The Invasion of the Digital Babysitter

The Invasion of the Digital Babysitter

It Was a Dark and Stormy Digital Babysitter Night

Two rainy nights ago, I was treated to an interesting “incident” at a fancy restaurant in town. Even on a rainy Friday night diners entered the restaurant in droves. Inside the restaurant, I was seated adjacent to a family of four and a digital babysitter. Not one, but two digital babysitters.


A bespectacled man in his mid-thirties sat next to a boy of 10. Seated opposite the boy was her sister. Next to her, sat their mother, stoically dissecting a dead animal on her plate. 


For a packed restaurant on a rainy Friday night, this table is extremely quiet. Man in glasses had no expression on his face as he stared at the screen of his mobile phone. The kids had their eyes trained on their digital babysitter Ipads. Both Ipads were tuned to the same cartoon clip on a Youtube channel.


The kids’ eyes gazed intensely at the screens while mechanically shoved food into their mouths. This went on for the entire evening. The only sounds coming from this table was the abrupt laughter of the boy. Not unlike a mental patient on a psychotic break, the boy became hysterical each time the character on screen jab at his nemesis with a sharp object.


The Rise of the Digital Babysitter.

I observed that 80% of the children in the room has a tablet. Meanwhile, the grown-ups go about their food and social chatter. This may seem trivial to most onlookers but for social scientists, this is a field day.


According to a 2011 survey by marketing research firm Nielsen, 55% of parents use tablets to keep children quiet while they are driving. 41% of parents admit that they let their kids play with tablet PCs at restaurants.


A child’s continual exposure to the digital screen may result in health, mobility and psychological issues. Prolonged screen exposure may lead to poor social skills, depression and the inability to empathize later in life.


Psychologist Dr. Aric Sigman states that children in the UK will have accumulated an entire year’s worth of screen time by age 7.


He suggests that prolonged screen time will affect the production of dopamine, the brain chemical responsible for reward-driven learning. This can lead to reductions in attention span and the ability to pay attention.




Professor Lynne Murray, a developmental psychopathology expert, advocates zero screen time for children under the age of three. Although digital contents may be attention grabbing they are not appropriate for a child’s cognitive processes.



Is there a Question in Our Digital Babysitter Future?

English film critic and television presenter, Claudia Winkleman (ironically, she does not own a TV) criticized parents who spend their time on the internet or watching TV instead of talking with their children.


She warned that this obsession with technology is detrimental to their children:

“The children of the future will be in therapy going, ‘I never talked to my mum and dad as they were always online’ ”.


If this digital nanny trend continues, my work as a therapist will soon involve a new generation of clients with “digital gadget-related” issues. The UK Daily Mail had already cited Nomophobia as the biggest phobia in the world right now. Check out what this irrational fear is all about on The Phobia List


In a time where digital device is a norm and privacy a thing of the past, do ponder upon the impacts of the digital media on the next generation. Just imagine a toddler navigating an Ipad deftly with her fingers while her parents enjoys dinner with a sigh of relief.


Thank God for technology. Or not?

The 0.1 Second that Determines Your First Impression and Likeability

The 0.1 Second that Determines Your First Impression and Likeability

It only takes 0.1 seconds to create a first impression.


That’s right. 0.1 seconds


That means making the first impression is almost instantaneous.


Communication is both verbal and non-verbal. Oftentimes non-verbal communication (body language, speech pattern, facial gestures and physical appearance) hits the subconscious mind faster in a subtle, unintentional and unconscious mannerAccording to Princeton psychologists Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov, people respond to faces faster than the formation of rational thought.



There’s No Second Chance at Making a Great First Impression

In my previous post I briefly mentioned that our brains run on auto pilot when it pertains to making judgments. This is more apparent when we meet someone for the first time. In fact, your first impression leaves a deep imprint on the people you met for the first time. On subsequent meetings, it is often used as a yardstick for all future communications.


Hence, the (lasting) first impression you want to portray will have to be intentional and on purpose. You need to put your act together real fast. Judgments based on facial appearance play a powerful role in how we treat others, and how we get treated.


Intentionally create the desired effects of unintentional signals entering the subconscious minds of the people you are about to meet. The way you project your body language and physical appearance determine how you will be perceived by every person who meets you.  


There’s no second chance when it comes to making a great first impression.    



Make Every First Impression Count 

“We judge books by their covers, and we can’t help but do it. As soon as one sees another person, an impression is formed. This happens so quickly — just a small fraction of a second — that what we see can sometimes dominate what we know” said Nicholas Rule (Ph.D.) of the University of Toronto.


