Beyond Surface-Level Interactions: The Art of Meaningful Connection

The pandemic brought home our deep need to be with people. Loneliness has risen up the ranks of ‘Things that the world is talking about’ but it’s not new – it’s always been a universal human experience. What’s changed is our understanding of how much it can deeply impact our well-being and quality of life. 

While the solution to loneliness often seems straightforward—connecting with others—it goes beyond mere social interactionLoneliness is far more than just solitude. It’s the distressing feeling of being disconnected, even when in the presence of others. 

Understanding the distinction between socializing and genuine connection is absolutely crucial. We can all live a more fulfilled life by taking this into account. Even if we’re not ‘lonely’ we often don’t optimise the relationships that really improve our quality of life. So, what’s the difference between connection that means something versus connection that doesn’t?  

The Importance of Shared Meaning: Shared meaning refers to finding something that is significant, purposeful, and valuable to you as an individual or to a group you belong to. In my 20s I headed off travelling the world on my own. I thought it would be a great challenge. But I soon found out that the contrast of having someone to share the wonder of a new place with or going it alone was stark. In New Zealand various friends joined me, but when I travelled through Asia there was no one to turn to and marvel at the cultures and beauty of a new place. No one to share the significance of experiencing something so different for the first time. I often felt profoundly lonely. Shared meaning comes from a shared experience but can also be a common interest, goal, passion that fosters a sense of belonging and deepens connections.

Nurturing Relationships: Once we find people that we share meaning with, we cannot however just sit back and expect the magic of human connection to happen. It’s essential to invest time and energy into nurturing relationships. While some connections may feel effortless, all relationships require sustained effort over time. In order to nurture our relationships we need to consciously:

  • be with them, not just in person but also in our heads. That means trying not to slip into the trap of thinking through what to say next or focussing more on ourself than the other person. 
  • engage with empathy, to listen without trying to solve and have a willingness to appreciate the other’s perspective.
  • hold the space for the other person to express how they really feel, getting comfortable with silence and allowing them to explore their thinking out loud.  

Doing this feeds the real value that comes from connection. It’s incredibly rewarding but surprisingly stripped away from our modern way of life. It takes practice. But whether we are speaking to a waitress or spending time with loved ones, being conscious of truly engaging allows us to keep improving our ability to connect (research shows that we are able to develop our emotional intelligence). And of course, it also optimises both our own and the other persons experience of the connection. 

Embracing DiversityFinding connections that reach beyond the mould of ‘people like me’ can be incredibly powerful. Recognizing and respecting different perspectives, backgrounds, and beliefs enriches the shared experience. We are naturally inclined to gravitate toward people who have a similar background to us, so this often requires a conscious effort to move beyond our comfort zone. However, embracing diversity, proactively nurturing our desire for authentic connections that challenge our biases and expand our understanding of others allows us to learn and as a result grow. We glean invaluable wisdom from dissimilar perspectives expanding the horizons of our understanding. Through the alchemy of authentic connections, we can almost undergo a metamorphosis of the self and our place within the intricate tapestry that weaves the human experience. 

By actively seeking genuine connections, fostering authentic relationships, embracing diversity, and engaging in meaningful activities together, we can cultivate a profound sense of belonging and fulfilment that resonates at the very core of our being.  While it does require ongoing conscious awareness, the effort is well worth the return.  This kind of connection feeds our souls, reaching depths that often surpass our conscious ultimately allowing us to lead richer, more purposeful lives. 

To learn more about our platform Oka (soon to be launched) which helps meaningful connection why not follow us?

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio


Falling for Charisma: How Hollow Communicators Cast Their Spell

We’ve all encountered someone who speaks with confidence and charisma, drawn in by what they say. Whether it’s listening to a podcast or meeting someone in person, there are those people who are just utterly convincing, so much so that we’re almost bewitched by their words. Maybe there’s someone you always leave wondering why you’ve agreed to do something that you really didn’t intend to. Or perhaps you watch intelligent people you know drawn in by someone who clearly lacks any substance to their claims.

It can be baffling and at times immensely frustrating. In my field the gurus who are adept at communicating – Tony Robbins and Simon Sinek for example often have far more impact than a psychologist with years of experience and scientific rigour to back up their thinking. And then there are the more sinister examples – the lies that come out of Trump’s mouth do not prevent him from being believed and Hitler who was by all accounts not the brightest managed to blindside thousands of Germans. But why, why do we get drawn in? 

Reason One

As social creatures, we’ve developed certain cognitive biases and tendencies over time which include our inclination to respond to charisma and confidence. 

Throughout human evolution, effective communication has been vital for survival and cooperation within groups. Individuals who could articulate themselves well, exhibit confidence, and capture the attention of others often emerged as influential figures. Their leadership qualities and persuasive skills helped them rally support, resolve conflicts, and make decisions that benefited the group as a whole. This also benefited their own chance of survival and their opportunity to reproduce. 

Our brains have developed a tendency to associate confidence with competence and leadership even when there is no substance to what is being said. This bias can often lead us to place undue trust in individuals who excel in presentation skills but lack genuine expertise or whose words lacks significant meaning.

Reason Two 

Have you ever been to a concert or a big sporting event? It’s hard not to get swept along in the joy and excitement of the group. Emotions in a crowd spread rapidly through emotional contagion. As a result, once a charismatic leader starts speaking the sense that they are to be believed can also spread quickly, leading to a collective emotional state. Strong communicators use this to their advantage hooking people while they have large in person audiences. Trump and Hitler are examples of this. During Trump’s campaign rallies and public addresses, he frequently uses rhetorical techniques aimed at stirring emotions and eliciting passionate responses from his audiences. By evoking emotions such as anger, fear, and hope, Trump is often able to create a collective emotional state and forge a strong connection between himself and his audience.

Reason Three

If someone tells us something that aligns with our beliefs or desires, we may be more likely to accept it as true, even if it doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. This can be especially true if we are feeling vulnerable or uncertain and are looking for someone to provide us with reassurance and direction. Known as confirmation bias, this tendency can lead us to selectively seek, interpret, and remember information that confirms our pre-existing beliefs while disregarding or downplaying information that contradicts them. 

Recognizing and understanding this bias is crucial for critical thinking, open-mindedness, and making well-informed decisions. By actively seeking out diverse perspectives, challenging our own assumptions, and being open to evaluating evidence objectively, we can reduce the influence of confirmation bias and enable more balanced and effective decision making. For more on this read Todd Kashdan’s book The Art of Insubordination. 

Reason Four

We may be taken in by good communicators simply because we don’t have the time or energy to fact-check everything we hear. In today’s fast-paced world, we are bombarded with information from a variety of sources, and it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction. As a result, we can be more likely to rely on our intuition and gut feelings when evaluating information, rather than carrying out a thorough analysis. This is known as cognitive filtering and is a natural part of the way our brain functions, the risk is when we are so overwhelmed by information that we throw out our ability think critically and objectively.  

So what can we do to avoid being taken in by bullshi*@!s 

  • Be aware of your own biases and tendencies. Try to take a step away from the emotional pull of bias and consider what’s really going on.
  • Be sceptical of information that seems too good to be true. Fact-check information and evaluate sources critically, rather than simply accepting what you hear at face value. 
  • Seek out information from a variety of sources, and to be open to considering multiple perspectives before making decisions. 
  • Ensure that the voices you’re listening to really are qualified and expert in their field rather than simply claiming to be. 

