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Sport Psych

Martial Arts


Happy Habits: 50 Suggestions

The Secret of Happiness: Let It Find You (But Make the Effort)

Promoting Healthy Behavior Change

10 Common Errors in CBT

Why Are People Mean? Don't Take It Personally!

What to Do When Your Jealousy Threatens to Destroy Your Marriage

Rejection Sensitivity, Irrational Jealousy and Impact on Relationships

When You Have Been Betrayed

Crazy-Makers: Passive-Aggressive People

For Women Only: How to Have the Relationship of Your Dreams

What to Do When Your Partner's Jealousy Threatens to Destroy Your Relationship

Making Attributions for a Healthier Attitude

Happiness is An Attitude

Conflict in the Workplace

Motivation: Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic

Thinking Your Way to a Healthy Weight

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

Guide to How to Set Achieveable Goals

Excellence vs. Perfection

Depression is Not Sadness

Feedback, Self-Efficacy and the Development of Motor skills

The Effectiveness of Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment for Anxiety Disorders

Performance Enhancement in the Martial Arts: A Review

Catastrophe? Or Inconvenience?

Kindle Books by Dr. Monica Frank

The Mindful Attitude: Understanding Mindfulness and the Steps to Developing Emotional Tolerance

Crazy-makers and Mean People: Handling Passive-Aggressive People

Stop Panic and Anxiety: 50 Tools

The Cognitive Diary Method to Changing Your Life

Happy Habits: 50 Suggestions


7 Rules and 8 Methods for Responding to Passive-aggressive Peoples

5 Common Microaggressions Against Those With Mental Illness

What to Expect from Mindfulness-based Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (MCBT) When You Have Depression and Anxiety

Does Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Lack Compassion? It Depends Upon the Therapist

When Needs Come Into Conflict

When Anger Hurts Those You Love

A Brief Primer On the Biology of Stress and How CBT Can Help

50 Tools for Panic and Anxiety

Coping With Change: Psychological Flexibility

Breaking Up is Hard to Do: Ending a Bad Relationship

I'm Depressed. I'm Overwhelmed. Where Do I Start?

Struggling to Forgive: An Inability to Grieve

Co-Dependency: An Issue of Control

The Pillars of the Self-Concept: Self-Esteem and Self-Efficacy


Mindfulness Training

Riding a Horse Across the Plains

Cityscape Mindfulness

Change Yourself--Don't Wait for the World to Change

The Great Desert Mindfulness

Tropical Garden Mindfulness

Thinking Your Way to a Healthy Weight

Lies You Were Told

Probability and OCD

Choosing Happiness

Magic Bubbles for Children

Lotus Flower Relaxation

Cloud Castles for Children

Hot Air Balloon Motivation

Day of Fishing Mindfulness

Audio Version of Article: Struggling to Forgive: An Inability to Grieve

Audio Version of Article: Crazy-Makers: Passive-Aggressive People

Audio Version of Article: Why Are People Mean? Don't Take It Personally!

Audio Version of Article: Happiness Is An Attitude

All Audio Articles


by Monica A. Frank, Ph.D.
Clinical and Sport Psychologist


May 26, 2015

A Good Night's Sleep Doesn't Overcome the Stress of Controlling Parents

Studying how the quality of sleep affects the intellectual performance o f teenagers when stressed by harsh and/or controlling parents, researchers El-Sheikh and colleagues (2014) found that quality sleep did not overcome the stress of negative parenting styles. Not surprisingly, those adolescents who performed best were those with more positive parenting and better quality sleep.

When confronted with general daily stress, quality sleep can be an important coping tool that reduces the negative consequences of stress. Teenagers who have a poor quality sleep do not function as well intellectually even with positive parenting. However, when teenagers are confronted with the daily and extreme conditions of negative parenting, even a good night's sleep does not help their intellectual functioning.

Specifically, controlling parents who most likely want to improve successful outcomes in their children are achieving the opposite instead. The control reduces intellectual performance and increases the likelihood of academic failure.

Of course, this does not mean to be completely permissive and allow teenagers full reign. Generally, setting limits and consequences is a necessary and effective means of parenting. However, it should not be done in an aggressive or overly controlling manner. In other words, as children mature it is psychologically healthy for them to begin to make more decisions that directly affect their lives. Yet, the parents need to provide guidance.

El-Sheikh, M., Tu, K.M., Erath, S.A. and Buckhalt, J.A. (2014). Family Stress and Adolescents’ Cognitive Functioning: Sleep as a Protective Factor, 28, 887–896. DOI: 10.1037/fam0000031

May 20, 2015

Do We Really WANT to Educate Our Children?

An interesting video about changing the paradigm of our educational system caused me to think about whether we really want to educate our children. “Of course we do!” I can imagine everyone responding. And I certainly believe that people want their children to obtain a college degree so they can get a job, but do we, as a society, really want to EDUCATE our children? Why is it that some of the most successful people today are college drop-outs (Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg)?

Why is it that we know so much more about how people learn and yet we continue to teach children in archaic ways? Do we need to medicate our children so they fit this educational system or should we fit the system to the children? As the video indicates, why are children divided into classes according to age, for instance? Does that make sense? Shouldn't they be divided according to level of knowledge or ability in a particular subject? Why should they proceed at the same rate? Doesn't this lead to boredom both for those who are capable of learning more quickly as well as those who are confused and left behind? We wouldn't need enrichment programs or special needs programs if the system was designed to meet the needs of each child. Instead, our answer has been to medicate and single out children who don't fit the system.

education symbol We have the knowledge and the ability to educate children in more effective ways. For instance, I went to a high school that allowed us to proceed at our own pace. We received learning packets with our assignments and when we had completed them we took a test to indicate whether we were ready for the next packet. Our teachers were primarily engaged individually or in small groups with students. Everyone learned. And our education wasn't just in class but in the community. Graduating from my high school meant that a student had actually been educated to think and to be involved in the community.

When I ask if we want to educate our children, I mean that true education comes with risks. First, it requires more effort from the system, the teachers, the parents, and the students. The status quo is always easier than change. Second, true education requires evaluating the student, not the system, so that the student's needs can be met, not so the school gets funding. Finally, an educated society means one that thinks, one that evaluates. Being educated doesn't mean graduating from college, it means the ability to think and evaluate information effectively. An educated society does not easily accept what it is spoon-fed. Instead, it questions and evaluates the answers.

Some people might argue the cost of an educational system focused on the needs of each student would be prohibitive. However, the per student cost of a public high school education paid by the taxpayers in my state is actually more than the tuition currently charged by the high school I attended. The problem is not the cost of such an education but the shift in thinking required by everyone involved in the educational system (administrators, teachers, parents, students, taxpayers). A shift in thinking is change and people are uncomfortable with change.

May 14, 2015

Empathy Requires a Strong Sense of Self

Empathy is the ability to understand another person's emotional state and to feel for that person. When we empathize with another person (or with groups of people) we are more likely to be responsive to their need.

However, being responsive doesn't always mean taking care of their need—it means to respond in a way that is meant to be helpful. For instance, psychologists are very empathetic as a group. However, if we do our job correctly, we typically create discomfort in our clients. We may confront them about behavior they want to ignore. Or we may encourage them to do something they are afraid of and want to avoid. Or, we bring up subjects that cause them to cry. In fact, a maxim in our profession is “You will feel worse before you feel better.” Our empathy for other people and knowing that the way to emotional health is uncomfortable allows us to do what is best for our clients even though it may not feel good (for them or for us).

Many people believe empathy and selflessness go hand in hand. Yet, sometimes selflessness can be quite selfish. Often, when people tell me, “I don't want to confront (someone) because I don't want to hurt her (his) feelings” what they really mean is “I don't want to feel uncomfortable myself.” Although their statement about not wanting to hurt feelings appears to be empathetic, in reality, they are protecting themselves from discomfort which is why it may be selfish. In such a case, confronting someone about their behavior may be more selfless, empathetic, and ultimately helpful than staying quiet.

Even neuropsychologists studying the activity of the brain expected that empathy would be associated with selflessness shown by decreased right parietal lobe (RPL) activity of the brain. People who have damage to that area of the brain are less focused on the self and tend to be more selfless. However, these researchers found the opposite to be true which is that a stronger sense self shown by increased RPL was associated with empathy (Johnstone et al., 2014).

