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PSYCHNOTES

Previous

July 20, 2014


forest path This audio uses the imagery of choosing a path through the woods to guide through the process of decision-making. It confronts the common misconception that a perfect path exists and that only by choosing the "right" path success will be achieved. Instead, it focuses on the idea that all paths have valuable lessons to learn. As you listen to this audio over time you can change the thinking that can prevent you from making decisions and being successful. Not choosing a path and pursuing it is the most destructive choice of all.


July 13, 2014

IS IT OKAY TO PROFILE THOSE ON THE AUTISTIC SPECTRUM?

Recently, a friend asked me about a situation that happened to a friend of hers who has Asperger's Syndrome. I was horrified and saddened by what she described. Her friend, an amateur photographer, was at an outdoor concert on public property taking pictures of the concert-goers in their attention-seeking garb. Security detained him, asked him if he was a “sexual predator,” ejected him from the concert, and banned him from future concerts. This man was traumatized by the incident believing that he had done something terribly wrong.

Why was I horrified by this incident? Having worked with many people who have Asperger's, I have seen how they have been bullied throughout their lives due to their social awkwardness. Asperger's is a condition that I think is best described as a social learning disability. In other words, they have difficulty interpreting social cues which makes social interaction difficult for them. Considering that 90% of social interaction is non-verbal (eye contact, gestures, making faces, tone of voice, etc.) this is almost like being blind when it comes to social communication. However, if someone is blind, people are more likely to understand they need to be more explicit in their verbal communication. For someone with Asperger's, though, people just think they are “odd” because of the social awkwardness.

As a result of the bullying throughout their life, many people with Asperger's have social anxiety and will avoid social interaction. They are terrified of being the subject of ridicule. In addition, many have perfectionistic demands because they are afraid of making mistakes which can lead to public embarrassment. In my work as a psychologist I try to help them overcome the social anxiety and encourage them to be more social. I explain to them that even though they may have been mistreated as a child, adults are more empathetic and less likely to treat them unfairly. This incident saddens me because here is a man trying to engage in the social world and is maligned and made to feel as if he is a horrible human being (a “sexual predator”).

I believe this is a case of profiling because someone looks or acts different. The reason I come to this conclusion is two-fold: (1) the concert website stated that cameras were permissible (and if they weren't, why would someone be asked if they were a “sexual predator?”); and (2) the law states that if a person is on public property they can take pictures of other people who are visible from that public space. Therefore, this individual did nothing wrong. And yet, he was treated like a criminal.

I understand that people in Colorado may be sensitive to the possibility of violence. However, just because someone looks or acts different does not mean they are dangerous. There are plenty of violent acts committed by people who look normal. We have laws against profiling and we have laws against discrimination of those with disabilities. I believe that how this man was treated violated those laws. He was singled out because somehow he looked or acted different and was denigrated and banned on that basis, not due to anything he had done.



Do One Small Thing July 11, 2014

50 RULES FOR LIFE--Rule 10: Do One Small Thing (read more...)



July 7, 2014

WHAT I COULD DO IF I WERE FACEBOOK: WOULD THIS BE ACCEPTABLE TO YOU?

Many people believe that Facebook hasn't caused any harm with their experiments on human emotions. Maybe that's true. Maybe it's not. We can't know when there is no oversight. Other people believe that Facebook is benevolent and wouldn't have a purpose to cause harm. Again, maybe that's true. But how many publicly-traded corporations have the benefit of the people as their bottom line? Other people believe that you should just get used to being experimented and spied upon. Okay. But where do we draw the line? Is there one?

If I had the resources of Facebook, the knowledge I have as a scientist/psychologist, and believed that I didn't have to follow ethics, I can think of a number of experiments I could do. Would this be acceptable to you?

Experiment 1: Teach people to feel powerless.

As the Facebook saga about experiments without informed consent unfolds, a common sentiment I hear is “I don't like this but the media has been influencing our emotions for decades.” Such an attitude reflects what in psychology is termed “learned helplessness” which is the belief, thought to underlie certain types of depression: “I am powerless. I can't change anything.”

The early research on this phenomena involved experiments conducted by Martin Seligman (1965) on dogs. The dogs were placed in a cage that had two sides with a small barrier between. The floor of one side could administer shock to the dogs. The dogs would jump the barrier to escape the shock. The more egregious experiment that demonstrated the concept of learned helplessness involved placing the dogs in a cage without the option of escape. After numerous shocks, the dogs eventually would quit trying to escape and lie on the floor whimpering. When the dogs were later placed in the cage where they could escape by jumping over the barrier, they didn't even try but still just remained on the floor whimpering. The dogs had learned they were powerless and exhibited many of the symptoms inherent to depression: passivity, lack of appetite, social disinterest, sleep disturbance.

You may question the ethics of this research. Was this research necessary? Is there another way learned helplessness could have been researched without experimenting on the dogs?

