Research & resources

Mindfulness based cognitive behaviour therapy

Mindfulness based cognitive behaviour therapy


The following is a practical guide for increasing self-belief, building resilience, handling stress, developing greater self-awareness, and building new healthy behaviours at home and work.

This tool has been created based on a 12-minute video about resilience and thinking traps (resilience video). Watch the video and pause it at the stages noted below to make the most of this guide. After each pause, read the notes, reflect on the tools discussed and make a note of the actions you will take.

This guide includes a link to the resilience video and links to mindfulness-based cognitive therapy research and explanatory style (our core beliefs).

What is mindfulness based cognitive behaviour therapy (MBCT)?

MBCT is a series of techniques and tools to help people become more aware of their thoughts, behaviours and core beliefs – followed by techniques to gently challenge negative, harmful or destructive thoughts and beliefs with more expansive, realistic and positive ones.

MBCT Research - why is it useful?

Research points to significant improvements in mental wellbeing. For example, in one German study, the relapse into depression was reduced by 50% for people taking part in an MBCT program.

Zindel Segal, Mark Williams, John Teasdale, et al., ”Mindfulness based cognitive therapy for depression (New York 2003)

And in a 6-month study, 300 people with severe depression took part in an MBCT course with two active control groups (one conventional psychiatric treatment, the other just learning about cognitive behaviour therapy). Again, MBCT was more effective than conventional treatments.

J. Mark Williams et al., “Mindfulness based cognitive behaviour therapy for preventing relapse in recurrent depression: A randomised dismantling trial,” Journal of consulting and clinical psychology 82:2 (2014): 275-86

MBCT and becoming a better student and colleague at work

But learning MBCT techniques is not just about learning tools to help with mental wellbeing. Learning about thinking traps and our emotional triggers and becoming more emotionally agile helps us study better, collaborate with colleagues better and become more intentional leaders (less reactive and more proactive).

Resilience and MBCT video

To make the most of this program, make a note to pause the video at the following points, and then read the notes below  before resuming watching. The link to the video is below. 

Use a journal to record where to pause the video, and take some time recording your observations as you consider the content.

Building equanimity and balance (0 to 3.30 minutes in the video)

Creating space between the activating event and your response (3.30 to 6.30 in the video)

Explanatory style – (6.30 to 8.30 in the video)

Self-soothing (8.30 – 10 minutes)

Summing things up (10 to 12.30 minutes)

Building equanimity and balance (0 to 3.30 minutes in the video)

Initially, the video explores how to observe events and adopt a curious, wait-and-see approach to life. When we define an event as good or bad, we become emotionally entangled in outcomes. We may overly project into the future, trying to hold onto the good feeling we are experiencing. Or we might lament our setback and overly personalise the experience – "why did this happen to me? What did I do to deserve this".

Mindfulness techniques in this section include remaining in your breath and the sensations you feel. 

An event has just happened – how are you experiencing this in your body? Is it a pleasant or unpleasant experience? When we experience an unpleasant experience, our body and mind may try to push back or flee from it – fight or flight. This is your body's physical response to a situation. By remaining present, doing some deep breaths and taking a moment to slow down, you naturally engage the parasympathetic rest and rest and restore response. And in that moment of awareness, you are better placed to choose your response and stay mindful not to become emotionally entangled in the event.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. 

In that space is our power to choose our response. 

In our response lies our growth and our freedom” 

Viktor Frankl (Man’s Search for meaning)


Creating space between the activating event and your response (3.30 to 6.30 in the video)

This section explored learning your ABCs:

A – Activating event – what happened? How can you view what happened without an overlay of emotional interpretation? Stick to the facts as you see them, but be open to the opinions of others – you may have got the wrong end of the stick.

B – Beliefs – what are your underlying beliefs and thoughts which shape your emotional and behavioural response to the activating event? There is a list of belief labels at the end of this article

C – Consequences – what emotions are you experiencing? What behaviours were driven by the sequence of activating event, beliefs and consequences?

ABCs happen very fast. When people react in a habitual way to a stressor, we jump straight from A to C without understanding how our beliefs connect the two. 

Mindfulness techniques help us pause and unpick this chain for a few seconds. The techniques also help us self-soothe and feel more relaxed. 

In that space of pause, we can reduce activation in the limbic region. This region has heightened activity when we feel emotionally triggered. One of the functions of this arousal is to help us take swift action – such as bracing ourselves for an attack, defending ourselves in an argument, preparing ourselves to run away etc. In arousal, we are more likely to be reactive, focus on the immediate threat, have poor self-awareness and act without consciously being aware of why we are reacting that way.

To raise awareness of the links between your A, B and C response, practise the following:

Apply a mindful break - Get into the habit of noting activating events and self-soothing (such as breathing slowly) before reacting.

Journal your emotions - at the start and end of each day, take a few minutes to write down the feelings you are experiencing.

High energy adversity - Use the most prominent emotions you experience in the day to develop more self-awareness - when you feel anger, label the emotion, “anger is here.”

List your emotional triggers - Prepare yourself for inevitable ups and downs – reflect on the moments you experience anger, fear, frustration etc. For example, it could be that a colleague speaks in a loud voice which you find intimidating – but on reflection, you may realise that their behaviours remind you of someone from your past and that you were creating an adverse emotional response through the prism of an old experience, which is no longer relevant.

Consider the thinking labels below – these may help you label and understand your thoughts and beliefs in a self-compassionate and curious way.

Explanatory style – (6.30 to 8.30 in the video)

Use mindfulness techniques to slow down and bring your attention to the ABC cycle.

Work backwards – use a simple body scanning technique to deepen your awareness of the physiological impact on your body. In this way, we can learn to build our interoception abilities (the self-knowledge of our body's feelings). 

Get into the habit of bringing your attention down to your body. Is your heart racing? Does your abdomen or chest feel heavy? Are your shoulders tight? And then apply a mindful breath or other self-soothing tools to the experience. Note what's going on, "chest heavy", "anxiety is here", etc.

Then explore your internal narrative response to an activating event in a self-compassionate way. Mindfulness training helps people become more aware of their inner world in a self-compassionate, non-judgmental way. The training is to notice the experience and move on to the next one.

Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is different. Whilst the noticing part of the experience is a vital first part of mindfulness training and CBT, CBT then actively provides tools to explore and reframe your experience.

For example, if your explanatory style is self-critical about your achievements, CBT might encourage you to counter your self-belief with evidence of your successes. 

The first step is to notice your explanatory style following an activating event:

Blaming self or blaming others - Do you overly blame yourself when experiencing setbacks or tend to blame everyone else – or do you have a more balanced perspective, taking ownership for your failures and celebrating when you succeed?

Always vs one-time event – "this always happens to me", "things will never get better", "ok, that was a one off" or "I can see how there are ups and downs every day in life."

Notice the pairings between belief and emotional response. Keep a journal of these things.

Self-soothing (8.30 – 10 minutes)

As you notice and label the sensations you are experiencing, use Kristen Neff’s self-compassion approach:

A - Activating event 

- The belief/thought is often bypassed – we leap from event to emotion and response

- The emotional and behavioural consequence 

Focus on C and then work backwards. Try this self-compassion approach:

Lean in – to setbacks and some painful feelings 

Label it – name what you are experiencing 

Love it – use techniques to self-soothe

Listen to it – “wow, that’s interesting; I’m learning about my emotional triggers.”

Liken it to others – “anyone else experiencing this would feel similar things.”

Live with it - remember your resources, past achievements, friends, and strengths, and build positive self-talk, “you’ve got this.”

Learn from it – “that experience was tough; it reminded me of an old hurt, but I’ve met the feeling, befriended it and moved on. I don’t feel so triggered anymore.”


Summing things up (10 to 12.30 minutes)

  • Slow things down – with speed, it’s hard to find a space between A and C and, therefore, more challenging to develop a positive growth mindset and greater self-belief.
  • Be curious about your beliefs and self-talk – Adopt an attitude of “wow, that’s interesting – I wonder why I believe that.
  • COACH mindfulness to yourself – be curious, open, accepting, compassionate and humble. Humility means to adopt a “don’t know stance as you observe your thoughts, emotions and beliefs. Our parents, friends, ancestors, culture, environment, and luck shape us. Sometimes it’s hard to unravel the basis for our actions and beliefs. Mindfulness is a lifetime exploration and unpicking of our thoughts, beliefs and perceptions. As you practice mindfulness, continue to bring a COACH mentality into your effort.
  • Resilient people are not always super positive – they accurately label emotions. However, they tend to be faster at recovering from setbacks. And we can learn to get better at this bounce-back by applying the techniques in this section.
  • Resilient people aren’t perfectionists – learn to say, “that’s good enough on this piece of work; I have other priorities”, “care less without being careless”, “strive for excellence but be mindful of the impact on your wellbeing, energy, energy levels and the impact on friends and colleagues.
  • Resilient people maintain a balanced perspective of the future – they’ve learnt about some of their triggers and are aware that some days the sun shines and others it rains.


Positive psychology resources

Link to positive psychology explainer about cognitive behaviour therapy 

Link to positive psychology explainer about mindfulness based cognitive behaviour therapy

Link to positive psychology research on explanatory style


Some thinking traps and cognitive Distortions

Black-and-white thinking

All-or-nothing thinking has no room for complexity, balance or nuance—everything’s black or white, never shades of grey.

If you don’t perform perfectly in one aspect of your job, you may see yourself as a failure instead of simply recognising that you may be unskilled in that one place.


Overgeneralisation means taking a single incident and using it as the sole evidence for broader conclusions.

For example, someone who overgeneralises could fluff a job interview. Instead of brushing it off as one bad experience and trying again, they conclude they suck at interviews and shy away from going for jobs.4. Jumping to conclusions

Similar to overgeneralization, this distortion involves faulty reasoning in how one makes conclusions. Unlike overgeneralizing one incident, jumping to conclusions refers to the tendency to be sure of something without any evidence at all.

For example, we might be convinced that someone dislikes us without having any real evidence, or we might believe that our fears will come true before we have a chance to really find out.

Negative filtering bias

Filtering refers to how a person can ignore all the positive things in life to focus solely on the negative. It’s the trap of concentrating on a single negative aspect of a situation, even when surrounded by many good things.


Personalisation is where an individual believes that everything they do impacts external events or other people, no matter how irrational that may be. 

Someone with this distortion will feel they have an outsized role in the bad things around them.

For example, a person may believe that arriving a few minutes late to a meeting led to it being derailed and that everything would have been fine if they were on time.

Catastrophising events

This distortion involves expecting that the worst will happen or has happened based on an innocuous incident that could have been expected. 

For example, you may make a small mistake at work and become convinced that it will ruin a project with colleagues, that your boss will be mad, and that you'll lose your job.

Or, one might minimise the importance of positive things, such as a promotion at work or a compliment. "It was nothing".

Being in control distortion

Feeling like everything that happens to you is either a result of purely external forces or entirely due to your actions. 

Sometimes what happens to us is due to forces we can’t control, and sometimes, it’s due to our actions, but the distortion assumes that it is always one or the other.

With this distortion, we may assume that difficult co-workers are to blame for our poor performance at work or that every mistake another person makes is because of something we did.

Blaming bias – blaming others or blaming ourselves

When things don’t go our way, we can explain or assign responsibility for the outcome in many ways - blaming others for what goes wrong or overly blaming ourselves. Slowing down helps us reflect on healthy boundaries and maintain balance.

Should statements

"Shoulds" refer to the implicit or explicit rules about how we and others should behave. 

When others break our rules, we are upset. When we break our own rules, we feel guilty. 

Using the word should is often a fixed mindset response to an event which requires agility. So watch out when you use the word "should", commenting on your actions and the behaviours of others.

Emotional reasoning

“If we feel a certain way, it must be true.”

For example, if we feel unattractive or boring in the current moment, we think we are unattractive or uninteresting. 

“I feel it, therefore it must be true.”

Our emotions are not always accurate – they are points of data and not directives. 




Mindfulness podcast resources

Mindfulness podcast resources

Some of these mindfulness podcast interviews have changed my life. 

Like many people, I spent a lot of time listening to podcasts during the pandemic. And a few have continued to help me navigate this messy business of life. 