Such an outcome makes sense when considering that helping others may require doing things they may not like. Saying “no” to someone when you are empathetic to their need is harder and more uncomfortable than complying with their request. “No, I will not do this for you but I will show you how to do it.” “No, I will not pretend everything is okay when it is not.” “No, you cannot have everything you want.” Caring deeply for others and doing what is best for them especially when it may not be what they want requires a strong sense of self.

Johnstone, B., Cohen, D., Bryant, K. R., Glass, B., & Christ, S. E. (2014, November 17). Functional and Structural Indices of Empathy: Evidence for Self-Orientation as a Neuropsychological Foundation of Empathy. Neuropsychology. Advance online publication. DOI: 10.1037/neu0000155

May 10, 2015

Mom: Let Go of the Guilt

Many mothers feel guilty about working outside of the home and fear their children will be negatively impacted. The debate about the effect on children has raged for some time. However, the results are in and mothers employed outside the home need to let go of the guilt.

Analysis of more than four decades of research and nearly 70 studies examining the effects on children of mothers working outside of the home show very little effect (Goldberg, et al., 2008). Not only does a working mother not impact achievement overall in children, but some positive, yet small, effects appear for girls, 1-parent families, and some ethnic groups.

Although long believed by people that mothers employed outside of the home will negatively impact young children, no effect was shown for this age group. A small negative effect was shown for middle to high school age children possibly related to less supervision. Part-time employment appeared to effect achievement in children more positively than full-time employment but neither compared negatively to mothers in the home.

Goldberg, W. A., Prause, J. and Lucas-Thompson, R. (2008). Maternal Employment and Children’s Achievement in Context: A Meta-Analysis of Four Decades of Research. Psychological Bulletin, 134, 77–108. DOI: 10.1037/0033-2909.134.1.77

May 8, 2015

“I've Been There” Doesn't Always Mean “I Support You”

How often do you reach out for support during a difficult time only to find that people respond with criticism? Have you noticed that sometimes it is those who have successfully managed the same problem who are most critical of your struggle or failure?

If you have experienced this, it is not about you! Researchers Ruttan and colleagues (2015) have shown that when people have overcome a similar struggle they may be less compassionate for others' distress and failure. “You just have to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and do what I did.”

Perhaps this may be due to the tendency for people to not remember painful events as well as successful outcomes. If that is the case, reminding them of the struggle itself may trigger more compassion, “But what was it like when you were going through it? Were you overwhelmed and distressed at times? Did it seem insurmountable? Were you afraid you might fail?”

Ruttan, R.L., McDonnell, M. and Nordgren, L.F. (2015). Having “Been There” Doesn’t Mean I Care: When Prior Experience Reduces Compassion for Emotional Distress. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 108, 610–622. DOI:10.1037/pspi0000012

May 5, 2015

Antidepressants Do Little for Mild to Moderate Depression

Examining six studies used for Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval, researcher Fournier and colleagues (2010) compared the efficacy of antidepressants based on the severity of the depression and found that little benefit over placebo occurred for those with mild to moderate symptoms. However, for those with severe depression the benefit was substantial. Unfortunately, to muddy the picture, when pharmaceutical companies obtain approval through the FDA they combine the data for mild to severe depression, and thus, it appears that antidepressants are helpful for any degree of depression.

Interesting. Major Depressive Disorder (the typical diagnosis for moderate to severe depression) affects less than 7% of the U.S. Population and only about 1/3 of those with severe depression are prescribed antidepressants. It is difficult to obtain actual statistics regarding how many people with mild to moderate depression take antidepressants. However, the director of the National Institute of Mental Health, Thomas Insel, M.D. states “The persistence of [such] high morbidity and mortality in the face of widespread use of antidepressants suggests either that the medications are ineffective, or they are not being used by those who need them the most. Indeed, there are data suggesting both underuse and overuse of psychiatric medications (http://www.nimh.nih.gov/about/director/2011/antidepressants-a-complicated-picture.shtml).” In addition, he indicates that over 80% of antidepressant prescriptions are written by primary care physicians and many without an associated psychiatric diagnosis.

Why should you be concerned? If you have mild to moderate depression, you need to consider that antidepressants come not only with significant potential side effects (weight gain, loss of sexual desire, fatigue, sleep disturbance, constipation) but also the development of a reliance upon the medication so that it becomes difficult to discontinue medication without a return of depressive symptoms as well as unpleasant withdrawal effects. Do you want to take such a medication when it has little benefit for you? Note: If you are already on antidepressants, do NOT discontinue the medication without your doctor's guidance (due to the serious withdrawal effects).

Why does it seem that many people with mild to moderate depression swear to the benefit they receive from antidepressants? Because they are experiencing a strong placebo effect. A placebo effect occurs due to the belief that medication is effective and that belief causes a reduction or elimination in symptoms even when a person is taking a sugar pill (placebo) thinking it is the actual medication. Interestingly, according to Dr. Insel, the placebo effect has become even stronger in the last two decades but they don't know why. I would posit that the reason the placebo effect has grown stronger is due to the marketing of the antidepressants by the pharmaceutical companies which has caused an associated increase in people's belief in the effectiveness of medication. Therefore, almost all of the effect that those with mild to moderate depression are attributing to antidepressants is actually a placebo effect (Fournier, et al., 2010).

What is the alternative? For people with mild to moderate depression, learning some skills and making lifestyle changes as taught by cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can be much more effective than medication without the side effects.

Fournier, J.C., DeRubeis, R.J., Hollon, S.D., Dimidjian, S., Amsterdam, J.D., Shelton, R.C. and Fawcett, J. (2010). Antidepressant Drug Effects and Depression Severity: A Patient-level Meta-analysis. JAMA: Journal of the American Medical Association, 303, 47-53. DOI: 10.1001/jama.2009.1943

May 4, 2015

Mindfulness and Managing Chronic Pain

Mindfulness methods prove to be even more effective in managing chronic pain than cognitive therapy which has previously been shown to aid those with persistent pain. The mechanism of mindfulness that reduces the perception of pain appears to be the refocusing of attention away from the emotional thoughts related to the pain as well as developing a tolerance for discomfort (Davis, et al., 2015).

clouds For instance, mindfulness teaches the individual to focus away from thoughts such as “I can't handle this!” to the present situation or task at hand. Whereas cognitive therapy teaches a person to change the thought such as “I am learning skills to help me handle this.”

Although mindfulness may be a bit more effective than cognitive therapy, many mindfulness programs teach how to use mindfulness in combination with cognitive therapy. For instance, Excel At Life's audios (free to download) teach the steps to learn mindfulness which includes a step on incorporating cognitive reappraisal with the mindful refocusing.

Davis, M.C., Zautra, A.J., Wolf, L.D., Tennen, H., Yeung, E.W. (2015). Mindfulness and Cognitive–Behavioral Interventions for Chronic Pain: Differential Effects on Daily Pain Reactivity and Stress. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 83, 24–35. DOI: 10.1037/a0038200

May 1, 2015

How We Might Stop Bullying: Kindness Curriculum for Preschoolers

When young children are specifically taught mindfulness and kindness, numerous benefits occur. A twelve-week mindfulness-based program with 24 lessons covering eight themes showed increased social competence and more sharing among preschoolers. Those with greater initial deficits had even more significant changes. Three months after the training, the children in the mindfulness group were rated higher in learning, social-emotional development, and overall health (Flook et al., 2015).

kindness Many of the incidents of school or workplace violence have been perpetrated by those who were bullied and marginalized early in life. If we are able to stop bullying and increase kindness in early childhood, we may be able to reduce violence later in life.

The following themes were taught to the pre-schoolers using mindfulness training:

Theme One: Mindful Bodies and Planting Seeds of Kindness

Theme Two: I Feel Emotions on the Inside

Theme Three: How I Feel on the Inside Shows on the Outside

Theme Four: Taking Care of Strong Emotions on the Inside and Outside

Theme Five: Calming and Working Out Problems

Theme Six: Gratitude

Theme Seven: All People Depend Upon Each Other and the Earth

Theme Eight: Gratitude and Caring for Our World and Wrap Up

Flook, L., Goldberg, S.B., Pinger, L. and Davidson, R.J. (2015). Promoting Prosocial Behavior and Self-Regulatory Skills in Preschool Children Through a Mindfulness-Based Kindness Curriculum. Developmental Psychology, 51, 44–51. DOI: 10.1037/a0038256

April 28, 2015

Helicopter Parenting: When Is Parental Involvement Too Much?

