – I hear this in every single mental health training and I cringe because the academic research confirms something else entirely: we come to social media with certain attitudes and feelings, they can be positive or negative and so we tend to choose online sources of content and connections that amplify our original feelings. I guess that is why we oftentimes do feel sad, depressed, worried, anxious – because we can suddenly see clearly what is really going on for us and for others. I just wonder if making a negative assumption helps those who struggle. Does it help? Or should we be having more balanced conversations about the technology and focus on helping each other with the actual needs and issues instead?
    • The narcissism of selfies  – this will be the last of my digital terms but I think it is really important because it touches on the idea of ego. And that in itself can be stigmatised a lot. Whereas in a healthy way of living we would aim for a healthy amount of ego as well. The common visual representation of this is a balloon – a good amount of ego allows us to fly, but too much of it will make us pop, not enough will stop us from thriving. Narcissism is overused a lot in conversations about online identity and it is still often times misunderstood, especially when it comes to selfies. When in actual fact some studies have shown that taking a selfie actually improves people’s body image. I just wonder if we are ready to accept that this can be a good thing? Maybe we should not judge others and ourselves so easily?

    The reason why I have mentioned the above terms is that it’s the area I work in. I find it really difficult to correct people around me on most of those assumptions simply because they are now so often shared, repeated and slowly enter our common language. As a person working in digital wellbeing, I meet a lot of people who indeed feel affected by the digital innovation but their problems oftentimes boil down to our basic human needs: to belong, to be loved, to grow and to thrive. The lack of critical thinking in the way we relate to digital technologies results in a worldview which is shaped by fears, myths and opinions more often than facts or even individual experiences. That worldview is heavy and depressing. If we had more balanced and informed conversations about those topics maybe our versions of reality would move towards more balanced experiences too? 


    I can see how critical thinking can be a strength. It is a very difficult process for me but as I study to become a therapist I am working a lot on my own biases and so I am also starting to benefit from more critical and balanced views.  I hope this will be helpful to you as well, but let me know – I would love to hear your thorughts too.

  • WELLBEING

    Curiosity

    Curiosity is a VIA Character strenght I interpret a little bit differently than the general association of the word. When we call someone curious we tend to think about a person who is asking too many questions, especially here, in the British culture. It is not even appropriate to ask a newly met person about their profession directly – we simply need to be as polite and safe in our questions as possible. I can see how this can mean we are respectful, but for many people, this approach can be really isolating. We miss out so much. We lose a genuine connection with each other.

    A general curiosity, the underlying interest in people and the world can be really positive. Being inquisitive about the world around us leads to new findings but also new perspectives. It makes us feel better. It stretches our perception beyond our very own biases, allows us to connect with people in new ways. This process can be so rewarding! In our daily conversations, we navigate between each other with a lot of assumptions about our individual view of reality. We tend to assume how the world looks like for others. We now know however we all have a very different set of skills experience our reality. Even if our lives were similar, we would all perceive and interpret it very differently. We hear and understand words differently. We all have a different definition of sensations and feelings in our bodies. Test it out – as a few friends for their definition of joy, love, awe or sadness, pain, fear. We all have our very own experiences from our past that shape the way we decode and interpret the here and now.

    It can be really safe and bonding to assume that we have no idea about the actual experience of another person. If we start our conversations there and ask our questions with pure curiosity and the intent to understand, to connect better, to enter that person’s view of the world, we might discover fascinating ideas. We might learn, get inspired, be moved or find ourselves helping others just by offering more relevant responses. That sense of connection addresses a very basic human need to feel a bond with another person. It touches our inner child and simply feels good.

    There is also a grounding element to asking questions. One question especially: why? We know this from marketing, branding and other areas of business. We experience this when working on disorganised, hectic projects. We feel happier at work when we know simply why we do things the way we are doing them. The core purpose of our work sets a direction we can always adjust to. Having that inner compass as an employee, as a business owner, or as a private individual really increases our resilience levels in more stressful times.