Image – pexels.com RDNE


Artificial Intelligence – The End of Humankind or a New Beginning? Part 2

Artificial Intelligence often gets a bad rap, with the focus on its risks and warnings dominating the conversation (as covered in Part 1). But what if we shifted our perspective and explored how AI could actually help humanity and even enhance our unique qualities as human beings? By examining how AI is already being used in clinical psychology, we can gain insight into the enormous potential it holds for other areas, including the workplace.

Enhanced human connection vs. further erosion of meaningful relationships 

Recent studies have revealed that chatbots can be an incredibly effective tool in treating individuals who are struggling with anxiety and depression. Take Woebot, for example. This cutting-edge app is powered by machine learning and natural language processing to deliver cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to users. By learning about CBT approaches and applying them to a user’s specific situation, the chatbot can help address stress, relationship problems, and other concerns. In fact, research has shown that users actually benefit from making emotional disclosures to the bot (and that this is most beneficial when the bot is not ‘disguised’ as a person). But if this is the case do we need therapists or even friends? 

Helping with our worries and acting as a sounding board

Chat bots acting as therapists do not replace the need for human interaction and therapists who are leveraging their capability recognise this. For example, the founder of Woebot, Alison Darcy who is herself a clinical psychologist says “We’re not trying to replace therapists—there’s no replacement for human connection. But we can rethink some of the tools that have traditionally been the unique domain of the clinic and design them so that they are more accessible.”

The advantages are of chat bots are numerous including that they: 

  • are available 24 hours a day
  • have a record of every interaction
  • don’t get frustrated, tired or have ‘off days’
  • can be personalized to a user’s exact needs
  • have access to endless volumes of psychological literature 
  • are less expensive than traditional therapy

Added to which they can provide an essential first step for individuals looking for help. Whereas people are often afraid to go to a therapist because of stigma, fear of the unknown and what they might uncover – a chatbot can feel like a safe space to explore. 

It’s not hard to see how these approaches can be translated to other settings such as the workplace, to help improve wellbeing, enhance relationships and enable performance. These are all factors that we have incorporated into our own platform Oka – an app for achieving goals through mentoring and psychology. 

Improving Relationships 

AI has the potential to revolutionize the way we approach relationships. With the help of sophisticated machine learning algorithms, researchers are exploring how AI can analyze vast amounts of anonymized data from therapy sessions to uncover patterns and identify areas for improvement in the therapeutic relationship. This targeted feedback can help us develop a deeper understanding of our own behavior and how it affects others, an essential component of emotional intelligence that is notoriously challenging to learn or measure through traditional means. By leveraging AI to enhance our interpersonal skills, we can build more meaningful and fulfilling relationships that bring out the best in ourselves and those around us.

This approach could ultimately be used across multiple domains – the workplace, marriage, parenting, friendship and politics among others. It’s massively exciting and also something we’re exploring at Oka with help from Essex University and our fabulous development team. 

Improving How we Think About People 

AI can even help us to think more objectively, more empathically and with a more open mind. Natural Language Processing (NLP – not to be confused with Neuro Linguistic Programming, the widely discredited therapeutic approach) algorithms can be used to analyse large volumes of text data, including transcripts of therapy sessions, research papers, and other psychological literature in order to identify patterns of approaches that provide breakthroughs. This data can then be used to help us to better understand others, improve our interpretation of others behaviour and intentions and make more informed decisions. 

Psychology Professor Daniel Oppenheimer from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh is using ChatGPT to help improve his students, saying he’s interested in teaching them “how to think like a psychologist rather than how to know what a psychologist knows”. How does this apply to people who don’t want to be psychologists? Well, thinking like a psychologist enhances our ability to have empathy, to step back from a problem and see it objectively, to reduce bias and to build emotional intelligence. 

For example, Oppenheimer teaches a course on human intelligence and stupidity, in which he encourages students to compare ChatGPT-generated text with human-generated text. Another psychologist, Professor Kathy Hirsh-Pasek uses ChatGPT, to teach “students to ask better questions and then defend those questions.”


AI can also improve the quality of patient-therapist matches. By continually tracking, modelling and comparing vast data sets it’s possible to optimize characteristics found in the most effective matches. 

At Oka we’ve been working with Data Scientists at Essex University to create a psychometrically robust algorithm for matching mentors and coaches, which will be rolled out in the coming months.

Human interaction will remain an essential ingredient for building relationships, developing empathy, and understanding others. Without opportunities for social interaction, we become isolated and disconnected, leading to loneliness and mental health issues. But these interactions could be enhanced through the use AI to guide relationships and to match people for certain needs beyond therapy such as coaching and mentoring. 

A Word of Warning 

The irresponsible use of AI is a grave concern, with many people unaware of the biases lurking in the data sets they use to train AI, or lacking the necessary knowledge to utilize AI effectively. There are also many false claims when it comes to AI – training it on a little data does not provide the nuance of response necessary to help support human decision making, respond in a way that’s optimally therapeutic or advisory or provide the nuanced insight required to address real human needs in all of their complexity.

The world of mental health apps can also be a minefield, with many claiming to offer evidence-based therapeutic support but falling short of their promises. Despite the proliferation of apps claiming to be rooted in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), a study published by the US National Library of Medicine in 2018 revealed that not a single one of the 35 CBT-based apps they tested was actually effective. As one clinical psychologist pointed out, just because an app claims to be based on a therapeutic model, doesn’t mean that it’s actually evidence-based. This unfortunately extends to workplace platforms where sweeping claims are made, many saying that their applications are based on evidence where they simply are not. It’s crucial that we are discerning about the apps we use and that we demand rigorous research and validation before entrusting our mental health to them. 

Many platforms are also making lofty claims about their ‘matching algorithms’ which are typically based on limited data which is not psychometrically sound. My advice in all instances would be to dig a little deeper before accepting what they say at face value. To learn more about the science-based initiatives we have at Oka, subscribe to the newsletter here.


Fitzpatrick, K. K., Darcy, A., & Vierhile, M. (2017). Delivering cognitive behavior therapy to young adults with symptoms of depression and anxiety using a fully automated conversational agent (Woebot): a randomized controlled trial. JMIR mental health4(2).

Ho, A., Hancock, J., & Miner, A. S. (2018). Psychological, relational, and emotional effects of self-disclosure after conversations with a chatbot. Journal of Communication68(4), 712-733.

Lan, A., Lee, A., Munroe, K., McRae, C., Kaleis, L., Keshavjee, K., & Guergachi, A. (2018). Review of cognitive behavioural therapy mobile apps using a reference architecture embedded in the patient-provider relationship. Biomedical engineering online17(1), 1-8.

Luxton, D. D. (2014). Artificial intelligence in psychological practice: Current and future applications and implications. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 45(5), 332–339.


Image: Pexels.com


Are you sitting and waiting for life to happen? The difference between knowing and doing. 

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you knew what you needed to do, but just couldn’t seem to bring yourself to do it? Maybe it was starting a new exercise routine, preparing for a meeting, or having a difficult conversation with a friend. We’ve all been there at one time or another. This is the difference between knowing something and doing something.

Knowing something is the first step in any process of change. It’s the acquisition of information, knowledge, or understanding about a particular topic or situation. It’s the recognition that something needs to be done, and having an idea of what that something might be. For example, you might know that regular exercise is important for your health, or that consistently preparing for critical meetings is essential for academic success, or that being honest and direct with others is key to building strong relationships.