As children are growing up they need their parents to guide and teach and pick up the pieces when problems occur. However, successful parenting requires the parent to judge when it is appropriate to help a child and when it is necessary to let them address a problem on their own. No easy formula exists to make this determination because it can vary with the maturity and skill-set of each child.

What we do know, however, is that helicopter parenting which refers to parents who are over-controlling and over-involved in their child's life can be detrimental for children. Examining the psychological well-being of college students, researchers Schiffrin and colleagues (2013) showed that helicopter parenting interfered with the creation of intrinsic motivation which led to higher levels of depression and less satisfaction in life.

Intrinsic motivation is the ability to determine and pursue personal goals and develop a sense of competence based upon an achieved identity. To successfully navigate the stage of development in young adulthood, a college student needs to develop their own identity which requires a period of questioning and even rejecting what they have been taught so as to determine what they believe and what pursuits are important to them. Helicopter parents are threatened by this stage of development and prevent it from occurring by being overly involved in the young adult's decisions. As a result, the child may not develop intrinsic motivation and may not establish their own identity which interferes with cultivating a sense of competence, self-determination, and satisfaction with life.

To help children develop their own identity, the process starts much further back than college age. It requires the parents to gradually let go as their children are able to make decisions that affect the child. Just as a parent allows a child to fall as he or she is learning to walk, developing psychological well-being requires a foundation of self-confidence which means being allowed to learn from mistakes—not being protected from mistakes.

Schiffrin, H.H., Liss, M. Miles-McLean, H., Geary, K.A., Erchull, M.J., Tashner, T. (2013). Helping or Hovering? The Effects of Helicopter Parenting on College Students’ Well-Being. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 23, 548-557.

April 19, 2015

Three Ways to Save on Your Prescription Drug Costs

If you pay more than $4 ($10 for 3 months) for a prescription, the following is for you. By being an informed consumer and being assertive about your needs, you may be able to lower your drug costs. When your doctor makes recommendations for medications, he or she is not usually aware of the costs of those medications. It is your responsibility to check out the differences. Most of the information you require can be found on the internet or by contacting your pharmacy.

1) Generics. Most people are already aware of the difference in cost for generics. However, did you also know that sometimes when a generic is not available, that you can get a generic in a similar medication that may be just as effective?

For example, the cholesterol medication Lipitor (atorvastatin) is available as a generic but even the generic costs more than similar drugs. For some people, the generic form of Mevacor (lovastatin) may be just as effective. However, you need to know your cholesterol numbers, your goal, and the different effectiveness rates. Lovastatin can lower cholesterol 25-48% depending upon the dose whereas atorvastatin can lower it 35-60%. So, if your LDL is quite high you may need atorvastatin to decrease it to less than 70. But, let's say your LDL is less than 115, then lovastatin may be just as effective at reaching your goal. And lovastatin can be purchased for $4 a month vs. more than $25 for atorvastatin.

2) Dosage. Most people aren't aware they are paying for convenience. Some medications are cheaper based on the dosage. Taking one pill might cost you more than taking two pills which would provide the same dose of medication. In this instance, you need to check and see if different dosages vary in cost.

For example, spironolactone, a common generic diuretic and anti-androgen, can cost $40 a month for a 50mg tablet but can be obtained for $4 a month for two 25mg tablets. In other words, you are paying $36 more a month so you only need to take one tablet rather than two.

A similar savings can occur with extended release medications when they are prescribed for the convenience of taking one pill a day rather than one in the morning and one at night. For example, metoprolol, a generic beta-blocker used to treat high blood pressure, can cost $40 a month for the extended release version but you can obtain a 3-month supply for $10 if you are willing to take it twice a day.

3) Combination drugs. Another way you pay for convenience is with combination drugs which is when two commonly prescribed drugs are combined together into one pill. Sometimes purchasing the two drugs separately can save you money.

For example, a commonly used hormone replacement therapy is Prempro which can cost about $140 a month. Prempro contains an estrogen and progesterone. When purchased separately, these drugs can be obtained for $80 a year—a savings of $1600 a year!

Obviously, these savings are greatest for those who do not have prescription coverage. However, most people have prescription plans that are tiered. For example, $10 for generics, $25 for brand names, and $50 for certain brand names (and some people also have a deductible for prescriptions). Even if you are only paying $10 for a generic, wouldn't you rather pay $10 for a 3-month supply and put that other $20 in your pocket? And if you are paying $25 for a convenient dosage or a combination drug wouldn't you rather save $300 a year? If so, you need to let the pharmacy know that you don't want to bill the insurance for that prescription.

However, to save money on your pharmaceutical costs, you need to do the research. Walmart lists their $4 prescriptions online and Costco provides the costs of medications online so you can obtain comparisons. You also might need to look up the differences in medications or ask your doctor or pharmacist if another medication can be just as effective for you. When informed of the difference in costs, most doctors are flexible in their prescriptions as long as the medication can still achieve the doctor's goal for your treatment.

April 17, 2015

Rule 13: You are not that important. But you are valuable.

Think about a single cell of the human body. We have approximately 1.6 trillion skin cells of which we shed a million every day. Each skin cell is not that important in itself. But each skin cell contributes to the whole—your body. Therefore, each skin cell is valuable.

When we focus too much on our importance, but not enough on our value, problems are often created. Such problems include social anxiety, the stress of over-responsibility, worry, and conflict with others. The difference between importance and value is focus. When we are concerned about others' focus on us, we create a false sense of importance.

You are not that important. But you are valuable. Some people are stressed by the demands they perceive from others. For instance, for those with social anxiety, believing they are the focus of others' attention creates anxiety because they believe attention leads to criticism. However, recognizing they are not that important helps to provide perspective. Other people are not paying as much attention to them as they fear. And even if they are paying attention, it is usually just a momentary interest. If it is more, it may not be negative, but often is neutral or could be positive. Understanding this helps people with social anxiety reduce their anxiety.

Other people are stressed because they take on too much responsibility. Often believing that a task will only get done properly if they do it, they find it difficult to delegate and rely on others. Although, they may not always view themselves as “important,” others may perceive them as overbearing or arrogant. For this person, it may be necessary to recognize that part of their value can be helping others to take responsibility as well and be valued as contributors.

At the other end of the spectrum are those who believe they are important and “should” be the center of attention. These individuals believe somehow they are better than others and expect recognition and/or devotion from others. For them, understanding that no one is more important than anyone else reduces conflict and resentment.

Each person is valuable. Each person contributes to the overall functioning of the society. However, no one person is that important.


April 15, 2015

Practicing Loving-Kindness May Elicit Resentments

buddha When people initially practice Loving Kindness Meditation they can be confused by the uncomfortable emotions such as resentment that can arise. Logically, it seems that the practice of loving-kindness should be pleasant and filled with positive emotions and wishes for others. However, the practice of focusing on a person and wishing them well may also bring forth the resentments, irritations, frustrations that you have with that person. This reaction can occur even with loved ones but becomes more apparent with someone with whom you have conflict.

For this reason, some people quit the practice in frustration because they wonder what is wrong with them that they can't engage in such a simple practice of focusing on someone and wishing them well. However, the loving-kindness meditation, no matter how simple it seems, is a complex practice with many layers to it. As such, it is a process of self-discovery. And self-discovery means examining parts of ourselves that are unpleasant. People quit loving-kindness meditation, mindfulness practice, and other similar techniques because they may not be prepared for this process and are confused and uncertain when it occurs.

The first step to managing this reaction is to recognize it is normal. Just because you are trying to focus in a positive way on others doesn't mean that negative thoughts won't occur. The next step is to let those thoughts be. You don't have to get rid of the resentments and frustrations to focus on loving-kindness. And actually, that is the point--to focus loving-kindness especially when you are irritated, or hurt, or resentful. It is easy to feel loving-kindness when you don't have any resentments but the practice of loving-kindness is to wish others well when you do have resentments.

Letting the thoughts be doesn't mean you have to dwell on them. You can mindfully refocus back to the loving-kindness meditation. Just don't worry if resentments arise during your meditation.