Whatever you might think of this research, consider doing the same thing to humans. But instead of shocks, we could use some other means to elicit learned helplessness. If we had the ability to control some important aspect of people's lives, we could administer some aversive, unavoidable event. What important aspect could we control if we were Facebook? Research has found that some people are willing to engage in unethical behavior to avoid being excluded from a group (Thau et al., 2014). We can surmise, then, that social inclusion is an important aspect of many people's lives.

Can we influence social inclusion using Facebook's resources? Of course we can! Social inclusion is the very core of the Facebook experience. How could we do this? Very simply. We could unfriend them and they would feel excluded. However, that might be easily identifiable as an error because they could contact their friends. So we need to be more subtle. Maybe we could manipulate their news feed so that they only see postings about things in which they were not included. But that wouldn't be examining learned helplessness directly. Instead, it more likely examines the effects of social exclusion.

I know! What if we made this really incredible product/service that everyone wants to use and if you don't use it you will be excluded from the group. Then we could write up a terms of use that people have to agree to in order to use the product/service. And in our terms of use we state that we can use their data and manipulate them in any way that we want. Now that could definitely create learned helplessness! We could measure learned helplessness by how many times people shrug and say “Yeah, I don't really like it, but what can you do about it?”

Once we have taught people they are powerless, then we could really do some experiments. What kind of experiment could you do if you were Facebook?



July 5, 2014
IS THE WALL STREET JOURNAL (WSJ) SUGGESTING THAT FACEBOOK SHOULD DISCRIMINATE AGAINST THOSE WITH MENTAL ILLNESS?

The WSJ (July 3, 2014) describes reactions such as mine to the Facebook experiment without “informed” consent to be an “online tantrum.” Moreover, referring to individuals with “psychological problems like depression,” WSJ suggests that “people whose sensitivities are so delicate” should be aware of the data use policy and those who don't like the policy should just get off Facebook (http://online.wsj.com/articles/the-facebook-prison-experiment-1404342903).

Well, I'm going to continue my “tantrum” (see my previous post for July 3). As a psychologist, I believe it is my duty to speak out on behalf of those with mental illness who are not always able to speak for themselves.

The way I interpret this, according to WSJ people who have mental illness and are often already socially isolated should not access social media if they cannot tolerate being experimented upon and having their emotions manipulated. In other words, we should go back into the dark ages of discrimination against those with mental illness. If they cannot handle what everyone else can, then they should just hide in their homes and stay off social media.

In the U.S., we have a law called the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA; http://www.ada.gov/) that requires businesses to provide reasonable accommodations so that those with disabilities have equal access to business services. According to the Department of Justice this law applies to web services: "The Department is currently developing regulations specifically addressing the accessibility of goods and services offered via the web by entities covered by the ADA. The fact that the regulatory process is not yet complete in no way indicates that web services are not already covered by title III. (Statement of Interest of the United States Department of Justice in NAD v. Netflix).”

The purpose of the law is to place the burden of accommodation on the business rather than on the individual. It is archaic to believe that a person with a disability should just accept they don't have a right to access a service if they require an accommodation. Telling people with depression that they are too sensitive to be on Facebook is akin to telling a person in a wheelchair that if they can't get in a building they should stay home. It seems to me that, at a minimum, not engaging in unethical and intrusive experimentation on users of social media without their explicit and fully "informed" consent is a reasonable accommodation that would meet the ADA criteria.



July 3, 2014
PsychNote: WHAT DO THE NUREMBERG WAR CRIMINALS AND FACEBOOK HAVE IN COMMON? HUMAN EXPERIMENTATION WITHOUT “INFORMED" CONSENT

Recently, Facebook has been in the news for experimenting with the news feeds of their users to examine how emotions are contagious (http://www.pnas.org/content/111/24/8788.full?sid=831f8cc1-2556-4698-883e-42e28ab8ea20). Many people have been outraged about being experimental subjects without their explicit consent. Although they technically gave consent (it's in the terms of use), I find it especially troubling that people were not informed and debriefed.

In psychology, we learned decades ago that we can harm people through psychological experimentation (see Milgram's studies) and that we need to take appropriate precautions to not cause harm. Keep in mind the difference between experimentation and data mining that is routinely done by social media companies and other corporations. Although data mining may seem intrusive, it does not manipulate a person to determine how they might respond. As more media attention focuses on this issue, it is concerning that many find reactions such as mine to be overblown and that what Facebook did was innocuous and no different from routine market research (http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffbercovici/2014/06/30/facebooks-experiment-on-emotions-sounds-creepier-than-it-was/). However, this is not the same as market research that tries to determine under what conditions people are likely to respond. This was an experiment to influence people's emotional states.

Manipulating people's emotions CAN cause serious harm! Facebook had no idea whether the users they manipulated had emotional problems such as depression or schizophrenia. What if a person with depression was subjected to increased negative emotional content during a week in which they were particularly vulnerable? It is not difficult to imagine that such an experiment with an emotionally vulnerable person could lead to serious consequences including suicide.

