Tag Archives: resilience

Your View of the Future: It Can Increase Your Mental Health….Or Create Depression

Screen Shot 2015-06-30 at 10.14.00 AMJune 30, 2015

If you’re suffering from depression, you’re likely to believe that your emotional state generates negative thoughts and expectations about the future. After all, depression can color everything, so it’s natural to assume that a negative outlook reflects your depressed mood. And that’s the conventional thinking among most of us in the mental health professions, as well. But for many people the reality is the other way around: It’s how you envision the future that can make you depressed.

A new study supports this. I was happy to come across it because it’s what I’ve observed and emphasized for years: Your vision of your future “self” shapes your mental health. Specifically, a positive vision of what you aspire towards –– a picture of what you’re aiming for, a sense of new possibility –– acts like a kind of psychological magnet. It pulls you towards it, helping you find the path that will take you there. Picturing what you strive towards can feel as though it has tether connected to you, steadily tugging you towards it. That generates positive energy and wellbeing.

But if you lack that vision of possibility, you’re likely to remain more stuck if you’re already depressed. Or you may become depressed, as the new research shows. And even if you’re not, you’ll tend to feel stagnant and flat-lined about some important dimension of your life –– your relationship, your career, your sense of purpose.

The study I referred to was published in the British Journal of Clinical Psychology and conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania. It concluded that a pessimistic view of the future may not be the result of depression but the cause of it. The researchers found that three kinds of pictures of the future, or “prospection,” can drive depression:

  • poor generation of possible futures
  • poor evaluation of possible future
  • negative beliefs about the future

According to the researchers, “Prospection belongs front and center in the study of depression…(and) that faulty prospection does drive depression. An understanding of how prospection shapes psychopathology may enable researchers to create more effective treatments and help distressed individuals to create brighter futures.”

Credit: Triometric


Positive Emotions Are Linked With Long-Term, Healthy Life

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This should be obvious, but it’s good to see another study showing the links between how we deal with stress and the ups and downs of life, emotionally; and our body’s inflammatory response. The level of inflammation affects many forms of disease. It’s significant for our long-term health.

This study, conducted by researchers at Penn State, and summarized in this report, found that adults who fail to maintain positive moods such as cheerfulness or calm when faced with the minor stressors of everyday life have elevated levels of inflammation. 

I think this research is particularly important because it shows that “resilience” to stress is more than the capacity to absorb, handle, and rebound in the face of stressful experiences. It also includes a pro-active mentality; a positive outlook and positive emotions in the face of life’s conflicts, negative experiences and unpredictability. That mental and emotional orientation plays a key role in the body’s level of inflammatory response when we’re stressed.

That is, the research showed that the frequency of daily stressors, in and of itself, was less consequential for inflammation than how an individual reacted to those stressors. “A person’s frequency of stress may be less related to inflammation than responses to stress,” said lead author Nancy Sin. “It is how a person reacts to stress that is important.” These findings add to growing body of evidence regarding the health implications of emotional response to daily stressors. 

In the short-term, with illness or exercise, the body experiences a high immune response to help repair itself. However, in the long term, heightened inflammatory immune responses may not be healthy. Individuals who have trouble regulating their responses may be at risk for certain age-related conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, frailty and cognitive decline, Sin said. “Positive emotions, and how they can help people in the event of stress, have really been overlooked,” Sin added.

Click here for the full summary from Penn State.

Credit: CPD Archive


Workers With a “Spirit of Life” Are More Productive – At Any Age

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Are the most energized and creative workers young, per se; or are they “young at heart?” A new study sheds some light on this: It found that your own sense of yourself; your overall attitude about life influences your work. I describe the findings below, but the study brings to mind that we often speak of the “spirit of youth” when describing an older person who conveys vitality, passion and engagement. However, I think it’s more accurate to think of that spirit as a spirit about life itself. It may be more embodied within or visible among younger people, but I attribute that to this: Many people in our culture enter a long descent into emotional, creative and spiritual stagnation — via the values of a self-centered, overly materialistic society. That’s what I see in so many of the people who have come to me for help – either for personal issues or career-related conflicts.

