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Self-talk and persistence. What do you say to yourself?

in Editor Pick by

When I decided to embark on a marathon it was not the result of a strong desire or goal. I can’t remember having a clear plan or even a strong drive. It was just something that I decided to do one day.

I was never encouraged much either. Most people thought the whole idea was a whole lot of effort for not really much reward. You potentially damage your body, waste a lot of time training when you could be spending time with family and friends. Nevertheless, I kept one foot in front of the next and somehow got to the end.

In the last few kilometres, I experienced pain I didn’t expect. It was unpleasant. The voice inside my head was ‘never again’. But I decided to run another one the year after and have since retired.

I realised that there’s a lot to learn about how you can motivate yourself during a run (or similar activity) using self-talk.

Here are some things I would say to myself that helped me persevere.


The Postponement Self-Talk

…or I’ll just get this one out of the way today

When I was pounding the side of the road week after week in preparation, I sometimes enjoyed the time to myself and the satisfaction of running great distances. But then there also many days I persisted out of recognition that I simply needed to clock up the kilometres.

When we think of someone who is motivated, it suggests enthusiasm and positivity. A motivated employee, for example, is someone who surely enjoys his or her job. But, of course, motivation is more about being goal driven.

You can feel flat, tired, and even outright depressed but still work towards a goal tirelessly. In part, you are postponing the rewarding experience. You won’t feel great today but tomorrow you’ll feel better having got through the difficult days.

I’m probably not alone as a runner who sometimes feels obliged to run not because it is enjoyable. If anything, you are probably less likely to pursue many goals if the aim is for pleasure. Pleasure and enjoyment are often fleeting experiences that are fun but if you anchor your motivation to fun then the moment it stops being fun, the faster you will give up.


The ‘Switch-off’ Self Talk

Why is this taking so long…

When I set a goal to run six kilometres, that last kilometre sometimes feels longer than it should. Strangely, I start to check the time and expect the kilometre to move past much faster. But if the goal is 12 kilometers, this kilometre feels different. It seems trivial, smaller, and easily overcome. In context to the larger journey, it doesn’t feel as long.

I liken this to a trip from Melbourne to Sydney. The flight is short so we end up expecting to be there faster. Twenty minutes into the flight and we start checking the time. But if we travel overseas, our minds expect a long journey, we switch off and time can seem to move more swiftly.

If you expect something to be quick and easy, you will get frustrated much more easily. Instead, if you assume that something is going to take a lot more time and effort, you may be more tolerant of keeping a slower pace (pardon the pun).

This essentially means that you also need to sometimes switch off your self-talk when you are persevering at a task. If you constantly check-in on how much progress you are making, it can make it feel like it’s taking forever.


The Lying to Yourself Self-Talk

Just one more and I’m done…just one more…just one more

One way you can persevere with a task is simply lying to yourself. You might have a rough idea that something will take a long time but you refrain from committing to yourself the long-term goal and simply agree to meet smaller goals.

As a runner, you can lie to yourself about a big run. You can plan to run 20 kilometers but say to yourself that you’ll do 15 and then stop. Then when you hit 15, you can always add one more kilometre to your run. Of course, at 16, you can add one more and so on.

When training I would be in a constant negotiation with myself. Part of me knew I would be running 20km, but I could stop myself from being overwhelmed by doing a deal with myself, renegotiating the extra kilometres as the goal got closer.

Selecting your work goals is important but it’s essential that you can slowly add to an idea or improvement one step at a time (pardon the pun). It’s important that you don’t overwhelm yourself with ambition otherwise your mind will not be able to cope with the stress. Persistence is not about being the most driven, energetic and enthusiastic. It may simply be the ability to gently keep moving along.


The Acceptance Self-Talk

Perfect. Now an excuse to rest

Obstacles aren’t bad luck or fortune. In my training on both occasions I was burdened with blisters, cramps and the occasional cold. People who end up running marathons don’t avoid injury and illness. They actually expect it as a part of the training. I once had a week off due to a chest infection but thought about it as forced, guilt-free rest rather than an obstacle.

There are, of course, many obstacles in life that are truly debilitating, unlucky and unfair. But for many of us, we receive as many lucky moments as we do problems that can be overcome. Motivation can be about turning the problems into opportunities or, at the very least, accepting them and running forward (pardon the pun) regardless.

When I have been injured, I would initially be frustrated and try to run through the injury. This often led to a slower recovery. The best strategy is to accept the problem and use the time/change to do something else.


