Archive for the ‘Positivity’ Category
I love the word eradication. I don’t know why.
As a part of an overall approach to personal growth, it’s important to know when your mind – which is far more complex than many of us give it credit – is working on your behalf and when it isn’t. Or, to put it more specifically, when it thinks it’s working on your behalf… when in reality it’s doing the equivalent of tying your hands behind your back so you can’t hurt yourself… but can’t eat or drink either!
In so many ways, our minds have adapted almost too well over millennia. In an effort to protect us in the short-term, we can frequently be hurting ourselves over the long haul.
The self-serving bias is like that. It’s the tendency to see ourselves as responsible for our successes, but to see others – or the circumstances – as responsible for our failures.
This is so clearly a coping strategy – we do this to protect our self-image, improve our confidence, and keep ourselves from dwelling on the negative. We also do it to (at least seemingly) protect the image of ourselves in the eyes of others by playing up the good stuff and deferring blame for the bad stuff.
But is it healthy? Is that really who we strive to be? Someone who takes the credit and assigns blame?
I doubt it. Most of us would probably say that this doesn’t describe us at all. That we’re great about giving credit where it’s due and taking blame when things don’t go well. And of course, most of us would be kidding ourselves (there’s that damn bias again). Because who you think you are and who you actually are are rarely the same. That’s one of the core tenets of psychology.
Overthinking is a natural part of life for many of us, even when we’re not aware we’re doing it. Research has shown that overthinking is prevalent in young and middle aged adults, with 73% of 25-35 year-olds identified as overthinkers. More women (57%) find themselves overthinking than men (43%), which is a significant difference. This means the majority of women are overthinkers, and the majority of overthinkers are women.
I’m not a woman, but I am an overthinker. So I guess I’m in the minority… a vocal minority ;) If you find yourself spending an unreasonable amount of time thinking through something, twisting it around in your head until you’ve seen it from every angle and possibility, chances are you too are an overthinker.
There are very few benefits to being an overthinker. Being logical (and therefore unemotional) about taking action has a lot of merit and can have positive results, but there’s a difference between thinking about something just enough – and thinking about something to the point of analysis paralysis. The short of it is, you don’t want to be an overthinker!
Overthinking can occur as a consequence of a decision that needs to be made, big or small, and is typically exacerbated in stressful situations. It’s not limited to decision making however, as it can also rear it’s ugly head whenever something has the ability to cause any level of anxiety or worry. It’s the proverbial thing that “keeps you up at night” and stems from an actual or perceived lack of control over some aspect of life. With a lack of control comes a feeling of helplessness. Overthinking is frequently the direct result. The worst overthinkers actually spend time overthinking seemingly meaningless things to the point that they’ve spent more time thinking about the thing than the time it would have taken to address it completely. What a waste of time and energy!
How we focus on the passage of time can result in a significant bias when applied to everyday life. This bias could make all the difference in our relationships, our work, and our overall happiness. Philip Zimbardo, one of the most prestigious psychologists in the world and a part of the Positive Psychology movement, has recently turned his focus to time. His book, The Time Paradox, and his most recent online talks (#1, #2 – both recommended) have been all about time perspective and delayed gratification – or as he says, having a “healthy take on time”. Zimbardo holds a special place in my heart because he was the author of the textbook used in Psych 101 at Cornell University, which first piqued my interest in psychology. His new research on time fascinates me and in many ways speaks to what this blog is about.
Time perspective is about how we subjectively divide the flow of human experience into time zones or categories. We each create segments of reality through time using significant (or sometimes insignificant) events in our lives. Zimbardo calls this “subjective time” because it’s highly personal and unique to each of us. The way we approach time in general varies quite a bit and can easily become a bias as we’ll see.
The famous longitudinal marshmallow study, referenced in just about every positive psychology book these days, is a great example of how time orientation has an effect on who we are and what we do. If you haven’t heard about the study, it involved a group of 4-year olds who were given a marshmallow as a reward for completing a task. The kids were told that if they could hold off and not eat the marshmallow once left alone, they would receive another marshmallow. Of course, more kids than not couldn’t wait and ate the first marshmallow. They wanted instant gratification over delayed gratification, even though there would have been a better outcome through waiting.
When these kids graduated high school, they were interviewed by the researchers and there were significant differences across the board. The kids who were able to delay gratification and hold off eating the first marshmallow scored 250 points higher on the SAT and had far more positive personality traits than those who gave into the impulse. They were self-motivated, decisive, self-confident, and balanced. It pays to embrace delayed gratification.
If you’re interested, you can read more on the marshmallow study before going further.
One of the most popular areas of research in psychology these days is neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to restructure itself after training or practice. In many ways, neuroplasticity is what makes personal growth and development possible at its most basic level. With the understanding that change is indeed possible, you’re able to focus on the ways in which you’d like to grow instead of whether or not it’s achievable for you. It’s possible, it’s proven, and now it’s up to you!
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. – Aristotle
An example of how neuroplasticity works: when you view the brains of people who frequently practice playing the violin under fMRI (functional MRI) they appear to have developed a larger area of their brain devoted to mapping their fingers. This change is directly related to the quantity and the quality of the practice they’re performing – their brains are adapting in very real and tangible ways unbeknownst to them.
One of the fun sayings around neuroplasticity: “neurons that fire together wire together… and neurons that fire apart wire apart.”. Effectively this means that when neurons activate at the same time as a response to an event, the neurons become associated with one another and the connections become stronger. This is why people talk about “neural pathways being set” with respect to increased practice – the more practice you accumulate, the more ingrained or grooved the pathways become. Of course the inverse happens as well: if those pathways aren’t utilized, the space will be used by other pathways needing room to grow. Use it or lose it!