    Knowing our personal goals can be really empowering. Let’s face it, we all feel that sense of purpose in others. We recognise it in them from the way they walk, speak, connect with us, make their life choices. We see the people who are clear on their purpose. Asking the why question is not a one-off task though. It’s a habit. It is a journey of serious but also courageous explorations. It can be initially quite daunting but trust me: it’s just another habit. It takes about three months to really learn a habit which, if you think about it, is not long. It is worth it too. Asking yourself goal related questions, exploring your dreams and reflecting on your journey helps us feel confident, steady and grounded.

    Yesterday I have listed a few personal tips, so I will do something similar today. Here is how I practice curiosity:

    • Setting goals – whether it’s short, or long-term goals it is really easy to get into the habit of planning. If you struggle, I recommend the 5 Minute Journal (on paper or as a mobile app). One of its core elements is daily morning goal setting and evening reflective review. It’s a simple task, which when repeated, really starts to become a mental habit fast.
    • Understanding the meaning of work – I always ask myself the question: what is the why behind my commitments? Why am I working in specific industries? Why do I care? Why am I willing to spend most of my day working towards a particular mission in my life? Where do I want to be in 12 months or in 5 years time? (Forget about the fear of getting there or failing, just map it out). You do not have to meet your mission but it won’t hurt to at least try to head towards those goals.
    • Exploring new ideas and perspectives – looking at things from a different perspective. I would normally ask myself: what else is there? what am I missing? what am I not doing? what could I be doing better or just differently? Two things happen when you do that: you might discover a better way or realise that your original approach is solid and you should stick to that. My dad gave me this tip when I was learning photography: always move the camera to an unconventional angle (place it under a flower, take a selfie of a tree above you, shift your perspective, look behind your subject – explore and experiment). If it helps, do just that – we all have cameras on our phones these days.
    • Changing focus – looking closer, closing eyes half way or sharpening our view to see greater depth is another photographic exercise. Imagine sitting on a bus in traffic in heavy rain. What do you see in the window: raindrops, glass structure, dust, the street maybe, a reflection of your friend in the window, trees, buildings, the taller blocks of flats above the landscape, maybe even stars? Work more with this approach – shift between those perspectives and experiment with how quickly you can move between those worlds. How does it feel to realise the real depth of our reality? Can we apply this to other areas of our lives? Can we use this in problem-solving?
    • Asking others the “counselling question”: how does it make you feel? Or even: how is this for you? We all have a different experience of the very same event. How is rain in traffic at midnight for your friend? How is it for you? Compare the notes and pay attention to what shapes the answers. Ask yourself the very same question and see what comes up for you.
    • Asking orientational and special questions to locate and describe experiences: where is your anger now in your body? Step out of your comfort zone and state the difficult truths – for example after an argument ask: what is in this silence for you? how does it sit with you? Open up new paths for connection and conversation by daring to ask more questions – of course, if you feel it’s appropriate.
    • Exploring the opposites – I like this one a lot. People often complain about missed opportunities or mistakes their friends made. I do this a lot myself. But how do we want our expectations to be met? The answers can be really telling. So ask: if you were ignored yesterday, how would you like that person to react better to understand you? What would they have to do to meet your need then?
    • Asking about our stories – finding out more about our roots and the experiences that shaped us can be really bonding. Ask: what is your story? This relatively large question can open up a lot but it can also be used around particular experiences – is there something else that shaped your reactions to this now? Why are you feeling this way now? Please remember to ask those questions with care, genuine attentiveness and be prepared to make time for listening afterwards.
    • Exploration game – it’s my little fun game. I like browsing for new ideas without a goal to see what comes up. I like bumping into new books in a library, charity shop or a second-hand book shop. I don’t plan particular reads just pick books based on their cover, colour, location on the shelf. The randomness of that act opens me up to things I would otherwise miss.
    • Self-reflection – asking yourself questions can be really powerful and healing. Review your actions, events in life, conversations, feelings. Notice how you reacted or felt and think about the deeper meaning for you. Try not to censor, nor judge yourself (we do so much judging in our head!). You can do it in writing or simply in your thoughts – every time you have a moment to yourself.