The Bigger Picture Self-Talk

I can catch up tomorrow

There is nothing more demotivating and impossible to achieve than a long-winded, detailed plan. Human beings seem to have convinced themselves that more step by step detail will ensure success. But what tends to happen is life throws in so many curve balls, the ins and outs of the plan are too hard to execute.

Instead, setting some high-level goals that are more flexible to the day-to-day changes is best. In running, you can set a comprehensive training plan for each day, right down to where you run, what to eat, how to recover and so on. Or, you can simply set a goal like ‘I will run at least 50 kilometers this week’.

This is a ‘bigger picture’ mindset. It allows you flexibility to meet your goals however you like.

A goal like this means you can have an off day on Monday but still recover the kilometres on your planned rest day. If you too stringently set a time, distance and place for each day, you can easily get frustrated if it’s raining or if you had to stay back at work. The plan can’t be followed and you run the risk (pardon the pun) of giving up.


The Finish Line

In short, pursuing goals with persistence involves a psychological game you need to play with yourself. You sometimes need to lie to yourself, counsel your thoughts, negotiate different outcomes, and even outright lie. If you are prepared to do this, you may just get to the end of the race (yes, pardon the pun one last time).

Weinstein, the Nazis and you

in Editor Pick/Media Psychology/Work Psychology by

In the red corner is Harvey Weinstein. Weighing in at over 250 pounds and a net worth of $250 millon. Nominated for over 100 awards, Academy awards winner, with an influence over some of the biggest names in Hollywood.

In the blue corner, every single person in society including: disgusted members of the public, former actors and actresses who knew directly or indirectly of his actions, assistants, victims of abuse, and almost every person in the media.

Each day, the number one story across the globe appears to be Harvey Weinstein. Yet another person comes out to share their experience. And, each day, commentators in the media and important global figureheads frown with disapproval. ‘Why would so many people stand by and let this happen?’ Indeed, if you weren’t confronting Weinstein, you have been dubbed an ‘enabler’.

The reason why the Weinsteins of the world do what they do without fear of retribution is something that has long been studied and understood by social psychologists. And it has to do with an anecdote about Nazis. Yep, our favourite real life and Hollywood villains.

Early studies in social psychology attempted to explain how seemingly normal people could commit atrocities, like the Nazis in World War 2. Were these people truly evil or placed in circumstances that made them do horrible things?

Many are familiar with the Stanley Milgrim experiments where under pressure students would administer seemingly painful electric shocks to other students. Some would do so even to the point of the other student screaming in pain. However, this was all a façade. Nobody was truly in pain. The study was simply examining whether a normal person would follow orders even in the face of cruelty.

Since these early experiments, social psychologists have demonstrated that people behave in peculiar ways when surrounded by others. For example, we are willing to ignore or downplay evidence so that we can maintain harmony with a group—groupthink. Some believe this can lead to catastrophic outcomes when risk is downplayed and overlooked.

Many of our phobias are related to how we are perceived by others. We may fear public speaking even though there is no true physical threat. Job interviews tend to be the more stressful than they should be. The first day of school or a new job are confronting experiences because of the unknown social aspect.

In public, we all instinctively conform to fit in with our surroundings. How many of you feel uncomfortable to hold a phone conversation on the train in the morning when everyone is quiet? How difficult is it to disagree with the majority in a workshop when it may mean slowing down progress or having to debate an issue?

It’s probably not too surprising to social psychologists that Weinstein was able to do what he did. Through his sheer physical size and powerful personality, he could intimidate. But he also has a ridiculous amount of money and influence from his position. If you’ve ever hesitated about speaking up on a workplace issue, then imagine how impossible it would be to challenge the might of Weinstein, surrounded by others who played along.

But, interestingly, research also shows how individuals can overcome intense social pressures. In one study, a participant was asked to judge whether a line was shorter, longer, or the same as another line. If they were placed in a room of people who purposely misjudged the length, the participant would also align their view with the rest of the group. However, if only one person disagreed, it was enough for the participant to feel comfortable to disagree.

Doesn’t this sound like what’s happening now with Weinstein? All it took was a few people to speak out to give others the confidence to do the same.

What we can learn from Weinstein isn’t just a lesson on morals, decency, and corruption. It is also a lesson on how we as individuals can fight the social current in any context and bring out change. You might even find people jumping in to support you.

Ding ding, ding!

A few misconceptions about working for yourself

in Editor Pick/Work Psychology by

Running my own business, I don’t presume to know it all.

