The Many Faces of Success and Legacy

So the Olympics are over.  What an incredible spectacle of excellence, achievement and success.  The most obvious examples are the medal winning athletes who have been rewarded for their many years of relentless hard work and sacrifice.  Standing alongside  them are their families, coaches and team-mates.  The medals are their success as well.


Perhaps less obvious but just as impressive is the spectacular feat of organisation these Olympics have been.  In a city that is full to bursting at the best of times, it’s incredible that people got where they needed to go when they needed to get there.  I’ve never seen volunteering look so cool and the ceremonies were breathtaking.  It’s been a particular pleasure to watch amazing sportswomen emphatically show that women’s sport is every bit as exciting and watchable as anything men can do.  They are wonderful role models for our daughters.


And for a few days, the British media almost gave up reporting bad news! 


For every success, there are those who have been disappointed, inconvenienced or not selected – those who did the work and made the sacrifices but did not get what they wanted.  Does this make them failures and rejects or was luck just not on their side this time?  As they pick themselves up, move on and keep trying, is that also not success?  Success often has a trail of disappointment and failure on the way.  It is rarely instantaneous or automatic, a journey more than an event. Even Usain Bolt has to learn, train and keep developing if he is to continue beating the competition


Time will tell on the legacy of these Games.  There are many faces to this too.  In the excitement of Team GB success, the talk is of more opportunities for young people to try sports, for talent to be identified and nurtured, to have more experience of competitive sport, for better sports facilities.  How wonderful if we could keep winning medals like we have in these Games. 


I hope this isn’t the only measure of legacy though.  This isn’t a time to go back to the days  where PE teachers only learn the names of the kids who were good at sport.  Let’s not leave behind those young people who experience sport as a form of torture and humiliation.  They might not be potential champions but we can provide opportunities to challenge their thinking about sport, to develop a different relationship with it, to find it enjoyable, to find something they can do, to find different ways of connecting with others through sport.  They can then take that learning into other areas of their lives. 


Success and legacy in this way are more difficult, do not involve shiny medals and probably won’t make it onto Twitter but are just as valuable.


Roll on Rio!!


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What is a Psychologist?

or.. “You don’t have to be mad to see a psychologist….” 


I’ve been a professional psychologist for over 20 years and I’m often asked the same questions when I tell people what my job is.  So if these are questions you have as well, here are some answers.


  1. What’s the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist?

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who study mental health conditions as a specialism after their undergraduate medical degree.  They work from the medical model which means they diagnose and treat mental illness, including prescribing medicines.  Some psychiatrists use “talking therapies” as well.  Psychiatrists work mainly in hospitals and clinics.


Psychologists have an undergraduate degree in psychology.  This means they’ve spent at least three years studying science based theory and research into how people develop, think, feel,  behave and relate to others.  They then go onto post-graduate study where they develop skills in applying this knowledge in different settings.  There are Clinical Psychologists, Counselling Psychologists, Educational Psychologists, Occupational Psychologists, Sports Psychologists and Forensic Psychologists. This means psychologists are found working in many different areas doing a wide range of activities. Many psychologists are involved in research and teaching.  Some Clinical Psychologists get involved in diagnosing and treating mental health problems but the majority of psychologists don’t do this at all.


In the UK, the “gold standard” for professional psychologists is Chartered status with the British Psychological Society (BPS) or Registration with the Health Professions Council (HPC).  Coaching Psychologists are comparatively new on the scene.  There is no formal route to Chartered status for Coaching Psychologists but there are Chartered Psychologists who do coaching.


  1. Can you tell what I’m thinking?

If only!

It’s sometimes tempting to say yes to this one just for fun but the answer is no.  Psychologists have a lot of skills but mind-reading isn’t one of them!


  1. Are you analysing me?

This question gets asked because when it comes to psychologists a lot of people think about Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung.  These are associated with images of psychoanalysis with people lying on dusty couches and discussing their childhood in minute detail.  There have also been many movies and TV shows, usually American, where a character is in some kind of therapy.


Psychoanalysis is a long-term psychotherapy which can be very helpful for the right people in the right circumstances.   Psychoanalysis is something done by psychodynamically trained psychotherapists.  This includes a small minority of  psychologists.  Some psychologists may use some of the thinking behind this in their work.


