Monday, January 30, 2012

Self-Control, Will Power or Strategic Allocation of Attention?

“Don’t, The Secret of self-control,” is the compelling title of Jonah Lehrer’s 2009 New Yorker article about strategic allocation of attention.  The story focuses on the 1960s research of Walter Mischell, then a professor of psychology at Stanford University, who was intrigued by the mental process involved in delaying gratification. Many of you who took a childhood development course or a few psychology classes in college probably are familiar with Erik Erikson and his description of developmental tasks of childhood. What Freud called the anal period, Erikson labeled the stage for developing self-control — for learning delay of gratification.

Mischell’s famous experiment involved marshmallows and 4 year olds, rather than toilets and two year olds. The researcher, placing marshmallows in clear view, told the young children they could eat one marshmallow right away or, if they waited a few minutes until the researcher returned they could have two. If the child rang a bell, the researcher would return immediately and the child could eat one marshmallow, but wouldn’t get two. Thirty percent of the kids were able to delay gratification, which appeared to indicate self-control.  Twenty years later in follow up studies, Mischell found that the children, now adults, who had been able to delay gratification showed greater success and fewer problems across the board.

 Mischell determined that the mental processes involved in ability to delay (or not) were simple. Kids who distracted themselves from the marshmallow, did much better than those who focused on the desirable treat. Mischel, quoted in Lehrer’s article said, “The kids who couldn’t delay would often have the rules backwards. They would think that the best way to resist the marshmallow is to stare right at it, to keep an eye on the goal. But that’s a terrible idea. If you do that, you’re going to ring the bell before I leave the room.” He concluded that the determinant of delay of gratification and self-control was strategic allocation of attention. Patience and self-control was achieved by allocation of attention away from the desired object.  Impatience and inability to delay gratification came from allocation of attention toward the desired object.

H-m-m-m. My mind continues to be zonked with ideas about application of this old/new research and theory and its relationships to decreasing negative self-talk. Also interested in what neuroimagery says about strategic allocation of attention right now. More to come on the topic.

Anyone out there have personal experience with strategic allocation of attention? Please let us know about it.
Self-Control, Will Power or Strategic Allocation of Attention?SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Friday, January 27, 2012

Strategic Allocation of Attention as a Stress Reduction Technique

Here's an earlier post about strategic allocation of attention which is an old concept with brand new ramifications. SAA is a stress reduction technique as described below and a useful way to manage emotions and increase self-control. In an upcoming post I'm going to talk about a new project related to strategic allocation of attention which can have important consequences for us all.

Strategic allocation of attention sounds profound but is simple. Choosing where to focus your attention can be a planned strategy for accomplishing varying outcomes. Right now I'm thinking of SAA particularly as a stress reduction technique. Here are some everyday examples:

• The pilot tells the flight attendants to sit down and tells everyone to tighten their seat belts because it's going to be "very bumpy up ahead".
As a passenger, you have no control over the situation, but you do have a choice to manage your anxiety (if you're stressed) or to let it run rampant. Anything is better than sitting tensely, looking out the window and waiting for the next bump. Distraction helps. Reading, writing, sleeping may not do it for you. You may need something stronger!

• You have a responsibility that may exceed your ability. You're worried and you have to do it. There's not an opportunity to get prepared perfectly so you'll be winging it a bit. Again, no control, so problem-solving thinking isn't the technique to use. Worrying out loud or internally will not help. SAA may.

Here are a couple of ways to allocate your attention away from the worry, negative self-talk, anxious emotion.

• Breath in on the count of 3. Hold your breath while you count to 6. Breath our for the count of 3. It changes the oxygen, carbon dioxide balance and reduces butterflies in the stomach.

• Recite rotely any poem, speech, prayer that you've learned by heart.

• Count to 1000 by 2's or 3's.

