Dr. Deborah Chiles,  Psych Consulting 

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Taking Risk

Posted on January 6, 2019 at 12:00 AM

We thought you might be interested in the following article about taking risk, published on the Huffingtonpost website.

Follow the URL link below to find out why author Julie Zeilinger links taking risk to achieving success. 


7 Reasons Why Risk-Taking Leads To Success

Posted 08/13/2013  03:15 PM ET| Updated 09/25/2017

Staying Mentally Fit

Posted on February 23, 2018 at 3:20 PM Comments comments (1)

We thought that you may find this excerpt from an article posted on the Psychology Today website to be insightful. View the article in its entirety at the URL below.



Staying Mentally Fit

Changing how you think about depression—it’s not just about the medicine.

Posted Feb 20, 2018

“When I was depressed I couldn’t motivate myself to do the things that make me feel good. When I was feeling better, I didn’t think about restarting them. I guess I need to change how I think about my depression: there’s depressed; there’s not depressed; then there’s working to keep myself healthy.”


The difference between fitness and treatment of an illness:


Healthy living is something most of us strive for. To keep people motivated to stay in shape, the fitness industry is forever coming up with new gadgets, developing new diet and exercise programs. Keeping in shape, however, is not the same as treating an illness. You don’t tell someone who is having an exercise-induced asthma attack to keep on pedaling. And you don’t tell someone who is depressed to be happy or socialize more. You would be ignoring the fact that this person is suffering right now and needs to treat the asthma so they can breathe, in order to be able to exercise. Just as the depression needs to be treated for the person to be able to “be happier” and socialize more.


I had been working with Laura, a woman in her 30’s, for about a year and a half when she was diagnosed with lymphoma. She was married and had two children in grade school when she was diagnosed. Laura would describe herself as a strong person that can handle almost anything that is thrown at her.


Starting at a young age, when she was in grade school, she would escape the chaos and neglect at home by going on day-long bike rides. “Sometimes I would see a parent playing with their daughter in the playground and I would go over and ask to play. I would point in the general direction of a building nearby and tell them that I lived right over there, so my mom can watch me from the window.”


The first time she remembers being treated for depression was when she was in college, just after her father died. “I was so down all I wanted to do was sleep. I stopped going to classes and spent most of my time getting high. I didn’t know what to do so I went to the student counseling center for therapy. The next time I got depressed was shortly after getting married. My husband pushed me to see someone for medication. That’s when my friend gave me your name. I have always been the kind of person who does everything I can to take good care of myself but lately it’s been a struggle to do anything. I feel like I am not trying hard enough to feel better which makes me feel worse. I never wanted to become one of those people who ‘needs’ medication to be happy. The only reason I’m willing to take medication now is because it is hard for me to even enjoy my kids, I just want them to leave me alone, and I hate feeling like that.”


We slowly started her on a medication and, as her symptoms improved, she was able to restart all the activities she engaged in before the depression took hold.


After she had been doing well for about a year she wanted to try coming off the medication. We slowly tapered the medication. She had no problem coming off of it and we made a plan that she would follow up with me if she needed to. That’s when she got a diagnosis on lymphoma.


A few months later I received a call from her to schedule a follow up. “I had my yearly physical and some lab work done and there were some abnormalities. Anyway, to, make a long story short, I was diagnosed with Lymphoma. This sucks. I was feeling so good until this happened. Now I can feel some of those familiar symptoms of depression and think I should go back on the medication before it gets worse. My family is already having to deal with the cancer, I don’t want my kids to see me depressed too.”


She went through a year of aggressive treatment for the Lymphoma with some difficult side effects—loss of appetite, loss of taste, weight loss, hair loss, and numbness in her feet. Her mood remained as good as could be expected and at the end of the year she was declared cancer free.


She continued to work with her psychotherapist and remained on her antidepressant. Over the next six months the side effects from the chemo went away—her hair grew back, her taste came back, she gained weight, and the numbness improved. About six months after, during a follow up session, I asked how she is feeling about remaining on the medication.


“I was going to ask you if you think I should increase it?”


“You seem like you’re doing well, but if you are asking me that I am guessing that you notice something is not right.”


“I just don’t feel like I used to. I don’t feel as energetic. My sleep is not as good, I wake up and can’t go back to sleep for an hour or so. I get more irritable, especially in the morning. It’s harder to get out of bed, I used to get up and go to the gym in the morning, now forget it.”


So far, as we spoke, it seemed as if most of the symptoms she experiences when depressed were not present. For many years she had felt very reluctant to go on medication and I didn’t want to increase the medication, risking side effects, without knowing more about what she was experiencing. I wanted to find out more about what she felt was missing.


During the year of treatment for her cancer her family would order-in or pick-up food instead of cooking. When I initially met Laura she was running, working out, and doing yoga. Now, even though she was back at the gym, she was hardly going.


I discovered too that she and her husband decided that they were going to stop putting off doing some of the things that they always talked about, one of those things was joining a wine club. They joined a wine club and received a mixed case of wine each month. They were now drinking several bottle of wine a week.


“It doesn’t seem like your depressed so how about if we have you focus on some behavioral strategies and see if that helps, before increasing the medication. Start exercising more. Eat healthier. Stop drinking so much. Don’t go crazy, just try and get back to how you did these things before the cancer diagnosis.”