One of the authors of the Facebook study justified their experimentation: “And at the end of the day, the actual impact on people in the experiment was the minimal amount to statistically detect it -- the result was that people produced an average of one fewer emotional word, per thousand words, over the following week (https://www.facebook.com/akramer/posts/10152987150867796).” However, it is an assumption, not a “fact” that people were minimally affected. The same level of statistical significance is enough to get a medication approved to treat depression. How can statistical significance be considered to have minimal impact in one situation, yet in another be touted as an important medical finding? Isn't the purpose of science to challenge assumptions, not use them to justify a researcher's agenda?

In psychological experimentation, we are mandated by our ethics to obtain informed consent due to the potential for harm. If full prior consent will alter the results of the experiment, we need to debrief the subjects after the experiment. At a minimum, debriefing means that the subjects should be told about the experiment, how they were manipulated, and assessed to determine how they were impacted. Such debriefing in this type of experiment could even mean providing therapy if the experiment negatively affected someone. In addition, outside oversight of researchers is necessary to insure they comply with these ethics.

When I started writing this note I had intended to look at this research objectively and examine what it tells us about how our emotions can be influenced.* However, as I review the research I am becoming more angry at the thought that Facebook seems to feel no obligation to “do no harm.” I understand they do not have the same obligations as health professionals and academic scientists, but should they?

More than fifty years ago, Milgram's obedience studies (http://psychology.about.com/od/historyofpsychology/a/milgram.htm; http://psyc604.stasson.org/Milgram2.pdf) made us question if psychological experiments can harm the subjects of the study. Most people believe that they would refuse if asked to do something terrible to another human being. How would you feel about yourself if you found out that you could shock somebody to unconsciousness just because someone in authority told you to do so? What if you thought you actually did harm someone? Even if you were told afterward that the person screaming in the next room was just faking it? Couldn't that cause you psychological damage?

These studies, more so than telling us about obedience, started a professional discussion regarding what is appropriate experimentation on human beings. As a profession, we decided that this type of experiment was unacceptable because of the potential psychological damage to the subjects.

When I was in graduate school in the 80's, I assisted an ethics professor with examining the ethics of a research study (done by someone else) that had women imagine being raped and assessing their emotional reactions. We questioned whether the process of imagining rape could be harmful to some women. To determine this, we considered doing a study in which we would have women read the scripts that were used in this previous study and give us their reactions. However, we couldn't determine a way to conduct our research without causing potential harm to our subjects! As a result, we decided not to pursue the research. This is an example of how our profession's ethics guide us. We should thoroughly think through the impact of our research on the subjects and prevent possible harm even if it means not doing the research. The ends do NOT justify the means.

As a psychologist, I not only find what Facebook did to be reprehensible but also, as a scientist/practitioner, I find it even more disturbing that it was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences which is ethically (and legally?) obligated to protect human subjects. In their own policies they state “For experiments involving human participants, authors must also include a statement confirming that informed consent was obtained from all participants. All experiments must have been conducted according to the principles expressed in the Declaration of Helsinki (http://www.wma.net/en/30publications/10policies/b3/index.html)." The Declaration of Helsinki states “each potential subject must be adequately informed of the aims, methods, sources of funding, any possible conflicts of interest, institutional affiliations of the researcher, the anticipated benefits and potential risks of the study and the discomfort it may entail, post-study provisions and any other relevant aspects of the study. The potential subject must be informed of the right to refuse to participate in the study or to withdraw consent to participate at any time without reprisal (http://www.pnas.org/site/authors/journal.xhmtl).” This is the definition of “informed” consent.

Although technically Facebook had consent, they did not have “informed” consent. Why should a large corporation be allowed to experiment on the public in a way that was determined decades ago to violate human rights? Is Facebook powerful enough to be above ethical considerations? And how can a leading scientific organization publish this research without any repercussions? Are their ethical policies meaningless under certain circumstances? The Declaration of Helsinki ethically guiding scientific research came about in response to experimentation on human subjects during World War II. Haven't we learned anything?

Similar to the now infamous Milgram's studies, maybe some good can come out of this Facebook experiment by beginning an international discussion about the limits of research by non-governmental and non-academic organizations.

*Later, I will write my initially planned note about the actual research and what that tells us about our emotions in this world of social media and the internet.



June 21, 2014
Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (MCBT) combines the practice of mindfulness with the cognitive-behavioral methods for the treatment of anxiety, depression, and stress-related problems. This audio explains how these methods work together and how to implement them.

This audio download is the fourth of a series of audios to explain mindfulness in greater detail. For your convenience, the transcript of the audio is included. It is best to use the Understanding Mindfulness audios in order and practice the methods before proceeding to the next step.



