Monday, 31 December 2012

Ends and beginnings.

It's all down to the rotation of the earth. As we take stock of today being the final one of 2012, it's interesting to reflect on which part of the world will see the dawn of 2013 when.

Christmas Island and Samoa get there first, when it will still only be 5am on New Year's Eve in New York and 10am in London. The last? The Midway Islands - their New Year's Day doesn't begin until a full five hours after New York's bells have chimed (and ten hours after Big Ben has marked midnight in London).

It's complicated, but we'll all get there in the end.

Some will be at parties tonight, perhaps celebrating with friends. Others will be at home alone: perhaps wishing they weren't or, maybe, secretly relieved that they can do exactly as they please, in the knowledge that there may be the opportunity for a lie-in tomorrow morning.

However, the idea of seven billion people moving from one year to another is a good reminder of the fact that you and I are unquestionably part of something bigger, and it can be good to remind ourselves of this from time to time.

I know, all too well, that when you go through a rough patch it can feel as if you're on your own. It may seem a lonely life.

On better days, you'll maybe recognise that this is rarely the real case for anyone. But this won't stop you feeling isolated.

So although I really hope it isn't the case, if you do happen to be heading towards January 1st with a heavy heart, please remember that among the seven billion are certain to be some who care for you, and for whom you care. There are some who can help you, and others who may need your help. And there are those who love you, and you love back.

It's good to be part of something bigger, and they don't get much larger than 7,000,000,000.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Help get the word out?

How can we enable even more people to benefit from Moodscope? I think I know a way, and I believe you may be able to help.

During the past week I've been looking back to see what happened to people who started using Moodscope in January 2012. Their numbers suggest they really did rather well, ending the month with mood scores that were substantially higher than they were shortly after the new year began. If this could happen twelve months ago, it's likely that it could do so again in January 2013.

Most people instinctively recognise that January can be a tough month. Not surprisingly it accounts for some of the year's lowest mood scores. I think Moodscope can help, so we've produced a brief news release which we're keen to get into the hands of reporters, bloggers and broadcasters who may be happy to pass the story on to their readers, listeners and viewers. Suggesting that there's a way to beat the new year blues should be a story that people will really want to hear at this time of year.

Although we have a small list of media people to whom we'll send the news release, maybe you know someone we don't?

You'll be doing us a big favour if you'd think for just a minute about anyone you know who might appreciate hearing about Moodscope in order that they can in turn tell others about it. There's a PDF of the news release here:

Please either pass on the link itself, or feel free to download the document then email it as an attachment.

One of our big goals for Moodscope in 2013 is to substantially increase the number of people we're reaching, so thank you in advance for your help in achieving this. (Even if you don't think you have anyone to whom you can forward it, please take a look at the document - I'm sure you'll find it makes for interesting reading.)

Saturday, 29 December 2012


Infuriating isn't it? Let's say you're feeling decidedly below par. Hopefully it's not the case right now but it does - you know - happen to the best of us now and then.

So you're going through a rough time, and you know quite incontrovertibly that if you could only just take a positive approach to things, you might be able to edge yourself back on track. You know this. But you know this in theory. The chances of actually being able to think anything other than negatively at a time like this are, frankly, remote. On a par with winning the lottery.

So what the heck do you do?

Well let's imagine a scale which has Very Negative on the left and Very Positive on the right, and let's add a Fairly Negative and Slightly Negative to the right of Very Negative, and a Slightly Positive and Fairly Positive to the left of Very Positive.

Then I think we're entitled to add one more position on the scale: there's no reason at all why we shouldn't place this slap bang in the middle - right there between the Slightly Negative and the Slightly Positive, and we might choose to label this with Neutral.

So where has this piece of mental origami taken us? I reckon it suggests that when taking a positive approach is out of the question, it may be more realistic to see if we can actually adopt a neutral way of viewing things.

An example? Certainly. Let's imagine you've been invited to a party when you're feeling pretty gloomy. The (most likely) negative viewpoint is to believe you'll have an awful time if you accept, while the (unlikely) positive is to predict that you'll really enjoy it. To some extent these are both extreme views, though, and the truth is that you can't actually know how much or not of a good time you'll have.

You might still not really want to go to the party, but at least you'll keep an open mind if you do.

Next time you're faced with a situation that seems to depend on you either taking the positive road or the negative one, why not add a third direction?

The neutral approach may just be a more realistic one.

Friday, 28 December 2012

The bouncing back thing.

I have to confess that I wheedled my way into becoming an advertising creative by the back door. Although I'd some experience as a graphic designer, being able to rustle up a logo or letterhead doesn't really cut the mustard when it comes to copywriting or art direction in an agency.

There's always ways though, and I realised that my experience with type might qualify me for a job as a typographer: the guy (or girl) who turns a creative team's scribbles and typed-up copy into a detailed layout which an art studio will turn into the camera-ready artwork that gets supplied to a newspaper, magazine or poster printer.

Although being a typographer was reasonably satisfying, it wasn't what I really wanted long-term. No, my ambition was loftier. I wanted to be the one with the Magic Marker and the blank layout pad, the one who dreamt up the ideas themselves.