That turned out to be the answer. The next time I met with Laura was a few months after she reincorporated all the activities she engaged in the past. Fortunately many of the activities we engage in for physical fitness also help improve mental fitness. For Laura, that meant yoga, eating well by cooking healthy meals at home, cutting back on her alcohol consumption, getting back into running, and more time at the gym.


Although there are many types of physical fitness available to us, cycling classes, boot camps, gyms, as well as many diets to follow, there’s less awareness about developing a mental fitness regimen.


Here are 8 factors to consider when developing your own mental fitness regimen:


Eat a healthy diet

Exercise regularly

Manage your weight

Get yearly physical exams

Reduce stress

Get outside

Practice good sleep hygiene

Minimize use of alcohol and marijuana: they may be legal but they do interfere with mood, anxiety, concentration, focus, sleep, and energy.

Keeping ourselves ‘mentally fit’ is as important as keeping ourselves ‘physically fit’. Together they supply a feeling of wellness that medication doesn’t supply on it’s own.


Choose Meaning and Live Better

Posted on February 13, 2018 at 5:35 PM Comments comments (0)

We thought that you may find this excerpt from an article posted on the Psychology Today website to be helpful. View the article in its entirety at the URL below.


Choose Meaning and Live Better

When should we tune out (and into) our biases?

Posted Feb 13, 2018

We have a bad habit of focusing on people’s superficial, negative qualities. Happiness and fulfillment can be gained by giving weight to what should ultimately guide our behavior: people’s profound, positive qualities. Appreciating these aspects of individuals fosters meaningful and mutually beneficial experiences.


Understanding and Combating Biases


Bias has been getting a lot of attention lately due to a growing understanding of the influences it has on our actions and attitudes outside of our awareness (Banaji & Greenwald, 2013). A phenomenon called negativity bias makes us far more sensitive to negative things than to positive ones. If two disparate events are of equivalent strength, the event that is negative will elicit much greater psychological activity and will impact behavior more (Baumeister, et al., 2001). Evolutionarily, this makes sense as it protects us from harm, but if our default is to dwell on the negative and to ignore the positive, then how can we hope to be happy, optimistic people?


A good first step is gaining a better understanding of biases and their scope. Biases are built-in attitudes that color our perception of a thing, person, or group. While sometimes, the term bias is restricted to unfair judgments, I am using it to describe any perceptional skewing of emotional attitudes. Biases can be arranged from negative to positive, and from superficial to profound. Negative attitudes mostly serve to protect us from harm, and positive attitudes reflect the promotion of our ideals. Our superficial attitudes are mainly influenced by experiences that only have short-term value, often relating to social conventions and other relatively trivial preferences. Profound attitudes tend to reflect an individual’s morality and other meaningful merits.


Mere recognition of biases doesn’t enable us to totally monitor their influence on our behavior. Thankfully, we can learn to notice the biases we latch onto to try and re-orient ourselves to give more weight to what we deem most productive and valuable. One can work towards these goals using mediating techniques like mindfulness, which I discuss later on. The hope is to override, or at least, to reduce, our Negativity Bias with a positive one to highlight the very meaningful, intrinsic worth of those around us. Far superior to our default of harping on the negative and superficial, a commitment to honoring positive, profound biases promotes our flourishing.


Here are four categories of bias towards people:


1) Superficial Negative Bias


“She’s so full of herself.” “His hair is always greasy—does he even shower?” “She’s late…all the time.” Judgments such as these, though admittedly not reactions to the most severe wrongdoings, often demand our attention as soon as we make them. When these biases are conscious, sometimes they can be useful, as when deciding between job candidates or romantic partners. The problem with them is that even though they respond to relatively small offenses, we assign them disproportional weight. Biases that we acknowledge consciously also impact our behavior subconsciously. They make us treat people less kindly, for instance, by demonstrating through our tone and body language that we don’t care about what others are saying (Brennan, 2016, 244). Without realizing it, we are overreacting to what is superficial as if it is profound. In actuality, the superficial negative is often more innocent than it seems, largely motivated by context and factors outside of someone’s control. (For more detail, see here).


2) Profound Negative Bias


A profound negative bias is rightfully elicited by acts that reflect deep and meaningful wrongdoing, as with extreme selfishness, malice, close-mindedness, or immorality. If a racist commits a hate crime, this is profoundly bad and warrants judgment. This extreme example obviously demonstrates a profound level of negativity, but other biases, against greed, lateness, or egoism, for example, must be evaluated on a case by case basis to understand the extent to which they are profound versus superficial. Assessing this requires taking into account factors like intent, personality, control, and context. Profound qualities are often revealed over time due to their complex and personal nature. Profound negative biases should be taken seriously when assessing one’s character and deciding what sort of relationships to (or maybe not to) establish.


3) Superficial Positive Bias


As with superficial negative biases, superficial positive biases can impact our impressions of people disproportionately. While being influenced to perceive someone as more positive might seem like it would be advantageous, to overvalue what is merely a superficial quality is problematic. Consider how physically beautiful people tend to be treated better in a restaurant, or the workplace—complete strangers and peers, alike, act more kindly and are more attentive to these individuals due to a biological trait they have no responsibility for. These people have a real societal advantage. In choosing a romantic partner, it is easy to be smitten by superficial positives like flattery, athleticism, charm, and social class, but in the long run, these sorts of qualities do not necessarily contribute to healthy, successful relationships. These biases are valuable, however, in establishing initial connections with people.