Most psychologists work very much in the here and now with no couches in sight.  They work collaboratively, combining their expertise with their clients rather than doing things to them.  A psychologist will always be happy to discuss how they are working.



4. What do you actually do?

I can understand why people ask this because a lot of what psychologists do happens behind closed doors.  It is mostly directed at me personally rather than psychologists generally.


As a Coaching Psychologist, I make the science based knowledge of psychology accessible to clients so they can use it to make changes in themselves and others.  This includes knowledge on thinking, emotions, motivation, development, personality, relationships and organisations.  I use all my years of experience as a Clinical Psychologist who has always been intrigued by how people experience their working lives.


  • I work through conversations in the context of a professionally managed relationship and contract.  I work with individuals, groups, teams and organisations.  My work aims to help people perform, flourish and succeed in their working lives.  I have a particular interest in working with very clever people who get on very well with their work but find the people side of work something of a mystery.  With the right leadership and support, these very valuable people can reach their full potential.


It’s impossible to summarise what all psychologists do in a couple of paragraphs.  If you want to know more, the BPS website has a lot of useful information:


  1. Why should I work with a Coaching Psychologist?

People ask me this one because they are trying to work out the differences between Coaching Psychologists and other coaches.  One of the great things about coaching is that people come into it from a wide variety of backgrounds, not just psychology.  This gives potential clients a lot of choice and a lot to think about in choosing their coach.  One size doesn’t fit all.


Some reasons for working with a Coaching Psychologist are:


  • Psychologists are people experts.  They work from solid, in-depth and scientifically based understanding of what makes people tick.
  • Psychologists are “scientist-practitioners”.  Their work is based on the best research and evidence available so the work they do is effective.
  • Professional psychology training includes critical understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of psychometric measures.
  • An HPC registered or Chartered Psychologist (in the UK) will have had the highest level of learning, training , experience, research and supervised practice.
  • Psychologists work within ethical codes of conduct. In the UK these are defined by the BPS and HPC.
  • You are the expert on your situation.  A psychologist will combine their expertise with yours to get to core issues quickly and find practical ways to make any changes.
  • Psychologists are a major force for promotion of wellbeing and performance for individuals, organisations and society as a whole.


If you have any other questions about psychologists that I’ve missed, do get in touch and I’ll will try to answer them:




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“You’re most creative when you’re at your groggiest.”

Most people have some understanding of the time of day when they perform their best.  I think of myself as a “morning person”.  Many others believe they think most clearly late at night and into the early hours.

Some surprising new research turns this idea on its head – it suggests people are at their creative peak when they are sleepy.  The reason is that insight-based problem solving which requires a broad, unfocused approach works best when your thoughts are meandering and inhibitory brain processes are at their weakest.

In this study by Marieke Wieth and Rose Zacks, over 400 undergraduates were asked to identify the times of day when they considered they performed well. Just under 200 had a clear preference for late at night, about 20 preferred mornings, the rest were neutral.  They were asked to solve problems requiring creativity (e.g. how a prisoner could escape) and those needing a narrow focus (e.g. a maths problem).  The students were tested at different times of day.

The researchers found more success in solving creative problems at the least optimal time of functioning.  Narrow problems were solved just as successfully at any time of day.  They established that the creative advantage specifically came from working at the least optimal time of day.

Does this fit with your experience?  If you have complex problems to solve that require creativity, what’s different about what comes to mind in “down” time, perhaps at the weekends, on holiday, when you’re driving the car or when you’ve just woken up?  How does this compare to how you think in the time you have put aside to concentrate fully on the problem?

Pay attention to what is happening.  When do you have your most creative ideas? Where it’s possible, can you manage your time, in relation to your body’s rhythm, to give your creativity the best chance to do its thing?  What difference does it make when you do this?

If it works for you, consider sharing your experiences with others.

I would like to hear about it too:


BPS research digest.

Weith, M.B. and Zacks, R.T. (2012) Time of day effects on problem solving: when the non-optimal is optimal. Thinking and Reasoning Vol.17 (4) 387-401

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