So while I worked my typographer's role by day, I was constantly ear-wigging and watching the 'proper' creatives. As I determined that a headline should be set in 48pt Goudy Old Style, I'd really be listening to the team in the next office to work out how they worked.

And that was how I learned, and it's how most of us do of course. We watch others, emulating where desirable, perhaps choosing not to where not.

The top-dog Executive Creative Director, John, was a copywriter. Not for him the felt-tipped pens - he favoured the electric typewriter. (Although we're not quite talking Mad Men era here, my beginnings in the ad business were definitely pre-PC.)

One little tip I picked up from him was the power of alliteration. As long as it's not overdone, a pair of words whose beginnings share similar syllables nearly always add a little extra interest to a piece of copy.

Now, although this is a slightly convoluted tale, it came to mind as I thought about resilience: the way we hopefully recover from adverse events or gloomy thinking. The Alliterator sometimes strikes when we think about this, with the result that it can get talked about as 'bouncing back'. The thing is, however, recovery is rarely as instant or elastic as this. Having looked at many many examples of how people return to something approaching normal after a bout of low mood, it's clear to me that it takes time. It's a little-by-little process rather than a 'boinnggg' type of thing.

Perhaps resilience is less about expecting summer to follow on immediately after winter, and more about recognising that just as the seasons change slowly but surely, so too can your mood.

Maybe rather than bouncing back, we should practice patience?

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Backwards and forwards

It's a sure-fire bet that, at this time of year, most newspapers and magazines take a retrospective look back at the year that's passed.

So as you cross the last few days of 2012 off your own calendar, what do you see through the rear-view mirror?

Perhaps like many of us, these past twelve months will have been a mixed bag, with some good times and others that were less so. I think we tend to reflect back on times by looking through a filter which is tinted according to how we currently feel.

If you're going through a rough patch at the moment (and of course I hope you aren't, but sympathise if you are) you may feel that many of these last 365 days were overcast ones. If things are currently better for you (praise the Lord) maybe you'll view 2012 as really not that bad.

However, while we can perhaps learn from the way things went this year, what's done is done. Without a time machine we can't go back and tweak events. They happened and, well, that's it.

You and I can choose the way we view them, though, even if it's simply to say 'thank goodness that one's over'. More constructively, we may choose to be grateful for whatever good times came our way, and look for the possible meaning behind periods which we'd rather forget.

Of course things will be different in the media in a week or so. Once 2013 begins, it'll all be about looking ahead, with forecasts, speculation and what to expect.

So maybe rather than spending too much time in review, the time of year presents a good excuse to find a few things to look forward to. Perhaps it will be someone's birthday? The arrival of Spring or Autumn? Or a new book from a favourite author?

Having something to look forward to is good, even if it's only being able to move on from turkey sandwiches.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Christmas plus one.

In the USA and other countries, the day after Christmas Day is not a holiday but a normal one. Or as normal as a day might be that follows one which probably involved a prodigious degree of eating and drinking.

Here in the UK the 25th segues into the 26th, which of course we know and love as Boxing Day: not for any pugilistic connections (although there will undoubtedly be those who've almost reached the point of coming to blows with other dearly beloved family members) but because of its rather woolly historical origins.

Some say its name comes from money traditionally given to tradesmen by their customers at this time of year. In the UK these gifts are still sometimes referred to as Christmas 'boxes'. Others suggest it has a much older meaning. Immediately after Christmas the wealthy would permit their servants to visit their own families (presumably once they'd performed their figgy pudding serving duties for their masters on the 25th). Servants would be given a box of goodies by their bosses, to share with those at home, hence 'Boxing Day'.

Perhaps I may make another suggestion however? Maybe today's a good one to think about packing some of your more groundless negative thoughts away in a mental box, consigned to a dusty corner of the attic?

I'm not suggesting for a minute that it makes sense to somehow try and ignore big issues that might be eating away at you at the moment, just that it could be possible that you're also on edge about things that might not really be that important in the scale of things.

Visualise them going into a cardboard box: by all means pack them away with referential care if you like. Then use one of those brown-tape dispensers to seal the lid. Finally pop the box away in a dark place.

If you really need them they'll still be there somewhere; but if you don't, imagine how much better it will feel to have a slightly less uncluttered mind, even more so once the eating and drinking haze has cleared.

Box clever today.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Happy Christmas.

If it's Christmas Day where you are, and you're reading this on the 25th itself, allow me to wish you a happy Christmas. Now, if you unfortunately happen to be stuck in the doldrums at the moment, I know this could seem a contradiction in terms. Should this be the case, it's understandable that you might be feeling more 'bah humbug' than 'happy holidays'. However, from long experience I know that it really is possible to temporarily allow a chink of light to pass through the curtains even on the darkest of days.

So whether you're going to be with family and friends today, or you're due to be keeping your own company, please remember that Moodscope is thinking of you and wishes you well.

You might imagine that as it's Christmas Day I'd give you a day off from suggestions, but I do have one thought for you.