4) Profound Positive Bias


Traits such as compassion, patience, caring, kindness, responsiveness, and sincerity are profoundly positive. They reflect a genuine, deep interest in others’ well being; and their expression, especially when reciprocal, allows people to cultivate meaningful relationships. These are not qualities that are necessarily apparent upon meeting someone, and their tendency to be accompanied by calmness and a disinterest in recognition or praise makes them easy to overlook. Tuning into this kind of bias influences us to treat people with humanity, through both the obvious and subtle behaviors that come with respect and admiration. Unsurprisingly, it is also useful to focus on these attributes when choosing romantic partners (Ben-Ze’ev, 2018; see also here). Unfortunately, as the Negativity Bias warns us, our mind is not automatically keenly attuned to these sorts of deep, and less apparent positive qualities. Commitment to maintaining awareness of these biases will influence behaviors that are big, small, intentional, and unintentional, all contributing to well deserved positive treatment.


Bias Mediation


Common reactions to learning about biases that distort our perception include being defensive and offended, “Why are there forces outside of my control that consistently mislead me?” One problem with this response is that it ignores the reality that biases are necessary shortcuts for navigating the complex and extensive thought processes that we inherently depend upon. We need automatic, spontaneous responses to be efficient, to protect ourselves, and to behave with fluency. Also, many experiences are confounding without the influence of bias as an explanation. First impressions frequently turn out to be totally inaccurate. People go on multiple dates, to later realize that they find each other to be completely mismatched. These mistakes are not random or even unpredictable—they are traps that people fall into when they fail to maintain awareness of the sources of their impressions of people.


It is unsurprising that it is a Buddhist practice that proves useful in controlling misguided impressions that stem from biases. Buddhism acknowledges the powerful, and often harmful, capacity of mental states to motivate irrational behavior that one would not consciously endorse. To cultivate the skill of mindfulness, Buddhists (and nowadays, many others who see the value in this practice) actively observe their thoughts, and try to be present in their experiences. By gaining awareness of anxious, chaotic, or counterproductive mental processes, one can learn to merely acknowledge these thoughts, not give them weight, and let them go. There has been significant research demonstrating the utility of mindfulness in combating bias (Djikic, Langer, & Stapleton, 2008; Lueke & Gibson, 2015).


Mindfulness requires an intentional, investigative inner voice: Do you like that individual because of a quality that is superficial or profound? Was your impression the result of an unfair stereotype that made you feel like that person is probably a certain way, or was there time and discussion involved in gaining true understanding?


Concluding Remarks


Being diligent about acknowledging the sources of our perceptions can prevent unethical actions rooted in baseless impressions. Beyond that, deciding to concentrate less on the negative (especially when it is superficial) and more on the positive (particularly, when profound) elicits our respect and admiration for the most meaningful qualities of the people around us. Biases should never be given free rein in motivating behavior, however, when we intentionally align them with our priorities, they become valuable tools in leading the good life.



Why Does Compassion Feel So Good? Here Are Five Reasons

Posted on February 7, 2018 at 12:30 AM Comments comments (1)

We thought that you may find this excerpt from an article posted on the Psychology Today website to be very interesting. View the article in its entirety at the URL below.


Why Does Compassion Feel So Good? Here Are Five Reasons

The best news: We can improve our capacity for compassion.

Posted Feb 01, 2018

At the lowest points in our lives, the presence and care of one supportive person can be life-changing. Our pain or loss may be just as real, but we suffer less knowing we're not alone.


Coming together in this way works a sort of alchemy, transforming one person's pain into a shared feeling of uplift. Indeed, compassion is the opposite of a zero-sum game in which there are winners and losers. Both giver and receiver benefit.


Psychology researchers have begun developing a science of compassion: What is it? What are the benefits? How can we foster it? Based on a review of studies on compassion, here's what it is and why it's a good thing:


Our suffering is recognized and acknowledged. Compassion starts with a willingness to see someone else's pain. Rather than looking away, denying the pain, or choosing to ignore it, we acknowledge the person's experience. This acknowledgment makes us feel less alone in our suffering.

We understand the universality of human suffering. Part of compassion is knowing that at some point, everyone hurts. In this way the pain is relatable. While pain is a personal experience, it is also a common and unavoidable part of what it means to be human. Thus we feel a further joining with others in the shared recognition that pain is part of existence.

There is an emotional response to our suffering. Compassion is not simply knowing that another person is in pain; there is an emotional component, a "feeling with," as the etymology of compassion suggests. It's comforting to feel another person's heart go out to us.

Compassion requires tolerating uncomfortable feelings. While there are benefits to being compassionate, it's also not easy. Connecting emotionally with another's pain activates our stress response (fight-or-flight, or freeze). It takes emotional work to stay with a person's pain rather than fleeing or trying to deny it in some way (e.g., by blaming the person for their distress). When we see that a person isn't running from our pain, we're better able to withstand our own discomfort.