June 19, 2014
PsychNote: FOR FUN—TRY BEING MINDFUL ABOUT THE WEATHER

Seemingly, unless it is a 70 degree sunny day with a light breeze and no humidity, people complain about the weather. It is either too hot, too cold, too much rain, too much snow, too humid, too windy, too cloudy, or just plain “too.” Once, I was in Wyoming in the winter time and they were complaining that there was only a foot of snow on the ground and it wasn't cold enough!

I don't know about other parts of the world, but here in the Midwest and in the Eastern U.S. the weather changes a lot (read the Mark Twain speech below for a laugh). Although Mark Twain was speaking about the weather, “If you don't like the weather, just wait a few minutes” I think the quote more accurately describes the tendency to complain about the weather.

cloudy sunset What does all this complaining do for us? What if, instead, people were mindful about the weather? I challenge you to practice being mindfully aware of the weather without any demands or expectations. In other words, just experience it. And when people bring up the weather: “Hot enough for you, today?” share your experience. It might even make the conversation about weather more interesting.

Mark Twain's Speech delivered at the New England Society's Seventy-First Annual Dinner, New York City, 1876:




June 17, 2014
The purpose of this audio is to help cope with certain emotional states.  The imagery describes building a special place with rooms designed for different emotions: a room that helps you feel peaceful when you are anxious or tense, a room that helps you feel strong and in control when you are fearful, a room that feels comforting when you are sad, a room where you can release anger, a room that helps with concentration and focus, a room that energizes you, a room where you can access your creative energy, hopes, and dreams, and a room designed for restful sleep.

This imagery is particularly useful to learn how to access or manage certain emotions when you are not listening to the audio. By practicing repeatedly, you will begin to pair certain emotions with the imagery of the rooms that you have built. Then you can draw on that pairing by imagining the room which will help you manage the emotion or the state of being that you choose. For instance, if you are taking a test and need to concentrate, you can visually the room you have created for concentration to access that state.



June 16, 2014
New Passive-Aggressive Example: IS IT PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE OR IS IT AGGRESSIVE?

Question: My angry adult daughter (who has to live at home right now) didn't acknowledge Mother's Day. I didn't say a word. When she didn't acknowledge Father's Day yesterday, I texted her asking if she was aware it was Father's Day and if this was a PA issue. Her response was, "Yes and it isn't passive."

View Response



June 14, 2014
New Audio: MINDFUL GROUNDING.

This audio provides assistance when you are overwhelmed with anxiety and can't focus on relaxation especially if you are experiencing depersonalization or derealization (you or your surroundings don't feel real). The grounding technique can be particularly helpful when someone has anxiety due to trauma which is causing flashbacks to the memory of the trauma. It has you focus on your immediate surroundings to help focus away from the traumatic memory.

This type of audio is not for the purpose of relaxation but to help you feel more focused so that you can use other techniques. Once you have used the mindful grounding technique and can focus a bit more, it is a good idea to use the relaxation audios to help calm yourself further.

It is best to listen to this audio for the first time when you don't need it so that you will have an idea of what to expect. In addition, developing an understanding of mindfulness can help with this practice: Understanding Mindfulness.



June 12, 2014
PsychNote: THE “KLEPTOPARASITE” BIRD STEALS FOOD THROUGH INTERMITTENT REINFORCEMENT

The African drongo bird steals food by mimicking alarm calls and convincing other birds (and animals) a predator is nearby. Then the drongo swoops in for a free meal. However, this ruse wouldn't work if the drongo didn't use the psychological technique called “intermittent reinforcement.”

Most people are aware that if you want a behavior to increase, you reinforce the behavior. For instance, let's say you want a child to pick up her toys after playing with them. Whenever you see her pick up her toys you reinforce the behavior by giving her a coin for her piggy bank (I'm not saying this is the best reinforcement—I'm just giving a concrete example). This is called “continuous reinforcement” because it occurs every time. The problem with continuous reinforcement is that when you stop the reinforcement, the behavior is likely to stop because the child realizes she is no longer getting a coin.

African drongo bird
However, intermittent reinforcement is more likely to keep a behavior occurring. If the drongo only issued alarm calls when there were no predators around, then the other birds would realize the drongo's alarm calls are meaningless and wouldn't fly off leaving their food for the drongo to steal. Instead, the drongo issues real alarm calls some of the time and then at other times issues a false one. This insures that the other birds don't ignore the alarm and will fly off.

Intermittent reinforcement is more powerful than continuous reinforcement and is more likely to create an ongoing behavior even when reinforcement is discontinued. So, if the parent rewards the child for picking up her toys every other time on average and then gradually decreased the reward until it was discontinued, the child is more likely to keep picking up her toys even when she is no longer rewarded.

Read more about the drongo.



June 10, 2014
New Audio: DAILY MINDFULNESS PRACTICE--Feeling Apprehension.

Practice mindfulness many times throughout the day with your different activities. If your mind wanders, gently bring your focus back to your immediate experience.