But knowing something is not enough. It’s the action that really counts. Doing something is the implementation of that knowledge into our life. It’s taking that first step towards change and putting our ideas into practice. This is where we face the challenges, obstacles, and fears that may be holding us back or that can send us off course once we have taken that first step.

Doing something requires motivation, commitment, perseverance and constant reminders. It requires a willingness to step out of your comfort zone and take risks. It also requires self-awareness and understanding of the psychological tools needed to manage your thoughts and emotions when things don’t go as planned.

The difference between knowing something and doing something is like the difference between reading a recipe and cooking a meal. You can read a recipe all day long, but until you actually gather the ingredients, follow the steps, and put it in the oven, you won’t have a delicious meal to enjoy.

So, how do you bridge the gap between knowing something and doing something?

  1. Set realistic goals – break down your overall goal into smaller, achievable steps. This helps us to avoid feeling overwhelmed and helps us to make progress towards our goals.
  2. Create a plan – that outlines the specific actions you need to take to achieve your goal. Having a plan helps us to stay organized and focused. When will you complete the steps by, how will you know you’ve done it, how will you measure your success?
  3. Find someone to hold you accountable – the support of a friend, family member, coach or mentor to help you stick to your goals, to encourage you, remind you and hold you to account.
  4. Celebrate your successes – even the smaller steps should be celebrated. This help us to stay motivated and focused on our end goal.

In conclusion, knowing something is important, but it’s the action that really counts. Taking that first step towards change can be scary, it can take courage, but it’s the only way to achieve your goals and live the life you want. So, don’t just sit on the side-lines, get out there and start doing!

For more on turning your knowledge into action please take a look at my book (currently only £3.99 on kindle in the UK)

Photo by Mantas Hesthaven – Pexels

For more from Fiona go to https://fionamurden.com


Does Anyone Actually ‘Do’ Personal Development?

As an organisational psychologist, I hope the answer to this is ‘Of course, we all want to grow and develop, tell me how?’ But is my viewpoint biased? The answer is yes. 

Personal development falls under the heading of lifelong learning which “should take place at all stages of the life cycle (from the cradle to the grave)…embedded in all life contexts ….learning for every person wherever they are and however old they should be.” The reality is however that only 10% of the EU population aged 25-64 participate in life-long learning

My bias comes from the people I work with and the work that I do. Leaders of organisations, entrepreneurs, surgeons, academics, athletes. People who are hungry to know how they can be better, always wanting to improve, always curious about what that could look like. But as the figure suggests there are a lot of people who are not ‘into’ personal development. In fact, they couldn’t care less about it. This always comes as a shock when I move from my working environment to everyday life. In conversations at parties, in the pub or at my daughters’ school for example people often just ‘don’t get’ what I do. Even those who are successful, driven or passionate about learning for their kids. They puzzle over why someone would pay lots of money to get someone to help them fine tune their thinking and behaviour? Why would they need someone to help make their decision making more adept? Why do they even need to grow? 

However, learning is not just ‘a nice to have’ – learning, growing and evolving is fundamental to who we are and has been throughout our existence.  

You are not meant for crawling, so don’t. You have wings Learn to use them, and fly. 

—Mevlana Jelalu’ddin Rumi, thirteenth century 

Curiosity lies at the heart of learning. Todd Kashdan Professor of Psychology at George Mason University defines curiosity as “the recognition, pursuit and desire to explore novel, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous events,” not only initiating but also facilitating learning. When asking the question ‘Why should I bother?’ the outcomes are pretty convincing. Curiosity for example has been linked to:

  • Living longer – in one study, adults aged 60–86 were observed for 5 years. Those who were more curious at the start of the study were more likely to be alive at the end.
  • Improved life-satisfaction, positive effect and meaning in life. 
  • Better memory performance
  • Improved emotional intelligence, capability to monitor self and others’ emotions, emotional expression and sense of humor, along with a greater tolerance to anxiety. All factors which contribute to better relationship quality.

So, we know that life-long learning and personal development are good for us. The question then becomes – what happens to that remaining 90% of people? Do they simply leave school and stop learning? Well no, not really – we are all learning, assimilating the behaviours, attitudes and influences of the people around us continuously. The difference is the extent to which we’re taking that learning in the right direction for what we want in life. Think of it this way – it’s a bit like getting into a taxi drunk and saying ‘take me anywhere for £50’ – yes, you’ll go on a journey, but the likelihood is that it won’t end up at home. If you put your head up every so often and make a suggestion you may end up closer to your destination. We need to be more deliberate if we want to get the most out of that taxi ride.  

So, why not choose the journey you’re on and how you experience it? Why not decide on your destination? Of that 90% I’m pretty confident that a good proportion do in fact go about trying to learn deliberately now and then but give up. Deliberate action is hard work – it’s not what our brain favours. Personal development is one of those ‘niggly things’ that we’ll think about, maybe start doing but then drift away from. Even when I’m working with those who are ‘super successful’, I have to keep drawing them back to the development plan we’ve put in place. We forget, it becomes deprioritized, it doesn’t evolve with us as we learn and grow and it typically doesn’t take account of the tough reality of day to day life. 

So what should you do? In short: 

  • Try to remain curious and open-minded to all of your day to day experience.
  • Find something that motivates you – it sounds obvious but it’s all too easy to go headlong into trying to fix what doesn’t work without thinking about why. For example – I hate admin, I can look at improving my ability to stay organised but ultimately, I’m better off finding systems that simply minimize my need to do it (a poor example but you get the gist)
  • Find something that challenges you, but in the right way – something should feel like it’s stretching you, but not like you’re pushing up against a brick wall (it can be tough to tell the difference and this is often a good place to ask for the opinion of someone you trust)  
  • Work with someone – to hold you accountable, to support you, to believe in you, to act as a sounding board and to remind you of what you may know but have forgotten (e.g. actually you’re really good at this, remember when…..)

If you’d like to know more about the Oka app (which will make all of this a whole lot easier) then please message us!

N.B. People who are not mentally well or who are struggling financially can find it exceptionally hard to learn. If you fall into this category, please be easy on yourself.


Chu, L., Tsai, J. L., & Fung, H. H. (2021). Association between age and intellectual curiosity: the mediating roles of future time perspective and importance of curiosity. European Journal of Ageing, 18(1), 45-53

Gallagher MW, Lopez SJ (2007) Curiosity and well-being. J Posit Psy- chol 2(4):236–24 

Kashdan TB, Steger MF (2007) Curiosity and pathways to well- being and meaning in life: traits, states, and everyday behaviors. Motiv Emot 31(3):159–173 

Kashdan TB, McKnight PE, Fincham FD, Rose P (2011) When curi- osity breeds intimacy: taking advantage of intimacy opportuni- ties and transforming boring conversations. J Pers 79(6):1067– 1099 

Kashdan TB, Stiksma MC, Disabato DD, McKnight PE, Bekier J, Kaji J, Lazarus R (2018) The five-dimensional curiosity scale: capturing the bandwidth of curiosity and identifying four unique subgroups of curious people. J Res Pers 73:130–149 

Laal, M. (2012). Benefits of lifelong learning. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 46, 4268-4272.

Murden, F. (2021). Defining You: How to profile yourself and unlock your full potential. Hachette UK.

