Rowan Spazzoli

Strategist. Lecturer. Consultant

Taming the Boggart

Have you ever had a fear or anxiety that can’t be explained? Something that materializes out of nowhere. It’s a dark shadow, and seems to adapt itself in to whatever might scare you the most. And it washes over you with a flood of anxiety at the least ideal moment.

These are the types of anxieties that other people would find weird. For example, I get really anxious when going shopping for clothes. I don’t know where this comes from. But I know that if I have to buy myself clothes I put it off for months, and then go into a mall with a very specific intention… to get one item and one item only

I chatted to my therapist this week about it and we came up with a great analogy for it. We called this fear “The Boggart” (from Harry Potter for those among you who are uncultured).

boggart is an amortal shape-shifting non-being that takes on the form of the viewer’s worst fear. Because of their shape-shifting ability, no one knows what a boggart looks like when it is alone, as it instantly changes into one’s worst fears when one first sees it

– from http://harrypotter.wikia.com/wiki/Boggart

The fear or anxiety that we have in these situations might have no distinguishable source, or is as a result of a long forgotten memory. So it takes the shape of whatever might scare you most. Essentially, your own boggart.

And the best way to deal with a boggart?

  1. Have someone else around to try and confuse it– this would involve speaking to a friend or therapist about it
  2. Use the “ridikulous” charm – this requires firm concentration and turning the fear into an object of fun.

So when you’re next faced with your own personal boggart, don’t let it defeat you. Instead, bring someone in and highlight the ridiculousness of the fear. And pretty soon you’ll be able to water it down and wash it away.


Image was taken on the last day of packing up my old apartment

Blog: 345/365. Click here to read about my #365of25 journey
Song of the day: Ehrling - I feel good

Too many apps open

Ever had too many windows open on your computer or phone? Loads of tabs on the internet browser, music playing, documents open, background apps and folders everywhere?

If you have a powerful device it’ll probably be able to handle this. But most of the time your device will become overburdened and slow. 

It’ll become unresponsive. The battery will drain rapidly.

There are some days when I feel like I have too many things going on at the same time. And, just like the devices, I become unresponsive and my energy drains rapidly.

And I may have 10 things going but I manage to complete none of them.

So I’ve begun keeping a piece of paper next to me when I work. Whenever I want to open up a different bit of work I write down what it is. I then go back to focusing on what I was doing before. 

This way I keep one window, one app or one task going at a time. And open the other ones when it’s necessary.

It might feel like we can multitask. But often all we’re achieving is having all the tasks going but getting none of them done


Image is of our view in Gansbaai

Blog: 334/365. Click here to read about my #365of25 journey
Song of the day: Seven Lions, Slander & Dabin - First Time ft Dylan Matthews

World Mental Health Day

Just a short post today for World Mental Health Day. I’ve been seeing so many posts about it on social media and have absolutely loved how people are talking, sharing their experiences and supporting one another.

I’d just like to put down a few short points about my experiences and interactions with issues with mental health:

  • Mental health issues run in my family. There is a history of depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder with close and distant relatives
  • I’ve had a number of bouts of depression, most recently at the end of last year
  • This year I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder by a psychiatrist. Going to that psychiatrist was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done.
  • I’ve been taking SSRI medication for both issues since the start of the year and they have worked phenomenally well (with the exception of a few side effects)
  • I’ve also been seeing a therapist (psychologist) once a week for the past year. Therapy has changed my life in ways I will never be able to describe
  • I’ve been fortunate to have the family support and money to be able to afford these treatments. Looking after your mental health does not come cheap
  • My masters dissertation is on depression, and from my research it is disproportionately women and people in low income brackets that are suffer from mental health issues, particularly in South Africa. It’s something that needs to be placed as a critical component of our development plan

Thank you to everyone who has supported me, listened to me or helped me with issues of mental health. If you’re reading this and feel like you’ve experienced mental health issues, but haven’t spoken to anyone before, please ether send me a message or confide in a friend or professional


Image was taken at the UCT GSB this afternoon 🙂

Blog: 329/365. Click here to read about my #365of25 journey
Song of the day: U137 - Midsummer field

P.S. My webinar is tomorrow, don’t miss it! All the info you need is here

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Raw

Over the past 18 months I’ve started taking my mental health more seriously. I have actively sought out psychological help, from two different psychologists, and I’ve visited a psychiatrist.

