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Your World is Full of Placebo Buttons (and That’s a Good Thing)

All products and services, everything we buy and use, have but one job—to modulate our mood. The fundamental reason we use technology of all sorts, from stone tools to the latest iPhone, is to make us feel better. To prove the point, consider how perception of relief is tantamount to actual relief. Consider the so-called placebo button.

Take, for example, the lowly crosswalk button. When we find ourselves at an intersection, waiting for a light to change, we tap the button, sometimes more than once. Most people believe these buttons are connected to some master control box that will signal the light to change so we can cross the street. In truth, these buttons often do nothing.

The crosswalk button is a relic of the age before computer-controlled traffic signals. In New York City, for instance, “the city deactivated most of the pedestrian buttons long ago,” a New York Times article reported in 2004. Of the 3,250 walk buttons in the city at the time, some 2,500 were not functional. And yet, the Times noted, when faced with the buttons, “an unwitting public continued to push.”

Then there are elevator buttons. Have you ever noticed someone pushing the call button on an elevator when it’s already lit? I must admit I’ve done it myself. Particularly when I’m in a rush, I want to make sure the button has been pressed correctly—as if there were a way to press it incorrectly. It’s a wholly irrational response, yet in the moment, I can’t help myself. When I push the button, I feel better.

Why? Because discomfort is often alleviated by action—by our doing something that makes us feel in control, even if, in reality, we have no control whatsoever.

Once inside the elevator, you may notice a hurried passenger pressing the close door button repeatedly, in hopes of speeding things along. But the button is another example of what’s known as a “mechanical placebo.” According to a 2008 article in the New Yorker, the close door buttons included in most elevators since the 1990s do not actually work the way passengers think. The buttons are installed for emergency personnel, not for the general public. Firefighters use the buttons to open and close doors between flights, but they can do so only with a key or other special instructions.

So why do we keep pushing the darned buttons? Of course, not all the buttons we encounter in our daily life are nonfunctional all the time. But how are we to know the difference? The crosswalk eventually flashes WALK, and the elevator door eventually closes. But rarely do we question whether a causal relationship exists.

In an essay on this topic in 2010, the author David McRaney observed: “If you happen to find yourself pressing a nonfunctional close-door button, and later the doors close, you’ll probably never notice because a little spurt of happiness will cascade through your brain once you see what you believe is a response to your action. Your behavior was just reinforced. You will keep pushing the button in the future.”

push-button

Other controls are put in place for explicitly psychological reasons. If you work in an office building, there is a good chance your attempts to regulate the temperature in your office are just as futile as pushing a crosswalk button. With the advent of building-wide control systems, individual office thermostats often do little more than decorate the walls.

Giving workers the ability to regulate their own climates is expensive and often incites temperature wars, in which employees continually adjust the thermostat, wasting energy and inflaming tempers. However, building managers and air-conditioning specialists have found ways to placate workers. Greg Perakes, a climate control professional in Tennessee, told an industry publication, “We had an employee that always complained of being hot.” Instead of giving the woman her own air-conditioning setup, Perakes decided to give her something else: the illusion of control.

Perakes provided the worker with a dummy thermostat connected to a small air pump. The pump drew air from the main climate control system through a rubber tube. Though the system did not actually change the temperature of her office, the pump made just enough noise for the employee to hear. “When she heard the hissing air coming … she felt in control. We never heard another word about the situation from her again. Case solved.”

Perakes is not alone in this slightly shady practice. A 2003 web survey appearing in the industry publication Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration News revealed that 72 percent of industry professionals admitted to installing dummy thermostats. Many climate control veterans subscribed to the words of HVAC engineer Joe Olivieri, quoted as saying “Thermal comfort is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical.”

By connecting the actions we take with what appears to be a result, we form associations between behavior and outcome, even if there is no relationship between the two. We feel stress, we push a button, we experience some relief; something occurs after we push the button, and even if there’s no way to know whether it’s a direct response to our actions, we continue to feel relief.

Though it’s easy to feel deceived when confronted with a reality that challenges our perceptions, the technology doesn’t actually lie to us—after all, these buttons are inanimate objects. More accurate would be to say that the technology helps us comfort ourselves. And the number of products that enable this self-comfort is far greater than you probably realize.

