Posts Tagged ‘Positive psychology’

A Positivity Toolkit

September 3, 2019

This post is based on a book by psychologist Barbara L. Fredrickson, “Positivity: Discover the Upward Spiral That Will Change Your Life.”

Tool 1. Be Open. The goal here is to experiment with mindful awareness while carrying out your day. Make your motto “be open.” Temporarily rid your mind of expectations and judgments. These can cloud your ability to be open. Instead, give yourself permission and time to experience the richness of the present moment. No matter what you encounter, no matter what happens, experiment with both awareness and acceptance.

Tool 2. Create High-Quality Connections. Any social interaction—whether with family, co-workers, or someone ahead of you in line—is a chance to create a high-quality connection. According to Jane Dutton, cofounder of the Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, your moments of connection with others form a dynamic, living tissue that can be either life-giving or life-depleting. High quality connections are life-giving. You recognize them instantly by several telltale signs: they foster mutual appreciation and encourage truly being or doing things together; they recharge your energy and your vitality; they bring real physiological changes. You can literally feel high-quality connections resonate within your body.

Tool 3. Cultivate Kindness. This tool draws from research done by Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of The How of Happiness. Give yourself the goal of performing five new acts of kindness on a single day. Aim for actions that really make a difference and come at some cost, such as donating blood, helping your neighbor with her yard work. Assess what those around you might need most. Although some of the kind acts you choose may take some advance planning, make a point to carry them all out on a single day. At the end of the day, take stock. Notice the good feelings that come with increasing your kindness: the positive connection to the person you helped, the fitting sense of pride you get from making a contribution. For lasting impact, make your kindness day a recurring ritual. Be creative each week. Find new ways to make a positive difference in the lives of others. Try it for a few months and see the difference it makes.

Tool 4. Develop Distractions. The suggestion is to make two lists. Label one healthy distractions and the other unhealthy distractions. Ask, “What can I do to get my mind off my troubles?” Then brainstorm, identifying things you already do,as well as new activities you’d like to try. Try to come up with things you can do in good and bad weather, at work, at home, or on the road.

Write down the unhealthy distractions that tempt to you. For each unhealthy distraction that tempts you, come with a healthy alternative: a drink or snack that doesn’t take a toll; a movie, computer game, or song list that’s more uplifting.

Tool 5. Dispute Negative Thinking. This exercise comes from the Penn Resiliency Program. This requires a set of index cards. On each one, write one of your typical negative thoughts. Write down negative thoughts that are realistic and truly yours. Capture your inner critic, that voice in your head that’s skeptical of you, of others, and of everything around you—the voice of ill will.

Then shuffle the cards and pick one at random. Read, then as fast and as thoroughly as you can—dispute it. When you’re satisfied that you’ve shot down your menacing negativity with rapid-fire facts, move on to the next card. Repeat. As you work your way through your negativity deck, let you conviction grow as you become a seasoned disputer. Whenever you find gratuitous negativity lurking in your mind, externalize it by adding it to your deck of cards. Challenge yourself to meet it out in the open—out loud—with your rapid fire facts. Be sure that these are facts and that you are not lying to yourself.

Tool 6. Find Nearby Nature. Locate places you can get to in a matter of minutes that will connect you to green or blue, to trees, water, or sky. Ample research has shown that these boost positivity.

Tool 7. Learn and Apply Your Strengths. One way to learn your strengths is to take a free, online survey that Martin Seligman (the founder of Positive Psychology) and Chris Peterson developed with support from the Values in Action Institute. Allow yourself plenty of time to take this survey: it contains 240 items to measure 24 character strengths. You can find it by visiting Seligman’s website at the University of Pennsylvania’a Positive Psychology Center, or point your browser to http://www.AuthenticHappiness.com. After completing the survey, you’ll receive a report that ranks the 24 strengths by the degree to which they characterize you. The report will also feature your top five strengths, and encourage you to reflect on which ones truly resonate for you, which strengths, when you act on them, make you come alive. This self-reflection is critical. It’s how you locate your “signature” strengths among your top five.

Tool 8. Meditate Mindfully. There are many healthy memory blog posts on this topic. Go to healthymemory.wordpress.com and enter “relaxation response” in the search box.

Tool 9. Meditate on Loving-Kindness. There are also posts on this tool. Go to
healthymemory.wordpress.com and enter loving-kindness in the search box.

Tool 10. Ritualize Gratitude. Being grateful simply requires that you notice the gifts that surround you. If you’re drawn to record your thoughts in writing, consider buying a blank book to be your gratitude journal.

