Archive For July 11, 2013

Don’t Be Tricked by These 5 Common Mental Rules of Thumb.

One of my favorite topics within cognitive science is the concept of heuristics. Heuristics are the quick, commonsense principles we apply to solve a problem or make a decision.

Often, heuristics are very helpful rules of thumb, but they can also lead us to make dumb mistakes. Recognizing how heuristics operate can sometimes make it easier to be wary of the pitfalls.

Here are some common heuristics:

Recognition heuristic: if you’re faced with two items, and you recognize one but not the other, you assume that the recognized one is of higher value. If you’ve heard of Munich, Germany, but you’ve never heard of Minden, Germany, you assume that Munich is the bigger city. If you’ve heard of A Wrinkle in Time, but you haven’t heard of The Silver Crown, you assume that the first book is better than the second. When in fact they’re both outstanding children’s books!

Likelihood heuristic: you predict the likelihood of an event based on how easily you can think of an example. How worried should you be about child abduction by a stranger? What’s riskier, donating a kidney or having your gallbladder removed?

Anchor and adjust heuristic: you base an answer too heavily on some piece of first information. If someone says, “How old is Woody Allen? Twenty-five?” you’d probably guess his age to be younger than you would if someone said, “How old is Woody Allen? Ninety-five?” even though you know that both suggestions are incorrect.

Social proof: if you’re not sure about something, you assume that you should be guided by what other people are doing. You’re wondering whether to sign up for my monthly newsletter, which features highlights from the blog and Facebook. You’re not sure, but when I say, “157,000 people subscribe to it,” you think, “Yes, I do want to sign up!” You can sign up here. (End of blatant self-promotion.)

Fluency heuristic: if it’s easier to say or think something, it seems more valuable. For instance, an idea that’s expressed in a rhyming phrase seems more convincing than the same idea paraphrased in a non-rhyming phrase. When I decided to spend some time every weekend crossing long-delayed, horrible items off my to-do list, I considered calling that time my To-Do List Time, but then switched the name to Power Hour. Much more compelling.

How about you? Do you have any examples of how you’ve used these heuristics, or other heuristics that you employ?

reblogged from Gretchen Rubin’s site www.happiness-project.com/

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9 Negative Social Habits to Quit Today

There’s something to be said for slow and steady progress.  But there’s also something to be said for strong, decisive, sweeping action.  When it comes to bad, self-defeating habits, there’s no time like today to quit cold turkey.  For some reason I’ve been more aware lately of the annoying social habits of other people.  Worse than that, I’ve then been noticing many of the same behaviors in myself.  Cutting out these negative habits makes it simpler to foster good relationships by getting to the heart of productive communication, so why not start today?

1.  Seeking attention by complaining.
I spoke to someone yesterday who all but refused to talk about the positive aspects of their life.  After listening to their troubles, I asked about some of the cool projects they have going on.  Within two sentences, they were back to complaining about trivial things.  We all need to share our troubles with friends or strangers from time to time, but don’t fall into the habit of turning conversations into your own personal dumping ground 100 percent of the time.  It’s an easy way to get attention, but it’s a poor way to keep it; and it’s a poor way to view your life.

2.  Focusing on your inner monologue instead of the dialogue in front of you.
“Holy crap!  That’s a great idea.  Wow.  What can I say that will sound smart and clever?  I really hope they think I’m intelligent.  I could touch on symbolism or make a reference to post-modernism.  Wait – what did they just ask me?”  Stay focused on the other person’s words and points.  People rarely mind when you say, “Hmm. Let me think about that for a second.”  Quite the opposite, since it shows that you’re taking the conversation seriously.  If you compose your answers while someone else is speaking, you’re really only having half a conversation. 

3.  Multi-tasking while you chat.
Even if you are a professional multi-tasker, if you’re talking to someone, talk to them, and that’s it.  Don’t browse online, don’t watch TV, don’t update your to-do list, and please, don’t eat while you’re on the phone.  Whether they say so or not, it really annoys the person you’re talking to.  If you really don’t have the time to talk, be honest and find another time, or cut it short.