Much of the technology we fiddle with daily—our phones, our games, our apps—we use not only because of what they do, but because of how they make us feel. By giving us a sense of control, products can alter our mood and provide relief—even when it’s all in our heads.

Nir’s Note: The New York Times published a piece on a similar topic today. I’ve been working on this post (in spurts) for years. Seeing their post pushed me to stop delaying and finally hit publish on this essay. I hope you enjoyed it. If you did, please share it.


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What Is Positive Psychology?

A Brief Overview of the Field of Positive Psychology

Positive psychology is one of the newest branches of psychology to emerge. This particular area of psychology focuses on how to help human beings prosper and lead healthy, happy lives. While many other branches of psychology tend to focus on dysfunction and abnormal behavior, positive psychology is centered on helping people become happier.

Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describe positive psychology in the following way: “We believe that a psychology of positive human functioning will arise that achieves a scientific understanding and effective interventions to build thriving in individuals, families, and communities.”

Over the last ten years or so, general interest in positive psychology has grown tremendously. Today, more and more people are searching for information on how they can become more fulfilled and achieve their full potential. Interest in the topic has also increased on college campuses. In 2006, Harvard’s course on positive psychology became the university’s most popular class. In order to understand the field of positive psychology, it is essential to start by learning more about its history, major theories and applications.

The History of Positive Psychology

“Before World War II, psychology had three distinct missions: curing mental illness, making the lives of all people more productive and fulfilling, and identifying and nurturing high talent,” Seligman wrote in 2005. Shortly after WWII, the primary focus of psychology shifted to the first priority: treating abnormal behavior and mental illness. During the 1950s, humanist thinkers such as Carl Rogers, Erich Fromm, and Abraham Maslow helped renew interest in the other two areas by developing theories that focused on happiness and the positive aspects of human nature.

In 1998, Seligman was elected President of the American Psychological Association and positive psychology became the theme of his term. Today, Seligman is widely viewed as the father of contemporary positive psychology. In 2002, the first International Conference on Positive Psychology was held. In 2009, the first World Congress on Positive Psychology took place in Philadelphia and featured talks by Martin Seligman and Philip Zimbardo.

psychology

Important People in Positive Psychology

  • Martin Seligman
  • Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
  • Christopher Peterson
  • Carol Dweck
  • Daniel Gilbert
  • Kennon Sheldon
  • Albert Bandura
  • C. R. Snyder
  • Philip Zimbardo

Major Topics in Positive Psychology
Some of the major topics of interest in positive psychology include:

  • Happiness
  • Optimism and helplessness
  • Mindfulness
  • Flow
  • Character strengths and virtues
  • Hope
  • Positive thinking
  • Resilience

Research Findings in Positive Psychology
Some of the major findings of positive psychology include:

  • People are generally happy.
  • Money doesn’t necessarily buy well-being; but spending money on other people can make individuals happier.
  • Some of the best ways to combat disappointments and setbacks include strong social relationships and character strengths.
  • Work can be important to well-being, especially when people are able to engage in work that is purposeful and meaningful.
  • While happiness is influenced by genetics, people can learn to be happier by developing optimism, gratitude, and altruism.

Applications of Positive Psychology

Positive psychology can have a range of real-world applications in areas including education, therapy, self-help, stress management, and workplace issues. Using strategies from positive psychology, teachers, coaches, therapists, and employers can motivate others and help individuals understand and develop their personal strengths.

Understanding Positive Psychology

In a 2008 article published by Psychology Today, the late Christopher Peterson, author of A Primer in Positive Psychology and professor at the University of Michigan, noted that it is essential to understand what positive psychology is as well as what it is not. “Positive psychology is … a call for psychological science and practice to be as concerned with strength as with weakness; as interested in building the best things in life as in repairing the worst; and as concerned with making the lives of normal people fulfilling as with healing pathology,” he writes.

He cautioned, however, that positive psychology does not involve ignoring the very real problems that people face and that other areas of psychology strive to treat. “The value of positive psychology is to complement and extend the problem-focused psychology that has been dominant for many decades,” he explained.