The study, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, was described in The British Psychological Society’s publication, Research Digest, and it concludes that If you want a dynamic workforce, seek not the young, but the young at heart. The study surveyed over 15,000 employees from 107 companies to determine how subjective age influences workplace performance. It found that employees who felt substantially younger than their chronological age were more successful in meeting the goals they’d promised their managers they would achieve. Companies with more of these “young at heart” employees also tended to perform better overall, in terms of financial performance, efficiency and a longer tenured workforce. The survey also showed that organizations tended to have more young at heart workers when they offered both age-inclusive policies and, on average, their employees felt that their work was more important and meaningful.

This raises questions about what’s needed to counter that long descent that I described above. Among the possibilities are more meaningful, engaging work, which can enable people feel more vibrant and experience some impact upon the consequences of their contribution. When workers can feel young, energized by their work — and not judged and stereotyped — that facilitates the kind of dynamic performance thought to be limited to younger workers…until they begin that slow descent into stagnation.

Credit: Pharic Crawford 


The Fake Workaholic

Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 11.23.35 AMMay 12, 2015

This recent article by New York Times writer Neil Irwin caught my attention: He describes a study of the workaholic culture within one large consulting company. The study, from Boston University, found that “Some of the people ostensibly turning in those 80- or 90-hour workweeks, particularly men, may just be faking it.” The findings were based on just that one company, but it does raise the possibility that workers in other companies that promote — or require — a workaholic culture may also be publicly pretending to embrace the long hours regimen.

But to me, these findings raise, implicitly, a deeper problem: Our career and organizational cultures require men and women to adapt and embrace a view of “success” defined by steady, singular pursuit of position, power and financial reward — via workaholic behavior. That, despite substantial evidence that the latter leads to diminished productivity, innovation and employee commitment; despite the pervasive stress among employees, which underlie a wide range of illness — emotional and physical; and despite — no surprise — surveys that show tremendous employee dislike, dissatisfaction and conflict with the culture and management of their organizations. Irwin alludes to an aspect of this at the end of his article, writing, “Maybe it’s that too many companies reward the wrong things, favoring the illusion of extraordinary effort over actual productivity.”

Interestingly, the study found that people who were “passing” as workaholics “…received performance reviews that were as strong as their hyper-ambitious colleagues. For people who were good at faking it, there was no real damage done by their lighter workloads.” Moreover, “…women, particularly those with young children, were much more likely to request greater flexibility through more formal means, such as returning from maternity leave with an explicitly reduced schedule. Men who requested a paternity leave seemed to be punished come review time, and so may have felt more need to take time to spend with their families through those unofficial methods.”

Those additional findings highlight the deeper, pervasive theme I raised above: Our cultural norm that equates a successful adult life with embracing a workaholic and psychologically unhealthy workplace culture has ongoing destructive impact –to individuals, but also to the long-term viability of organizations in this fast-evolving era of rapid change and the rise of younger generations and their view of work, life, and what they are seeking in both realms.

For Irwin’s full article, click here.

Credit: Peter Arkle



The Enduring Impact of Loss…In Love and Life

Screen shot 2014-12-23 at 12.30.09 PMApril 28, 2015

As a young boy living in upstate New York, I loved roaming through the nearby woods and fields by myself, on summer days. One sunny afternoon I came upon a tall, thick-trunked tree that had a deep scar on it’s lower portion. It looked like it had been struck by lightning some years before, and was damaged there. Yet it continued to grow.

That memory came to mind recently, as I reflecting on experiences of loss in our relationships and lives, over time; and what endures from them. I recall an essay by the novelist Walter Mosley, who wrote about an awakening, as a small child – his first “mystery.” He described a memory of his three-year-old self in the backyard of his parents’ house, in which he realized, “These must be my parents” and he called out to them. “My mother nodded. My father said my name. Neither touched me, but I had learned by then not to expect that.”

He described ”an emptiness in my childhood that I filled up with fantasies,” and noted that “the primitive heart that remembers is, in a way, eternal.” Interestingly, Mosley grew into the acclaimed mystery novelist he is, today.