Be sure to listen to or read Understanding Mindfulness: Step 3--Mindfulness and Unpleasant Emotions prior to practicing this audio exercise. This exercise is to help you develop tolerance of emotions and is particularly useful for anxiety. The audio provides guidance for being mindfully present with apprehension. However, the actual practice of mindfulness is to allow yourself to be fully aware of your experience when feeling apprehensive. Although trying to create the emotion of apprehension would not be mindful, it may be possible to create the conditions that might cause you to feel apprehensive.



June 9, 2014
New Audio: DAILY MINDFULNESS PRACTICE--Feeling Remorse.

Practice mindfulness many times throughout the day with your different activities. If your mind wanders, gently bring your focus back to your immediate experience.

Be sure to listen to or read Understanding Mindfulness: Step 3--Mindfulness and Unpleasant Emotions prior to practicing this audio exercise. This exercise is to help you develop tolerance of emotions. The audio provides guidance for being mindfully present with remorse. Feeling guilty is an uncomfortable feeling that may be necessary if you have done something wrong. In which case, feeling guilty helps you to correct behavior. However, many people feel guilt or remorse when they haven't truly done something wrong. In such a situation, it is important to learn to tolerate the discomfort rather than continuing to recreate it with irrational thoughts. The actual practice of mindfulness is to allow yourself to be fully aware of your experience when feeling remorse. It is not reasonable to create the conditions for remorse to occur. Instead, you need to be aware of when you might feel remorse so as to practice mindfully experiencing it.



June 8, 2014
50 RULES FOR LIFE
Rule 9: Persist, No Matter the Odds
(read more...)


Persist. No Matter the Odds.



June 7, 2014
New Audio: DAILY MINDFULNESS PRACTICE--Feeling Helpless.

Practice mindfulness many times throughout the day with your different activities. If your mind wanders, gently bring your focus back to your immediate experience.

Be sure to listen to or read Understanding Mindfulness: Step 3--Mindfulness and Unpleasant Emotions prior to practicing this audio exercise. This exercise is to help you develop tolerance of emotions. The audio provides guidance for being mindfully present with helplessness. However, the actual practice of mindfulness is to allow yourself to be fully aware of your experience when feeling helpless. Although trying to create the emotion of helplessness would not be mindful, it may be possible to create the conditions that might cause you to feel helpless. If it is not reasonable to create the conditions for helplessness to occur, you need to be aware of when you might feel helpless so as to practice mindfully experiencing it.



June 5, 2014
New Audio: DAILY MINDFULNESS PRACTICE--Feeling Sadness.

Practice mindfulness many times throughout the day with your different activities. If your mind wanders, gently bring your focus back to your immediate experience.

Be sure to listen to or read Understanding Mindfulness: Step 3--Mindfulness and Unpleasant Emotions prior to practicing this audio exercise. This exercise is to help you develop tolerance of emotions. The audio provides guidance for being mindfully present with sadness. However, the actual practice of mindfulness is to allow yourself to be fully aware of your experience when feeling sad. It is not reasonable to create the conditions for sadness to occur. Instead, you need to be aware of when you might feel sadness so as to practice mindfully experiencing it.



June 4, 2014
New PsychNote: PRAISING CHILDREN CAN REDUCE PERFORMANCE

For awhile it has been known that “person praise” of children can lead to avoidance of challenge and poorer performance. “Person praise” is generic, one-size-fits-all, praise such as “You are so smart” or “You are such a good kid.” This type of praise leads to the child believing that he or she doesn't really have to try to succeed because they are already good enough. Yet, improved performance is based on effort, so with this type of praise we often see poorer performance likely due to the lack of effort.

The other type of praise is “process praise” which has been shown in laboratory experiments to lead to improved performance. “Process praise” focuses more on the effort or enjoyment of the task such as “You really tried hard” or “It looked like you enjoyed that.” However, in a study of actual interactions between parents and children, researchers (Pomerantz and Kempner, 2013) found that process praise did not improve performance, although it did not have a detrimental effect as person praise did.

What is the Best Way to Praise Children?

Certainly, the research is clear not to use person praise. Perhaps it is best not to think of praise as a way of attempting to manipulate children to improve or to try harder or to like something. Instead, use praise genuinely to express what you think of a child's performance. And when you do, frame it in a process praise manner: “I was really impressed by how hard you tried” or “You improved in attention to detail when doing your homework.” Children may be aware of when you are manipulating them with praise and are likely to dismiss your comments. However, genuine praise, even if not as frequent, may have more meaning for them.

Pomerantz, E.M. And Kempner, S.G. (2013). Mothers’ Daily Person and Process Praise: Implications for Children’s Theory of Intelligence and Motivation. Developmental Psychology, 49, 2040-2046. DOI: 10.1037/a003184.



June 1, 2014
New Audio: DAILY MINDFULNESS PRACTICE--Feeling Frustrated.

