Remember: The science of memory and the art of forgetting by Lisa Genova, 2021

Remember is such an enjoyable read. Author Lisa Genova has a PhD in Neuroscience and has previously written several novels including Still Alice, which became the award-winning film. This is Genova’s first non-fiction book and her experience in writing for a general audience in a warm and accessible manner is clear to see.

The book is divided into three parts. Firstly, “How we remember” which for me was a trip down memory lane to my undergraduate psychology classes. For everyone without a psychology degree, it is an introduction to how memories are made and in which bits of the brain. The second part, “Why we forget” explores the flaws in our memory which lead to forgetting, a very normal part of human day to day lives. This part also includes a useful summary of Alzheimer’s Dementia, what is happening in the brain and the impact on the individual’s behaviour. The final part describes ways to improve your memory starting today and includes a useful summary of strategies for preventing Alzheimer’s Dementia.

If you are interested in learning about memory or have concerns that you or a loved one is at risk for dementia, I thoroughly recommend this book. Remember concludes by outlining the paradox of memory: Our memories are amazing and help us do all sorts of things. By their very nature, our memories are also flawed. And, if we happen to develop dementia, we are more than the sum of our memories.

Book Review: My Elephant is Blue

By Melinda Szymanik, Illustrated by Vasanti Unka, 2021

This is a new release picture book for primary school aged children about “big heavy feelings”.  Our hero wakes one day to find a blue elephant sitting on them. It’s uncomfortable, painful and hard to do stuff with an elephant sitting on you! The family is understandably concerned and set about finding ways to get rid of the elephant. My favourite moment comes when Mum visits the library and takes out all the books about elephants she can find, imagery I can well relate to. In time, our hero and their family work out that they can still do fun things, like a family picnic, and take the elephant along with them.

It is a lovely, gentle story full of the benefits of living a rich and meaningful life alongside our painful emotions. This approach is significantly different from what society tells us to do with painful emotions and both children and adults will benefit from reading and considering this alternative. So snuggle up on the couch with your littlies, start reading and get ready for an interesting discussion:

What colour is your elephant?

Are there things we do to try and get rid of your elephant?

How well do those things work?

What things could we do with your elephant?

How might those things change your elephant?

Positively Pregnant – an app for expecting and new parents.

Waikato-based Clinical Psychologist Carrie Cornsweet Barber has developed this app over the last few years to assist expecting and new parents. It uses concepts of Positive Psychology to assist parents to identify their strengths and values, helpful resources and strategies as the navigate one of the most significant transitions in human life – i.e. becoming a parent! It is available to download for free via the App Store and on Google Play.

Headspace – a mindfulness meditation app

Over the last 20 years or so there has been an increasing interest in the use of mindfulness meditation in mental health. Our psychology research community is still gathering data as to how effective it is in managing mental health difficulties. Evidence to date, however, looks promising. Headspace is one of the most popular meditation apps available, with over 65 million users worldwide, including me. Andy, the voice of Headspace, guides users through a huge variety of meditations designed to assist with difficulties such as sleep onset and a range of overwhelming emotions. Using the app, you can set reminders to meditate, choose how much time you spend meditating and track your progress. I sometimes use Headspace to assist clients to get into the habit of meditation to augment the work we do in session.

Headspace has recently teamed up with Netflix to produce a series of 8 20-minute episodes introducing the use of meditation through animation and the voice of Andy. Each episode looks at using meditation for different issues, such as stress and anger. Some of the research base supporting the use of meditation is explored in an easily accessible manner. Finally, each episode introduces a different meditation technique. If you have access to Netflix, this series feels like a simple introduction to meditation which you can enjoy along with a cuppa in the evenings. I suspect to get full value from the series you will need to watch each episode (and practice the exercise) several times. Fortunately, there is no reason why you can’t do this!

If you have been considering exploring mindfulness and meditation, please check out Headspace and the new series.

Join the conversation: The Social Dilemma

The Social Dilemma, a new documentary on NetFlix, is an invitation to a conversation about the impact of social media on us as individuals and as a society.

The documentary interviews several high-profile members of Silicon Valley tech companies including Facebook, Google and YouTube. Whilst acknowledging the very real benefits of social media, especially amongst the coronavirus pandemic, these professionals sound a warning about social media. They describe how it has been monetised and the impact of that monetisation on the people who use it. The documentary and its supporting website highlight three concerns about social media:

  1. Its impact on the mental health of users,
  2. The consequences for our political system, and
  3. Its role in propagating extremist views.

The piece of this I see most often is the impact of social media on mental health. There are two conversations I often have with people about social media and mental health.

The first revolves around our tendency to compare ourselves to others and seek the approval of others. This tendency has been “hard wired” into us over millennia. As humans, we evolved in relatively small social groups and were inter-dependent on others for our survival. In this context, whether others approve of us or not was a matter of survival. If others didn’t like us, we risked being alienated from the group. In the current context, social media opens us up for comparisons and approval (or not) from potentially thousands of people, all at once and in a very “all or nothing” kind of way: Just how many “likes” did my last post get? This can lead to an overload of feedback and overwhelming emotions.

The second conversation centres on the amount of time people spend on social media and its role in procrastination. The documentary makes it very clear that the aim of social media companies is to keep you engaged on their site. These companies use psychological concepts and tools such as intermittent positive reinforcement. One of the most poignant moments in the documentary for me came when one of the interviewees described being “hooked into” his company’s site. Even while knowing all the techniques being used to keep him there. Even while his kids were present, wanting to spend time with their Dad.

In my clinical practice, these conversations usually lead to using mindfulness techniques to “unhook” from social media sites. You can do this by bringing a mindful awareness to where your attention is, connecting with what is important to you in that moment, and stepping back from the social media site and / or the thoughts that are triggered as necessary. We can also practice a compassionate response to the very understandable difficulties we have when using these sites.

The documentary is a call to begin talking about these issues and searching for solutions. The producers call for more regulation of these social media companies. The Social Dilemma website includes of “Code of Ethics” which they promise to follow. For my part, I believe we need to become much more “savvy” about how we interact with these sites. Yes, the tech companies have a responsibility to look at their decisions and the consequences thereof. There is also responsibility on behalf of the user to do likewise. The documentary ends with a series of tips on how to reduce or cease your use of these sites. We can also do this by bringing mindful awareness to our use of them.

Please watch the documentary, visit the website and join the conversation.

Psychology Tools: Living with Worry and Anxiety Amidst Global Uncertainty.

There is lots we can do help ourselves and those around us manage the big emotions that may be triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. Psychology Tools is an excellent website which provides information and worksheets about a range of mental health issues. They have released a free guide for managing anxiety in the current situation. It provide a full explanation about the sort of worry which may be triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic and then several useful strategies for managing that worry.


Russ Harris, author of The Happiness Trap, has released a useful brief e-book called FACE COVID. It outlines some skills from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) which we can use to manage our distress in this uncertain time. You can download FACE COVID here.

Keep Calm: Headspace

As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds, it is utterly expected that we will feel a wide range of big emotions: anxiety, fear, anger, guilt, boredom, the full range. This is a challenge unlike any we’ve faced for several generations.

There is lots we can do help ourselves and those around us “Keep Calm”. Here’s one:

Headspace provides guided mindfulness meditations. It offers a free beginnings course and then a massive range of other courses (e.g. for depression, anxiety, insomnia) to subscribers. I’ve been using this app personally and with clients for a couple of years. Headspace have announced additional free resources in the wake of COVID-19 designed to help you “Weather the storm”. Make some time each day for mindfulness meditation, it does not need to be long. This is one thing you can do help manage whatever big emotions you are experiencing at this time.