Tag Archives: resilience

Feeing Depressed? Take A Hike!

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October 7, 2014

It’s true: A new, large-scale study has found that taking a walk in nature diminishes depression and stress. This isn’t surprising. Our minds, emotions and spirit are interconnected with our physical environment. The restorative powers of connecting with the natural world have been well known for millennia, and now there is a bit of empirical research that demonstrates it.

The study, led by the University of Michigan and a team of British researchers, found that group nature walks were linked with significantly lower depression, less perceived stress and enhanced mental health and well-being. Although the research focused on the effects of group nature walks, it’s likely that walking by oneself has similar impact upon your mental health.

“We hear people say they feel better after a walk or going outside but there haven’t been many studies of this large size to support the conclusion that these behaviors actually improve your mental health and well-being,” says senior author Sara Warber in a summary of the research reported in Medical News Today and Science Daily. “Walking is an inexpensive, low risk and accessible form of exercise and it turns out that combined with nature and group settings, it may be a very powerful, under-utilized stress buster. Our findings suggest that something as simple as joining an outdoor walking group may not only improve someone’s daily positive emotions but may also contribute a non-pharmacological approach to serious conditions like depression.”

Moreover, the study found Continue reading

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How Positive Relationships Help You Grow And Thrive

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September 16, 2014

It’s always good to see research that reveals how and why positive human connection in necessary for emotional and physical health, wellbeing, and growth — especially during adverse circumstances. A new study, reported in Personality and Social Psychology Review does that.

The researchers, Brooke Feeney of Carnegie Mellon University and Nancy Collins of University of California at Santa Barbara, looked at the ways in which relationships can promote or hinder “thriving” in life. That is, not just with what helps people “cope with stress or adversity, but also in their efforts to learn, grow, explore, achieve goals, cultivate new talents, and find purpose and meaning in life,” said Feeney.

The researchers focused on five aspects of thriving: : happiness and life satisfaction; having purpose and meaning in life and progressing toward meaningful life goals; psychological well-being (positive self-regard, absence of mental health symptoms/disorders); social well-being (deep and meaningful human connections, faith in others and humanity, positive interpersonal expectancies); and physical well-being (healthy weight and activity levels, health status above expected baselines).

They found that positive relationships fuel thriving in two ways: One is enabling the person to embrace and pursue opportunities that enhance positive well-being, broaden and build resources and foster a sense of purpose and meaning in life. Here, the “support provider” serves as an active catalyst for thriving. This form of support emphasizes that the promotion of thriving through life opportunities is its core purpose.

The other function relates to situations of adversity. Here, positive support not only helps buffer individuals from negative effects of stress, but also by enabling them to flourish either because of or in spite of their circumstances. “Relationships serve an important function of not simply helping people return to baseline, but helping them to thrive by exceeding prior baseline levels of functioning,” Feeney said. “We…emphasize that the promotion of thriving through adversity is the core purpose of this support function.” Continue reading

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Why Do We Enjoy Sad Music?

Screen shot 2014-09-03 at 4.14.17 PMSeptember 2, 2014

I’ve always been drawn to music in the minor key. This interesting study sheds some light on what happens, emotionally, when listening to “sad” music: It can actually stimulate positive emotions. I think this research should be considered along with other new studies showing what happens within the brain when we experience different kinds of music. But this study, by Japanese researchers and published in Frontiers in Psychology, may help explain why people enjoy listening to sad music, according to a summary in Science Daily.

Ai Kawakami and colleagues from Tokyo University of the Arts and the RIKEN Brain Science Institute, Japan explained that sad music evoked contradictory emotions because the participants of the study tended to feel sad music to be more tragic, less romantic, and less blithe than they felt themselves while listening to it. “In general, sad music induces sadness in listeners, and sadness is regarded as an unpleasant emotion. If sad music actually evokes only unpleasant emotion, we would not listen to it,” the researchers wrote.

“Music that is perceived as sad actually induces romantic emotion as well as sad emotion. And people, regardless of their musical training, experience this ambivalent emotion to listen to the sad music,” added the researchers. Also, unlike sadness in daily life, sadness experienced through art actually feels pleasant, possibly because the latter does not pose an actual threat to our safety. This could help people to deal with their negative emotions in daily life, concluded the authors.

“Emotion experienced by music has no direct danger or harm unlike the emotion experienced in everyday life. Therefore, we can even enjoy unpleasant emotion such as sadness. If we suffer from unpleasant emotion evoked through daily life, sad music might be helpful to alleviate negative emotion,” they added.

For the study, Kawakami and colleagues asked 44 volunteers, including both musicians and non-specialists, to listen to two pieces of sad music and one piece of happy music. Each participant was required to use a set of keywords to rate both their perception of the music and their own emotional state. The sad pieces of music included Glinka’s “La Séparation” in F minor and Blumenfeld’s Etude “Sur Mer” in G minor. The happy music piece was Granados’s Allegro de Concierto in G major. To control for the “happy” effect of major key, they also played the minor-key pieces in major key, and vice versa.

 

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At Midlife, Arguing Can Kill You!

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August 5, 2014

This is worth heeding, if you’re in midlife: Frequent arguing with partners, children, other relatives or neighbors may significantly increase the risk of middle-aged death from all causes, according to a new study. Reported in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Healththe study is described in Medical News Today

All of us have engaged in arguments with others in the past, whether it is with partners, relatives, friends or neighbors. Although these experiences are stressful, we do not necessarily think about the health risks they pose. But a new study suggests that frequent arguing may dramatically increase the risk of middle-aged death.

According to the research team, led by Dr. Rikke Lund of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, past research has indicated that good social relationships with others have positive effects on general health and well-being. But they say there are limited studies looking at how negative relationships impact health. With this in mind, the investigators set out to determine whether there was a link between stressful social relations with partners, children, other family members, friends and neighbors, and all-cause mortality. Continue reading

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Does Short-Term Meditation Work? Here’s What New Research Found

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This updated and expanded version of my July 15 article originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

I regularly encourage the people I work with to practice meditation. It builds a kind of inner “shock absorber” that helps you maintain calm and focus in the midst of daily stress and the multiple demands of living in today’s world. While that’s not the true purpose of meditation (another subject altogether), it’s certainly a by-product benefit. The problem for many people is that they say it takes too much time to devote to regular meditative practice.

Well, some new research looked the results of short-term meditation for your thought processes — your judgment in making decisions — and also your level of resilience in the face of negative emotional states. Here’s what they discovered:

Research conducted at INSEAD and The Wharton School, and published in Psychological Science, found that even short-term mindfulness meditative practice of about 15 minutes can help you make wiser choices when making decisions. In mindfulness meditation, you build awareness of the present moment and try to let go of other thoughts that intrude and distract.

The researchers found that meditation can help counteract the tendency to people to “have trouble admitting they were wrong when their initial decisions lead to undesirable outcomes,” according to the lead author Andrew Hafenbrack, from INSEAD. “They don’t want to feel wasteful or that their initial investment was a loss. Ironically, this kind of thinking often causes people to waste or lose more resources in an attempt to regain their initial investment or try to ‘break even.'” The researchers referred to this tendency as the sunk-cost bias — commonly known as “throwing good money after bad.”

Co-author Zoe Kinias added: “We found that a brief period of mindfulness meditation Continue reading

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30 Minutes of Meditation Reduces Anxiety And Depression

Screen shot 2014-07-15 at 10.01.07 AMJuly 15, 2014

I regularly encourage the practice of meditation to people I work with. It builds a kind of inner “shock absorber” that helps you maintain calm and focus in the midst of daily stress and the multiple demands of living in today’s world. While not the true purpose of meditation (that’s another subject), more effective management of stress and distressing emotional states is a byproduct that benefits many people – and with minimal investment of time.