But now that I’ve reached the milestone of two years in business, I have noticed a few misconceptions about working for yourself that just don’t add up.

Here they are:

#1 You need to work harder

There is no doubt that I have needed to work hard but, you know what, most people do regardless of whether you work for yourself or not. Day in and day out, I work with people in permanent roles who continue to take on more and more work, weekend work, and endless intrusions from their mobile phones.

#2 You have less job security

I was warned from day one by other consultants and colleagues about how in small business you wear a lot more risk when the work dries up. I hope our team continues to be seen as useful well into the future but my experience to date is that working in big organisations is riskier.

In a big organisation, restructures occur regularly. If the workplace is too slow to change to a diminishing market, a common strategy is to lighten the load through redundancies. Even if you are clever, handy, motivated, and committed, you can still find the organisation dispassionate and cold when only years before it was welcoming you with open arms.

In small business though, you have agility. You can move with the market and you ultimately have a lot of passion for keeping you employed because, well, you’re you.

#3 It can be isolating and lonely

I fortunately had a great colleague who offered a chance for regular coffee catch-ups because he knew working for yourself can be isolating. But it can also mean reconnecting with dozens of people who you haven’t seen in years.

I’ve been fortunate to have been able to work with and catch-up with former bosses, friends and colleagues. Every trip to the city can mean squeezing in time to see someone you haven’t seen in years.

Not to mention that I’ve been able to invite friends and study companions to work with me. I’ve reconnected with half a dozen peers from my University who I would otherwise struggle to see once a year if ever.

So, working for yourself can actually promote your connectivity with people.

#4 Your work-life balance is thrown off

I am actually writing this blog on a Saturday afternoon. It’s a nice enough day outside and my kids are home. What am I doing?

Well, working for yourself means that each day can be seen as a work day. It can also mean each day can be time with the family. You can work from home or take a few days off without getting approvals.

You can even invite your family to work with you. Every week, my wife comes in to help us run the office. If I was working for another big organisation, she would have found a job in one just like me and we would have seen each other less often.

Things are not thrown off balance. They just end up being different.

Now, excuse me while I eat my cake too and invest some of my Saturday on the nice day outside.

Happy birthday to us!

Game of Thrones TV Show Vs. Books

in Editor Pick/Film & TV Psychology by

There is an endless struggle and debate that rages about what’s better: the book or the movie. Readers claim films and TV shows are never as good as the source material. They are also angered when a TV show or film detours too much from this material.

The creators of these shows and films have a delicate balancing act. They need to somehow capture what made the book so interesting and engaging in the first place but are also hampered by time constraints, and budget.

Why do TV and film have to deviate from books?

Creators are also influenced by what they perceive to be different consumer needs. Research suggests that the medium we choose (i.e. film, TV, book) may be influenced by these needs.For example, research suggests that fantasy stories meet our desire for thrills. Fantasy portrayed on TV and books appear to meet this need. However, literature generally meets another need as well, called ‘aesthetics’, which is an interest in complexity and nuances.Perhaps this may explain why book readers can be so easily frustrated when the complexity and nuances from the books is watered down for TV and film.

Game of Thrones balancing act


Take the popular series Game of Thrones. The series on which it is based ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ has sold a reported 24 million copies worldwide. That’s 24 million people who are primed to watch the show.The audience for the show is even larger. For just season 4 of Game of Thrones, there were over 18 million viewers, which doesn’t factor in the millions who illegally download individual shows or those who purchase the DVD.It’s safe to assume that many of these millions of viewers are a mix of book readers as well as those who would never take on the epic read.

At some point, there’ll be a crossover of needs.

Book lovers will be aghast at their beloved story being chopped or streamlined. Television lovers may get frustrated by the drawn out plots that are better suited to novels.

I remember reading articles that predicted doom for the series after staying true to the books and  killing off the main character, Eddard Stark (Sean Bean), in season 1. They claimed that the removal of such a high profile actor would not resonate with fans of the TV show, suggesting that television requires a different mentality to the books.

They should somehow find a spot for Eddard. An idea that’s absurd in hindsight.

As both show and book fans know, this death is a catalyst for many of the most exciting plots. The show quickly differentiated itself from other television shows by having a reputation of killing off popular and—seemingly—untouchable characters to shock viewers and send the plot down interesting and unpredictable paths.

More recently, the writers have deviated from the books significantly. The last two books were renowned for being slower in pace, and for introducing a number of new characters and sub-plots. The writers addressed these concerns by streamlining the stories and cutting many of the new characters. Has deviating from the books paid off? Let’s look at some of the most significant changes from the show.