April 13, 2015

How Can Each of Us Make a Difference in the World?

Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, and compassion, feeling others' suffering coupled with a desire to alleviate it, are associated with pro-social behavior. In other words, the more that people feel compassion for others, the more they act in ways to help others which has a positive effect on the functioning of the overall society. The question is how to boost empathy and compassion to increase this effect.

Although researchers Johnstone and colleagues (2014) in an attempt to determine the underlying cause of empathy expected to find that selflessness motivated empathy, instead found that a strong sense of self, not selflessness, is related to greater empathy for others. Conversely, this seems to support the idea that the apparent self-esteem of those who are ruthless and hurt others for personal gain is self-aggrandizing and, in actuality, they have a poor sense of self that needs to be supported by the bullying or destruction of others. Emotionally healthy, happy people who have a strong sense of self are able to relate in a more positive and compassionate way to others.

Therefore, it appears that the more we can improve the individual's self-concept, the more we are likely to see an increase in empathy, compassion, and pro-social behavior. This doesn't necessarily mean we have to focus on changing other people. If we practice meditations such as the Loving-Kindness Meditation and the Compassion Meditation, we are likely to have a positive effect on others. The cumulative effect eventually raises the sense of self for all.

An interesting video of Jeremy Rifkin's talk “Empathic Civilisation” discusses this concept of the evolution of empathy. He proposes as human beings we have expanded our empathy for others from our immediate family associations to our similar racial, religious or geographic groups, and now, we are expanding our ability to empathize to the entire world.

Watch this video and listen to the Loving-Kindness Meditation and notice the similarity.

Johnstone, B., Cohen, D., Bryant, K. R., Glass, B., & Christ, S. E. (2014, November 17). Functional and Structural Indices of Empathy: Evidence for Self-Orientation as a Neuropsychological Foundation of Empathy. Neuropsychology. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/neu0000155

April 12, 2015

How Mindfulness Can Reduce Risk for Alzheimer's and Heart Disease

Loneliness has been shown to increase the risk of inflammatory illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's in the elderly. Most likely the mechanism for this link is the negative mood state. It would seem reasonable, then, that changing the mood state could lower the risk for these illnesses. Researchers at Carnegie-Mellon (Creswell, et al., 2012) have not only shown just that but also have determined the manner in which mindfulness lowers risk.

By examining the effects of an 8-week mindfulness training program on loneliness and the expression of the inflammatory genes, Creswell and colleagues demonstrated that resistance to inflammation increased. Specifically, the insults showed a decrease in the C-reactive protein that is implicated in heart disease and and a down-regulation of the NF-kB-related gene which is involved with inflammatory illnesses such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

Although this research showed changes during an 8-week program, to significantly reduce your risk for these illnesses it is necessary to incorporate mindfulness practice into your daily routine. Read the articles and listen to the audios about understanding mindfulness for more information. These materials are also compiled into a convenient eBook: The Mindful Attitude.

Creswell, J.D., Irwin, M.R., Burklund, L.J., Lieberman, M.D., Arevalo, J.M.G., Ma, J., Breen, E.C. and Cole, S.W. (2012). Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Training Reduces Loneliness and Pro-inflammatory Gene Expression in Older Adults: A Small Randomized Controlled Trial. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 26, 1095-1101.

April 11, 2015

Blaming as a Way of Feeling in Control

Have you ever blamed someone for something minor even when the back of your mind was saying “That's ridiculous!”? When something goes wrong we want to assign blame. Why is that? Because we want to feel a greater sense of control over our lives. If there is someone or something to blame then we believe that it can be fixed. We don't what to believe “Stuff happens!”

Watch the news or read the blogs when some major event occurs. Immediately, everyone is looking to assign blame. And if the blame doesn't allow for control, then we look to blame something which we can control. For instance, the Sandy Hook shooting almost immediately focused on gun control because trying to control the genetics of someone who grows up to be a killer isn't possible. Or, trying to identify at-risk individuals and nurture their mental health is too much effort. Yet, a homicidal person will find a way to kill others no matter how much we control access to weapons. Whether gun control is right or wrong, our focus on blaming guns allows us to feel more in control—it provides a sense of comfort because we believe we are doing something.

That is the purpose of blame—to feel more comfortable. When we blame someone for a mistake we made “That wouldn't have happened if you...” we don't feel the discomfort of being wrong or being responsible. When we when we can attribute blame for a problem that exists in the world, we are granted a sense of comfort.

So, you might ask, if it makes us feel better, why shouldn't we continue to ascribe blame to someone or something else? Because blaming doesn't allow us to pursue real solutions. Instead, we pursue the straw man of the object of blame which creates a lot of finger-pointing but nothing is achieved. Maybe, instead, we need to look at reality even if we might feel uncomfortable. Sometimes reality shows us other solutions such as taking personal responsibility. Other times it may show us that things happen that are beyond our control. But at least we are examining real possibilities for solutions.

April 9, 2015

Mindful Attention to Unhealthy Foods Improves Food Choices

Common sense and mindfulness are often contrary to one another. For instance, if asked “Do you think if you looked at pictures of unhealthy foods for 10 minutes prior to lunch you would be more likely or less likely to choose salad for lunch?” people are likely to believe they would be less inclined to eat a healthy lunch. And they would be accurate if they just looked at the pictures. However, this belief is mistaken if they mindfully focused on the pictures.

A study by Papies and colleagues (2015) compared two groups of subjects on their lunch choices after they had been presented with pictures of unhealthy snack foods. The control group was asked to look at the pictures in a relaxed manner. The experimental group was instructed on giving mindful attention to the pictures. Afterward, they compared the number of calories they ate for lunch and whether they chose a salad or unhealthy snack foods. The outcome showed that those who mindfully focused on the pictures were more likely to eat a salad and to forgo the snacks than the control group.

How can this research be applied to your life?
Mindfully focusing on your food choices is likely to lead to healthier choices. Mindful attention means to fully observe the food. What is it? How would you eat it? What does it feel like? What does it taste like? How will it feel to eat it? Do you like it? Dislike it? What other thoughts do you have about the food?

A good example of this is included in the mindfulness exercises at ExcelAtLife.com: Eating a Piece of Chocolate.

Papies, E.K., Pronk, T.M., Keesman, M. and Barsalou, L.W. (2015). The Benefits of Simply Observing: Mindful Attention Modulates the Link Between Motivation and Behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 108, 148 –170. DOI:10.1037/a0038032

April 8, 2015

Want an Easy and Uplifting Health Practice? Laughing Qigong

Qigong is a simple breathing exercise combined with movement. More and more research shows how it reduces the symptoms of stress, depression, and anxiety.

Recently, Hsieh and colleagues studied laughing qigong with a group of geriatric residents in long-term care and found that twice a week groups for 4 weeks improved mood, reduced depression, and improved memory (mental status).

The first part of this video shows a simple laughing qigong exercise. Even watching it feels good! Take a minute a few times a day for a laughing qigong session and see how it transforms your mood.

Hsieh, C., Chang, C. Tsai, G. and Wu, H. (2015). Empirical study of the Influence of a Laughing Qigong Program on Long-term Care Residents. Geriatrics and Gerontology International, 15, 165-173. DOI: 10.1111/ggi.12244

April 4, 2015

The Danger of Seeking Happiness: How to Protect Your Children

As I point out in my article The Secret of Happiness: Let It Find You (But Make the Effort) the more we try to seek happiness, the more it eludes us. In fact, those who highly value happiness are more likely to have negative emotional states such as depression. Recent research that expands upon this concept shows that extreme valuing of happiness is not just associated with depression but is a risk factor for depressive disorders (Ford et al., 2015).

To understand what this means we need to look at the concept of “risk factor.” You may already be familiar with risk factors related to physical disorders. For instance, obesity increases the likelihood of diabetes. Or, smoking increases the likelihood of lung cancer. A risk factor does not mean that the illness will occur but that it has a higher than average risk of occurring.

What this means for happiness and depression is that those who place an extreme value on being happy are more at risk for becoming depressed. Some people might argue that because depressed people already have more negative emotions, they may place more value on happiness to counter-act this state. However, researcher Ford and colleagues indicate that the extreme valuing of happiness occurs prior to the depressive disorder, and thus, can be predictive of those more likely to develop a depressive illness.