Murden, F. (2020). Mirror Thinking: How role models make us human. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Image – pexels.com


Why if you want to succeed and be happier in 2023, something’s got to give!

Since writing Mirror Thinking and uncovering the incredible power of social learning, I’ve become more and more involved with mentoring. There are numerous organisational benefits and individual statistics on how impactful mentoring is, but there’s a quote from Oprah that sums it up far better than I ever could “A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.” It’s that magic that can really help unlock someone’s potential in a way nothing else can. Who wouldn’t want to give that gift to someone?

But one of the most common questions I’ve come up against when talking about mentoring is ‘How do you get the mentors? Do you pay them?’ At first, I was a bit dumbfounded by this – why would we need to pay them? But the question has kept coming up again and again. 

I then became puzzled because while I was getting this question over and over again, I was also seeing the opposite action. Finding mentors has never been a problem. People want to mentor. Often the only thing holding people back is a belief in how much they can actually help, not in the desire to help itself. 

So why the frequent question about whether mentors should be paid?

Mentoring is central to being human. It may not have been called mentoring in centuries past, but it’s what all of our ancestors did as they progressed through life – helped to shape the next generation by listening, sharing knowledge and providing words of wisdom. In fact, for most of human existence it was the only way to ensure knowledge was passed on to the next generation. Which is perhaps why our brain is actually geared to help others. 

When we help others, our brains release oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine – hormones that have the effect of boosting our mood and counteracting the impacts of cortisol (i.e. stress). One neuroscientific study even showed that giving had more positive impacts on someone’s brain than receiving. It seems like we are wired to give back. But this still leaves us with the same question. Why do people keep asking if we pay the mentors who are part of our programmes?  

When I was writing Mirror Thinking I had a conversation about whether we are ‘wired to give back’ with the brilliant Professor Marco Iacoboni (Head of Biobehavioural Sciences at UCLA). Iacoboni animatedly described a study that he and his team had carried out which could provide the answer. Participants were asked to divide a sum of money with another player at their discretion using an economic game called the ‘Dictator Game’. The research question – would generosity vary depending on the other players’ socio-economic status and their perceived need? Using something called ‘theta burst stimulation’ (cTBS) Iacoboni and his team interrupted activity in two areas in the frontal lobe of the brain. And they found that when the signals in the prefrontal area were interrupted, limiting the capability of the brain to carry out slow, rational thinking, the levels of generosity increased regardless of the other participant’s status or need. In other words when the participants were unable to use their prefrontal brain relying on more primitive brain impulses, they were more prosocial, cooperative and helpful to their fellow players. What does this tell us? Well it suggests that we in effect learn societal norms (which crudely put are associated with frontal lobe activity) to think we should be less generous than is actually naturally the case. So, although giving to others is innately human, it is drummed out of us through societal expectations. 

Perhaps this is what we’re seeing happening when people ask whether mentors should be paid. And how that is at juxtaposition of what we actually see – that we face no shortage of people wanting to help. We’ve been trained (although not knowingly) to expect payment in return for giving our time. Added to which our hyper busy, tech driven way of life often takes us away from what is naturally good for us. 

In fact, mentoring neatly fits into 3 out of 5 of the things that the NHS advises us to do in order to improve our mental health. Namely – helping others, connecting with others and learning something new.  Yes, that’s right when we mentor, not just when we’re mentored, we learn.  But it’s not even just our mental health that benefits from being a mentor and ‘giving back’, it’s also our success. 

Wharton Professor Adam Grant carried out research across the globe looking at what ‘type’ of people are most successful. People who give, people who ‘match’ or people who take. Grant explains that ‘givers are generous: they help others with no strings attached. Takers are selfish: they try to get as much as they can from others. Matchers are fair: I’ll do something for you, if you do something for me.’ When looking at intelligence units what he consistently found was that the very highest performing teams helped others, shared knowledge, mentored and made connections without expecting anything in return. In fact it was the single strongest predictor of group effectiveness (i.e. how much team members were givers). In other research carried out by Podsakoff at Indiana University the frequency with which employees helped one another was found to predict sales revenues in retail; customer service in banks; innovation in consulting and engineering; productivity in paper mills; and revenues, customer satisfaction, and performance in restaurants.

And when it comes to leaders, it’s also the givers who come out top. Grant explains that givers bring out the best in people, they see the potential in others and bringing us right back to Oprah’s quote – givers are ‘able to allow these people to achieve greater potential than they thought possible.’ Which is definitely what I’ve seen throughout my career of assessing and advising leaders. Grant also says that when a leader demonstrates this behaviour ‘they become role models and change the norms of behaviour for the group.’ Which ultimately leads to more knowledge sharing, which is good for creativity, innovation and performance. As Churchill said: 

We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give 

But back to that question – do we need to pay mentors? Well, ask yourself this – do you enjoy helping other people? Do you feel good when you give someone the space to work through a problem and come to a solution that helps them to grow? Would you expect to be paid for that? 

I encourage you to find a way to mentor in 2023 (WATCH THIS SPACE – we’ll be offering ways to get involved with our mentoring at Oka coming very soon). But even if mentoring is not for you then at the very least look for ways to give back that fit with your preferences and lifestyle. Despite what society tells us it’s good for us at both the level of wellbeing and it’s even essential to our own ‘success’. 

Oka means wisdom – your wisdom, the wisdom of others and the wisdom of Oka itself. 


Part of the above extract is adapted from Mirror Thinking – How Role Models Make Us Human. 

Grant, A. (2013). Give and take: A revolutionary approach to success. Penguin.

Inagaki, Tristen K. PhD; Bryne Haltom, Kate E. BA; Suzuki, Shosuke BA; Jevtic, Ivana BA; Hornstein, Erica MA; Bower, Julienne E. PhD; Eisenberger, Naomi I. PhD. The Neurobiology of Giving Versus Receiving Support: The Role of Stress-Related and Social Reward–Related Neural Activity. Psychosomatic Medicine 78(4):p 443-453, May 2016

Murden, F. (2020). Mirror Thinking: How Role Models Make Us Human. Bloomsbury Publishing.




Image – Angela Roma – Pexels


Models and Mentors

My Dad died 8 years ago today. If I sit and think about the happy times and the sad, it doesn’t take long for tears to sting my eyes, but whereas once that happened several times an hour, with time that emotion has sunk deeper inside. Grief passes, loss never does. 

Who were your role-models when you were growing up?                                                                                                            

Dad shaped who I am and how I see the world. Through many years of profiling I’ve heard the impact that every parent has on a life, from childhood through to midlife and beyond. Every single one of us has been shaped by someone in our formative years be it positively or negatively. We, our brains and our identity are moulded by our experiences of the world and most of all that happens as a direct consequence of our interaction with our core caregivers. In the vast majority of instances, it’s our parents who has been the main role-models in our lives. Research tells the same story. 

Who are your mentors? 

As we grow up that learning doesn’t stop although of course the source does change. As adults we may feel embarrassed to say someone impacted us as a role-model or even a mentor, yet we are still learning from the people around us, all of the time. Some estimates go as far as saying that 90% of our learning is through social means. That presents a massive opportunity if used effectively. 