Since you can’t avoid being perceived, the next best thing is to be perceived in a positive manner. Here are some steps you can take to help you get hired for a job, have a successful first date and make lots of friends at social settings:


1  Pay extra detail to your appearance
How you look should not matter as much as your personality. Unfortunately appearance matters. Especially when it comes to making a first impression.

Thus, to be appropriately dressed according to the occasion is important. If you have doubts about dress codes, remember that being overdressed is better than being underdressed.

Check for clothing stains, chipped nails, excessively oily hair and any form of ‘unkemptness’. When you take pride in your appearance, it gives the impression that you value yourself and have confidence.


2  Pay attention to your non-verbal communication
Your body language communicates volumes about you without you being aware of it. Harvard Business School Social psychologist Amy Cuddy’s research on body language reveals that by you changing your body positions, you can change how others perceive you.

According to Amy, who had studied first impressions for more than 15 years, first impressions are formed based on two key criteria – warmth and competence.

To establish that you are a warm and trustworthy person – have an open and approachable posture, establish pleasant eye contact and exude a genuine smile. And refrain from bone-crushing handshakes.


3  Be mindful of your thoughts
Be aware of the first impression you want to create. Your thought must be aligned with your actions and intentions. When you are congruent, your internal feelings and thoughts are in harmony with your actual experience of the world around you.

If you have critical and judgmental thoughts, your goal of being perceived as warm and approachable will fail because you are incongruent and conflicted.


4  Focus on others
Pay more attention to the person you are communicating with and place less focus on yourself. Ask genuine questions and be sincere about being interested in them. He or she will sense your sincerity and genuine interest in them.



Why First Impressions Matter

Impressions other people make of us are based on mental representations. These are mental imagery which may involve hearing, sight, taste or smell. Within a fraction of a second of an initial meeting, their brain starts to search for hints (physical appearance, speech pattern, non-verbal cues) to form an impression.


First impressions are crucial because they tend to be long lasting and indelible. You will not get a second chance to create the first impression.


First impressions are created in 0.1 seconds. That’s LESS than a split second.


Make it count.

What a Farm Horse Taught Me about Being Mindful

What a Farm Horse Taught Me about Being Mindful

I have discovered that having lingering thoughts during martial arts practices is a big no-no. Because my thoughts are cut short when my face meets my opponent’s fist. That was my first lesson in mindfulness. Being mindful means I have the opportunity to parry and counterattack.


Not being mindful means I get more cuts and bruises.


We seek to quiet the mind and live in the present moment. Technology is wearing us out and we are getting too distracted. And then the Eastern Philosophy of being mindful comes along. Mindfulness has become a buzzword. A search on for books on mindfulness will get you 8000 titles.



Being Mindful

Being Mindful, as defined by Psychology Today, is “a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, being mindful means living in the moment and awakening to experience”.


If you are new to the concept of being mindful, it could come across as something mind boggling. Therefore, let’s begin with the tale of the farmer and his horse:


The Farmer and His Horse

A long long time ago there lived a farmer with his wife and son. On his farm he has a horse and one day it ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came by and said to him, “Without your horse and your farm will suffer. How unlucky!”


Maybe,” the farmer replied.


The next morning, the horse returned with three wild horses. “Now you are three horses richer. How wonderful!” the neighbors uttered.


Maybe,” the farmer replied.


The farmer’s son was excited to see three new horses. He tried to ride one of them, got thrown off and broke his leg. The farmer’s neighbors came by again and offered their sympathy. “With your son’s injury, you will have more work than you can handle. How unfortunate!” they said.


Maybe,” the farmer replied.


The following day, conscription officials came to seize young men for the army. The farmer’s son was exempted due to a broken leg. The neighbors congratulated the farmer for the pleasant turn of events. “Most young men never return alive from the war. How fortunate!” they said.


Maybe,” the farmer replied.



Cultivate the Habit of Being Mindful

This ageless Zen parable illustrates how one can cultivate the habit of being mindful. One surefire way is by observing life and events without attaching negative or positive judgments to them. Being mindful is about developing non-judgmental awareness where you can find beauty in the present moment.


Non-judgmental awareness is the first step to living blissfully. Be aware that our brains is on auto pilot when it comes to judging a person or situation. Thus it takes a conscious effort over a period of time to recondition the mind to suspend judgment.


Being judgmental, especially in a negative way, affects us personally. The act of judging anything negatively may result in negative focus leading to negative action with negative consequences.Take a positive step today by practicing non-judgment. Begin your day with a prayer from A Course in Miracles that states, “Today I shall judge nothing that occurs.”


