Managing the effects of social media

Could the theory about your choice of social media revealing your age and demographic hold any water? Some people have suggested that it is easy to make any initial assumptions about the target market merely by examining the social media platform used by social media users. While this could be an unproven generalisation, with clear examples that do not fit the mould, we can often assume that the users of Facebook are slightly older, and the Instagram users are of a younger generation. (There will of course be older Instagram users of course, and vice versa, younger Facebook users.)
Your preferred social media platform may not also be a matter of age, but your preferred medium of communication. For example, if you prefer writing short posts, you may opt for Twitter. If you prefer posting images, then Instagram may be your chosen platform. Whatever your choice of social media platform, there is no denying that social media offers possibilities of side income. If you have an original product to sell, you may find buyers among your followers. For example, popular singers have thousands of fans that but their records. If you have no original product to push, you can earn commission by affiliate marketing, where you promote a product and get a percentage of sales. You can also be a social media influencer, where you don’t actively push a product. Many influencers simply project an image that followers try to emulate and induce them to purchase a product. Think models, make up artists and the like.

Social media may be beneficial in some ways, but keeping up with lots of followers can be quite demanding. If you reply to your early fans individually at the outset, you may find it more difficult as your numbers of followers grow, and feeling the need to continue that level of communication but not having the time to do so can exert a toll on your mental health. Imagine the boxer Rocky Balboa – had he had legions of fans on Facebook (of course, what else), it would have interfered with his training, and perhaps some unkind comment might have affected his progress. (As an aside, you can find out about the music in Rocky from the Piano Teacher N8 blog.)
If Rocky had used social media, he might have relied on a media team to manage his account so he could focus on his training. So while social media is useful, be mindful of its effects on you!

Uneasy about something? Don’t keep it bottled up

Should you take a person’s word at face value? If a person has promised something verbally, and later seemingly reneges on the promise, what sort of ways can you go about to address the situation?

This is the situation facing an author in Canada. Shubnum Khan, the person in question, had signed up for a photo shoot as part of what had been billed as a 100 Photos Shoot. She went to it, signed a disclaimer, and then had a free professional image for a photo shoot given to her, on the condition that the photographer could use her image as part of an art project. She recalls hearing the words art project being used for the purpose of this shoot.

Yet years later she would be shocked to find her image used for a variety of purposes. These include an advertisement for immigration, dermatological cream, website services such as child minding, among others. Did she agree for her image to be used this way? No, but the contract she had signed had essentially made her give away the rights to that image, and she would have no further control about how it was used.

There is a certain danger in agreeing for your image to be used in a way you do not agree with. Imagine if you had your photograph taken, and then had it used as a picture for a cause you did not agree with. What recourse would you have in addressing the situation? There is the threat of litigation you can bring to the offender, but unfortunately, the cost for most individuals would likely outweigh the benefit, and most people would probably leave well alone, unless they were public individuals whose reputation might be harmed – and if they had enough money to sue.

Perhaps a lesson to take away might have been at the outset – get things down in writing, so that is some recourse for action. And if you are uncomfortable with anything, don’t just go along with it. It might have serious repercussions for the future if you don’t speak up.

Taking an example from the world of film, when what you see doesn’t connect with what you hear, there is a sense of unease because something doesn’t match. (You can read more about this from the Piano Teachers N15 blog. If you feel the same sort of unease in social situations, don’t mask it!

Fatigue and Mental Errors

Is it mental fatigue? Is it the pressure? Maybe he needs a bit of counselling himself? Whatever the reason, it seems that even the pressures of work are getting to the US President Donald Trump himself. The President made headlines this week when he responded to an interview question posed by a reporter about possible collusion in the presidency voting. Despite his own intelligence services going on record to say that there was evidence to suggest so, Donald Trump ducked out of that question to say that he saw no reason to suggest why Russia would interfere.

You can imagine the media storm that followed. “President does not trust his own intelligence services!” a headline might as well have read. It is somewhat ironic then that the service responsible for security gets undermined by the very individual it ultimately tries to protect.