There is a motivation to alleviate our suffering. Compassion involves feelings but not just feelings. We would probably not feel much compassion from someone who acted sad for us but was unwilling to help. When we respond with compassion we're moved to act. As a result another person's compassion can improve our situation, and we feel better just knowing someone is trying to help us.

Increasing Compassion

You can probably think of people you know who seem to have a lot of compassion, and others who have little. Recent studies suggest that compassion is not a fixed trait; it can improve with treatment, which in turn leads to other benefits.


A recent study by a research team in Australia summarized the effects of compassion-focused psychological treatments. Here's what they found:


pressmaster/Adobe Stock

Source: pressmaster/Adobe Stock

First, the treatments were effective in increasing compassion. The average increase was considered "moderate," meaning we would likely notice that the person was a better version of themselves.


Those who received training in compassion experienced a range of additional benefits, including:


Greater mindfulness. Compassion requires our presence and our acceptance, so it's not surprising that the treatments led to increases in this dimension. As we'll see below, it also makes sense given that some of the specific interventions were explicitly mindfulness-based.

Better mood and lower anxiety. Compassion training was effective at lowering symptoms of depression and anxiety, which is a remarkable finding. By focusing on alleviating others' suffering, we alleviate our own in the process.

Enhanced overall well-being and lower distress. Along with greater compassion came an overall sense of wellness and ease in life. These findings again underscore that compassion is helpful all around.

A crucial finding from the review by Kirby and colleagues was that compassion training could also increase our capacity for self-compassion. Psychologist Kristin Neff, who has led the way in research on self-compassion, defines it as:


"being touched by and open to one’s own suffering, not avoiding or disconnecting from it, generating the desire to alleviate one’s suffering and to heal oneself with kindness. Self-compassion also involves offering nonjudgmental understanding to one’s pain, inadequacies and failures, so that one’s experience is seen as part of the larger human experience."


Self-compassion is the antidote to our tendency to ignore our own needs and be critical of ourselves when we most need love and support.

How Universal Is Body Language?

Posted on January 22, 2018 at 9:20 PM Comments comments (1)

We thought that you may find this excerpt from an article posted on the Psychology Today website to be very interesting. View the article in its entirety at the URL below.


How Universal Is Body Language?

New research suggests emotional body language may transcend culture

Posted Apr 12, 2017

For all the importance we place on words, whether spoken or written, much of the communicating we do on a regular basis comes through body language.


According to pioneering research by Dr. Albert Mehrabian, only seven percent of the meaning we derive from human communication comes from the actual spoken words used. An additional 38 percent comes from tone of voice while a whopping 55 percent comes from body language alone.Though these findings remain controversial, there is no disputing that facial expressions, physical gestures, body posturing,and even our patterns of breathing can provide an amazing array of information for other people to interpret.


Researchers have long identified that certain kinds of body movements and facial expressions can convey information about the emotions we happen to be experiencing at the time. Even when physical movements are broken down into point-light displays that convey minimal information about how we move, research subjects are still able to interpret emotional states based solely on body language.


But are these emotional signals shaped by different cultures or are they universal to all humans? A new research article published in the journal Emotion attempts to answer this question through an ambitious cross-cultural study. Thalia Wheatley of Dartmouth College and a team of co-researchers travelled to Ratanakiri, Cambodia to study members of a remote Kreung hill tribe. One of the indigenous groups living in Cambodia's highlands, the Kreung are still largely isolated from the outside world except for occasional visitors.


With the assistance of representatives from the Cambodian government and local authorities who acted as translators, the researchers collected a series of videos featuring a Kreung male who was asked to display different emotions (anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness). The participant used was an experienced performer of traditional dance and music in the Kreung community and had considerable experience in performing before an audience.


With each emotional display, the participant was presented with different scenarios and was asked to perform each scenario as if he were the character described. Scenarios included: " I am very mad that I lost the stuff in my home" (anger), "I want to vomit. This soup is spoiled" (disgust), "I am so scared. Why are there so many tigers in this forest?" (fear), "I am very happy to be sharing these stories with other people, (happiness), and "I feel so miserable when my child has gone far away", (sadness).


These videos were later used in a study involving twenty-eight Dartmouth students or employees (thirteen were female and the average age was 21.9) who were asked to judge which emotions were being displayed. The videos were displayed in a random order with no sound or other verbal cues) and replayed on a continuous loop. In the first study, All participants were given a choice of five emotional labels to endorse and asked to view each video carefully before making a choice.


Results showed an eighty-five percent success rate which was far greater than what would be expected by chance alone. Of the emotions studied, participants were most accurate in rating fear followed by anger, disgust, and sadness. Happiness was the emotion least likely to be rated accurately though participants still scored better than chance.


In another study, a set of videos were prepared featuring an American woman displaying three positive emotions (happiness, love, pride) and three negative emotions (anger, fear, sadness) using body language alone. The effectiveness of these videos was tested using thirty-four participants recruited through Amazon's Mechanical Turk. Also, to minimize the visual cues that would be received, the videos were converted into point-light displays featuring fourteen light points corresponding to the the major joints in the body as well as the torso and head.


The videos were then presented to twenty-six Kreung individuals (eleven of whom were female). Since Kreung don't formally document age, there was no way to distinguish between adults and adolescents who participated. All participants were presented the videos and a translator helped explain the experiment and what they would be required to do. Instead of being given specific emotional labels such as in the first experiment, the Kreung participants were asked to describe the emotions being displayed in their own words.