4.  Not paying attention to the people you care about most.
Pretending to listen while your mind wanders to your work day, etc.  Do you really think your loved ones can’t tell?  They can.  And even more importantly, they need you to listen sincerely and thoughtfully.  There is no greater gift of love and no greater expression of caring that you can offer the special people in your life, than your undivided time and attention.  You need to remember that ‘love’ is listening, and everyone wants to be heard. 

5.  Constantly fishing for compliments.
“Oh, I look terrible today.” – after someone compliments you.  “I just threw it together at the last minute.” – when you obviously dressed up.  “I’m really not good at things like this.” – when the people you’re with know you are.  Please.  Stop.  It’s not flattering. 

6.  De-emphasizing compliments with self-effacing remarks.
It’s okay to say “thank you” when you’re complimented.  By making a self-effacing comment, you nearly force the other person to repeat their compliment, which is not a gracious thing to do.  Acknowledging a compliment isn’t snobby – like you’re admitting that you think you’re just grand – it’s a simple courtesy.  Besides, you earned it.  Saying “thank you” not only makes the other person feel good, it’s a healthy reminder that you’re responsible for some really good things in your life.

7.  Cutting people off mid-sentence.
The only time this is okay is when you’re in an intense brainstorming session.  Or you’ve got an urgent situation to attend to.  Or you haven’t seen your best friend in months.  Okay, so this habit is kind of elastic, but you get the gist.  Most of the time, interrupting just means that you’re missing the best parts of the conversation.  Plus, you’re showing your chat partner that you value your own thoughts over theirs.

8.  An unsupportive attitude.
The greatest compliment you can give to someone is to believe in them and let them know you care.  When you see something true, good and beautiful in someone, don’t hesitate to express your appreciation.  When you see something that is not true, good and beautiful in someone, don’t neglect to give them your wholehearted blessings and best wishes.

9.  Trying to please everyone.
This one is about keeping your sanity.  No matter how loud their opinions are, others cannot choose who you are.  The question should not be, “Why don’t they like me when I’m being me?” it should be, “Why am I wasting all my time and energy worrying what they think of me?”  If you are not hurting anyone with your actions, keep moving forward with your life.  Be happy.  Be yourself.  If others don’t like it, let them be.  Life isn’t about pleasing everybody. 

reblogged from www.marcandangel.com

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How Positive Thinking Re-Wires Your Brain

The power of positive thinking.

How many times have you heard that phrase thrown around? It’s so much a part of our vernacular now that it’s almost become meaningless. We’d all agree that thinking positively is a good thing. Especially when we’re feeling positive. When you’re feeling good, how much trouble is it to think, “Hey, I like me. My life is cool. Things are going great.”

But what about when things are crappy? What about those days when you’re so stressed the veins pop out of your forehead? When you hate your job — or you’ve lost it? What about those days when you are sucker-punched by a series of unfortunate events that makes the life of Job look like a garden party?

I’ve met people who remain perky during really bad times. And to be honest, they make me want to slap them around a bit. That Pollyanna, “life is still beautiful” attitude when things are falling apart just yanks my chain. However, I’ve come to learn that these people know something I don’t.

Here’s the secret that’s not really a secret. It’s revolutionary, exciting science.

Positive thinking really does change your brain. Not in some magical, woo woo kind of way, but in a real physical way.

The science is called neuroplasticity. It means that our thoughts can change the structure and function of our brains. The idea was first introduced by William James in 1890, but it was soundly rejected by scientists who uniformly believed the brain is rigidly mapped out, with certain parts of the brain controlling certain functions. If that part is dead or damaged, the function is altered or lost. Well, it appears they were wrong.

Neuroplasticity now enjoys wide acceptance as scientists are proving the brain is endlessly adaptable and dynamic.