Unfortunately for Donald Trump, he tried to reverse his remarks in the light of this statement, saying that what he had meant to say, was “I see no reason why Russia wouldn’t” instead of “would”. But to attribute the blame to a mispronunciation hinging on a negative, when the rest of his non-verbal actions suggested otherwise, does not cut the mustard.

If you were looking to put things in a positive spin, the only thing that you might say is that perhaps it was an honest mistake. Everyone gets tired and the burden of mental fatigue can trigger us to make errors. And when we are mentally fatigued, we don’t really care about how we present ourselves, and our body language can bring the wrong impression. So when Donald Trump made what could perhaps be seen as a mistake, he was fatigued – which then perhaps suggests someone else should be in the job.

The problem with politics is no one is perfect, and the personal faults of one are transferred over to other areas. Unlike in music, where the naturalised composer Antonin Dvorak sought to create a new American style from traditional roots, and the tie-ins work because of past associations, doing so in politics means people remember you for who they saw previously – in other words, Donald Trump the apprentice, the womaniser, and the hotelier. And they don’t have this sort of positive opinion. (In the case of the former, you could find out more about Dvorak’s attempt from the Piano Teacher Crouch End blog.)

If you ever find yourself making this sort of error, perhaps you should re-assess yourself and the way things are going. But that’s the lesson to take away only if you accept that Trump was really suffering from the pressures of the presidency. If you believe he was trying to weasel his way out of the backlash – well, there’s a post for another day.

A little diversion with the World Cup

It is hard not to get unaffected by the World Cup football around. Even if you have little interest, you get influenced by the bug by the people around!

England are unfortunately out of the World Cup finals. After a stellar run, going all the way to the semi-finals and avenging that last-16 defeat by Iceland in the previous competition, leaving the Lions with their tails between their legs, the team managed to hold Croatia to injury time before a late goal saw them lose out.

There is a general belief that the England team have done enough to restore their reputations, and there is hope amid the pain of defeat. England boss was quoted as saying that the team has raised expectation and belief. There is still something to fight for, as England head into the third place play off with Belgium. You might argue that this might have instead been the final game had been expecting, instead of France and Croatia, but this is still a good chance for England to prove they have the mettle to beat one of the top teams in the world.

In Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne, Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld, you may have argued that the Belgium team had a good spine from defence to attack. Unfortunately they were snuffed out by a French team and lost to a set piece winner by Samuel Umtiti of Barcelona.

It is a good test for England to see how they will hold up against their Premier League buddies. Most of the third and fourth place players ply their trade in the Premier League, and so it may feel like a charity match of sorts. But make no mistake, there is not going to be any charity in this one!

The big question now is, will Gareth Southgate let the fringe players of the team get a chance to play? Some of the players did get some game time in the third match of the group stage, when England’s place had already been confirmed. In that third match, it was England against – you’ve guessed it – Belgium. Or more accurately, England B vs Belgium B, with both sides resting many of their key players. It is unlikely that either team will now give their B teams a roll out, because the third place finish is important. To both teams, it highlights the pinnacle of both managerial careers. Southgate is on his first as England manager, while Roberto di Martinez is doing the same since being out of the Premier League.

England vs Belgium is an important game. It is the last game for the next two years before the Euros, so get your flags out and get cheering! You have to live with the result for the next two years!

Hopefully England’s march to success will continue!

Meaning brings information to life

Brexit. Are we in or out? Should we be in or out? It is likely when you put the question to teenagers, many of them will be of the opinion, “Who cares? Why I should care?”

It is a sad state of things that many grow up to be ambivalent about the things that should matter most. Now I don’t mean to say Brexit is most important, but the awareness of how it should be, and its relevance on one’s life, is unfortunately not the thing thought in schools.

Schools disseminate information. But perhaps on the school curriculum, more focus should be placed on the context in which it takes place in.

What do I mean? Imagine this – students learn about history and the World Wars, but the scale of this is hard to internalise from a textbook. But take them on a school trip to Flanders, see the rows of poppies laid out, and you get an idea of the sacrifices that people paid with their lives.