Practice mindfulness many times throughout the day with your different activities. If your mind wanders, gently bring your focus back to your immediate experience.

Be sure to listen to or read Understanding Mindfulness: Step 3--Mindfulness and Unpleasant Emotions prior to practicing this audio exercise. This exercise is to help you develop tolerance of emotions. The audio provides guidance for being mindfully present with frustration. However, the actual practice of mindfulness is to allow yourself to be fully aware of your experience when feeling frustrated. Although trying to create the emotion of frustration would not be mindful, it may be possible to create the conditions that might cause you to feel frustrated.



May 28, 2014
New Audio: DAILY MINDFULNESS PRACTICE--Feeling Embarrassed.

Practice mindfulness many times throughout the day with your different activities. If your mind wanders, gently bring your focus back to your immediate experience.

The audio provides guidance for being mindfully present with embarrassment. However, the actual practice of mindfulness is to allow yourself to be fully aware of your experience when feeling embarrassed. Although trying to create the emotion of embarrassment would not be mindful, it may be possible to create the conditions that might cause you to feel embarrassed.



May 26, 2014
New Relaxation Audio: CITYSCAPE MINDFULNESS.

This free download teaches mindful awareness by describing relaxing imagery. This audio allows you to experience the view from a rooftop in a city. As you mindfully experience the city, the sun sets and the lights of the city appear.

Use the audio for relaxation, mindfulness training, or sleep.



May 23, 2014
New Audio: DAILY MINDFULNESS PRACTICE--Feeling Disappointment.

Practice mindfulness many times throughout the day with your different activities. If your mind wanders, gently bring your focus back to your immediate experience.

This exercise is to help you develop tolerance of emotions. The audio provides guidance for being mindfully present with disappointment. However, the actual practice of mindfulness is to allow yourself to be fully aware of your experience when feeling disappointed. It is not reasonable to create the conditions for disappointment to occur. Instead, you need to be aware of when you might feel disappointment so as to practice mindfully experiencing it.



May 22, 2014
New Audio: DAILY MINDFULNESS PRACTICE--Feeling Loneliness.

Practice mindfulness many times throughout the day with your different activities. If your mind wanders, gently bring your focus back to your immediate experience.

This exercise is to help you develop tolerance of emotions. The audio provides guidance for being mindfully present with loneliness. However, the actual practice of mindfulness is to allow yourself to be fully aware of your experience when feeling lonely. Although trying to create the emotion of loneliness would not be mindful, it may be possible to create the conditions that might cause you to feel lonely.



May 20, 2014
New Audio: DAILY MINDFULNESS PRACTICE--Feeling Excitement.

Practice mindfulness many times throughout the day with your different activities. If your mind wanders, gently bring your focus back to your immediate experience.

This exercise is to help you develop tolerance of emotions. The audio provides guidance for being mindfully present with excitement. However, the actual practice of mindfulness is to allow yourself to be fully aware of your experience when feeling excited. Although trying to create the emotion of excitement would not be mindful, it may be possible to create the conditions that might cause you to feel excited.



May 19, 2014
New Audio: DAILY MINDFULNESS PRACTICE--Feeling Bored.

Practice mindfulness many times throughout the day with your different activities. If your mind wanders, gently bring your focus back to your immediate experience.

This exercise is to help you develop tolerance of emotions. The audio provides guidance for being mindfully present with boredom. However, the actual practice of mindfulness is to allow yourself to be fully aware of your experience when feeling bored. Although trying to create the emotion of boredom would not be mindful, it may be possible to create the conditions that might cause you to feel bored.



May 17, 2014
Many emotional problems occur due to the numerous methods used to avoid emotions. If instead, you learn how to mindfully be aware of unpleasant emotions, you become more in control of your emotional experience. Many unhealthy behaviors can be reduced by learning to tolerate these emotions.

This audio download is the third of a series of audios to explain mindfulness in greater detail. For your convenience, the transcript of the audio is included. It is best to use the Understanding Mindfulness audios in order and practice the methods before proceeding to the next step.



May 13, 2014
New Cognitive Diary Training Example: CATASTROPHIZING ABOUT MEDICAL TESTS

EVENT: I have to wait for the results from medical tests.

EMOTIONS: dread, uncertainty, hopelessness

DISTRESS RATING: 7--Feeling distressed, less in control

THOUGHTS: “I saw my doctor because I was not feeling normal and she thought I should get a thorough check-up. I think she thinks something is wrong but won't tell me. The technician looked at me with concern when I had the tests done. I'm sure there is something terribly wrong! I probably have cancer. What will I do? How will I take care of my family? I'm always so unlucky. If something bad can happen, it will happen to me.”

CAN YOU IDENTIFY THE IRRATIONAL THINKING IN THIS EXAMPLE? There are at least 3 irrational beliefs.