Some new studies find that even 30 minutes of daily meditation has a noticeable impact upon symptoms of anxiety and depression — at least equal to antidepressant medications; without the side effects of the latter. Such studies add to the growing research on the multiple effects of meditation upon our mind-body system.

One recent study is the first to show that brief mindfulness meditation practice — 25 minutes for three consecutive days — alleviates psychological stress. Researchers investigated how mindfulness meditation affects people’s ability to be resilient under stress. Published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, this study was in contrast to most research that has focused on lengthy, weeks-long training programs.

In the study, conducted by J. David Creswell and his research team at Carnegie Mellon University, participants went through a brief mindfulness meditation training program; for 25 minutes for three consecutive days. Mindfulness meditation is a practice that focuses on nonjudgmental attention to the moment at hand. It emphasizes acceptance of feelings and thoughts without judgment and relaxation of body and mind. In subsequent testing, participants were found to experience reduced stress, indicating that the mindfulness meditation fostered increases resilience.

In another study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers focused on 47 clinical trials performed among 3,515 participants underwent what was typically an eight-week training program in mindfulness meditation. Researchers found evidence of improvement in symptoms of anxiety, depression and pain after just 30 or so minutes per day of meditation. The findings held even as the researchers controlled for the possibility of the placebo effect.

“in our study, meditation appeared to provide as much relief from some anxiety and depression symptoms as what other studies have found from antidepressants,” says Madhav Goyal of Johns Hopkins University, and a lead researcher in the study. He adds, “A lot of people have this idea that meditation means sitting down and doing nothing. But that’s not true. Meditation is an active training of the mind to increase awareness, and different meditation programs approach this in different ways.”

 

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Having Trouble Resolving A Conflict? Detach Yourself From It, Says New Research

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July 8, 2014

We can become rigidly fixed and sclerosed within a view of who we are (“This is just the way I am”) — unable to envision possibilities for our personal capacities, thinking, and emotions outside of that fixed view. That also disables us from an enlarged perspective, which is necessary to solve conflicts or problems that we feel stuck inside of; unable to change or alter. President Eisenhower reportedly said that if you’re having difficulty understanding a problem and how to solve it, “enlarge” the problem. And that applies to life beyond the battlefield — “enlarging” how you envision the problem or situation you’re stuck within can free yourself from the limitations of the perspective that imprisons you to begin with.

Some new empirical research demonstrates this. It shows that, in effect, distancing yourself from a problem or conflict enhances your reasoning, and helps you find new solutions through a broadened perspective. That provides greater wisdom to bring to bear on the conflict. Researchers from the University of Waterloo and the University of Michigan, reported in Psychological Science, examined the ability to recognize the limits of one’s own knowledge, search for a compromise, consider the perspectives of others, and recognize the possible ways in which the scenario could unfold. The research found that you may think about a conflict more wisely if you consider it as an outside observer would.

“These results are the first to demonstrate a new type of bias within ourselves Continue reading

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“Don’t Disrupt My Negative Mood!”

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July 1, 2014

Our view of ourselves — and the world — creates our reality. When that’s negative and anticipates failure, one tends to draw to oneself “evidence” that confirms and reinforces it. That is, when people become fixed within their negative view of themselves, they recreate and reaffirm it to themselves, as they go along in life. And they resist — even oppose — any efforts to help them examine the roots of their view of themselves, and work towards, in effect, changing their inner world. Here’s a new study that gives some empirical underpinning to this. Published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the study was conducted by researchers at the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University.

They found that people with low self esteem will often maintain their negative view of themselves and the world, and will oppose efforts to help them reframe how they think and feel. They will interpret critical feedback, romantic rejections, or unsuccessful job applications as evidence of their general unworthiness, according to the researchers. “People with low self-esteem want their loved ones to see them as they see themselves. As such, they are often resistant to their friends’ reminders of how positively they see them and reject what we call positive reframing-expressions of optimism and encouragement for bettering their situation,” said Professor Denise Marigold, the lead author of the study.

Science Daily‘s summary of the findings added: 

These individuals usually prefer negative validation, which conveys that the feelings, actions or responses of the recipient are normal, reasonable, and appropriate to the situation. So a friend could express understanding about the predicament or for the difficulty of a situation, and suggest that expressing negative emotions is appropriate and understandable.

The researchers found no evidence that positive reframing helps participants with low self-esteem. And in fact, the people providing support to friends with low self-esteem often felt worse about themselves when they attempted to cheer up their friend.

Some study participants indicated that supporting friends with low self-esteem could be frustrating and tiring. The researchers found that when these support providers used positive reframing instead of negative validation in these situations, they often believed the interaction went poorly, perhaps because the friends with low self-esteem were not receptive and the efforts didn’t work.

“If your attempt to point out the silver lining is met with a sullen reminder of the prevailing dark cloud, you might do best to just acknowledge the dark cloud and sympathize,” said Professor Marigold.

 

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Cynical? You’re Increasing Your Risk Of Dementia

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Science continues to demonstrate the active interconnections between all “parts” of ourselves and the physical/social environment that we experience and deal with throughout life. This is more than “brain-behavior” or “mind-body” connection: we are biological-psychological-spiritual-social beings. All dimensions of ourselves are constantly at play. A recent study reveals a new connection between a personality dimension — cynicism — and the likelihood of dementia. The research, published in the journal Neurology, found that people with high levels of “cynical distrust” were three times more likely to develop dementia than people with low levels of cynicism.

I think such research shows the system-wide impact of the emotional attitudes and perspectives about life that we consciously create and shape — or let take root from unexamined, unresolved life conflicts — upon our entire being.

The researchers, led by Anna-Maija Tolppanen at the University of Eastern Finland,  defined cynical distrust as the belief that others are mainly motivated by selfish concerns. They assessed level of cynicism by asking people how much they agreed with statements such as “I think most people would lie to get ahead,” “It is safer to trust nobody” and “Most people will use somewhat unfair reasons to gain profit or an advantage rather than lose it.” The researchers adjusted for other factors that could affect dementia risk, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking. Moreover, the link between cynicism and dementia was not accounted for by depression; they appear to be independent factors. Continue reading

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Meditation Changes The Expression of Your Genes

Screen shot 2014-04-01 at 10.54.46 AMEvidence continues to mount that how one’s genetic tendencies or vulnerabilities, are actually expressed — or not — is highly shaped by our life experiences, both those that we choose and those that are handed to us. A new study demonstrates how the practice of meditation affects the expression of genes that are involved in one’s stress response and inflammation, which underlie a wide range of health conditions, physically and mentally. It found evidence that meditation results in beneficial changes at the molecular level.

The research was reported in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology and conducted with meditators who engaged in an intensive 8-hour session of mindfulness meditation. They were compared with a group of 21 others who engaged in quiet non-meditative activities for the same period of time. Both groups gave blood samples before and after their activities. When researchers analyzed the samples at the molecular level, they found that the expression of genes which are involved in inflammation, and generally in the body’s stress-response, were down-regulated.

Moreover, tests of cortisol levels in participants’ saliva revealed that the expert meditators were able to recover quicker after an induced stressful event than the control group. In a summary of the research Richard Davidson, one of the authors of the study, said, “To the best of our knowledge, this is the first paper that shows rapid alterations in gene expression within subjects associated with mindfulness meditation practice. Our genes are quite dynamic in their expression and these results suggest that the calmness of our mind can actually have a potential influence on their expression.”