Away from the classroom, away from the pure dissemination of information, the things they learn have more relevance.

One can say the same of physics. Rather than trying to teach about moments through a point, for example, a teacher can ask students to balance a tray of different objects with a finger. Where is the place they are going to put their finger? It depends on the varying weights of the objects, and their mass and their weight from the point. But rather than teaching these concepts purely from a textbook, information takes on more relevance and meaning if it is seen to be part of everyday life.

We can do the same with finance. Instead of discussing Brexit and what it means in terms of jobs and business agreements, give students a small sum of money with the task of increasing it. They can trade with other groups of students, or not. But they have to increase the sum of money they have, and not just hold on to it, as it loses value. In the interaction of these forms of games, students have an idea of whether Brexit matters – not from the textbook.

In the arts, learning piano music is sometimes viewed as the depressing of piano keys in the rhythm and speed indicated of the sheet, with fingers assigned to the keys. A piano teacher in N8 once mentioned to me how a parent viewed piano playing as mere muscle memory, dependent on repetition. But this only breeds the idea that the approach to the music is merely information to be assessed and acted on. For the piano player, greater meaning can be achieved by understanding the compositional process, the background and motivation of the composer, and by experimenting around with the music – to change its expression – to see the effects.

The problems that teachers have is in making the information relevant. But they are tasked with teaching the information first, and ensuring it is kept in the minds of students. What is necessary is more a reduction in content knowledge, so teachers can bring the information to life, and students can learn and retain.

How has this impacted me as a counsellor? In explaining choices and courses of action to my clients, I don’t just tell them what they do, but why they should do it and how it will it make them feel. In short it is not just about purely the information, but the meaning behind it. When the recommended courses of action have more relevance, the counselling suggestions are more likely to be adhered to.

Lessons learnt from the World Cup so far

My soccer-mad husband and sons have been glued to the television these past few weeks, watching the World Cup. You might wonder if they actually devoted some of the effort and initiative that they do into watching football and analysing all the play of the teams into other areas, that they might be productive in other skills too, but there is no way a wife and mother can be able to break into the one-track football mind of the males in her family!

The surprise of the tournament, as they tell me, is that champions of the world, Germany, have been dumped out of the cup by South Korea, and are no longer able to defend the trophy that they won four years ago. Now, I am not enough of a fan to know much about it, but I do know my offside rule, and enough football to get by, and I do know my Manchester.

There was a sign that Germany would not go far, and that is when Joachim Low, Germany manager, did not pick Manchester City’s Leroy Sane to be in the team. Sane was probably the most high profile casualty of the World Cup squad, and his elimination from the final squad had many members of my family thinking “What?” After his fine form for Manchester City down the left flank terrorising opposing right backs, you would have thought he would be an automatic inclusion, but no, he went on vacation instead. Like the pianist Rachmaninov, Sane is spending the World Cup on the outside, looking in, and generally musing.

As a counsellor I learn to read the signs and Sane’s exclusion was a sign that Low was going on reputation, but many of those who won the cup four years ago are on the decline of their careers. Germany had an aging squad but the manager was not brave enough to not pick big name players, such as Neuer, the goalkeeper who made the error that led to the Korean’s second goal. Low may have argued that big name players have familiarity with the tempo of the World Cup buildup and games, and have influential experience, but the flip side is that he cannot make the crucial decisions.

Germany’s run has ended without breaking out of the Group stage. At least England won’t lose out to them on penalties!

Notice: Professional Courtesy

Switching jobs is all part and parcel of life. Very few people remain in the one job for their entire career. While job hopping may have once been viewed as displaying a lack of loyalty, staying in one job is seen as being stagnant, lacking in exploration, and being narrow-minded. Most employers now realise that interviewees will have had past jobs before, and that need not necessarily count against them, unless they have made a career of not staying long in their old jobs. Switching jobs is a good thing to do; it gives you a wealth of experience, different working environments and allows you to build up skills which will eventually lead you to landing that one key job.