December 25th is one of those times of year when you get the feeling that everyone has plans, everybody's day is fully scheduled.

But you'd be amazed at how delighted someone could be if you were to pay them an impromptu visit, or make a surprise phone call. It doesn't have to be for long, and you don't have to do or say anything deep and meaningful, other than to let them know you were thinking of them.

Perhaps there's a neighbour whose day would be made by seeing you. Or a friend who'd be delighted to hear from you. You'll know they're pleased by the tone of their voice - and if they're pleased, I think you will be too.

One more thing. Our little team loves running Moodscope, but I can tell you that it wouldn't be half as rewarding without the presence of your company.

So thank you for being here, and please have yourself a safe and happy Christmas day.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Moist eyes.

Now and then I think we all find ourselves falling back on the old excuse that we've 'got something in our eye'.

I certainly did a day or so ago when I was in the audience of a Christmas concert right in the heart of London. I was perfectly alright until a choir of school children stood up to sing carols, some of whose verses we were meant to sing along with.

Unfortunately although I did my best to join in, the lump in my throat and the tear in my eye made it just about impossible. Where the heck did that emotion come from?

One minute I was fine, the next I was trying to perform the physically impossible art of sucking the tears back in.

Some crying feels unquestionably bad. OK, it may be better to get the unhappiness out of your system, but tears when you already know you're upset just aren't the same as the emotional trickles that sneak up on you and take you by surprise.

They may not realise it, but I think most people can benefit from a cry now and then, even if (perhaps specially if) they're a truck-driver or road-mender.

As I send this, it's the day before Christmas, just about guaranteeing that there'll be emotion-provoking moments in the hours to come. It might be a tune on the radio, something on the TV, a few words spoken by someone, or of course that old chestnut children singing carols.

When the tears come, I think you just have to welcome them. Even though you may not be delighted to shed them, their appearance serves a purpose. They're almost certainly better out than in.

Naturally it's good to hope for happy days ahead, but if and when you find you have the odd bit of seasonal grit in your eye, just recognise that it's all part of your mind sorting itself out.

It's OK, it really is. And it's part of what makes you human.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Oh, my head.

It's celebration season in many parts of the world, with sales of Alka Seltzer and aspirin at an all-time high. Bars and restaurants welcome in office parties, with groups of workers trying awfully hard to convince themselves that they're having a good time, while secretly wishing they were at home, curled up on the sofa in front of the TV.

It's funny that we kind of take for granted that if we overdo it on the food and drink front, we're likely to feel a degree or two under the weather the following morning. A combination of physical tiredness, a glass or four of alcohol and plates of unhealthy food may all conspire to leaving you feeling more than a bit blurgh.

We know this, we accept it. It's part of the price we pay for enjoying our party. But isn't it odd that while we tend to acknowledge that abusing our body will lead to physical discomfort, we're often blind to the idea that failing to take care of ourselves might also affect our mood?

The truth is, what you eat, what you drink, what you breathe even, and the amount of physical activity you get, does indeed impact upon the way you'll feel. Put like this, it would be surprising if it didn't - yet we still don't always remember it.

Perhaps you can make up for this lack of awareness today? If you feel up to it, by all means join in with the celebrations. As long as you've got sufficient emotional oomph to join in, they may provide opportunities to connect to others.

But whatever happens, feed that spirit. Drink plenty of water (which in any case helps the wine go down). Opt for as much healthy food as possible. Take every chance you get to fill your lungs with fresh air.

However, yes, do make sure you've a ready stock of plink-plink-fizz-fizz in your medicine cabinet. You never know when you may need it.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Word of the day: gunwales.

I used the phrase 'loaded to the gunwales' yesterday, which was a household phrase when I grew up. We always were an unusual family.

But thank goodness for spell-check. As it's not a figure of speech that I'd generally use in writing, I'd assumed that it might be spelt as it's spoken, and typed 'loaded to the gunnels'. I know you wouldn't have made this mistake, well, would you?

A gunnel, as you'll well know, is a type of elongated fish. A Sally Gunnell on the other hand is a British former 400m hurdles Olympic champion and subsequently TV presenter in the UK.

A 'gunwale' on the other hand is something else altogether. Like many English phrases it dates back to sailing days. A gunwale or, formerly, a 'gun wale' was a reinforced part of the hull of a fighting ship in the shape of a ridge placed at and around the level of the gun deck: placed there so your vessel wouldn't fall to pieces every time you shot your cannon.

The cannons on a ship protruded through gun ports (holes in the gunwale, I guess) and if you wanted to stay afloat it was obviously more than sensible to keep these above the waterline.

Loading a ship to the gunwales, therefore, suggests piling it with such an enormous amount of cargo that it's only just able to stay afloat.

One more keg of rum, one more chest of treasure, and the whole thing could be on its way to Davey Jones' locker, swimming with the gunnels perhaps.

To mix our metaphors, it's rather like the straw that broke the camel's back: that one last addition that tips a situation from Yes to No. From Go to Stop.