Change #1. Jamie and Tyrion Depart on Good/Bad terms


When dwarf, Tyrion Lannister, is sentenced to death in Season 4 of Game of Thrones, his brother, Jamie, comes to the rescues. They embrace and part ways. In the novel, things don’t end well.In a backstory revealed in the earlier novels and first season of the show, Tyrion talks about a woman he loved who turned out to be a prostitute paid by Jamie to show his brother a good time. The woman was then raped by a gang of Tywin Lannister’s—Tyrion’s father—army and sent on her way. Jamie reveals she was never a prostitute. Their love was real.In anger, Tyrion dishonestly claims to have killed Tyrion’s son, Joffrey, and informs Jamie that Cercei—Jamie’s lover and sister—has been sleeping with a gamut of other men.

Why the series is better: The writers planned for Jamie to go on a quest to help Cercei, in Season 5 which would have been hard if he resented her. Even though Tyrion’s backstory was revealed in Season 1, many of the viewers would have forgotten and found it hard to reconnect with this particular story.

Why the book is better: This scene sets up Tyrion’s quest to find his one true love. The books imply he will find her, perhaps promising a happy ending for Tyrion. Meanwhile, Jamie is disgruntled and abandons Cercei, leaving her to self-destruct with no hope Jamie will return to save her.

Which is better: The book


Change #2  Jamie visits Dorne


In the show, Jamie travels with fan favourite, Bronn, to Dorne to rescue his daughter, Marcella. He fights, gets captured and finally makes peace with the Prince of Dorne.In the book, Jamie is nowhere near Dorne. He takes off to the Riverlands to negotiate peace terms after the war. Meanwhile, in Dorne we are introduced to several new characters and a slow, emerging plot that reveals the Doran has sent his son to Mereen to marry the dragon queen, Daenarys Targarayen. Why the show is better: The show gives us some adventures with Jamie and Bronn and keeps the plot lean. The various sub-plots and characters from the books may have been confusing and are edited to present a simpler, cleaner story.

Why the book is better: The book introduces us to a completely new culture through the eyes of new characters. It takes time to get to point, but presents Doran as a patient player and wild card in the Game of Thrones.

Which is better: The book.


Change #3. Tyrion meets Daenerys


In the latter books, Tyrion spends much of his time travelling, meeting a variety of new characters. When he finally makes it to Mereen, we can only hope that he’ll meet Daenerys and we’ll finally see these two important characters align. However, they never meet.In the show, Tyrion’s travels are condensed and cut right back. He even meets Daenerys and commences advising her in some of the better scenes of Season 5. Why the book is better: George RR Martin knows we want Tyrion to make his way to Meeren, befriend Danerys and return to the seven kingdoms to help right all the wrongs. The fact that Martin didn’t give the readers what they want will just keep us more interested for the next chapters.

Why the show is better: The Tyrion chapters in A Dance with Dragons were notoriously disliked by a vocal fanbase because they dragged on so long and started to make Tyrion unlikeable. The show has short circuited this and has managed to keep most of the highlights from the book.

Which is better: The show


Change #4 Sansa meets Ramsay Bolton


In the books, we don’t know what happens to Sansa yet but the show has pushed forward with re-engineering the Theon Greyjoy storyline. The book has cruel Ramsay Bolton rape and torture another character, Jeyne Poole, who is posing as Arya Stark (it’s a long story). In the show, Sansa replaces Jeyne much to the horror of book readers.Why the books are better: It’s hard to know what will happen to Sansa but being raped and tortured by the Boltons seems a bit much after she’s endured so much already.Why the show is better: The Jeyne Poole chapters were more about Theon Greyjoy overcoming his post-traumatic stress to redeem himself. The show provides an opportunity for this redemption to come in the form of saving Sansa, which may be more powerful to the audience.

Which is better: Unknown until we see the new Sansa chapters.


Change #5 Stannis burns Shireen


Stannis Baratheon has a bit of a cult following. In the books, he’s one of those underdogs whose motivations are grey. He does horrible things, like burning people, but also remains fiercely committed to his own code of honour.In the latter books, George RR Martin lets us warm to the character by uniting him with hero, Jon Snow, rescuing the Night’s Watch and then taking off to take down the evil Boltons, the primary antagonists.Stannis even appears to be shifting away from all the burnings and returning to his roots when he leaves Melisandre—the red witch—back at the Wall with Jon Snow.