But when you switch jobs, often you have to give what is a notice period. This is the time frame you allow your employer – the current one – to find a replacement for you. Depending on how important your job is, you may have a notice period of a month, two months or even half a year. There are some jobs whose notice period is a year! Respecting the notice period is a sign of professionalism. If you merely changed jobs without notice, you’d be dropping your employers into a situation where they are rushed to find a replacement for you under time pressures. And it demonstrates also that you have not properly handed over to your successor.

But what are the procedures when you are in your current job and thinking over moving on? Sometimes it would be polite to inform your current employer, because they may wish to retain your services and might move you to a new department for a change or increase your wages. But it is difficult because you run the risk of being viewed negatively if they decide you can interview for another position, but in the interim you are reduced of responsibility gradually until your existence at the company seems futile. Sometimes it is better to interview first, get a secure job lined up, then serve notice.

But what happens if you secure a new job, fail to inform your existing employer and respect the notice period, AND your old boss finds out from your new one?

This is the position the Spanish national football team manager found himself in. Julen Lopetegui was named Real Madrid manager while contracted to be the national team manager, and the announcement two days before the World Cup begins was not taken well by the latter, partly because he was still contracted to them, they had no part in the discussions, and the discovery was broken to them only five minutes before the media knew.

You cannot fault Lopetegui’s desire to be manager of a great football team. Madrid are in the news all the time. The Spanish team only play once every two years and in friendly matches. This would be a career step up for him, and from the unsatisfactory position of being a manager who sees a group of random players every now and then.

You might have surmised that Lopetegui was not entirely satisfied with his current job. What can you do if you found yourself in a similar position? The classical music composer Joseph Haydn renegotiated his contract with the court of Esterhazy to get more royalties. Modern day musicians have to be more creative musically in their work, or create more music opportunities within their current work both for financial and aesthetic pleasure. You may also find it possible to diversify your work so that you are using the content knowledge you have but in different areas. Taking another example from classical music, the composer Muzio Clementi became involved in various music fields as a composer, musician, publisher and conductor, to name just a few.

Lopetegui could have combined his national team career with a bit of punditry, youth coaching and other sidelines.

He currently has a lot of time for that. He was sacked.

Does technology exacerbate mental health decline?

According to news reports, media mogul Simon Cowell has ditched his phone for over ten months, and has been quoted to say the withdrawal from technology has been good for his mental health.

He says he was irritated with how often he was using his phone, and ever since he ditched it, he was more aware and paid more attention to the world and people around him.

“It’s a strange experience,” but he “is more aware of the things around me, and happier for it.”

Cowell is not alone. More than half of phone users check it within 15 minutes of waking up, and many believe that our partners use the phone too much too.

Being swarmed with technology creates many problems.

Technology is a good thing, but we haven’t quite learned to manage it yet. Unfortunately, workplace systems and processes demand that we embrace it, rather than ditch it.

It is easier for employers to demand their employees remain at their beck and call, and get them to do more work out of office hours by saying “I emailed you the documents over the weekend” and then expecting things have been dealt with, or demanding their response with a text message.

You can choose to filter out technology, but unfortunately many of us don’t have this choice, unless we work for ourselves, or – like Cowell – have executive assistants to deal with such matters on our behalf. We don’t want it intruding, but we can’t exactly do without it completely, and it is in navigating the disconnect that proves difficult.

Technology promotes a disconnect in many ways too. Musicians who rely on technology face having to alter their art form because the audience expectations have changed. Remember when being a music DJ meant spinning decks and records? Now it is about clicking touchscreens and select pre-edited tracks. Musician Bob Dylan faced accusations from the folk community when his music became electric with amplified guitars.

Disconnect is fun, don’t get me wrong. Listen to classical music crossed with disco. Or metal music is enjoyed because the dark lyrics are sung to major keys. But when you have a disconnect in daily life that widens each day, managing that contradiction is one of the things you need to do, or it will lead to a decline of your mental health.

Google or Counselling?