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How To “Grow” Your Mental Health

Screen shot 2014-03-21 at 7.50.11 PMDespite our advances in understanding and treating emotional problems and the more serious mental disorders, we don’t know much about what mental health is, in contrast. I’ve been thinking about this issue for the last several years, and it was brought to mind again recently by the comments of two psychotherapy patients. As I reflected on them, in relation to some recent research findings from outside the mental health field, it struck me that we can identify some features of a psychologically healthy life in today’s tumultuous, stressed-out, digitalized world.

In fact, there’s a great deal of information that you can use and apply in your daily life to increase your mental health. But you’re more likely to find it from outside the mental health profession than within it.

To explain, consider this 40-year-old woman. Her career and family life feel to her like running on a permanent treadmill. She’s been depressed for years, and her long-standing use of anti-depressant drugs don’t make much of a dent. Moreover, they create many side effects. Nonetheless, she won’t consider how some research-based alternatives suggest ways she might help herself. She’s terrified that she’ll become more depressed if she tapers off her medications.

Then there’s the man with a successful career and seemingly stable marriage. He tells me that despite feeling “pretty normal,” now – he had several years of therapy in the past that helped him with some lifelong relationship issues – he experiences a kind of dullness in life. He works hard, is engaged with his wife and children, but feels little spark or excitement about his day-to-day existence, now or in the future.

Neither person knows what a fully healthy life would look like, or that they might be able to “grow” it. That’s understandable: Ironically, the mental health field doesn’t really deal with mental health. Continue reading

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How The Younger Generations Can Leap Into The Future

Screen shot 2014-03-19 at 11.10.37 AMHere are some insightful perspectives — and suggestions — for the younger generations, from management strategist Umair Haque. Writing in his Harvard Business School Blog, Haque addresses the dilemma facing young people today:

Imagine a towering, sheer cliff. Imagine a deep canyon below, full of ruined cities. Now imagine, on the canyon’s other side, a bountiful plain, rippling in the breeze, stretching into the sunset. Welcome to the economy of the twenty-first century. For young people today, the economy basically feels something like the portrait above, and they’re the ones stuck at the bottom of the ravine.

After citing four conditions that young people face — a broken global economy; overwhelming debts; difficulty getting a job or career track; and the jobs available are not very good — Haque says welcome to “Generation F” — i.e. you’re getting screwed. He points out that

We are all here, in every moment, to make the most of our limitless potential—but your human potential is being squandered, wasted, thrown away.

But he then presents some positive directions that young people can take to deal productively and proactively with the reality they live in. They’re worth heeding. In his full article, “The Great Leap Generation F Needs to Make,” he writes: Continue reading

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The Fast-Changing Face of Corporate Leaders

Screen shot 2014-02-18 at 12.15.38 PMWho are the people in senior leadership roles today? An interesting report by Jena McGregor in the Washington Post sheds light on this. She summarizes the findings of a new study, published by the Harvard Business School, of Fortune 100 executives. It finds that the majority of senior executives were educated at state universities, not at the elite schools. Nearly 11 percent are foreign born. And while women still deal with the glass ceiling, they have a more rapid rise to the top ranks, today.

I think these findings have potentially significant implications for corporate cultures. For example, what will be the impact on outlook, vision, and management perspectives from ever-increasing numbers of ever-increasing diverse people? Moreover, what will emerge from this rising diversity of executive leaders in conjunction with a growing shift in worker’s orientations to the job, to what they look for from management, and to what they define as “success?” There are several moving parts.

The study was conducted by researchers from Penn’s Wharton School and from the IE Business School in Madrid. For McGregor’s article, click here. For the full report in the Harvard Business Review, click here.

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Feeling Self-Determination Increases Health And Longevity

Screen shot 2014-02-11 at 10.24.04 AMA new study by Brandeis University and the University of Rochester, published in Health Psychology, finds that people who have a sense of “control” in their lives and believe they can achieve their goals — despite hardships — are more likely to live longer and and healthier lives. This was found to occur even among less educated people, which contradicted previous research that indicated shorter, less healthy lives among less educated people.

However, what’s meant by a sense of “control?” What constitutes it?

I think the research findings reveal the importance of having a vision, an ideal, to aim for and pursue — “control” in that sense. That’s different from a belief that one is in control of, or can dominate and bend circumstances, to one’s will. Or, the need to control and cling to what inevitably changes and evolves in life. That is, positive “control” means maintaining a belief in what is possible. That’s what sustains energy and flexibility in pursuit of an ideal or goal in life, whatever one’s current circumstances.

 

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Why Your Therapist Should Go “Back to the Future”

Screen shot 2014-01-28 at 9.22.27 AMI recently spoke to psychology doctoral students about the innovative contributions of some pioneering psychoanalysts in New York and Washington and who collaborated during the 1930s -1950s. Several found commonalities in their work to expand traditional psychoanalytic understanding about emotional conflicts and their treatment. Some were European, having fled the Nazis; others, American. Among the most prominent were Erich FrommKaren Horney and Harry Stack Sullivan. Their ideas were often rejected—or attacked—by the psychoanalytic establishment back then.

After I spoke to the students about the contributions of those three, it struck me that both the emerging generation and current psychotherapists could help patients by reclaiming their legacy. And not just their creative mindset, but an overlooked, core part of their contributions.

That is, most therapists today recognize the significance of interpersonal and relationship issues that those three contributed: that our sense of self and much dysfunction is rooted in the web of relationships we experience from birth. That part isn’t overlooked. What many ignore is that Fromm, Horney and Sullivan also drew attention to social and cultural forces in our “outer” world, forces that shape—for better or worse—who we become: Our values, attitudes, personalities and level of emotional health or dysfunction. That dimension of their work became increasingly marginalized and disregarded over the decades, with few exceptions. That loss diminishes therapists’ capacity to discern the roots of patients’ conflicts and provide effective help.

Ironically, those early analysts’ insights about social conditioning are highly relevant to life conflicts in this second decade of the 21st Century—a time of great transition and turmoil affecting peoples’ relationships, career and life challenges. It would benefit psychotherapy patients if more therapists went “back to the future” in two ways:

First, Continue reading

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Why Companies Benefit From “Outlier” Employees

Screen shot 2014-01-21 at 2.19.59 PMA recent post on the Harvard Business School Blog by Robert D. Austin and Thorkil Sonne argues that seeking out “outlier” employees bring great benefit to companies. I think this is an important perspective. Companies and organizations need creative innovation to address challenging and changing conditions, whatever their service, product or mission. The authors write,

Most companies don’t perceive the value of people who think or behave differently. Managers are unaware that outliers can create enormous value if they’re placed into environments that maximize their ability to contribute. By bringing out the best in people who think differently, you position your company for greater advantage. That’s because innovation, which is a critical skill for businesses today, is driven by diversity of thought. When you can’t foresee the biggest opportunities and problems coming your way, then your people assets must provide your company with the ability to adapt. This ability arises from employees who see things from new perspectives—people from different backgrounds, and those with different cognitive, developmental, and neurological endowments.