I'm pretty sure we all have a gunwale. I'm fairly certain we all have a limit beyond which we move from being able to cope to being unable to, and it's undeniably important to know where your gun ports are: try to be aware of when enough's enough. This way you'll rest when you're exhausted. You'll walk away when you're about to explode. You'll open up to someone before dark thoughts consume you.

So the next time things threaten to get a bit too much, try to make a few changes before the water gets too close to your gunwales (so to speak).

Sunday, 16 December 2012

How to be a best buddy.

Here's a thought. You know about Moodscope, obviously. Maybe you already track your mood with it, or maybe not, but I hope my posts over the past nine days have given you some insight into why I think it's a good idea to do so: to me, it's a sensible way of taking care of your own emotional wellbeing.

I hope you can also see that recruiting a buddy to help you make sense of your ups and downs can provide you with useful perspective, even if this is not a step you're comfortable with just at the moment.

Maybe, however, you could offer to be someone else's buddy? Perhaps you suspect that someone you know is having a hard time? (Those of us who suffer from periodic low mood tend to have pretty good antennae for this, on the basis of it takes one to know one.) It could be that they've not come across Moodscope - which wouldn't be surprising. We don't exactly have a multi-million dollar marketing budget.

So why not talk to them about Moodscope? Suggest that you could act as their buddy; or better still, that you could buddy each other. If you do so, it may be helpful to see a few of the tips and hints I've picked up through talking to other Moodscopers, and it seems an appropriate way to conclude our ten days of posts about getting the most out of Moodscope.

Here are five suggestions to get the ball rolling, then, when you want to be an effective Moodscope buddy:

1. Start as you mean to go on, being dependable and consistent about getting in touch after you receive the other person's score. Agree that, maybe, you'll only make contact if there's a sudden change in scores - or you may choose to exchange brief messages nearly every day. While the frequency may not matter too much, do try to stick to whatever you decide between you. (By the way, don't forget to let them know if you're going away - and they should do the same with you.)

2. Keep sight of the fact that not getting a score from the other person could potentially be a sign that things aren't right. If you don't hear from them for a couple of days, don't necessarily assume that they're just too busy to use Moodscope. Consider emailing or calling them to check that things are OK.

3. When people are down, they may say things they might later regret. If this happens, try not to take it personally. If they snap at you, it's likely to be the depression talking, not them.

4. Your job is definitely not to somehow try and psycho-analyse the other person. By all means ask them gentle questions about what they're feeling (if they're happy for you to do so) but absolutely refrain from believing you know any of the answers. You don't, can't and shouldn't. The best thing you can provide is a sympathetic ear and, when necessary, a shoulder to cry on.

5. Definitely consider being each other's buddies, even if you think you don't really need Moodscope yourself. A two-way relationship can stop the other person worrying that they're indebted to you.

Perhaps you've ideas of your own or have thoughts about the above? For the final time (for now) please let us know by commenting below.

We'll be back to our usual style of Moodscope messages tomorrow, but we'll definitely be compiling the last ten days' content as a little e-book. Watch this space.



Saturday, 15 December 2012

Moodscope and Homeland Security.

You may not have expected the US Government Department of Homeland Security to have played a hand in the development of Moodscope, but unwittingly it did.

A few summers ago I spent an illuminating week at a Middlesex University residential summer school studying visual analytics: basically how to use images (such as charts, graphs and clever information graphics) to make sense of complicated data. Although I paid a modest amount to attend, I was pleased but puzzled that a big slice of the cost was met by the Department of Homeland Security.

All became clear, though, once the course started. It's a sad fact of life that countries must take the threat of terrorism seriously, and the US government recognises that part of this task involves sifting through mountains of complex data such as intercepted communications, the movement of suspects, and information from borders and airports.

Although the vast majority of this data will be innocuous, it's the odd anomaly that would ring alarm bells: the unusual item that for some reason stands out in a sea of normality. Fortunately, the human brain is staggeringly clever at spotting tiny discrepancies when they're presented in visual form: much better than it is at finding a numerical needle in a list-of-numbers haystack.

A nice way of understanding this is to imagine a table containing three-quarters of a million numbers. You're then asked to find one single entry which is very different from the rest. It would be a difficult and long-winded task.

Now, though, see a computer screen in your mind's eye - and imagine that a single pixel was faulty. Your eye could likely jump straight to it with no hesitation, even though a screen can easily contain 800,000 pixels or more.

Through initiatives such as sponsorship of the summer school, the US federal government hopes to expand the pool of visual analytics knowledge, whether or not this ends up being specifically targeted at fighting terrorism.

Inspired by what I learnt on the course, as well as conversations I had with other students, our team went on to develop the tools you'll find in Moodscope Plus which allow you to gain true insight into your emotional ups and downs.

For example, the Affectogram (remember, 'affect' is broadly how psychologists refer to what we'd call mood) displays your scores for all twenty of the Moodscope adjectives over the past thirty days in the form of one easy-to-understand 'heat map', visually highlighting the fact - for instance - that you may have tended towards general anxiety for the past couple of weeks, or alternatively that you, say, could have been suffering from a lack of interest and zest.