Think about it, how did you learn to do your job or find your way around the services in the town you live in – was it from reading a text book, doing a course or through watching, interacting, listening and doing? Learning this way doesn’t always feel intuitive, despite being one of the most natural things in the world. Why? Because we’re brought up to believe that studying and qualifications matter most. When I first joined the firm of psychologists I worked with straight out of my Masters – YSC, I was raring to go. I wanted to get stuck in, to profile, to pull out insights that would help pin-point what made people tick. But I was told I couldn’t straight in, I had to sit in on profile after profile, making judgements, discussing them, being corrected and encouraged. The intangible of this felt infuriating. But, in reality it is how we learn most effectively, how we learn the nuances that can’t be taught from a book or course, especially those that involve our social and emotional worlds. We learn from and about other people through observing, listening and interacting with them. We are after all such social beings. This type of learning is the core way we know how to navigate our world – how to avoid failure and move toward success and how to have better relationships with those around us. When we observe others’ choices, whether the outcome is good or bad, we have extra information on what the best choice for us to make ourselves. Aside from anything else when it’s someone else’s experience it helps us mitigate our own failure and pain. 

Your Models and Mentors

So, whether your aim is to learn how to be a brilliant leaders, be a good parent or train for a 10km race, you’re most likely to learn effectively if you have a mentor or an ‘unexpected’ role-model to guide you. Not a hero or heroine but someone you can see and talk to, or simply observe. They don’t have to be perfect, in fact you’ll learn more from them if they are not. Think about who your role-models and mentors are now, today- who can you learn from? Write them down, reflect on what you want to learn from them, the questions you want to ask, what you need to watch. 

And also keep making use of the wisdoms you learnt growing up, reflect back on what they taught you and keep referring to their stories like a guiding light. And remember that just because you’ve grown up doesn’t mean there isn’t learning left to do. If you leave who is shaping you to chance, because people are nudging your behaviour and beliefs all of the time, you’re doing yourself a disservice.   

I’m lucky I still have my Mum to check in with and guide me, which I do, daily under the guise of checking in on her, she offers me the comfort that only a Mum can. But although Dad is gone, conjuring up his positivity, wisdom and view of the world feels like a warm hug and still helps, if I let it, to shape the path I take through life. I miss you Dad. 


Bandura, A. 1977. Social Learning Theory. New York, NY: General Learning Press.

Murden, F. 2020. Mirror Thinking – How Role Models Make Us Human. Bloomsbury Sigma.

Artificial Intelligence – The End of Humankind or a New Beginning? Part 1

The rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) seems to have taken hold of our inner most fears, accelerated recently by the introduction of ChatGPT. But do these  leaps forward in AI capability mean that we are all doomed? 

Elon Musk would have us believe that yes AI poses an existential threat to the human race (but please bear in mind that this man has called one of his children X Æ A-12 Musk, which surely says something about his judgement). Whereas Bill Gates believes that AI will help us to become not just more productive but also more creative. 

Recently a number of the leaders I work with have been asking my view, as a psychologist and someone interested (some may say unhealthily) in Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Data Analytics. This is not as crazy as it may sound after all psychology is the scientific study of human behaviour, cognition (aka intelligence), and emotions.

So, here are my thoughts. Concerns (which are discussed by others at length  elsewhere): Does AI present an existential threat? 

People fret that AI will somehow develop spontaneously and its control over our daily lives will spread faster than Covid-19, but can AI will learn to ‘improve itself’ in a way that is beyond our control? The argument behind this is that if a human brain has a hundred billion neurons, then an AI with a thousand billion simulated neurons will be more intelligent than a human. Perhaps the most significant worry here is that AI will be able to ‘read’ our intentions, taking away agency, autonomy and the upper hand of humanity. This concern is further exacerbated by ChatGPT which people think is just a pre-cursor of what’s to come.

When I first played with ChatGPT it did seem spookily aware of what I was thinking and requesting of it, but after much time running through endless questions its limitations start becoming more apparent. The fact is that AI is a long, long way off understanding what’s known in psychology as ‘theory of mind’ (being able to understand and take into account another individual’s mental state) which is arguably one of the most complex and ‘human’ aspects of intelligence. Why? 

Brain structure is hugely, hugely complicated – some even say that we know less about the human brain than we do about space. Our brain is one of the most complex and mysterious structures in the known universe, and there’s still much to be discovered about how it works, how it develops, and how it interacts with the environment. As humans every challenge we face requires a different set of neuronal pathways for example – to move our muscles we need one set of structures, to store memories another, to see objects another still and these are all hugely interconnected, often in ways that we’ve not yet been able to verify. AI would need to be programmed specifically for each function, and then deliberately interconnected with other functions in ways that we don’t even understand in the brain in order to even start to resemble the more complex aspects of being human i.e. common sense, emotion, empathy and theory of mind.

I would however be lying if I told you I had no concerns. For me the biggest worries involve the following aspects: 

  1. Bias – AI algorithms are only as unbiased as the data they are trained on. If the data contains biases, the algorithm will learn those biases and perpetuate them and of course every human (even those who believe otherwise) is biased. Unless this is strictly monitored with proper understanding this can lead to unfair and discriminatory outcomes, particularly in critically important areas such as hiring people for jobs (or more worryingly not hiring them) and criminal justice.
  2. Dependency – as AI becomes more advanced, there’s a risk that we become overly reliant on it, making us less practiced when it comes critical thinking which in turn will impact our decision-making abilities and could also limit our creativity. 
  3. Unethical commercialization – while the algorithms that power the success of Instagram, TikTok and Facebook are not nearly as clever or considered as ‘The Social Dilemma’ would have us believe, the use of data to take advantage of our human nature is worrying and very real. 
  4. Job displacement – as AI systems become more advanced and capable, there is a real risk that it will replace human workers in some roles, particularly in sectors that rely heavily on routine or repetitive tasks. This will impact the lowest paid, least skilled and the least privileged hardest creating more potential for injustice and unfairness within our society. 

However, there are other areas of concern, that while concerns also offer significant opportunities (which I’ll discuss in the next article….):

  1. Loss of social skills – the increasing use of AI-powered personal assistants like Siri, Alexa, or Google Assistant has made it easier for individuals to complete tasks and access information without the need for human interaction. The less we interact with others, the rustier our skills become. I often find myself shouting at Alexa, and of course there is no need to say please or thank you (although I tend to and then feel very stupid, in effect the interaction is training me out of being polite). This may sound basic and not too much of a catastrophe, but as my parents said when I lacked manners at the dinner table – “If you do it at home, you’re likely to do it when you’re out” – these things become habitual and they iteratively change our behaviour. A loss of social skills and poorer interpersonal communication will without doubt impact healthy relationships and individual growth.
  2. Decrease in emotional intelligence – as I explain in Mirror Thinking empathy and emotional skills are developed iteratively through continual interaction with other humans. The often unconscious read of nuances in face-to-face communication continually add to our capabilities. But like a muscle, when these skills are not used, they become weaker and less developed and we begin to understand each other less. Research has shown that young adults who interact more frequently on text than face to face have lower levels of empathy. Unless careful consideration is taken, using AI more can and will lead to decreases in emotional intelligence, which in turn is likely to exacerbate the current issues we have with loneliness and mental health. 
  3. The future of work – the two points above pose a problem for the workplace. McKinsey research shows that between 2016 and 2030, the demand for social and emotional skills will grow across all industries by 26 percent in the United States and by 22 percent in Europe as a direct result of, yes you guessed it an increased use of AI. 
  4. Bots helping in place of humans – in some very human circumstances such as therapy, bots have been shown to have a significantly positive impact on outcomes. However, along with this ‘therapist in your pocket’ come the concerns of false diagnosis, false treatment (offering the wrong options to someone who is mentally unwell can cause significant issues), and privacy. 