    This became a rather long list, but I would love to hear from you. What are your ways of asking a lot of questions?

  • WELLBEING

    Creativity


    I am starting a month of reflection around VIA Character strenghts so let’s talk about the first one. Creativity can oftentimes be associated with weaknesses, not strengths. It is however really stimulating and fun to do things in a new way, follow new patterns, do things differently. I often judge myself as “naughty” when instead of following rules, I hack the solution out of my reality. Breaking rules is part of our human nature. When we do it at the right time and effectively, we arrive at new conclusions. There is nothing wrong about thinking outside of our own box and we really should celebrate it. 

    I love watching my son play computer games. I got this when he was testing his first Super Mario game a few years ago. Instead of driving directly in the middle of each racing path, he would purposefully bump into the edges of it to find shortcuts. It is a well-known phenomenon in game design: we like to complete a level and then repeat it but this time with additional options of pre-designed cheats. We feel more achieved by completing our small virtual challenges this way.

    So why can we not do it in IRL (in real life)? I think we should blame our education and upbringing. We are raised to think that creativity is a starting point of rebellion. My son’s first day at school needed with one significant discovery: he had an allocated spot to sit on on the floor. While I was heartbroken that the school was already on the day one boxing him into an allocated place, my son felt actually special and important. I had to work really hard to explain to him that the real privilege is to have the freedom to move between different places or maybe even run freely without disturbing others. 

    If creativity can be a strength too and can lead to emotional resilience how can we identify it and nurture it? I think there are many simple ways, but here are my personal favourites:

    1. Doing something slightly out of the ordinary – something really easy like getting off a stop earlier and walking a bit more on a sunny morning allowing yourself more time to simply enjoy reconnecting with the environment Playing games – we love playing Fluxx because the game itself is about changing rules, but I think any game (offline or virtual) improves our ability to relax into doing new things. 
    2. Getting back to art basics – paper, scissors, flowers, paints or any other traditional art materials. My therapist asked me the other day to make a collage as homework and even though I was initially tempted to use iPad’s Moodboard app, I was advised to use paper cutouts instead. That took me directly to the child in me and opened up a lot of fun memories from my childhood. 
    3. Making new types of food – growing herbs and seasoning your dinner slightly differently is very simple yet can be so powerful to all our senses! Venturing out to a few local stores and buying a new ingredient, making a new meal and simply enjoying the new sensations can be fun for us, and for our family. 
    4. Creating new rituals or changing routine – small silly jokes or home rituals can be super easy on a  good day and very useful on a cloudy day. We have a few, for example making a Mexican wave over dinner – just to stop and remind ourselves about the importance of that own evening family meal. If you get into the habit of it you might notice new fun rituals emerging on their own – we humans are wired for viral ideas. YouTube videos are just the tip of the iceberg! 
    5. Using tech and social media differently – setting up or joining an Instagram challenge can be a lot of fun, joining a blogger carnival and exploring a new topic or recording few new street music videos to share with online friends – all of it is easy to do in today’s world. Sharing your experiences with friends can also be really rewarding. I also think doing this time to time helps us reevaluate the importance of social media channels and possibly adjust our habits.

    That’s all I can think of now. What are your creativity tips? What is your definition of creativity as a strenght? Let me know! 