Here are my absolute favourites:

Jack Kornfield 

Jack Kornfield is a therapist, author and mindfulness teacher. I was lucky to visit the Spirit Rock insight mindfulness centre a few years back, just north of San Francisco.

Jack has been at the forefront of weaving together ancient Buddhist wisdom with his work as a therapist. But, more than anything, he is a storyteller with a beautiful soothing voice. He tells stories about universal truths about love, compassion and interconnection.

I’ve chosen a few classic talks. I feel a better person having spent so many hours listening to him. Insight meditation is our work – learning how we relate to ourselves and the people around us, understanding our triggers and biases and learning to navigate this beautiful, messy life.

Focus on the breath 

The super power of gratitude

The way out is in

These are a series of talks between coach and journalist Joe Confino and Brother Phap Huu, abbot of Plumb Village mindfulness centre, which Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh built.

 In these beautifully crafted podcasts, they explore their master's teachings and how they apply to life in 2023. 

It's our passion at Breathe Australia to bring some of these ancient pearls of wisdom to life at work and home, and this podcast has been a great source of learning. I've used a lot of the content in my leadership programs.

The podcast's title is teaching in its own right – the way out is in – do the self-work before tackling changing the world.

How to handle super busyness – leaning into stress

This podcast explores healthy boundaries and handling difficult people 

And their shares on wise leadership 

Sharon Salzberg

I can't think of any other mindfulness expert (and author many times over) to have done so much to bring the fundamental ideas of love, self-care and compassion to the west.

She deeply delves into love and compassion with a light and open heart. So many people (me included sometimes) use mindfulness as a stress management tool and  to help focus. Still, mindfulness is bare attention without working on developing love and compassion, such as loving-kindness meditation or acts of love in the community. It's the interbeing space where love grows and is the glue that binds us together.

An interview with emotional intelligence expert Dan Goleman ­

In our work at Breathe Australia, our programs are based on mindfulness. As we become more present to our own experience and those of people around us, we become more emotionally attuned, empathetic and agile.

An interview with Barbara Fredrickson, one of the scientists at the cutting edge of research into the psychological benefits of practising loving-kindness meditation

Joseph Goldstien and Sharon Salzberg explore simple but insightful techniques.


Kristen Neff and self-compassion

In 2022 I received the gift of training to become a self-compassion mindfulness teacher on one of Kristen Neff’s training programs.  Mindfulness starts with self-soothing, self-kindness and healthy boundary setting.

Links and resources exploring self-compassion 



Developing emotional intelligence at work: an evidenced-based approach

Dan Goleman emotional intelligence at work

What is emotional intelligence (EI) and how does it relate to work and leadership?

It's better to reframe "what is EI" and think of EI as a range of developable abilities rather than a single thing. Peter Salovey and John Mayer were the first major researchers in this area, and they defined it as:

"the ability to perceive emotions, to access and generate emotions so as to assist thought, to understand emotions and emotional knowledge, and to reflectively regulate emotions to promote emotional and intellectual growth."

In their view, it was about seeing emotions as sources of data, providing valuable information about:

  • whether you are on track and moving toward your goals and living in a manner which is congruent with you your values and strengths
  • whether to listen to your emotions - for example, poor sleep, heightened workloads or skipping meals might indicate one or more areas of your life are out of balance
  • whether to discount your emotions - waking up and feeling grumpy doesn't necessarily reveal that something is wrong and needs to change. It could just be that you aren't a morning person without a slug of caffeine. In the words of Susan David, "you own your emotions; they don't own you."
  • how to connect, incentivise and energise your colleagues – for example, how awareness of their emotions may reveal vital information about their intentions, goals, values and triggers at work

Dan Goleman took this idea of emotional data mining and created a model of measurable workplace behaviours with four main features: self-awareness, social awareness, self-management and relationship management. Under each of these quadrants was a set of workplace abilities. You can self-rate your abilities below.


A measure of EI abilities

Richard Boyatzis, Dan Goleman, and the Hay Group developed a survey measuring abilities called the Emotional and Social Competency Inventory (ESCI). The following are their twelve areas of leadership abilities. You can take an assessment for yourself and your manager/leader below.

  1. Emotional self-awareness
  2. Emotional self-control
  3. Achievement orientation – striving for excellence
  4. Positive outlook
  5. Adaptability
  6. Empathy
  7. Organisational awareness - tuning into the needs of the team
  8. Influence on others
  9. Coach and mentor
  10. Conflict management
  11. Inspirational leadership
  12. Teamwork

Emotional and Social Competency Inventory (ESCI and its uses)

The ESCI inventory is a 360-degree questionnaire used to help evaluate the abilities of a leader in the twelve areas identified above. It’s best done in organisations where there is an open and honest flow of feedback between colleagues, where colleagues have deep knowledge of each other, there is an attitude of growth and leaning into tough conversations and where difference is celebrated, permeated by underlying respect. Without these things, any 360-degree feedback can descend into anger and pettiness. 

Despite the difficulties in assessing EI abilities and given the challenges of any 360-feedback process, researchers from consultancy Korn Ferry have found some interesting results from ESCI, which backs up research into MSCEIT.

According to their research, only 22% of 155,000 leaders have real strengths in EI - where people see them as often or consistently, showing at least nine of twelve of the EI competencies noted above. The remaining 88% of leaders showed moderate strength or less. In addition, 17% were not competent in any area.


A recent analysis confirmed a direct relationship between emotional self-awareness and the team's effectiveness and collaboration. For example, leaders with strong emotional self-awareness (the starting point of the ESCI model) are more likely to create an environment that their teams see as enabling excellence and high performance. And another study found that employees at poor-performing companies were 79% more likely to have low overall emotional self-awareness than those at firms with high levels.

To put it simply, the organisations where people tend to score highly in most or all the twelve areas experience positive impacts on their operations:

  • More team engagement – greater understanding and alignment between personal goals and values and the organisation’s goals and values
  • Less staff turnover
  • Improved client relationships
  • Increased productivity
  • More interpersonal trust
  • Positive wellbeing impacts for individuals - there is a link between healthy emotional awareness and expression and the endocrine system

A compassionate approach to EI development at work

There are two short surveys below. Both take about five minutes to complete. First, consider the EI abilities of your manager, team leader, sports coach or another leader. Then take a similar assessment for yourself. Use these surveys as a starting point to build a conversation about EI training and development in your team.