You may be able to come up with more specific SAA that work for you. The point is to remove focus from the source of stress and your emotional reaction/response to the stressor, particularly useful when the situation is one over which you have no control. Research tell us that women in particular often have such a strong emotional response to a stressful situation or event that they're unable to allocate attention AWAY in order to try to focus on solving the inherent problem. Attachment to the stressor is the opposite of detachment from the stressor. Both attachment and detachment represent strategic choices. Where should I allocate my attention? Notice this weekend how similarly or differently you allocate attention than your strategic choices during the week.
Strategic Allocation of Attention as a Stress Reduction TechniqueSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Exercise, Healthy Eating and No Negative Self-Talk

"Although the happiest among the elderly seem to tolerate the aches and pains of old age with minimal complaint, they also urge younger people to treat their body as though it must last for a hundred years. That means no smoking, plenty of exercise, and a healthy diet. 'It's not dying you should worry about,' Pillemer said, summarizing the advice of his experts, 'It's chronic disease. What you can expect from not making the right health decisions isn't an early death. Instead you should be concerned about years, possibly decades, of suffering from chronic disease.'*

Who cares? I do. What's new about the comment above? Nothing except that it comes from the wisdom of experts in the field of old as they look back and ahead. The article doesn't in fact say anything about negative self-talk, but readers of this blog know that the NST habit has consequences similar to the fried ice cream with a side of mashed potato habit and the butt generally on a couch, chair and/or bed habit.

Negative self-talk and it's escalation, rumination, can culminate over time in chronic anxiety and depression. And  the negative self-talk habit also contributes mightily to the unhealthy eating and the no exercise habit. Breaking the NST habit seems the best starting point for a domino effect. I'm thinking in this stream of consciousness of creating an online 8-12 session class about breaking the NST habit. Not quite sure how or what. Video? Interactive? Traditional? I need to work on this idea. Suggestions? Please comment if you have an idea of what would work best.

I don't know any really good books on the topic to recommend while I patiently wait to get my book Handbook#1 for Intelligent Women — Break the Negative Self-Talk Habit published.  Do you have a recommendation or two? Please let us know if you've found some helpful resource that's available to all.

 *Here's the link to the Tampa Bay Times article "In Cornell University Legacy Project, aging Americans discuss Surviving and Thriving"
Exercise, Healthy Eating and No Negative Self-TalkSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Monday, January 23, 2012

Talent Matters! Good News or Bad?

Neuroscience is hitting the op-ed pages of newspapers and feature sections of magazines with increasing frequency. "Sorry, Strivers: Talent Matters" is the title of a Nov. 2011 NY Times article opposing the theory that hard work beats smarts and practice does make perfect. Malcolm Gladwell, pop-psychologizing K. Anders Ericsson's research results, implies that we are all capable of dramatic achievement if we just take the time to practice, with the help of an encouraging mentor, coach, tutor.

The authors of  "Sorry Strivers . . . " heartily disagree.  Researchers Hambrick and Meinz insist that intellectual ability is in fact the only, the real, and true path to extraordinary accomplishment. "A high level of intellectual ability gives you an enormous real world ability." Not that practice isn't useful for all, smart or not, but the smarties have a head start — pun intended. The last few sentences of their article emphasize that IQ is king, but also say it is " . . . not impossible for a person with an average I.Q. to, say, earn a Ph.D. in physics. It's just unlikely, relatively speaking. Sometimes the story that science tells us isn't the story we want to hear."

 Psychology and neuroscience findings can seem at odds with each other and even within their individual discipline. E.g. Is intellectual ability really a stable characteristic across the life span as Hambrick and Meinz assert? But — wait a minute. Other recent research says we can continue to raise our IQ throughout our entire life. The discovered neuroplasticity of the brain makes anything possible is the latest hype. Brain gymnastics, learn intuitive plus rational thinking, study a foreign language, play chess or duplicate bridge, talk through problem solving out loud all can make you brighter some say! I guess that' s the story I prefer to hear.
Talent Matters! Good News or Bad?SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Friday, January 20, 2012

System 1, System 2 and Negative/Positive Self-Talk

Plodding a bit in reading Kahneman's book, Thinking. It's long, full of research, and well-written in a conversational style, but not always interesting to me. He nicely simplifies System 1 and System 2 thinking styles as "just" the labels chosen. They could just as well have been Max and Sam or Sue and Lou. Here are some interesting ideas gleaned from bopping around the book.

•  Over confidence or unrealistic positive thinking comes from System 1, which in the lingo I use is the intuitive style of thinking. People with the optimistic explanatory style often takes full credit for success, but little blame for failure. It feels good, but can motivate unrealistic emotions and actions. The optimistic style can be trained but not eliminated. "The main benefit of optimism is resilience in the face of  setbacks." It defends one's self-image.

•  In contrast, self-control and self-criticism are functions of System 2. Although not the only functions, and not necessarily pessimistic, negativity rides high compared to System 1.