The Triggergrams, referred to yesterday, use explanations you've added as annotations to your graph to form word clouds showing, at a glance, triggers for your better and worse days.

The Moodscope Plus graph enables you to examine your progress over any period, not just one month at a time. For me, this has been an eye-opening way to understand that as well as day-to-day changes (that are like tides) there can also be gradual changes in 'sea level' (both upwards and downwards) over much longer periods - sometimes months even.

We've aimed to keep the subscription to Moodscope Plus modest (USD 9.99, EUR 6.99, GBP 5.99) but it's important to stress that when you subscribe, you're also enabling us to keep Moodscope free for those who cannot afford to pay.

Please let us have your thoughts, comments and suggestions about Moodscope Plus below.



Friday, 14 December 2012

Ready to annotate?

I first learnt about annotating in geography lessons. You drew your map of Norway, say, (and what a palaver this was, with all those complicated fjords) then added short pieces of descriptive writing, explaining where the hydro-electric plants were and, possibly, the location of the gravadlax factories. Annotated maps were all the rage in those days (we were easily pleased).

Probably thanks to those geography lessons, you can of course now add annotations to your Moodscope graph: 200 characters with Moodscope Lite, and a more capacious 400 characters with Moodscope Plus.

It's easy to do. Just click on the node representing any score to open a little box in which you type whatever you like, then click once more to save it.

What's the idea of doing this, though? And what kind of comments are people adding? One thought is to use the facility to explain your scores (where possible) so you'll remember what was going on in your world when you look back in the months to come.

Perhaps a particularly low score was the result of falling out with someone? Make a note of that. Or maybe you were feeling good because you'd had a few days away. Again, get that down so you can recall the full story when you look back in the future.

Others have come up with their own use for the annotations. I know people who use it as a way of recording what medication they take - enabling them to see the effect of taking it (or sometimes not). There again there are those who log their physical exercise in the annotations - miles run, or laps swum. Still others record their weight in the annotation boxes.

You name it and someone somewhere is probably recording it in their private annotations. And they are confidential. If you share your graph with a buddy, they can't see the annotations. One day we may be able to offer the sharing of comments as an option, but for now you're the only person who will see what you write.

Moodscope actually lets you make use of the annotations in another way, too. One of the Moodscope Plus tools is a pair of displays called Triggergrams. Each is a word cloud, whose words appear at different sizes according to how many times you've used them when annotating your graph. One Triggergram is devoted to your highest scoring days, the other to your lowest scoring ones. It means you can see at a glance if there are regular triggers associated with your ups and downs. Does it seem as though you tend to feel low when you're in the company of one certain person, say? On the other hand, maybe it looks as if there's a place you visit regularly that is linked to feeling better.

What's important is to start building a bank of information. Every time you record a score, make a point of pausing for thought, then type an explanation. If a close friend were to ask you to explain your current mood state, what would you say? Be brutally honest. Remember: nobody other than you can see what you've written.

Having the numbers to see your emotional variations is one thing, but the annotations add meaning.

How do you think annotating your mood graph might help? Any suggestions that might help others? We'd love to hear from you so please comment below.



Thursday, 13 December 2012

Time to track?

Are you an up-with-the-larks kind of person or a night owl? Or maybe you're somewhere in between these two extremes.

We're a funny old species (I know, speak for yourself I hear you say) because while we may have a fair amount in common, there's also an awful lot of individual difference between one person and another; both physical and emotional.

And of course not only do we differ from the next person in line, it's likely that we ourselves change from day to day. Sometimes even from minute to minute.

So given that we're pretty sure that mood is a moveable feast, what's the best time of day to track it, if you're only going to do so once? Indeed, can a single measure really say that much if your emotions are in flux? And why doesn't Moodscope enable you to measure your mood more than once a day?

Like a boy reaching for the apple crumble before his liver and bacon, let's start with the last one. We felt it was best to restrict the daily scoring to a single result partly because allowing more could easily get confusing (and annoying even) for a buddy. I know not everyone chooses to share their scores, but a lot do, and with good reason: sharing amplifies the effectiveness of tracking. Imagine getting six emails a day from someone, with a dip every time they stubbed their toe or a peak when they'd finished the crossword. This could quickly become too much.

As well as possible problems with buddies, perhaps we should be more focused on the bigger picture of mood change over time, rather than on the minutiae of hour-by-hour ups and downs. I'm pretty sure that getting better (or worse) happens over time rather than instantaneously.

However, although Moodscope only records the first score you get in a single day, there's nothing to stop you going back as often as you like after that. You'll get more scores: it's just that they won't be recorded, nor forwarded to buddies if you have them.

So, back to the meat and potatoes: what's the best time of the day to track? My own strategy has always been to record my score the minute I'm out of bed in the morning. This way, I figure I'm interrogating my 'base mood' before there's been time for the day to influence it. It won't have been affected by a traffic jam on the way to work, for example. Although you may choose to determine your score at a different time of day (in the evening, say), my advice is to be consistent about doing so at the same time each day. This way you'll be comparing like with like over a period of weeks, days and months. It's similar to what you'd do if your were tracking air temperature. If you recorded at midnight on Monday, then at midday on Tuesday, you'd end up with a fluctuating graph even though both days might actually be as warm as each other.