It has the power to change its own structure, even for those with the severe neurological afflictions. People with problems like strokes, cerebral palsy, and mental illness can train other areas of their brains through repetitive mental and physical activities. It is completely life-altering.

So what does this have to do with positive thinking and with you?

It means that repetitive positive thought and positive activity can rewire your brain and strengthen brain areas that stimulate positive feelings.

In “The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science”, Norman Doidge M.D. states plainly that the brain has the capacity to rewire itself and/or form new neural pathways — if we do the work. Just like exercise, the work requires repetition and activity to reinforce new learning.

Here are some actions you can take to change your own brain during the bad times.

Fear of failure.
Everyone fears doing something new because we don’t wait to fail. The truth is, we can do most anything if we take action, stop negative thinking, and shift our perceptions of the truth about our abilities.

Action steps: Force yourself to stop thinking about reasons you can’t do something, even if you don’t feel brave or capable. Every time a negative thought creeps in, retrain your brain to think a positive thought about your abilities instead. Then take small actions every day toward achieving your goal or desired change. Nike’s slogan, “Just do it,” has real validity.

Over-thinking/Worrying
Have you ever found yourself trapped in obsessive over-thinking about a problem or in a state of anxiety or worry that lasts for days or even weeks? It drains your energy, affects your sleep, and spirals your mood and outlook on life. Focusing on your problem only strengthens the worry function in your brain.

Action steps: When you find yourself in that cycle of worry or compulsive thinking, remember the three R’s — rename, re-frame, and redirect. When the worry begins, mentally yell “Stop!” Rename the issue by reminding yourself that worry isn’t real. Rename it as a compulsive reaction, not reality. Re-frame your thinking by focusing on positive or distracting thoughts, even if you still feel anxious. Force yourself to think different thoughts. Redirect your actions. Go do something uplifting, fun or mentally engaging. The key is following these steps repeatedly, every time you worry obsessively, to break the pattern and rewire your brain.

Mood Disorders/Phobias
Sometimes we might feel blue or out-of-sorts, and it’s just a temporary fog that settles in and lifts after a few days. Some mood disorders, like depression or serious anxieties that morph into phobias, can be debilitating and unrelenting. Psychologists and therapists have used treatments based on neuroplasticity to get to the cognitive root of these disorders and put a patient’s life back on track.

Action steps: A serious mood disorder or phobia requires the help of a trained counselor. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is a type of treatment that helps people learn how to identify and change destructive thought patterns that have a negative influence on behavior and feelings. If you suffer from severe anxiety or depression, you need someone skilled to help you get to the root of these thoughts and to show you how to change them. Ask them about CBT.

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Happy Pills, Anyone?

Here is the last of my “Dirty Little Success Secrets”! Thanks to the many who wrote me personally to say that you enjoyed these posts.  I always love hearing your feedback!

Dirty Little Success Secret #6 – No Such Thing As A Happy Pill
I don’t like to talk about the fact that I have struggled with depression because there is so much stigma around it. People on one level still believe that you can just pull yourself out of a depression. I have definitely felt that way in the past, given myself a hard time for not being able to just shrug off its effects. But the fact is that depression is an illness and just like many other illnesses some of us are born with it built into our genes.

I teach about fulfillment. Is it could be easy to judge me for being on an antidepressant.  Maybe I am just as positive as I am because I am drugged? I am sure someone reading this believes that. This is a majorly misinformed opinion but one I face regularly.

How has depression helped me be more successful? Depression is not who I am. It is a part of my experience. When I talk about healing yourself, I am not talking from a textbook. I am talking from experience. Each person needs something different to heal. No pill will fix you. It is much more complex than that.  But the best guide knows the land.  Depression like the other challenges I have faced in my life helps me be able to help others in a profound way.

Your difficulties become your greatest assets.  Whatever you are struggling with – today, in this very moment – has the potential to be what brings your life the most depth, strength and character.  What is vital is getting the outside support that helps manifest your transformation.

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