As you reflect on your leader and yourself, try removing some biases that may cloud your judgment. Leading is tough. The drain on our attention and the challenges of juggling the complexity of work life and family life in 2023 is tough. When we bring our best selves to work, most of us can honestly reflect on our EI strengths and weaknesses and strive for change and growth. However, when we feel time-poor, cornered, triggered and stressed, many of us find it hard to deploy our EI skills.

As you reflect on the twelve areas, avoid the self-defeating tendency to strive to be superhuman in all aspects of your job: we all drop the ball sometimes. Instead, develop self-kindness and kindness to your leader as you explore how to build EI abilities. And avoid using a survey as a battering ram to force change. Instead, these surveys can provide a starting point for an honest conversation about strengths, weaknesses, and growth.


Below are three links:

  • Rating your manager or leaders’ abilities
  • Rating your own EI abilities
  • Information about the MSCEIT assessment and coaching program

Rating your leaders abilities 

Rating your own abilities 


Know thy self - rating your EI abilities at work

One of the challenges of rating your abilities in these areas is that we aren’t very good at it. Researchers Mayer, Salovey and Caruso found, not surprisingly, that the worse your overall EI abilities are, the less able you are to rate your own and other people’s abilities. And in particular, the worse your emotional self-awareness is, the worse you are at all the essential leadership abilities. So for most researchers in this field, the most important thing to develop is learning to observe, name and reflect on your own emotions more often - I’ll come to this below.

There is a brilliant way to rate your abilities using an online psychometric assessment called MSCEIT. This assessment measures people’s ability to recognise, use, understand and manage emotions. Unlike self-report evaluations, it’s tough to cheat! It tests people’s abilities to recognise emotions in others, what they mean and how they can drive behaviours. And it poses complex scenarios about emotions and their impact on colleagues and friends. The assessment results provide robust evidence-based information about abilities and enable people to focus on critical development areas. There’s more information about MSCEIT below.


MSCEIT information 


Mindfulness and emotional self-awareness

Try this simple technique. Before starting work, don't rush to your computer and to-do list.

Take a minute to reflect on how your body is feeling and notice the feeling. If you can start to put some labels in place, such as :

"Excitement is here", "anger is here", "uncertainty is here", "sadness is here", "jitteriness is here"….

Keep a journal of your emotions. Just a minute of reflection and labelling is a powerful tool to deepen your emotional self-awareness. And as you note and journal, avoid the temptation to fix it and make the feeling disappear. Sit with them, breathe into the space in your body calling for some attention, acknowledge them with self-compassion, let them be and gently let them go. The process of noticing and accurately labelling (if you can) is a powerful, simple, quick, and effective tool for building emotional intelligence abilities at work.

Sometimes it's hard to label accurately: but that's fine and perfectly normal. When it feels like that, notice the sensation in your body, perhaps a heaviness, flutteriness, heat or cold. Take a minute or so to give your body the attention it deserves. Your brain-body-mind system is asking you for care. Treat it as you would a best friend wanting some love and validation, and time.


Mental agility training

Mental agility training - start with, "I could be wrong"

Whatever role you have in life probably involves making lots of decisions and evaluating things. For example, we assess each other's performance, which option adds the most value, and we make predictions.
The problem is we often suck at it. Our biases, emotions and filters often get in the way of making decisions that add value for ourselves and our team.

Know your enemy – know your biases

If you ask classic questions like: 
a) "If a bat costs $1 more than a ball and both cost $1.10 in total, how much does the ball cost."
b) "If you are running a race and you pass the person in second, which position are you now in?"

(Correct answers 5c and second)

If you got one or both answers wrong, you may have fallen for the “rush to solve” heuristic bias.  People who tend to get these types of questions wrong would score poorly on a cognitive reflection test.  Being good at mental agility means pausing and actively searching for information that opposes your views and opinions.
Low scores on this test predict the degree to which people make poor decisions and judgments at work. And is also associated with how much time people spend on smartphones!
Good leaders tend to have the ability to be agile in their decision making, curious about the opinions of others, open to different viewpoints, prepared to change views and understand that displaying uncertainty is a sign of strength, not weakness.
Let's champion words like, "I don't know, let's find out together."

Smart leaders

Smart leaders know that the knowledge from the wisdom of a wise crowd of experts usually leads to better decisions than relying on one person. 
You can harness the wisdom of your wise crowd at work through dialogue, creating psychologically safe spaces and using anonymous data gathering tools such as Mentimeter. Anonymous opinion gathering helps us avoid some of the consequences of groupthink and the cascade impact and anchoring bias when a dominant person in a team speaks first.
The loudest voice in the room isn't necessarily (or probably) the smartest.

Pause, listen, reflect, act

Reflective thinking rather than impulsivity is effortful, but it helps people make better life decisions. 
To start with, you've got to be present - that takes practice.  Secondly, you've got to be more aware of the impact of biases on decision making. And lastly, find out what your biases are and check in with your colleagues to share ideas.
And check in with your colleagues.
And check in with your colleagues …and repeat for ever.

Some light bedtime reading

If you want to know more about the biases and noise which lead to poor decision making (and how you can overcome them) to help make informed decisions, contact me today about our leadership mental agility.
I'll come in and share ideas with your team about recognising biases and how to manage them.
Or, for a much cheaper option (though less fun), read "Thinking fast and slow" by Daniel Kahneman, "Focus the hidden driver of excellence" by Dan Goleman, "The upside of irrationality" by Dan Ariely and Kahneman's new book, "Noise – a flaw in human judgment."
Basically, any book written by a Dan.
These are amazing books that are a must-read for anyone needing to make informed judgments, evaluations and predictions about the future.


Too much screen time - thriving, surviving or shrinking?

Too much screen time - thriving, surviving or shrinking?

In this post we consider two ideas from the world of psychology which help identify some of the factors associated with thriving. The first is Banduras self-efficacy theory and the second is Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow theory.