As for how a single score could suffice when, surely, you're up and down through the course of a day, the key thing to remember is that we're interested in trends over time. Returning to our temperature analogy, the day to day variations are like the difference between a sunny Saturday and an overcast Sunday, whereas Moodscope is more about determining whether it's Spring, Summer, Autumn or Winter. These longer-term variations are even clearer with the versatile Moodscope Plus graphing options that let you look at your progress over any period.

What do you believe is the best time of day to measure your mood? Tell us, tell other Moodscopers, by commenting below.



Wednesday, 12 December 2012

How sharing works.

Let me take you back to the year 1924. We're at the Western Electric Company's Hawthorne Works in Illinois, a factory whose workers manufacture relays - electromagnetic switches used in telephone equipment - and researchers are interested in the employees' productivity. How do changes in their environment and working conditions affect their output?

Over the course of five years, the experimenters change all manner of variables: the illumination, the duration and spacing of breaks, providing food or not during these breaks etc. And all the time, they're keeping track of the work performed.

In a slightly over-simplified nutshell, the results were unexpected. When the lights were made brighter, for instance, output went up. But then, when the lights were subsequently dimmed back down again, output went... up again. In fact, more or less what happened was that each change in working conditions saw a corresponding boost in productivity.

Now although some contemporary researchers challenge some of the study's findings, many consider that it demonstrated an important psychological principle: that when people believe they are being observed, their behaviour may change in a positive way. In the case of the Western Electric workers, their response to the interest shown in them by the experimenters was to work harder.

The study gave rise to a 'Hawthorne Effect' which is commonly referred to in psychology.

I've told you this story as some psychologists suggest that this could be partly what causes the effectiveness of the buddying process in Moodscope. When you share scores with someone else, you're aware that they will be interested in your progress. You may hope that between you, you'll be able to lift your mood, and it's possible that this could motivate you to behave in ways which might make this happen: it could be that you're more likely to do things (get better sleep, take exercise, connect with others for instance) that may make you feel better.

But even if you don't share your scores, tracking them with Moodscope can help - and this can't have anything to do with the Hawthorne Effect of course. So what's going on? Psychologists have suggested to me that it may be as simple as being able to see the outcome of different types of behaviour: you get evidence that doing one thing brings you down, while doing another lifts you, enabling you to do less of the former and more of the latter.

Yet another school of thought borrows from the world of business: if you can't measure it, you can't measure it. Perhaps mood tracking makes sense because it acts like the dashboard of a car or your central heating's thermostat? Some of the extra tools in Moodscope Plus can really open your eyes to your underlying emotional changes.

So what do you think? Please share your thoughts with the rest of our band of Moodscopers by commenting below.



Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Be my buddy?

Wouldn't it be odd if real life was like it is online? Take Facebook for example, where you need to request someone to be your friend. Now while it's possible that you and I may have adopted this strategy in kindergarten ('Can I be your friend?'), as you get older you realise that friendship is something which just happens. Sure, it may take conscious effort on the part of the prospective pals, but in general friendships usually develop without you realising what's going on.

Yesterday I wrote about the way sharing your Moodscope score with a 'buddy' (they get an automatic email notification every time you record it) may help to lift your mood more than tracking alone can.

But how do you ask someone to be your buddy? Even though you may believe it might help, you could be reluctant to broach the subject.

However, perhaps the first question is, who do you ask? The most popular choice among Moodscopers is someone who is already a friend in real life. Interestingly it doesn't need to be someone you necessarily see every day: perhaps you live a long way from each other and are maintaining your friendship by email or phone. Indeed some people have told us that the Moodscope buddying process has actually taken their, sometimes geographically remote, friendship to a deeper new level.

Others ask a close family member to be their buddy. Into this category come quite a number of parents and their university-age 'children'. Moodscope enables a mother or father to maintain a relationship with a son or daughter who has left home for the first time: they track their mood at university and Ma or Pa can step in to offer support without needing to be asked (very important this - who among us is really any good at requesting help?)

Who else can be a buddy? Some people ask a trusted work colleague or fellow student if they're in education. Others share scores with a counsellor or medical professional.

Another possibility (and one which can sometimes work well) is when two people buddy one another: both use Moodscope, both share their scores. It might be that one tends to have lower moods than the other, or both could struggle from time to time. Perhaps surprisingly, either scenario can be helpful - for both parties.

What about one person's possible reluctance to ask another to be their buddy? The biggest obstacles seem to be that Moodscopers believe they don't want to be a burden on someone else: there may be a tendency to think the other person has got enough problems of their own.

When we hear from buddies, however, it's apparent that almost without exception they were honoured to be asked. Yes, honoured. They saw it as a demonstration that the person asking them trusted and valued them. They believed it gave them a chance to actively help, rather than being forced to worry but not be able to do anything.