Although the extreme valuing of happiness may not be the full cause of the development of depressive disorders, it gives us pause to consider whether there could be a protective effect from learning a more balanced perspective regarding happiness. For instance, in my article I discuss creating “the opportunities for happiness” rather than trying to create happiness. We can focus on increasing the activities in our lives that are associated with happiness rather than focusing on happiness itself. Such activities include social connection, sense of purpose, service to others, emotional tolerance of discomfort, health practices, and self-contentment. Those who focus on strengthening these aspects of their lives are more likely to be happy.

More importantly, though, if there is a protective effect of a more balanced perspective, we need to seriously reconsider the messages we provide our children (as well as ourselves). Instead of defining happiness for our children as always being comfortable and having what they desire, we can teach them to engage in the activities that are more likely to contribute to happiness. For instance, a child who learns to sacrifice personal comfort to help others is learning the behaviors that can lead to greater happiness in the future. Such a sacrifice can simply be helping the family by doing chores when the child would rather be playing to giving money to a needy child in lieu of buying a toy.

Of course, this means discomfort for the parents as well because looking out for your child's future well-being is more difficult than making them momentarily happy. It also means learning to ignore or counter the messages of the media, movies, and television that teach us to seek material gain and euphoria as a means to happiness.

For more information on creating the opportunities for happiness, my articles are now available on Kindle.

Ford, B.Q., Mauss, I.B. and Gruber, J. (2015). Valuing Happiness Is Associated With Bipolar Disorder. Emotion, 15, 211–222. DOI: 10.1037/emo0000048

April 3, 2015

Mindful Dating: How Does Mindfulness Affect Satisfaction in Relationships?

woman in meditation by lake Mindfulness is a state of being centered in the present. As such, it is not focused on fears of the future nor does it dwell on uncertainties of the past. This present awareness provides the mindful individual with a strong sense of self not easily influenced by outside concerns.

Recent research shows that individuals who have a high degree of mindfulness also report a greater degree of satisfaction in their dating relationships. The mindful attitude seems to provide a stable base from which the person can approach the relationship without being overly critical or demanding of the self or the other. In such a way, the mindful individual does not become entangled in the emotional ups and downs of the partner because he or she is able to define a personal distance (Khaddouma, et al., 2015).

As I write this it occurs to me that this description is very similar to what therapists do. People often ask me, “How can you listen to people's problems all day long and not become overwhelmed by them?” Generally, it is because the mindful attitude allows the therapist to care without worrying about the future or distressing about the past.

Such a focus, whether in the dating relationship, therapeutic relationship, or other types of relationships, allows the mindful person to make a distinction between themselves and the other person. In this way they do not become embroiled in or overwhelmed by stressful situations, can remain objective, and resolve problems without becoming ensnared by them.

Although this research examined people who naturally experienced a mindful attitude towards life, it is possible to develop a more mindful approach. My audios on Understanding Mindfulness can be downloaded free (transcripts are also provided) if you want to learn how to develop a more mindful attitude.

Khaddouma, A., Gordon, K.C. and Bolden, J. (2015). Zen and the Art of Dating: Mindfulness, Differentiation of Self, and Satisfaction in Dating Relationships. Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice, 4, 1–13. DOI: 10.1037/cfp0000035

April 1, 2015

Husband and Wife Mutual Sulking

Question: I have been searching for the causes of frustration I have been going through with my husband for a while now, and I actually thought I was the passive aggressive one in the marriage because of all the sulking and mutual silent treatments. However it turns out I am only reflecting what is being imposed on me. For example, he does not do things I ask him to do. I am not fond of asking for people to do stuff for me. When I do, it usually is truly necessary that they do it. If I tell him to pick up the table after a meal I cooked and put on the table, he says "I would only do it if you don't tell me to do it." Next time I would not tell him what to do, expecting him to remember, and he just lets the table with dirty dishes sit there for hours and hours. He definitely knows I am expecting him to remove them so he resists me even when I don't say anything. When I become angry and try to tell him jokingly he starts the sulking/anger/resistance telling me I am once again trying to control him. So next time I just silently remove the dishes from the table and I sulk instead. When I sulk it causes him to sulk and we go days resenting each other. I don't understand it: if I don't ask him when I want him to do something, how will he ever know I want them done?


March 30, 2015

When Bad Things Happen, Share the Good

Long-term relationships experience adversity at times. In research examining the effects of breast cancer on the intimate relationship, Otto and colleagues (2015) found that sharing positive daily events increased feelings of intimacy, positive emotions, and improved well-being. In addition, the more the spouse was perceived as responsive, the more positive emotions and increased feelings of intimacy were experienced.

Although this study examined women with breast cancer, it could apply to other health conditions as well. Generally, what it indicates is that the spouse impacted by adversity needs their partner to enthusiastically listen and share positive daily events. This does not mean that negative events shouldn't be shared as it is sometimes necessary to obtain support by sharing distressing information.

Instead, it means to not refrain from sharing the positive events. Sometimes people don't want to share such events with a spouse who is suffering because it may seem insignificant compared to their problems. Yet, the sharing improves their ability to cope, feel better, and feel more positive about the relationship.

Otto, A.K., Laurenceau, J.P., Siegel, S.D., Graham, H.F. and Belcher, A.J. (2015). Capitalizing on Everyday Positive Events Uniquely Predicts Daily Intimacy and Well-Being in Couples Coping With Breast Cancer. Journal of Family Psychology, 29, 69–79. DOI: 10.1037/fam0000042

March 27, 2015

Six Characteristics that Distinguish a Healthy Anger from Hate

Many people are confused by anger believing it is a negative and destructive emotion. However, emotions are just information. It is the behavior that follows emotion that can cause harm. I propose that hate is not an emotion, but a behavior that can be clearly distinguished from anger.

1) Anger empowers. Hate seeks power.
Recognizing and attending to anger can empower us to address grievances. We can assertively take a stand against an unfair situation or injustice. Hate, however, doesn't want resolution but to have power over others—to weaken them with contempt and disdain so as to assert dominance.

2) Anger can be constructive. Hate is destructive.
When people are angry about a social injustice or about mistreatment, they often use their anger to address and bring attention to the problem. Hate only wants to destroy. It doesn't focus on alternative solutions but only on the destruction, emotionally or physically, of the object of hate.

3) Anger is momentary. Hate is a dwelling place.
Feeling angry is an emotion. As with all emotions, it lasts only a short time. The purpose of anger is to draw our attention to a problem that needs to be solved. Hate dwells on the emotion to keep it present, not for the purpose of solving a problem, but only for the purpose of feeling the hate.

4) Anger seeks change. Hate seeks revenge.
Even when people are very angry, their focus is on wanting something to change. Once change has occurred, the anger dissipates. Hate, though, doesn't care about change. Instead, it seeks to hurt in return. It wants others to feel pain and despair, and is not satisfied unless that occurs.

5) Anger is a response to hurt. Hate is a response to threat.
People feel angry when they are hurt. Anger is a reaction to an event. Hate is about the future. It is the fear of threat of injury to the self. It seeks to eliminate that threat by destroying the object of perceived peril.

6) Anger can be healthy. Hate is a hazard to mental and physical health.
Since anger allows us to recognize problems and problem-solve, it helps to improve health by responding in a proactive way to threats to our health. Hate becomes an ongoing stressor to the body which increases the unhealthy stress reaction which takes a toll on physical health.

March 16, 2015

Advice in Context or Why Diagnosis is Important

Frequently people hear general advice from psychologists and then, because it doesn't fit with their perspective, believe that it is all garbage.

However, advice needs to be taken in context. All advice doesn't apply to all people which is why diagnosis of the problem is necessary.

For instance, let's take the concept of guilt. Often, as psychologists, we tell people that guilt is a self-destructive emotion. However, such advice is in the context of a neurotic who is feeling guilty for normal, everyday behavior. For example, someone who feels guilty saying “no” to helping on a project when they don't have time and then worries about it.

However, in the case of someone who has committed crimes or offenses, guilt is a necessary and constructive emotion. When you do something wrong, guilt helps you to recognize it and to make amends.

The same is true with regret about mistakes. In a certain context it may be destructive and irrational whereas in another it can help address a problem.

