Paradigms of Mental Health

This week started with a visit to Liverpool to take part in an Open Space session titled Paradigms of Mental Health. The event was organised by NHS Research and Development North West, and co sponsored by Chester University and The RSA. I’m a big fan of Open Space technology, and when you combine that with the curiosity which fuels the NHS R&D North West team, the chances of an interesting event are high.

On arrival it quickly became clear I knew hardly anybody in the room, and while that might be briefly unsettling, it’s a good indicator of what’s to come. Open Space works really well in a group where people are largely unfamiliar with each other.

As we began the session, we were invited to make use of a device I’d not played with before, the Zine. Monica Biagioli, Senior Lecturer at UAL : London college of communication, offered us each a folded and cut piece of paper, onto which we were invited to record notes, doodles, anything which helped us to make sense of the conversations we took part in. I made notes as I listened, walked, and talked. Here are the two sides of my finished Zine.

Something which interested me about this device is that it can be folded into many shapes, and in doing so, some of the notes get transposed, ending up alongside new neighbours.

Folded Zine

The event was fascinating – a rich variety of subjects were offered up for discussion. A report will be published from the event and I look forward to reading that. For now – I just want to share a few snippets which caught my attention:

  • Having a sense of permission for self care
  • Arts based methods heighten our sense of embodiment
  • Reframe – focus less on what is wrong, more in what is right
  • Feeling powerful in playfulness
  • Arts as ways to normalise experience and share with others

The afternoon passed far too quickly, a sure sign people were thoroughly engaged in the process. As I headed back to London I folded and refolded my Zine several times on the train. I’m really enjoying the device as an aid to reflection and as a way of stirring thoughts up a little. Thank you to the team at NHS R&D North West for making this event happen, and for extending the invitation.


I arrived early for the event, and had just enough time for a quick walk to Tate Liverpool to see the Lichtenstein room. Too often when we travel for our work – we arrive, do our thing, and leave. I like to make time to experience something else beyond the immediate work when I travel, and on this occasion, I managed it. It was lovely to spend a few minutes in the presence of works by an artist I admire, some more familiar, some less so.


Stepping Off

I’ve walked a long way since I first wore my Fitbit on December 27th 2014. 13,992,079 steps, or 6,606.28 miles if you prefer. I can only recall forgetting to put it on once or twice since then, one of those occasions being when Carole and I enjoyed two and a half days walking a section of the South Downs Way. All those unrecorded steps, lost into the ether. More importantly, what a fantastic walk we had!

For a while, My Fitbit was helpful in encouraging me to be more active. For a while. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my growing discomfort in realising that when I responded to various Fitbit challenges I ended up walking primarily to win the challenge, not to enjoy the walk. At that time I consciously broke a 40 day streak of walking at least 10,000 steps a day, feeling satisfied that I’d noticed my dysfunctional behaviour, and stopped it.

The following two weeks were filled with walking for all the right reasons, and if anything, breaking that streak freed me to walk even further, and enjoy it even more. Sunday morning just gone, as I sat admiring my previous two weeks efforts, it dawned on me that in breaking that streak, I’d not so much broken the pattern of behaviour, just shifted it slightly.

I went on to enjoy a day of Fitbitless hard graft in the garden, and today I’m on my way to Liverpool to attend an event about mental health, minus my Fitbit. I appreciate the initial nudge my 2014 Christmas present provided, and I’ve certainly had my money’s worth from it, but we’re through. I’ll keep walking, blissfully ignorant of precisely how far, and without accumulating any more ‘badges’. The data is no longer helpful.

As an aside I’m left wondering, in a workplace environment where we’re encouraged to gather more and more data, rather than blindly following the herd, should we be asking more questions of each other? Questions like:

  • Why are we collecting this data?
  • What will we use this data for?
  • How long do we need to collect, use, and keep this data?

I used to think it was fine for employers to gather pretty much any data on their workforce. Now, I’m not so sure. Just because we can measure stuff, does it mean we should?

Footnote: I’ve now deleted the app from my phone and asked Fitbit to remove all my data from their systems. No going back. A friend wrote to me saying, ‘I applaud the abandonment of the prison bracelet. The Quantified Self is dead, long live the Qualified Self.’

Gamification and Manipulation

I enjoy walking. I like to walk for the sake of it, as a way of getting from a to b, as a way of keeping fit, as a way of clearing my head, as a way of coming up with ideas.

My relationship with walking was shifted to another level by my friend John Hudson. Towards the end of 2014 John invited me and a few friends to take part in a Runners Week challenge, which I vaguely recall involved a commitment to running at least a mile a day for 30 days. I opted to walk instead of run, and I enjoyed this new found frequency so much, I kept going once the 30 days was done. Carole then got me a Fitbit for Christmas that same year, and on I went. I’m reliably informed that I’ve walked almost 6,500 miles since the beginning of 2015.

A few months after I started using the device, I noticed I was becoming hung up on achieving a daily target of 10,000 steps, and receiving a welcoming Fitbit buzzzz for doing so. If I was short of steps towards the end of the day, I could be found walking round and around the kitchen table. This way I could keep continuous streaks going, and earn badges, and… oh dear. I realised I was forgetting all those things I enjoy about walking, in favour of ‘earning’ of all things, a digital badge. Not even a real badge, what a chump!

Maybe 2015 was my year for this sort of thing, as I also got stuck in what became a rather dull, daily meditation chase the streak, chase the badge rut too. I shook off both of these compulsions, and got back to practicing for the sake of it.

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Fast forward to 2018, and a few weeks ago I accepted another Fitbit challenge, then another, then another. Once again, I found myself enjoying a sense of competition and shared motivation at the beginning of this new cycle, I even won three straight first places in some workweek hustles – woohoo!

Then, one morning last week, I was heading out to collect the car from where I’d left it the previous night about a mile and a half from home. It was a cold day and there were a few hints of light rain in the air. I ended up going right past the car, and enduring a much longer walk as the weather rapidly deteriorated. About half way around Beddington Park it dawned on my increasingly wet, cold, miserable self that at least in 2015 I’d had the good sense to stay indoors and clock up the miles in the kitchen! And so it was, that after 40 consecutive days of at least 10,000 steps a day (totalling 273 miles – we can’t forget those eh?!), I stepped off this latest human hamster wheel.

Maybe I’m just not very good at this stuff, but it strikes me that if I am not careful, when I’m subjected to gamification, I’m distracted from the important stuff, and I end up chasing the game. I worry about how gamification manipulates and affects us when we’re working and learning. Don’t get me wrong, I love to play, but I prefer to do it for its own sake. How about you?