The article takes about two minutes to read 

Bandura’s self-efficacy theory and screentime

Many of us feel we have too much to do and have too little time to do it in. And many of us have competing demands on our attention and conflicting priorities. Balancing the needs of our family, our own wellbeing, our values, our career, our organisations goals and values and the needs, goals and values of our colleagues is challenging. With so much going on we invariably drop the ball sometimes. Self-compassion and self-care is essential as we strive to perform this juggling act.

Sometimes we just have to act and deal with the consequences. But our ability to act as mindfully as possible is impacted by our stress levels, the level of data noise around us whether we have self-efficacy.

“how well one can execute courses of action required to deal with prospective situations”

People with high levels of self-efficacy tend to:

  • see challenges as tasks to be mastered;
  • become deeply engaged in activities;
  • are committed; and
  • bounce back from setbacks.

Bandura’s research points to these areas as being developable.  With self-awareness and practice we can learn more about our biases, strengths and emotional triggers. We can become better observers of our own internal narrative and become consciously aware of whether these help us or hinder us. 

We can learn to step back for a moment ( a few seconds) and consider how we wish to be in the world. What sort of a person do we want to be for our friends, colleagues and family? With greater awareness we can practice becoming the person we aspire to be.

All of these things require focus, energy, curiosity and diligence.  Too much online time, spent drifting, may rob us of these things.  We can develop greater self-efficacy through:

  • Mastery (repetition with fine attention to doing things better each time)
  • Social persuasion (modelling and enjoying group connection and encouragement)
  • Recognition of our own emotional state and how this impacts our performance
  • Finding ways to express ourselves emotionally
  • Developing new emotional states (through healthy nutrition, connecting with positive people, exercising and so on)

Being online obviously doesn’t mean that this time is always drifting and wasted time. Probably far from it.

When we are driven to seek knowledge, we might have high energy levels, lots of purpose and lots of drive. When we are in this state it’s worth taking regular breaks to make sure energy levels stay high and to ensure we don’t become overly fixated on one goal. Disappearing down the rabbit hole is a risk and before you know it your energy levels might be depleted, your balanced world view skewed and your self-efficacy (ability to act purposefully) potentially undermined.

And purposeless, drifting time spent on the infinity scrolls of Netflix, facebook and tiktok drains energy, robs time and deepens biases.  We might move toward mastery in an online game but we need to consider balanced self efficacy ie to what extent does one activity (being online playing games) rob our ability to execute actions in other important areas of our life.

Being in flow

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, one of the godfathers of positive psychology, developed his “Flow theory” over the last thirty years. When we are in flow states we are:

“strong, alert, unselfconscious and at the peak of our current abilities.”

His research points to happiness being generated when we are in a state where we are gently striving. This is one where we are learning new things - slightly outside of our comfort zone and expanding our minds, connecting with people in new ways and learning new skills.  

This can often be the very opposite of closing into ourselves online, in a filter bubble, surrounded by a wall of mirrors, reflecting our conditioned likes and beliefs.

Being in a flow state has multiple benefits including:

  • Enjoying positive emotions and optimism 
  • How satisfied we are with our lives 
  • Being more motivated 
  • Performing well academically  
  • Performing well at work 

To be in flow we need to be aware and not be mindlessly drifting. Being in flow means to be self-aware of our underlying strengths, goals, interests and motivations. It means to gently challenge ourselves and try new things. 

As with self-efficacy we need to consider the potential conflict between personal and organisational flow and consider whether our point of attention has value to us, our loved ones and our colleagues.   

We may be in a flow state online but to what purpose? 

Is our point of attention healthy for us? 

Does our version of flow online mean that we are less able to attend to helping our colleagues and loved ones achieve their own flow states?




Screentime, self efficacy and being in a flow state

Find out more about how screen time disrupts self efficacy and flow

Screen time, self-efficacy and being in a state of flow

This is the eighth in my series of posts about the impact of social media and screen time in on our wellbeing, communication  and our ability to make rational decisions.  This post takes about two minutes to read.

The posts have been inspired by the book “Offline”, written by Imran Rashid and Soren Kenner.  

In the last section of the book the authors explore self-efficacy and flow theory and how infinity scrolling is time lost - a scattered, disengaged and fragmented stated. To learn about the world around us and about ourselves requires engagement and energy. We remember things better when we are present. We learn new ways of navigating the world when we are present. And we are happier, when we are present.

Does too much screen time impact our self-efficacy and our ability to be in flow?

The great psychologist, Bandura, worked in the area of self-efficacy. What does this mean? And how does it relate to screen time overload?

“how well one can execute courses of action required to deal with prospective situations”

People with high levels of self-efficacy tend to:

  • See challenges as tasks to be mastered
  • Become deeply engaged in activities
  • Are committed
  • Bounce back from setbacks

Bandura’s research points to these areas as being developable.  With self-awareness and practice we can learn more about our biases, strengths and emotional triggers. We can become better observers of our own internal narrative and become consciously aware of whether these help us or hinder us. We can step back for a moment and consider how we wish to be in the world. What sort of a person do we want to be for our friends, colleagues and family? With greater awareness we can practice becoming the person we aspire to be.

All of these things require focus, energy, curiosity and diligence.  Too much online time, spent drifting, may rob us of these things.  

We can develop greater self-efficacy through:

  • Mastery (repetition with fine attention to doing things better each time)
  • Social persuasion (modelling and enjoying group connection and encouragement)
  • Recognition of our own emotional state and how this impacts our performance
  • Finding ways to express ourselves emotionally and to learn and grow from what these emotions mean
  • Developing new emotional states (through healthy nutrition, connecting with positive people, exercising and so on)

Being in flow

Finally, the book introduces the “Flow theory” of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. He’s one of the godfathers of positive psychology. And his flow theory also helps us understand the adverse impact of too much screentime.

When we are in flow states we are:

“strong, alert, unselfconscious and at the peak of our current abilities.”

His research points to elevated personal wellbeing when we are in a state where we are gently striving. This is one where we are learning new things, slightly outside of our comfort zone and expanding our minds, connecting with people in new ways and learning new skills.  

