“Feelings will come and #feelings will #fade if we allow them to do so. How? Give your #attention to something else.” S Long


Now, depending upon your level of interest in Pop Idol, cricket or psychology you might have been drawn to an article published this week in various papers that English cricket has gone all-Jung-Meyers-Briggs-psychology-fied.

The article in The Times newspaper reports the following:

Carl Jung’s theories of personality types underpin a system widely used in the corporate world and adopted by the ECB to help 11 wildly different individuals to coalesce into a team.
Developed from Jung’s work in the early 1960s by Isabel Briggs Myers and her mother, Katharine Briggs, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a rough guide to a person’s personality traits and how they interact with others. The daunting task of fitting the likes of Kevin Pietersen, Stuart Broad and Ian Bell into a coherent unit and helping each player to play to the best of their ability has been smoothed by these simple tests.

To be honest I’m not a great fan of profiling. I have regularly tweeted a wonderful quote by the American artist, Andy Warhol, who said:

Labels are for tins.

The issue I have with profiling is this. Having labelled someone’s personality as dominant, introverted, intuition means what exactly? What difference is that actually going to make? Presumably, KP and Broad won’t share a room while touring ‘Down Under’ this winter to avoid disharmony and enviable fall-out, as their powerful egos clash!

Perhaps, but perhaps not either. Correlation doesn’t mean causation. In layman’s terms: Just because… Just because two giants of the game in terms of personality and talent are in the same team doesn’t mean they will need careful managing to avoid fall-out and disharmony with each other and anyone else. If you support the determinist/behaviourist theories of ‘it’s your genes’ then there’s no hope for changing your mind. But I don’t. I believe that we can change our mind. More on that later.

Further, just because there is disharmony, doesn’t mean that two of the stars of English cricket were the instigators. Disharmony can manifest itself for many complex reasons, probably with a great deal of overlap with other events. Assuming ‘Just because’ thinking will get you nowhere constructive very quickly. It will result in a great many ‘jumping to conclusions’ for which there is questionable evidence. Finally, a team focusing on the goal: winning can ultimately bring about harmony. We like to stay the same. Ask any sports team what they most like about their chosen sport and it may well be ‘Winning!’ that is their answer. A winning team wants to keep winning and disharmony has a nasty habit of culling victory. For ‘The sake of the team’ and ‘To keep winning’, people will put jeopardising egos aside. It doesn’t take a personality test to set up that point – just common sense.

The Australian Team are in disarray at the moment. There have been some very silly behaviours but that is all. Australia are suffering from something very rare in Australian sport: the team isn’t very good and, worse, Australian attitude and ‘never say die’ is AWOL. Is personality at fault here? I don’t think so.

You see, it’s not about personality at all. It’s about character. Building character in terms of determination. Applying wilful attention to bring efficacy in the brain (in other words, you can rewire your brain to think and therefore behave differently: positively. It requires the self-belief and determination that you can).

Carl Jung wrote famously about the collective unconscious. My take on this is that a team full of positive character traits will adopt a collective that unconsciously performs at the top of its game. It doesn’t have to think how to positively behave when the pressure’s on. It just behaves positively, every one of them, naturally performing to a high level whatever the circumstance, whatever the pressure.   

The England Cricket Board has used Carl Jung’s thinking, upon which the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) profiling is based, to identify personality traits and has used these traits to mould a team where the desired mix of personality styles exist. I not only believe that personality styles are ‘labels’, as Warhol stated, but also as ‘boxed in’ outcomes. ‘Boxed in’ says that I am this; I’m not that. ‘Boxing in’ limits my flexibility to meet people ‘where they are’, for I am ‘boxed in’ here at ESTJ (Extraversion, Sensing, Thinking, Judgment) and you are ‘boxed in’ there at INTJ (introversion, intuition, thinking, judgment). ‘Never the twain shall meet’ for we are on opposite sides of the grid. For me, it’s a ‘Can’t do’ view and not a ‘Can do’ view.

Simply put, labels label us. And labels, limit us. I intend to stay label-free. After all, it’s not what I do, or indeed the personality I show, that matters but who I am. Personality is no clear indicator of performance. Nor is it a conclusive indicator how well, or not, I will ‘get on’ in a team. Remember, there’s no ‘I’ in team. There’s no ‘I’ in character either. There is ‘I’ in MBTI.