They being with an example of a company that hired employees with autism, and why. The full essay follows: Continue reading

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Research Finds That Green Spaces Improves Mental Health

Screen shot 2014-01-20 at 11.47.58 AMMore evidence that everything is interconnected and interdependent: A new British study, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technologyexamined the impact of green areas in one’s living environment. It found that green spaces not only improved people’s mental health, but that the effect continued over time – even after people moved. However, those who moved back to more congested, less green urban areas, their mental health declined, measurably. The study was summarized in Science Daily as follows:

Analyzing data that followed people over a five year period, the research has found that moving to a greener area not only improves people’s mental health, but that the effect continues long after they have moved. The findings add to evidence that suggests increasing green spaces in cities — such as parks and gardens — could deliver substantial benefits to public health. The research is one of the first studies to consider the effects of green space over time and has used data from the British Household Panel Survey, a repository of information gathered from questionnaires filled in by households across Great Britain.

Using data from over 1,000 participants, the research team at the University of Exeter Medical School focused on two groups of people: those who moved to greener urban areas, and those who relocated to less green urban areas. Continue reading

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In Search of Solutions to Life’s Complexity

Screen shot 2013-12-11 at 9.17.13 AMA recent article in The Economist  discussed the impact of complexity in business. It highlights, indirectly, some themes that I think infiltrate all segments of society and that raise new challenges for personal lives as well as organizations. The Schumpeter column points out that “…managing complexity is at the top of businesspeople’s agenda. Businesspeople are confronted by more of everything than ever before. They have to make decisions at a faster pace.” For example, new products have a more uncertain future. “Harvard Business School’s William Sahlman warns young entrepreneurs about ‘the big eraser in the sky’ that can come down at any moment and ‘wipe out all their cleverness and effort’.”

The article contrasts two different views of the solutions to growing complexity: One is to recognize and accept it. It cites Don Tapscott, of “Wikinomics” fame, who observes that “…the information revolution is replacing one kind of management (command-and-control) with another (based on self-organising networks).” And John Hagel of Deloitte has talked about “…the growing disconnect between “linear institutions and the non-linear world that is developing around us.” That is, “Organisations built for this new world may look complex and unwieldy but they have an inner logic and powers of self-organisation.” The alternative solution is to impose simplicity, which the column suggests is a more persuasive strategy: “It is striking how many of the world’s most successful businesses thrive on simplicity of some sort.” And, “The biggest threat to business almost always comes from too much complexity rather than too much simplicity. The conglomerates of the 1960s crumbled because they tried to manage too many businesses in too many different industries.” For the full article, click here.

I think these observations raise broad questions, beyond business: What constitutes the most adaptive, flexible, productive and psychologically healthy ways of dealing with complexity within our individual lives, at one end of the spectrum; and for public policy, at the other? The ongoing, systemic transformation impacts personal relationships, career decisions and dilemmas, one’s values and mental outlook, one’s role as a participant citizen in society; and how to conduct one’s life, overall, in this changing world. What’s the end-game is, so to speak? These are psycho-social questions that need to be addressed as a whole. They are, well…complex.

 

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The Impact of Child Abuse Extends Well Into Adulthood

Screen shot 2013-11-05 at 9.59.07 AMThe words “child abuse” are likely to conjure up horror stories that appear from time to time – physical beatings, a child locked in a closet or tied up for long periods; or the unimaginable – like Ariel Castro’s imprisonment of young girls. But in fact, abuse takes many forms, beyond the physical. Recent research finds that its impact is long lasting. It extends far into adulthood, where it affects both physical and mental health. As Faulkner wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

But this same study, combined with the findings of some other recent research, contains hopeful signs for healing and healthy growth following early abuse.

First, consider some less visible forms of abuse, beyond the physical, that can create lasting consequences. For example, parental neglect; indifference to the child’s needs or temperament; outright humiliation; deliberate denigration. All may be fueled by the parent’s own self-hatred, jealousy, or narcissism.

Examples range from the parent who leaves a child in the car or home alone for hours. Or the parent who rebuffs the child who excitedly says, “look at my new drawing!” or “see what I wrote for this school project!” and who receives a curt, “Don’t bother me now. I’ve got to finish up this report.” Or the parent who consistently and vocally praises one child, while ignoring or criticizing the child’s sibling. And there’s the classic, “You’ll never amount to anything!” Or, why can’t you be more like your sister/brother?”

I’ve heard them all, and more. All take a toll, and this new research study confirms that abuse has a long shelf life. It takes a continuing toll on both physical and mental health well into adulthood. Continue reading

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Why the Workplace Is So Destructive to So Many People

Screen shot 2013-06-27 at 10.17.20 AMAs Yogi Berra famously said, “It’s déjà vu all over again.” We’re seeing yet another survey (they appear with increasing frequency) showing how negatively men and women feel about their workplaces; how damaging the workplace is to mental and physical health, and therefore to the economy. Recently some new high-profile initiatives raise hope about the possibility of meaningful change. But it’s crucial that both hone in the key source of the destructive impact careers and the workplace have upon so many people today: The leadership and management culture of companies, and the practices that result. Ironically, those are often at odds with the personal values and perspectives of the very people who occupy leadership roles, but are hamstrung by constraints from the very top — even when they’re part of it.

Jim, a senior VP, feels unsure about his future role in the organization as it undergoes major transition. His boss provides no information, saying, “just don’t worry about it.” Jim’s also in a bind about Continue reading

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New Research into Psychedelic Drugs and their Positive Benefits

Screen shot 2013-06-05 at 11.02.06 AMFor decades, now, research into responsible medical and psychological uses of psychedelic drugs has been forbidden by law. Recently, however, some research into psilocybin (magic mushrooms), MDNA (ecstasy) and other chemicals has begun in university research settings. It’s become allowable by a slight shift of laws towards more sanity: allowing research that can aid healing of emotional traumas and create positive development in one’s attitudes and behavior. This is a welcomed trend. Some recent studies are described in an article by Don Lattin, “The Second Coming of Psychedelics,” in Spirituality & Health. He writes, “What’s new is that these powerful mind-altering substances are coming out of the drug counterculture and back into the mainstream laboratories of some of the world’s leading universities and medical centers. Research projects and pilot studies at Johns Hopkins, Harvard, Purdue University, and the University of California, Los Angeles, are probing their mind-altering mysteries and healing powers. Psychedelic drugs like psilocybin and Ecstasy are still illegal for street use and cannot be legally prescribed by doctors, but university administrators, government regulatory agencies, and private donors are once again giving the stamp of approval—and the money needed—for research into beneficial uses for this “sacred medicine.” For the full article, click here.

Similarly, a recent article by April M. Short in AlterNet describes research reported at the conference of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). She reports that “Today, in addition to other psychedelics and cannabis, MAPS continues to study the healing potential of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy on psychological and emotional damage caused by sexual assault, war, violent crime, and other traumas.” Continue reading

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How Managing Your Emotions Affects Anxiety

Screen shot 2013-05-25 at 10.55.04 AMPeople who anticipate and plan how they will deal positively with a difficult challenge or problem that they’re facing are likely to experience less anxiety, according to a new study. Here’s some empirical evidence that shows the damaging affects of denial, evasion or repression of troubling emotions — something well-known from clinical experience. Reported in the journal Emotion, the research suggests that the way you regulate your emotions, in bad times and in good, can influence whether — or how much — you suffer from anxiety. In a series of questionnaires, researchers asked 179 healthy men and women how they managed their emotions and how anxious they felt in various situations. The team analyzed the results to see if different emotional strategies were associated with more or less anxiety.