Results showed that the Kreung participants tended to be quite accurate in guessing which emotions were being presented. The overall accuracy rate was sixty-two percent though their accuracy in detecting specific emotions such as anger and happiness was far higher (virtually everyone guessed anger correctly). They were also reasonably accurate in detecting sadness and, to a lesser extent, fear.


For emotions such as love and pride however, the Kreung participants did much worse and often misidentified these videos as examples of happiness. Overall, there was no significant difference between Kreung and American raters in detecting emotions such as anger, happiness, sadness, or fear though American participants did much better in detecting pride and love.


In a third study, sixteen Kreung participants were given only five words to choose from in identifying emotions (the Kreung words for: anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness). This was intended to make this study as similar to the first study as possible. As with the previous study, Kreung participants detected anger, disgust, and happiness at rates far above chance though their performance on sadness and fear was much lower.


So, what do these results suggest? While Kreung and American participants showed no significant difference in detecting emotions, there were still limitations with this kind of research considering differences in how the research was conducted. For example, Kreung were interviewed directly while American participants did their rating online and without any direct interaction with researchers.


Still, the results of these studies do seem to suggest that body movements can convey emotions such as anger, fear, sadness, and love even for individuals belonging to different cultures. By using remote tribal groups such as the Kreung who have yet to be assimilated as many other preliterate societies have been, Thalia Wheatley and her colleagues were able to show that emotional signals may well be universal since they reflect basic human needs and desires that all humans share.


As the world becomes more assimilated, studies such as this will likely become rarer with time. That may also mean that culture clashes will become more common, something we are already seeing firsthand in many countries. Learning more about how basic biology and social factors shape the way we communicate may well be vital in helping to understand ourselves better.

Show Your Mind Who's Boss

Posted on January 11, 2018 at 7:00 PM Comments comments (0)

We thought that you may find this excerpt from an article posted on the Psychology Today website to be helpful. View the article in its entirety at the URL below.


Show Your Mind Who's Boss

Three healthier ways to deal with negative, destructive thoughts.

Posted Jan 06, 2018

Minds can be frustrating. Sometimes we have distracting or destructive thoughts when we’d like nothing more than to flip a switch and turn our minds off after a long day. I don’t care whose mind you’re referencing, the “greatest hits” of annoying thoughts seem to be about the same for everyone: “Worry about an upcoming responsibility!” or “I’m agonizing over what another person thinks about me!” or “Criticize myself for feeling bad or not living up to a personal standard!”


If your mind seems to be more of an adversary than an ally, perhaps you’ve tried some of these things to win the war:


Think about daisies and puppies or something else less threatening

Invent new, tougher thoughts to defeat the thought bullies

Eat cake, drink beer, take naps, or exercise until your legs fall off and hope those thoughts go away

Be a “positive” thinker, despite evidence to the contrary—that not everything is so positive

These things might help for a little while, but no matter which mental marathon you’re willing to run, the annoying thoughts will probably outlast you. The good news is that there are some evidence-based cognitive and behavioral strategies you can use to cope more effectively when your mind’s playing tricks on you.


Here are my three favorite options for dealing with annoying thoughts that have way too much power over how we feel and what we do:


Restructure exaggerations. If you think that a project or an exam will be “brutal,” that “everybody” is mean, that you’re “a failure” if you’re not able to achieve something, or that you “hate” family functions, then congratulations—at least your thinking is economical.


The problem with this way of thinking is that, by ignoring subtle aspects of situations, you’re limiting your emotional and behavioral options. If you think in absolutes, predict the worst, and overstate the negative elements of your experiences, you’re likely to struggle with intense depression, anxiety, and anger. And this type of thinking might also lead to predictable patterns of behavior—passivity, avoidance, or explosiveness.


If you can catch destructive thoughts, you might ask yourself a series of questions to promote cognitive flexibility. What’s the evidence for and against this idea? Is it possible that another perspective is more accurate? Am I exaggerating or predicting the worst? Is there a more realistic way of thinking? How do I feel when I think this way? How do I feel when I think in more realistic ways?


With regular practice, you may find your thinking becomes more nuanced without even trying. And if your mind acts like a broken record and continues to throw destructive thoughts at you, you can show it who’s boss by responding with a more accurate belief that sets you up for better emotional and behavioral outcomes.


Solve problems. If you’ve concluded that annoying beliefs are reality based, that there’s no room for restructuring, and that you’re annoyed with me now because I wasted your time by offering that suggestion, another option for responding to destructive thoughts is to take action.


Again, it might be helpful to ask yourself some questions to know how to proceed. If something is broken or distasteful, what can you do to fix it or make it better? If the future seems overwhelming or painful, how can you plan to make things more manageable? If your response is “nothing can be done” or “it’s just going to be terrible,” revisit strategy #1 before you attempt to problem solve.


The reality is that, in most situations, even those that initially seem impossible to improve, there is something we can do to make things even a little bit better. Examples include writing down talking points to prepare for a difficult conversation, outlining the steps involved in a huge project and making the commitment to get started with the first step, eliminating practical obstacles that prevent you from getting things done, or finally following through on commitments you made to yourself or others.