I'm wondering if all of us who are rational problem-solvers, closer to System 2 than System 1, can not only increase creativity by adding intuitive problem-solving to our repertoire, but we can also decrease some of the negative self-talk. And for those people who are primarily System 1 or intuitive thinkers, adding rational thinking may decrease some of the overly optimistic thinking and feeling. I haven't found this yet in Kahneman, but I'll keep looking.

If all of this is Greek, please search back in the blog for intuitive and rational problem-solving. Whether you've read the book or not, what are your experiences with the 2 models of thinking and the outcomes? 
System 1, System 2 and Negative/Positive Self-TalkSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Speaking and Writing Benefit from Each Other's Strengths

Here's a quick quote from a book review — Gotham Writers. It ties in to an earlier post on intelligentwomenonly.com about public speaking for writers. Not exactly the same but related to speaking, although public not private. http://intelligentwomenonly.blogspot.com/2010/12/post-is-article-that-i-wrote-for-asja.html

What Speech Can Bring to Writing

In Vernacular Eloquence, Peter Elbow makes a vital new contribution to both practice and theory of writing. The core idea is simple: we can enlist virtues from the language activity most people find easiest -- speaking -- for the language activity most people find hardest -- writing.

In this book, Elbow reviews how writers can marshal the "wisdom of the tongue" to produce stronger, clearer, more natural writing.

Here's a peek:

Reading Aloud to Revise:
A Role for the Tongue During the Late Stages of Writing
by Peter Elbow

If people read aloud carefully each sentence they’ve written and then keep revising or fiddling with the words till they feel right in the mouth and sound right in the ear, the resulting sentence will be clear and strong. This is a bold claim. For skeptics I formulate it more rigorously: the resulting sentence will be much clearer and much stronger than if the writer relied only on an understanding of what sentences are supposed to look like -- that is, relied only on knowledge of rules or principles.
Speaking and Writing Benefit from Each Other's StrengthsSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Two Brains — The Intuitive and the Rational/Logical

 I'm re-posting this past post as a way of re-setting the context for some future posts.

I'm now actually reading Kahneman's book and finding many pieces of information that are relevant to what this blog addresses: intelligent thinking women, understanding ourselves, managing our thinking and emotions effectively, communicating and taking action in the most effective ways at work and in personal relationships, creating and breaking thinking habits.

I'm also away from my home base which I find definitely increases my intuitive thinking — or my thinking fast, system 1. And I'm with a friend who is very smart in totally different ways than I, which enhances my own thinking and sends me out and down different neural pathways. She was talking yesterday about memorizing a (short) literary quote every day, which she finds makes her brain feel "freshly brushed".

Here's the previous post.

I have to acknowledge, I still haven't read Daniel Kahneman's book, Thinking, Fast and Slow. I have ordered it, but haven't received it yet. I'm in Phoenix for a month, where amazingly there are no more book stores! I had to order it online rather than from my favorite independent bookstore Eagle Harbor Bookstore on Bainbridge Island. Happily I'm returning tomorrow.

But here are some interesting thoughts from the NYTimes Book Review of Kahneman's book, by Jim Holt.

• System 1 is our fast, automatic, intuitive and largely unconscious mode of thinking. "It is system 1 that detects hostility in a voice and effortlessly completes the phrase,'bread and . . . ' " It uses loose connections, memories, metaphor, similes, to create solutions to problems, ideas for innovation.

• System 2, in contrast,  ". . . 'swings into action when we have to fill out a tax form or park a car in a narrow space." (I'm not sure I agree with the latter example)  Interestingly, Kahneman says that you can tell that people are in System 2 because their pupils are dilated. It uses logical thinking, solid data, tight connections to come to conclusions and solutions.

"Although System 2 believes itself to be there the action is, the automatic System 1 is the hero of the book."

What do you think? Which type are you? I'm a System 2 and I'm working on improving my System 1, but I'm much more successful and confident with System 2.

Here's a related post: http://intelligentwomenonly.blogspot.com/2010/06/is-womens-lateral-thinking-illogical.html

and  another: http://www.blogger.com/post-edit.g?blogID=5630711609871539058&postID=1076726261671923464
Two Brains — The Intuitive and the Rational/LogicalSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Monday, January 16, 2012

What Kind of Repetitive Negative Thinker Are You? Or Aren't You?