Tool 11. Savor Positivity. You need two things to experiment with savoring. First is a genuine love, joy, pride, or any other flavor of positivity in your life; second a willingness to think differently about it. The key is to think about the event in away that stokes your positivity flames right now. Truly cherish the event, and its benefits to you will grow.

A Word of Caution from HM. This is an enormous toolkit. It easily overwhelms. It’s even more overwhelming when you consider your obligations. Some of the tools here should be helpful in dealing with your obligations. But you need to be selective, picking and choosing what you think is most helpful and what you think you’ll be able to devote your time to.

Decisions: Focusing Illusions

August 17, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Winifred Gallagher titled “Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life. Nobel Winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman is among the developers of “bounded rationality”. To choices concerning quality of life, we are reasonable-enough beings but sometimes liable to focus on the wrong things. Our thinking gets befuddled not so much by our emotions as by our “cognitive illusions,’ or mistaken intuitions, and other flawed, fragmented mental constructs.

Kahneman makes a distinction between two concepts of self. There is our hands-on “experiencing self,” which concentrates on just plain being in the here and now, is absorbed in whatever is going on and how you feel about it without doing much analysis. However, our evaluative “remembering self,” looks back on an experience, focuses on its emotional high points and outcomes, then formulates thoughts about it, not always accurately. Much research shows that memory is biased and unpredictable—more like a patchwork quilt than the seamless tapestry of reality we likely imagine. We don’t so much recall something that happened as reconstruct a facsimile of it. This mental artifact is likely to be either more positive or negative in tone than was the actual event.

The differences in how our experiencing and remembering selves pay attention to may account for seeing paradoxes in our lives. For example, most subjects say that having children is one of life’s greatest satisfactions. But subjects’ diaries show that actual roll-up-your-sleeves parenting was among women’s least enjoyable activities. This apparent contradiction and others likely are explained by the divergent focuses of a person’s two selves. The experiencing self of a tired woman who’s contemplating the wreckage of her slovenly adolescent’s room might well give mothering a poor rating at the moment. However, if parenthood comes up later at a party, her remembering self zeroes in its emotional highs and long term results—that sweet poem on Mother’s Day, the soccer trophy, the college diploma.—rather than on momentary vexations like dirty socks and old pizza crusts. It’s just as well for their progeny that when adults make choices about how to live, they pay more attention to the remembering self’s judgmental voice than to the experiencing self’s “whispers, which say more about their own daily satisfactions.

In a much cited example of the focusing illusion, Kahneman asked some people if they would be happier if they lived in California. Most people thought so because of the climate. Californians assume they’re happier than people who live elsewhere. However, when Kahneman actually measured their well-being, Michiganders and others are just as contented as Californians. The reason is that 99% of the stuff of life, relationships, work, home, recreation, is the same no matter where you are, and once you settle in a place, no matter how salubrious, you don’t think about its climate very much. However, when prompted to evaluate it, the weather immediately looms large, simply because you’re paying attention to it. The illusion inclines you to accentuate the difference between Place A and Place B, making it seem to matter much more than it really does, which is marginal.

Because our remembering self pays attention to our thoughts about our life, rather than to the life itself, it can be difficult to evaluate the quality of our own experience accurately . Social psychologist Norman Schwartz asked one group of subjects, “How much pleasure do you get from your car? Not surprisingly, there was a significant correlation between an autos value and its owner’s perceived enjoyment, so that the remembering selves of BMW and Lexus drivers were more satisfied than those of people who drove Escorts and Camry’s. Then Schwarz probed the immediate reality of the experiencing self by asking another group of subjects a different question: ”How much pleasure did you get from using your car today?” The correlation between the owners’ satisfaction and their cars’ worth vanished. What determined their answers was not the quality or price of their vehicles but of their actual commute that day: whether it was marked by good or bad weather, traffic conditions, or even personal ruminations— in short the experiencing self’s quotidian ups and downs.

The focusing illusion predicts that we’ll exaggerate the importance of a thing just by thinking it about it, as when we ponder a big purchase. Kahneman says, There’s probably much less focusing illusion with pleasures like fresh flowers or a glass of wine.” Because it gives you more fun and bang for you buck, spending five hundred dollars a year on bouquets or Burgundy is a better investment in your well-being than upgrading a major appliance.