  • DIGITAL,  WELLBEING

    Divided even more

    Today marks a day of a very long journey for me. Since June 2016 I was quiet, I lost my voice. Back then, a few days before the Brexit referendum, I posted a quick note about the meaning of the vote. That post marked an end to an era in my experience of technology. It was also an end of a difficult 6 months of watching the pre-Referendum campaign unfold in front of my eyes and feeling really helpless. Even really social media savvy people took on sharing posts promoting lies about EU not realising that this actually helped the reach of those messages. Discussions about echo chambers only really started when Trump actually won. We have started to learn the truth about social media: its landscape and underlying mechanisms reflect how we work as humans. With the help of algorithms but also very basic human biases, we forgot about echo chambers. We became vocal when some of our opinions should have remained offline. I know many of my friends do not agree with this still up till this day, but I see we are finally learning from Facebook’s scandals. In the recent reactions to Christchurch events, for instance, I have, for the first time, noticed a lot of sentiment around NOT MENTIONING facts not to promote them towards biased audiences.

    I call this process resistance. It’s a new word in our new digital reality but I think it works. We do not have to tolerate racism and the divide our political leaders are aiming to cover up their own mistakes. We simply have to resist sharing all our points and think a bit more strategically how our opinions travel in social networks. Do not forget that in social media marketing a mention, any mention (even negative one) is marked as positive for a brand – because any mention is better than none. So the best thing we can sometimes do is…remain silent. Not speaking can be an act too.

    “Devolved Parliament” by Banksy

    Today also marks the day when I am coming back to my more opinionated self. I spent months, years by now, learning more about digital wellbeing. I dived into psychology again to understand our biases. I started figuring out how we communicate online and what is the essence of our digital humanity. Today I know it is the choices that shape us. We all have the ability to act or to remain passive, to speak or to hold silence, to hurt or to protect others. And so as we are going through the really difficult part of the Brexit process I am wondering: what are we learning today? I personally start to see the value in both speaking up and in remaining silent – but both in the right times, strategically. In resistance, but also in active response to abuse and in risking to take a stand.

    In the spirit of this new realisation I have visited the Bristol Museum to see the old Banksy work – a very relevant artwork indeed. It was brought back for the tenth anniversary of Banksy’s museum takeover, but it is pretty obvious that it is yet another response to the current political events. I am really glad that some people do take a stand, in a smart way. I really hope that that the next few weeks will bring kindness and unity back to the UK and to Europe, because we are ever so divided. I personally am really fed up with it and will blog on the mental health impact of those events more.

    For now I would love to know what you have learned from the last few years of Brexit and the rise of less tolerant movements in Europe and what was the role of social media in this process?

  • DIGITAL,  WELLBEING

    3 most common digital wellbeing worries

    I read something really good today over on BrainPickings, something I aim to explain to most of my clients, but also something that defines my personal networks:

    “We reflexively blame on the Internet our corrosive compulsion for doing at the cost of being, forgetting that every technology is a symptom and not, or at least not at first, a cause of our desires and pathologies. Our intentions are the basic infrastructure of our lives, out of which all of our inventions and actions arise. Any real relief from our self-inflicted maladies, therefore, must come not from combatting the symptoms but from inquiring into and rewiring the causes that have tilted the human spirit toward those pathologies”

    More often than not my clients ask me to support them with “Internet addiction”, “Fortnight obsession” or other digital wellbeing concerns. Most of which in the end can be narrowed down to behaviours connected to our basic human needs – the need to avoid feeling lonely, the need to have fun, the need to spend quality time together or simply rest after a long day of stressful work. Some of those statements are overused and should not be taken, nor mentioned lightly. I think they should really be explored in more details with our actual context in mind. So today I would like to start by having a look at the three most common things I hear from my clients and friends. Here we go!