This can often be the very opposite of closing into ourselves online, in a filter bubble, surrounded by a wall of mirrors, reflecting our conditioned likes and beliefs.

Being in a flow state has multiple benefits including:

  • More positive emotions and optimism 
  • More satisfaction with our life
  • Being more motivated 
  • Performing well academically  
  • Performing well at work 

To be in flow we need to be aware and not be mindlessly drifting. Being in flow means to be self-aware of our underlying strengths, goals, interests and motivations. It means to gently challenge ourselves and try new things. Flow theory points to wellbeing being enhanced through trying new things and is undermined when we repeat the same things again and again.

Takeaways from this post 

  • Mastery - set aside some time for you each week to practice something you love
  • Social persuasion - if you feel passionate about something join a group to find out how you can learn more and how you can give back more
  • Finding ways to express emotions – if you are experiencing challenges at the moment spend some time documenting your feelings.  The next stage might be to reach out to a trusted friend, therapist or coach to explore your emotions and whether they illuminate your values and goals (and perhaps some of the real or perceived barriers to you attaining your goals) 
  • Developing new emotional states – which activities or lifestyle choices enhance your mood state?  Reach out to friends or new groups to enjoy these things with other people

Does social media improve or undermine our wellbeing?

Does social media improve or undermine our wellbeing? 

No, yes, maybe - it’s complicated

This is the seventh in my series of posts about the impact of social media and screen time in general on our wellbeing, ability to communicate and make decisions.  The posts have been inspired by the book “Offline”, written by Imran Rashid and Soren Kenner.

Quality counts

A 2017 study by Duke University found that it wasn’t necessarily the amount of online time, college students experienced, which had a positive or negative impact on their wellbeing, but whether that social media engagement led to more or less interactions with friends offline. People who used social media to connect with people offline tended to have elevated levels of wellbeing, regardless of the amount of time they spent online. Whereas, those who tended to rely on social media for friends and connection had lower levels of wellbeing. 

Distorting the way we see ourselves

Social media tends to condition and reinforce popular perceptions of desirability, attractiveness and what is an appropriate way of acting. In a 2012 study Chou and Edge found that the more time a person spent on Facebook, and the greater the percentage of strangers a person had as friends (vague awareness of how the friend contact was formed), the more likely the person is to perceive others as having better lives than their own. And in a 2015 study Vogel, Rose, Okdie and Franz found that people who had a greater tendency to compare themselves to others  were more likely to be heavy Facebook users and had lower levels of self-esteem. 

In other studies, self-reported self-esteem is correlated with the level of fight flight hormone cortisol. Elevated cortisol levels act to enable the fight/flight system by tensing the body up and enabling energy to be directed to movement and defence and away from higher reasoning.  It helps us react fast. The authors of the book “Offline” point to research which found that body shaming increases cortisol levels and that social media time effects the way we perceive our own bodies. A distorted self-view, that we are not beautiful enough or don’t fit in, may make people feel like awkward outliers from society. This may lead to increased social isolation, or perhaps unusual behaviours with friends or colleagues, as people try to preserve their sense of self.  Social media may increase the amount of comparison with other people we engage in.

Making us less resilient?

In a 2017 study, people who were given a stressful event to experience, had significantly higher levels of stress (cortisol levels) if after the stressor they spent some time browsing Facebook. Facebook browsing seemed to impair cortisol recovery. The research indicated that we may feel the impact of heightened cortisol levels for much longer if we browse Facebook when we are feeling stressed. For example, some of the physical effects of this could include tight neck and shoulders or lower back, shallow breathing or general discomfort. Some of the psychological and social impacts may mean we overly focus on weaknesses, deficits and dangers, feel anxious, experience low levels of self-esteem and be disinclined to meet up with friends and family. 

What happens to us when we experience a long, slow surge of dopamine as we flit from one image to the next on our infinity scrolls? It’s uncertain what the long-term impact of this is.  A survey by the Pew Centre in 2015 of 1,800 people indicated that more social media usage was correlated with more stress. The more usage, the more stress and the greater the negative body self-image.  In addition, the more social media platforms you use the greater the levels of anxiety and depression.

Research from the Sleep Research Society in 2017 on 1,700 young adults in the US indicated that using social media, within 30 minutes of going to sleep, had a negative impact on sleep quality. The heavier the usage, the worse the impact. 

Too early to tell about long term impacts

Smartphones were only introduced in 2007 (date of the iPhone launch). Less smart phones had been around for a little while prior to 2007 but the sharing and roaming technology, that we have come to rely on, only started to become popular with the iPhone launch. It’s still quite a new phenomenon and the long-term consequences of this technology is unknown. What we can do is look at longitudinal studies of behaviour and have an informed conversation about what may be happening.

Once such researcher is Larry Rosen.  He has been studying the impact of technology on children for the last thirty years and therefore we should pay attention to what he says. 

‘Our real and virtual worlds overlap, as many of our virtual friends are also our real friends. But time and effort spent on our virtual world limit the time to connect and communicate on a deeper level in our real world. We face a barrage of alerts, notifications and vibrations warning us that something important is about to happen”. 

Jean Twenge, from the University of San Diego has also noted sudden and massive changes in young people since 2012.

“Young people socialise in completely new ways, reject once sacred social taboos and want different things from their lives and careers.  They are obsessed with safety, focussed on tolerance and have no patience for inequality”.

In virtually all the studies mentioned in this series of articles, splitting out cause and effect is almost impossible. For example, do people who are more prone to depression tend to withdraw into social media and reduce real time friend interactions or does more time spent online, reduce meaningful friend interactions and lead to depression?  It cannot be concluded that A leads to B. Highly stressed people may be susceptible to being drawn in by social media, whilst some heavy users of social media may remain upbeat and energised and use social media to connect to more people in a positive way in real time. However, most of the research concludes that over time we are changing the way we behave and there is a positive correlation between spending more time online, particularly on social media, and significant negative psychological, physiological and social connectivity impacts. 

