Research Helps Us Understand the World As It Is Instead of How We Want It to Be
When state politicians are paid more, they spend less time doing legislative business and more time fund-raising (Hoffman and Lyons, 2016). Yet, many of these state legislators whose salaries range from less than $8,000 a year (Texas) to more than $100,000 a year (California) want us to believe that increasing their salaries improves their effectiveness representing us.
What does this have to do with psychology? It shows the importance of psychological research rather than relying on what others want us to believe. In this case, we are told to believe that paying politicians better will attract a higher quality person and allow him/her to devote more time to the job. Instead, research shows us that paying them better gives them a greater incentive to focus on keeping the job which means more attention to fund-raising rather than working.
September 26, 2016
Passive-Aggressive Example: Problems with Adult Child Living at Home
Our 19-year-old daughter has always been a handful. She suffers from generalized anxiety disorder and anoroxia diagnosed at age 13. She is in college but will not live on campus and refused to drive until age 18. Now she leaves our home at 8:AM every day but will not return home until past midnight. She will not contribute to our home, leaves filth everywhere she goes. She is dating two young men who look as though they have crawled out from under a rock. She is intelligent and beautiful. When confronted about her filth and lack of contribution at home she claims her stress level is off the charts. Her therapist claims she is a normal latent teen due to her earlier issues. She reals me in with advice about juggling her beaus or classes but lashes out at me when I advise her to slow down or ask her to clean her filth. I have become resentful of her and she of me. We got into an altercation where she pushed, shoved, and hit me. I hit her back to get her off of me. Then she left home claiming she was afraid to come back. Her father took her side saying I must have provoked her when all I asked her to do is clean her room. She is back home but nothing has changed except now I am dealing with her verbal disrespect.
Example: Me - "Good morning, last night you left used sanitary products exposed in the downstairs bathroom. Will you take care of that immediately?"
Her - "Isn't it so nice to be greeted with griping and complaining first thing in the morning."
Me- "Seriously? Go clean that up--no one wants to see it."
Her - "I will if I get a chance. You are stressing me out."
Me - "You need to be stressed out, clean your mess up now."
Her - "I am late for class." Door slams, car drives off, mess stays.
Gut Bacteria, Auto-immune Diseases, and Depression
I often wondered why many of my clients with chronic depression and/or anxiety disorders also suffered from multiple physical conditions. Although many answers have been forthcoming such as certain psychotropic medications increase obesity and susceptibility to diabetes, the most intriguing answer seems to be related to gut bacteria.
Through my decades of practice I've come to believe through observation that depression is more a physical disorder than a mental one. Although it has an emotional component (and doesn't any severe chronic illness?), the life-debilitating symptoms are more physically based: sleep disturbance, lack of energy, eating disturbance, physical aches and pains. In fact, most of the emotional symptoms appear to be caused by the physical. The lack of interest in usual activities, for instance, can be explained by the lack of energy. The mood disturbance (sadness, hopelessness, anger) can be explained by the daily frustration of not being able to engage in what should be simple activities.
September 19, 2016
An Easier Way to Achieve Goals that Require Self-control
I've often stated that I can either diet or I can do everything else I do in life. For a long time I chose to do everything else. Research shows that when we overload our working memory, we find it harder to maintain self-control in problem areas of our lives whether those involve food choices, use of drugs and alcohol, or impulsive and risky decisions. When I was busy with stressful activities such as building a business I couldn't focus on dieting. However, once my business was stable I could focus my attention on healthy behaviors.
In other words, attempts to multitask often cause personal health goals to go by the wayside. Our memories just can't handle multiple stressful tasks. The working memory has limited resources, becomes overloaded, and is most likely to forget behaviors that deviate from our routine. So if you are trying to make a change, you are less likely to focus on and remember the new behavior when your attention is required elsewhere. How many times have you ignored a personal goal by saying something like, “I don't care. This is more important right now!”
Good news, however, comes from a series of 18 studies by researcher Mirjam Tuk and colleagues (2015). This research shows that when we try to control behavior in one area, we have a greater ability to control behavior in another area.
September 16, 2016
Why Do People Choose Unhappiness?
Happiness is easy. But the switch from unhappiness to happiness is hard. It means change which requires effort and can be quite uncomfortable. It is letting go of the familiar and the seemingly safe.
We often hear cliches such as “Happiness is a destination” or “Happiness is a state of mind.” Although these cliches have truth, they don't tell you how to change. It is not as simple as reading a statement and thinking “Oh, I never thought of that! My life is changed forever!”
Instead, people choose to stay miserable because the road to happiness can be uncomfortable. There are no “3 Easy Steps to Happiness.” It is a journey—one that can take a lifetime. That doesn't mean you can't be happy during that journey. But happiness is an unfolding process. The journey promises more around every turn. Read more...
August 25, 2016
The Porcupine Effect: When People Are Mean
Reasons for Meanness Inventory
So often we view other people's behavior as mean or deliberate. Yet, when we engage in the same behavior, we may not view ourselves in the same way. Usually, this is due to us knowing the reason for our own behavior but not thinking through the possible reasons for other people's behavior. Those who are sensitive to rejection tend to have an ego-centric view of the world, believing that other people's comments or behavior is about them. However, this is frequently not true.
