Wednesday, 12 March 2014

How's YOUR self-acceptance?

Self-acceptance could be the key to a happier life, yet it’s the happy habit many people practise the least.

Happiness is more than just a feeling; it is something we can all practise on a daily basis. But people are better at some ‘happy habits’ than others. In fact, the one habit that corresponds most closely with us being satisfied with our lives overall – self-acceptance – is often the one we practise least.

5,000 people surveyed by the charity Action for Happiness, in collaboration with Do Something Different, rated themselves between 1 and 10 on ten habits identified  as being key to happiness.

How often are you kind to yourself and think you’re fine as you are? 
When answering this Acceptance questionpeople’s average rating was just 5.56 out of 10. Only 5% of people put themselves happily at a 10 on the Acceptance habit and almost half (46%) of people rated themselves at 5 or less. There's some work to be done there (tips below).

How often do you make an effort to help or be kind to others?
Giving was the top habit revealed by those who took the survey. When asked the question above people scored an average of 7.41 out of 10, with a generous one in six (17%) topping 10 out of 10. Just over one in three (36%) people scored 8 or 9; slightly fewer (32%) scored 6 or 7; and less than one in six (15%) rated themselves at 5 or less.
Being connected to others boosts our happiness so making an effort with
 those people who matter to us is a happy habit.
How often do you put effort into the relationships that matter most to you? 
The Relating habit came a close second. The question above about how well we maintain and nurture our close relationships produced an average score of 7.36 out of 10. 
And a lovely 15% of people scored the maximum 10 out of 10!

Overall how satisfied are you with your life?
The survey also revealed which habits are most closely related to people’s overall satisfaction with life. All 10 habits were found to be strongly linked to life satisfaction, with Acceptance found to be the habit that predicts it most strongly. Yet Acceptance was also revealed as the habit that people tend to practise the least, generating the lowest average score from the 5,000 respondents.

How often do you spend at least half an hour a day being active? 
Treating our bodies to regular physical activity is another proven happy habit. Yet the survey revealed that this is another habit that we don't all get round to practising. The average answer to the exercise question above was just 5.88 out of 10, with 45% of couch-huggers rating themselves 5 or less.

How do you get the happy habit?
If you want to boost your happy habits check out the new Do Happiness programme. It costs just £15 for a profile and regular small positive actions (Do’s) by text and email, customised so you can practice your happy habits daily. 

And signing up will be your first act of Giving because, for each programme sold Do Something Different, gives one away free to someone who can't afford it.

How to practise the self-acceptance habit.

Here are three positive actions that people can take to increase their levels of self-acceptance:
·      Be as kind to yourself as you are to others. See your mistakes as opportunities to learn. Notice things you do well, however small
·      Ask a trusted friend or colleague to tell you what your strengths are or what they value about you
·      Spend some quiet time by yourself. Tune in to how you're feeling inside and try to be at peace with who you are.

Where did the happy habits come from?

The happy habits included in the survey are based on the Ten Keys to Happier Living framework, developed by Action for Happiness based on an extensive review of the latest research about what really affects mental wellbeing. Together the Ten Keys spell the acronym GREAT DREAM, as follows:

·      Giving: do things for others
·      Relating: connect with people
·      Exercising: take care of your body
·      Appreciating: notice the world around
·      Trying out: keep learning new things

·      Direction: have goals to look forward to
·      Resilience: find ways to bounce back
·      Emotion: take a positive approach
·      Acceptance: be comfortable with who you are
·      Meaning: be part of something bigger

Don't forget if you're feeling like you've let your happy habits slip, you can still get them back and turn your life around. Check out

Friday, 24 January 2014

How do we change if we’re hard-wired for habits?

“The brain is a habit machine” one of the founders of Do Something Different, Professor Ben Fletcher, often tells us, before going on to remind us how recent scientific discoveries have changed views about the adult brain.
Professor Ben Fletcher says 'the brain is a habit machine'
but says doing something different is the antidote.
For many years it was thought the brain was fixed and immutable, that it was incapable of restructuring itself. Then, in the early twentieth century, evidence emerged showing that the brain is more malleable than ever thought possible. It can and does change.

Novel stimuli cause the brain to create new neural pathways or reorganize existing ones.

We’re talking here about the principle of neuroplasticity. It is now recognised that the brain is constantly changing in response to new experiences, new behaviors and different environments. Novel stimuli cause the brain to create new neural pathways or reorganize existing ones, fundamentally altering how behaviour is created and how information is processed.

A ground-breaking study into neuroplasticity involved scanning the brains of London taxi drivers (Maguire et al., 2000). Typically, a London taxi driver spends around two years studying the complex layout of the city and its myriad of streets. This long, rigorous period of training causes structural changes in the taxi drivers’ brains. When their brains were exposed to fMRI scanning, the taxi drivers’  hippocampuses were found to be significantly larger than those of a control group of 50 healthy men. The hippocampus is the brain area involved in memory and navigation. And the longer the time spent as a taxi driver the larger it was.

Repetition of an activity (in other words, habits) results in the brain falling back on the same set of existing neural pathways.

Further examples of brain neuroplasticity are less dramatic, but they demonstrate the same principle. They have shown that some activities impact the brain more than others (Mechelli et al., 2004; Gaser and Schlaug, 2003; Draganski et al., 2006) and that repetition of an activity (in other words, habits) results in the brain falling back on the same set of existing neural pathways. Therefore, to continue changing, the brain must be challenged to work in new ways. It must be exposed to novel experiences and new behaviours.

To continue changing, the brain must be challenged to work in new ways. It must be exposed to novel experiences and new behaviours.