Most of this was brought about by reaching a breaking point. A point where I really wasn’t sure what to do anymore and needed to seek out more professional help.

And it’s been a tough journey.

The most difficult thing for me has been how raw I’ve felt during this unpacking of my psyche. I’ve had to explore many of my flaws, my shortcomings, my fears and my insecurities.

Scrubbing the wound clean

I’ve been thinking about this, and the best analogy I’ve come up with for this process is that of cleaning out an old wound that has been infected.

The initial wound is painful. And sometimes we sometimes don’t treat it properly before it scabs over.

And there is dirt that is left in it, resulting in repeat infection.

The only way to fix it is to peal off the scab and properly clean out the wound. Clear it of the infection and the dirt.

That’s a painful process, and the skin is then left feeling very raw and very open.

But in doing this, we ensure that we can heal properly. The wound can now close up without the same problems coming back.

It’s tough. And sore. But you have to close your eyes and clean your psychological wounds if you plan on properly getting through them.


Image was taken at the end of the prom on my evening cycle 

Blog: 200/365 (yep, that’s 200 blog posts up. I know the counting went out a little bit. But can you believe it, 200 posts in a row? It’s blowing my mind a little)

Song of the day: Dead Inside – Muse

I’ll sell that to you

I’ve been helping my mom move in to her new house over the past week or so. And it’s been a tiring but surprisingly enjoyable activity. We’ve managed to get rid of a lot of junk and reminisce through old photos and other memories.

One thing that I have noticed repeatedly is a strong endowment effect whenever we’re deciding whether to keep something or donate/throw it away. The endowment effect is a theory from behavioural economics that says that people value things much more highly when they own them.

The term was developed by nobel prize winning behavioural economists Daniel Kahneman and Richard Thaler. As per the wikipedia page:

[In the study] participants were given a mug and then offered the chance to sell it or trade it for an equally valued alternative (pens). They found that the amount participants required as compensation for the mug once their ownership of the mug had been established (“willingness to accept”) was approximately twice as high as the amount they were willing to pay to acquire the mug (“willingness to pay”).

And so, there is a lot of stuff we have come across while moving house that we way over value. These are mostly things that have either:

  1. Have a low replacement value
  2. Will never be used again
  3. Would not be purchased again.

The Endowment Salesman

To get around this bias, I’ve come up with a fairly simple system. And I use it when I find that we’re trying to keep something that fits into one of the three points above.

All I do is tell my mom that if she wants to keep it she has to buy it off me. And any money that is made will be donated. Additionally, I set the price slightly higher than it would be at the shops.

So for example, my mom was trying to decide whether to keep a branded set of glasses she was given at an event. She was very ready to put them back in the cupboard. So I grabbed them from her and said that I’d sell it to her for R80. Otherwise we must get rid of them.

And she said that it wasn’t worth it to buy them.

So we donated them and now have less clutter.

By doing this, I take away the ownership aspect which causes the endowment effect. It is no longer your item. It has been donated by default and you need to buy it back. Additionally, by setting a high replacement cost, it means that the item must be worth more than just it’s replacement value (e.g. if it has some unbelievably special memories attached to it).

And hence, we’re able to get around our biases and achieve a much more streamlined life.


Image is of the boxes we unpacked today. We managed to get the contents of the three boxes on the left there down to just one of the small boxes on the right

Blog: 180/365

Song of the day: Black Betty – Ram Jam

Right where I want to be

I’m absolutely exhausted and have been struggling to find the energy to write my blog post. So instead of writing anything insightful, I’d just like to take a moment to appreciate where I am right now with regards to my work/professional life.

Today I worked in four areas:

  • Behavioural economics and psychology
  • Teaching strategic thinking (applied to development outcomes)
  • Market analysis and strategy formulation for green economic development in Cape Town
  • Social entrepreneurship

The first was done in relation to my thesis. Despite it not being quite finished yet, some of my preliminary results will be presented at a conference on Monday.