A recent research study about repetitive negative thinking (otherwise known as rumination) identifies three different types.

• Rumination that maintain the focus on emotions.  E.g. "‘When I’m feeling sad, I think about the other times I felt that way." Thinking about negative feelings in the present often brings up past times when thoughts and feelings were also negative. The mind cycles cycling round, rethinking old and new experiences, leaving little space for other thoughts and feelings.

• Stress-reactive rumination measures the frequency of negative thoughts about the negative inferences following stress events. E.g. "I think about how the stressful event was totally my fault." Generally this is the type of ruminative thinking I address on intelligentwomenonly.com
It's negative thoughts and feelings about yourself. An event may cause stress. Then the negative self-talk that comes from the stress, creates more stress. "I'm so stupid. That's why I handled the situation like a jerk." Even if the rumination stays pretty much in the present, it hangs on, cycling around in the mind.

• Rumination with the primary tendency to worry in an obsessive and uncontrolled way. "I'm really bothered by the worrying I do." " I shouldn't worry so much." What's wrong with me that I'm always worrying?' Clearly that's single track rumination. There's not so much of a cycle but a straight line of linked consistent negative thoughts.

I can't provide the link because the article, "Dimensions of Negative Thinking and the Relations with Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety in Children and Adolescents" was published in an academic journal (Cognitive Therapy Research, 2010) that I found on a database rather then the internet. Although the research was about children, adults do the same kind of rumination. And adults also end up with symptoms of anxiety and depression.

If you're just thinking about negative self-talk and rumination for the first time, check out all the posts on this blog under the category, Understand Negative Self-Talk.  Then if you want to start thinking about making a change, look under Eliminate Negative Self-talk.
What Kind of Repetitive Negative Thinker Are You? Or Aren't You?SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Friday, January 13, 2012

Link Back to Gender Differences and Compassion etc.

Here's a link to a better article than my poar about the research on gender difference and compassion that I commented on 1/13/2012.

Link Back to Gender Differences and Compassion etc.SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

No News Flash — Women Are More Compassionate than Men

I've been looking for new neuroscientific research about the connection between negative self-talk, which is actually negative thinking about one's self, and emotion, which is usually negative to coincide with the thinking. Still haven't found it in any brain imagery stuff, but it must be right around the corner, or hidden in the past where I've not found it yet.

OK. Friday's post may not be as fascinating as I promised on Wednesday, but it is new neuroscience, related to women and gender differences; "Study of Emotion: Women's Brains are Wired for Compassion." http://www.miller-mccune.com/culture-society/women%E2%80%99s-brains-are-wired-for-compassion-30951/

Here's the gist. Brain imagery demonstrates that women have higher reactivity to pictures of people in hardship or difficult circumstances than men.
 “The present findings indicate that women accomplish the complex emotional-cognitive process defined as compassion through a more elaborate brain processing than men by engaging prefrontal and cingulated cortices,” the researchers write. “The results agree with gender differences reporting a greater emotional sensitivity in women when viewing aversive and suffering situations.”

Do some of you disagree with this label of women's greater emotional sensitivity? I'd be surprised. Not that I'm saying men are insensitive. They are sensitive to different things than women. Women are more PFR, people, feelings, and relationships. Men are more BMS, business, money and sports.

I'm wondering how much money went into this study of 12 men and 12 women that told us something that probably has been known, without such/much scientific validation, since cave people days. However, as I mentioned on Wednesday, acquiring facts about what has been seen as common sense, or even stereotype, creates impact. I also mentioned that I preferred research that produced suggestions for action, which this research accomplished. Here's the finale of the article: "So ladies: When the men in your life seem insensitive to suffering, try not to respond with scorn. The problem, according to this study of emotion, is one of brain circuitry. It shouldn’t be hard to take pity on them; after all, you have an enormous capacity for compassion."

I'm left wondering. Does all the hoopla about neuroplasticity (brain capacity for growth and new learning) mean that we should assume that brain circuitry is changeable? If it is, with choice, theoretically women could choose and practice less compassion and men could do the opposite? But how do we go about doing that? I felt very compassionate for the overtime Stanford kicker in the Fiesta bowl and the overtime Virginia Tech kicker in the Sugar Bowl. Both sort of lost the game for their team. ARGH! But what a waste of my emotional circuitry and compassion. I had no control, marginal interest, and more emotional engagement than wanted or needed. The circumstances required detachment which I can do well in many situations, but not all.  Moderating emotions and choosing thinking styles are both still challenging tasks in my and probably your development.
No News Flash — Women Are More Compassionate than MenSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Apology in Advance: Uninteresting Research Produces Uninteresting Stream of Consciousness.

