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Fun Fact Friday

  • Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.

  • 1 out of every 100 people are psychopaths and they look just like everybody else.

 

  • Dancing often increases happiness.

  • A condition called “False Awakening” occurs when you’re dreaming that you’ve woken up, but still are in deep sleep.

~ Happy Friday!~


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Life Is Wonderful vs. Life Is Woeful

Reconciling the positive aspects of life with the terrible is challenging.

In an era of incivility and aggression—an era of selfishness, greed and exploitation; with a wealth-poverty gap, political polarization, fundamentalist extremism, terrorism, fascist rhetoric, misogyny, gun violence, racism and anti-Semitism, war, and so much more—how can we possibly tolerate such terrible circumstances?

On the other hand, in an era of exciting progress—scientific discoveries; magnificent art, writing and music; relative peace; international cooperation; feminist progress; philanthropy; exploration of the cosmos; mindfulness and spirituality; and so much more—how is that we’re so fortunate to live in such an idyllic world?

How do we possibly manage to put the disturbing negatives of our lives into some perspective which enables us also to recognize love, laughter, tears, play, creativity, productivity, pleasure and resilience?

Weathering The Storm

How are we able to recognize that life is both wonderful and woeful?

 

  1. We compartmentalize. We put depressing events and temporary ecstasies in mind compartments, where these ephemera belong, and, facing “Triumph and Disaster,” we “treat these two impostors just the same” (as in Kipling’s poem “If”).
  2. We are mindful of and grateful for those we love, for our health, our sustenance and supports, and for our work and interests.
  3. We work and struggle to make a better world; we become contributing human beings, acting against unfairness and cruelty, and create a positive emotional footprint, treating others with kindness and respect, volunteering and helping those in less fortunate material, physical, or psychological straits.
  4. We philosophize. While we detest unfairness and cruelty in the world, we recognize that plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose—that history has endured many troublesome eras, and that basic human needs and propensities haven’t changed over the millennia.
  5. We note and savor the positive changes in the world, like the spread of democracies; peace agreements; inspirational figures like Albert Einstein, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, and the Dalai Lama; the successful Paris talks on climate change; the apology and reparations from Japan to South Korea regarding “comfort women”; ISIS setbacks; the eradication of polio and progress against other diseases; the public contributions of major foundations; Habitat for Humanity; the Peace Corps; random acts of kindness; and much more.
  6. We engage in local and national democratic and political processes, to ensure as best we can that responsible, knowledgeable, mature, dedicated individuals are elected to public office.
  7. We overcome. We demonstrate, even in the face of challenges and adverse circumstances, our spirit, stamina, intelligence, initiative, and energy—and with the help of others, we withstand and display resilience and benevolence.
  8. We smell the flowers, and we plant the flowers…

 

Saul Levine M.D., is a professor emeritus at the University of California at San Diego.
 
Posted Jan 05, 2016    Saul Levine M.D. Saul Levine M.D.    Our Emotional Footprint
 


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A Simple Way To Boost Social Confidence

An easy self-affirmation exercise helps reduce social insecurities for at least two months.

Sometimes in life we get exactly what we expect.

Nowhere is this more true than in social relations.

When we meet someone new, if we expect to like them—for whatever reason—then they tend to like us.

If we experience apprehension or nascent dislike then things can quickly go wrong.

Psychologists have called it the ‘acceptance prophecy’ and there’s more about it in this article: The Acceptance Prophecy: How You Control Who Likes You.

The problem is that for insecure or socially nervous individuals it becomes the rejection prophecy.

A feeling of apprehension about meeting new people is outwardly expressed as nervous behaviour and this leads to rejection.

But a new paper published in Psychological Science provides a simple exercise that helps boost relational security and should help turn the rejection prophecy back into the acceptance prophecy.

 

Self-affirmation

Stinson et al. (2011) measured the relational security of 117 participants by asking them how much they agreed with statements like: “My friends regard me as very important in their lives” and “My partner loves and accepts me unconditionally”.

Half of them were then asked to do a very simple self-affirmation task.

Participants looked down a list of 11 values including things like spontaneity, creativity, friends and family, personal attractiveness and so on.