Takeaways from this post 

  • Set aside specific times for checking social media during the day 
  • Monitor your social media time and aim to reduce from the average of 2 hours per day
  • If possible, turn your phone to airplane mode 30 minutes or more before you go to bed
  • Make social media work positively for you – aim to organise at least one face to face meeting with friends through social media and stick to your meetups 
  • Join a meetup group to practice your hobby or passion
  • Before engaging in social media consider your mood state.  Reflect back on the things today that brought you joy, were meaningful or successful (or all three). Practice some gentle breathwork meditation exercises.



Does too much screen time distort how we see the world and undermine our decision making?

Does too much screen time distort how we see the world and undermine our decision making?

This is the sixth in my series of posts about the impact of social media and screen time. The posts have been inspired by the book “Offline”, written by Imran Rashid and Soren Kenner.

Living in an echo chamber

In addition to the concerns about too much screen time creating dysfunctional behaviours there are a number of other potential dangers. These include the echo chamber effect. Algorithms serve up the things we either desire or inflame us to engage in content. Content engagement means more screen time, which means more potential advertising revenue. Being served up a constant stream of similar things and similar views can lead to social and political polarisation. We may become surrounded by people with similar views, reinforcing attachment to our own beliefs and ego. In his 2009 book, “The Master and his Emissary”, Iain McGilchrist explains how the left hemisphere of our brains already nudge us in the direction of duality, ego and separation. He describes this as like living in a hall of mirrors, where our confirmation biases seek out people and views that affirm our world view. With social media this effect is turbo charged.

As people become more polarised they increasingly cling to their group’s identity, even when they are confronted with facts which disprove their group’s view. Being part of a group may become more important than truth. This cognitive dissonance  (avoiding and discounting facts which oppose group views) , combined with confirmation bias (having heightened awareness of  information which confirms group views), increases polarisation. The more stressed and anxious people are, the more they cling to group views and identify with the group even when their membership of the group is at odds with their values, goals and the facts.

Screen time deepening our biases

The authors of “Offline” set out a number of common cognitive biases which work with social media to create a distorted view of how people see themselves and the world around them. In yoga a distorted view of reality is described as ignorance or “avidya”. It means to see the world through biased filters. These false views can adversely impact our health, wealth, happiness and relationships.  This is a summary of some of the common thinking traps which may be heightened by our screen time:

Identifiable victims - over engagement in individual stories and how they make you feel rather than understanding statistics and how society and groups of people are impacted by events

Framing effect - influenced by how information is presented. For example, if you are told person A is intelligent, diligent, impulsive, critical, stubborn and envious and person B is stubborn, envious, intelligent, impulsive, critical and diligent you are more likely to view A more sympathetically.  This framing effect influences and distorts our opinions

Availability cascade - repeating the same message again and again (even if it is not based in fact). Hearing the same message again and again influences our opinions

Bandwagon effect - the herd mentality shaping our views

Bias blindness - belief that we are less biased than others 

Hostile attribution bias - tendency to interpret other people’s behaviours as aggressive, which is heightened by stress and anxiety

Reactance - urge to take the contrary view in order to thwart perceived attempts to dominate or constrain freedom


Have empathy levels declined and is this due to increased screen time?

According to research by the University of Michigan, on 14,000 students over the last thirty years, there has been a 40% decline in empathy, with particularly sharp falls in the last ten years. Empathy comes from the German word einfuhlung and means feeling into another person.

  • Does our time online divert our attention away from observing other people’s facial expressions and body language? 
  • Does this mean that we lose our ability to read other people? 
  • Does our filtered world view and increased biases mean that we find it harder to imagine what another person may be feeling? 
  • Does our time online mean that we simply don’t have the time to think about the plight of other people?  
  • Does spending more time in our filter bubbles make us more interested in servicing our own needs and desires rather than considering the greater good of communities and society? 
  • Does the volume of traumatic  images we see (climate change, violence etc) lead to a compassion fatigue and a desensitisation? 
  • Does our deepening of in group/tribe relationships lead to us dehumanising people from different backgrounds and cultures?

“Most people do not listen with intent to understand; they listen with intent to reply”  Stephen Covey

The book turns to considering ideas on how to emerge from our filter bubbles and reduce the biases with which we see the world. The authors identify research which indicates that reading fantasy books may be helpful. Experiencing imaginary worlds makes us feel both smaller and more connected to something bigger than ourselves. Perhaps it stimulates our tangential thinking and a sense of awe and reduces rigidity.

Throughout the book the authors consider how little of the information available through our senses we are consciously aware of.  Millions of bits of information and interactions with the world around us shape our behaviours, wellbeing and decision making, often without our conscious awareness. 

When we listen to stories, read new books or consider ideas, we briefly burst the filter bubble surrounding us. What we pay attention to shapes us and therefore we need to consider who or what we look at. Do we surround ourselves with positive and upbeat people who help us become better versions of ourselves? When we mindlessly scroll on social media our brains are being shaped by what we see and we are drawn deeper into our filtered view of the world.

“Beware of the stories you recall or tell. Subtly, at night, beneath the waters of consciousness they are altering your world. Without stories we would go mad. Life would lose its moorings or orientations. Even in silence we are living our stories.”

Ben Okri

Takeaways from this post 

Consider your biases - Spend some time on social media and observe some posts. Notice how you feel as you read and look at the posts. What do you agree with? What do you disagree with? Now re read the list of heuristic biases above. Take a few breaths in through the nose and out through the nose doing some deep diaphragmatic breathing. With understanding of your biases, document in what ways do you think your mood and opinions have been swayed by what you see

Consider your emotional state - Before reading news online or scrolling social media spend a few moments closing your eyes and engaging in deep diaphragmatic breathing exercises. Think about three that went well and why they went well for you today.  Now spend a few moments considering common heuristic biases noted above.  As you read the news or read people’s posts consider how you feel positively detached from what you see. 

Consider someone else’s view - If you read a post, written by a friend, that annoys you don’t immediately react.  Think back to when that person has been at their best with you.  Consider moments that brought you together.  Now consider your biases. If you feel the need to engage in a texting/posting conversation be aware of the tendency for words to be misconstrued without the vital element of face to face emotional and social signalling. If you feel yourself become emotionally embroiled try and stick to the facts. If things become heated, disengage from the conversation and agree to disagree.  