This article may look like ‘one side of a coin’ but there are also huge opportunities for AI to help us to become more human which I’ll explore more in Part 2 (focussing in particular on social skills, emotional intelligence, future of work and therapy bots). 

In my view, while we do have things we need to remain very much on top of, AI is not going to present a catastrophic end to life as we know it. I’m not dismissing the fact that AI has the potential to spread rapidly in certain domains and to create issues, but we would also need to remember that AI depends on human design and ultimately human control. 

Knowing you, knowing me

‘How well do you really know yourself?’ A hugely significant 95% of us think that we’re self-aware, but the reality bears a stark contrast with 10% to 15% actually knowing who we really are (Eurich 2017). Although we believe that we know the image we see starting back at us from the mirror, the way we position our story on Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat, what our co-workers and friends think of us, in reality we spend very little time actually reflecting on who we are or asking people for honest opinions about the impact we’re having on them.

Self-awareness isn’t a new concept – another faddy notion claiming to be the route of all happiness. Plato said, ‘Know thyself’ more than two thousand years ago. Today, the understanding that knowing ourselves which is the cornerstone to realising our potential, is backed by the experience of generations and robust scientific evidence. In fact, as psychologists we even believe that this skill is the foundation of human survival and advancement (Eurich 2017).

Why Does Self-Awareness Matter? 

The lack in self-insight that most of us unwittingly have, means we are wandering around with an equivalent of a blindfold on. We may be making it from one place to another but along the way we’re bumping into things, stumbling over obstacles and taking a really inefficient route to our destination. When it comes to behaviour that means unintentionally annoying people and making a myriad of unnecessary mistakes along the way. On the other hand taking that blind fold off would enable us to:

  • Work out what we actually want from life – without working out what we want there is no way of getting closer to it.
  • Understand our strengths in order to start-making proper use of them.
  • Work on our weaknesses and at the very least mitigate the negative impact they have.

Having better self-insight also improves our social skills, decision making capabilities, ability to deal with pressure, resolve conflict and deal with stress. 

Given all of this it’s unsurprising that knowing ourselves allows us to fulfil our potential. Indeed, eminent Psychologist Daniel Goleman explains that self-awareness is the cornerstone of emotional intelligence and success. In his book Emotional Intelligence, Goleman explains how in an organisational setting, once someone has an IQ of 120 or above, it’s emotional intelligence that becomes the most significant predictor of successful leaders.

And it’s not just soft skills that benefit, Dr. Richard Boyatzis a Professor of Organisational Behaviour looked at the profits produced by partners in a number of financial services companies measuring the 4 areas of emotional intelligence defined by Goleman. He found three of the facets had a massively significant effect on bottom line results with good self-awareness adding 78 per cent to incremental profit.

Most importantly of all having good self-awareness allows us to thrive. Knowing how to operate at our optimum but also being tuned into our mental and physical needs allows us to know when we need to refuel our body and our mind – leading to better physical and mental health.

How Can You Improve Your Self-Awareness?

Knowing how your brain works – it’s useful to first understand a bit more about how our brain works before delving into introspection. What’s normal and what’s not but also what’s helpful and what’s not. For example if you approach self-reflection in a way that’s hyper vigilant of everything that runs through your mind it will become counter-productive. When it comes to the brain analysis literally is paralysis. Instead try to be curious about yourself and your story but try not to ‘judge’, just observe.

Knowing about the world around you – a core component of self-awareness is understanding how our actions impact the world around us, not just looking inward. This is known as ‘external self-awareness’ and can be developed by:

Being curious  – observing how your actions change and impact things. Also take note of how other people alter interpersonal dynamics. This is critical because external self-awareness is as important as internal self-awareness.

Knowing what you don’t know – approaching a situation accepting of your own inexperience. Not presuming you know the answer, rather asking questions with an open mind and really considering the answers.

Asking people what they think – ask for feedback from people who know you well and who you trust. Ask them to help you think through ‘What is really important to me? What am I really good at? What makes me unique?’

 Knowing about you – it may seem a bit counterintuitive to put this one last but self-awareness is not pursely about self-absorption, it is about knowing about our passions and feelings but in terms of how they influence and are influenced by the context of the world we exist in. Ways in which to improve ‘internal self awareness’ include:

Writing lists or brainstorming – your strengths, weaknesses, what motivates you, what you stand for, what makes you happiest, what makes you mad.

Keeping a journal – not only does the process of writing itself allow the time and space for reflection, but also the capability to look back and learn from mistakes, at patterns of behaviour and their outcomes, to capture what makes you happy and what takes that away.

Making reflection a habit – this could be in the form of a journal or it could be meditation, mindfulness, going for a walk or a run, saying a prayer – whatever gives you the space to focus on what you’re feeling, how you are, what’s going on for you. Having the space to reflect on what makes us who we are, our own personal life story, is crucial to raising self-awareness.

Self awareness and learning about who we are is a continual journey – although the very core of us remains stable throughout life, our preferences, strengths, goals and passions modify and change as we grow and add to our story. If you make the effort to pay attention to that journey it can and will lead you to a far more fulfilled life.

Defining You: Build Your Unique Personal Profile and Unlock Your True Potential by Fiona Murden, is now out in paperback.

Available on Amazon UK, USA and Australia at the links below:




To listen to my chat with Dr. Tasha Eurich, the guru on self-awareness go to: 

References and links:

For more on how to approach self-reflection in a constructive rather than destructive way go to: https://warwick.ac.uk/services/counselling/informationpages/selfawareness/

Insight: Why We’re Not as Self-Aware as We Think, and How Seeing Ourselves Clearly Helps Us Succeed at Work and in Life by Tasha Eurich Published May 2nd 2017 by Crown Business

Immordino-Yang, M. H., Christodoulou, J. A., & Singh, V. (2012). Rest is not idleness: Implications of the brain’s default mode for human development and education. Perspectives on Psychological Science7(4), 352-364.

Tanner, J. L., & Arnett, J. J. (2011). Presenting “emerging adulthood”: What makes it developmentally distinctive. Debating emerging adulthood: Stage or process, 13-30.

Boyatzis, R. (1999). The financial impact of competencies in leadership and management of consulting firms. Department of Organizational Behavior Working Paper, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland

Beyond social capital: How social skills can enhance entrepreneurs’ success. Robert A Baron; Gideon D Markman The Academy of Management Executive;Feb 2000

Brackett, M. A., Rivers, S. E., Shiffman, S., Lerner, N., & Salovey, P. (2006). Relating emotional abilities to social functioning: a comparison of self-report and performance measures of emotional intelligence. Journal of personality and social psychology91(4), 780.

Ciarrochi, J., Deane, F. P., & Anderson, S. (2002). Emotional intelligence moderates the relationship between stress and mental health. Personality and individual differences32(2), 197-209.

Image: Shutter stock – George Marks

Who believes in you?

I believe in you. I believe that you can do whatever it is you set out to. I believe that you are better than you realise. 

We may feel like we don’t or shouldn’t need others to believe in us, but in reality, we do. It matters to feel like we matter, that we have worth and that others believe we can do the things we set out to. Even if momentarily it can unblock those concrete barriers we often put up in our own mind – sometimes just long to make a breakthrough or take action before they close back in again. 