The study revealed that those who engage in an emotional regulation strategy Continue reading

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Redefining Success In Our Post-Careerist Culture

Screen shot 2013-05-13 at 10.11.16 AMNearly every week a new survey appears showing how stressed out workers are today. The damage is visible in its negative impact upon mental health, increased risk of disease and death, lower worker productivity and a range of other harmful consequences. One recent survey found that 83 percent of all workers report stress. That includes people of all ages, baby boomers to Millennials. The sources cited include too much work, insufficient pay, not enough time for rest or sleep, too little leisure time, co-worker conflicts and general work-life imbalance.

But most of those sources have a deeper origin that the surveys and research don’t tap into. Major changes in our society and world have created a “new normal” of continuous turmoil and disruption. This new environment is pushing both organizations and workers to redefine success beyond the long-prevailing rewards of money, power and position; and towards criteria less focused on self-interest but more adaptive to living and working within what is now a “post-careerist” culture. Much current stress reflects the strain of this growing transition. It’s inevitable and necessary.

That is, many men and women, along with the leadership of companies they work for, are already redefining success. The emerging criteria include Continue reading

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6 Keys to Well-Being and Growth Relevant to Life in Today’s Unpredictable World

Screen shot 2013-04-23 at 11.10.31 AMJim, who’s in his early 40s, consulted me about a troubling dilemma. He told me that he’s worked on himself for years, both with and without the help of therapists, and that he’s “tamed many demons” from the traumas and family dysfunctions he experienced growing up. He’s now living a stable and reasonably successful life. Yet he finds himself asking “Now what?” and “Is this it?” He explained that he’s learned to manage and cope pretty well with the residue of conflicts that had, in the past, derailed successful relationships as well as his career. Nevertheless, he feels trapped by the past actions that continue to have a shelf life. And, especially, he wants to experience a more fulfilling, expansive existence, beyond the “flat-lined comfortableness” that Cheryl, a 38-year-old small-business owner, described about her own life.

They and others reflect the impact of living in today’s world, especially since the new century began. Our lives now exist within a new normal of uncertainty and turmoil, of unpredictable events and rapid social change, as well as ever-evolving technology that infiltrates every aspect of daily life. This new environment raises an important question: What describes a fulfilling, positive and psychologically healthy life today? Moreover, what can you do to create it?

That’s where our traditional thinking and prescriptions fall short. Continue reading

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Daily Stress Affects Long-Term Mental Health

Screen shot 2013-04-06 at 10.51.03 AMOnce again, we find more evidence that daily stress has a long-term negative impact on mental health. Any research that highlights this fact is helpful, but it also draws attention to the role our social conditioning plays in generating the stress that debilitates mental health. And that’s not addressed as much as it should be. I’m referring to the ways we learn to behave in our public and private roles – in relationships, in our careers — that define “success,” and what you learn to do to achieve it, in ways that steadily create emotional conflicts. Without addressing those issues, which include over-emphasis on manipulation, self-centeredness, domination-submission struggles, to name a few — it’s difficult to describe what can support the “emotional balance,” the researchers cite as crucial for avoiding long-term emotional problems.

The latest research about this, published in the journal Psychological Science, was conducted by Susan Charles, UC Irvine professor of psychology and social behaviour, and her colleagues. Here’s what they reported:

Our emotional responses to the stresses of daily life may predict our long-term mental health. The research suggests that maintaining emotional balance is crucial to avoiding severe mental health problems down the road. The study examined this question: Do everyday irritations add up to make the straw that breaks the camel’s back, or do they make us stronger and “inoculate” us against later tribulations? Using data from two national, longitudinal surveys, the researchers found that participants’ negative emotional responses to daily stressors – such as arguments with a spouse or partner, conflicts at work, standing in long lines or sitting in traffic – predicted psychological distress and self-reported anxiety/mood disorders 10 years later. Continue reading

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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 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 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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Training Your Brain To Be Positive — More Evidence

Screen shot 2013-01-30 at 10.01.06 AMResearch continues to show that we are capable of “training” our brain towards greater compassion and empathy. This Wall Street Journal report  by Elizabeth Bernstein describes some findings that show ways to develop greater self-compassion and happiness in the context of everyday life – which always contains ups and downs. “Research shows self-compassionate people cope better with everything from a major relationship breakup to the loss of their car keys.” And, “you can learn self-compassion in real time. You can train your brain to focus on the positive—even if you’re wired to see the glass as half empty…We can’t change our genes or our experiences, but experts say we can change the way we interpret what has happened in the past.” Bernstein’s article follows:

Donna Talarico sat at her computer one morning, stared at the screen and realized she had forgotten—again!—her password. She was having financial difficulties at the time, and was reading self-help books to boost her mood and self-confidence. The books talked about the power of positive affirmation—which gave her an idea: Continue reading

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Loneliness Can Harm Your Overall Health

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A new study finds that loneliness has a negative impact on your immune system, and makes you more susceptible to illness. This should be no surprise: Everything is connected; we are one mind-body-spirit interwoven system, interconnected with the social and other “external” forces that shape our experience of life. The research, conducted at Ohio State University, was summarized in Science Daily as follows:

New research links loneliness to a number of dysfunctional immune responses, suggesting that being lonely has the potential to harm overall health. Researchers found that people who were more lonely showed signs of elevated latent herpes virus reactivation and produced more inflammation-related proteins in response to acute stress than did people who felt more socially connected.

These proteins signal the presence of inflammation, and chronic inflammation is linked to numerous conditions, including coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as the frailty and functional decline that can accompany aging. Reactivation of a latent herpes virus is known to be associated with stress, suggesting that loneliness functions as a chronic stressor that triggers a poorly controlled immune response. Continue reading

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Taking Down The Christmas Tree…With Elvis And My Kids

Screen shot 2013-01-09 at 11.26.22 AMAs I walked through the lobby of my office building the other day following some time off during the holidays, I noticed that the Christmas tree, the assorted little snowmen, the lights and other decorations were still up. I had a flashback to the time, many years ago, when my young children and I would gather together to put up — and then take down — the Christmas tree. It had become our little tradition. Until, that is, when it was no longer; when I had to dismantle it myself but just let it sit there, untouched. For along time.

Here’s what happened: From my children’s earliest years, on through my divorce and years as a single parent, we would gather together for a small party to decorate the tree. We’d join again to take it down on New Year’s Day, sort of like bookends to the holiday season; a transition into the new calendar year. We accompanied both events with playing songs from my old Elvis’ Christmas album, some treats for my kids and a big glass of wine for me. But over the years, my children grew and their interest faded. And it was hard for me to recognize and accept that.

I may sound like a sentimental, aging midlife father, but I still smile to myself recalling how enjoyable our tradition was for us for many years. It went like this: A couple of weeks before Christmas, after we set the tree up in its stand, we would retrieve the large shipping carton that contained the ornaments and lights from the previous year. But before doing anything, we would bring out some homemade cookies for the children and some good Bordeaux for me. And then, to initiate our decorating party, I would begin playing Elvis’ old Christmas album — an original copy, which I had bought as a teenager.

Though now in delicate condition, the old LP’s sound remained clear and vibrant on the stereo. My kids liked Elvis’ version of classic songs, like “Here Comes Santa Claus,” but also enjoyed his more adult rock numbers, like “Santa Bring My Baby Back To Me” or “Santa Claus Is Back In Town,” my own favorites.

As Elvis sang, we began Continue reading

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Stress Increases The Risk Of Death From Any Source

Research keeps accumulating that confirms the damaging impact of stress — all kinds — upon our mind/body/spirit. This analysis of several studies, reported in the British Medical Journal, sound that stress is linked with increased risk of death, from all sources. I think the larger issue that this highlights, indirectly, is that we are socially conditioned to adapt to values and behavior and a number of norms that, themselves, are unhealthy. That, in turn, generates a wide range of emotional and physical consequences. The report was summarized in MedPage today:

Even at low levels, psychological distress was significantly associated with an increased risk of mortality from several causes, researchers found.