By Kendra Cherry    Psychology Expert

References
Gable, S. & Haidt, J (2005). What (and Why) is Positive Psychology? Review of General Psychology, 9(2), 103–110
Goldberg, C. (2006). Harvard’s crowded course to happiness. Boston Globe. Found online at http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2006/03/10/harvards_crowded_course_to_happiness/
Peterson, C. (2006). A Primer in Positive Psychology. New York: Oxford University Press.
Peterson, C. (2008). What Is Positive Psychology, and What Is It Not? Psychology Today. Found online at http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-good-life/200805/what-is-positive-psychology-and-what-is-it-not
Seligman, M. E. P. & Csikszenmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist, 55, 5-14.
Snyder, C. R. & Lopez, S. J. (Eds.) (2005). Handbook of Positive Psychology. New York: Oxford University Press.


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Can We Ever Really Change Who We Are?

As a psychiatrist and novelist concerned with people’s inner conflicts, I’m often asked whether people can truly change.

The answer is: yes, and no.

Most mental health professionals agree that our deeply embedded traits and tendencies are ingrained by the time we’re adolescents. Yes, there can be some minor modifications after that, but our basic way of interacting with others is pretty much set by the time we’re 17 or 18. We interact with others in a fairly inflexible and deep-rooted manner. It’s our “way of being.”

So what about someone seeking psychotherapy because of unhappiness with relationships and how life is going? What about the person who repeats endlessly the same maladaptive patterns of behavior leading to frustration, failure, unhappiness, and even depression? Or the person whose relationships are tainted by neediness, or dependency, or the wish to dominate others; or any other traits that make for problems interacting with people?

You’ll notice these aren’t symptoms such as a phobia, or panic episodes, or an onset of a symptom causing psychic distress. Rather, these are enduring personality traits, not temporary states of being.

The goal of any psychotherapy is to help a person develop a better understanding of one’s self. It’s called insight. Hopefully, by developing an awareness of personality flaws, a person can recognize them, and nip them in the bud before they exert themselves and ruin relationships. If this can be accomplished, the person may experience less conflict or tension with other people, and lead a more fulfilling life.

For example, a man comes for counseling because he’s been fired from three different jobs. During sessions (to which he always arrives late), he realizes that as far back as elementary school, he undermined his own success by tardiness and by not completing tasks on time. In high school, he received Cs instead of As because he never submitted his work by the stated deadline. In business, he repeated the same pattern.

masks

He also learns in the psychotherapy sessions that as a child, being late or dawdling was a way to get much-coveted attention from his parents. Without realizing it, throughout his adult life, he’s been repeating this pattern with every authority figure. This has been the source of conflict, failure, firings and general unhappiness throughout his adult life.

With awareness of this tendency, he can begin working to change this maladaptive and self-destructive behavioral pattern — this deeply ingrained trait. He may not always be successful in this effort, but some positive and adaptive changes in his behavior can occur.

While his trait may not have been eradicated, his behavior and interactions with others can begin to change for the better.

I like to think of it in this simple way: Imagine personality style as a 90-degree angle. If a person can move that angle a mere three degrees, then a significant change in how one interacts with other people is surely possible. This can lead to positive changes.

So once again, can people change their basic personality patterns?

Yes, and no. While they don’t alter their basic personalities, through insight, they can change their behavior and become more skillful in their interactions.

 By Mark Rubinstein, MD 
 
Mark Rubinstein, M.D. is an award-winning novelist, physician and psychiatrist. 
He’s the author of Bedlam’s Door: True Tales of Madness and Hope,
a non-fiction memoir with actual patients’ stories that read like fiction.
For more information, please visit www.markrubinstein-author.com
 


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Why (Some) Substitutes Don’t Satisfy Us

The more similar they are, the greater disappointment they evoke.

Have you ever craved a full-fat chocolate milkshake but opted for a diet frozen yogurt because you wanted to “be good”? But chances are that scarfing down the yogurt wasn’t just less pleasurable; it may actually have increased your craving, amplified your dissatisfaction, and set you up for a binge.