In the show, Melisandre accompanies Stannis with his daughter and wife. Stannis is still committed to his religion and sacrifices Shireen to the fire prior to his battle with the Boltons.

This deviation from the books removes the grey from Stannis’ character and makes his actions irrefutably evil.

Why the books are better: We are slowly warming to Stannis when it is revealed that he has been defeated in battle. It’s not known whether this is a deception, but it creates a drama that may now be missing from the show.

Why the show is better: The show gives us the inevitable pay-off of Stannis sacrificing his soul for his ego. He will win at any cost and the burning of Shireen is one of the more shocking moments.

Which is better: The books.


Change #6 Mance Rayder is executed


In the books, the wildling king beyond the wall is sentenced to burn by Stannis Baratheon. However, the red witch— Melisandre —uses her magic to change Mance’s appearance with another character, Rattleshirt, who burns in his place.Mance ultimately leads a rescue mission to save a woman Jon believes to be his sister, Sansa. Mance is then presumably captured by the Boltons, energising the wildlings to assist Jon to rescue their leader.In the show, Mance burns and his story ends.

Why the books are better: Mance has a better rapport with Jon in the books and becomes a sort of mentor/ally. The sub-plot throws yet another motivation for Jon to abandon his vows to save his friend.

Why the show is better. The books are a bit convoluted here. Melisandre sudden ability to change people’s appearances seems a bit convenient and ultimately pointless, and the Stannis plot may not really go anywhere other than finding him captured and finally killed.

Which is better: A draw.

Overall Winner: The Books


The imperfections of being a perfectionest

in Editor Pick/Work Psychology by

Are you addicted to getting that font colour just right? Do you see errors in everyone’s work? Do you sometimes feel like the only reason something failed was because you weren’t involved?We’ve all worked with perfectionists. We’ve probably all been perfectionists ourselves from time to time.

The trouble is that being a perfectionist has some unfortunate drawbacks. Imperfections perhaps. Studies show that individuals who are perceived as having greater self-discipline and control are also more likely to be assigned extra work.

These perfectionists then feel that they have made regular sacrifices for their co-workers only to be burdened by the extra workload.Unfortunately for the perfectionists, their fellow workers don’t perceive them to be burdened. That is, because they are perceived as being so disciplined, others think the perfectionists don’t have to work as hard.

You can immediately see how this could play out. A perfectionist can’t help putting in the extra hours and effort. Others see this happening and think they are the best candidate to take on more work. The perfectionist puts in even more time and effort, perpetuating the endless build-up of work.

All this might be ok if the extra effort led to better outcomes.

However, perfectionism can also lead to excessive attention to working hard under the misguided notion that the more effort that’s expended, the higher its quality. Psychologists refer to this as the effort ‘heuristic’.

It reminds me of when children keep mixing different paints hoping to get the most amazing colour only to discover that it produces a muddied brown or grey.

I also think about all those cooking shows where the contestants want to wow the judges with more and more sophisticated flavours and combinations until the dish is no longer edible.

Being a perfectionist might just lead to you working really hard for not a lot of extra gain.

And now time to wrap up this blog. I won’t try and wrap it all up nicely because I’m not a perfectionist.

You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry

in Work Psychology by


When Bruce Banner gets angry and becomes the Incredible Hulk, he gets results.

For that reason, anger is one of those interesting emotions that can make us uncomfortable but—strangely—feels compelling.

Anger typically helps us to overcome obstacles to certain goals. Specifically, when we are pursuing rewards or ideals and someone or something gets in the way, our ‘fight’ response kicks in to help us push through these obstacles.

For example, when delivering a pet project you may regularly come in contact with others who throw up smokescreens and barriers to prevent you from reaching your goals. They’ve got their own goals, mind you, and maybe you’re getting in the way of them.

That’s why we all bounce around like ping pong balls between one person and the next to try to reach our own preferred outcome. And we often step out of the way or avoid the angry, vocal lot. Anger can work wonders in getting you closer to a goal.

But there are some drawbacks with anger. Aside from the obvious problems it generates—the inevitable outbursts, alienation of co-workers, and even violence—anger can also give you tunnel vision.

Studies show that anger makes us better at dealing with details but impairs our ability to see the bigger picture.

In one study, participants were required to hit a button when they saw a particular letter of the alphabet on a computer screen. The letters were presented in clusters so that when viewed as a whole they actually showed a larger pattern which also resembled a letter.

The participant had to try to switch their attention from the larger ‘bigger picture’ letter to the smaller letters from which it was composed. Essentially, the test lets the researcher know how easily the participant can broaden or narrow their focus.