Based on recent research on well-being, Kahneman says, “I can imagine a future in which, just as many of us exercise physically, we’ll also exercise mentally for twenty or thirty minutes a day. That’s the kind of world ‘positive psychology’ is looking for. Whether its principles work or not in the long run, I don’t know. All the data aren’t in yet. But it’s clear that getting people to pay attention is a good thing. There’s no question about that.”

As to the ability to focus on this rather than on that gives you control over our experience and well-being, Kahneman says that both the Dalai Lamai and positive psychologist Martin Seligman would agree about the importance of paying attention: “Being able to control it gives you a lot of power, because you know that you don’t have to focus on a negative emotion that comes up.”

Healthy Memory, Healthy Mind, and a Sense of Coherence

October 25, 2015

The research of Dr. Martin Seligman has  documented the benefits of optimism on health.  Unfortunately, I am a congenital pessimist, but I am using mindfulness to change.  Fortunately, Dr. Seligman has started a positive psychology movement.  I have often wondered how can people in extremely adverse circumstances maintain a positive outlook.  How do they cope?

Dr. Aaron Antonovsky has researched people who have survived extreme, almost unthinkable stress, such as prisoners in Nazi extermination camps.  I’ve thought that if I ever found myself in a similar circumstance I would thrown myself on an electrified fence (which is what Stalin’s son did when he was captured by Nazis).

Dr. Antonovsky also wondered what allowed some people to resist these very high levels of stress even as their resources for coping with stress and tension are constantly being disrupted during their imprisonment in these concentration camps.  He found that these people have an inherent sense of coherence about the world and themselves.  It is characterized by three components: comprehensibility, manageability, and meaningfulness.  People with a high sense of coherence have a strong feeling of confidence that they can make sense of their internal and external experience, and that they have the resources available to meet and manage the demands they encounter.  These demands are challenges  in which they can find meaning and to which they can commit themselves.

These attitudes are summarized in a famous statement of Victor Frankl; a survivor of Auschwitz (and a neurologist and psychologist):  “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing:  the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance, to choose one’s own way.”  This is a statement worthy of committing to memory.

Other Side of Positive Psychology

June 27, 2015

If you’re not up on positive psychology enter “positive psychology’ into the healthy memory search block.  In brief, it  emphasizes the focus of psychology on positive factors rather than conventional problems such as depression, neuroses, and psychoses.  The title of this session, presented at the 27th meeting of the Association for Psychological Science (APS) would lead one to believe that this session was going to debunk positive psychology.  Instead it produced research shoring up some holes in psychology and providing methods for making positive psychology more effective.

An optimistic outlook and positivity alone can be counterproductive and have the opposite effect.  They discussed mental contrasting mechanisms for considering possible future outcomes.  One of these mechanisms is captured in the acronym WOOP.  This stands for wish, outcomes, obstacles, and plan.  So one begins with a positive realistic wish.  Then one imagines possible outcomes of this wish, including negative and neutral outcomes with the goal of identifying unintended outcomes.  Then one thinks of possible obstacles to achieving positive outcomes.  When these obstacles are identified, then feasible plan(s) are developed to overcome these obstacles.  If an effective plan cannot be developed, then one would abandon this wish, and wish for something more achievable.

An important concept that was discussed is emodiversity.  Emodiversity is an appreciation for the desirability of experiencing a variety of emotions.  It is neither possible nor desirable to be positive and happy all the time.  In music, there are the blues.  In the theater, there are tragedies.  These are legitimate emotions to be experienced and appreciated.  Problems occur when one becomes stuck in them.  Diversity is key.  Hence, emodiversity.

So instead of debunking positive psychology, this session discussed research for making positive psychology more realistic and achievable.  If the session could be summarized in one phrase, that phrase would likely be to “keep an even keel.”

Attendance at 27th Annual Convention of the Association for Psychological Science (APS)

June 9, 2015

I attended the first meeting of APS (although it was called the American Psychological Society then) and gave a poster presentation.  I haven’t attended all of these meetings, but I have attended some of them, and I’ve found that they don’t disappointment.  Nor did the 27th meeting.

The Keynote Address at the Opening Ceremony was given my Michael Posner.  It was titled “Fostering Attention for Human Needs.”  Posner is one of the leading researchers of attention, and attention is central to human cognition, human behavior, and human health.  At least one additional post will be done on Posner’s work.

One of the first session was titled “Cognitive Capital:  Causes and Consequences.”  The researchers were relating the economic success of different countries to what they called cognitive capital.  To do this they needed measures of cognitive capital, which they produced.  The notion of Cognitive Capital is an intriguing, one which will be addressed in subsequent posts.