According to a new study led by Rochester University’s Melissa Sturge-Apple, this happens because the substitute food you chose too closely resembled what you actually wanted. As a result, you spent every bite registering just how far it fell short from what you truly craved.

Sturge-Apple’s team whetted hundreds of adults’ and undergraduates’ appetites for a particular brand of gourmet chocolate by having them taste test tiny pieces of it. Over the course of several experiments, the team repeatedly split participants into two groups—those who were invited to snack on similar but inferior quality substitutes for the high-end chocolate (i.e., knock-off versions of the chocolate or chocolate-covered peanuts) and those who were invited to snack on categorically different snacks (i.e., honey granola bars). The goal was to test which substitute food item did a better job of satisfying participants’ lab-induced hankering.

What the researchers found was that the similar but not quite up-to-snuff swaps left participants dissatisfied and still wanting the gourmet treat just as much (if not more), while the dissimilar option successfully quashed their pre-primed cravings.

In a follow-up study, participants who’d snacked on subpar substitutes or dissimilar swaps were surprised with a bowl full of the gourmet chocolate they’d initially been induced to crave. Upon being told to “eat as much as you like,” those who’d recently settled for similar but not quite as awesome alternatives ate far more of the chocolate than those who’d been sated with a non-chocolate distraction.

Sturge-Apple’s team believes that the reason too-similar substitutes fail to curb most peoples’ cravings—and eventually even make us eat way more than we otherwise would have—is because we can’t help comparing the replacement to the original. Because a knock-off chocolate brand (or, in other cases, a “diet” or “low-cal” treat) resembles what we actually want, we expect it to sate us just as well. But that substitute’s unlikeness in flavor dashes our expectations and compels us to seek the satisfaction we really yearn for elsewhere—if not through quality, then through quantity. (Cue the binge.)

acceptance

Despite our assumptions that we’ll be content with an item similar to the item we truly desire, Sturge-Apple et al.’s findings suggest we’re much better off seeking a novel treat if we can’t—or won’t allow ourselves to—secure what we really want.

“Contrary to participants’ belief that within-category substitutes are more satisfying,” Sturge-Apple and her team reported in the journal Psychological Science, “a cross-category substitute more effectively reduced cravings for a desired stimulus than did a within-category substitute…Indeed, consuming the cross-category substitute was as effective at reducing cravings for the desired stimulus as consuming the desired stimulus itself.”

She reasons that the lack of satisfaction received from so-called “cross-category substitutes” originates from their lower likelihood of “evoking a negative comparison to the desired stimulus.” (Dissimilar foods, in other words, aren’t likely to increase our hopes of feeling satisfied. Rather, a novel item may inspire a new hankering, so that all we have to do to feel satisfied is eat what’s newly in front of us.)

Sturge-Apple’s team believes that the effects of reaching for similarity or novelty in our ongoing hunt for satisfaction extend well beyond the realm of food. They point toward “consequential domains, such as jobs, benefits, and consumer goods” as offering equal fluctuations of satisfaction, depending on how we strategize when we can’t get precisely what we want. For example, if you repeatedly can’t land the dream position in the company you work for, you may be better off—happier—applying to work at a different company altogether. Or if you can’t seem to find joy in new romantic relationships because you’re comparing each partner to your idealized ex, then maybe it’s time to seek out a different “type.”

“Of course, cross-category substitutes have to meet the same needs or serve the same function as the desired stimulus,” Sturge-Apple et al point out, lest you veer too far from what you’re looking for and just end up getting lost. “For example,” the researchers offer, “we assume that people who want a 60-inch television will be more satisfied if they choose a 42-inch television as its substitute rather than an expensive coffeemaker.”

Ditto for jobs and dating: It’s probably not a helpful solution to take a new gig doing something you’re not even sure you like as a response to not getting promoted doing what you love. It will be equally unsatisfying to go on a rampage of one-night stands if you’re truly looking for a meaningful romantic connection. (Though some studies suggest that rebounds can help us get over breakups.)