A meta-analysis of 10 British cohort studies showed that the risk of all-cause mortality in adults with the lowest level of psychological distress — termed subclinically symptomatic — was significantly higher than that of asymptomatic adults at an age- and sex-adjusted hazard ratio of 1.20 (95% CI 1.13 to 1.27), Tom Russ, MRCPsych, of the National Health Service Scotland, and colleagues wrote online in BMJ.

The study measured the association of psychological distress with death by any cause, cardiovascular death, cancer death, and deaths from external causes using data from the Health Survey for England. The survey included data from 1994 to 2004 on 68,222 adults ages 35 or older, mean age 60 years, who were free of cardiovascular disease and cancer, and who lived in a private household in England at baseline.

Participants had measures of psychological distress taken at a household visit using a 12-item version of the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12) — a unidimensional scale of psychological distress that includes symptom measures for anxiety, depression, social dysfunction, and loss of confidence. Continue reading

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Green Leadership — What Is It?

Politically motivated politicians continue denying man-made climate change and it’s devastating harm. They reject the need for alternative energy sources that could stem the impact of greenhouse gas emissions. They gasp when hearing the word “sustainability.” They block efforts to deal with these or other significant challenges. Nevertheless, many businesses and even the military are seeking solutions to these threats to our economy, way of life, and our national security.

But creating successful, sustainable practices and policies, and the long-term vision they require is complex. The above challenges are interwoven with vested interests of those seeking deregulation or new tax laws that enables continued profit for themselves, at the expense of the larger society. Investment in infrastructure or human capital is ignored.

Positive solutions call for “green leadership.” In business, successful, sustainable practices rest upon an internal foundation, a mindset of emotional and mental perspectives, values and capacities. This mindset helps create sustainable, growth-oriented practices that contribute to long-term security and development for all.

In this post I describe what a green leadership mindset consists of. Part 2 describes what it looks like in practice, and how leaders can learn to build it.

Business and Military Organizations Embrace Reality

To better understand the rise of green leadership, consider that climate change is recognized and being addressed by many decision-makers, despite the deniers. For example, The Economist and others recently focused on the melting Arctic, the sea level rise and ways to deal with long-term implications. Companies research and invest in alternative energy technologies, and receive federal support, though the latter is opposed by fossil fuel-funded politicians, including Mitt Romney, who has called wind and solar power “…two of the most ballyhooed forms of alternative energy.” Nevertheless, research abounds. Companies continue to explore innovations for increasing solar energy efficiency, for example.

The military recognizes the national security threat Continue reading

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Resilience and Life Satisfaction

Some new research from Spain indicates that resiliency is associated with greater life satisfaction. I think this validates what can and should occur, and is reflective of positive mental health. However, I think the study is limited in two ways. First, it was done with young adult students, which does not take into account how the experiences of adult years and adult life impact the sense of resiliency and emotional control that one might demonstrate when it’s less tested. But beyond that, I think the study is limited by a view of resiliency that’s essentially reactive – focused on being able to “bounce back” to a previous state of equilibrium. In my view, that’s not as relevant to today’s turbulent world. The current environment requires much more pro-active, flexible behavior in the face of ongoing change; not just recovery from setbacks or trauma. That is, resiliency and life satisfaction will connect to the extent that the person is able to anticipate and deal with a “non-equilibrium” world. Here is the report of the Spanish study, Its summary states:

When confronted with adverse situations such as the loss of a loved one, some people never fully recover from the pain. Others, the majority, pull through and experiment how the intensity of negative emotions (e.g. anxiety, depression) grows dimmer with time until they adapt to the new situation. A third group is made up of individuals whose adversities have made them grow personally and whose life takes on new meaning, making them feel stronger than before.

Researchers at the Basic Psychology Unit at Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona analysed the responses of 254 students from the Faculty of Psychology in different questionnaires. The purpose was to evaluate their level of satisfaction with life and find connections between their resilience and their capacity of emotional recovery, one of the components of emotional intelligence which consists in the ability to control one’s emotions and those of others.

Research data shows that students who are more resilient, 20% of those surveyed, are more satisfied with their lives and are also those who believe they have control over their emotions and their state of mind. Resilience therefore has a positive prediction effect on the level of satisfaction with one’s life.

Some of the characteristics of being resilient can be worked on and improved, such as self-esteem and being able to regulate one’s emotions. Learning these techniques can offer people the resources needed to help them adapt and improve their quality of life”, explains Dr Joaquin T Limonero, professor of the UAB Research Group on Stress and Health at UAB and coordinator of the research.

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Music And Life…

Some interesting reflections on how music can impact your life, from Mark Edmundson, Professor of English at the University of Virginia, and author of Why Read? This essay, “Can Music Save Your Life?,” was published in The Chronicle of Higher Education. He writes:

Who hasn’t at least once had the feeling of being remade through music? Who is there who doesn’t date a new phase in life to hearing this or that symphony or song? I heard it – we say – and everything changed. I heard it, and a gate flew open and I walked through. But does music constantly provide revelation or does it have some other effects, maybe less desirable?

For those of us who teach, the question is especially pressing. Our students tend to spend hours a day plugged into their tunes. Yet, at least in my experience, they are reluctant to talk about music. They’ll talk about sex, they’ll talk about drugs but rock ‘n’ roll, or whatever else they may be listening to, is off-limits. What’s going on there?

When I first heard Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” in 1965, not long after it came out, I was amazed. At the time, I liked to listen to pop on the radio, the Beatles were fine, the Stones were better. But nothing I’d heard until then prepared me for Dylan’s song. It had all the fluent joy of a pop number, but something else was going on too. This song was about lyrics: language. Dylan wasn’t chanting some truism about being in love or wanting to get free or wasted for the weekend. He had something to say. He was exasperated. He was pissed off. He’d clearly been betrayed by somebody, or a whole nest of somebodies, and he was letting them have it. His words were exuberantly weird and sometimes almost embarrassingly inventive and I didn’t know what they all meant. “You used to ride on the chrome horse with your diplomat / Who carried on his shoulder a Siamese cat.” Chrome horse? Diplomat? What?

I sensed Dylan’s disdain and his fury, but the song suggested way more than it declared. This was a sidewinder of a song, intense and angry, but indirect and riddling too. I tried to hear every line. Dylan’s voice seemed garbled, and our phonograph wasn’t new. I can still see myself with my head cocked to the spindle, eyes clenched, trying to shut out the room around me as I strained to grab the words from the harsh melodious wind of the song. “Ain’t it hard when you discovered that / He really wasn’t where it’s at / After he took from you everything he could steal.”

Click here to read the full piece.

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Why Obama and Romney Both Misunderstand “The American Dream”

As Romney begins his pivot, he and President Obama are highlighting their competing visions for growing prosperity and riches: One, building from the bottom up; the other, trickling from the top down. The data show that Obama’s argument is more correct, but don’t look for any bipartisan compromise towards creating a sane fiscal policy. Nor, for that matter, towards progress on any other major issues. From a political psychology perspective, one can interpret the policies adovcated by the Republicans as increasingly extreme and reactionary. They are likely to create suffering for large segments of society. At the same time, the party is resuscitating social issues from decades ago.

