Or, the danger of trying to be Harper Lee

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Harper Lee did what many creatives dream of — she threw all her energy into one work of genius: To Kill a Mockingbird.

As strategies go, it’s a recipe for disaster.

Not just because chances are very slim that you or I can be as lucky — but also because of something I call ego pressure.

Force over area

Ego pressure is an idea I borrowed from physics for a reality we all face. It’s based on the formula:

Pressure = force divided by area

It’s why heels are so sharp — the force of the body’s weight concentrated over a tiny surface…


Pain comes to us all, but it lands much harder when we think of it as something we shouldn’t ever experience, and not simply as life’s “cost of doing business”.

The reason for this lies in how pain works.

Pain has two sides to it:

  1. The feeling of pain itself-we can’t do much about this, it’s what it is.
  2. The feeling of suffering that often comes with it. This comes from how we interpret the pain-and it’s the part we can modulate.

A small scale example is the difference between an injection versus an accidental needleprick-or worse, a malicious one…


We do it every time we explain people doing terrible things by insisting they must be ignorant, mentally ill or subhuman. And it’s understandable: the darker parts of ourselves are-well, dark.

Easier to turn away than face that head-on.

But to turn from our dark side is to turn from all of our self. To shut off our capacity for pain is to also shut off our capacity for joy. And so long as we downplay our potential for evil, we will struggle to unlock our full capacity for good.

It all comes down to choice.

If creativity can be…


Photo by Kelli Tungay on Unsplash

When you’re on the inside, it’s easy to think of diversity as mainly for the benefit of the “other people” — you know, so “they” get a chance to be in the room where it happens.

That’s a mistake.

Diversity is really just the sensible thing if we have any self-awareness of our unavoidable bias.

We often use “bias” like it’s a bad word, but it’s really at the core of what it means to be human. We have a limited cognitive field of vision and “bias” is just our name for the resulting blind spots in our knowledge. …


Photo by Eric Prouzet on Unsplash

I recently read a well-intended but naive suggestion: that people should explain their cultures to others new to it.

If I’ve learned anything moving to the UK, it’s that none of us really knows our cultures. Not from inside. It takes someone breaking our cultural rules for us to even see them. Why is this?

Matching patterns

It’s sometimes said that our brains are pattern recognition machines. But it might be more useful to view-them as pattern matching machines. Yes, they recognise patterns, but what’s interesting is what they do next.

Our brains go, “Okay, I get that now,” and let the…


Photo by Alexandra on Unsplash

When I teach medical students on psychiatry posting I emphasise how important it is to avoid words that convey a dim view of patients.

It goes back to a consultant’s advice during my own training. Consider the difference between:

She claimed she hadn’t been using substances recently.
She
said she hadn’t been using substances recently.

Same idea—but an ever so subtle difference in tone.

Some would say it’s “just words”. Well, words themselves are “just” sounds. Except we’ve attached meaning to those sounds. So also, words aren’t just words, they’re ideas. And ideas have power-sometimes lifelong. So here’s an idea:


Photo by Edvard Alexander Rølvaag on Unsplash

We’re obsessed with hierarchies.

We see thing A and thing B and instinctively wonder which comes first. It’s why kids argue about whose dad is stronger and fans about whether Batman or Iron Man is smarter. (For the record, the answer is always Batman.)

Our minds are meaning-making machines-which means we will sometimes impose some kind of order where none is immediately apparent. And that’s not bad in itself-hierarchies have their uses. But can’t we do better than “My dad can beat yours!”

The answer lies in the questions we ask.

Strengths versus superiority

Asking “Which is best?” or “Which is good or…


And it starts with our own experience — but hear me out

Image courtesy Elle Hughes (via Unsplash)

I was recently in a conversation with a friend who asked my opinion on something related to men, to which I responded with my standard question when people request my thoughts: “What do you think?”

Basically, I feel like I can respond better when I know where you’re coming from: what your thoughts already are and what exactly the gap is for you. Plus it saves me speaking to what you already know.

Her response was, “I’m not a guy, so I can’t speak to that.”

To which I was like, “Wait-what?” My friend was coming from the position that…


How not to fall for the Collector’s Fallacy

We are all familiar with the phrase, “Connect the dots.” And yet it seems to me that in real life, we spend far more energy collecting dots instead-we’re just too used to it.

I’ve done my share of collecting, too. As I write these words, I’ve got 137 tabs open on my phone browser, and another 81 on my tablet. I’ve got over 8,000 notes accumulated in ten years of using Evernote. And God knows how many articles saved in Pocket and my Medium reading list. I’ve paid my dues.

And for years, I devoted my energies to figuring out…


I was recently trying to explain to a patient about the panic attacks they were having and to help them understand what the issue was without making them feel like I was saying, “It’s all in your head.” (Which she had already heard too many times.)

So I reached for a metaphor I have found useful in the past, and thought I’d share it more publicly, for whoever else may find it useful.

It begins with seeing anxiety as an alarm system.

Ordinarily, that is actually a good thing: when it works right, an alarm system alerts you to danger…

Doc Ayomide

I trained in medicine, specialised in mental health and express in writing and speaking. Email hello@docayomide.com for mental health coaching.

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