Monday, October 31, 2011

Problem-Solving Thinking Is Becoming a Celebrity

Yes, I'm exaggerating. But suddenly, just as you notice hundreds of Nissan Leaf's when you buy one yourself, I'm noticing references to problem-solving everywhere I look.  Neuroscience is investigating and exploring new evidence of styles of problem solving, books are being written for the mainstream, and articles are being written about the books!

I'm quoting today from a friend's commencement speech. Carl Morgan, an engineer spoke to graduating U of W electrical engineeers last spring about problem-solving. From my perspective, he was also talking about the psychology of coping with life transitions. And he was motivating and inspiring graduates to become good managers of their lives. Here's a small section of that speech that tells the story.

"Everyone in the Core Curriculum has told you, over and over, that you need to be a lifelong learner. And you do.The difference is, before,  most of the things you learned were picked by others. Now, they have to be picked by you. But how? It’s daunting: you’re smart enough to know that there are things that you will need to know, but you don’t know that you need to know them! How do you sort it all out now and make decisions that give direction to your future development.

The punch line is this: An excellent way to sort out your future development is to find a big problem that calls to you, and to then develop yourself through the struggle with its intense demands."
A great message for engineering graduates. We can also think of Carl's words as metaphorical: Core Curriculum stands for all we've been told, and learned, at various transitions of life; graduation, first job, committed relationship, parenthood and on and on to retirement and beyond. Lifelong learning and development can go on forever, if we choose. And so can problem-solving; as an everyday tool, but also as Carl suggests, as an exciting way to challenge yourself through some potentially difficult times.

Carl goes on in his speech to tell the interesting story of his own big problem. I can e-mail you the PDF if you're interested. Just e-mail me at intelligentwomenonly@gmail.com

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Eliminating Negative Self-Talk — Category 3, Detachment and Distraction

Before you go further with today's post, re-read the January 7th Technique of the Week post. The WSJ article mentioned discussed a new addition to the cognitive therapy protocol.  Cognitive theory underlies all the techniques described in Handbook #1 for Intelligent Women: Break the Negative Self-Talk Habit, the book I've been working on for the past year — and will be still working on in 2012.

Perhaps the most unorthodox technique that I describe in the book is detachment. It differs from the other main categories, problem-solving and cognitive restructuring, both of which require increased focus on the negative thinking in order to eliminate it. In contrast, detachment implies inattention to the negative thinking as a way to eliminate it. If you are a meditator or have acquired yoga mind, you may already have detachment skills. Following is a how-to suggestion for one form of detachment. It comes from an early article I wrote about banishing the inner critic.

There's much more information on distraction and detachment, mindfulness and meditation as forms of the d and d. Put any of the terms into the Search blank and you'll find out lots about the power of detachment. It's hard to learn, but a wonderful way to reduce stress, particularly if you're dealing with a problem over which you have no control.

Ask a male friend of family member about detachment. Men do it all the time, even though they may not call it detachment. They could have some ideas about how women can get distance between yourself and your problem or intense emotion.

            The detachment approach is based on a mental technique described by Walter Mischel, Ph.D. as “strategic allocation of attention.The ability to purposefully pay attention, or choose to not pay attention, correlates highly with success factors related to education and career. By purposefully not paying attention to negative thinking, you decrease its influence. The detachment process results in better coping; disconnection from the negative thoughts and feelings allows increased feelings of well-being and self-confidence. Detachment also owes credit to the Zen Buddhist concept of bare attention, explained so well in thoughts without a thinker, a wonderful book by Mark Epstein.
1. Notice the voice in your head, without judgment or reaction. If it’s negative self- talk, say to yourself, “Oh, the critic is talking,” rather than, “What a jerk. I’m doing it again. When am I going to stop dumping on myself all the time?”
2. Remind yourself, without judgment or reaction, that negative self-talk which doesn’t produce problem-solutions can be discarded with no loss or harm. 
3. Reallocate attention from the internal negative thinking to the external moment and action. If you are walking or talking, writing or reading, staring out the window, cooking or care taking, purposefully and mentally feel yourself shift attention and maintain it on that external activity, just as you might move a book from a bookcase to a table and leave it there. 
4. When the voice of the critic arises again, demanding attention, reallocate attention back to the moment. Let the critic voice fade from inattention, and diminish as before. 
5. Practice the process at every opportunity. Allocate attention from self-doubt and self-criticism to here and now and an external activity.

There's much more information on distraction and detachment, mindfulness and meditation as forms of the d and d. Put any of the terms into the Search blank and you'll find out lots about the power of detachment. It's hard to learn, but a wonderful way to reduce stress, particularly if you're dealing with a problem over which you have no control.