Whether it’s food, love, work, or any other existential arena that forces you to accept that you can’t always get exactly what you want, Sturge-Apple’s findings suggest that the key to keeping your level of contentment high—and possibly avoiding binges, bad romances, and dead-end jobs—is to seek alternate ways to fulfill your needs and desires, even if you might not immediately consider these to be perfect solutions.

However, the larger takeaway is that comparisons breed disappointment: Whether you’re measuring a substitute food against an idealized but unattainable one, a new partner against a romanticized ex, or the reality of a career against the imagined trajectory you thought it would take.

But in cases when obtaining a novel means of satisfaction isn’t possible, you might benefit even more from the radical act of acceptance. If what (or who) you end up with falls short of your expectations, you’re better poised to experience that thing or person’s joys, qualities, and potentials for satisfaction. Crosby Stills and Nash may have said it best: “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.” Or just eat what’s in front of you and get over the impulse to compare it to something else.

Katherine Schreiber and Heather Hausenblas Ph.D.    Posted Jun 14, 2016


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Why High School Stays With us Forever

We believe in the free flow of information. We use a Creative Commons Attribution NoDerivatives licence, so you can republish our articles for free, online or in print.

For better or worse, many of us never forget high school: the unrequited romantic crushes, chronic embarrassment, desperate struggles for popularity, sexual awakening, parental pressure and, above all else, competition – social, athletic, academic.

There’s even an entire genre of entertainment that revolves around high school. “Beverly Hills 90210,” “Mean Girls,” “Heathers,” “The Breakfast Club” and “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” all revisit the conflict and angst of these years.

What is it about this period of our lives that makes it seem more meaningful and memorable than any other?

My research experience as an evolutionary psychologist leads me to believe that many factors interact to make our teenage memories so vivid. But the main driver is the collision between the hardwiring of our brains that took place across several million of years of evolution and the odd social bubble created by high school, which poses an unprecedented social challenge to our prehistoric minds.

In other words, the world that we evolved to be successful in (a small, stable group of interrelated people of various ages) is very different from the holding pen full of teenagers brimming with hormones that populate our world during the high school years.

‘The reminiscence bump’

Some look back on high school as the best time of their life and pine for those “good old days.” Whether or not this was actually the case, it turns out there may have been some evolutionary advantages to having a rosy view of the past.

But most of us remember high school with an emotional mixture of longing, regret, joy and embarrassment. And strong emotions equal strong memories; even the music from those years gets imprinted on our brain like nothing that comes later.

Memory researchers have, in fact, identified something called “the reminiscence bump,” which shows that our strongest memories come from things that happened to us between the ages of 10 and 30.

What is it about this time of life that makes it stand out from the rest of our years? Part of it is undoubtedly due to changes in the brain’s sensitivity to certain types of information during adolescence. Emotions signal the brain that important events are happening, and the teen years are chock full of important social feedback about one’s skills, attractiveness, status and desirability as a mate. This is precisely the stuff we need to pay attention to in order to successfully play the cards we have been dealt and to become socially and reproductively successful.

A dog-eat-dog world

Memory research may offer hints about why the mental snapshots of our high school years remain so vivid even decades later. But evolutionary psychology can also help explain why so much meaning is attached to these years and why they play such an important role in who we become.

For example, there’s a reason teenagers often strive to be popular.

As far as scientists can tell, our prehistoric forebears lived in relatively small groups. Most people would live out their entire life in this group, and one’s social standing within it was determined during adolescence. How much one was admired as a warrior or hunter, how desirable one was perceived to be as a mate and how much trust and esteem was accorded to one by others – all of this was sorted out in young adulthood. A person deemed to be a loser at 18 was unlikely to rise to a position of prominence at 40. Thus, from an evolutionary perspective, the competition of the teen years had lifelong repercussions.

Of course, today, those who have unsavory high school experiences can move to new places after graduation and start over. However, even though we may be consciously aware of this (to the extent that we are consciously aware of anything when we are teenagers), the psychological buttons that get pushed in the adolescent brain make us become consumed with our social lives during this period.

Popularity can become an obsession, since you’ll be ranked against the people in your own age cohort for the rest of your life. After all, your status as an adult primarily depends upon how you stack up compared with them, not with others.