Develop your empathy - At work spend some time considering what one of your colleagues may be going through at home, in their career and with their health. Try and imagine the world from their shoes rather than trying to imagine you in their shoes. True empathy means using your imagination, being kind, supportive, non-judgmental and deepening your understanding of what makes the other person tick


Social media and screen time addiction

Is social media, online games and general screen time addictive?

This is the fifth in my series of posts about the impact of social media and screen time. The posts have been inspired by the book “Offline”, written by Imran Rashid and Soren Kenner.

If you spend a few minutes observing someone on Instagram or Facebook there are number of things that could happen; you might be perceived as a weird stalker (try doing it surreptitiously).  If you can maintain a non-stalky demeanour and think of it as a science experiment, rather than weird, that helps. If you do this, look at the speed of the fingers, the darting eyes and the deeply engrained focus. The infinity scroll looks like a job. People spend hours and hours ticking and liking and commenting. To what effect?  

  • As you engage in social media imagine that you are being observed. 
  • Are your movements soft, slow and measured?  
  • Are you problem solving, and using your higher brain functions, when you’re online or merely liking and scrolling to satisfy old patterns of likes, dislikes and habitual patterns of thinking? 
  • Are you endlessly scrolling to serve yourself a stream of dopamine? 
  • Do your actions, in this moment, lead to a deeper connection with people? 
  • Does your scrolling, at this moment, help you spend more real time with people? 
  • What else could you be doing at this moment?

This what Sean Parker, the first CEO of Facebook, said about the importance of addictive design for their business model:

“How can we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible? That means that we need to give you a little dopamine hit. With the social media feedback loop you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology”.

What are addictive behaviours?

Addiction could include some or all of the following:

  • Mental preoccupation
  • Neglect of personal life
  • Escapism
  • Mood modification
  • Modification of tolerance levels
  • Concealment

(The international gaming research unit at Nottingham Trent University)

The widely used U.S DSM5 (diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders) added gambling and internet gaming to the list of disorders. However, if we can pathologize  gambling and internet disorders where does the line get drawn? 

“How can we conceptualise behavioural addiction without pathologizing common behaviours?” (Society for the study of addiction)

It is up to us as individuals and also in our friendship and work networks to decide which behaviours are useful and which are undermining. For example, a colleague told me about her sixteen-year-old son’s friend group who ban phone time when they catch up for coffee or dinner. Screen time is now an essential part of life. We just need to explore how it affects our relationships, quality of work and wellbeing.

Takeaways from this post

  • Talk to family, friends and colleagues about this stuff! Create some soft rules for when we are with each other
  • Where possible set aside some alone time for checking social media, playing games and so on. And monitor how much time you do these things each day
  • Keep a simple journal of your online experience - After long sessions on social media, watching Netflix or playing games online, document your mood and energy levels. Compare these to mood and energy levels after you have met friends in person, played sport or received positive feedback at work
  • Be mindful when you are on social media – For example, when you are Instagram continue to breathe slowly and steadily and consider how you would like to be perceived. Are your movements fast paced and frenetic as you like and comment or are your movements more measured?
  • Before you post something consider whether you are adding value for others. Does your post add new information that helps others thrive? For example, does it share moments of joy with friends and family in different countries? 
  • When you comment, consider whether you would say something similar if you were face to face with the person

The psychology tools big tech uses to pull our attention

The techniques big tech uses to pull our attention


This is the fourth in my series of posts about the impact of social media and screen time. The posts have been inspired by the book “Offline”, written by Imran Rashid and Soren Kenner.

Tech companies successfully hook into the space between our subconscious and conscious mind. B. J Fogg, the godfather of the intersection between computer science and technology, noted that in order to draw a person’s attention the program must have three essential elements:

  • You must want to do it
  • You must be able to do it
  • You must be triggered to do it

Big tech has created an array of tools to grab your attention, including:

  • Emotional triggers – for example new friend requests 
  • Infinity scrolls – AI learning from what you have enjoyed before to serve up a constant serving of dopamine
  • Notifications, such as noises to alert you to potential danger or potential dopamine

As you scroll and like things, consider that big tech super computers are aimed, locked, loaded and directed at your head.  AIs want to know what draws your attention. The more they can learn about your individual likes and dislikes the better they can serve up a feast of stimulating information. They do this because you can also be served up with a flow of subtle and not so subtle marketing materials. The longer you spend with eyes on the screen the more value can be extracted from you. In addition, the better understanding there is of your likes, dislikes, desires and fears, the better able marketing companies are able to also shape your desires in order to extract more value. It’s not just about serving up information about what you need and what adds value in life, it’s also about shaping your desires in order to encourage you to vote in a certain way, moderate your values, influence your morality and part you from your money.

The “My Personality project”, created by Michael Kosinksi and David Stillwell from Cambridge University, obtained access to thousands of Facebook users by creating an app, embedded within Facebook, which enabled them to extract vital information from users.  They asked people to complete a personality assessment, which was based on Digman and Goldberg’s big five personality model.  The five areas map the degree to which a person is:

  • Open
  • Conscientious
  • Extravert
  • Neurotic

They then compared these assessments to the individuals Facebook history and were able to gauge a person’s personality, and much more, based upon their likes.  With just a few likes they were able to understand a person more than even close friends and family:

  • 68 or more – sexual orientation, politics, intelligence level, religion
  • 70 likes or more – know more about you than your close friends
  • 150 likes or more – know more about you than your parents
  • 300 likes or more – know more about you than your life partner
  • ? likes or more – know more about you than you are consciously aware of yourself 

Armed with this information marketers, politicians, bad people, good people, strangers and disinterested corporations, who desire to maximise shareholder value, can and do grab your attention and shape your thoughts and behaviours.

Takeaways from this post

  • Are you ok with other people knowing so much about your likes, dislikes, likely behaviours and patterns of consumption?
  • Are you ok with, potentially, having your decision making, behaviours, wellbeing and consumption influenced in a way which is totally out of your control?
  • Talk to family, friends and colleagues about whether there are better ways to share information in trusted friend groups
  • Put ad blockers on your phone and laptops
  • What we observe changes our brains and bodies. This influences our decision making, wellbeing and ability to communicate. Knowing this practice being in and observing nature