March 15, 2015

Passive-Aggressive Example: Another Passive-Aggressive Mother and Planning a Wedding

Question: I am having a very hard time planning my wedding because my mom and I want very different things. I believe in simplicity. Having a small intimate wedding (and a healthy marriage) is important to me, not a huge, traditional wedding. She wants to make decisions for me and demonstrates extreme passive-aggressiveness when I tell her my beliefs and what I want. She nicely says I can do whatever I want but then doesn't get excited about the things I decide on. It's hard because I want her to be excited but I also want to have the wedding I want. Yesterday we went dress shopping and before I could even say "yes" or "no" to the dress, she did. I ended up buying a dress that she liked. She told me the one I liked wasn't as slimming and the dress she liked made me look beautiful. She also ran into another bride in the store who was having a traditional wedding at a well known expensive venue in the area where she had wanted my wedding but I said "no" to because of the cost, stuffy atmosphere etc. When the girl asked where I was having it, my mom looked embarrassed to tell her my venue was at a bowling alley. It hurts. When I confront my mom she says I'm too sensitive and that I should just do everything on my own if I don't want her help. I want to note my mother is a beyond amazing person--would do anything for me. It's just that she is a very passive-aggressive person and plays dumb when confronted. Her image and appearance is very important to her and always has been. I feel like she thinks my decisions reflect on her image.


March 14, 2015

How Does Cognitive Therapy Help Depression?

Although it has been known for some time that cognitive therapy helps to reduce depressive symptoms, the specific role of cognitive therapy in symptom reduction required further evaluation. Recent research (Adler, Strunk and Fazio, 2015) clarifies this role showing that cognitive therapy increases coping skills to the degree that those with depression are no different in coping ability from those without depression. Although after cognitive therapy those with depression tend to still have more negative beliefs than those without depression, such maladaptive beliefs are less than prior to treatment.

Increased coping skills makes sense regarding symptom reduction because those with depression frequently engage in fewer self-care activities. This tends to cause a depressive cycle: feeling bad causes you to not take care of yourself which increases negative feelings causing less ability to take care of the yourself. Increasing coping skills reverses this cycle.

Adler, A.D., Strunk, D.R. and Fazio, R.H. (2015). What Changes in Cognitive Therapy for Depression? An Examination of Cognitive Therapy Skills and Maladaptive Beliefs. Behavior Therapy, 46, 96-109. DOI: 10.1016/j.beth.2014.09.001

March 12, 2015

Why Do You Use Social Media?

The primary motivators for using social media is to either connect socially with others or to feel more important. Those who focus more on how many friends they have or showing how exciting a life they lead by posting a lot of photos are more likely to have a power motive whereas those who spend more time on social media tend to have an affiliation motive (Heser, et al., 2015).

The problem arises when a person needs the external validation and does not receive it. For instance, those who are on Facebook for social connection may be vulnerable to negative moods if the interactions are negative. Likewise, those who need validation but don't receive encouragement or recognition may feel worse about themselves.

The message is to not rely on social media to meet your needs but use it as one method among many to increase social interaction and feelings of self-worth. If it doesn't feel good, don't do it.

Heser, K., Banse, R., and Imhoff, R. (2015). Affiliation or Power: What Motivates Behavior on Social Networking Sites? Swiss Journal of Psychology, 74, 37-47. DOI: 10/1024/1421-0185/100014

March 5, 2015

Passive-Aggressive Example: The Passive-Aggressive "Nice" Mother

Question: I'm an adult child living at home. My mother makes me so angry but she is always so nice about it. She'll tell me, "Honey, we're trying to treat you like an adult, but you're not thinking this through and making good decisions." Anything I try to do she finds fault with but she does it in a nice way, "Are you sure that is what you want to do?" I don't choose the right career. I can't eat right. I can't spend my time in the right way. Why can't I just make mistakes and learn from them? It's my life! If I get angry, she's just clueless and claims, "I'm just trying to help you become independent."


March 3, 2015

Do You Seek Reassurance of Love? That Might Be Okay...Unless...

Seeking reassurance that you are loved can be as simple as asking your partner “Do you love me?” or “Why do you love me?” Or, it can involve looking for signs of rejection and questioning the partner about these behaviors: “If you love me, why....?” Or, it can be demanding that your partner show love in particular ways.

Research has found that those who excessively seek reassurance from their partner are more likely to experience depression. The theory is that because of feelings of low self-worth they engage in a reassurance-seeking cycle: they seek reassurance of worth from their partner which the partner initially provides and is experienced as rewarding by the individual causing them to seek reassurance again and again. Overtime, the excessive reassurance seeking can become frustrating for the partner leading to rejecting behaviors which then increases the depression.

Interestingly, though, researchers Evraire and Dozois (2014) showed that insecure forms and secure forms of reassurance-seeking may exist. In other words, just because you ask “Do you love me?” doesn't mean that you are insecure and likely to have depression. Some people seek reassurance while feeling good about themselves and the relationship—such reassurance-seeking tends to reinforce these good feelings.

The problem appears to be when reassurance-seeking is for the purpose of feeling better about yourself. Doing that is usually related to insecurity and fear of abandonment. These underlying core beliefs appear to determine whether depression is present and if the reassurance-seeking cycle will occur leading to increased depression.

Evraire, LE. and Dozois, D.J.A. (2014). If It Be Love Indeed Tell Me How Much: Early Core Beliefs Associated With Excessive Reassurance Seeking in Depression. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, 46, 1–8. DOI: 10.1037/a0033486

March 2, 2015

The Pursuit of Happiness or the Pursuit of Money?

Every day, thousands of advertisements tell us that people are happy, worthwhile, and successful to the extent that they have money, possessions, and the right image. Yet numerous philosophic and religious perspectives across both time and culture have suggested that focusing one’s life around the acquisition of money, possessions, and status saps one’s spirit and undermines one’s quality of life (Dittmar, Bond, and Hurst, 2014).”

Analyzing over 250 studies, Dittmar and colleagues show fairly conclusively that pursuing materialistic desires is associated with reduced overall well-being in a number of ways:

case of money 1) Compulsive spending. Perhaps the most obvious, people who are materialistic engage in compulsive spending defined as an obsessive focus on unnecessary purchases believed to make them happier. However, since possessions are not associated with happiness, they continue to buy more and more in their pursuit of happiness.

2) Risky behaviors. Those who are materialistic tend to engage in other compulsive behaviors that are a risk to physical health such as smoking or drinking. This may be consistent with looking for something outside of themselves to make them feel good.

3) Negative self-appraisal. Materialism is associated with increased insecurity and lower self-worth. Instead of valuing the self, they believe possessions, money, or status give them value.

4) Negative emotions. Those with a materialistic focus tend to have more negative emotions and fewer positive emotions. Although the materialistic pursuit is often for the purpose of increasing positive emotions, it does not have that effect.

5) Poor physical health. Individuals who are materialistic have poorer physical health most likely due to the focus upon external methods to make them happy rather than focusing on themselves.

6) Depression and anxiety. A higher incidence of depression and anxiety is found in those who are materialistic.

7) Lower life satisfaction. Overall, those who are materialistic are less satisfied with their lives.

These findings are consistent across gender, age, race, culture, and socio-economic status. Thus, research clearly shows that the pursuit of money, possessions, and status does not make people happy.

How can you increase happiness and satisfaction in life? Read my article “The Secret of Happiness: Let it Find You (But Make the Effort)” for more information.

Dittmar, H., Bond, R. and Hurst, M. (2014).The Relationship Between Materialism and Personal Well-Being: A Meta-Analysis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 107, 879–924. DOI: 10.1037/a0037409

March 1, 2015

Forgiveness Can Impact Heart Health More Than Traditional Medical Treatments

Examining how forgiveness in marital relationships affects heart health, researchers Fincham and colleagues (2015) showed that forgiveness has a greater influence than blood pressure medications and aspirin.

Obviously, forgiveness is not meant as a substitute for medications, but this research indicates that cultivating an attitude of forgiveness can be an important adjunct. If forgiveness is already in your nature, developing a more forgiving attitude may not have much impact, but if you have trouble forgiving, it may help your cardiovascular functioning.

One way to develop a forgiving attitude is the Loving-Kindness Meditation.