These have dangerous consequences, and you can’t help wondering what’s driving their positions with such zeal. There are many sources, but a major one is psychological. It has three strands which culminate in policies that pervert what politicians like to call The American Dream the possibility for all members of society to build a successful and fulfilling life. But that dream is increasingly pointed towards the few who can become rich, at the expense of the many. Let’s look at the three psychological strands that underlie that twist, and how they impact peoples work and lives.

Little Boys Play-Acting As Grown-Ups

The younger Republicans often sound like little boys making demands and arguments that they imagine big, grown-up men do and say when they have power, like I will have my way, and you must obey me. Interestingly, most of them are baby boomers now in their midlife years. Perhaps this reflects a psychological and cultural theme of this generation worth exploring. But their posturing does appear to reflect a twisted sense of what it means to be a psychologically mature adult man, who — in reality — must be able to engage with collaboratively to achieve anything. Continue reading

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Awakening Your True Self Within Your False Self

Some readers have asked me to elaborate more on what I wrote inmy previous post, regarding the self within the self. Here, I explain that a bit more, emphasizing the growing links between Western science and Eastern perspectives about consciousness and the physical universe.

In the previous post I mentioned that George EliotwroteinMiddlemarch: Its never too late to be what you might have been. Of course, it can be hard to realize what that is, exactly, especially when what you might have beenyour true selfhas become smothered by the life events and experiences that formed your external, false self. Nevertheless, most people have glimmers of awareness, moments in which you experienced the real you. Many occur at key turning points in your life when you chose, or were persuaded, to go this direction vs. that.

You cant reverse times arrow, but you can revisit turning points and learn something about yourself that you might reclaim and incorporate into who you can become. Within this perspective, an inherent, true self exists within your external self. And, this underlying self is part of a vast, interconnected whole that our minds, bodies and spirits always know at some level.

This perspective reflects a confluence of several streams of new knowledge and thinking. It includes research aboutpersonalityand behavior change; the distinction between consciousness, the mind, thebrain, and their relation to consciousness; and knowledge of the structure of the universe, of which our organisms are fragments, intelligent stardust, animated by a life force that seeks expression itself through our evolution.

Interestingly, this new research and emerging viewpoints are joining Western science with ancient Eastern teachings. They indicate Continue reading

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Life’s Turning Points: The Mystery of the Self Within Your Self

While driving in my car the other day I heard an old song that instantly transported me to a vivid scene in my life. Im a not-yet teenager, sitting in the kitchen and having an after-school snack. I reach for the radio to tune in a Yankees baseball game, as I usually did (back then, games still played in the daytime). But for the first time, I hesitated. Instead, I turned the dial to a rock and roll station.

I recall feeling at that moment that something had just shifted in my sense of who I was; who I was becoming. I believe it was more than just the rumblings of impendingadolescence, or thinking about that new girl in class. It was a new awareness about who this self was, inside me; that I was no longer just the person I thought I was a moment before. It was a turning point in my consciousness about myself.

We experience many turning points in our lives, whenever we shift direction this way or that. Perhaps a decision about a relationship, or what interests to pursue. Maybe about an educational orcareerchoice. Some turning points are conscious, others less so; some may be imposed by family or other persuasive people. But all involve turningawayfrom one path, andtowardsanother. And they shape theselfthat you experience and define as you, along the way.

In my work, I often ask people to describe what they think were the positive and negative consequences from their key turning points, because theres always a message contained in what you turned away from, or towards. Its a message from Continue reading

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The End Of Mental Health — And Why That’s Good

The idea of mental healthas we know ithas reached a dead end. It doesn’t describe much of anything relevant to people’s lives today. If you Google “mental health,” most of what comes up describes mentalillness, not mentalhealth. Both practitioners and researchers focus more onunderstandingand treating emotional disturbance, than on describing what health is or how to build it.

That’s good, actually, because it opens the door to a needed, broad re-thinking of what psychological health looks like in today’s worldin your emotions, thoughts, attitudes, values and behavior. In this post I explain what’s brought us to this dead-end, and I sketch some features of psychological health that reflect new challenges and realities of today’s tumultuous world.

First, let’s look at why we’re at this dead-end. The aims of treatment for emotional conflictswhether via medications,psychotherapyor a combination of the twohave been, in essence, goodmanagement, coping and adaptation. That is, management of emotional conflicts that create dysfunction and symptoms like depression and anxiety. Coping withstressor sustained conflict in your work, relationships and other parts of your life. And good adaptation or adjustment to the norms, values and conventional behavior of the society or group you’re part of. Thosegoalsare useful, per se, but there are three problems with them. One is that Continue reading
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Why the Republicans’ View of “Success” Is a Path to Self-Destruction

After watching the recent Republican debates, last week’s New Hampshire primary and the campaigning since then, I’m convinced that the GOP is on a path to self-destruction. And that’s regrettable. It deprives the country of a serious debate over different views about the roles of government, business, labor and citizens in general in dealing with the problems we face. Of course, that debate would assume that there’s an agreed-upon set of realities about the current world.

Unfortunately, that’s a tall order. It’s more likely that Mitt Romney, if he’s the candidate, and his party will present a vision that’s largely disconnected from — even denies — facts and realities about today’s world. Therefore, they’re likely to offer solutions to problems that derive from their alternate reality.

One way to explain this oddity is from a political psychology perspective. That is, let’s examine the emotional attitudes and beliefs that may underlie the Republican Party’s view of reality and the solutions they offer to problems as they define them. For example, the party appears wedded to a singular view of what “success” in life is, and should be. And yet, that vision is increasingly disconnected from emerging new realities. Those point to the need for a broader, more inclusive view of success in today’s world, and how to achieve it.

The New Normal

You’ve probably noticed the following: Continue reading

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Hoping For Good Sex During The Holidays…But Disappointed? Here’s Why

You might have been looking forward to this holiday season as a time for more exciting sex with your partner. Like many, you might have been hoping that a holiday schedule would create the right atmosphere for some good, maybe even great sex. But, like many, you may feel disappointed that it hasn’t happened. And you wonder why.

I’m often asked that question by men and women who feel puzzled about why things didn’t go so well, just when the situation seemed ideal. It’s ironic, they think, because they’re absorb the flood of advice and prescriptions for having super sex out there. The magazine covers touting “10 new techniques to drive him/her wild;” the online e-zines like Your Tango or Libido for Life. Some of the advice is pretty sound, like that from the respected sociologist of sexual relations, Pepper Schwartz, or the advice on sexual matters that’s useful for both straights and gays from Dan Savage. But there’s so much more that’s not so good. It touts juvenile-sounding, superficial advice.

In fact, the majority of the advice, strategies and techniques overlook the core of a sustaining, mutually energized sexual connection: It’s Continue reading

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Does Your Midlife Feel Like Just “A Long Slide Home?”

That’s how a man in his 50s described his life to me not long ago: “It’s my long slide home.” He was feeling morose, anticipating the long holiday period from Thanksgiving through the New Year and what he knew it would arouse in him. I often see the “holiday blues” strike people during this time of multiple holidays (Hanukkah and Christmas; as well asAshurah,Bodhi Day, andKwanzaa). The tendency to reflect and take stock of one’s life often triggers sadness, regret, or depression — especially during midlife.

For example, this time of year can intensify feelings of losses you’ve experienced as well as fears about change, in general. In aprevious postI described how you can become frozen into a mindset and perspective that your life is fixed and will spiral downward from your middle years onward. Such a mentality restricts your vision. You can’t see that it’s possible — and necessary — to continue evolving your life, while reframing your emotional attitudes about the life changes that will continue to occur. I’ve always liked a line from one of Norman Mailer’snovels, “It is a law of life… that one must grow, or else pay more for remaining the same.”