DoSomething Different draws on this idea, by helping everyone on our programmes to create experiences that challenge their existing habits. Because brain science also tells us that experiences change the brain, not thoughts. It’s about acting, not thinking.

The Do’s we create tackle the individual’s habitual ways of behaving and responding. Doing something different exposes the person to regular, novel experiences. This reduces the likelihood of the brain falling back on old neural pathways. Not only does this mean that life gets better, it also means old maladaptive behaviours – overeating, excessive drinking, bias, stress - are less likely to get repeated. This is behaviour change in action, one Do at a time.

This is a copy of a blog I (Karen) wrote for the Do Something Different website over at Many of the principles discussed here apply to people's money habits too!

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

3 ways to control your spending in 2014

Science has thrown up some fascinating facts about how the brain operates when we're in consumer mode, and the processes at work when people over-spend. 

Apply some science to control your spending

There are three main factors at work - and to watch out for - if you want to keep spending under control in 2014:

1. Biological Factors: Don’t go shopping if you’re hungry, pre-menstrual or have just emptied your bladder.

You may not realise that your physiology is affecting your behaviour. But when you're hungry you will buy more food and make higher calorific choices at the supermarket. When in an anxious state you will be more likely to impulse-buy. That's because the physical state of high arousal leads to a depletion of the resources that govern self-control. And fluctuations in activity in the brain’s orbitofrontal cortex during the menstrual cycle will make you more likely to go on a spending spree when premenstrual. And more rational and controlled post-ovulation. Even an empty bladder affects your brain’s control mechanisms. Science has shown you’ll be more likely to (sorry) splash out if you’ve just spent a penny. So pay attention to your body before hitting the shops, it may be telling you to hold fire.
Try timing shopping trips with your menstrual cycle and avoid the pre-menstrual phase
2. Emotional factors: Don’t shop if you’ve just had a row, a stressful day or been dumped by your boyfriend.

People experience a range of emotions (anger, fear, sadness) in their daily lives and engage in all sorts of behavioural responses to keep them in check.  Some women find shopping gives them an emotional outlet, the way that alcohol or drugs can do for others. It distracts them from negative feelings and provides comfort in the form of a treat or reward. In fact studies of compulsive buying have shown that its prime function is to repair mood. So spot when emotions are running high and find an alternative way of releasing them. Find  distraction through exercise or relaxation, or seek social support by spending time with friends. Concentration, whether on gardening, painting or rock-climbing, is also a good way to absorb negative emotions. And the Do Something Different approach to behavioural change could help see you through the tough times because it's all about about breaking habits and increasing behavioural flexibility.
Buyer's remorse is like a shopping hangover
3. Cognitive factors: Don’t go shopping with low self-esteem and an “I deserve it attitude”.

Impulse purchases can trigger a lot of self-justification in the consumer, to assuage the guilt of over-spending. Their thoughts echo with the messages that have been implanted by constant brain-washing and bombarding marketing campaigns. Thoughts such as “Why shouldn’t I have it?” “I work hard I deserve it” “My friends will love me for it” and so on. Self-talk can also shift the focus onto the wrong things, “I’m saving £100 by buying this in the sale” (instead of, “I’m spending £200 I don’t have") or even "I'll show him!" Some cognitive reframing can help here. Relabel your credit card your debt card. Silently answer the ad-men back. Recall when you last had buyer’s remorse and tell yourself how you’ll feel tomorrow. And find ways to boost your self-esteem so that you can resist the constant bombardment of persuasive messages. 
Few people greet a large credit card bill with the words, “Because I’m worth it”.

Monday, 16 December 2013

7 Signs that you are suffering from Gift Creep

OK, so you've finished your Christmas shopping . or have you? 

Will you be tempted to buy your friend that 'little extra'? Or find you've bought more presents than you needed and add to the relatives' pile?

Can't stop at one gift per person? 
You may be suffering from gift creep.

People rarely seem to give each other just one present these days. We hedge our bets and give two, or even three, gifts in the hope that one of them will hit the right note.

More than a third (35%) of people say they're disappointed with how the gifts they've bought look when wrapped up and fall victim to 'gift creep', splashing out on last-minute additions, according to research by Currys & PC World.

And nearly a quarter (23%) of people in their survey reported worrying that the other person has spent more, which can lead to nipping out for that little 'extra something'.  

It seems some of us just don't know when to stop shopping!

I've called this behavioural phenomenon ‘gift creep’ and this week, as we get closer to Christmas, is the danger period when we can fall victim to it and start piling on the presents. And that can really add to the cost of Christmas.

Here are my 7 signs you are suffering from Gift Creep:

   1.   You’ve finished your Christmas shopping but still buy little ‘extras’ every time you go out

   2.   You worry someone won’t like what you’ve bought them, so you add another gift (like some luxury chocolates) on top to soften the effect

   3.   Before someone visits at Christmas you look around to see if there’s anything else you could give them

   4.   After wrapping all your gifts you feel anxious that the size and number of parcels looks a bit on the small side

   5.   You lie awake at night totting up how much you’ve spent on people - then try to even up the numbers so as not to appear stingy

  6.   You’re all spent out …. but can’t resist those last minute stocking fillers at the till

   7.   You buy a gift for someone, forgetting you've already bought them something, and end up giving them both

So if you've finished, try to draw a line under the shopping and say 'enough's enough'! 

Otherwise, gift creep creeps up year-on-year until it reaches unmanageable, and un-financeable, levels.

To help present buyers, get their presents right this Christmas, Currys & PC World has launched a special Gift List service. The online tool makes getting the right gift easy and, as well as helping you pick the best presents, every day someone will win their entire Gift list throughout the festive period.