Seth Stephenson-Davidowitz is a data scientist, which – apart from the fact that it is viewed as a modern, tech-y, somewhat sexy job – means he uses data to draw insights. A major part of his work uses Google searches as a data set, because he believes that people are less inclined to tell the truth when presented with a face to face interviewer or a survey, simply because of how it reflects on them. In other words, traditional methods of information gathering are not necessarily trustworthy, from a deeper truth point of view. However, he believes that because there is a higher perception of anonymity afforded a computer user who goes on Google to search for answers to thoughts, the data trends are more accurate.

There is some truth in that belief, but in counselling once you have established that relationship of trust with a counsellor, it is easier to unravel the tangle of thoughts in your head, to work through the things that trouble you, instead of looking to Google for answers – the latter would be akin to reading an online self-help book!

One of Stephenson-Davidowitz’s research on data trends has focused on depression. According to data searches, August 11 and Christmas Day are the happiest days of the year – there are less searches for the word depression, while depression is highest in April, the month called the “cruelest month” by poet T S Eliot. Google data also suggests that climate matters a great deal. But also highlights that money is the perhaps a strong underlying cause – searches for depression are less in areas which a large percentage of people are college-educated, which – for those of us in the UK – means they have degrees, and are not to be confused with sixth-form college.

Using such data to gather insights is useful, but we should be careful about being too reliant. The data used in this research also suggested that areas with higher Hispanic-Americans were less depressed, but that could have been because Hispanic-Americans might not have typed “depression” into Google, but used other phrases as well, some of which may have been in other languages. And while depression is an anchoring word, people might look up “suicide”, “how to kill myself”, or “end my life” as other indicators of depression.

When you are depressed, it is a good idea to speak with someone else, because not only would that help unravel the thoughts in your mind, the speaking is effortful, and helps you burn off unwanted stressful energy within you and dissipate it. Of course, the listener – the person you are speaking to – should listen, and be trained to withhold comment, otherwise helpful “suggestions” only increase the pressures on you and the things you have to do and cause more mental triggers!

If you are not yet comfortable speaking with someone, try taking up a skill to take you out of the spiral of negative thoughts. Try a candle-making course, something arty, that takes you out to meet people. But if that still is too far of a social stretch at the moment, then something like learning the piano might be a useful skill. Learning the piano activates different parts of the brain which relieves the pressure on the cortex and the word-processing part of the brain, and as you get lost in the music and melodies, it will momentarily take you out of your stressful world and you give you some form of mental escape – instead of being lost in the maze of Google searches without a way out!

Music and Silence are both underpinned by the same thing

What does the fact that many people are listening to headphones nowadays tell us?

Does it tell us the music industry is growing? Well, it is, but that is not the main thing.

Does it tell us music plays an important part in everyone’s life? Yes, it does, but only to a certain extent.

What it really tells us – and I might be ruffling a few feathers here – is that we don’t really want to know.

We don’t really want to know what goes on outside our immediate world.

We are not capable of helping those we see in need, such as the homeless under railway stations. We don’t really want to know we can’t help them, or we don’t want to invest the necessary time to address a social issue.

So we look down on the floor as we past them, or pretend to be scrolling our phones. And we plug in headphones so we have an excuse to say we didn’t hear their pleas of “Spare some change please…”

We travel on public transport. On a train or a bus, someone plays music loudly, talks loudly, or behaves in an anti-social manner. It used to be that we could busy ourselves in a book and pretend not to hear. But the plugging of ourselves into a world of music tells us we don’t need to bother trying to get angry, trying to waste time convincing them of their idiocy. We can just disconnect there and then.

A pair of headphones is the biggest tool in your arsenal.

It allows you to switch off from the world around you. Some of it might be in response to things you disagree with but cannot change. But disconnecting may be a way of finding your own space in a crazy world.

Some of us may listen to music with loud beats and driving rhythms. It may not necessarily be music that is modern, it may be Romantic piano music or loud choral music by Handel. We may blast out music loudly, or choose to plug headphones in as a barrier. Ultimately, it is our silence that speaks most.

Watching someone on our daily commute listen to music tells us something. It tells us human beings are trying to disconnect further and further from the fabric of society.

Therein lies a time bomb.