Tough week?

2 03 2013

Perhaps it was the full moon. Maybe it was Mercury in retrograde (I don’t actually know what that means but several people told me it was this week). Or perhaps it is all just selective attention and confirmation bias.

Whatever you believe, it seems to have been a tough week for a number of my friends and colleagues.

So when the going gets tough….how do you survive, revive and keep yourself, your team and your colleagues motivated?

1. Review what happened. Is there anything to learn from it? Learn it, discuss it and move on. Blame and guilt are pointless emotions. Learn what you can then let it go.

2. Take a long term view. This is only one incident, one week. One bad week, bad decision or one unfortunate circumstance does not define who you are or what you are worth.

3. Be kind to yourself and others. Allow them to be kind to themselves. Beating yourself up doesn’t help. Sometimes you need a little quiet time to yourself, a chat with a friend, a pleasant distraction, a little treat. The important thing is to get yourself into a psychologically better place so you can move on and not let the negativity determine what happens next. Let it go.,

4. Work out what next. Also known as “getting back in the saddle”. Focus on the future, on your next step. This is not defeat, it is a temporary (transient) set-back. Resilience and persistence are your key words.

5. Conversely, know when to walk away. If the arena in which the bad thing occurred is not important….then why let it bother you? Focus on the meaningful actions, you don’t need to be 100% in all arenas.

Final thought: if the negative incidents are becoming a pattern….maybe there is a decision you need to make. You only get one life.





Why the moon rules your life

29 06 2012

I do not believe in astrology, particularly the sort published in newspapers and popular magazines. I do not believe that constellations of burning gases billions of light years away, so far that no human can ever make the journey from earth to these constellations in one lifetime, can possibly rule my life, let alone give me a commonality with 1/12th of the population.

The moon however is a different matter. This hunk of rock is orbiting the earth close enough for its mass and gravitational field to affect the oceans and tides, and, I would argue, us.

I have previously written about the effect of the full moon on human behaviour. Personally I think the tide goes out on our collective brains – some more than others. I accept that scientists have been unable to confirm this, but attest that no scientist ever accompanied me on a full-moon Saturday night shift in the medical emergency service I used to work at. People ran screaming from the building – and that was the staff. The punters ran screaming INTO the building. All in all, a noisy and eventful experience.

My back-up hypothesis is that the additional light from the full moon means people are more likely to be out and about, or at least unsettled. This sounds more plausible, but the tide out in the brain thing is much more interesting.

And while we may not enjoy the effect the moon has on us, I have recently discovered that the moon is also not enjoying our company. Apparently it is fleeing from our orbit at the rate of 2 inches per year. Seriously. Fast enough to make a difference, slow enough for us not to notice unless we are determined to use reflectors and lasers and trigonometry. And most of us aren’t, so you and I will have to take the word of George Darwin (son of Charles) who hypothesised this and the NASA scientists who confirmed it.

Now the effect f the moon on the earth apparently has some interesting effects on the earth. It is quite well-known that the moon influences the tides. This is particularly well-known to people who read the beginning of this posting quite carefully.

But the effect of these frequent tides is to slow the earth’s rotation down. So without the moon, the earth would be spinning a lot faster and hence our “days” would be much shorter – as much as three times shorter. Imagine an 8-hour day instead of 24 hours. You’d barely get anything done when it would be night again.

This of course, would not only be inconvenient, but probably we would all have evolved differently – different sleep patterns, different adaptations. Not just us, but plants and animals as well. And given that life is thought to have originated in the oceans….well, what effect would fewer tides have had on the mixing of the primordial soup?

And then the faster the earth spins, the more winds are generated – producing waves and weather. So if the earth is spinning slower, then weaker waves and weather patterns.

In other words, a different planet entirely.

Fascinating stuff, but one more important fact: You weigh slightly less when the moon is directly overhead. No moon means it is pointless to wait until the middle of the night to weigh yourself for maximum effect.

What – you don’t do that? Just me then.

PS – enjoy the July 4th full moon!





Lunar-tics

24 03 2012

In my twenties I worked overnight for a medical locum service. We sent doctors out on the road to visit people at home overnight. Not quite medical emergencies, but at least in theory, things that couldn’t wait until morning.