Taking action will make you feel better about yourself and give you a greater sense of personal control. When your mind tells you things are hopeless or that the future will be catastrophic, you can show it who’s boss by solving problems.


Accept what you cannot change. The previous strategies highlight the value of personal control, whether cognitive or behavioral, to counteract the spontaneous, irritating thoughts that lead to emotional distress or dysfunction.


But intense emotions are often related to maladaptive beliefs about control itself. When we’re depressed, we believe we’ve lost control. When we’re anxious, we believe things are intolerable if we can’t control them. When we’re angry, we believe that others have too much control.


So what can you do when you’ve modified your thoughts to be more accurate and useful, and addressed practical obstacles by taking action, but you’re still struggling with destructive thoughts that fight back when you attempt to stand up for yourself?


Acceptance-based responding is one way to change your relationship to potentially upsetting thoughts. By allowing rather than manipulating your thoughts, you’re demonstrating to yourself that, if I think this way, I accept it—even if I’d prefer not to—and I can tolerate it. I can also get on with my life and engage in activities that truly matter, without allowing my ideas to control me.


If you typically respond to negative beliefs by criticizing yourself or telling yourself to stop, you may be giving your thoughts more power than they deserve. People who are able to attend to their thoughts, acknowledge that they exist, allow them to remain, and redirect their attention to whatever’s more meaningful in the moment often find it easier to live satisfying lives.


For example, in a recent series of studies, Ford and colleagues (2017) found that college students who habitually practiced nonjudgmental acceptance experienced better mental health outcomes than their peers who did not; that use of acceptance led to fewer negative emotions among students exposed to a laboratory-induced stressor; and that, among members of a community sample, acceptance predicted better emotional outcomes over a 6-month period.


Practicing basic acceptance gives you a break from trying to control the thoughts you don’t like. When your mind tries to show you who’s boss, you can show it who’s boss by not fighting back. Sometimes our best response is to let the mind do its baffling, mysterious work and devote our attention instead to the aspects of our lives that we truly value.

High-Conflict People for the Holidays?

Posted on December 28, 2017 at 2:35 PM Comments comments (0)

We thought that you may find this excerpt from an article posted on the Psychology Today website to be insightful. View the article in its entirety at the URL below.


High-Conflict People for the Holidays?

Here are four tips for managing them.

Posted Dec 19, 2017

Watch out! Uncle Joe’s coming to the holiday dinner. Oh, no! Sister-in-law Mary is bringing her newest pet. And look out: Your father wants to talk politics, again!


How can you handle these potential trouble-makers, who may thrive on stirring things up and disrupting your well-prepared family or friend event? Here’s four simple tips:


Les Anderson/Unsplash

Source: Les Anderson/Unsplash

Preparation. Think seriously about who you want to invite or whose event you want to attend. Don’t let guilt be your guide. You may regret it afterward. If you have a high-conflict relative or friend, try to remember the last event they attended. Did they try to steal the show? Did they ruin it? Or were they manageable with some structure involved (see items below)?


It may help to post a small (or large) sign somewhere that says the following (or something like it): “Tis the holiday season. Let’s avoid hot topics that divide us and focus on discussions we can all enjoy. Thanks for making this a pleasant time for all.” This may remind people who otherwise might slip into arguing about diet, religious practices or politics. You can also simply point to the sign in a friendly way when someone brings up a controversial topic. That way you won’t seem to be offending them.


Skip the arguments. High-conflict people don’t change their mind after hearing what you—or anyone—has to say. They enjoy the conflict and use it to justify all kinds of behavior: yelling, storming out, blabbing your carefully-kept secrets, refusing to eat your food and otherwise causing a scene. Their whole point is to be the center of attention, not to have a logical discussion. Change their thinking about diet, religion, politics? Forgeddaboutdit!


Find a sitter. Pick someone to “hang out” with a potentially high-conflict person, so that the person gets plenty of attention and doesn’t feel like they have to start a fight or engage in other nasty behavior just to get attention. Ideally, this would be someone who knows the person and has some experience with managing them in social situations.


Change the subject. This goes along with number two above. If someone starts getting into a dangerous topic or an argument, gently and firmly say: “That’s enough, Uncle Joe.” Often, that’s all it takes. Just to be safe, then change the subject: “Can someone pass me the salad dressing.” Too long of a pause after a firm statement leaves room for the person to argue about being shut off.


The goal is to have a good time with reasonable people. Providing a structure to deal with high-conflict people may help them have a good time, too. (They behave better with structure.) Even though it’s the season of good cheer and sharing joy, being nice may not work with everyone. You may need to be assertive for the benefit of your own sanity and everyone else’s peace of mind.


Best wishes for the Holidays!

Life Doesn't Just Happen to Us

Posted on December 18, 2017 at 8:55 PM Comments comments (0)

We thought that you may find this excerpt from an article posted on the Psychology Today website to be inspirational. View the article in its entirety at the URL below.


Life Doesn't Just Happen to Us

You can change without growing, but you can’t grow without changing.