The responsibilities of a buddy are really not that arduous. Even if they do nothing at all, you may well find it helps to know you're being watched over. The most they might do is drop you a brief reply now and then. And when I say brief, I mean brief. Jonny, who I mentioned yesterday, went on to be my buddy for a couple of years, and if my mood dipped now and then he'd send me the world's shortest email:


Please add to the conversation about buddying in Moodscope by commenting below.



Monday, 10 December 2012

The benefits of a buddy.

In the beginning, I didn't plan to share my mood scores with anyone other than the psychiatrist who suggested I should record them. It didn't occur to me that anyone would be interested in them, nor that there might be any value in doing so.

But then along came Jonny.

He and I became friends after bumping into one another in the local park tearoom, and I'd shown him my original Moodscope cards as I gradually refined them. In those days they were twenty pieces of laminated cardboard. I tracked the scores every day as a line graph in a little playing-card-sized hand-made book.

But couldn't I devise a way, asked Jonny, for him to see my daily scores, without having to chance upon me in the tearoom? I don't think it was nosiness. He wanted to help, and figured that if he could see my ups and downs, it might give him more insight.

Just as they did in this case, sometimes good things happen by chance. I figured the easiest way to satisfy Jonny's curiosity was to build a quick website (just for him and me), programmed to immediately and automatically send him an email whenever I recorded a score. It would also show him my graph.

And this is where things got interesting. As soon as Jonny began receiving my scores, my mood pattern quickly changed. Instead of soaring up, then plunging down again on a frequent basis (a result of my bipolar disorder) the fluctuations lessened, and my average mood became substantially higher.

It was hard to know whether this was simply because I knew someone was showing an interest in me, or if it was more down to Jonny questioning me on what could have caused my ups and downs, or perhaps a combination of these two. There again it could even have been something else I hadn't even considered. But the thing is, through a very serendipitous process we discovered that sharing mood scores could be beneficial.

A one-person effect? It seems not. A day or so ago I mentioned the progress made by a larger group of Moodscopers over a lengthy period. Was there a difference in mood improvement between those who shared scores with buddies and those who didn't?

Yes. Over 180 days (about six months), the 'un-buddied' improved by a relative 50.2 per cent. Those sharing scores with buddies, however, did better still - with a relative uplift of 63.7 per cent.

Once again let me stress that our findings aren't from a randomised controlled trial, and the participants were self-selecting: they were using Moodscope because they chose to. The signs, however, do point strongly towards the idea that having a Moodscope buddy adds to the benefits of mood tracking alone.

Moodscope Plus makes the buddying process smoother, with Conversation Pages that enable a two-way flow of on-page messages between Moodscope member and buddy.

We'd (that's me and other Moodscopers) would love to know what you think about this. To tell us, please comment below.



Sunday, 9 December 2012

Testing times.

Doctors have plenty of tools which permit them to determine just how much of a mood disorder a patient has. Some, with names like The Beck Depression Inventory and The Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression, don't beat around the bush. They measure just what it sounds as though they will. Others revel in NASA-like acronyms such as the PHQ-9 and the GAD-7. However, they all measure distress whatever they're called. Not one will tell you, if you're not actually suffering, how well you are.

It's as if the medical profession has no real interest in wellbeing, only in illness and disease. While this isn't completely true, I think it is indeed the case that doctors and specialists focus their attention on treating the sick rather than on maintaining the well, rather like firemen spending most of their time extinguishing flames, and just a little distributing smoke detectors.

When I came up with the Moodscope idea, I was User No. 1. There were no others. At the time, there was no question of it being a tool that anyone else might also find helpful. It was simply a one-person project - a bit like Mark Zuckerberg programming Facebook to be nothing more than his own personal home page.

At the request of a psychiatrist, I needed to track my mood, but since it seemed to me that this ought to involve recording both good days and bad, I wished to find a dependable way of doing so - a tool that had been 'scientifically validated', meaning that it had been shown through rigorous research to do what it said it would - measure mood.

After hunting around, I came across a test called the PANAS (Positive Affect Negative Affect Schedule) developed by the American psychologist Dr David Watson and colleagues in the 1980s. 'Affect' is more-or-less how psychologists refer to what you and I would probably call mood. In its original form, the PANAS asks you to rate yourself on 20 different dimensions according to a five-item scale, then produces two separate scores; one for positive affect, the other for negative.

Needing a more digestible single score, I found a way to produce this from the PANAS's two results, and turned it into the Moodscope playing cards (which meant reducing the answer scale from five items to four). Dr Watson approved of this adaptation, and the American Psychological Association licensed us to base Moodscope on the PANAS.

But does any of this really matter? Well, if you're going to benefit from mood tracking, you should be sure that what you're measuring is actually mood rather than something else. David Watson showed that the PANAS does this, and recent research on Moodscope by London's Institute of Psychiatry shows that our adaptation of the PANAS also does.

As a way of managing your way through the next couple of months, I wholeheartedly recommend using Moodscope. And take a look at the powerful analytical tools which make up Moodscope Plus if you'd like to learn even more about what makes you tick.

