Monthly Archives: February 2013

The Power of Concentration

Screen shot 2013-02-28 at 11.09.56 AMIt’s good to see the growing convergence between Eastern perspectives and Western empirical research. Here’s another example: the power of concentration via the practice of “mindfulness,” from the Buddhist perspective — how it’s affirmed through research studies. In this essay by Maria Konnikova in the New York Times, she uses the example of how Sherlock Holmes trained his mind to concentrate on solving a case. He used, in effect, the practices of mindfulness meditation. She writes:

Meditation and mindfulness: the words conjure images of yoga retreats and Buddhist monks. But perhaps they should evoke a very different picture: a man in a deerstalker, puffing away at a curved pipe, Mr. Sherlock Holmes himself. The world’s greatest fictional detective is someone who knows the value of concentration, of “throwing his brain out of action,” as Dr. Watson puts it. He is the quintessential unitasker in a multitasking world. Click here for the complete essay.

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How Much Psychological Research Is Invalid?

Screen shot 2013-02-23 at 11.21.53 AMI often cite empirical research to support my arguments or interpretations of current personal/social/cultural issues, but I try to weed out research that’s probably invalid. One glaring reason is that most research is conducted on college students and the results applied to the entire adult population. And now, there’s also outright falsehood, as this report in Live Science documents:

From the report: In the wake of several scandals in psychology research, scientists are asking themselves just how much of their research is valid.

In the past 10 years, dozens of studies in the psychology field have been retracted, and several high-profile studies have not stood up to scrutiny when outside researchers tried to replicate the research.

By selectively excluding study subjects or amending the experimental procedure after designing the study, researchers in the field may be subtly biasing studies to get more positive findings. And once research results are published, journals have little incentive to publish replication studies, which try to check the results.

That means the psychology literature may be littered with effects, or conclusions, that aren’t real. [Oops! 5 Retracted Science Studies] Continue reading

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Work Better By Working “Less”

Screen shot 2013-02-19 at 10.22.35 AMEvidence continues to mount that the workaholic expectations and demands of many companies are counterproductive. Both observation and research studies show that creativity and productivity increase when the work culture provides time out, so to speak — including periods for naps and vacations. Tony Schwartz, the CEO of The Energy Project, discusses this in a recent New York Times article, and points out that “A new and growing body of multidisciplinary research shows that strategic renewal — including daytime workouts, short afternoon naps, longer sleep hours, more time away from the office and longer, more frequent vacations — boosts productivity, job performance and, of course, health.”

He writes:

THINK for a moment about your typical workday. Do you wake up tired? Check your e-mail before you get out of bed? Skip breakfast or grab something on the run that’s not particularly nutritious? Rarely get away from your desk for lunch? Run from meeting to meeting with no time in between? Find it nearly impossible to keep up with the volume of e-mail you receive? Leave work later than you’d like, and still feel compelled to check e-mail in the evenings? More and more of us find ourselves unable to juggle overwhelming demands and maintain a seemingly unsustainable pace. Paradoxically, the best way to get more done may be to spend more time doing less…

“More, bigger, faster.” This, the ethos of the market economies since the Industrial Revolution, is grounded in a mythical and misguided assumption — that our resources are infinite. Time is the resource on which we’ve relied to get more accomplished. When there’s more to do, we invest more hours. But time is finite, and many of us feel we’re running out, that we’re investing as many hours as we can while trying to retain some semblance of a life outside work.

 Click here  for the full article.

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How Fears Shape Your Political Views…And Much More

Screen shot 2013-02-15 at 12.17.30 PMMobilizing your fear of an opposing political party’s agenda and policies has become pretty commonplace in political campaigns, today. Now, some new research sheds light on a previously unrecognized link between fear, its source, and just how it shapes one’s political position on polarizing issues. However, I think these findings also point to a much broader but overlooked role that fear plays in many facets of people’s lives. That includes career dilemmas, conflicts around personal values, and problems in intimate relationships. Fears can be subtly conditioned by society’s norms and family pressures. They remain largely unconscious, and can fuel a range of emotional conflicts and dilemmas about life-shaping decisions.

To explain, let’s look at the research. Conducted by a team from Brown University, Penn State, and Virginia Commonwealth University, and published in the American Journal of Political Science, it found that some people appear to have greater inborn tendencies toward social fears. That is, they tend to experience fear at lower levels of threat or danger than others. In effect, they’re wired that way.

The researchers found that such individuals tend to have more negative attitudes toward “outside” groups, such as immigrants and racial-ethnic groups. When the researchers looked at the self-reported political attitudes of the research participants — on a liberal-conservative scale — they found a correlation between negative attitudes toward those groups and conservative political views.