Fincham, F.D., May, R.W. and Sanchez-Gonzalez, M.A. (2015). Forgiveness and Cardiovascular Functioning in Married Couples. Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice, 4, 39 – 48 DOI: 10.1037/cfp0000038

February 28, 2015

Can Being Shy Affect Your Well-being and Relationship? Yes, but It Depends...

Generally, research has repeatedly shown that people who are shy often experience lower well-being and insecurity in relationships. Yet, for those who have secure attachment, shyness doesn't affect the quality of their relationship or overall happiness in life (Rowsell and Coplan, 2013).

shy cat What does this mean?

In my opinion, the researchers are mixing social anxiety and the personality trait of being introverted. I think this is a common bias in research about shyness which confuses the results.

Although being introverted may often be associated with social anxiety and shyness, it is not the same concept. Being introverted is a preference for being alone vs. being with people. Many people who are introverted are socially adept and can even enjoy being social, but their preference is to be alone or just with small groups or other individuals.

The concept of the use of personal energy seems to describe the difference between extroverts and introverts quite well: extroverts gain energy from social contact whereas introverts use energy when with others. Conversely, extroverts lose energy when alone and need to be with others to “recharge” whereas introverts need to be alone to “recharge.”

If you notice, this description of introverts/extroverts has nothing to do with being socially anxious or shy. In fact, there is no value judgment of which one is better—they are just different styles.

Thus, I think this research is really about the difference between those who are securely attached in relationships and those who are not. In other words, insecure attachment affects overall well-being and the quality of the relationship.

To assess whether you are securely attached, you can take the questionnaire Measure of Attachment Qualities.

Rowsell, H.C. and Coplan, R.J. (2013). Exploring Links Between Shyness, Romantic Relationship Quality, and Well-Being. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, 45 287–295. DOI: 10.1037/a0029853

February 26, 2015

10 Everyday Frustrations and a Mindful Attitude

Frustration often is not only unnecessary but also may interfere with successful resolution of problems. If nothing else, a mindful attitude is healthier for you than feeling agitated.

1) Being late.
When you are running late for a meeting or work, will you get there any faster if you are frustrated or feeling hurried? Choose your focus. You will get there just as quickly with a mindful attitude.

2) Unexpected inconveniences.
When unexpected inconveniences such as a flat tire occur, does anger or agitation help manage the problem? A mindful focus gets the job done sometimes even more quickly because you aren't being distracted by your frustration.

3) Someone makes a request of you.
Sometimes people are frustrated by requests that distract from their present purpose. Let's say you are practicing your mindfulness and your spouse asks you to find something. What an irony if you get frustrated, right? Instead, choose to continue to practice mindfulness while helping your spouse.

4) Difference of opinion.
A difference of opinion doesn't have to cause frustration or anger. Choose to listen mindfully when someone doesn't agree with you.

5) Rudeness by strangers.
When strangers are rude such as when you are cut off in traffic or someone gets service before you, frustration only hurts you and is not likely to solve the problem. Maintain your mindful focus: “I'm not going to let minor irritations take my mindfulness away.”

6) Stopped in traffic.
When you are stopped in traffic you are not going anywhere no matter how frustrated you become. Why not take it as an opportunity to practice your mindful attitude?

7) Paperwork.
A common frustration is the avalanche of seemingly mindless paperwork in modern day society. However, you can make a mindless activity mindful by choosing your focus. Instead of feeling agitated just refocus back to the process of completing the paperwork—step by mindful step.

8) Customer service.
We all experience the frustration of customer service when we have problems with our many “conveniences” in life (phones, TV, appliances, etc.). The often interesting outcome of focusing mindfully with customer service is you may find the customer service rep's attitude becomes more mindful as well. We influence others with mindfulness just as we influence others with frustration!

9) Weather.
People often become frustrated when the weather isn't what they want it to be. It is raining when they want to go to the park or it doesn't snow when they want to go skiing. When it comes to the weather, it is best to be mindfully flexible.

10) Electricity outage.
What better time to be mindful?

Notice that what most of these everyday frustrations have in common is they are uncontollable. When something can't be controlled, why not be mindful?

February 24, 2015

Passive-Aggressive Example: Trap of Demanding Private Thoughts

Question: I'm working on my issues with jealousy. I try not to share my jealous thoughts and feelings with my girlfriend, but what do I say when she asks "What's wrong?" If I answer "I'm trying to work through some things" she demands to know what it is about and then we end up in an argument about the jealousy. What should I do?


February 20, 2015

Cognitive Diary Training Example: Fiance Spends Valentine's Day with Son

EVENT: Valentine's Day fell on weekend fiance had son and he decided to celebrate on a different day.

EMOTIONS: rejected, hurt, angry

DISTRESS RATING: 8--High level of distress

THOUGHTS: “Valentine's is a special day and he could get a babysitter for his son this one time. Doesn't he even care about hurting my feelings? He is so inconsiderate! It is so unfair that he puts his son before me. I think I'm pretty understanding usually but this is Valentine's Day and he should spend it with me.”

CAN YOU IDENTIFY THE IRRATIONAL THINKING IN THIS EXAMPLE? There are at least 3 irrational beliefs.

HOW CAN YOU CHANGE THE THINKING? What is another way of thinking about the situation that won't cause the feelings of rejection, hurt, and anger?


February 16, 2015

Why You Need to Write to Challenge Thinking

When many people learn cognitive restructuring, the method in cognitive therapy used to challenge the inaccurate or irrational thoughts, they try to change their thinking by challenging the thoughts in their head. However, such an approach is not as effective as writing your thoughts, examining the inaccuracies, and writing a challenge to the irrational thoughts.

The primary reason that writing is more effective is that it gets you out of your head! Think of it this way. Whenever you engage in a behavior (and thinking is a behavior) you create automatic pathways in your brain. For example, when you learn to ride a bike, an automatic pathway is created—which is why you never forget how to ride a bike. It is very difficult to change an automatic pathway. In fact, we can't!

That doesn't mean you can't change your thinking, however. It just means that you need to create an automatic pathway that competes with the original pathway. However, when you try to do this by thinking about your thinking, the original pathway tends to assert itself and take over. Therefore, the best way around this is to start by developing a completely different pathway using a different sensory input (instead of thought, use the tactile modality of writing).

By writing your challenging thoughts, you are creating a different pathway in the brain that can then compete with the original pathway. Once you have established this pathway, then you should be able to use it without having to write. But at first you need to write even if you are repeating yourself—at least write the challenging thoughts.

By the way, using other sensory modalities could also work. For instance, saying the challenging thoughts out loud (unless you usually say the negative thoughts out loud). I suggest writing because most people do not write down their irrational thoughts as the primary method of reviewing them.

(Note to researchers out there: based on this principle, would it be best not to write down the irrational thoughts repeatedly—could they be inadvertently reinforced? I haven't seen this question researched.)

February 11, 2015

Passive-Aggressive Example: Passive-Aggressive Example: Handling a Backhanded Compliment

Question: How do you respond to the following statement? "Wow, for someone really well read, you watch the stupidest TV shows!"


February 8, 2015

New Article: 5 Common Microaggressions Against Those With Mental Illness

Those struggling with mental illness often report that others don't understand the problems they experience. In addition, others treat them differently in very subtle ways but that are clearly apparent to the individual with mental illness. Not only that, but when those with mental illness complain, they are ignored, their mental illness is blamed, or they are told they are imagining the problem due to excessive sensitivity.

Although overt discrimination such as occupational inequities has been opposed through legislation such as the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), these types of microaggressions still plague those with mental illness. Microaggressions are subtle behaviors or reactions that diminish the recipient in some way.

The problem with microaggressions, similar to indirect passive-aggressive behavior, is the behavior is often so subtle that the perpetrator can easily deny the intention or even blame the recipient. Sometimes the perpetrator may even be unaware of their underlying attitudes that are being expressed in this subtle manner. However, the recipient is very much aware of the difference in how they are treated.

Through interviewing individuals with mental illness, researchers Gonzales and colleagues (2014) found five themes of microaggressions against those with mental illness:

1) Invalidation. Minimizing, symptomizing, and patronizing.

2) Assumption of inferiority. Intellectual, incompetence, and not having control.

3) Fear of mental illness.

4) Shaming of mental illness.

5) Second class citizen attitudes.