The purpose of this inventory is for self-reflection regarding a particular event. This series of questions helps you to think through others' behavior to help you understand that either they are not truly being mean or that their behavior is not personal about you but, instead, is about them. By doing so, you can then determine what is the best course of action. In particular, you may be able to recognize that most behavior is not a true rejection of you but is due to the other person's problems. Read more...
The Porcupine Effect: What to Do When You Are a Porcupine
Rules for Relationships When You Are Sensitive to Rejection
Once you have recognized that you are prickly and it affects the quality of your relationships, you can change your response by developing some rules for your relationships with others. These rules provide you with a structure to keep in mind when interacting with others or when anticipating contact with others who tend to trigger your rejection sensitivity. The following describes some of the common rules that can aid in this process. Not all of them may be relevant for you. In addition, you may develop some of your own rules that are more specific to your situation. The important element for change that rules provide is a mental strategy for addressing a problem.
Rule 1. Develop Awareness
If you recognize you have rejection sensitivity, the first step is to keep that awareness in mind. Many times people understand they have a problem but have difficulty changing because their automatic reaction occurs before they can think through the situation. Read more...
The Porcupine Effect: Desire for Love vs. Demand for Romantic Love
Frequently, the Porcupine Effect can destroy love relationships. Although a person desires love, their fears and doubts can cause them to inadvertently push the other person away. Often, this is due to trying to create a romanticized version of love. By trying to confine the relationship to this idealization of love the person harms the relationship when s/he desires to nurture or create a relationship.
An Affair to Remember
Considered one of the most romantic movies of all time, "An Affair to Remember" shows us what could happen when romantic beliefs go awry. Although life imitates fiction when it comes to the development of these expectations for relationships, it often does not imitate the happy endings found in romantic movies. Read more...
You've taken the first step to managing your reactions by recognizing that you are overly sensitive to rejection and that it affects your life in ways you don't like. At times you perceive rejection when it may not have occurred. The hallmark for rejection sensitivity is the certainty you feel about being rejected. However, as described in the the previous articles, your certainty is in question. It may appear you were rejected if you only consider your perspective. But what if you view the larger picture? What do you see then?
Early in my relationship with my husband, I thought I was certain about the meaning of his comments and often reacted sensitively. Repeatedly, he told me, “Listen to my intention, not my words. I'm not good with words like you are.” I began to realize what sounded hurtful and rejecting on the surface may even be the exact opposite. Telling me how to do something was not a criticism but an attempt to be helpful. Words such as “be careful” when I left for work weren't comments about my driving but his way of saying, “I love you. Come back to me safely.” Sure, I still bristle at times but I can also remind myself, “Listen to the intention.”
The Porcupine Effect: When Rejection is an Illusion
When the Gut Instinct is Wrong
Excerpt: "In the normal course of development, we learn to listen to our gut reaction to help us interpret and respond to situations in our lives. The purpose of the gut reaction is to draw our attention to something to allow us to evaluate it. However, people who are overly sensitive to rejection typically listen to the gut reaction without further evaluation. Or, when examining a situation for signs of rejection the tendency is to look only for confirming evidence and not for dis-confirming evidence. As a result, many of those who are sensitive to rejection are more likely driven by emotions to believe rejection occurred when perhaps further evaluation would show it had not." Read more...
The Porcupine Effect: The Plight of the Prickly Porcupine
A Tale of Two Porcupines
Excerpt: "Being the center of someone's world had been a dream come true for Gail. During her childhood her mother never had time for her or her younger brothers after her parents divorced. She rarely saw her father while her mother disappeared frequently “going out with friends.” Sometimes in the morning her mother could barely get up and drag herself to work. Gail, being the oldest, made sure her brothers ate breakfast and caught the school bus in time. She also needed to make sure they did their homework at night. As a teenager, all she ever wished for was someone who would love her and take care of her. Becoming a cheerleader in high school brought her a lot of the attention she craved. After she met George in college she quit cheerleading because it distressed him so much for her to be around the football players." Read more...
The Porcupine Effect: Pushing Others Away When You Want to Connect
The Parable of the Porcupines
“A number of porcupines huddled together for warmth on a cold day in winter; but, as they began to prick one another with their quills, they were obliged to disperse. However the cold drove them together again, when just the same thing happened. At last, after many turns of huddling and dispersing, they discovered that they would be best off by remaining at a little distance from one another. In the same way the need of society drives the human porcupines together, only to be mutually repelled by the many prickly and disagreeable qualities of their nature... By this arrangement the mutual need...is only very moderately satisfied; but then people do not get pricked (Schopenhauer, 1851, Chapter 9).”
Motivational Psychology: Or, How Everyone Can Benefit From Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
With the Olympics occurring soon you might notice in the interviews with these elite athletes they will talk about psychological principles they use to win. They might not use the same terms but they will describe how they talk to themselves to improve motivation and performance. They will describe how they visualize their performance. They will describe how they focus mindfully and let go of other distractions. Many of these elite athletes have the same level of skill so success may hinge upon how well they are able to use these psychological methods.
