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  1. Keep Calm and (Blog post)

    Imagine you’re about to deliver a big presentation, or sit an important test.  Even if you’re well prepared, the chances are you’d be feeling stressed.  The vast majority of people (over 90%) believe that the best approach in that kind of stressful situation, is to try to calm down.  Not easy! And as it turns out, not very helpful either.

    Research carried out at Harvard measured performance in 3 stressful tasks:  Singing in front of a stranger, giving a short talk (the dreaded public speaking!), and a maths test.    In all 3, the participants were split into 3 groups – one asked to say “I’m calm”, a control group asked to say nothing, and a group asked to say “I’m excited”.  Nothing more – just to say it.

    In all three tests, the ‘calm’ group performed worse than the control group, and the excited group performed the best – even though saying they were excited didn’t reduce how anxious they also felt.

  2. Stress Ball (Blog post)

    We’re all familiar with the potentially harmful effects of stress.  Experienced over long periods, the fight-flight response has been linked to many serious medical conditions.  Stress is a very generic term, used to describe anything from a traffic jam to a messy divorce.  But what every stress has in common, is that there’s a gap between what you want, and how it is.  Life’s not co-operating.

    But there’s more to stress than fight or flight – we’ve evolved some other powerful (and far more helpful) stress responses.  The first is the challenge response – the one which kicks in when there’s a gap you really care about closing.  The exam you want to pass, the presentation you want to absolutely nail, the project you want to deliver.  These are often the stresses which give life the most meaning.

  3. Goldfish

    As well as his illusions and mind tricks, Derren Brown occasionally re-creates famous psychological experiments.  This one was astounding….

    He showed the participants into a room filled with random objects, like bean bags and hula hoops.  On the wall, there was a large counter, and he told them that once the counter reached 100, they’d be allowed to leave the room.

    They started to handle the objects, all the time watching the counter – if it went up, they’d repeat what they’d just done, trying to increase the count.   As time passed, their activities became more and more bizarre, as they tried to figure out the exact actions which caused the count to increase – hoping to get to that magic 100 which allowed them to leave the room.

    But what they didn’t know, is that behind the scenes there was a fish tank, with a vertical line painted half way along one side.  Each time a fish swam past the line, the counter went up.  Completely random -  it had nothing at all to do with the participants' actions, yet they continued in their efforts to find the cause and effect. 

    And not one of them tried the door – it wasn’t locked.  They could have left at any time they chose.  The need they felt to understand a pattern, to control the counter, was powerful - and kept them stuck.    

  4. Money (for Blog post)

    A million pounds?!! You’d jump at it, wouldn’t you?  That’s what I offered a company I was working for a few years ago.  I put forward my plans, showing how we could save all that money from one of our processes – and even better, it didn’t require spending anything.  Low risk, high gain.  I thought they’d absolutely jump at it.

    But they didn’t….

    I was gobsmacked, deflated and demoralised, so much that I seriously considered handing in my notice.  I’d presented a compelling, logical case.  And it bombed.  It was the first time I’d experienced a well-thought, logical proposal having no impact whatsoever.  And like most learnings, though it was painful at the time, it’s been invaluable since.