Also, strong pressures to conform ensure that you do not stray too far from a friend group’s values. Ostracism from the group in prehistoric times was tantamount to a death sentence.

june75
Sometimes, conformity can lead to
cringeworthy moments – bad hairstyles among them.

It all requires forging alliances and demonstrating loyalty to others. The result is a splintering of the social world into competing cliques that grind each other up in the gears of the social hierarchy.

Mom, stop bugging me!

Back home, conflict with parents is usually inevitable. Parents want their children to succeed, but they usually have a more long-term perspective than that of their teen.

So the things that the parent thinks that the child should be concerned with (preparing for a career and developing important life skills) and the things that the child is emotionally driven to actually be concerned with (being popular and having fun) are often at odds. Parents usually realize where the parent-offspring tension comes from. Kids don’t.

Meanwhile, hormones fuel the sort of “showing off” that would have increased one’s attractiveness in early societies. In young men we still reward, to some extent, the things that would have been essential for success in hunting and combat thousands of years ago: the willingness to take risks, fighting ability, speed and the ability to throw with velocity and accuracy. Young women will showcase their youth and fertility. Beauty, unfortunately, continues to be a significant criterion by which they are judged.

Reunion angst

In earlier times, because you had a personal connection with nearly everyone in your group, the ability to remember details about the temperament, predictability and past behavior of peers had a huge payoff. There would have been little use for a mind designed to engage in abstract statistical thinking about large numbers of strangers.

In today’s world, while it is still important to keep tabs on known individuals, we also face new challenges. We interact with strangers on a daily basis, so there’s a need to predict how they’ll behave: will this person try to swindle me or can he or she be trusted? Is this someone important that I should get to know or a nobody that I can safely ignore?

It’s a task many of us find difficult because our brains weren’t really wired to do this, and we fall back on cognitive shortcuts, such as stereotyping, as a way to cope.

Natural selection instead shaped an innate curiosity about specific people – and a memory to store this information. We needed to remember who treated us well and who didn’t, and the more emotional the memory, the less likely we are to forget it. It’s tough to forget when the person you thought of as a close friend publicly snubbed you, or the time that you caught another trusted friend flirting with your boyfriend or girlfriend.

The result is a strong propensity for holding grudges. It protects us from being taken advantage of again but can also make for some uncomfortable, anxiety-inducing moments at high school reunions.

To further complicate things, high school is probably the last time in life when people of all sorts are thrown together for no other reason than they are the same age and live in the same area. Yes, high schools are often segregated by economic background and race. But most high schoolers will still encounter more day-to-day diversity than they will later in life.

After high school, studies have shown that people begin to sort themselves out according to intelligence, political values, occupational interests and a wide range of other social screening devices.

At the same time, however, the people you knew in high school remain your default group for engaging in social comparison.

According to “Social Comparison Theory,” we figure out how good we are and develop a sense of personal worth by comparing ourselves with others; the more similar those others are, the better we can gauge our own strengths and weaknesses. Because your high school classmates will always be the same age as you – and because they started out in the same place – there’s inherently a degree of interest in finding out what happened to them later in life, if for no other reason than to see how your own life stacks up.

Given all this, it’s no wonder that the English Romantic poet Robert Southey once wrote that the “the first 20 years are the longest half of your life, no matter how long you might live.”

June 1, 2016        Frank T. McAndrew Cornelia H. Dudley Professor of Psychology, Knox College


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The Science Behind Why It’s So Hard to Get Rid of Clutter

There’s a clear link between what you keep and how you feel about yourself.

BY AMY MORIN    PUBLISHED ON: FEB 12, 2016
Author, “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do”    @AmyMorinLCSW

There’s a reason Marie Kondo’s book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, has sold millions of copies and dominated the bestseller lists since it’s release in 2014–people yearn for simple, clutter-free spaces. Despite the desire for simplicity, embracing Kondo’s minimalist lifestyle may be more difficult than it seems.

Kondo recommends only keeping the items that “spark joy” and eliminating everything else. Readers who successfully adopt Kondo’s methods report emptying drawers, cleaning closets, and clearing off table tops in an effort to unload heaps of clutter.