The researchers also flashed split-second images designed to elicit feelings of anger to half of the participants. The images were outside conscious awareness but nevertheless made some of the participants angry.

These angry participants found it easier to see the smaller letters but their reaction times were slower when detecting the larger letter. That is, they were better at narrowing their focus but couldn’t rise out of the weeds to see the bigger picture.

The researchers also found that angry individuals were also less inclusive in how they categorised things. For example, they rejected the notion that words like ‘camel’ and ‘car’ could be classified under one heading (e.g. mode of transport, words starting with c).

Anger appears to help individuals to focus on a specific goal and works to close us off to alternatives. Of course, unlike the Incredible Hulk, I am open to an alternative interpretation.

Let me tell you how to spot a narcissist

in Editor Pick/Work Psychology by

I have prepared this blog today. I wanted to discuss narcissism and I think it’s important that I tell you why I think it’s a relevant topic.Now pay attention to me now. Focus your attention my way.

‘Narcissistic’ is one of those labels we all throw about usually to describe the selfish or self-centred way a person goes about their day. Every decision is—ultimately—all about themselves. Their previous roles are like historical events where they were the centre of the universe, like that time I single-handedly saved the day. This mentality can be disastrous for teams, collaboration, and morale.

Few people want to be a pawn or cog in the wheel for someone else’s ambition.

If you want to work out whether your manager, friend, relative or colleague is potentially undermining your motivation with narcissism, there’s a quick test.

I can educate you. That’s right. ME. Can you guess what to look for?

If you think narcissistic people refer to themselves a lot, then you are actually wrong.

recent study examined the common belief that narcissistic people refer to themselves more than the average person.

The researchers found there was no difference in the language that was used between individuals identified as narcissistic and those who were not. That is, narcissistic people didn’t say ‘I’ or ‘me’ any more than anyone else.

Fortunately, there really is a simple way to detect narcissism. One study found you only had to ask a person how much they agree with the statement ‘I am a narcissist’.

Narcissistic people, as determined from other more laborious techniques, were more likely to agree with the statement.

It is argued that narcissists are the first to admit they are narcissistic. They don’t see it as a negative. They even admire themselves for it.

As they should.

What’s going to happen to our Game of Thrones characters?

in Editor Pick/Film & TV Psychology by

The Game of Thrones characters have been through many ups and downs (mostly downs). Many of these stories fit a particular narrative identity.Narrative identities involve stories that we tell ourselves that explain our life stories. In particular, we often tell ourselves stories that explain how we overcome adversity.

Redemption Stories

Narrative identities around redemption involve stories where people overcome obstacles to help them reassess their life. Characters like Daenerys Targaryen experience hardships, such as her life being sold into slavery, and learn to appreciate freedom.

Contamination Stories

Contamination stories involve a person experiencing an endless spiraling down. So many characters fit this story but it’s the Starks who are endlessly discovering misfortune and corruption.

Connection Stories

Where characters form bonds after some trauma, they are participating in a ‘connection’ narrative. Arya, for example, forms a connection with the Hound after her frequent series of misfortunes.

Fighter Story

Many of the characters in Game of Thrones push through obstacles and difficulties with blunt force or their wits, taking control of their destiny. Tyrion spends much of the first two seasons fighting through his obstacles, which is perhaps why he’s so popular.

Where to next?

Perhaps narrative stories can tell us where our characters will end up, at least in the short term.Daenerys continues to be manipulated and is starting to demonstrate the mad rage of her father. Jon Snow has prioritised the needs of the realm over the needs of his comrades at the wall.  These characters are likely on a downward ‘contamination spiral’.Meanwhile, Sansa is showing signs of fighting back with the help of Theon, who is crying out for someone to reconnect with his humanity (a connection arc).

These narrative stories and predictions are presented in the graphic above.

Homer Simpson in a coma for 20 years and other weird theories

in Editor Pick/Film & TV Psychology by

In a recent paper, a researcher criticised psychological studies for investigating unusual and counterintuitive findings just for the sake of it. The assumption is that rather than discussing the rational and empirically derived, people are more interested in theories that spark controversy and interest.

This tendency isn’t limited to researchers. I’ve noticed many unusual theories about well-known films and TV shows. Some of them are interesting. Others are bizarre. Here are some of those weird fan theories.

Warning, some SPOILERS ahead.