Posted Dec 18, 2017

The ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, who was a contemporary of Confucius, Lao Tsu, and the Buddha, is reported to have said, “you can never walk though the same river twice.” More accurately, the English translation from the Greek goes thus: “The river where you set your foot just now is gone—those waters giving way to this, now this.” Put simply, Heraclitus is telling us that we live in an ever-changing world, one that is filled with the ebbs and flows of life, of life energy. He’s also advising us that, as the river (of life) changes, it’s in the past, so let it go and move on. The “new” river offers water that is filled with possibilities and untapped potential, so be prepared to go with the flow! This is great advice as we prepare for the New Year, don’t you think?


Against this life-affirming backdrop, Heraclitus also said, “The sun is new again, all day.” Now think about this simple-sounding statement for a moment, again especially as we all prepare for the New Year. Each new day represents a window of new opportunities, new adventures, and new life experiences! It’s up to us, each and every one of us, however, to decide whether we want to step out into the light of the new day sun or hide in the sun’s shadows and act as if life just happens to us.1 It’s our choice, our personal responsibility. And remember, the world around us is going to change whatever we may decide, whether we like it or not. Indeed, there is another saying that goes like this: If you want things to stay the same, then something is going to have to change!2


Another “philosopher” for our times is Phil Jackson, widely considered to have been one of the greatest coaches in the history of the National Basketball Association. In his book Sacred Hoops, Jackson, citing the French poet Paul Valéry, cautions us to remember that the best way to realize our dreams is to wake up!3 In other words, our best days, our best years, and our best life can and will be more than just dreams if we “wake up” and take action (that is, not simply decide to do something, but actually do it!).


The world-renowned psychiatrist and existential philosopher, Viktor E. Frankl, author of the classic bestseller, Man's Search for Meaning, famously espoused that each person should not ask what the meaning of her or his life is, but, instead, should recognize that it is s/he who is being asked. Put differently, each person is continuously being questioned by life; and can only answer for her or his own life.


All that is good and beautiful in the past is safely preserved in that past. On the other hand, so long as life remains, all guilt and evil are still “redeemable”...this is not the case of a finished film... or an already existent film which is merely being unrolled. Rather, the film of this world is just being “shot.” Which means nothing more or less than that the future—happily—still remains to be shaped; that is, it is at the disposal of man’s responsibility.—Viktor E. Frankl4


So, with the New Year just around the corner, what do you want to do with your life, including your work life? Are you willing to step out into the sun’s light and make each new day the best ever by taking advantage of what it has to offer you, as well as what you have to offer it? No matter how hard you try, you can rest assured, according to Heraclitus, that you really won’t walk through the same river twice.


So take that step. It's a new day, one that, as Dr. Frankl wisely advised, is at your disposal and still remains to be shaped! And guess what? When you get used to thinking, believing, and acting in this way, you’ll find that there are better days to come. By not holding yourself a prisoner of your own thoughts, you can now look forward with enthusiasm and true optimism to your most meaningful year ever!

The 5 Defense Mechanisms That Can Sabotage Your Relationship

Posted on December 4, 2017 at 6:15 PM Comments comments (2)

We thought that you may find this excerpt from an article posted on the Psychology Today website to be powerful, and potentially helpful. View the article in its entirety at the URL below.


The 5 Defense Mechanisms That Can Sabotage Your Relationship

Defense mechanisms might contribute to the undoing of your closest relationship.

Posted Jun 20, 2017

Everyone uses defense mechanisms, and if you believe Freud, everyone has to, in order to avoid staring in the face of our worst anxieties. Even if you don’t believe Freud, it’s hard to argue with the position that we all occasionally rely on such common forms of managing our most difficult feelings as pushing them out of awareness. In close relationships, where your deepest emotions are often aroused, it’s even more likely that you’ll rely on your defenses to help you manage those emotions. As it turns out, some of the most common defense mechanisms may make you even more anxious by getting in the way of your relationship happiness. A new paper by Wei Zhang and Ben-yu Guo (2017) of Nanjing China’s Normal University, suggests which defense mechanisms are worst and, by extension, how to turn them from maladaptive to adaptive.


According to Zhang and Guo, researchers have moved well past Freud’s original position on defense mechanisms, and the concept is now an integral feature of such areas within psychology as cognition, emotion, personality, and development. A well-known categorization of defense mechanisms by George Vaillant in 1994 differentiated between immature defense mechanisms, such as projection (blaming others) and denial, and mature defenses, like humor and sublimation (turning your unconscious motives into productive activity). Other models building on Vaillant have similarly attempted to categorize defense mechanisms along a continuum from unhealthy to healthy.


These characterizations of defense mechanisms are useful, but Zhang and Guo note that they lack a coordinated theoretical framework that incorporates current psychological thinking. The Nanjing authors propose, instead, a new model based on concepts derived from systems theory. The basic premise is that we relate to ourselves, and other people, in a continuous exchange of psychological energy. Their model, called “dissipative structure theory,” regards defense mechanisms as serving to “maintain the stability and order of cognitive-affective schema and to decrease the accompanying emotion.”


The cognitive-affective schema, simply put, are the thoughts and emotions you hold toward yourself. They are composed of positive and negative representations, and are in part unconscious. Most people prefer to view themselves positively, and prefer sameness to change. Defense mechanisms play an important role in this self-preservation strategy. In the short run, defense mechanisms may make you feel better, because you don’t have to change your view of yourself. Over time, though, they can erode your own adaptation and, more important, your relationships. In other words, you use defense mechanisms to help you feel better about yourself, but do so at your peril, because they can lead you into problematic relationships with the people you care about the most.