    1. Internet addiction or in other words obsessive, automatic, prolonged time online can often be used lightly. Everyone seems to have it nowadays, but what does it really mean? It is generally a very overused term but in some cases can stand for an actual problem. Spending a disproportionate time online is often a combined result of our inner need for genuine human connection and life in the world which is increasingly lonely. So it’s worth asking yourself some honest questions: why am I doing this? what is missing? what do I gain from going online? and finally: does it actually help? do I feel better? If you feel that going online does bother you it is really worth exploring the real, deep reasons for your concerns. Does it affect your health, work and relationships? It’s really worth exploring all those questions and if in doubt, having a chat with your GP. The Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) was now added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) (the bible of official mental health conditions) but with a clear note that it is still not fully confirmed – a lot of research is needed to fully confirm it as a condition. I would recommend this article which explains how it is measured and diagnosed at the moment, but also what challenges lie ahead of us in pinning down the exact impact of the Internet of our mental health. Example: a single, middle-aged, financially independent and fairly fulfilled woman asked me once for a tip on not checking her emails on her mobile first thing in the morning. When we explored her morning routine in more detail something very sad became apparent (she said it but I had to reflect it back at her, she was not even aware of stating her own truth): she was lonely and hated the feeling of waking up in bed alone. In the end, she decided to get a dog to keep her company and tackle her sense of loneliness and stopped checking her phone in the morning.
    2. Fortnight/Minecraft/(any other game)+ obsession is the first thing I hear from many parents or partners of regular gamers, but what does it really mean? Google defines obsession as “an idea or thought that continually preoccupies or intrudes on a person’s mind.” but let’s just very quickly look at its synonyms: “fixation, ruling/consuming passion, passion, mania, idée fixe, compulsion, preoccupation, enthusiasm, infatuation, addiction,..” As you can see some of those words are indeed negative, but what would happen if we were to replace the word with some positives? What if our child has a “Minecraft passion”? What if our partner has a “preoccupation with playing Call of Duty”? Does this term also describe their actual feelings and state of mind? In some cases, gamers might and will overuse their time online and that habit might and will affect their health, real-life performance and quality of their relationships. But in other cases, in most cases, really, their gaming habits will be a result of something fairly easy to explain: the need to connect with peers (since we cannot really hang out in the street anymore and the youth clubs are shutting down); the need to rest after long day of work/school – simply a quick way to relax or maybe simply wanting to have some fun? Is that really so bad? I would like to add something to this mix: each situation is unique but our personal feelings about other people’s gaming habits might reflect our own issues or needs to. So I would recommend asking ourselves some questions too: am I missing this person? do I want to spend more quality time with them? do I want to join in and feel excluded? do I judge them without having a chat about it? and finally: if we did not have games in our lives, what would be our alternatives? It’s also worth noting that Internet Gaming Disorder is defined in DSM-V but it is also mentioned “that gaming must cause “significant impairment or distress” in several aspects of a person’s life.” You can check the proposed symptoms of the actual disorder but it is still an area that requires a lot of research. Gaming disorder has been also listed last autumn by WHO so you can find more information about it here. It’s worth having a chat with your GP if you are concerned. Example: I worked with a dad who initially was so worried about his son’s “Minecraft obsession” that he decided to ban him from the game for the entire summer holidays. Needless to say, this particular idea backfired. The boy was struggling with fitting in any way and was left with even more reasons to be bullied and misbehave. We have worked with both dad and his son on creative ways of using the game to build, invent and present ideas. During that process, dad learned how the game works and how it can be used for fun, for creative ideas but also for studies (of maths, science or even hand-writing). At the end of our work both dad and son shared the same laptop and both came up with new ideas for creative use of Minecraft. Both found a way to talk to each other and collaborate – within and outside of the game.
    3. The negative impact of screen time on our health is a myth and after 15 editions of Safer Internet Day, we are finally openly talking about it with a bit more grounded and academic context. My son is 13 and through his entire life, he was told by his teachers, health professionals and other adults that spending the time of screens has a detrimental effect on his health. Despite the fact that we did not even have good, extensive research into this topic (all but impact of TV screens, to be honest), we have been telling our children and ourselves that screens are simply bad. Here in the UK that exaggeration became officially demystified this January by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health: “The evidence base for a direct ‘toxic’ effect of screen time is contested, and the evidence of harm is often overstated. The majority of the literature that does exist looks only at television screen time. Evidence is weak for a threshold to guide children and parents to the appropriate level of screen time, and we are unable to recommend a cut-off for children’s screen time overall. Many of the apparent connections between screen time and adverse effects may be mediated by lost opportunities for positive activities (socialising, exercise, sleep) that are displaced by screen time.” We now need to admit that most of us were wrong: it is not the actual screen time that can be damaging, but lack of movement, sleep or human connection. If used wisely and negotiated with our children in the context of its value and benefits for the family, screen time can actually be educational, relaxing and bonding. There is also another danger in making this assumption: by focussing on the mere technology of screens we are moving away from discussing the reasons behind our activities, feelings evoked by specific online activities and their meaning to us individually and as a group. It is a huge simplification to look at our screen time – we really have to think about the why behind our time on screens. Example: I met a mum recently who was worried about the screentime of her son so she decided to introduce a “no screens in the bedroom before bedtime” rule. The rule was discussed together so that her son and all other members of the family could have their opinions expressed. It was agreed that like with all other house rules, everyone would follow it. This small, but collaborative change to their habits improved the quality of everyone’s sleep but also opened up a channel for discussion around other areas of technology used in the house. Let’s face it, screens are really not the next big thing;)