Sometimes an unexpected event triggers a memory of a once-meaningful adult relationship. It may have faded over time, but had etched itself onto our soul. For example, the writer Lee Montgomery described a drop-in visit by the son of her first lover, with whom she had many romantic and adventurous experiences in her early youth, during the 1970s. “When I think of Ian, I think of endless days hanging out in the woods and fields around our New England prep schools, sucking dope out of a metal chamber pipe. Ian showed me the world and taught me to live in it. New York City. The Great West. And Europe, where we lived for several months during his first college year abroad.”

Eventually, their relationship ended. She went on with her life, married, began a career. He inherited money, married, “…had no career that I knew of and shot himself when he was in his 30s.”

The son, quite young at the time his father committed suicide, was now about the age Montgomery when she and his father were lovers. He had dropped by her office hoping to hear some stories of what his father was like. Montgomery describes how fresh and alive the memories felt to her, as she drew into them: “Sitting across a booth studying this young man, I was overwhelmed. So many years later, I was stunned to find the feeling of first love still there.” Continue reading


5 Essential Mind-Body-Behavior Practices That Enhance Everything

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Evidence from both clinical observations and empirical research increasingly confirms that how you engage your entire being in the world significantly impacts your physical, mental, emotional and relationship health. Moreover, each of several life practices enhances the others; they are synergistic. Let’s look at some:

Cultivating a positive outlook is associated with a healthier heart and lower incidence of osteoporosis. This study of 5100 adults from the University of Illinois found that “Individuals with the highest levels of optimism have twice the odds of being in ideal cardiovascular health compared to their more pessimistic counterparts,” according to lead author Rosalba Hernandez. And, “This association remains significant, even after adjusting for socio-demographic characteristics and poor mental health.”

Similarly, research conducted by the University of Eastern Finland found that post-60 year old women who have higher levels of satisfaction with their lives were found to have higher bone density, and suffer less frequently from osteoporosis than those who are more unsatisfied with life. The study, published in Psychosomatic Medicine,assessed life satisfaction by looking at such factors as “interest in and easiness of life, happiness, and loneliness,” as reported in an AAAS summary. Although the study focused on women, men, as well, suffer from osteoporosis; and more significantly, would experience greater overall health with a positive mentality about life.

And still another study finds that people who experience positive emotions also have greater longevity, as do those who express self-determination in life.

Western empirical science is validating the benefits of such Eastern mind-body-spirit practices as meditation and yoga. 
Their benefits have been well known to practitioners, but they are now increasingly embraced in the West because the evidence from research makes their benefits more “believable” and acceptable to Western thinking.

Two recent examples: Continue reading


A Positive Mentality About Life Increases Both Cardiovascular and Bone Health

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February 3, 2015

Do you want to increase your heart health and keep your bones strong throughout your lifetime? Cultivating a positive mentality about life helps, according to new research findings. Such studies add to accumulating data that your emotional, mental and spiritual states are interwoven with your physical wellbeing. We’re seeing Western empirical science steadily confirm what’s been observed and known about the mind/body/spirit interconnection within the ancient Eastern traditions.

One new study found a strong connection between optimism – a generally positive outlook on life – and cardiovascular health. This study of 5100 adults from the University of Illinois found that “Individuals with the highest levels of optimism have twice the odds of being in ideal cardiovascular health compared to their more pessimistic counterparts,” according to lead author Rosalba Hernandez. And, “This association remains significant, even after adjusting for socio-demographic characteristics and poor mental health.”

Optimists had significantly better blood sugar and total cholesterol levels than their counterparts. They also were more physically active, had healthier body mass indexes and were less likely to smoke, according to the research, published in Health Behavior and Policy Review. This was the first study to examine the association of optimism and cardiovascular health in a large, ethnically and racially diverse population.

According to Hernandes, “This evidence…suggests that prevention strategies that target modification of psychological well-being — e.g., optimism — may be a potential avenue for…improving Americans’ cardiovascular health.”

Similarly, research conducted Continue reading


Why A Family Tradition Had To End…And The Life Lesson It Taught

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January 13, 2015

After the holidays, discarded Christmas trees appear on the streets of my neighborhood. They’re left curbside, awaiting the special trash pickup. Seeing them, denuded and shorn of their holiday ornaments, I always feel a bit pensive, along with a tinge of humor, as I recall a Christmas tree tradition my then-young children and I had years ago. Each year we’d gather together for a special ritual we had created around putting up, and eventually taking down the Christmas tree.