They put them in order of importance and wrote a couple of paragraphs saying why their top-ranked item was so important.

The results showed that this simple task boosted the relational security of insecure individuals in comparison with a control group.

Afterwards their behaviour was seen as less nervous and they reported feeling more secure.

And when they were followed up at four and eight weeks later, the benefits were still apparent.

It appears that even a task as simple as this is enough to boost the social confidence of people who feel insecure.

source: PsyBlog


Leave a comment

A Simple Way To Boost Social Confidence

An easy self-affirmation exercise helps reduce social insecurities for at least two months.

Sometimes in life we get exactly what we expect.

Nowhere is this more true than in social relations.

When we meet someone new, if we expect to like them—for whatever reason—then they tend to like us.

If we experience apprehension or nascent dislike then things can quickly go wrong.

Psychologists have called it the ‘acceptance prophecy’ and there’s more about it in this article: The Acceptance Prophecy: How You Control Who Likes You.

The problem is that for insecure or socially nervous individuals it becomes the rejection prophecy.

A feeling of apprehension about meeting new people is outwardly expressed as nervous behaviour and this leads to rejection.

But a new paper published in Psychological Science provides a simple exercise that helps boost relational security and should help turn the rejection prophecy back into the acceptance prophecy.

 

Self-affirmation

Stinson et al. (2011) measured the relational security of 117 participants by asking them how much they agreed with statements like: “My friends regard me as very important in their lives” and “My partner loves and accepts me unconditionally”.

Half of them were then asked to do a very simple self-affirmation task.

Participants looked down a list of 11 values including things like spontaneity, creativity, friends and family, personal attractiveness and so on.

They put them in order of importance and wrote a couple of paragraphs saying why their top-ranked item was so important.

The results showed that this simple task boosted the relational security of insecure individuals in comparison with a control group.

Afterwards their behaviour was seen as less nervous and they reported feeling more secure.

And when they were followed up at four and eight weeks later, the benefits were still apparent.

It appears that even a task as simple as this is enough to boost the social confidence of people who feel insecure.

source: PsyBlog


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Why We Procrastinate

Last minute taskers rejoice: psychological research proves that procrastinators are not necessarily lazy. Often, they are people who fear failure and rejection but don’t know the right strategies to reveal and conquer that fear.

Oh. Well that’s not much better than “lazy,” but at least we have a legitimate excuse.

One of the more obvious reasons why people procrastinate is to avoid doing something unpleasant. However, this is actually not as simple as it may sound. While some tasks are the embodiment of boredom, others may lead to procrastination because they scare you, on a subconscious level. Psychologists call this contributing factor to procrastination “fear of failure” and outline a few important dimensions. As a result, we can see that procrastination is not necessarily the product of laziness or lack of motivation. Deciphering the fear that lurks at the back of your mind is what really counts.

According to one of the most popular therapeutic approaches, called cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), we all have certain basic assumptions about ourselves, either positive or negative, known as core beliefs. Core beliefs are a part of the subconscious and start to form at a very young age, as soon as you are able to perceive yourself and the world. As you grow, your experiences and interactions with others, and how you internalize them all contribute to building and solidifying core beliefs. According to CBT, our thoughts, emotions and actions are the effect of these self-perceptions. Nonetheless, since they are buried deep in the subconscious mind, often we don’t realize what our core beliefs are unless we work toward understanding them.

Even when we know that fear of failure causes procrastination, that’s too broad of a concept. Apprehension may be brought about by a variety of core beliefs and so, in order to clean up the sticky mess that is procrastination, we need to look into some research-based triggers, behind that fear.

We Seek What We Believe

According to self-verification theory we behave in a way and connect to people who verify our own beliefs about ourselves. If those self-perceptions are positive, then we engage in productive behaviors and seek people who evaluate us positively. If, however, one’s self-beliefs are negative, then this becomes a steppingstone to procrastination. In short, we self-sabotage rather than engaging in productive work. That is why procrastinators tend to occupy themselves with meaningless tasks. Have you noticed how some people remember to clean out the fridge, binge-read all of their bookmarked articles and go on endless YouTube loops, just when they’ve got some less appealing chore to do? According to professor Joseph Ferrari, Ph.D., who has been studying procrastination for years, this self-handicap is the direct result of fear. Procrastinators swap out important tasks for futile activities because when you don’t engage in that something scary, there is no chance to fail at it. Thus, self-handicapping is a way to verify our own negative self-perceptions—we deprive ourselves of opportunities because of a deeply rooted belief that it is impossible to succeed.