However, psychologically speaking we know that what’s most important to our self-esteem is our own self-belief. Not someone else’s belief in us but our belief in ourselves. Ultimately that determines what we can and cannot do. As Henry Ford said

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t you’re right.”

But there is no doubt one feeds the other. We all have wobbles, we all have doubts and we all, even those of us who may not show it, shine a little brighter with the right kind of encouragement and support. And to grow our self-belief often takes that belief from others, until it finally seeps into our own psyche. 

How and where can you find more self-belief? 

The good news is you don’t have to pay a coach or a psychologist, just take a look around – there are people who believe in you – I guarantee it. The hard part isn’t finding someone, the hard part is letting them help you

I work with some amazing people, they are all very successful in their field and completely different from one another, but one thing they all have in common is that they let me help. 

If you want someone to believe in you:

  • let them in, trust them
  • listen with an open mind and consider what they’re saying before you dismiss it 
  • let them believe in you even when you don’t believe in yourself

While you can do this without anyone’s help, in reality it’s very hard to build your self-belief on your own. You’ll get much further, far quicker if you find someone to support and encourage you. 

Giving the gift of self-belief 

A large part of what I do is to spot people’s capabilities, help them to see how to use them and show them that I truly believe in them. While I may be a sounding board to strategic plans, an advisor on team dynamics or a co-curator of communication I’m also nearly always a cheerleader too. And I get an enormous satisfaction from that part of my job. It is after all part of life to take on that role whether as a mentor, parent, leader, friend, actually a human of any kind – it’s something we evolved to do and to enjoy doing. 

But despite being ‘natural’ it does take practice. The ultimate aim is the ability to instil such a solid sense of self belief in the person you’re encouraging that they don’t need you. If you’re really skilled they may not even know that you’ve got them to that point. However, on route to this supreme level of skill, be assured that even a slightly clumsy, poorly timed delivery can help positively impact someone’s life. 

The three key elements to remember are: 

Read the person – and take their lead. This is a far more effective way of approaching encouragement than telling someone what to do or think. It should be led by them, not you.  

If I encourage in the wrong way, the people I work with quickly spot my efforts and switch off to what I’m saying. The same is true of anyone who is suspicious of our intentions. In at risk children that awareness comes less from a desire to avoid BS (as for the leader) and more from a need to protect themselves. However, the fundamentals remain the same…

If you don’t know what to say, listen – you’ll learn a lot about what you need to say and do by being open and exploring alongside someone. Advise when asked but don’t tell – encourage, talk, help them to understand what there is of themselves to believe in. 

Timing. If you just throw out words of encouragement ‘willy nilly’ it won’t having an impact. Use your read of the person to judge when it’s right to encourage, when it’s right to give a little push and when it’s better to stay quiet and just….

Be there. Never giving up. This is the most powerful element of all. Think about it – if someone says to you ‘I believe in you and I’ll always be here’ and then when you need them, they are nowhere to be found, will you trust them to be there next time? Most probably not. 

This is starkly demonstrated in populations of disadvantaged children who are mentored. When those mentors unexpectedly withdraw their support, the kids end up with higher levels of drug use, criminal activity, and depression than those who didn’t have a mentor to start with. Why? It removes trust, it removes hope and it shouts ‘you are not worth believing in’. 

While a business relationship may not be as fragile, seemingly simple things like continually changing meeting times or cheering someone on one minute and not the next, can be hugely damaging. If you say you’re going to be there to support someone you better damn well be there. Once you decide to be someone’s cheerleader don’t walk away. Keep going until you have built them up to a place where they can believe in themselves.  

Having someone believe in you can change your life course. But you have to let them. 

Believing in someone is one of the greatest gifts you can ever give. It’s also one of the most rewarding things you will ever do. 

To learn more about the work I’m doing with mentoring please email me at Fiona.murden@aroka.co.uk

For my books which provide more tools and know how for developing you and developing others go to:



Image from Pexels.com adapted using Canva 

Need to fix your life, fix your habits (or so they say)!

You can’t fail to miss the approaches that currently espouse habits as being the core to self-improvement. And because we humans like things to be simple it’s appealing to consider habits or other ‘life hacks’ as a straightforward way of making our life better. But while habits are definitely a part of who we are, they are only a very tiny part in a complex jigsaw puzzle

If you’ve tried working on your habits you’ve most likely realized that, despite delivering some results – you may for example manage to cut back on your junk food intake, or get up earlier in the morning and get more done – these things alone don’t get at the core of what makes you happy. 

Some people use the phrase ‘putting in the work’ when it comes to self-improvement (which I personally hate, but I also hate the term self-improvement) and in reality, that’s what it takes. But the danger with many of these approaches including habits, is that you opt for the easy option, ‘put in the work’ anyway but do it on the wrong things. It becomes a bit like running on the spot – you graft away but don’t actually get anywhere. With habits for example you could work on all of the behaviours that will help you to do better at work – getting in early, speaking up in meetings, closing deals. This helps you to get a promotion, but really, you’re miserable, you don’t love what you do and what you really need is to take a completely different career path. 

If you don’t know how self-improvement hacks of any sort fit into the bigger picture of who you are and what you really want from life, then they can result in a lot of wasted energy and even doing more harm than good. 

So, what should you do? 

The only approach that really works is setting out from a place where you accept that you need to put in the work but then doing so on the right things. That involves self-exploration (and this is never ending but if done right is also incredibly fulfilling) and defining what meaning means to you. 

Why is meaning important? 

Your sense of meaning provides the parts of the puzzle that every other piece fits into. It’s the compass that guides us. Say for example your meaning is to help people to live a more fulfilled life (and it doesn’t have to be as cheesy as this, this is just mine) – then forming habits around getting a promotion in a consulting job which is focussed on making money for clients (my experience which didn’t align with my values, strengths or sense of purpose) is not at all helpful to making me happier or more fulfilled. 

If you know what meaning means to you, then when you do start to working on your habits, you’re doing so in a way that aligns with where you really want to go rather than heading off in completely the wrong direction. 

But having a sense of meaning is more than a framework – it literally gives you a reason to get up in the morning. It’s so powerful that it has positive benefits via a wide range of physical and mental health outcomes: protecting against heart disease, diminishing the impacts of Alzheimer’s, improving our ability to handle pain, mitigating depression,curbing anxiety, and also lengthening our lives. Alongside this, research shows that meaning is a major component of well-being and life satisfaction. 

Defining your meaning 

Although meaning is unique to each one of us it’s built on some common foundations, which you can discover through self-exploration. 

Meaning is: 

  • made up of your values and passions (I was ignoring these when I became a consultant); 
  • reached by making use of your strengths and preferences (I was also ignoring these); 
  • found through connecting with others, giving back to others, and continually learning. 

What meaning means to you

If you want to explore what meaning means to you I’d suggest: 

  • Starting with defining your values. Russ Harris has some great free resources for doing this (see below) and I also cover it in my book Defining You. 
  • Reflecting on what you’re truly passionate about – what are the things that make you light up or lose track of time? Sometimes it’s helpful to ask a friend or loved, they can often have a clearer idea of what you’re really crazy about than you do. 
  • Thinking about what you’re really good at. It’s often those things that you may just take for granted as being something that everyone can do. Again, asking a friend, loved one or a colleague can help with this. 
  • Exploring what this all points to? What’s the bigger picture for you? What’s your purpose? This isn’t an easy question to answer but once you’ve got a bit clearer on the elements above begin to think about what plays to all of these factors. 