HOW CAN YOU CHANGE THE THINKING? What is another way of thinking about the situation that won't cause the feelings of dread, uncertainty, and hopelessness?

VIEW ANSWER



May 9, 2014
Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

If you have read my article Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics you know that one of my pet peeves is how the media uses statistics. Well, it's not only the media. Today I was confronted by a highway sign, “MoDot Cares”--that's Missouri's Department of Transportation's slogan.

The sign said “59% of motorcycle accidents occur during the day.” My reaction was “What in the world does that even mean?” Most people would think the meaning is obvious: if there were 100 accidents, that would mean that 59 occurred during the day and 41 at night. Therefore, it is less safe to ride a motorcycle during the day or you should be more careful watching for motorcycles during the day.

However, without further information, this statistic could mean, instead, that it is safer to ride a motorcycle during the day. “What?!” you say. “How can that be?”

Let's look more closely at this statistic. I'm going to make up some numbers to illustrate how important it is to know the “base rate”; in this case, how many people ride motorcycles at night vs. during the day. If we knew it was exactly the same number, then this statistic would be the obvious interpretation described above. However, the sign doesn't tell us the base rate. Why is this important? Because without this information, the statistic could mean the exact opposite of what we think it means.

For instance, if the base rate is that 2000 people ride at night and 1000 ride during the day and there were 100 accidents, that would mean that 59 occurred during the day and 41 at night (same as above). However, since more people are riding at night, it means there are actually 20 accidents per 1000 riders at night vs. 59 accidents per 1000 riders during the day. So far, so good, right? The statistic means it is safer to ride at night.

However, what if the base rate was that1000 people ride at night and 2000 ride during the day? This is where it gets interesting. Again, if there were 100 accidents, this would mean that there were 41 accidents per 1000 riders at night, but now there would only be 29 accidents per 1000 riders during the day. In this scenario, it would be safer to ride during the day!

Do you see why it drives me nuts when the media (and other sources) use statistics to influence our behavior, but they don't give us all the information? You can find examples of this every day in newspapers, on the news, and certainly on the internet (not to mention driving on the highway).

What is the lesson here? Don't trust statistics unless you have all of the information. This is especially true when only percentages are given.



May 7, 2014
IS SHE PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE OR IS SHE AN EXTROVERT?
Question: My co-worker is always making statements that are said in jest, but always feel like a put down in some way. They feel like very passive-agressive comments. For example, I was in a meeting with a director and my co-worker and we were talking about collaboration and how effective it is. I said, "I love to collaborate" and my co-worker said, "YES!! You do! You REALLY LOVE to collaborate." I just smiled, but what does that even mean?

Also, I was talking about how I am shy when I meet people and I really have to work to break out of my shell. And she said laughing, "Are you kidding? I ALWAYS see you talking to random people all day long." I responded with, "I don't know who you see me talking to ALL day, but it's usually someone I am working on a project with. And yes, I do try to talk to people I don't know because I work to improve myself by getting out of my shell."

I often feel on the defense with her, like I always have to defend who I am as a person. It's really annoying and part of me wants to tell her that she needs to get some help to discover the underlying cause of her passive-aggressive behavior. But then I am letting her know it irritates me and that I am letting her get to me.


View Response



May 6, 2014
New Cognitive Diary Training Example: FEAR OF HAVING A PANIC ATTACK WHILE FLYING

EVENT: I want to attend my friend's wedding but I will have to fly. I'm afraid of flying because I have been having panic attacks and I'm afraid of having one while flying. I know flying is safe and I'm not afraid of that. I'm afraid of feeling trapped, panicking, and not having any help.

EMOTIONS: apprehension, embarrassment, terrified

DISTRESS RATING: 9—feeling desperate

THOUGHTS: “What if I have a panic attack while flying? I can't leave and I will feel trapped which will make my anxiety worse. I will feel out-of-control. What will people think of me?”

CAN YOU IDENTIFY THE IRRATIONAL THINKING IN THIS EXAMPLE? There are at least 3 irrational beliefs.

HOW CAN YOU CHANGE THE THINKING? What is another way of thinking about the situation that won't cause the feelings of apprehension, embarrassment, and terror?

VIEW ANSWER



May 5, 2014
Audio version of article A Brief Primer on the Biology of Stress and How CBT Can Help just released!

Discusses how stress affects us physically and methods of changing this physical reaction.



May 2, 2014
Audio version of article Coping with Change: Psychological Flexibility just released!

Discusses the concept of adapting to change and how CBT can improve psychological flexibility.



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Excellence vs Perfection Some people may be curious as to why this website is dedicated to the "pursuit of excellence" when I am constantly warning about the dangers of perfectionism.  To address this question we must differentiate between the pursuit of excellence and the need to be perfect.  These concepts are not only different but can be considered antagonistic to one another. In fact these concepts are so opposed to one another that  excellence can best be attained by giving up the demands of perfection.