Ask a male friend of family member about detachment. Men do it all the time, even though they may not call it detachment. They could have some ideas about how you can get distance between yourself and your problem or intense emotion.
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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Poll About Problem-Solving Style

                      What type of problem-solving thinking process do you use in your work?

Please take a minute to take this very quick poll about problem-solving. Thanks. I'll give you the results at the end of 23 more days.
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Another Man Talks About Negative Self-Talk

 Here's the link to an interesting blog post about self-sabotage through negative self-talk by Michael J. Formica, a Psychology Today blogger.

I found it particularly interesting because it was written by a man — unusual, although he doesn't count himself in specifically. I asked him to guest post on this site with more thoughts about men and negative self-talk, which he has agreed to do. Does his article make you think more about gender difference — or similarity?

I commented to Dr. Formica that in my experience as a therapist and executive coach I had only once (that I remember clearly) heard a man do negative self-talk out loud. And he presented proof that he was all these bad things he said he was: a letter from a boss, a letter requesting his resignation from a different job, a medical report about his poor health habits etc.

I'll be interested in Dr. Formica's guest post.

Here's another link to a post on intelligentwomenonly.com about Mark Zuckerberg's (Google head honcho) negative self-talk and how a woman that he hired has been a great help to him and Google.


What are you experiences with men and negative self-talk?
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Monday, October 24, 2011

Listening is problem-solving help says Peter Bregman, PT blogger

 I posted last month about the effectiveness  of problem-solving in families and also TAPPS, talking out loud to yourself as a useful way to improve your problem-solving abilities. http://intelligentwomenonly.blogspot.com/2011/09/problem-solve-out-loud-and-alone-even.html

Here's an interesting post from a Psychology Today blogger about listening as an aid to problem-solving for yourself and the other person. If you're active listening, which encourages others to tell you more, you're subtly allowing them to talk out loud about their problem. This might be helpful to all: an opportunity for the person you're hearing to elaborate and hear their own thoughts about their thinking. And it helps you as the listener to avoid escalation of a problem, particularly if it involves you!

I'm all for the listening approach. When I listen intently, the conversation always goes better, even if it's not a problem situation. BUT I acknowledge that I'm often too impatient to keep on facilitating the other person's conversation without imposing my thoughts. Then I've got trouble!

Here's the link to the whole article plus a quote from it.


  1. "Actually listen. And only listen. That means don't multitask. I'm not just talking about doing email, surfing the web, or creating a grocery list. Thinking about what you're going to say next counts as multitasking. Simply focus on what the other person is saying.
  2. Repeat back. This feels a little silly at first but works magic. If someone says she is angry about the decision you just made, you can say "you're angry about the decision I just made." I know, I know, she just said that. But it shows you're listening and it communicates to the other person that she's been heard. If you don't have the courage to try it with an adult, try it with a child. You'll see what a difference it makes and it will embolden you to try it with a colleague or your spouse.
  3. Ask questions. Explore the other person's thoughts and feelings more deeply. And "You don't really believe that, do you?" does not count as a question. You are not using the Socratic method to prove your point; you are trying to better understand what's going on so you can better understand your partner in this conversation.
Really listening can feel risky, which seems strange because listening doesn't materially change anything. But sometimes you'll hear things that are hard to hear.
Remember that listening is not the same thing as agreeing. And it will never force you to take any particular action. If anything, it will reduce the intensity of people's insistence that you take a specific action. Because in many cases what they're looking for is proof that you've heard them. So if they feel you've really heard them, their need for action diminishes.
As Eleanor  [blogger's wife] spoke, I noticed my own resistance to various things she was saying. There's no question that it's hard to really listen. But once I relaxed into it, I heard her in a much deeper way. That made her feel better. Call me co-dependent, but it made me feel better too.
It turns out that sometimes, just listening is problem-solving."
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Friday, October 21, 2011

Eliminating Negative Self-Talk — Category 2, Cognitive Restructuring

October 17th post addressed eliminating negative self-talk through problem-solving, generally a good place to start the trek to breaking the NST habit. Today, the post focuses on Cognitive Restructuring, the 2nd of 3 main categories of techniques to get rid of negative self-talk.

• Cognitive Restructuring — A Classic Way to Change Your Inner Monologue

Cognitive restructuring is a psychological term which means to change, alter, (restructure) what we are saying to ourselves (= our thoughts =cognitions) It's the classic way to eliminate negative self-talk.