Use this statement to remind yourself throughout the day each time you are making judgment. When you begin this exercise, you may want to start with one hour of “non-judgment time” and increase the time gradually as you progress.


May you find freedom and contentment in your daily practice of being mindful.

Sliding Doors – When Life’s Insignificant Choices Lead to Significant Outcomes

Sliding Doors – When Life’s Insignificant Choices Lead to Significant Outcomes

Have you ever thought about the choices you made as you go about your daily routine?


Especially the seemingly insignificant ones?


A minor seemingly insignificant decision in your life may create a major significant impact in your life. Think about that.


Small choices and decisions that may seem insignificant today may – over days, weeks, months and years – be life transforming and alter the course of your life.


The Sliding Doors Phenomenon

I like to bring to your attention what is known as the Sliding Doors Phenomenon, which theorized that life is based on a series of choices and chance occurrences.


Sliding Doors was a 1998 British-American comedy drama in which illustrates the lead character’s two life trajectory. In the first, Helen (Gwyneth Paltrow) managed to catch a train home on time and found her boyfriend cheating on her.


In the second, she missed the train and by the time she got home, her boyfriend’s lover had already left. She did not have any clues about his infidelity.


The sliding doors of the train served as a metaphor for lost opportunities and new possibilities. Tiny seemingly insignificant events created two very different alternative lives that Helen would lead.


Small Decisions May Have a Big Impact

Think of the tiny decisions and chance encounters in your daily life. Many decisions that you brushed off as insignificant had sent you to a different orbit without you ever knowing it.


I have inadvertently declined invitations that I later realized was a missed business opportunity. On the flip side, I have also attended social functions that sparked new business relationships. Every decision is a sliding door moment.


So, the sliding doors phenomenon happens all the time, and most of the time we are oblivious to it. Like the old adage, “one door closes, another door opens”, the sliding doors phenomenon forgoes one outcome in favor of another all because of a seemingly inconsequential decision.



Be Aware of the Decisions You Make Today

Since the sliding doors phenomenon creates significant outcomes, it is prudent to be aware of the decisions you make daily. Decisions help shift your current reality.


So, if you are not happy with where you are right now, make the decisions that will change your life trajectory for the better. But before you do that, it is important to know where you are right now and know where you intend to go.


That way, you will be sure that those sliding doors are doorways to your happiness.

Color Your Blues Away with Adult Coloring Books

Color Your Blues Away with Adult Coloring Books

I recently traded my television set for a set of color pencils and adult coloring books. All in the desperate hope to color my blues away . . .


Adult coloring books have been flooding bookstores of late and 9 of the top 20 bestsellers on are adult coloring books. Two of the biggest bestsellers,Secret Garden and Enchanted Forest have sold a combined 13.5 million copies in 50 countries.


Words like “stress-relieving”, “calming” and “art therapy” on the cover of these books caught my attention.


My inclination to experiment with new therapeutic methods prompted me to get a copy of a coloring book. I colored for an hour to get a notion of what neurological response I will get from these coloring books. After which, I began to ponder what mental health experts think about these books.


What the Experts Say About Adult Coloring Books

1. Art Therapists
According to Cathy Malchiodi, the act of creating art enhances the quality of life, reduces stress, improves cognitive abilities and increases attention span.


However, as a leading expert in art therapy, Cathy does not condone adult coloring books as a form of therapy. She argued that, “people are adamant that coloring books are a path to mindfulness, meditation and some kind of psychological nirvana. I find that many of the loudest proponents are actually those that create the coloring books.”


According to her “the motion of crayon or pencil moving back and forth within pre-made boundaries is perceived as a form of containment, mastery and mind-numbing escape from the here-and-now.”


Donna Betts, the President of the Board of the American Art Therapy Association and a proponent of “art making as a form of therapy” affirms that she would not consider using adult coloring books in her therapy sessions.


Drena Fagen, an art therapist from New York University’s Steinhardt School, had tried using these books in her therapy sessions. She made a clear distinction:

“I don’t consider the coloring books as art therapy. I consider the coloring books therapeutic, which is not the same thing.”


2. Neuroscientists
Dr. Stan Rodski, a neuroscientist in brain research and peak performance has his own line of “anti-stress” coloring books. He claimed that while coloring, the brain “focuses on the moment” and the mind shift away from distracting thoughts.


Jordan Gaines Lewis, science writer and Ph.D. student at Penn State College of Medicine, theorized that coloring gives a “refreshing sense of control”. After a hectic day, it allows us to make small “inconsequential decisions”.


Dr. Joel Pearson, an Australian brain scientist, posits that the act of coloring takes focus away from anxiety-related mental images. According to him, the experience of coloring is like playing Tetris, which has proven to help people suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).