What is Perfectionism?  Perfectionism is the individual's belief that he or she must be perfect to be acceptable. Perfectionism is black and white with no gray area. Anything other than perfect is failure. Perfectionism is an attitude, not necessarily a behavior. In other words, two people can engage in the same behavior such as trying to win an Olympic gold medal but one can be pursuing excellence and the other is demanding perfection. The difference lies in the thought process about the goal or behavior, not in the goal or behavior itself.  READ MORE...



Catastrophe? Or Inconvenience? Listening to the weather forecast one frigid day, I realized how much we are influenced by the catastrophic thinking of the media.  The weatherman reported, "The weather has brought more misery to the St. Louis area."  Certainly, the weather was causing problems that day.  An ice storm caused car doors and locks to be frozen so that people had a great deal of trouble getting into their cars.  However, I thought, unless someone was in the middle of nowhere with no cell phone and they were unable to open their car door because of the ice, this was not "misery."  Instead, I would call it an "inconvenience."  Most of us walked out to our cars to find that we couldn't open the door, went back inside a warm house or office, and found some solution to our problem.  READ MORE...



Happiness is an Attitude For many years when my husband and I were first together I would ask him "When are things going to get better?"  We were dealing with the usual stressors that couples face: not enough time, not enough money, and the inevitable random events such as family conflict, deaths of loved ones, illnesses and injuries.  In addition, for most of our early years together I was in school and struggling with the balancing of demands of advanced education, part-time work, and a family. 
But I had the belief that we were working towards this perfect life that one day would emerge shining a rainbow of happiness forever over us. My husband, inclined more toward the practical, just answered my question of "When are things going to get better?," with "Another six months."  That answer typically pacified me for awhile because I thought I could handle any amount of stress for six months.  However, a point would occur when I once again I asked my husband "When are things going to get better?"  Once again, he would answer "Another six months."  This scenario occurred fairly routinely for many years.

However, fortunately during this time I had experiences that began to teach me about my expectations of life.  In particular, when I was completing my internship at the Veterans Administration Medical Center I had the opportunity to work on the spinal cord injury unit.  That experience forever changed my thinking.  In particular, I was struck by the differences in attitude among the patients.  READ MORE...


Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics Not a day goes by when I don't throw down the morning newspaper complaining about the use of statistics in an article.  In our world the media liberally sprinkles statistics throughout articles and television programs to support a point of view.  The problem, however, is that statistics are frequently misleading if not outright inaccurate.  Without a clear understanding of the nature of statistics and the definitions of statistical terms, the public believe the statistic-supported statements as if they are fact.  In addition, without understanding the agenda of the journalist or analyst using the statistics, the public accepts these "facts" uncritically.  READ MORE...






What to Do When Your Jealousy Threatens to Destroy Your Marriage Frequently, I am asked how to handle irrational jealous feelings.  Usually, the individual recognizes that her feelings are unreasonable with no valid evidence but feels incapable of controlling the jealousy.  In addition, the person usually recognizes the destructive nature of indulging in the feelings and the resulting behavior.  Such behavior typically involves excessive questioning of her spouse, suspiciousness, and accusations.  Many spouses become extremely frustrated with this behavior because they have no way of proving their faithfulness.  This leads to an escalating cycle of anger which is used as further evidence by the jealous spouse that her suspicions are correct.The jealous spouse often desperately wants to stop the behavior but finds that he can't control the thoughts which makes him feel miserable.  He believes that if he can just prove his suspicions one way or another, he will feel better.  The unfortunate fallacy in this thinking, is that trust can never be proven; it can only be disproved.  The definition of trust is the belief that something is true.  Therefore, without evidence to the contrary, if we want a satisfying relationship, we have to choose to trust the person we love.  READ MORE...



RECOMMENDED BOOKS...


Thinking Your Way to a Healthy Weight"I don't have any willpower."

"I'm weak."

"I'm lazy."

"I can't do it."

Do these statements sound familiar? Too often, our self-statements about weight management interfere with our efforts and lead to failure. By changing how we think about developing a healthy weight we are able to change the behaviors that can lead to success.

Not long ago I conducted a little experiment with my cardio-kickboxing class. After an intense class I told them to get the heaviest weights they could curl 8-10 times. I spent a minute telling them to focus on feeling tired, that they had just worked out hard and they couldn't do anymore. Then, they were to curl the weights to exhaustion. Once they finished, I spent another minute telling them to focus on having energy, feeling good, feeling refreshed, and knowing they could do more. Once again, they lifted the weights to exhaustion. The results were that out of nine people, only one did fewer lifts the second time! And typically, when someone lifts weights to exhaustion they should not be able to lift as much the second time when it is only a minute later. Although this was not a controlled scientific experiment, it was a demonstration to my class to show how powerful our thinking can be. What this exercise showed was how positive thinking overcame the natural exhaustion of the body and created a self-fulfilling prophecy of lifting more weight because the participants believed that they could. READ MORE...