Are You Good Enough?

How you perceive your own competence and ability to deal with a task on your own is also a contributing factor to fear of failure. Self-determination theory, which deals with people’s motivation, explains the importance of intrinsic incentives. When a person is keen to engage with a task because of internal stimuli, such as beliefs and needs, they become intensely invested. In contrast, motivation that comes from external sources is short-lived and inefficient. Feeling competent and autonomous builds intrinsic motivation and people are, therefore, less likely to procrastinate. On the other hand, when you doubt your own abilities and fear that you can’t handle the task on your own, you are more likely to put it off.

What Will Others Think?

Doubts about one’s self-worth may lead to an intensified need for the approval of others. If your core beliefs include a suspicion that you are not good enough and that you should continuously prove yourself to others, in order to feel deserving, this may contribute to fear of failure and therefore, procrastination. Fearing shame can lead to putting off a task, or even avoiding efforts to improve your skills. Often, the subconscious belief here is that the longer you dodge a task, the longer you’ll protect yourself from negative evaluations by others, as well as shame. On the other hand, procrastinators who fear shame, often strive for perfection, so that others view them as worthy and competent. In that way, if they feel they can achieve anything short of perfection, they put off a task for as long as possible.

What Can You Do About It?

As you can see, procrastination is not a simple behavioral problem. In fact, it can be viewed as a symptom of deeply rooted fear and self-doubt. Using CBT techniques on your own, or working with a therapist, can help you reveal your negative core beliefs and therefore understand what it is that you fear. Furthermore, you can benefit from the principles of self-regulation theory. Monitor your thoughts, emotions and behavior, see how they impact your tendency to procrastinate and experiment with different behavioral strategies to see what works best for your personal case.

Liya Panayotova is a clinical and counseling psychologist, 
with interests in the cognitive-behavioral sciences. 
Her experience includes working with anxiety, depression, difficult relationships, 
addiction, motivation, children, grief and many more.

 

By Liya Panayotova   March 24, 2017  
 


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5 Quick Ways to Ground Yourself When Anxiety Hits

We all know how terrible anxiety can feel. From the nauseous feeling before you give a presentation, to the panicky sensation when you have to try something new, to the overwhelming anxiety that incapacitates you.

Grounding is a simple but effective therapeutic technique that can help you when strong anxiety hits. You can use grounding when you feel like the anxiety is taking over, when you feel numb, like you are in a dream, lost in past events, or having an out-of-body or out-of-reality experience.

Grounding helps to bring a person back to the here and now, to realise that they are safe and in control of their reality and emotions. It helps a person to refocus and find calmness and strength in the present moment when they are highly anxious and emotional.

There are many different grounding techniques for anxiety and the following 5 ways are some of my favourites:

Grounding Techniques for Anxiety

The 54321 technique.

Name 5 things you can see in the room with you (e.g. chair, painting)

Name 4 things you can feel (e.g. my feet on the floor, cool air on my skin)

Name 3 things you can hear right now (e.g. people talking outside)

Name 2 things you can smell right now (e.g. toast, perfume)

Name 1 good thing about yourself (e.g. I am strong)

 

Touch and describe an object

Find an object around you e.g. cushion, handbag, water bottle.

Try to describe it as if you are explaining it to someone who has never seen it before. e.g.

“This is a cushion, it is a square shape with a red and purple pattern of stripes…it feels soft with some hard ridges around the corners”

Repeat until you feel calm.


 

Memory game

When you are feeling anxious, you need to try to reorient yourself to the present moment, and using declarative memory can help with this. e.g.

Name as many types of dog breeds you can.

How many cities have you visited around the world.

Repeat the alphabet backwards.