At the moment there’s plenty of self-belief in the England Cricket Team and they are winning, if not necessarily ‘firing on all cylinders’. Success will return to the Australian team – when they put their mind to it. For that, they need to read the brilliant Victorian psychologist, William James’s Principles of Psychology. Nothing there about personality type. Plenty there about habit, attention and will. To the ECB (England and Wales Cricket Board) I say this: Forget MBTI profiling and attend to William James’s habit, attention and will if you want to keep winning. So, not so much ‘Will Jung’ but ‘Will(iam) James win it for England?’

What did you learn today, John?

I learnt to be helpless.

It might come as a surprise to discover that helplessness can be learnt. It was certainly an accidental discovery by the father of the branch of psychology called Positive Psychology (something that I regularly study) Martin Seligman and his associate psychologist, Steven F Maier. In an experiment involving dogs, Seligman and Maier discovered that the dogs adopted a helpless response when conditioned to expect an electric shock after hearing a noise. In an experiment where the dogs received an electric shock on one side of the box that they were kept in but not on the other side that they could reach, the dogs made no attempt to move to the other side and avoid the shock. They had, in effect, learnt that they were in a helpless situation – with no chance of changing the outcome. Incidentally, all the dogs had to do was jump over a small barrier to reach the non-electrified side. But they didn’t.

This experiment has been repeated countless times with animals and with humans. In a famous human experiment two groups of people were subjected to a loud noise that could only be turned off by working out the pattern of switches to press on the panel before them. Unbeknown to this group, they couldn’t turn the loud noise off no matter what sequence they tried whereas in the case of the second group, a simple sequence of button pressing was all that it took to silence the loud noise. In stage two of the experiment, each of the two groups were put into a new room, again with a loud noise. The group who had been unable to silence the loud noise the first time never bothered to try to silence the loud noise this time whereas the group who had silenced it the first time immediately set out to silence it this time. Simply, the first group had learnt helplessness.

There are many implications from these findings for not only does learnt helplessness lead to, literally, a giving up in the circumstance that we find ourselves in but it’s a transferable condition meaning that other situations that we face, completely unconnected to the one we just faced, is met with a learnt helplessness response. I failed last time there so I’ll fail this time here.

How does this happen?
The principal reason this occurs is because the emotional part of the brain: the limbic system receives the sensory information first, long before the cognitive part of the mind (prefrontal cortex, in particular) gets a look in. The limbic system is irrational, emotional and much more powerful than the rational, logical and weaker prefrontal cortex. The limbic system is programmed to freeze, flight or fight and is very, very quick to form irrational judgements. Helplessness is not a cognitively deduced decision for it is too heavily tainted with the weight of emotion. Given uncontrolled judgement, the limbic system will conclude the situation is helpless and the freeze, flight or fight response will be initiated. Notice, as I’ve said many times in my blog, it’s freeze, flight or fight. Learned helplessness shows no flight or fight response in my opinion. Rather, a modified freeze response. We simply don’t know what to do and freezein our response waiting our inevitable demise.

What can we do about it?
Thank goodness psychology today teaches us the efficacy of the mind. In other words, we can transform our thinking: literally, rewire our minds to think and behave differently. But how?
It requires us to learn to control the limbic system. Left to run wild, the limbic system will run us ragged with irrational, emotional responses.

There are many powerful techniques that have been scientifically proven to work. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is one such therapy that utilises the proven techniques. I have my version of psychiatrist Jeffery Schwartz’s 4-stage process that I call the 4CC’s. It involves regaining control of the limbic response so that the rational mind can make decisions and move us forward in an altogether more helpful way. It works for overcoming everything from losing our temper to overcoming obsessive compulsive disorders, commonly known as OCD.

If you’ve ever found yourself saying, why did I do that? (Or keep doing that?) Or, why did I say that?, then there will be something there to help you understand what’s going on and how you can change your response. Do contact me for a free, informal 15-minute chat using the form in this blog post.

The learnt helplessness can be changed to learnt helpfulness by a different way of thinking: not with rose-coloured glasses but, as Shawn Achor writes in The Happiness Advantage, through rose-tinted glasses. Rose-tinted glasses don’t naïvely see the world, as a bundle of joy wherever we look but see the world filtered with the rose-tint of positivity and belief. Research after research concludes that looking for solutions, maintaining a can do attitude and a determination to succeed leads to greater health, contentment and success in an abundance of ways. What’s needed is a controlling of the limbic system resulting in a rewiring of the mind. And the good news is that this doesn’t take months but can be immediate or in just few coaching/therapy sessions. Want to know more? Contact me.

Today, I biked to my favourite coffee shop in town only to find out that I’d left my wallet at home. I had no means of buying my favourite drink: a cappuccino . How might you have responded to this situation? You might be interested to know that I’m writing this blog post in said coffee shop.

What did you learn today?