While a tidier home can spark joy for many people, others aren’t willing–or emotionally able–to part with their possessions. Getting rid of stuff stirs up a lot of emotional turmoil and for some, it’s just not worth it.

Whether you’re hesitant to donate clothes that went out of style a decade ago, or you’re reluctant to toss your childhood bowling trophy, you’re not alone. Research explains why it can be so difficult to part with your possessions.

The Link Between What You Have and Who You Are

The objects you struggle to get rid of are likely tied to your self-worth, according to a 2011 study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology. Rather than viewing those objects as “mine,” you may think of them as “me.”

The study found that people struggle the most to part with possessions that lack monetary or functional value. That’s why people who lose their possessions to burglaries or fires report the psychological damage is far worse than the financial loss.

clutter

According to researchers, the items you hang onto are likely to be linked directly to your self-worth. And people measure their self-worth in different areas.

While one person may link their worth to their physical appearance, someone else may think their value stems from other people’s approval. Whatever objects you cling to the most, are likely the ones that fuel your self-worth.

If you place a lot of value in success, for example, you may have trouble getting rid of anything that serves as a tangible reminder of your accomplishments. A plaque from your last job, an expensive watch that no longer works, or a stack of old college transcripts may represent your achievement.

Throwing away these objects might cause you to feel slightly less successful. It’s as if these physical manifestations of your triumphs will somehow take away from your achievements.

If however, you value your relationships above everything else, you may have difficulty getting rid of gifts from other people. Donating that shirt that never fit, may lead you to feel like you’re being disloyal to Grandma. Or, getting rid of that book your friend gave you, may cause you to feel like you’re giving away a little bit of your friendship.

Those palpable objects likely fuel your identity as someone who is loved and appreciated. Despite their lack of function, you may feel like they serve as proof that you mean something to other people.

To Keep or Not to Keep

The study shows that getting rid of these objects leads to real grief. Parting with possessions that make you feel worthy can cause you to experience sadness–and even depression.

So the next time you get frustrated by your cluttered desk or your spare room that serves as a catch-all, consider whether those objects you’re holding onto have anything to do with your self-worth. Not only could it give you some insight into the way you measure your self-worth, but it might also help you decide what’s worse: the grief you’ll experience if you toss it or the frustration you experience from looking at the clutter.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

source: www.inc.com


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Why Trash Talking Sugary Food Makes You Want It Even More

February 2, 2016   By Rozalynn S. Frazier

When you were a kid and your mom told you not to touch something, what was the first thing you wanted to do? Touch it, right? Now apply that theory to your eating habits. If someone tells you to steer clear of the cookie jar because those little morsels of goodness are chock-full of calories, aren’t you even more tempted to grab one (or three)? Rest assured, you’re not the only one.

In a series of three studies, researchers at Arizona State University found that when dieters were exposed to negative messages about food (think: “Sugary snacks are bad for you”), they craved unhealthy food more. (Yep, you read that right.)

In the first study, folks who read a negative message about dessert had more positive thoughts about these bad-for-you foods than folks who were exposed to a positive or neutral message. In the next study, dieters read either a positive or negative message about sugar-laden snacks; then watched a video while noshing on cookies. The result: The negative-message group ate 39% more cookies than those who read a positive message. And in the final study, dieters who viewed a message that listed both the pros and cons of their snacks choose fewer unhealthy ones than dieters who read a strictly negative message.

chocolate

“We think dieters increase their interest in and consume more unhealthy foods after seeing one-sided negative messages because they feel like their freedom to control their food choices is threatened,” explains Nguyen Pham, one of the study’s researchers. This is why Pham recommends using a mix of positive and negative messaging—such as “Dessert tastes good, but is bad for my health”—to help keep your consumption in check.

“Dieters do not see double-sided messages about unhealthy foods as a threat to their freedom,” she says. “Instead, they view these messages as providing even more freedom of choice. As a result, they are more likely to comply with the messages and choose less unhealthy foods.”

So the next time you are about to police your (or a friend’s ) food choices, try this mental trick instead. It may just provide you with the resolve you need to walk away.