However, you don't need to be an Olympic athlete to benefit from these methods. You don't even need to apply them to sports training. These methods can be used at work, other types of competitive activities, any kind of performance, or any area of life in which you want to improve your outcome. Read more...
July 29, 2016
Brain Training and Age-related Decline of Driving Skills
Full disclosure: In this PsychNote I am unabashedly promoting an android app Speed Card created by Tesseract Mobile, a company owned by Laura Ockel and my son, Josh Frank.
Many people worry about growing older and losing their independence. In much of the U.S. ability to drive is directly related to being able to function independently. However, age-related decline may interfere with driving skills. Research has shown that when older adults cease driving they engage in fewer social activities and have increased depression. Fortunately, though, there are methods that can reduce age-related decline and allow people to function independently for a longer time as they grow older (Edwards, et al., 2009).
Older adults who receive speed processing training are more likely to retain their ability to drive longer. A review of the research on speed processing training shows a variety of methods can be effective. The common feature of most of these methods is focusing attention to enhance speed and accuracy of performing an activity. Read more...
July 26, 2016
Irrational: Is it the Word or the Intention that is Offensive?
I notice some people are offended when I and other cognitive-behavioral therapists use the word “irrational” to describe their thinking. I propose, however, at the risk of adding insult to injury, being offended by a common word is usually irrational itself. In particular, it is the irrational thinking style of “emotional reasoning” in which a person believes that because they feel something it must be true. In other words, they don't evaluate the evidence for the emotion.
For those who are offended by the word “irrational” their emotional reaction is likely due to past negative experiences with the word. Perhaps they were called “irrational” as a way of shaming them: “You're just being irrational.” Or maybe they have associated the word with other words that were used maliciously against them such as thinking “irrational” means the same as “crazy.” Or perhaps they believe they should never be irrational because it is an illogical emotional reaction.
We tend to attribute meaning to words based upon our experiences. But that doesn't always mean the word itself is bad or intended to cause hurt. Certainly, there are some words that have been so closely associated with malicious intentions that the two cannot be separated. However, with ordinary words or, in this case, ones that can convey particular psychological meaning succinctly the intention needs to be considered. Is the word being used in a way that is meant to be hurtful? Read more...
July 23, 2016
Using the Cognitive Diary for Eating Disorders
Healthline has selected Excel At Life's android app Cognitive Diary CBT Self-help as one of the best apps for eating disorders. Although the Cognitive Diary app is a general multipurpose app, it can be used for specific types of problems. The following provides some tips as to using it for eating disorders.
Although eating disorders are more complex and involve physiological processes as well, two psychological aspects of eating disorders can be managed:
1) Thought process. The type of thinking can vary with the type of eating disorder. However, typically the thoughts are inaccurate in some way. For instance, the thoughts may involve inadequacy, perfectionistic demands/expectations, and control. For anorexia, in particular, the thoughts include a focus on a distorted body image. In addition, the thoughts aren't always directly related to food or body image but irrational assumptions and demands of the self can be focused on any type of problem that is experienced so that other types of problems such as relationship issues can trigger the eating behavior. Read more...
July 21, 2016
Is the Stress Hormone Good or Bad?
You may have heard of the stress hormone and the role that increased levels of cortisol can play in negative emotions and health consequences such as heart disease. However, when it comes to the human body nothing is ever simple. We often hear about something being good or bad for us and then finding out the opposite is true.
The problem is that most things are neither good nor bad but have the potential to be good or bad for us. It depends. Our bodies need to be in a state of homeostasis which another word for balance. Good examples of homeostasis are body temperature and blood sugar—both need to be in a certain healthy range, too high or too low can be a problem. Read more...
July 14, 2016
When Do Good People Cheat? Or, Developing Compassion by Recognizing Your Flaws
Not surprisingly, a state of physical deprivation can lead to violating personal moral beliefs if it reduces the physical distress. Research showed that when people had an opportunity to cheat without getting caught they were more likely to do so if they were hungry or thirsty and the reward was food or water. On the other hand, if the reward was not something that would reduce their physical discomfort, they were not more likely to cheat (Williams et al., 2016).
These researchers conducted their studies with the average consumer in a grocery store (hunger group) or with someone who had just worked out in a gym (thirsty group). The participants were not chronically deprived but were in a temporary state of hunger or thirst. If asked, most people say they would not violate their moral beliefs for small pay-offs. Yet, this research showed that minor physical need can cause a person to cheat to reduce their immediate discomfort. Read more...
July 7, 2016
Young Adults Can Improve Romantic Relationships by Learning to Be Okay Alone
The more desperate you are to be in a romantic relationship, the less satisfying your relationships will be. The best relationships are those between two people who have a strong sense of self and can balance their personal needs with the needs of the relationship. They are neither overly dependent upon the relationship nor overly aloof from it.
When a person develops an independent sense of self that person will make healthier choices in relationships which is more likely to result in good outcomes. Those who have a strong sense of self are less likely to be sensitive to rejection which often leads to behaviors that can damage relationships.
Too often in young adulthood people try to be what they think their partner wants or they try to avoid rejection by controlling the relationship. Yet, satisfying relationships are not based upon compliance or coercion. Instead, they are founded on developing a strong sense of self first and then focusing on creating a healthy relationship. Read more...
July 1, 2016
Recovering from the Physical Assault of Surgery or Intensive Care
Although the vast majority of people hospitalized in an intensive care unit reported good care, at six months following treatment 14% were suffering from post-traumatic stress (PTS). In addition, a large portion of the patients reported depression (30%), anxiety (23%), and general stress symptoms (18%) with poor sleep quality associated with these conditions. The PTS symptoms did not appear to be related to previous levels of trauma (Elliott, et al., 2016).
My clinical experience with clients who have had surgery or intensive care is that they are not adequately prepared to understand and manage the aftereffects of their treatment. Although psychological symptoms are often assessed these days they are not adequately explained. People continue to associate psychological symptoms such as depression and anxiety with mood states. As a result, they often resist the label: “I'm not depressed! My life is good. I've recovered well from the surgery. I just need to shake it off.” Thinking this way often prevents them from effectively taking care of themselves post-treatment. Read more...
June 27, 2016
Assertion 101: You Have the Right to Say “I Don't Care”
Sometimes saying “I don't care” is harder for people than saying “No.” Yet, have you ever thought “I don't care” but acted in ways to show you do care? In other words, have you ignored what you wanted to prevent conflict or to not hurt someone's feelings?
“I don't care” is usually about shoulds or demands. Someone expects you to care about something:
“You should lose weight.”
“You shouldn't spend so much time on social media.”
“You should care about what happens in national politics.”
June 24, 2016
How Moral Identity Influences Witnesses' Reactions to Abusive Supervisors
Have you ever been the victim of an abusive supervisor and wondered why no one intervened on your behalf? Researcher Marie Mitchell and colleagues (2015) examined the conditions under which those who witness abuse by a supervisor are likely to respond and how they might respond.
In general, they found that peoples' reactions to witnessing abuse by a supervisor is influenced by how much they view the co-worker as deserving of the supervisor's treatment and the witness's personal moral identity. A strong personal moral identity was defined by believing that certain personal characteristics such as caring, kindness, and friendliness were important to them.
June 22, 2016
Treating Social Anxiety Disorder: Comparing Mindfulness Training and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) can be debilitating due to the intense anxiety related to social interaction and the tendency to avoid settings that might elicit the anxiety. Although mild social anxiety is common, those with SAD may have panic attacks and can be severely limited in their activities.
The avoidance can interfere with attending school or getting a job. For those who have a job, it can interfere with performing at an optimal level or getting promotions due to not being able to engage adequately in social aspects of the job such as speaking in a meeting, returning phone calls, or managing others. Or the avoidance can cause inconveniences such as shopping and doing laundry in the middle of the night to avoid people. Or, it can cause serious deficits to life quality such as lack of friendships.
The intense anxiety for those with SAD is associated with thoughts related to feeling threatened by social interaction.
June 16, 2016
When You Feel Like a Fraud
Many successful people have nagging doubts about their success:
“What if people really knew how insecure I am?”
“Will people see through my mask?”
“I've just been lucky—other people will soon see I'm not that talented.”
“I'm just a phony—people will think I'm deceiving them.”
“I'm not as successful as people think because I don't feel like a success.”
The problem with such thoughts is the underlying assumption that a person can “act” successful without “being” successful.
June 15, 2016
When you deny your own needs to take care of someone else you might be a people-pleaser (PP). However, don't be too hard on yourself for being a PP. Generally, PPs are nice people who are willing to go out of their way for others. The problem is when you hurt yourself in the process.
Many PPs are overworked, stressed, and exhausted due to difficulty saying “no” to others in need. This can take a toll on their physical and emotional health. You have a limited amount of energy and time—if you use it up on others you are unable to care for yourself.
The good thing about people-pleasing is you don't have to change completely because a moderate amount of people-pleasing isn't a bad thing. It is only a problem in excess.
June 13, 2016
When Emotional Reasoning Interferes With Having a Dialog About Micro-aggressions
People have become polarized on the topic of micro-aggressions. In case you aren't familiar with micro-aggressions, the term refers to attitudes, behaviors, and comments that are hurtful and discriminatory but may be too subtle to clearly identify. Read my article 5 Common Micro-aggressions Against Those With Mental Illness for additional description.
Instead of looking reasonably at the issue and finding the common middle ground, this polarization causes people on both sides of the issue to react more aggressively.
On one side is: “This is ridiculous! People are too sensitive! I can't be aware of every subtle thing I do that could offend someone.”
On the other side is: “People choose to be unaware of their bigotry and hurtful behavior. They should be punished and maybe they'll be more careful.”
June 10, 2016
Spending Money on Others Can Lower Blood Pressure
As long as it doesn't cause financial strain and is not associated with increased personal stress, spending money on others may have positive effects on the heart. In particular, researcher Willans and colleagues showed that the more money people spent on others, the lower their blood pressure was even two years later.
To help further determine that spending on others, and not just spending in general, contributed to decreased blood pressure, they conducted a random experimental study. In this study they gave people $40 a week for three weeks. Half were told to spend the money on themselves and the other half were told to spend the money on someone else. Two weeks later when blood pressure was measured it was on average six points lower for both diastolic and systolic.
June 6, 2016
Passive-Aggressive Example: What Do I Do When I am Ignored Most of the Time?
My boyfriend moved into my home with me 3 years ago. His two boys, now 17 and 20, spend one overnight a week and a couple of hours mid-week with us. They told their dad before he moved in that they would rather he keep his own apartment so they could visit with just him. We went ahead with co-habitation and things quickly soured.
99% of the time the boys speak to me only when spoken to, usually in one word or one sentence replies. Sometimes they say hello to me and sometimes not. Most of the time, I try to engage them but I'm aware that I generalize at times, and as a result, don't engage beyond hello and goodbye because "It will have the same negative outcome." However, I recognize the irrationality of this and usually attempt to start afresh.
They rarely eat any foods I prepare, opting for frozen/canned. We rarely go anywhere together as a group, usually because I'm not invited.
The older boy rarely speaks to anyone. The younger one is much more talkative with others.
Their dad has spoken to them regarding politeness, greetings, ad nauseam. I've spoken to the younger boy twice about how it makes me feel sad when he doesn't talk to me or say hello and goodbye. The younger one was taken to a therapy session or two and refused to go back.
I argue with their dad about it, sometimes giving him ultimatums and putting him in a no-win situation.
I hope you can assist as I admire you and the enlightening, comprehensive website you've created. It is helping me tremendously as I read, listen, write and practice.
I read a suggestion in one of the PA articles that it may be helpful to regularly and often tell the persons how their behavior makes you feel in a calm, collected way. For example, maybe I could say, "S--- and R----, it hurts my feelings when I'm not included in conversations." And say it every visit they don't talk to me.
People who feel grateful have more self-control. Researchers Dickens and DeSteno (2016) determined degree of gratitude by having subjects complete a computer task during which the computer malfunctioned and they received help from another participant (who was part of the study). In addition, they measured self-control, happiness, and patience in daily life for several weeks. Finally, they determined self-control by offering greater monetary incentive for completing the tasks if they waited for compensation rather than receiving it right away.
The study showed that self-control was specifically related to gratitude but not to general levels of happiness. Thus, people who had higher levels of gratitude were more willing to wait for a larger reward than those who reported being happy but did not score as high in graditude.
People have different preferences and when choosing the audios solely for relaxation or for sleep, it is best to choose them according to your preferences. However, if you want to learn how to use them as a mindful method to develop emotional tolerance, it is important to expand beyond what you like. Emotional tolerance is the ability to bear uncomfortable emotions without a strong negative reaction. Read more...
May 31, 2016
The Influence of News Commentators
How much are people influenced by news commentators' opinions? What if it is clearly stated as an opinion and not based on evidence?
Why does this matter? When people trust the source of their news they may be more influenced by those opinions. If people accept news commentators opinions as fact then they may change health behaviors unwisely. Sometimes this could be harmful.
For instance, when news sources reported on a study in 2015 indicating that saturated fats were not linked to higher risk of heart disease, one major news source included a sidebar saying “Eat more butter.” This statement was a false representation of the researchers' conclusions. However, such a prominent statement accompanied by a research source makes it more believable to the public. Read more...
May 27, 2016
50 RULES OF LIFE
Rule 17: Time is precious--choose how you use it
As an app developer I keep track of how people are using apps and what they want. It also helps me keep a pulse on how people think. An intriguing phenomena I've often seen are comments on gaming apps: “It's a great time-waster.”
Since the Excel At Life self-help apps take effort, I don't think they are very appealing to people who want to waste time. However, I often get comments about it being too hard. People seem to want change so they seek out the apps but are disappointed because personal change isn't easy. And yet, they are okay with a “time-waster” app. Or, wasting time with other activities such as television or gambling.
Why is that? As a person who finds time precious, I can't understand the concept of a “time-waster.” I can't even begin to do all the things I want to do with the time I have. Why would someone want to waste time? Of course, that doesn't mean I don't waste time—that's part of life. I can enjoy a good TV show but that's different that sitting in front of the TV like a zombie. It's just that I don't value wasting time. Read more...
May 24, 2016
Does Mindfulness Make You Good? No, but Does It Matter?
A raging controversy in the mindfulness community involves whether divorcing mindfulness from its ethical framework could potentially be harmful rather than helpful (Harrington and Dunne, 2015). Originally, for mindfulness and its benefits to be accepted by society it needed to be separated from its religious roots. Scientists found that mindfulness practice had health benefits apart from the spiritual framework so the focus became on how to use mindfulness to improve health, well-being and happiness.
However, mindfulness has also been shown to help improve athletic performance, focus when gambling, the sexual experience, and performance of soldiers on the battlefield. Some would say this is not the purpose of mindfulness. Do we really want to teach people how to be better gamblers or soldiers? Read more...
May 20, 2016
Cognitive Diary Training Example: I Can't STAND It!
Unless professionally polished, the written word doesn't convey emotions very well. The written word has no tone of voice, facial expressions, or body language. Prior to texting and email the telephone was the primary form of distance communication. Even that, however, lacked expressions and body language though it could convey tone of voice.
As long as communication is straight-forward and the participants say what they mean, the non-verbals may not be that important. This may seem contrary to the statement often made that 90% of communication is non-verbal. However, this statement is inaccurate regarding straight-forward, clear communication.
This common belief about non-verbals being the bulk of communication emerged from research by Albert Mehrabian which was about inconsistent messages. His research found that when the non-verbals conflicted with the verbals most people interpreted the communication according to the non-verbals. For example, if someone said “I'm so sorry to hear that” while smiling, the listener is more likely to interpret the message according to the smile.
So, although most communication may not be 90% nonverbal, many times the non-verbals help with understanding a person's true meaning especially if emotions are involved. As a result of the lack of non-verbals in email and blog posts, lol (laughing out loud) emerged to clarify a writer's intentions. Read more...
May 17, 2016
What Causes People to Live Longer When They Retire Later? Limitations of Research
I don't know about you but when I see a Wall Street Journal headline “Retiring After 65 May Extend Life” I take it to mean that waiting to retire will make me live longer. However, that is not what this research actually indicated. This is a good example of how media inaccurately interprets research and why I get frustrated with the information being provided to the public.
Research studies can examine whether something causes something else or whether it is related to something else. These are very important differences that even major news outlets can get wrong. Most studies are what is called “correlational” because those studies are easier to do. Such studies look at whether one thing is related to another. But not whether it causes another.
A common example used is that gun violence increases in the inner cities during the summer time. Many people have taken this correlation to mean that high temperatures cause increased aggression. Read more...
May 16, 2016
Do You Worry When Waiting for Medical Test Results?
These days we often get routine medical tests. By routine, I mean those tests that aren't due to symptoms but are screening tests. Sometimes we are informed that the test was positive. And it may be days or a week or more before a test can be retaken.
Frequently I've had clients crying in my office about a positive test result due to the worry that they may have some terrible illness. However, not understanding statistics (which most people don't) makes the results more terrifying. Before you worry, you need more information about test results. In particular, knowing the rate of false positives as well as the underlying base rate (how often it occurs) can make a difference in understanding the results. Read more...
May 13, 2016
Will-power or Strategy?
Often when people are tempted by something contrary to their goals they are told to resist by using their will-power. When they have to forgo pleasure to accomplish something difficult, they are told “Just do it!” Self-control is frequently seen as some mystical internal force that is either present or not. Many people feel helpless to control behavior even when they have a goal they desire.
However, self-control to achieve goals isn't just a matter of will-power. Instead, self-control involves the use of strategies. People who are able to use the strategies more effectively are more successful at achieving their desired goals even in the face of tempting alternatives.
What strategies do people use?
The following strategies are listed according to effectiveness. Read more...
May 12, 2016
Reduce Worry By Thinking About It?
People typically believe the problem with worry is the anxiety caused by thinking about a situation. They are told by well-meaning others: “Don't think about it and it won't bother you.” Yet, not thinking about worries can create more of a problem. The issue is how you think about worries. The problem with the approach many take with worry is that their thinking remains abstract. The worry itself is often not clearly defined and the thoughts about the worry are very general: “What will I ever do if such-and-such happens?” or “How can I possibly handle that?”
It may seem that worry itself creates a great deal of distress but the reason people engage in worry is to prevent greater emotional distress. By engaging in abstract worry thoughts they avoid the emotional details of the situation. A good example is a Google Play comment about The Worry Box app: “I have been looking for something to help with my fears not remind me of them...don't get it!” Unfortunately, then, worry also prevents problem-solving because the person is not examining the nitty-gritty aspects of the situation and how to handle it.
May 11, 2016
Time Pressure and Work Performance: Finding Balance
Balance! Balance! Balance! An ongoing theme in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is balance. Extremes are where most problems lie. In psychology we often refer to an “optimal level” of something rather than elimination. Whereas most people think of getting rid of negative aspects of life such as stress, research has shown that, in moderation, stress may be beneficial.
For instance, many people are aware that a time pressure on a task creates stress. However, some people indicate they work best under a time pressure. So, rather than eliminate time pressure, the question is, when is the stress of time pressure good and when is it not? Read more...
May 6, 2016
The Time to Relax is When You Don't Have the Time
I just noticed that the number of visitors to my website dropped dramatically in the last few days. I wondered why that would be. Then I noticed the date. This is college exam time in the U.S. A lot of college counseling centers recommend my website and apps so there can be a noticeable change when students are busy with exams instead of listening to the relaxation and motivation audios.
You would think this is a good thing—they are busy studying rather than using apps. However, my son develops card game apps and he doesn't get that kind of drop off in usage. So, I suspect, a lot of college students are playing games on their mobile devices because they are “stressed out” but aren't using the tools that could help them manage the stress during the exams.
One of the biggest problems that interferes with using the cognitive-behavioral tools effectively is time. Read more...
May 5, 2016
Most Kids Ignore Cyber-Bullying
More and more attention has been directed at cyber-bullying as a cause for many childhood emotional problems. As usual, the media sensationalizes and draws conclusions about single events. For instance, if a teenager commits suicide after cyber-bullying, the cyber-bullying is seen as the cause. Typically, when something is new, such as technology, it is not well understood and can be used as a scapegoat for all sorts of societal problems.
The reality is that bullying can cause harm, but cyber-bullying alone is not likely to create distress in youth. Researcher Mitchell and colleagues (2016) examined a national sample of nearly 800 youth ages 10-20. They found that 34% had been involved in harassment incidents in the previous year. Most (85%) of the incidents were in-person or a combination of in-person and technology. Read more...
May 4, 2016
How to Practice Like an Expert
The tendency for most people is to choose what they enjoy. When it comes to practicing a skill, it is more enjoyable to practice a more successful skill than a weaker skill. However, expert athletes, instead, choose to practice what is most effective for long-term success even though it doesn't bring as much enjoyment during the practice. This is likely true of experts outside of athletics as well.
When researchers (Coughlan, et al., 2014) compared the practice of expert athletes to intermediate athletes they found the experts engaged in more deliberate practice and the improvements they made were sustained over time. Read more...
May 3, 2016
When You are Distressed: Write!
I have often recommended to clients to write letters to release emotions. Sometimes these letters were to themselves and sometimes they were directed to other people. However, they were never to be shared with others so as to reduce self-censoring which can limit the emotional release.
Although I've found this to be a useful tool, I didn't know that one of the reasons for its effectiveness is that it allows self-distancing from the emotions. According to recent research by Park and colleagues (2016) expressive writing improves emotional well-being, and possibly physical health, through the following process: Read more...
May 2, 2016
List of Stress Management Methods
To extend my PsychNote about which relaxation methods to use (Stressed About Managing Stress?), I have developed a list of methods that have been shown to help reduce stress and improve health. Excel At Life provides free audio downloads to help learn many of these methods.
Criteria for Stress Management
Not every method works for every person. Also, just because something might be “relaxing” such as drinking a glass of wine, reading a book, or watching TV doesn't mean that it can be used to manage stress. To qualify as a stress management technique, a method needs to do at least two of the following: Read more...
April 30, 2016
Stressed About Managing Stress?
Often, you may hear of the newest method for managing stress and how research shows that it reduces health problems. But what is the best method to use? For instance, I just read about floating in a tank of water with colored lights and bath salts and how it can reduce pain, depression, and anxiety. Although these claims are likely to be true, it doesn't mean this method is better than other methods. Although it may sound pleasant to some, at $50 to $100 a session several times a week it can be costly for most people.
Even though I promote relaxation audios, Qi Gong, and mindfulness, it doesn't mean these methods are any better than other method to manage stress and associated health conditions. What research has shown is that any method that allows us to shift our focus to a present awareness or to the relaxed but awake “alpha state” can benefit our health when we engage in these practices routinely. Read more...
April 29, 2016
Predicting Regret to Help Make Decisions
We can't go through life without experiencing regret for decisions we have made. Even not making a decision is a decision (to paraphrase William James, 1842-1910). The emotion of regret is a good example of how emotions are tools that help us cope with life. By listening to the message of regret we can then determine how to best handle a situation.
By examining daily diaries of decision-making researchers determined that people experience regret with about 30% of decisions whereas they predict regret for 70% of their decisions. This high estimate of predicted regret may be an over-estimate of future pain or unhappiness. Nevertheless, attempts to manage or avoid regret are an important part of our daily decision-making (Bjälkebring et al., 2015).
People use a variety of methods to avoid regret which may be more or less effective for making better decisions. When the strategies are a way of coping with regret they can enhance decision-making. However, the following strategies can also be irrational means of avoiding the feeling of regret, in which case, they may negatively impact decision-making. Read more...
April 28, 2016
Is Being Overweight Healthy?
You may have heard about research indicating that those who are overweight are less likely to die than normal-weight people of the same age and gender. Dr. Carl Lavie has written about this in his book “The Obesity Paradox.” However, be cautious about taking this research as permission to overeat and not care about your weight as there are some issues to consider.
First, it is necessary to understand the medical definition of “overweight.” The lay public will often use the term when referring to any level of being over normal weight including those who would be in the category of “severely obese.” However, the medical definition is tied to the body mass index (BMI) and refers to someone who has a BMI in the range of 25 to 25.9 but not those who are above 30 BMI (which is considered obese). Read more...
April 27, 2016
Assertion 101: Don't Apologize for a Request
“Sorry to bother you...but would you mind...?”
Many people are uncomfortable when making a request. As a result, they often apologize when asking for something. However, what is an apology? An apology is an acknowledgement that you have caused offense or made a mistake. If you approach others with an apology then their impression is that you have done something wrong.
Not only that, but others may find an apology associated with a request as annoying. The reason for this is that they have to make the effort to determine what you really mean and/or provide reassurance to you: “No, that's okay...” This often feels like manipulation to other people. Read more...
April 19, 2016
Setting Goals Isn't Enough for Success
Do you set goals for yourself? How often do you evaluate your current performance against those goals? Research has clearly shown that setting goals improves performance and success. However, setting a goal isn't enough. How often have you seen people set goals to only fail time and time again? Often the problem is they aren't evaluating their current performance against the goal they have set for themselves. As a result they have no way of determining their progress towards the goal which is likely to interfere with achieving the goal.
The desire to know your efforts are effective leads to self-evaluation of goals against performance. Self-evaluation leads to achievement of those goals. Evaluating performance against a goal improves performance due to several means:
April 18, 2016
Understanding Asperger's Syndrome, Grief, and Avoidance of Loss
Recently I read a fascinating novel told from the viewpoint of a young man on the autistic spectrum. The Eagle Tree by Ned Hayes is probably as close as someone who is not on the spectrum can describe what it must be like for someone without social understanding to operate in a social world.
In particular, this book made me think about how those on the autistic spectrum deal with loss. I've often seen that they have more trouble than others with the issue of grief. In my opinion their adherence to routines is likely related to this difficulty with grief because change involves loss—loss of the familiar, loss of control, loss of certainty.
I've worked with many people with Asperger's Syndrome, a developmental disorder characterized by poor social learning skills and strong adherence to routine and/or obsessional focus on a particular area of interest, and I think the book came close to what I have experienced in my work. If you read it, though, keep in mind that each individual on the autistic spectrum thinks and acts as differently from one another as the rest of us do. Read more...
April 14, 2016
Exploring Possibilities for Identity Achievement
My 13-year-old granddaughter expressed distress that she didn't know what she wanted to do with her life. Starting high school, she was required to choose an occupational track that couldn't be changed easily. I was aghast! With everything we know about psychology and development, how can children be expected to make a commitment to a certain occupational field?
We need to teach children how to open themselves up to experiences. In high school, students need to have a variety of courses to help them learn about possibilities. Without such experience young people have less opportunity to find what is satisfying and fulfilling for them. Achieving an occupational identity isn't about having it identified for you at an early age. Nor should it limit you later on.
I didn't know I would be a psychologist in high school. When I didn't want to be a rock musician, I wanted to be a linguist—I wanted to learn languages and be a translator traveling the world. Read more...
April 12, 2016
Why You Don't Need to Be Happy
We are bombarded daily with messages that we should be happy. Commercials and ads always show people living the good life. Even the health messages we receive are that happiness is associated with better health, both emotional and physical. Such messages teach us that we should be happy. Otherwise, something must be wrong with us and we need to correct it with medication or therapy. As a culture we have come to prize happiness and seek it desperately.
However, the relationship between happiness and health may not be so simple. Researchers Luong and colleagues (2016) found that the relationship depends upon how moods are valued. If someone sees negative moods as valuable too, then lack of happiness is not as likely to affect their health. Read more...
April 7, 2016
Do You Love Me? Do You REALLY Love Me?
Do you frequently ask those close to you how they really feel about you? Do you sometimes ask so much that others become irritated or frustrated with the question? If you do, then you may engage in excessive reassurance seeking (ERS).
Typically, those with ERS tend to be insecure in their relationships and have a fear of abandonment. Also, ERS has been associated with depression.
But does that mean just because you're flirting with your partner and want to hear reassuring words that you are anxious and insecure in your relationship? Not necessarily. There may be both secure and insecure forms of ERS (Evraire and Dozois, 2014). It depends on why you are asking the question. Read more...
April 6, 2016
Life is Like...Planning a New Vegetable Garden
Even though I'm thoroughly acquainted with suburban gardening, I know that when I plant my vegetable garden in a rural area I am likely to encounter different problems. Some of those problems are obvious and some are yet unknown.
“How do we grow anything in this rocky soil?”
“We can make a raised bed and purchase top soil.”
“With a raised bed we need to make it easy to reach all the plants.”
“I hear that planting marigolds around it will help keep rabbits away.”
“But what about all these squirrels, deer, and groundhogs? They love tomatoes, too.” Read more...
April 5, 2016
When to Forgive Yourself: Self-forgiveness and Responsibility
Self-forgiveness has been shown to contribute to physical health and mental well-being (Davis, et al., 2015). In other words, forgiving yourself is vital to your health. Yet, many people have trouble letting go of mistakes and transgressions they have made.
On the other hand, as with many psychological concepts and research, what is psychologically healthy can vary depending on the situation. For instance, self-forgiveness may be psychologically harmful for addicts and narcissists who forgive themselves too easily. In such cases self-forgiveness is used as a form of denial which prevents a person from resolving the problem and making necessary changes. Instead, they may need to take more responsibility for the problem by acknowledging it more thoroughly.
Self-forgiveness also may not be psychologically healthy if you have not actually committed an offense. Some people, especially those with depression or anxiety, obsess about perceived misdeeds that others wouldn't even give a second thought to. Read more...
April 2, 2016
Tension: The Worst Thing for Pain
When people are in pain, they tend to tense around the area where they feel the pain. For instance, if a person has a headache, they tend to tense their forehead, neck, and shoulders. The idea is that if they keep the area rigid and don't move, somehow it will help alleviate the pain. What happens, then, is the intended behavior causes the opposite effect. Unfortunately, instead of a decrease in pain, the pain is intensified. Read more...
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...
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...
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...
don't have any willpower."
"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
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.