Ferris Bueller is in Cameron’s Mind


Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is about a charming, rebellious teenager who fakes sick to take the day off from school. Right? Maybe…

According to this fan theory, Cameron, Ferris Bueller’s melancholic friend, is actually dreaming up Ferris Bueller. Ferris is Cameron’s alter ego.

This theory can’t really explain why Ferris’ teacher refers to him during a classroom roll call: Bueller, Bueller, Cameron?

Credibility: 0/10

Homer Simpson’s in a coma


According to a fan theory, Homer Simpson entered a coma during an April Fool’s prank in one of the early seasons of the Simpsons but never woke up. Shortly after this episode, the Simpsons started becoming more surreal and unusual suggesting we are now experiencing Homer’s unrestrained mind during his coma.

The fact that Homer ended up in a coma from an exploding beer can in the first place suggests we don’t need the coma theory to rationalise why the series became less and less grounded in reality.

Credibility: 1/10

The Lost survivors were always in purgatory


There were lots of unusual theories to explain the popular series, Lost. One of them proposed that all the survivors of the doomed air flight actually died. Each episode featured a flash back to a character who seemed to confront and overcome an inner demon. It seemed logical that perhaps they were in some kind of purgatory/limbo where they had to deal with these demons before they could move on.

In the last season, the characters were shown in new flashbacks, which ultimately turned out to be a form of limbo that they would enter when they eventually died (for some many years later).

Were they dead the whole time? Unlikely. But clearly there’s some truth to it at some point.

Here’s a good explanation of the ending.

Credibility: 4/10

Batman’s Dead

PictureIn the Dark Knight Rises, Batman (Christian Bale) presumably sacrifices his life by flying a hydrogen bomb away from Gotham city. The ending shows Batman’s butler, Alfred, ultimately tracking him down at a cafe. Both men can both move on to a happier life.

One of the fan theories suggests that maybe Alfred is just seeing what he wants to see and that Batman really did die. This would, of course, make all the hints at his escape (e.g. a miraculously fixed auto-pilot) redundant. And even Christian Bale has denied this theory.

Credibility: 2/10

Soprano’s fade to black means…


There’s at least two popular interpretations on the famous Sopranos ending. Tony Soprano is waiting with his family at a diner, looking over his shoulder and checking the door. The series just cuts to black.

The first theory is simple. The story just ends. Tony is always going to be looking over his shoulder because he’s made a lot of enemies.

The second theory is that Tony has been shot. The abrupt cut to black is the perspective of the dead man. This theory is more likely as in an earlier episode, one of the characters talks about how getting killed would most likely be life cutting to black. You wouldn’t see it coming. The same scene was also repeated in a flashback.

There is also an excellent video that outlines the argument suggesting the writers wanted to remind us prior to Tony’s eventual death.

Credibility (First Theory): 3/10
Credibility (Second Theory): 9/10

The St Elsewhere characters are a figment of a boy’s imagination


This series, set in a fictional hospital in the 1980s, had one of the more bizarre endings. A young boy with autism, Tommy Westphall, stares into a snow globe, featuring the hospital from the series. Because the show ends with Tommy staring at the snow globe, it theorised that the whole series is a figment of Tommy’s imagination.

Credibility: 8/10

Why do we punish people?

in Media Psychology by

During the lead up to the executions of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran there was public outcry. In one camp we had the calls for mercy. The punishment did not fit the crime.In another camp was the harsh view that they should have simply known better. And, of course, there was a third camp, people who could see both sides.

Perhaps it’s too obvious but how often do we stop and wonder why we punish people?

The motivation to punish is well ingrained from a young age. Parents instinctively use two broad approaches to modify their child’s behaviour. They can reward them for good behaviour or punish them for bad.According to a long line of research, it is believed that children go on to develop stable mental guides from their parents which help them to navigate through life.

When individuals do the wrong thing they eventually learn to punish themselves through emotions such as guilt and anxiety.

When an individual succeeds, he or she learns to reward themself with feelings of happiness and satisfaction. The emotional reactions are like surrogate parental figures who are always with you.

We also learn to instinctively apply these surrogate figures to others.

In our relationships we learn to punish others who have wronged us. In workplaces we learn to develop strict protocols and disciplinary actions for underperforming employees. We reinforce the same strategies with our children.

We also punish entire civilisations. After all, what was the Berlin Wall for if not a massive slap from a parental figure?

Of course, we also learn to reward others too. We embrace people for being kind and supportive. We give employees bonuses for good performance and we also praise our children for good behaviour.

If it was that simple, however, all we would have to do is reinforce good behaviour and punish bad.