February 6, 2015

What is the Difference Between Mindful Acceptance and Emotional Suppression?

Although both mindful acceptance and emotional suppression reduce the intensity of emotions, some critical differences can influence your overall mental well-being.

1) Feeling vs. Not Feeling

Mindful acceptance involves experiencing the emotions for what they are whereas emotional suppression tries to ignore or eliminate feeling the unpleasant emotions. However, emotions provide information that help us manage our lives. When we ignore the emotions, we lose this important information. For instance, someone becoming involved in a new relationship ignores the emotional “red flags” indicating potential problems and continues in a bad relationship wondering why they always seem to pick the wrong person.

2) Reduced reactivity vs. Increased Distress

Often confusing to those inexperienced with mindfulness and emotions is the idea that mindful acceptance of emotions actually leads to reduced intensity and reaction to emotions overall whereas emotional suppression can lead to increased distress, anxiety, and depression. It seems intuitive to people that since emotions can be so unpleasant, not feeling negative emotions should lead to increased contentment. But the opposite is true. The mindful experience of emotions leads to decreased reaction to emotions and greater mental well-being (Teper, R. and Inzlicht, M., 2014).

3) Long-term Results vs. Rebound Effect

People suppress emotions because they don't want to feel the discomfort. Yet, what occurs is more discomfort over time because of the rebound effect of the suppressed emotions. The rebound effect means that when emotions are not addressed they will be experienced more intensely or over a longer period of time. For example, a woman who is angry about her partner going out with friends too much but suppresses the anger rather than stating the problem and addressing it is more likely to be distressed not only about this situation but every situation that reminds her of it. As a result, she experiences the emotional reaction over and over, perhaps becoming angrier each time. Not wanting to deal with the discomfort of the potential conflict causes her ongoing distress and unpleasantness.

To sum it up, learning to develop a mindful acceptance of emotions can lead to a long-term reduction in the intensity of emotions. The Understanding Mindfulness series of audios (with transcripts) free to download can provide more information about developing mindful acceptance.

Teper, R. and Inzlicht, M. (2014). Mindful Acceptance Dampens Neuroaffective Reactions to External and Rewarding Performance Feedback. Emotion, 14, 105-114. DOI: 10.1037/a0034296

February 2, 2015

Love Enhances Men's Ability to Recognize Emotion

A common complaint women have about men is that they seem unaware of others' emotions. Women tend to spend a great deal of time thinking about how others' feel and how they might react. Many women are disappointed that men don't consider others' feelings in the same way.

Interesting, researchers Wlodarski and Dunbar (2014) found that when men were shown pictures of their loved one and to recall early memories of the relationship, they were more capable of discerning a variety of emotions, but particularly negative emotions, of other people. Why might this be? The researchers speculate that men who are in love think more about the emotions of their partner than they normally reflect upon emotions. Thinking about their partner triggers the part of the brain focused on identifying emotions which made them more accurate on an emotion recognition task.

Wlodarski, R. and Dunbar, R.I.M. (2014). The Effects of Romantic Love on Mentalizing Abilities. Review of General Psychology, 18, 313–321. DOI:10.1037/gpr0000020

January 27, 2015

Do You Trust Your Partner's Expression of Acceptance?

Some people negate their partner's support and positive expressions of regard and acceptance. When they have a negative self-image, they believe their partner is only saying nice things to not cause distress but that the partner doesn't really mean it. A series of studies by researchers Lemay and Clark (2008) shows how people who desperately want to be loved may create a perpetual cycle of feeling rejected instead.

The researchers described how people, in general, believe that others will praise and show approval towards those who are insecure because they don't want to upset them. Due to this belief, when people share their vulnerabilities with a romantic partner or close friend, they are suspicious of the other's positive response because they think it is due to being cautious and not wanting to hurt them. These doubts about the genuineness of the other's positive regard causes the individual to be more negative and more insecure about the relationship.

Thus, there is no way out of this cycle. At least not as long as the person continues to believe the original premise that if a person expresses vulnerabilities, others will say nice things to not cause distress. As a result, no matter how positive the partner is, the individual believes the partner truly has an unexpressed negative opinion of them.

How can this cycle be stopped? Accept compliments. Period. If we have the potential to be wrong, it is better to be wrong in a positive direction. Don't try to evaluate what you think someone else really means. Accept what they say has genuine. Even if someone is saying nice things because they don't want to hurt you, isn't that a good thing? At least the person cares enough to not want to cause you pain.

Lemay, E.P. and Clark, M.S. (2008). “Walking on Eggshells”: How Expressing Relationship Insecurities Perpetuates Them. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 420–441. DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.95.2.420

Excellence vs Perfection Some people may be curious as to why this website is dedicated to the "pursuit of excellence" when I am constantly warning about the dangers of perfectionism.  To address this question we must differentiate between the pursuit of excellence and the need to be perfect.  These concepts are not only different but can be considered antagonistic to one another. In fact these concepts are so opposed to one another that  excellence can best be attained by giving up the demands of perfection.

What is Perfectionism?  Perfectionism is the individual's belief that he or she must be perfect to be acceptable. Perfectionism is black and white with no gray area. Anything other than perfect is failure. Perfectionism is an attitude, not necessarily a behavior. In other words, two people can engage in the same behavior such as trying to win an Olympic gold medal but one can be pursuing excellence and the other is demanding perfection. The difference lies in the thought process about the goal or behavior, not in the goal or behavior itself.  READ MORE...

Catastrophe? Or Inconvenience? Listening to the weather forecast one frigid day, I realized how much we are influenced by the catastrophic thinking of the media.  The weatherman reported, "The weather has brought more misery to the St. Louis area."  Certainly, the weather was causing problems that day.  An ice storm caused car doors and locks to be frozen so that people had a great deal of trouble getting into their cars.  However, I thought, unless someone was in the middle of nowhere with no cell phone and they were unable to open their car door because of the ice, this was not "misery."  Instead, I would call it an "inconvenience."  Most of us walked out to our cars to find that we couldn't open the door, went back inside a warm house or office, and found some solution to our problem.  READ MORE...

Happiness is an Attitude For many years when my husband and I were first together I would ask him "When are things going to get better?"  We were dealing with the usual stressors that couples face: not enough time, not enough money, and the inevitable random events such as family conflict, deaths of loved ones, illnesses and injuries.  In addition, for most of our early years together I was in school and struggling with the balancing of demands of advanced education, part-time work, and a family.  But I had the belief that we were working towards this perfect life that one day would emerge shining a rainbow of happiness forever over us. My husband, inclined more toward the practical, just answered my question of "When are things going to get better?," with "Another six months."  That answer typically pacified me for awhile because I thought I could handle any amount of stress for six months.  However, a point would occur when I once again I asked my husband "When are things going to get better?"  Once again, he would answer "Another six months."  This scenario occurred fairly routinely for many years.

However, fortunately during this time I had experiences that began to teach me about my expectations of life.  In particular, when I was completing my internship at the Veterans Administration Medical Center I had the opportunity to work on the spinal cord injury unit.  That experience forever changed my thinking.  In particular, I was struck by the differences in attitude among the patients.  READ MORE...

Thinking Your Way to a Healthy Weight"I don't have any willpower."

"I'm weak."

"I'm lazy."

"I can't do it."

Do these statements sound familiar? Too often, our self-statements about weight management interfere with our efforts and lead to failure. By changing how we think about developing a healthy weight we are able to change the behaviors that can lead to success.

Not long ago I conducted a little experiment with my cardio-kickboxing class. After an intense class I told them to get the heaviest weights they could curl 8-10 times. I spent a minute telling them to focus on feeling tired, that they had just worked out hard and they couldn't do anymore. Then, they were to curl the weights to exhaustion. Once they finished, I spent another minute telling them to focus on having energy, feeling good, feeling refreshed, and knowing they could do more. Once again, they lifted the weights to exhaustion. The results were that out of nine people, only one did fewer lifts the second time! And typically, when someone lifts weights to exhaustion they should not be able to lift as much the second time when it is only a minute later. Although this was not a controlled scientific experiment, it was a demonstration to my class to show how powerful our thinking can be. What this exercise showed was how positive thinking overcame the natural exhaustion of the body and created a self-fulfilling prophecy of lifting more weight because the participants believed that they could. READ MORE...