Many of 78 million baby boomers, now in the thick of midlife, are vulnerable to feeling demoralized about their lives. For some Continue reading

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The Spiritual Similarities Between Steve Jobs and George Harrison

The day Steve Jobs died — Oct. 5 — coincided with HBO’s broadcast of the first part of Martin Scorsese’sdocumentaryon the life of George Harrison, “Living In The Material World.” That conjunction of events brought to mind some interesting parallels between the lives of Jobs and Harrison. I think we can learn something of value about their life journeys — their ups and downs, their losses and transitions during their middle years and… how they handled the prospect of death.

Both moved through and beyond their young adult years along different yet similar paths. Their examples highlight the importance of deciding what you choose to live and work for; and how your choices impact the world, as you grow towards becoming a full adult.

Knowing what it means to become an adult is especially crucial once you’ve entered your 30s and the decades beyond. That’s when the core challenge of life looms large: Discovering and acting upon what has lasting value, as opposed to embracing impermanent, superficial or illusory goals. That is, awakening to what really matters to you, and then pursuing it with passion, conviction and focus.

Both Jobs and Harrison appear to have discovered Continue reading

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Research Finds That “Nice Guys” Are Less Successful — But Is That So?

A recent study reported that “nice guys” who are “agreeable” achieve less success in their careers than those who are more rude, dominating, aggressive, hostile and dismissive of others. But is that so? I think the researchers’ findings reflect some confusion about the traits and behavior that underlie the most productive and successful careers and companies in today’s evolving workplace.

A team from Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Notre Dame and the University of Western Ontario conducted the study. They surveyed people’s self-reported descriptions of their level of “agreeableness.” The researchers found that men who rated themselves “highly agreeable” earned less money than men who described themselves as less so — on average, about 18 percent less annually. The gap was found among women as well, but to a lesser degree. Regarding these findings, one of the study’s co-authors, Beth A. Livingston, concluded that “Nice guys are getting the shaft.”

But how, exactly, did the researchers define “nice” or “agreeable” in the study? Moreover, it’s notable that defined “success” solely in terms of income, and that may not be the criteria that everyone uses — especially since the post-2008 crash.

The researchers asked the participants to rate themselves along several related dimensions, such as “agreeable” vs. “quarrelsome;” “difficult” vs. “cooperative;” and “stubborn vs. flexible.” One problem with this is Continue reading

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Baby Boomer At Midlife? Why Your Relationship May Not Survive

Whether you’re entering a new relationship or hoping to resurrect your existing — but flagging — relationship, the upheavals and changes of midlife can make anyone pretty apprehensive about what lies ahead. Thats particularly true for many of the 78 million baby boomers who face a long stretch of middle years with greater health, new desires for personal growth, but no so much certainty about what keeps a love relationship alive for the long run.

I think what helps support a long-term, positive relationship through midlife is not so much finding the righttechniques– for good communication, compromise, and so forth. We know how many of those are available in all the self-help books crowding bookstore shelves. Instead, its building your relationship’sspiritualcore. By that I mean your sense of purpose and life goals as a couple; and dealing with how your values and ideals change and evolve over the years. The challenge is whether these and other spiritual dimensions remain in synch over your years together.

In this post I describe a path that can help build (or resuscitate) your relationship’s spiritual connection. Continue reading

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Overcome the Maladies of Midlife By Transforming What “Loss” and “Change” Mean

Despite the volumes of books and magazine articles advising midlife baby boomers how to prolong or renew their health, happiness and vitality, I continue to hear many of them tell me about feelings of stagnation and loss. Or worse, a sense of being on “a long slide home,” as one 50-something put it.

For example:

  • You happened to catch an old episode of“Sesame Street”or“Mister Rogers”on TV, and you felt engulfed by a wave of nostalgia and loss over your children, who are now grown and building their own lives without you.
  • You worry about whether your career has peaked, especially when you’re reminded every day of the hordes of younger people coming up right behind you — or who’ve now moved ahead of you.
  • You’re divorced and dealing with new challenges as a single person.
  • Or, you’re married/with a partner, but feelings of passion and intimacy have faded like autumn leaves.
  • You’re stressed about your financial future in your later years, given our economic uncertainty.

I think there’s a core reason why such feelings and experiences aren’t helped all that much by the midlife guides and programs out there: We’ve learned to experience midlife through Continue reading

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Abusive Bosses And Unhealthy Management Take An Enormous Toll

“I’ll tell you what thereal problem is,” Ralph told me with a confident smile. “I’m a high-level performer. But most everyone around me – my peers, direct reports, uppermanagement – they’re incompetents, jerks, or total idiots. Take your pick.”

“This company values incompetence,” he continued. “That’s the real problem. That shows you how screwed-up it is. But they’re telling me thatI’m the problem! ThatI need help? It’s the people upstairs that need it!” He shook his head in dismay.

Sound familiar? People like Ralph are all too common in companies today. He illustrates just one type of abusive boss, often part of an overall unhealthy management culture that takes an enormous toll on both workers and business success.

In this post I describe some examples of that toll in today’sworkplace culture and point towards some ways to deal with them — ways that require something different from the usual coping andstressmanagement strategies.

You might guess, correctly, that Ralph was oblivious to the fact that his description of others was how his co-workers and subordinates described him. One of his colleagues had e-mailed him after their last encounter, saying “If you ever set foot in my office again, I’ll throw your ass right out the window.” Ralph dismissed that with a wave of his hand, saying, “That’s typical – he’s threatened by me because he knows I’m leagues beyond him. Always have been.”

Ralph is a senior executive and, in fact, a high-level performer in his company. But his abusive management and poor relationships were generating a growing chorus of complaints. To its credit, his company wanted to salvage rather than fire him, and offered him anexecutive coaching program. But Ralph saw this aspunishment.

Of course there are psychological roots to behavior like Ralph’s. But that doesn’t matter much to the people who have to deal with the consequences on a daily basis. Continue reading

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Why People Are Caught Between Public Lies And Private Truths

The latest “sex and power” scandals flashing across the media in the last few weeks underscore just how commonplace, even repetitive, they’ve become. Some are new, like the sexual assault charges against former IMF President Dominique Strauss-Kahn, or Arnold Schwarzenegger’s revelation that he had fathered a child with a former member of the household staff. Some are recycling, like John Edwards’ indictment or Newt Gingrich’s presidential aspirations, which revivememories about hislying about an affair while impeaching President Clinton for lying about an affair.

The list goes on, the latest being the Anthony Weiner’s “rolling disclosure” episode. TheWashington Post recently compiled may of the scandals into anice summary –for those who are interested in keeping track.

But I think this steady stream of sex-related scandals is just the most titillating and graphic part of something more widespread and troublesome in the lives of many men and women today: the gap between people’spublic lies andprivate truths.

That is, many people live with contradictions between their inner lives (the truths about their desires, emotional experience,self-image and ideals) and what they do with those truths behind the scenes, hidden from view (their private selves), and the lives they conduct publically, in theircareer paths, their relationships with their families or others they deal with and the positions they espouse or advocate (their public selves).

Public lies that contradict private truths have been part of our culture for some time. But in my work with people over the last few decades, I’ve seen it grow more rapidly since 9/11 and the economic/political events of the last few years. As I reflected on the reasons for this gap, how it damages people and our society, Continue reading

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