But as we all know from experience it doesn’t seem to work that way.

Rewarding children with incentives like money, for example, has been paradoxically shown to lower their motivation to continue doing the task, called the overjustification effect.

Bonuses for employees can lead to unethical behaviour to claim this desirable reward.

Even capital punishment has not put a stop to drug smuggling.

Although punishment will deter many individuals, research also shows that there’s more to it than just deterrence. We also do it because we value retribution even if there’s no actual effect on deterring future behaviour.

The problem with this simplistic ‘carrot and stick’ approach is that we often don’t have a real idea of what we are truly rewarding or deterring. We don’t always stop to understand what truly motivates people.

When we scold a child for poor behaviour, we might be reinforcing their need for attention. When employees are reprimanded for breaching rules to get the job done faster, we may unintentionally be punishing them for coming up with new ideas.

When money is provided for hard work, we may be reinforcing the idea that the almighty dollar is more important than the value of the work itself.

What will the punishment of Chan and Sukumaran provide? Will it deter future drug smuggling? Will it reinforce a society’s appetite for retribution?

If your life was a story, what kind of story would it be?

in Work Psychology by

We are all stars in our own story. The early days were misadventures. That career was a series of triumphs. In some cases the story takes sharp turns in unexpected directions. Other times we hit obstacles and tragedies.These stories are referred to as our narrative identities and they help us to make sense of our past and anticipate our possible future.

Many of the stories we use to construct our narrative identities are reinforced by our upbringing, society and culture. Cultural stories are one way we pass on wisdom. Research also shows that the narratives we adopt to describe our lives can predict how well we subsequently respond to significant life events.Do any of the following stories ring true for you?

The Redeemer

My life is about learning from all the hardships and mistakes

Redemption narratives involve overcoming significant hardships, leading to greater awareness and appreciation. They involve life lessons and challenges that helped shape the person today.

The Connector

I learned to lean on others 

Communion narratives underscore building social connections and relating more to those around them as a means of overcoming difficulties. For example, a disconnected workaholic may learn to lean on family and friends when his or her life turns upside down and realises that social connections are more meaningful than money.

The Fighter

I saw the challenges in front of me and dived straight in

Agency narratives involve the individual taking full control of their destiny through sheer force and determination. They may, for example, persevere and overcome injustice and fight their way to the top in an organisation or triumph over a major physical obstacle, like climbing a mountain.

The Unlucky

The good days are behind me

A contamination identity follows the opposite path to the first three themes. The person who has a contamination narrative starts their story in a good state but is plagued by misfortune. They may, for example, keep seeing opportunities pass them by at work, struggle with endless physical complaints. The good days are well and truly behind them.

Narrative Identity and Resilience

These four themes were examined by researchers to work out whether they helped individuals navigate through hardships. Researchers identified individuals who adopted one of these four themes and then traced the trajectory of their lives at six month intervals over two years. They were also interested in whether the narrative identities would help them better respond to a negative significant life event. So they recorded any instances where participants experienced a significant physical illness.

Those who viewed their life through a contamination lens, were less resilient when confronted by this illness. The illness was just yet another misfortune on the journey toward degradation.In contrast, the other three identities seemed to improve resilience. That is, individuals who viewed their lives through the lens of redemption, communion or agency were better able to cope with the hardships of the physical illness, both mentally and physically.

Using this information, we could possibly re-write our life stories to have a more meaningful and positive journey.

Leaders could motivate others during times of significant change and upheaval by anchoring the changes to a story that resonates. Perhaps the difficulties will form part of learning (redemption narrative) or an opportunity to lean on colleagues and build their connections (communion narrative)?

Phallic symbolism in the Star Wars The Force Awakens trailer

in Film & TV Psychology by

What would Sigmund Freud make of Star Wars?There are characters with father issues, laser swords that extend and retract, and ships that penetrate large space stations with tiny torpedoes that make the station explode…

A long time ago in a country far, far away…except if you lived in Austria…Freud was infamous for explaining the sexual and unconscious causes for most of our neuroses.

Many of these unconscious thoughts are realised through symbolism in dreams and culture. In particular, Freud saw phallic symbolism in much of our society from towers, swords, sticks etc.Regardless of whether he is right or wrong, I decided to put myself in Freud’s shoes and identified possible phallic symbols he would think is plain as day in the latest Star Wars The Force Awakens trailer.Warning, this may ruin the way you look at Star Wars forever…










Could all these things be examples of phallic symbolism? Cue the famous quote ‘sometimes a cigar is just a cigar’…

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