It had begun when we were still an intact family. And it continued for some years, post-divorce, until, that is, a time came when their flagging interest got my attention. It happened one post-holiday year when I realized that I’d have to do the dismantling part by myself. But instead, I let it just sit there for a very long time, even as the dry tree kept shedding its needles and became, well…a fire hazard.

The back-story: Beginning in my children’s earliest years, and on through my divorce and Continue reading


Post-Holiday Loneliness? It Has Many Sources — Here’s What May Help

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January 5, 2015

I was standing in a bar and watching all the people there
Oh the loneliness in this world well it’s just not fair

 — Brian Wilson, “Love and Mercy”

Holiday seasons often intensify feelings of loneliness for many – even if you’re in a crowded bar, as in Brian Wilson’s song, or in an unfulfilling relationship. Aside from what some people experience during holidays, loneliness can intensify at any point in the year. And it can have different roots for different people.

For example, Anne, a therapy patient, tells me that she’s felt lonely throughout her life. Growing up with an alcoholic mother and sometimes-present father, her intimate relationships have been brief and her friends, few, throughout her adult years. Now in her early 40s, she’s suffered from one physical ailment after another.

Another patient, Brian, has an active social life with friends and business associates, as well as a long-term marriage and an extended family. Despite this apparently full relationship life, he speaks of feeling lonely “right in the midst of everyone around me…something always feels missing.” Brian, too, suffers from frequent illnesses and allergies.

That both have physical complaints isn’t surprising, since our mind/body/spirit are all one. Each “part” affects each other “part.” In fact, some new research underscores this. It finds that loneliness can weaken your immune system, which then sets the stage for a range of physical illnesses. Continue reading


The Lasting Damage From Childhood Psychological Abuse


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December 2, 2014

The findings of a recent study from the American Psychological Association are right on target: “Given the prevalence of childhood psychological abuse and the severity of harm to young victims, it should be at the forefront of mental health.” The study confirms that childhood psychological abuse has lasting, significant damage, equal to or exceeding the long-term consequences of physical abuse.

Psychological abuse is less visible than the examples of physical abuse that often appear in the media. That can keep one’s awareness of it under the radar, but there are many forms of psychological abuse that parents subject their children to. Among them are:

  • Indifference — to the child’s needs or temperament, which may be different from his or her siblings.
  • Humiliation – when the child fails at a task or misunderstands instructions.
  • Denigration – negative description of something the child achieves or expresses interest in.
  • Neglect – failing to provide essential emotional support or recognition of the child’s needs.
  • Unrelenting pressure — to serve parental expectations, often accompanied by negative comparisons of the child to others who “follow the program.”

Any of the forms of psychological abuse may be fueled by the parent’s own self-hatred, jealousy, narcissism or other pathology. Some illustrations:

The child runs to the parent, saying, “Look at my new drawing!” or “See what I did for this school project!” and receives a curt, dismissive, “Don’t bother me now. I’m working on something important.” Failure to take a brief moment’s interruption for the child, will have negative emotional impact, and can accumulate.

The parent who consistently and vocally praises one child, while ignoring or criticizing the child’s sibling. For example “Wow, what you did is amazing! You are so talented!” But to the child’s sibling, regarding something similar, perhaps a flat “That’s nice.” And sometimes the parent may give both responses in the presence of the both siblings. An observer could see the crestfallen expression in the face of the second child.

The parent who never complements the child, alive in the memory of a grown man who, for example, vividly recalls that when he proudly dressed up for his school prom as a teenager, he received a look-over from one of his parents, who offered just one comment: “Your pants cuffs are too short.”

And then there are the classics:

“You’ll never amount to anything! You’re worthless!”

“You’re nothing but trouble! I wish you were never born!”

“Why can’t you be more like your (sister/brother/a neighbor’s child?)” Continue reading


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


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


Why Do We Enjoy Sad Music?

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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.



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


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


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.”



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


“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.



Cynical? You’re Increasing Your Risk Of Dementia

Screen shot 2014-06-09 at 11.08.56 AM

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


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.”


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


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


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.


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.



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


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


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


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.



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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.


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


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.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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.


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.


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


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


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