From Albert Ellis's book, A Guide to Rational Living ( 3rd edition, 1975)) to today's bestselling books by David Burns (Feeling Good 1999),  the topic of changing what you say to yourself (when it's not working to bring about a desired result) has always been a good idea.
Cognitive restructuring had been kidnapped by the positive thinking crowd along the way, but now even Martin Seligman, the "father" of positive psychology is backing away from the positive overhype as shown in his brand new book, Flourish. Not-negative is different than positive.

I used to refer to the restructured product of a negative thought  as a neutral statement but now I think of it as a realistic statement.

Here are the steps:

1. Notice your inner self-talk.
2. Discriminate between negative self-talk and useful self-instructions.
3. If it's useless negative self-talk, quickly check out alternative ways of thinking to eliminate the negative self-talk:

     • realistic thinking — "I handled that situation poorly. Fortunately I learned something from it."
     • coping statements — "Next time, if in doubt — don't."
     • substitution to divert attention — count by odd numbers to 1000, recite the Gettysburg address
     • see a big STOP sign in your mind to remind you to stop the NST
     • imagine that the NST is a concrete object that you blow up, drown, erase or turn into steam in your mind

Try some of this stuff out and see what works for you.

 Here's a link to an earlier post about going away from negative self-talk.


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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Please Respond to Poll About Problem-Solving

What type of problem-solving thinking process do you use in your work?

Please click on the poll and take less than a minute to respond. Thank you. I'll let you know the results in 30 days.
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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A New/Old Take on Women and Men at Work

Here's a link to the entire article about high potential women — whom I assume means smart too!

"A study by research firm Catalyst has found that women with MBAs who are considered high potential are using all the right career strategies to get ahead, but the pay and promotion gap still exists. Conventional wisdom that says women are failing to negotiate  for themselves, opting out, or putting the skids on careers for family are all bunk, according to the findings.
“It’s really time for organizations to stop assuming that these myths are true and look at what’s going on in terms of their talent management systems,” said Christine Silva, senior director of research for Catalyst.
The report -- which studied more than 3,000 male and female MBAs who stayed on a “traditional” career path and were working full time -- broke down the participants into four strategy profiles:
  • “Climbers,” who are actively seeking to advance in a company.
  • “Hedgers,” who are looking for advancement inside and outside their existing employers.
  • “Scanners,” who are looking for future prospects in the job market.
  • “Coasters,” who are not actively using career-enhancing tactics."
Do you match one of these profiles or are you a Wander Woman, the title of Marcia Reynolds book about high-achieving women who are always looking for the right, best opportunity to use their skills, smarts and abilities to run a big project or their own company? They don't opt out of the workplace, because work, challenge, opportunity, great possibilities are what they want. but they have trouble finding contentment and direction.
    The ending paragraphs of the "Women Doing All the Right Things . . . " article are a bit depressing.

    "While everyone is focused on the glass ceiling phenomenon, she continued, few realize how disparities in pay and rank among men and women when they’re in lower level positions ends up dooming many women later in their careers because they may never catch up."

    And then,"Nicole Stephens, assistant professor of management and organizations at Kellogg who co-authored the report, said women have the choice today to either stay in the workforce or opt out for personal reasons, and that choice may be lulling them into a false sense of career equity."  She goes on to say, “By calling something a choice,” she added. “It makes people think there really isn’t a problem here that needs to be fixed.” ARGH! I get it and you do too. There is a problem that needs to be fixed, but no one  knows how to fix it — even if they wanted to. And lots of people don't want it fixed or don't care if it's fixed so where does that leave us?
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    Monday, October 17, 2011

    The Big Picture — Eliminate Negative Self-Talk

    If you are a negative self-talker, and you understand NST, and you've read tips and tried some of your own techniques, and you're still dragging the inner critic and the subsequent bummed out feelings around with  you — it's time to STOP.  There are three primary categories of proven ways to eliminate or reduce negative self talk.

    • Problem-solving thinking — A good place to start getting rid of NST

    You may be a classic logical problem-solving thinker and use a step-wise, cyclical process.
    1. Identify the problem
    2. Gather information
    3. Propose solutions
    4. Implement a solution
    5. Evaluate and move on — or go back to step 1 or 4: redefine the problem or implement a different solution.

    Or, you may be an intuitive problem-solver, which seems to be more common among women than men.
    1. In a quit place, with a quieted mind, look inward and wonder the solution to yourself. e.g. "How can I get a traditional publisher for my book?" " What would be a good title for this article?" "How can I get more traffic to my blog?"
    2. Leave your question alone and incubate it , along with a couple of other questions/problems, connected or not. "Would biking be a good addition to my exercise routine?" or " Is Asian food healthier than a Mediterranean diet for me?" and "What city is best for the setting of my story?"
    3. Make no concerted effort to solve the problem. Anxiety and trying hard become obstacles to the intuitive problem-solving process.
    4. Relax and give yourselves opportunities for intuition: staring into space, walking, running, napping, swinging, time alone, daydreaming.