Because I was studying at university at the time, and possibly because I was quite fond of a certain quality of life, I worked the weekends. Half of Thursday night (3am to 8am), all of Friday night (10pm to 8am), all of Saturday night, All of Sunday night and half of Monday night (10pm to 3am).

It wasn’t as bad as it sounds. It paid very well. (Very well.) And there is an entire community out there that works weekend nights and we got to know each other and had chats and sometimes met up for breakfast at the Hilton or the Hyatt in the morning. And it was nice driving home when rush hour was heading in the other direction. Every so often, I actually had a social life on the weekend and I would swap with the woman who worked the weekday nights.

Which is where my full moon story comes in.

It was a well known fact for we night workers in the medical industry that full moons were weird. Not in an astrology way, in a literal sense. And sometimes really bad. And the worst of all full moons was the Saturday night full moon, probably because it combined with a major drinking / partying night.

Full moon nights would be characterised by:
• Pubs – more fights and more injuries
• Police and Ambos – more call-outs for drunks and disturbances
• Hospital EDs – more bizarre cases, more injuries from fights and falls
• Nursing homes – patients restless and wandering, falling
• Prisons – more disturbances amongst the inmates

So the whole full-moon-thing is a fact, not a fiction.

Of course the reasons might be different – less the “lunatic” and more the fact that additional light means people sleep less deeply, are more likely to be out and about on the streets, etc. Either that, or the tide has gone out on their brains. Present company excepted of course.

So back to the story. I used to comment on how completely bizarre some of my Saturday full moon nights were, and the lovely woman who worked the week nights used to sympathise.

Until one day she did a swap with me and actually worked the full moon Saturday night.

And swore she would never swap with me again.

So yes, Virginia, there is a full moon syndrome. And everyone working those shifts knows about it – medicos, nurses, police, ambos, publicans, wardens. And I have to say, the bizarre stories in the media (and particularly social media, which I monitor) come thick and fast at the full moon.

So don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

The next full moon at time of writing in Australia is 6 May 2012. You have been warned.





Seeing and believing

7 08 2011


We’ve all heard the old saying “seeing is believing”, referring to wanting to see the evidence in order to believe in something. Its corollary “you have to believe it to see it” is popular in positive thinking circles and the basis of visualisation as a technique, the idea being if you can trick your brain into believing in a possibility, the brain will make it come true.

But there is a third version of this. Sometimes, you only see the things you believe in. This is confirmation bias.

A simple example of these three: The first would be a parent saying that they don’t believe their child has good marks until the report card comes home. The second would be the child needing to believe it is possible to get good marks in order to actually achieve it. The third would be the teacher marking students according to what they expect they will get – Mary always gets high marks so her essay is read more thoroughly and favourably.

Wikipedia lists a number of biases, many of which have a similar basis to confirmation bias – we only believe, hear, see, test, understand, remember, the information that confirms our own opinion or hypotheses, rather than starting with a level playing field and examining the evidence impartially and wholly.

In general, we have a high regard for our own opinions and tend to believe that our opinion has been formed using all the available evidence and logical thought. If only we were such rational beings! My mother, being a Libra, says that her opinions are balanced, she has considered all sides of the argument. If you disagree with her then you are not thinking about the problem correctly. We agree to differ on this point.

The danger is of course that these biases are generally invisible to us as we make decisions that affect ourselves, our work and others. To quote Francis Bacon (Novum Organum, 1620):

The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion (either as being the received opinion or as being agreeable to itself) draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects and despises, or else by some distinction sets aside and rejects; in order that by this great and pernicious predetermination the authority of its former conclusions may remain inviolate.. . . And such is the way of all superstitions, whether in astrology, dreams, omens, divine judgments, or the like; wherein men, having a delight in such vanities, mark the events where they are fulfilled, but where they fail, although this happened much oftener, neglect and pass them by.

So, amusingly, we use this to confirm our beliefs in astrology (my mother is a Libra, therefore she behaves in this way….ignoring examples where she behaves otherwise.) More dangerously, we also confirm our own beliefs when the stakes are higher. Do we want scientists testing medicines that they already believe will work? Of course not, we want them to look at all the evidence and identify the positives and negatives. Do we want our teachers, bosses,co-workers seeking to confirm their established opinions? No, we want to be judged on unbased evidence – and all of the evidence.