 

Mantra

When you are not in an anxious state, it can be helpful to develop a list of personal mantras or affirmations that help you when you become panicked or disoriented. Write them down somewhere and keep them in your handbag. e.g.

I am safe, I am here in the present moment

This feeling will pass, nothing bad is happening right now

I can handle these emotions, I am strong

 

Square Breathing

Getting your breathing under control can be hugely effective in reducing anxiety, but most people either breathe too fast or hold their breath when they are trying to calm down. Square breathing is a simple way to refocus your attention to your breath and the present moment.

With your index finger, slowly trace the shape of a square in front of you, keeping your eyes on that finger.

With one side, breathe in for 3 seconds…

With the next side, hold your breathe for 1 second…

With the third side, breathe out for 3 seconds…

With the final side, hold for 1 second…

 


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What Is Attachment Theory?

Introduction to attachment theory in developmental psychology, including Bowlby and Ainsworth’s contributions, evaluation and criticisms of attachment theory.

Attachment theory is a concept in developmental psychology that concerns the importance of “attachment” in regards to personal development. Specifically, it makes the claim that the ability for an individual to form an emotional and physical “attachment” to another person gives a sense of stability and security necessary to take risks, branch out, and grow and develop as a personality. Naturally, attachment theory is a broad idea with many expressions, and the best understanding of it can be had by looking at several of those expressions in turn.

John Bowlby

Psychologist John Bowlby was the first to coin the term. His work in the late 60s established the precedent that childhood development depended heavily upon a child’s ability to form a strong relationship with “at least one primary caregiver”. Generally speaking, this is one of the parents.

Bowlby’s studies in childhood development and “temperament” led him to the conclusion that a strong attachment to a caregiver provides a necessary sense of security and foundation. Without such a relationship in place, Bowlby found that a great deal of developmental energy is expended in the search for stability and security. In general, those without such attachments are fearful and are less willing to seek out and learn from new experiences. By contrast, a child with a strong attachment to a parent knows that they have “back-up” so to speak, and thusly tend to be more adventurous and eager to have new experiences (which are of course vital to learning and development).

There is some basis in observational psychology here. The baby who is attached strongly to a caregiver has several of his or her most immediate needs met and accounted for. Consequently, they are able to spend a great deal more time observing and interacting with their environments. Thusly, their development is facilitated.

For Bowlby, the role of the parent as caregiver grows over time to meet the particular needs of the attached child. Early on, that role is to be attached to and provide constant support and security during the formative years. Later, that role is to be available as the child needs periodic help during their excursions into the outside world. 1

Mary Ainsworth

Mary Ainsworth would develop many of the ideas set forth by Bowlby in her studies. In particular, she identified the existence of what she calls “attachment behavior”, examples of behavior that are demonstrated by insecure children in hopes of establishing or re-establishing an attachment to a presently absent caregiver. Since this behavior occurs uniformly in children, it is a compelling argument for the existence of “innate” or instinctual behavior in the human animal.

The study worked by looking at a broad cross-section of children with varying degrees of attachment to their parents or caregivers from strong and healthy attachments to weak and tenuous bonds. The children were then separated from their caregivers and their responses were observed. The children with strong attachments were relatively calm, seeming to be secure in the belief that their caregivers would return shortly, whereas the children with weak attachments would cry and demonstrate great distress under they were restored to their parents.

Later in the same study, children were exposed to intentionally stressful situations, during which nearly all of them began to exhibit particular behaviors that were effective in attracting the attention of their caregivers – a keen example of attachment behavior. 2

mother-child
J. A. Hampton  Topical Press Agency   Getty Images


Hazan and Shaver

Early on, one of the primary limitations of attachment theory was that it had only really been studied in the context of young children. While studies of children are often instrumental in the field of developmental psychology, that field is ideally supposed to address the development of the entire human organism, including the stage of adulthood. In the 1980s, Cindy Hazan and Phillip Shaver were able to garner a lot of attention, then, when they turned attachment theory on adult relationships. 3 

In their studies, they looked at a number of couples, examining the nature of the attachments between them, and then observed how those couples reacted to various stressors and stimuli. In the case of adults, it would seem that a strong attachment is still quite important. For example, in cases where the adults had a weak attachment, there were feelings of inadequacy and a lack of intimacy on the part of both parties. When attachments were too strong, there were issues with co-dependency. The relationships functioned best when both parties managed to balance intimacy with independence. Much as is the case with developing children, the ideal situation seemed to be an attachment that functioned as a secure base from which to reach out and gain experience in the world.