    Research says:

    Regardless of your most comfortable mode of problem-solving thinking, logical or intuitive, being able to use both increases the chance of original, practical solutions.

    You can also find other information about problem-solving under the subjects of "Ramp Up . . . ."

    • Cognitive restructuring-more in the near future under Eliminate Negative Self-Talk subject

    • Detachment and distraction-more in the near future under Eliminate Negative Self-Talk subject
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    Friday, October 14, 2011

    Ramp Up Your Problem-Solving Thinking

    I'm working on a chapter for Handbook#1 for Intelligent Women Only: Break the Negative Self-Talk Habit and preparing for a presentation on problem-solving thinking, so I'm immersed. I have a one question poll that you can respond to about problem-solving, anonymously, on Twitter. Go to @drtingley on Twitter or tohttp://t.co/1JMbOs6v http://t.co/1JMbOs6v to take the survey. I would greatly appreciate your taking the time to respond before you read the rest of this post!

    Here's some of the latest research of interest on problem-solving.

    There are two kinds of problem-solvers: logical/analytical and intuitive/insightful. And there are gender differences as you might guess. More men use the classical sequential, cyclical process:
    • Identify the problem
    • Gather information
    • Propose some solutions
    • Implement a solutions
    • Evaluate effectiveness

    More women than men use the intuitive/insightful process, which is more of a non-conscious "aha" mode of problem-solving.

    Being able to use both methods increases the originality and practicality of solutions. For women adding classic step-wise problem solving  requires a learning process like learning and practicing any new skill. You can find Dewey's original sequence online or I'll send it to you via e-mail if you're interested. Or you can ask someone you know to help you learn the logical/analytical system.

    Learning the intuitive method of problem-solving is more difficult because it is a non-conscious process. It involves lateral thinking, making remote connection in neurons, and certain conditions under which it works best.

    • Quiet environment, reduced brain activity
    • A calm, pleasant mood
    • A state of being inside your brain, rather than externally focused
    • An attitude of NOT trying too hard, of not making a concentrated effort to solve a problem

    e.g When I was trying to figure out a name for my first book (Genderflex) I quietly incubated the question, "What shall I call my book about male-female communication in the workplace?" every night before I went to sleep. I generally ran very early in the morning when it was quiet and I was alone and in a daydreaming state. One morning the word genderflex just popped into my head. It seemed miraculous at the time;long before before neuroscience could confirm the reality of the intuitive process.

    It's hard to explain it to men, but with this new research using brain imaging, maybe they'll buy it. Let me know if you'd like me to e-mail the original journal article that I'm quoting.
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    Tuesday, October 11, 2011

    Wisdom and Detachment — WOW

     Here's a short youtube video about improving problem-solving skills by moving away from the problem; a type of detachment. Ethan Kross is the University of Michigan research and assistant professor of psychology. You can find more on detachment by looking under Try Some Techniques. Here are a couple of links to earlier (1/14 and 1/19/2011) posts on the topic.



    Here's the link to youtube: http://tinyurl.com/3qjkaub
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    Monday, October 10, 2011

    Rumination is NOT Problem-Solving

    "Rumination: Problem-Solving Gone Wrong — How Rehashing the Situation Can Ruin Your Mood" is the title of Eddie Selby's post on his PT blog, Overcoming Self-Sabotage. Here's the link: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/overcoming-self-sabotage/201002/rumination-problem-solving-gone-wrong

    Selby points out astutely that we all can label our endless rehashing of relationship problems, work issues, chronic sources of stress as attempts to solve the problem, but they're not.  He notes that, "While it's true that problem solving and planning are essential to overcoming a difficult problem, people who ruminate tend to take these activities too far and for too long. They will often spend hours analyzing the situation, even after they've developed a plan for dealing with the situation. Sometimes people will ruminate about the problem so much so that they never even develop a solution to the problem. This is where rumination becomes really problematic. If the situation has you in a bad mood, rumination will keep that bad mood alive, and you will feel upset for as long as you ruminate. If you ruminate on the problem for days, chances are you'll remain upset for days."

    Right on. Negative thoughts bring on negative emotions which bring on a bad mood, with brings on more negative self talk etc. etc. Rumination or "overthinking" is never the way to go. So how do you interrupt the process quickly and get out of a funk? Here's my suggestion for women in particular.