Another session was on the “Biased Processing of Political Information.”  This is an important topic and is one of the obstacles to an effective democracy.  Some interesting reach was presented that suggested that judges and lawyers process information different that we lay people.  Obviously, they have biases also, but within these biases the evidence suggests that legal minds think differently.  This session also included a paper on the topic of why historical misconceptions endure, such as the holocaust being a myth, or that 9/11 was a tragedy done by the United States to the United States for nefarious purposes.  Unfortunately, there was no information on how holders of these misconceptions can be disabused of their misconceptions.  People’s biases simply blind them from facts.

There were many papers on how cognition works, and on the neural structures underlying cognition.

Michael Gazzaniga gave a presentation that I was unable to attend, but I think it was similar to the presentation he gave at the 2013 meeting of APS that was reviewed in this blog.

LeDoux presented his new concepts on the differences between fear and anxiety.

Angela Duckworth, who is a 2003 MacArthur Award recipient gave a presentation on Grit, which she defined as staying engaged to overcome frustration.  There will be a post devoted to her work that will includes some tips for fostering grit.

A highly worthwhile session was given on the “Other Side of Positive Psychology.”  There have been prior healthy memory blog posts on Positive Psychology.  Instead of debunking Positive Psychology, this session provided some very useful advice on “fine tuning” Positive Psychology.  There will be blog posts on this topic.

There was an interesting session of false confessions that will be covered in subsequent healthy memory blog posts as well as on a session on the “Central Park Five.”

The work on Timothy Wilson was covered in the Healthymemory blog post, “Strangers to Ourselves.”  He gave a presentation expanding on this topic.

Franz B.M. de Waal gave the Bring the Family Address titles “Humans and Animals:  Politics, Culture and Morality.  It was very interesting and highly entertaining.

There was a very interesting presentation on Free Will.  I shall be discussing a book, in a future healthy memory blog titled “Free Will” by the philosopher Mark Balaguer.   I informed the presenter about this book as they have similar views to Balaguer.  They were grateful for this information.

As always, there were too many interesting presentation to attend.  And even when one was able to attend presentations, there was too much information to absorb.  These conventions leave me physically and mentally depleted, but with the knowledge that I have learned much.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Positive Psychology

August 21, 2011

Positive Psychology is a movement that was started by the psychologist Martin E.P. Seligman. In a way, this is a bit ironic as he gained earlier recognition in psychology for his research on learned helplessness. In this research he showed that if animals were exposed to an environment of random shocks from which there was no escape, these animals were unable to learn in another setting that they could avoid these shocks. These findings were extrapolated to a human setting in which there are few positive rewards and few opportunities in which people simply give up and stop trying.

Seligman was disturbed by the emphasis placed in clinical and counseling psychology on malfunctioning individuals. He was not arguing that these populations did not deserve attention, but, rather, that attention should also be given to positive behaviors and thought that lead to happiness. The website for Positive Psychology can be found at http://www.ppc.sas.upenn.edu/index.html.

There was a session at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association (APA) on Positive Psychology. On the whole, I am impressed with this movement. In other words, I am positive about Positive Psychology. My position should no be surprising given some previous Healthymemory Blog posts (“Continuing to Be Positive After Thanksgiving, “The Second Half of Life,” and “Change Your Brain By Transforming Your Mind.”). Buddhism encourages a positive attitude both to others and yourself. Positive thinking leads to happiness. It can also encourage perseverance and lead to success.

But there are parts of Positive Psychology that give me some concern. Emphasis is placed on finding and developing personal strengths. Although this is certainly good advice, I think it would be a mistake to focus on and develop personal strengths exclusively. If there are certain skills that are important to achieving your goals, but which are skills at which you do not excel, I think it would be a grave mistake to ignore them. For example, it certain mathematical skills would be helpful to achieving your interests, it would be good to focus on them and develop certain proficiencies. Once you have worked at something long enough you can become good enough where you actually enjoy the skill as it becomes a strength. Similarly, if giving presentation or public speaking is important to your pursuits, but you, like many, are fearful of speaking in public, consider addressing that fear. There are programs to help you overcome this fear and speak in public effectively and persuasively. Successful athletes do not usually work on what they are good at, but what they don’t do well, so they become more skilled at their sport. Deliberate practice is the term describing practice that focuses on correcting weaknesses or shortcomings.

Optimism is generally a good disposition, but it can be overdone (See the Healthymemory Blog Post “Can Optimism Be Bad?”). So be positive, but not too positive. Be optimistic, but not too optimistic.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.