However, as the researchers pointed out, Continue reading

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Self-Examination And Success

Screen shot 2013-02-12 at 11.42.52 AMOne of the themes I’ve been writing about and highlighting in recent years is the crucial role that self-examination and self-awareness play in life — for internal wellbeing, personal relationships and external success in your work and career. In this recent New York Times essay, Camille Sweeney and Josh Gosfield provide a range of examples of just how important self-awareness is to “success,” in whatever form it takes. They write:

WHAT does self-awareness have to do with a restaurant empire? A tennis championship? Or a rock star’s dream? David Chang’s experience is instructive.

Mr. Chang is an internationally renowned, award-winning Korean-American chef, restaurateur and owner of the Momofuku restaurant group with eight restaurants from Toronto to Sydney, and other thriving enterprises, including bakeries and bars, a PBS TV show, guest spots on HBO’s “Treme” and a foodie magazine, Lucky Peach. He says he worked himself to the bone to realize his dream — to own a humble noodle bar. He spent years cooking in some of New York City’s best restaurants, apprenticed in different noodle shops in Japan and then, finally, worked 18-hour days in his tiny restaurant, Momofuku Noodle Bar. Mr. Chang could barely pay himself a salary. He had trouble keeping staff. And he was miserably stressed.

He recalls a low moment when he went with his staff on a night off to eat burgers at a restaurant that was everything his wasn’t — packed, critically acclaimed and financially successful. He could cook better than they did, he thought, so why was his restaurant failing? “I couldn’t figure out what the hell we were doing wrong,” he told us. Mr. Chang could have blamed someone else for his troubles, or worked harder (though available evidence suggests that might not have been possible) or he could have made minor tweaks to the menu. Instead he looked inward and subjected himself to brutal self-assessment.  Click here to continue.

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Why “Wanting” Material Things Is More Pleasurable Than “Having” Them

Screen shot 2013-02-08 at 11.00.36 AMSome new research shows that people who are driven by materialistic goals — getting and having material things — are more turned-on by the desire for acquiring them than actually possessing them. This underscores, I think, the essential emptiness that one ultimately feels when dominated by acquiring more and more — an endless quest anyway — and by defining one’s self-worth and status by the possessions one accumulates. The gap between one’s outer and inner life will take a toll, ultimately.

The study was published in the Journal of Consumer Research and summarized in Medical News Today as follows: Continue reading

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Why Self-Deception Can Be Psychologically Healthy

Screen shot 2013-02-05 at 10.02.25 AMThe founder and editor of Skeptic Magazine, Michael Shermer, described in a TED presentation, “The Pattern Behind Self-Deception,” how our human tendency to “believe” can lead people to embrace a range of falsehoods, despite evidence to the contrary. That brings to mind another interesting aspect of “self-deception” — one that’s psychologically healthy and leads to positive development: Both research studies and clinical evidence from psychotherapy show that a strong belief or expectation about achieving a goal or overcoming a problem can have a powerful impact upon what actually happens in your life.

To explain, first consider which “self” it is when we speak of “self-deception.” You might recognize two “selves” within you: One who envisions and believes in the possibility of achieving something you desire — say a new project that you though of; or of solving a personal conflict that creates much unhappiness. And then there’s your other “self,” who tells you desire isn’t possible, or that it’s unrealistic or that you lack the ability to make it happen.

Many people experience those conflicting “selves.” It can be difficult to know which one is “true,” or which to identify with. Continue reading

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The Harmful Effects Of Loneliness Are Rooted In Our Culture

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A recent psychotherapy patient, Ms. A., tells me that she’s felt lonely throughout her life. Her intimate relationships have been brief; her friends, few. In recent years she’s been suffering from one physical ailment after another. Another patient, Mr. B, has an active social life with friends and business associates, a long-term marriage and an extended family. Despite this socially full life, he complains of feeling lonely “right in the midst of everyone around me.” He, too, suffers from frequent illness.

Some new research finds that loneliness can harm your immune system and set the stage for a range of illness. Of course, our mind/body/spirit is all one. Each “part” affects each other “part,” so that’s no surprise. But there’s a lot more to the story. People like Ms. A and Mr. B appear different, yet are alike in other ways. That is, some people’s loneliness reflects an absence of positive relationships. That, in turn, may be rooted in long-term emotional issues that interfere with forming and maintaining relationships. Yet others have a full social life but feel lonely anyway. These apparently different situations raise a question: What promotes or creates the conditions for loneliness in today’s society? And, what would help alleviate the painful isolation and disconnection that some feel, regardless of the extent of their social connections? Continue reading

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