Criticisms of Attachment Theory

One of the most common criticisms of attachment theory is that non-Western societies tend to offer up compelling counter-examples. For instance, in Papua New Guinea or Uganda, the idea of a child being intimately attached to a caregiver is somewhat alien, and child-rearing duties are more evenly distributed among a broader group of people. Still, “well-adjusted” members of society are produced, indicating that, at least in these societies, some other mechanism is acting in the place of the attachments that are so necessary for Western children.

Evaluation

Attachment theory states that a strong emotional and physical attachment to at least one primary caregiver is critical to personal development.

John Bowlby first coined the term as a result of his studies involving the developmental psychology of children from various backgrounds.

Mary Ainsworth conducted this research, discovering the existence of “attachment behavior” – behavior manifested for the purpose of creating attachment during times when a child feels confused or stressed.

Hazan and Shaver (1987) used the “Love Quiz” to demonstrate the applicability of attachment theory to adult romantic relationships.

Attachment theory has had a profound influence upon child care policies, as well as principles of basic clinical practice for children.

Critics of attachment theory point out the lack of parental attachment in many non-Western societies.

References
1 Bowlby, John. Attachment and Loss. 1969.
2 Ainsworth, M. “Infancy in Uganda: Infant Care and the Growth of Love.” Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1967.
3 Hazan, C. & Shaver, P. “Attachment as an organizational framework for research on close relationship.” Psychological Inquiry. 5 1-22, 1994.


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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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The Power of Rituals

WADE BOGGS, THE Hall of Fame third baseman for the Boston Red Sox, was famous for his pregame rituals. Before each outing, he ate chicken, took batting practice at 5:17 p.m., did wind sprints at 7:17 p.m., and fielded 150 ground balls. He also wrote the Hebrew word for life (“chai”) in the dirt before going up to bat. Did these superstitions do any good?

Some new research suggests they might have, and that anyone — from Olympic athletes to office workers — can benefit from the same kinds of routines. So, how does one go about testing the power of superstition? Obviously, part of the answer includes the 1970s rock band Journey, sodium chloride, and crumpled up pieces of paper. But more on that later.

The research, conducted by Harvard Business School professor Alison Wood Brooks and several collaborators, grew out of research Brooks had been doing on anxiety. Most people feel anxious several times a day, but there are few reliable ways of calming down. Feeling anxiety well before facing a challenge can motivate preparation, but, during a task, it can eat up mental resources.

Meanwhile, Brooks says, “We had been doing some other work about rituals and how they’re fascinating and strange and pervasive, and we thought, ‘You know what, people use rituals to try to relax, and I wonder if they actually work.’ ” Some existing evidence had shown that pre-performance routines can help, such as bouncing a basketball a certain way before taking a free-throw shot. But the findings were inconsistent, and if routines did work, it wasn’t clear whether they merely prepared motor action or had some higher meaning for athletes.

The researchers first explored how people use rituals in their everyday lives. They asked 400 online subjects if they’d used a ritual before the last difficult task they’d felt anxious about, and to describe it or another ritual they’d performed in the past. The researchers left “ritual” undefined for the subject, but in their paper, forthcoming in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, they define it as “a predefined sequence of symbolic actions often characterized by formality and repetition that lacks direct instrumental purpose.” They contrast rituals with habits and routines, which have no symbolism, and superstitions, which are about luck.

About half the respondents said they’d used a ritual before their last difficult task. Of the rituals described, most did not involve luck or religion, but most did involve symbolism — some feature that connected it to the upcoming activity but was not necessary, such as putting cleats on in a particular way before a game.

The researchers then turned to the effectiveness of a made-up ritual. Eighty-five college students were told they’d have to sing Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” in front of an experimenter, with a bonus for accuracy as measured by the karaoke machine. Half were asked to first do the following ritual: “Draw a picture of how you are feeling right now. Sprinkle salt on your drawing. Count up to five out loud. Crinkle up your paper. Throw your paper in the trash.” Those who performed the ritual were less anxious than the others, and as a result they sang better. In a companion experiment, being told they would have to sing raised student’s heart rates, but then performing the ritual lowered them.

To explore the effectiveness of rituals in another scenario, 400 online participants were asked to complete eight math problems, described either as “a very difficult IQ test” with time limits and monetary penalties, thus inducing anxiety, or simply as “fun math puzzles” with monetary bonuses. As predicted, triggering anxiety harmed people’s performance — unless they were first asked to perform the paper-crinkling ritual.

“The surprising part is how effective rituals are for improving performance,” said Kathleen Vohs, a business professor at the University of Minnesota who has studied rituals but was not involved in this work. “I like that a lot. It’s surprising and fresh.”

rituals

So rituals work, but why? There are four possibilities, according to Juliana Schroeder, a business school professor at the University of California at Berkeley and a collaborator on the paper. The first two focus on actions: Performing structured movement might reduce anxiety by giving people a sense of order, or it might require so much attention that it distracts from the source of anxiety. The next two focus on higher meaning. Rituals could act as placebos if people associate them with better performance, or they could involve specific symbolism, such as throwing your anxieties in the trash.

Relevant to the fourth explanation, other research has demonstrated the power of enacting metaphors to change how we feel. A 2013 paper in Psychological Science reported that when teenagers wrote positive thoughts about their bodies, their attitudes about their bodies improved — unless they threw their notes in the trash, thus trashing their thoughts. A 2010 paper in the same journal reported that when subjects wrote about a regretful experience, placing the page in an envelope increased “psychological closure” and reduced negative feelings about the event.

So Brooks and her collaborators conducted another experiment to tease apart the possible mechanisms of rituals’ effectiveness. To induce anxiety, they told 120 adults they would have to take a timed math test that would indicate intelligence. A third of them were asked to perform the following set of actions, described to them as “a short ritual.” “Please count out loud slowly up to 10 from zero, then count back down to zero. You should say each number out loud and write each number on the piece of paper in front of you as you say it. You may use the entire paper. Sprinkle salt on your paper. Crinkle up your paper. Throw your paper in the trash.” Another third were given the same instructions, but with the actions described as “a few random behaviors” instead of a “ritual.” A final third simply sat for 30 seconds.

Afterward, those who’d performed the “ritual” rated how helpful or harmful it was; the average rating was in the middle of the scale — neither helpful nor harmful. And yet they performed better on the test than subjects who had just sat there. More importantly, subjects who’d performed the same actions described as “random behaviors” did not perform better than passive subjects.

It appears that ritualized actions improve performance because they hold higher meaning — they work only when conceived of as a ritual. This experiment also hints that the rituals may act through a general placebo effect surrounding rituals, rather than through specific symbolism, as this ritual was pretty bare-bones. But at this point the researchers don’t know if subjects are creating their own specific meaning out of the ritual’s elements.

“There’s been a lot of work on trying to reduce anxiety,” Schroeder says, “and it’s been hard to find effective tools than can work short term.” One effective strategy is the use of metaphors, as mentioned earlier. Another is the reframing of anxiety as excitement — which Brooks has also found to improve karaoke performance — but this trick can only translate one high-energy state to another. Research also reveals the power of expressive writing, but you can’t always sit down with a journal right before giving a PowerPoint presentation.

When asked how elaborate a ritual needs to be to improve performance, Brooks said, “It could be one step, like spinning in a circle. They can be really short, and you can do them anywhere, as long as it means something to you.” And, based on subjects’ ratings of the counting ritual’s helpfulness, they’ll work whether you believe they will or not.

Boggs and other athletes frequently appear on lists of “silly” sports superstitions, but this research shows that their actions are not so silly. “Lots of people use rituals naturally,” Brooks says. “The rituals that an outsider might scoff at, maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to judge, because they can actually be helpful.”

Perhaps those who don’t perform rituals are the zany ones.

By Matthew Hutson   AUGUST 18, 2016    
 
Matthew Hutson is a science writer and the author of “The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking.”

 


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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.