There are three main categories of defense mechanisms according to this model:


Isolation allows you to protect your own self-representation by keeping yourself clueless about your flaws and missteps. You might use projection blaming, for example, in which you accuse others of the flaws you secretly fear you possess. You might also use denial, in which you push your negative emotions out of awareness, in which case “the unconscious functions as a trash bin in which the individual stores its ‘rubbish’” (p. 465).


The second category of defense mechanisms involves compensation, in which you turn to ways of alleviating negative emotions by, for example, abusing substances rather than confronting your negative self-views ("compensation" refers to your attempt to find an external outlet to feel better).


The third category is self-dissipation, in which you turn all of your anxieties onto some idealized version of yourself in what can become a form of grandiosity.


The criterion for evaluating the effectiveness of a defense mechanism, in the Nanjing authors' model, include whether it (a) distorts the individual’s self-representation and (b) causes poorer relations with others. In this view, defense mechanisms can provide the short-term solution of helping you feel better, but cause problems in the long-term as your self-representation becomes increasingly divorced from reality. Further, when you push people away, defense mechanisms will only create more anxiety, not to mention the loss of important relationships.


We can make practical use of this new and more nuanced view of defense mechanisms by considering the downside to each of these major five types outlined in the model. Try to think about which of these might apply to you by answering the questions below:


1. Projection: Do you blame your partner for the flaws you experience in yourself? Perhaps you’re a bit forgetful and messy. Rather than admit it, do you accuse your partner of failing to be thoughtful and neat?


2. Denial: Do you try to protect your self-representation by pretending that negative experiences haven’t occurred? Do you close your eyes and think that everything is going to be just fine, even when your partner seems upset with you?


3. Compensation: Do you turn to alcohol or drugs instead of confronting your own negative emotions? Is it easier to have an extra glass of wine or beer rather than talk to your partner about what's bothering you?


4. Daydreaming: How much do you fantasize that all of your problems and challenges will simply disappear? Would you rather escape into your own world where everything is perfect rather than step into the real and flawed life that you and your partner share?


5. Grandiosity: Do you see yourself as more important than your partner? Do you constantly expect to be admired, while at the same time not acknowledging your partner's accomplishments? Is it hard for you to give credit when your partner is right?


As the Nanking authors point out, it can be difficult to abandon defense mechanisms that you’ve become accustomed to using, as they allow you to protect a stable view of yourself, even if it's an inaccurate one. If your self-representation has maintained itself for years by protecting yourself inordinately from reality, it’s going to be a challenge to move away from that status quo.


Even though change is difficult to initiate, particularly if you've built up some very solid defenses, it is possible to move to a new and more adaptive relationship to the reality you inhabit with your partner. Your partner can even help you in this change process. Using the person who knows and loves you the best, you can begin to achieve fulfillment both in your own self-understanding and, ultimately, in the quality of an improved close relationship.



Train the Mind and Grow Happier

Posted on November 8, 2017 at 1:55 PM Comments comments (1)

We thought that you may find this excerpt from an article posted on the Psychology Today website to be powerful, and potentially helpful. View the article in its entirety at the URL below.


Train the Mind and Grow Happier

How good are you at preventing negative thoughts from taking hold of you?

Posted Nov 04, 2017

Having retired, my favourite uncle certainly didn’t expect the mental burden that accompanied his privilege of no longer having a job.


“Day after day,” he said, “I have lots of free time. My mind is in a state of chaos. I can’t stop thinking too much and my past mistakes are starting to haunt me.”


If you ever were unemployed with not much to do, or if you were sick and bedridden for a while, perhaps you had a similar experience.


Did you notice that whenever you slow the pace down, as my uncle did, the mind gets more active and even takes over your moods and emotions? All sorts of thoughts come for a visit and a few of them – which you’re normally too busy to entertain – even stick around. The sticky thoughts tend to be unpleasant and you end up feeling miserable.


Growing older may mean, for many people, that there’s more time for the mind to run wild. The mind’s tendency to dwell on past regrets or to anticipate the future with fear only gets stronger.


Do you have a strategy and the proper tools to cope with a mind in such a state?


Baby boomers are joining the ranks of retirement in growing numbers. It’s critical they become skillful at managing the mind in order to grow happier as they get older.


You’re not nearly the only person whose life has been a mixture of joy and success, and adverse events and negative feelings. Broken or dysfunctional relationships, failures and lost opportunities are commonplace in life trajectories, as are feelings of resentment, fear, guilt and jealousy.


Can you mitigate bad memories?


Do you entertain negative feelings or stressful thoughts about the future?


Old age can be very stressful. Particularly after age 75, it’s often associated with an accumulation of challenging conditions such as illness, disability, social isolation, needing more help and having to care for others.


Older people also face a series of disruptions, including bereavement and moving from their homes.


But old age doesn’t have to be depressing. If you’re well prepared, you can grow happier in spite of hardships.


But you can’t let your mind run free. The mind is your instrument and it should be at your service – not the other way around.


How good are you at preventing negative thoughts from taking hold of you?


In this series, I’m going to explore how the mind functions and discuss techniques you can use to train it properly. You will see that there’s no age limit to unlocking your potential. You can shine your light onto others as long as you live.