    I hope this very short introduction to the core three questions I am working with nowadays will provide a bit of context to how complex the digital wellbeing of our lives can be. Please remember that the research in this area is still new, but already substantial. We now know that our digital activities are complex and there is not one size fits all solution. We need to explore our motivations, impact of our activities on our lives and keep having honest conversations to nurture our relationships: with each other and with ourselves as well.

    (Please note: these are my experiences and my understanding of the above-mentioned topics, if you have other experiences, I would love to hear from you – please leave a comment!)

    Photo by Fancycrave on Unsplash

  • WELLBEING

    Losing my voice?

    I stopped blogging pretty much last September, but I have lost my voice a few years ago. I start to realise just now that my experience of severe social isolation during my years in Oxfordshire affected me really deeply. I start to feel my voice emerging again, but I am still a bit shy to fully put in words what happened to me back there and then. I can only hope to do it slowly, gradually, with a great deal of self-care. I know that life is a journey. I know that oftentimes it is hard to see the true meaning of our reality and so we have to give it some time. Today I can start to see the meaning in my experience of extreme loneliness, but for a long time I did not have the courage to look back at those days. Simply because there is a lot of negativity around my experiences. There are a lot of people who did nothing to help me and I will have to point some fingers.

    Thanks to my new life in Bristol, a few good old friends, my family and a vast amount of new support networks I can now slowly come out of my quiet place and speak up. For the first time in my life, while living in Oxfordshire I have lost my voice. I have lost the image of myself. I have evaporated into the thin air.

    I do not know if anyone else can relate to that feeling of being a complete ghost but if you do, I salute you! It is a very tricky burden to carry because it is actually light and very difficult to define. But I will go back to those days and attempt to explain my experiences simply because social isolation becomes a problem of our generation. We are losing ourselves and forget the true meaning and value of our lives in the world that tries to convince us otherwise: that we are meaningless and never quite good enough. We are distracted blaming technology for the sins of our bad leaders and lazy networks. When in reality we are all in this life together, going through a lot of similar pains and challenges.

    This year I lost both of my parents but I have also lost a sense of innocence that I aim to find again. I became an orphan in so many ways! I am ready to share it though. Thanks to my hard work and determination, support of the carefully chosen people, I am in a good place. This gives me hope for a better tomorrow. I cannot do it without the act and courage of looking back and exploring my dark times. After a few years of living in a cold, alienating and adverse to change I feel like I was sucked into a black hole and disappeared in a different dimension. Now, upon my return, I am wondering: what has changed in me? What have I learned? How can I share those learnings to warn others? I know my experienced bothers me and I know I am not the only one affected by social isolation. So I hope to explore it in more detail. I know I am not doing it all on my own.

    It is our job is to speak up and resist the status quo – we live the times when we all finally have to take a stand. I am hopeful to find my true voice again!

    Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash