Do you need a self-esteem boost?

3 unintended consequences

For over 50 years it has been widely assumed that a lot of society’s problems are a consequence of low self-esteem. By confusing correlation with causation, the unproven assumption has been made that by then simply boosting self-esteem there would be an overall increase in wellbeing and happiness. Even though there has been a lack of clarity as to what exactly self-esteem is, there has been a huge increase in programmes along with the investment of billions of dollars to raise self-esteem, especially in children and young people. (For more on this see How Is Your Self-Esteem?)


Putting it in simple term, children are encouraged to grow up thinking not only that they are special to their parents, but thinking they are special to everyone. Then why is simply boosting self-esteem a bad idea? According to Glynn Harrison in his book, “The Big Ego Trip” this focus on raising self-esteem has had 3 significant detrimental effects:

How is your self-esteem?

The subject of self-esteem has become immensely popular and pervasive in our increasingly complex world. What is self-esteem and why is it important to get a handle on? Unfortunately it is not entirely clear. It reminds me of soap in the sense that it is slippery concept that can be at times hard to grasp. But on the other hand the idea of self-esteem has had enormous consequences for our thinking and culture. It has become so pervasive we hardly notice its effects on us.


Here is how psychiatrist and author Glynn Harrison puts it:

Never or Not Yet?

On having the right learning mindset

Carol Dweck is one of the world’s leading researchers in the field of motivation. She is a Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. Her research has focused on the subject of learning. She asks the question, when it comes to learning why do some people succeed and how do we best foster success?

The short ten minute video below explains the power of believing you can get better at a task you may be struggling with.

Dweck has researched extensively on how children cope with challenge and difficulty. As part of her research she gave 10 year old children problems that were slightly too difficult for them. For one group the response was excitement and engagement with the challenge (a growth mindset), while for the other group they responded in a manner that was fixed and self-judgemental. They interpreted their lack of progress as a judgement on their intelligence which they believe meant they had failed. As Dweck puts it, “Instead of luxuriating in the power of yet, they were gripped in the tyranny of now.”

Why should that matter?

Compassion, poverty and violence

Striking the root

Gary Haugen is a civil rights lawyer who over the years has deeply challenged me about my attitude to our responsibilities in an unequal and unjust world. 

He reminds me of the quote by Thoreau, “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.” Gary’s organisation, International Justice Mission is one of the few in the world that is hacking at the roots of the evil of poverty, while literally thousands others are focussing on the branches.

In this 22 minute TED talk he invites us to understand compassion in the face of global poverty. If you have the time now please watch it. Otherwise please make sure you schedule some time soon to sit and watch. It brings much hope and wisdom to what is such an endemic and global issue.

Quoting Haugen, “the fight against global poverty is probably the broadest longest running manifestation of the human phenomenon of compassion in the history of our species.”

The good news is that the number of people in our world living in extreme poverty (defined as living on less than $1.25 a day) has fallen in 35 years from 50% to 15%. That is great progress. However, with a rising global population in that time, when you measure poverty as being below $2 a day then you still have the same number of 2 billion people in harsh poverty as there was 35 years ago.

In spite of all the awareness, campaigning and work done in the last few decades, why are there still such huge numbers trapped in terrible poverty? The reason is something that we have chosen to ignore for a long time. The reason is violence.

Podcast #011 Money

Making sense of Money and Happiness

How do we make sense of money? How much money do we actually need? Don’t worry I am not trying to sell you anything!


They say money can’t buy happiness – and there are many examples of that. But are there ways money can actually buy happiness?

In this podcast with my co-host Andrew Horton we explore the fascinating and complex subject of money. I’m afraid I don’t think we can solve your money worries and problems, but we do explore ways that our attitude to money can lead to a healthy and lasting happiness in our lives.

Do join us as we discuss 5 ways that money can buy happiness:

Discovering silence and solitude

The gift we struggle to receive

It is surprisingly difficult for us to handle silence. Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) the brilliant French mathematician and philosopher famously wrote, “All the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, they cannot stay quietly in their own room.”

I find that amazingly profound. It is even more true today in our frenetic fast paced technology driven world than it was in the 17th century when he first made that observation.

The reason why we so much struggle to sit quietly on our own, Pascal continues is the “natural poverty of our feeble and mortal condition, so miserable that nothing can comfort us when we think of it closely.” 

In other words, we just do not like being alone by ourselves. The reason?  It reminds us how weak, conflicted and insecure we are. It is also so easy for negative thoughts to come seeping in and lead me on a path to depressive thinking. Everything within me resists going down that path of solitude and silence. (For my personal experience with that see the 15 minute video Just As I Am).

So what do we do instead? How do we not, as Pascal says, “think of it closely”?  We use a technique that has been unchanged for thousands of years – Pascal called it “diversion”. We find ways to distract us from ourselves. Going back to Pascal he eloquently explains:

How to make stress your friend

Kelly McGonigal is a Stanford University health psychologist. She seeks to translate academic research into practical strategies for health, happiness and personal success. The following 14 minutes talk by her illustrates the power of how our thinking about stress dramatically affects our overall health and well-being.

Her talk is based on 3 observations.

The first starts with a 2012 study that tracked 30,000 adults in the United States for 8 years. The study was based on 2 simple questions:

Its honestly not a trick question!

Why personal transformation is not a one-off event

How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?
That’s not your usual kind of question. Its not even a trick question The answer is below the picture!


Are you ready?
Just click the continue reading button below to find out and learn about the deeper question behind this one.

Learning from the real James Bond

Life lessons from challenging times

James Bond Stockdale (1923-2005) was by any stretch of the imagination, a remarkable man.  In his own words, he described how at one moment, he was “on the top,” the admired commander of over 1000 men and over 100 pilots fighting in the Vietnam War, “confident” and “self-satisfied,” a man who thought he had “found every key to success.”

All that changed on 9 September 1965 when he was shot down and in a matter of minutes became “an object of contempt” and a “criminal” in the eyes of the North Vietnamese. He recounted in his autobiography how in such short time, your place in life “can be changed from that of a dignified and competent gentleman of culture to that of a panic-stricken, sobbing, self-lothing wreck…

050706-N-0000X-005 U.S. Navy File Photo: Formal portrait of Rear Adm. James B. Stockdale in dress white uniform. He is one of the most highly decorated officers in the history of the Nay, wearing twenty six personal combat decorations, including two Distinguished Flying Crosses, three Distinguished Service Medals, two Purple Hearts, and four Silver Star medals in addition to the Medal of Honor. Later he obtained the rank of Vice Admiral, and is the only three star Admiral in the history of the Navy to wear both aviator wings and the Medal of Honor. U.S. Navy photo (RELEASED)

He handled and survived the challenges of being a prisoner during the peak of the Vietnam War. That included 4 years in solitary confinement. He was tortured over 20 times during his 8 year imprisonment from 1965 to 1973. After one extended round of torture he become so depressed he attempted suicide by his wrists with a  shard of broken glass. He lived out the war without any prisoner’s rights, no set release date and no certainty as to whether he would even see his family again.

But after his eventual release he became the first three-star officer in the history of the navy to wear both aviator wings and the Congressional Medal of Honour. From 1981 to 1993 he was a professor at the Hoover Institute of Stanford University. In 1992 he stood as vice president candidate in the presidential election. (For more on his life see Could This Be The Real James Bond?)

Stockdale was able to survive and even eventually thrive from his terrible experience by drawing on Stoic philosophy. (See What Was The Real James Bond Thinking?)

The main focus of Stoic philosophy is developing personal control, reducing vulnerability and living by a set of time-honoured standards that promote dignity, even under the harshest of conditions. To develop personal control it is vital to distinguish that which is within your control from that which is beyond it. Quoting Stockdale:

Podcast #010 Stephen R. Covey

Paying tribute to and celebrating his legacy to the world

Stephen Richards Covey (24 October 1932 – 16 July 2012) was an American educator, author, business man and keynote speaker. His most popular book was “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” that sold 25 million copies and was translated into 28 languages. His Covey Leadership Centre has 3/4 of  Fortune 500 companies as clients.

The 5 minute video below gives a small glimpse of his wisdom, personality and genuine warmth: ›‹›

On this podcast I have the privilege of interviewing Stephen Hutchins Covey the 4th grandchild of this remarkable man’s 52 grandchildren.

I was introduced to Stephen R. Covey’s 7 Habits book in 1995. I was immediately gripped by its depth and breadth of wisdom and insight. it has had a profound influence on my own thinking, life and choices to this day.

Do join us as we pay tribute to and celebrate the legacy of a truly remarkable man who has positively inspired and influenced literally millions of people around the world. If you have not heard of him before then we we hope this can be of great encouragement to you in your own life journey.

We discuss: