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...