So please, resist the temptation to take the easy route to happiness, because it won’t take you where you really want to go. Proper psychological approaches may take a little more work, but they also result in a far better quality of life and well happiness. After all that’s what we’re all searching for isn’t it? 

Adapted from Fiona Murden’s book Defining You for more guidance on how to find your meaning and references pointing to other people’s great work on this pick up a copy. 


Russ Harris – http://thehappinesstrap.com/category/values/

Doing more of what’s good for you and less of what’s not

Did you know that 80-92% of our efforts to change behaviour fail? That means that when you say you’re going to eat more heathy food, cut out alcohol, exercise more, be less grumpy with your partner, most of the time most you won’t actually do it. Us psychologists call it the ‘intention-behaviour’ gap. 

In organizations, where behaviour change is critical for adaptation and success 70% of efforts fail. Given that $10 billion is spent each year globally on change management efforts, that’s an awful lot of money down the drain! 

But it’s not just about profits and performance. The need for behaviour change is at the heart of society. Reversing climate change, protecting our wildlife and even our own health are all dependent on it. One recent study found that, human behaviour (and therefore a need to do more of the healthy things and less of the unhealthy) accounts for almost 40% of the risk associated with premature, preventable deaths in the US. Why though? Given the money involved and the importance to society why are the figures so grim? 

Change is hard, not because we’re lazy, lack willpower or are undisciplined – it’s incredibly complicated. And here’s why….

Outside-In and Inside-Out

Outside in doesn’t work on its own, to understand your intention means getting at the inside-out too. Using dieting as an example, making a decision to diet because it’s the new year and you feel like you should doesn’t tap into your ‘why’ or your intrinsic motivation (inside-out) making it very difficult to sustain. 

Your Inside Out is Unique 

Your personality, values, preferences and needs are different from mine which means your why is too. Then there’s your history, your personal narrative, your mindset, your past efforts at changing this behaviour which has an impact on your self-efficacy, your self-esteem, your confidence (and yes they are all different). These are just a few of the variables involved in understanding who you are. 

Your Situation is Changeable 

Your environment is constantly changing, meaning that the variables impacting your efforts are too. For example, you may be dieting but find it hard to resist junk food because you’re bored, perhaps you’re really hungry and there’s no other food available, maybe you feel obliged to accept cake because it’s someone’s birthday. 

What You Need One Moment is Different from the Next

Your internal world is constantly changing too. You may for example forget what you’re doing and eat something you didn’t mean to by mistake. You may be in a bad mood, tired or stressed and find it easier to just do what you’ve always done. 

I could go on – but you get the picture. The factors that impact behaviour change are individual, complex and dynamic. 

So if you are driving change efforts for your organisation, be wary of providers who say they have a behaviour change technique that delivers results. Ask to see those results before you start spending your money with them.

And, if you haven’t managed to change your own behaviour try not to be hard on yourself. Behaviour change can be done, the brain is plastic (meaning malleable) throughout adulthood. But possible does not mean easy.  Try not to set yourself up with false expectations. It’s great to be positive and believe that you can, but it’s also good to be realistic. If you expect to do be able to do something and then don’t manage it, that can start to eat away at your self-esteem. 

Here are some of the things that we know can help:

  • Be as conscious as you can. When you’re on autopilot you will just repeat behaviours doing them in the way that you always have done (and get what you’ve always got). 
  • Visualise where you want to get to. This helps focus the brain on the right pathways even before you have made something stick. It’s like practice for the brain. 
  • Be aware of when you’re tired or stressed. What are your triggers, how can you avoid them? 
  • Anticipate challenges that could derail you and plan for them. For example, you can mentally rehearse saying ‘no’ when someone offers you a food you’re trying to avoid, shop carefully to make sure you have only health food at home etc. 
  • Enlist others’ support – social influence and support is incredibly powerful and can help re-direct us even when we’re not feeling that motivated.  

As for habits, frequently touted as the key to behaviour change – yes, changing habits does help, but as I’ve said before and will say again, they are only a tiny part of a much bigger and more complex picture that is YOU! 


Norcross, J. C., & Vangarelli, D. J. (1988). The resolution solution: Longitudinal examination of New Year’s change attempts. Journal of substance abuse1(2), 127-134.


Photo: Pexels 

Who are your role models?

Making active use of role models opens up the opportunities to learn from others who you respect and admire, beyond having a more direct mentor relationship. They are an immensely useful addition to your growth.

At the heart of role modelling is mirroring. We mirror the people around us all the time, even though most of the time we are completely unaware that we are. It is a fundamental aspect to how we learn. You could even say that it’s the most effortless way of learning because it’s what our brain does unconsciously. 

You can see this in its most simple form when someone else yawns and it makes you yawn. or when someone you’re talking to tilts their head and you realize that you’re doing the same thing. We also mirror more enduring behaviors: the way we talk may be influenced by our partner; the opinions we have echo those of a co-worker or someone we’ve heard on a podcast; our values reflect those of our parents. All day, every day, we are mirroring other people, so it makes sense to be proactive about how we make use of it, choosing role models, behaviors and attitudes that help us to grow and improve, to fulfil our potential and to take us where we want to go in life.

Often, role models are subconsciously chosen. However, by actively identifying them you can find those people who you can look to for the areas of yourself that you want to develop.

Start by looking at your strengths, values, passions, purpose, and areas for development and thinking about who:

  • has particular strengths and what you could learn from them;
  • has values that align with yours and what those values look like;
  • pursues their passions effectively;
  • already does the things that you’re working on and whose purpose aligns with your own.

It’s likely that different people fulfill different aspects of what you are looking for. That’s OK. No single person will have it all but you can piece together what you are looking for by watching various people. For example, you could be a good negotiator but there will be someone who is even better. They could become your role model for this. You could watch what they do in order to help you to develop that strength even more. Another person may fight for human rights which is a purpose that you share. What do they do and how do they do it? What can you learn from them? It’s almost like stitching together your ideal self by looking at people who carry out the various behaviors and approaches you aspire to brilliantly.

Extract from Defining You – How to Profile Yourself and Unlock Your Full Potential.

Models and Mentors

My Dad died 8 years ago today. If I sit and think about the happy times and the sad, it doesn’t take long for tears to sting my eyes, but whereas once that happened several times an hour, with time that emotion has sunk deeper inside. Grief passes, loss never does.  Who were your role-models when…

Knowing you, knowing me

‘How well do you really know yourself?’ A hugely significant 95% of us think that we’re self-aware, but the reality bears a stark contrast with 10% to 15% actually knowing who we really are (Eurich 2017). Although we believe that we know the image we see starting back at us from the mirror, the way we position our…

Who believes in you?

I believe in you. I believe that you can do whatever it is you set out to. I believe that you are better than you realise.  We may feel like we don’t or shouldn’t need others to believe in us, but in reality, we do. It matters to feel like we matter, that we have worth…

Need to fix your life, fix your habits (or so they say)!

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Doing more of what’s good for you and less of what’s not

Did you know that 80-92% of our efforts to change behaviour fail? That means that when you say you’re going to eat more heathy food, cut out alcohol, exercise more, be less grumpy with your partner, most of the time most you won’t actually do it. Us psychologists call it the ‘intention-behaviour’ gap.  In organizations, where behaviour…