The second was done at UCT when we met to plan the exam for this semester. It’s going to be an incredibly interesting exam.

The third was in relation to my consulting work on my green economic development project.

The last area was assisting with the submissions for the Oxford “Map the System” challenge. I’m the organizer of the South African leg of the competition.

I honestly am in awe of how fortunate I am to be working on all these exciting projects at the same time. I’m exactly where I want to be and I couldn’t be happier 🙂


Image was taken at Babylonstoren a few weeks ago 🙂

Song of the day: The Quiet - Roald Velden
Blog 159/365. Read more about my #365of25 journey here

Nostalgia

I experienced multiple waves of nostalgia over the course of today. The morning was spent packing up my childhood room, which involved the rediscovery of many old artefacts, and much time reliving old memories. It took way longer than it should have but I was enjoying the experience so much.

This afternoon I walked around my old school and saw the changes that have taken place since I’ve been gone. I bumped into teachers that taught me geography, life orientation, history, guitar, and biology. I told them about all the work I’m doing and they told me about how different the students are from when I was around. (On a really cool note, I found out my geography teacher occasionally reads this blog!)

Finally, this evening I played garden football with my little brother, finished off with a swim. We used to do this frequently when I was in matric, and it felt like things hadn’t changed a bit (except that he’s bigger than me now, and he’s 13!).

Because of this I’ve been thinking about the value of nostalgia. And there are two realisations I’ve had.

Nostalgia as safety

One element to nostalgia is that of it being a protective mental space. If things aren’t going well in life, we use it as a safe space we can retreat to in our heads. A way of escaping from our present existence.

The problem with this is that we are often selective when it comes to what we are nostalgic about. We polish up the memories, ignore the bad bits and use this “clean” memory as a retreat. In reality, that memory might not have been as good as we remember.

And this makes it more painful. Because you remember it only as having being a better time. For example, high school was a lot less complex than my life is now, and it’s easy to retreat into thinking about those days. But I also experience some really bad downs, particularly in grade 9, and so the memory isn’t all rosy.

So, nostalgia can be used as a safety mechanism and a peaceful reflection, but this needs to be done with the awareness that the past wasn’t all perfect.

Nostalgia as a yardstick

Another use of nostalgia is as a benchmark, which to me is a much more productive exercise. You can reflect on where you were in the past, and how much you have grown since then. This allows you to visualise and unpack your path, and often makes you realise you’ve developed far more than you previously thought.

An example of this was looking through my old matric dance photos. I remembered that at the dances I went to, I was incredibly nervous. Large events like that terrified me, and so did the afterparties. Nowadays, though, I thrive in those sort of environments.

A little more nostalgia

Tomorrow I’ll be doing some more packing and visiting my matric maths teacher. I’ll be served a little more nostalgia, but I’ll aim to put it to use as a yardstick more than using it as safety.

In either case, the reflecting has been a great journey. And it’s so cool to see how far I’ve come.

PS: today is blog number 150!

 


Image was taken at my old school this afternoon 🙂

Song of the day: Ten feet tall- Afrojack
Blog 150/365. Read more about my #365of25 journey here

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Internalising

The project that I’ve been working on for the last few months has gone wrong a number of times. There have been delays by the clients, the stakeholders and us as the consultants.

This is understandable. The project was complex and there were a number of unexpected hurdles that we came across.

The problem is that I began internalising a lot of this. I began to convince myself that this was my fault. That I had messed up. And that I had been bad at my work.

In reality, there were a number of people that were equally responsible. A portion of the blame could be allocated to me, within reason. But I was not responsible for the entire project. So the delays weren’t my fault.

Re-externalising 

This process of internalising the failures may take place on it’s own. We may be conditioned to do this for various reasons.

But it’s important to re-externalise it. To understand that there is a network of responsibility and you are only a single actor in it. And it is outside of your control.

By doing this, we don’t get left feeling like the failure is our own. And we slowly unlearn the impostor syndrome that many of us have grown accustomed to.


Image was taken while we were on the Gautrain this afternoon 🙂

Song of the day: Indiana Jones Theme Song
Blog 149/365. Read more about my #365of25 journey here

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