    1. Tell the whole long stressful story, in minute detail to a trusted friend within a few hours of the most recent event associated with the stress or within 24 hours max.
    2. Ask him or her to help you define the problem, as they see it. E.g. John isn't interested in a future with you. Your boss chose someone else to lead the project that you thought was locked up — for you. You hired a new associate and she's not a good fit with the rest of the team. You work together to find a problem definition that fits and can lead to a solution. Here are some problem-definitions that don't usually work well. E.g. John is a two-timing jerk. My boss screwed me over. I should have known better than to hire Rhonda. Big mistake.
    3. Start talking about possible solutions and write them down without discussion or evaluation. Tolerate the uncertainty of incubating the ideas and maybe generating some more in the next 24-48 hours.
    4. Commit to focusing on solutions, not the problem. You agree to not tell anyone else the whole grim story in detail, but rather to be vague if someone asks how you are or what's wrong. E.g. "I'm not feeling my best." "The job situation is sticky right now." "I'm preoccupied with work stuff right now."
    5. Plan to make a plan within 48 hours if possible, even if that plan is inner action. E.g. "I don't have to do anything right now as long as I'm not ruminating, rehashing, and miserable. If I start down that path again, I have a plan and I'll take action.

    Like many suggestions I make, techniques I suggest, plans I propose, they're hard to implement, practice is required, and they don't work out perfectly but usually the alternative is much worse!
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    Saturday, October 8, 2011

    OOPS! A missed post.

    Friday was a missed post day.  I was  traveling to a writer's retreat in Nevada which basically took up my day and my strategic allocation of attention. But now that I'm here I should have plenty of time to write.
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    Wednesday, October 5, 2011

    Fail to Succeed?

     A recent article in the NYTimes Sunday magazine, although focused on children, had ramifications for adult women, and seemed connected with the October 3rd post http://intelligentwomenonly.blogspot.com/2011/10/eliminate-disclaimers-and-overripe.html. Paul Tough, author of "The Character Test", quoted the headmaster of a private Eastern school.  ". . . there was this idea in America that if you worked hard and you showed real grit, that you could be successful. Strangely, we've now forgotten that." He goes on to say that children are no longer developing or expected to develop characteristics of grit, gratitude, and self-control; characteristics that are needed to bounce back from failure. Mr.  Randolph, the headmaster, views failure as key to success in achieving a meaningful, productive life. Because he feels children now are protected from failure by parents in particular, his curriculum is laced with learning and lessons of character building.

    I wondered how this might apply to women. I'll check to see if research exists that says that adult women have more grit, gratitude and self-control than men.  I believe we do, although it seems that we have a greater perception of failure than men and a lower  perception of success. Or is that just another face of perfectionism? I wonder if all the negative self-talk that women engage in is a major roadblock to seeing ourselves as resilient and successful regardless of some true and real failures we've experienced. I wonder if the talking out loud approach to problem-solving http://intelligentwomenonly.blogspot.com/2011/09/problem-solve-out-loud-and-alone-even.html might also work to increase our beliefs that we have strong character and are successful.
    E.g. "I  can explain complex concepts clearly and briefly and that is working well with my team."
            " I've learned a better way to handle conflicts with Sam and he's more productive because of it."
            " I like the way I just accept compliments without disclaimers. And my daughter is starting to do the same thing. So good."
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    Sunday, October 2, 2011

    Eliminate Disclaimers and Overripe Apologies

    A recent experience in a group discussion reminded me of a "the more things change, the more things stay the same." The topic was the status of education in the U.S. A frequent contributor and articulate woman prefaced half of her comments with disclaimers. E.g. "I don't have anywhere near the experience you do in this area, but . . . " or "I haven't studied this topic extensively but . . . " or "You're all more expert on this subject . . . "  Many intelligent women have the disclaimer habit, just as they have the negative self-talk habit. And we over apologize. Another example, not from the discussion participant I mentioned,: "I'm sorry to bother you with this, and maybe I should have figured this out for myself, but since I'm new to the job . . . ." Why do women engage in  that crazy behavior? What's more important is how  can we change it? We don't have to be braggarts or narcissists. All we have to do is accept a compliment, recognition, appreciation.

    I saw the following quote in a Psychology Today blog, Wander Woman. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wander-woman/201109/how-women-can-embrace-their-power It seems to match up.

    Therefore, if you are a woman, consider these questions:
    1. What will it take for you to admit that you have talents, skills and wisdom that people admire and recognize?
    2. What will it take for you to feel pride for the effect you have on others?
    3. What will it take for you to acknowledge that you might be a role model?
    The response is simple and clear.

    Say, "Thank you."
            "I appreciate your comment."
            "I agree that I do a good job running a meeting."
             "I've worked hard to be more diplomatic and I'm glad you noticed.'

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