As ever, please let us have your thoughts around the test that's behind Moodscope immediately below (click on the '[number of] comments' link).



Saturday, 8 December 2012

Automatic thinking? Reflective thinking?

Not many psychologists have won the Nobel Prize in Economics, but Professor Daniel Kahneman did in 2002. It's his work in his original field, though, which I believe helps to explain one of the fundamental principles on which I first based Moodscope.

As you'll know, rather than asking you to select a straightforward number to represent your mood, or even to simply tick boxes to indicate your ratings on Moodscope's twenty different emotions, we have you flipping and spinning double-sided playing cards.

Playing cards. Why? Flipping and spinning. Huh?

We live in a world in which designers are expected to make their websites easy to use. We insist that they should operate speedily. We impatiently expect to order and pay for books from Amazon with a single click. This is undeniably true, yet Moodscope's interface is built around flipping playing cards which seem certain to slow you down.

Well yes. But only if we've done our job properly. You see, that's exactly what we set out to achieve - a deliberately time-consuming interface.

Pretty counter-intuitive, you may think. So what's the game?

Daniel Kahneman proposes that there are two main types of thinking. If I ask you the answer to 2 + 2 you'll quickly, and automatically, answer 4. If, on the other hand you were asked to solve 17 x 24 it's likely that you'd need to think differently: you'd want to reflect, maybe to use pencil and paper too.

Professor Kahneman labels the automatic thinking 'System 1', and the more reflective style 'System 2'.

Now, Moodscope's hypothesis is that when someone's experiencing a low mood, their System 1 thinking may be automatically inclined to jump to the conclusion that everything is rotten in the state of Denmark. A therapist, on the other hand, might well encourage this person to be more reflective - to focus harder on how they REALLY feel, rather than how their (perhaps self-defeating) brain ASSUMES they feel - to switch to System 2, if you will. And this is precisely what we aim to do by asking you to manipulate the cards.

But whether or not you buy-in to psychology's System 1/2 thinking, doesn't it seem intuitively right that there'd be a benefit in pausing for a few minutes once a day to focus properly on how you really feel? As soon as you're used to Moodscope's cards, it should take no more than three minutes to flip and spin them. On the basis that you're awake for 16 hours a day, your time investment is just 0.3% of a day, leaving you with 99.7% of it to do other stuff.

And that doesn't seem like a bad deal to me. What's more, just a couple more minutes with the Moodscope Plus tools will enable you to explore the themes and patterns underlying the variations in your mood.

That's what I think, but if you'd like to tell us what you think, please click the 'x comments' link immediately below (if you're commenting on this particular post, don't add your comment at the very bottom of the page).



Thursday, 6 December 2012

What, really, is Moodscope?

December can be a tricky old month. Moodscope's stats show it's not necessarily the unhappiest time of year (I'm afraid that's still to come: January) but neither is it always the most uplifting. So over the next ten days I'm going to try and help. Not by pouring eggnog and warming up mince pies, but by giving you the inside scoop on how (and why) measuring, tracking and sharing your mood with Moodscope can in and of itself have a positive effect on your state of mind.

I'd like this to be a sharing process in which we'll all learn - me included. When the ten days are up, we'll return to the type of daily message content you're used to, but I'll be compiling these ten particular posts (and a selection of the comments which we hope to gather here on our Blogspot) in the form of a short e-book containing what the team and our wider community know about mood tracking with Moodscope. Contribute to the exchange if you can: please, at least, follow along over the next week and a half.

You may already be a regular Moodscope tracker, or perhaps you're not. Either way, I'll try to make sure you discover some helpful stuff. If you're not tracking regularly, please consider doing so. Take a look at the Moodscope Plus tools, too, to gain even more insight.

I reckon that a good place to start is with a few numbers. Does Moodscope actually work? What happens to the mood level of someone who measures, tracks and maybe shares his or her scores on a regular basis? Not surprisingly, we've got a great deal of data to play with - there are already over 1.2 million daily scores in our database, each with twenty associated adjective ratings (Attentive, Guilty, Enthusiastic etc).

So, with the caveat that ours is an analysis of data generated by people who voluntarily chose to use Moodscope, rather than being part of a randomised controlled trial, we've seen powerful effects with regular users (those who recorded a score at least five times a week).

Over the first 90 days, this group saw a relative increase of 35.9 per cent in Moodscope score, with the most rapid improvement in the first two weeks or so.

Mood scores continued increasing over a longer period, too - across 180 days, a relative increase of 50.2 per cent was seen.

These seem substantial changes. Both these groups used Moodscope without sharing scores with buddies, but those who DID share performed even better - I'll tell you about that in a day or two.

We don't, of course, know what other treatments these Moodscopers might have been getting at the same time (medication or therapy perhaps) but it certainly seems as though using Moodscope to measure and track your mood can lift it.

Helpful in December. No bad thing at any time of year, actually.

Like to comment? We'd like you to. Please have your say below by clicking on the 'x comments' link.