Archives for Positive Psychology
Elisha Goldstein’s book, The Now Effect, has sent my brain spinning in yet another direction. The anecdote: A professor stood before a philosophy class holding an empty jar. As the students took their seats, she began filling the jar with golf balls. When they reached the top, she asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was. The professor then took a bag of pebbles and poured them into the jar, and they made their way between the spaces of the golf balls. Again she asked the students if the jar was full, and they agreed that it was. But the professor had another trick up her sleeve. She brought out a bag of sand and proceeded to pour the grains into the jar, filling up more of the remaining space. Again the question came: “It’s full now, correct?” The answer was a resounding “Yes.” The professor then took a sip of her coffee and dumped the rest into the jar, filling up spaces that no one thought was there. The thought: how does our brain process negative space?
I’ve only just started reading the new book by fellow PyschCentral blogger Elisha Goldstein, and I’ve already found something useful. Goldstein is a psychologist in private practice, and his excellent blog is about mindfulness. His book, The Now Effect: How This Moment Can Change the Rest of Your Life, is a manual for learning mindfulness. The book is short, quick-read chapters that leave you with lots to think about and try. “See, Touch, Go” is the chapter that twanged a note in my brain--one image, in particular. Goldstein describes the See, Touch, Go method in an anecdote, through the words of a dog trainer trying to help a family frustrated by their rambunctious rescue dog. "‘See, touch, go.’ When your mind begins to wander off onto all your worries and frustrations with this dog, see that your mind has wandered, touch the thought like you might softly touch your reflection in a pond, and then gently go back to focusing on the training we’ve discussed." OK, so the dog trainer is beside the point. What got me is this: Touch the thought like you might softly touch your reflection in a pond.
There was one bright spot amid all the hand-wringing over Facebook and its supposedly negative effects on relationships. Psychologists thought that Facebook allows people with low self-esteem, who typically are wary of the kind of self-disclosure that fosters intimacy, feel safe enough to express themselves, thereby expanding their social networks. People with low self-esteem thought the same thing. Here, they thought, I can open up, show myself, make new friends. Well…maybe not. New research suggests that rather than getting out there and making new friends on Facebook, people with low self-esteem get out there and get all negative, pushing people away.
The more I read and think about New Year's Resolutions, the less I think they accomplish a dingdang thing. I've made a lot of resolutions that have led me absolutely nowhere. Mostly, they make me feel bad because I tend not to follow-up. Oh sure, I'll get back on my eating/exercise program as soon as the holiday minefield of homemade pound cake and mint M&Ms is behind us, but that's more about returning to...
Last night, my yoga and meditation teacher mentioned her surprise at how much easier meditation gets over time. She no longer has to work nearly as hard as she once did, she said, to reach a meditative state. And, she said, it's much easier than it once was to keep intrusive thoughts and daydreams at bay while she meditated. “I don’t know why,” she concluded, with some wonder in her voice. Coincidentally, I’d just spent much of the day reading about this very thing, in order to write this post. People who study the brain talk about something called the default-mode network (DMN), which is where our brain tends to go when we’re not making it do something else. The DMN correlates with the parts of the brain that activate when we’re thinking about ourselves—the medial prefrontal and posterior cingulate cortices, if you want to get technical about it. And our DMN does not always have our best interests at heart.
Let’s go Rangers (clap, clap, clapclapclap)! I’m sorry for anyone who isn’t following the World Series this year (and it’s the lowest rated ever) because boyhowdy it’s been exciting. Some people say it ranks as one of the greatest ever. And so tense! By the end of a game, Texas Rangers fans are nearly as exhausted as the players themselves. (I can’t speak for Cardinals fans but I can guess.) Baseball can be incredibly slow, but it also can be extremely intense, especially in those moments of suspended animation, when batter and pitcher are face-to-face, poised before the wind-up. These days, cameras put us right up in the players’ faces. In those moments between pitches, we see what focus looks like. Very few of us will ever experience that kind of pressure. Imagine trying to remain both relaxed and focused when you’re about to have a rock hurled at you at 95 mph. Imagine hurling that rock from 60 feet away into an area roughly the size of a microwave. Imagine keeping performance pressure at bay with 50,000 people chanting your name. (Na-po-li, Na-po-li.)
Unearned praise may be just as much of a bummer as undeserved criticism. New research finds that over-praising ourselves is as counterproductive as beating ourselves up. Or, as the title of the article puts it, "Both Self-Effacement and Self-Enhancement Can Lead to Dejection." The aha moment for me in this article is Study 4, when participants did a task (unscrambling anagrams) and, without knowing their actual score, randomly received either positive or negative performance feedback. (A control group received no feedback.) Then they completed a survey about the experiment that had buried in it questions used to measure dejection. Everyone who was told they did poorly felt dejected, but people who in reality performed well but got negative feedback were more bummed than those who performed poorly and were told the truth. Not surprising. But I was a little surprised that people who were told they did well even though they didn't were more dejected than people who did poorly and were told they did poorly. This research is part of the push back against the self-esteem movement, in which everybody gets a trophy just for showing up. For a long time, we believed that there’s no such thing as too much praise. Now we’re learning that unearned praise has its own burdens and pitfalls. In other words, reality is good for us.
I am not a spontaneous person. When a surprise invitation or opportunity appears, there’s a 50/50 chance I’ll pass it up. Maybe even 60/40. Maybe even more, but I don’t want to admit that to myself. Spontaneity is a good thing. I know this because in romance movies, guys always dump their tightly-wound girlfriends for kooky, devil-may-care, spontaneous girls. And I can see for myself that spontaneous people lead colorful lives full of surprise. My life is pretty interesting, but it’s more a trip on a lazy river than a thrilling tumble down whitewater rapids. Is that OK?
My five-day experiment in unplugging was a flop. No, I didn’t cave and mainline Facebook during my Mexico-beach vacation. I didn’t crumble and tweet my every mojito, check my email, text, or even google anything. My computer stayed home and I kept my phone turned off and locked in the room safe. Despite all my prior misgivings, no trauma was involved. Not the slightest twinge. My husband had his computer with him and I wasn’t even tempted to peek. I never felt cut off, suffered no DTs, needed no substitutes. As anxious as I felt about not having a computer to write on for a week, I wasn’t even tempted to scribble a few lines with pen and paper. I read, sketched, ate, drank, swam, snorkeled and lounged. It was easy Some experiments don’t go as anticipated.
Woody Allen’s most recent film, Midnight in Paris is a perfect story. Not the romance stuff so much. All that’s OK. As always, the Woody Allen character (played by Owen Wilson) is found irresistible by young and beautiful women. Ho hum. Right. It's his movie, he can do whatever he wants with that. But the way Allen handled the premise of longing for the past dazzled me. Yes, of course. That’s exactly how it is. Nostalgia is seductive. We yearn and yearn for bygone days, when life was simpler, or more creative, or more exciting, or more…whatever. Whatever we need at the moment. Are those good old days really that much better, or is it just easier to imagine they are because we can “remember” only what we choose to?