3. Psychologists
Ben Michaelis, a clinical psychologist and the author of Your Next Big Thing: Ten Small Steps to Get Moving and Get Happy, gives us with a Jungian view on coloring:

“Carl Jung used to try to get his patients to color mandalas as a way of getting them to focus on letting go of the subconscious mind. Now we know it has a lot of other stress busting qualities as well.”


Psychologist Gloria Martinez Ayala explained that while focusing on the act of coloring, the stress-controlling part of our brain takes a well needed rest.


Shannon Bennett, New York’s Weill Cornell Medical College assistant professor of psychology doesn’t resonate with adult coloring books. She states that “it’s not something that would be a go-to for me”.


4. Hypnotherapists
From the point of view of a hypnotherapist, I endorse Carl Jung’s suggestion of coloring mandalas. However, I will not consider an adult coloring book as an alternative form of therapy. 


The act of coloring a complicated pattern engages the brain in a repetitive and mundane act and have the Ericksonian effects of putting the mind in a trance-like state. While coloring, you “lose yourself” in the art itself and your mind suspends all judgment and unwanted thoughts. Thus, the hypnotic-like effect spurred by the act of coloring may put the mind in a relaxed state.



Adult coloring books may aid in the relieve of stress but it should not be considered as a form of therapy. Paraphrasing the words of Marygrace Berberian, a certified art therapist and Clinical Assistant Professor for the Graduate Art Therapy Program at NYU:


“Coloring itself cannot be called [art] therapy because [art] therapy relies on the relationship between the client and the therapist”.

The Problem with New Year Resolutions

The Problem with New Year Resolutions

What is the link between new year resolutions and epitaphs?


Are epitaphs commemorative inscriptions to reflect the life, legacy or the personality of the faithful departed or a message left by the living to their dead?


The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines an epitaph as:

“something written or said in memory of a dead person; especially : words written on a gravestone”


In most cultures, death and epitaphs are a taboo subject, so I better get to the point fast . . .


Making New Year Resolutions (that work)

2015 is coming to an end and a new year beckons. It is usually a time when resolutions are made (before most are broken).


Most resolutions don’t stick because it clashes with your values and internal view of self. Trying to make positive affirmations about yourself that you don’t really believe in would not really work but in the long run may do harm to your self-esteem and can be highly demoralizing.


One effective way to make resolutions effective is to build it around a personal mission statement. A task that may take days or even weeks to complete, depending on how resolute you are to come up with one.


Look at a personal mission statement as a long term goal. A 5-year goal. 10-year goal. Or maybe even a 20-year goal. A personal mission statement is the glue that keeps these plans going long after you have set, tried or even forgotten your New Year resolutions.


Unlike New Year resolutions that works beautifully for two weeks before they are gone and forgotten, a personal mission statement encompasses your core values and highest goals.


Resolutions Begin with the End in Mind

So how do you begin creating a personal mission statement?


In Dr. Stephen R. Covey’s classic text on living a fulfilled life – The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – placed the second of the seven habits as “Begin with the End in Mind”.


Habit 2 is about creating a reality which begins in your mind because all things are created twice. One in your mind (mental) and the end product or result (physical). Any neglect on your part to consciously visualize what you want in life and who you truly embody as a person will result in a “life by default” situation where outside circumstances and other people shape you and your life.


Habit 2 begins with a personal mission statement and Dr. Covey suggests that you visualize attending a funeral – YOURS – and observe what your family, friends, colleagues, other attendees say of you.


This brings us back to the epitaphs. Because in formulating your personal mission statement, you need to begin with the end in mind.


Yes. That End. The very End. Of your life.


I guess this is no different from the working-backward approach. By beginning at the end, you gain a better understanding of where you are now and the steps you need to take to get you to the direction you are heading.


Your Personal Mission Statement

A personal mission statement is defined by your values and your own uniqueness based on personal, moral, and ethical guidelines in your life.


In our everyday existence, most people are too engrossed in the busy-ness of life which includes pursuing larger paychecks, attaining higher societal status and acquiring more material possessions.


This immersion with the ‘chase’ keeps us too busy to notice what really matters in our lives. A personal mission statement will keep your life in check and align you with what really matters to you in your life.


Take the first step this New Year to build a fulfilling life of liberty and happiness. Instead of writing a New Year resolution like you usually do, begin by crafting your personal mission statement.


An ideal way to start is to go to the Personal Mission Builder which provides a step-by-step guide to build your personal mission statement.


All the best to you. Here wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New 2016.

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