A recent article about gender differences from Psychcentral* looked very interesting initially so I went back and looked at the scientific journal that reported the original research, conducted by psychologists from Italy and the UK. Here's their final paragraph.

"In conclusion, we believe we made it clear that the true extent of sex differences in human personality has been consistently underestimated."

 Does this paragraph convey any meaningful information? No. What is the take-away?  Nada. So you may wonder why I even wrote this post. Two reasons.  I prefer to have posts based on psychological information and researched facts. I believed that I'm always interested in gender difference research.

As it turns out,  this piece of research altered my thinking about what I read and what I write and what I think.

• Reading Psychcentral as well as the original research told me almost nothing, but it reminded me that although there's lots more accessibility to research and new knowledge on the internet, it doesn't mean that it's fresh, interesting, or meaningful.

• Neuroscience seems to be outpacing psychological science in interesting revelations for new, improved ways to think and behave. 

• The question of gender differences/similarities seems tired after two decades or more. My first book, Genderflex, Men and Women Speaking Each Other's Language at Work focused with intensity on the subject. Maybe I've lost the passion.

•  I'm changing so that I'm mostly interested in research that can lead to improved action. e.g. are there ways to develop and maintain relationships with people who are similar to us that are not the same as those techniques that are useful in relationships with people who are different than us?

• Maybe I'll end up replacing the category of Get It — Gender Differences with Newest in Applicable Neuroscience.

This post might be found wanting in the same way I found the gender research useless. I'm reminded of an early post when I wrote about gender differences in a 3 act play form. Didn't work.  But for me, this exercise was useful; writing out loud a thinking process that will lead to change.

Thanks for your indulgence kind readers. Friday will have to be fascinating.

   *    http://psychcentral.com/news/2012/01/06/study-supports-gender-differences-in-personality/33384.html 


Apology in Advance: Uninteresting Research Produces Uninteresting Stream of Consciousness.SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Friday, January 6, 2012

Intuitve Thinking and Brain Silence

 "The sounds of silence are a dim recollection now, like mystery, privacy and paying attention to one thing — or one person — at a time.
As far back as half-a-century ago, the Swiss philosopher Max Picard warned: 'Nothing has changed the nature of man so much as the loss of silence, once as natural as the sky and air.' " A quote from Maureen Dowd.

If you've read the previous posts* about the advantages of intuitive thinking, you understand that a "quiet, resting mind" is a necessity for  intuitive, unconscious, problem-solving activity. Hard to find that time and place. I'm beginning to see why I never was very good at that type of thinking, and relied on rational step by step problem solving. I never had a quiet, rested mind and in fact saw it as a lax, lazy mind that wasn't doing it's job. For me, thinking, analyzing, interpreting and activity, doing, going was the way to go. Maybe that's OK or unavoidable for certain stages of life or weeks or months such as holiday time.

With all the electronics we use minute by minute, even if they don't make noise, one is always connected, looking out, not in, listening, hearing, being stimulated from outside, having little time for the inner mind. The less frequently I check in with twitter, e-mail, Facebook, the better I feel.

Meditation insists on quiet time. It took me years to start meditating on a regular basis, but the benefits are huge. Five minutes of meditating time are worth 30 minutes of active brain time for me. Meditation is equal to a 30 minute alone run, both of which engage the brain in solitude.  Just a wild estimate, but I'm certainly calmer and seem to experience many more Aha moments!  Try it a tiny bit at a time and see what happens. Just sit by yourself in a room with your eyes open or closed and empty your mind for 5 minutes. Can you do it? It's not easy getting started.

Intuitve Thinking and Brain SilenceSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Emotions and Thinking — A New Model?

A quote from Sharpbrains.com: one of ten quotes about neuroplasticity.

Emo­tion is the sys­tem that tells us how impor­tant some­thing is. Atten­tion focuses us on the impor­tant and away from the unim­por­tant things. Cog­ni­tion tells us what to do about it. Cog­ni­tive skills are what­ever it takes to do those things.”

I'm not sure I totally get the quote or know the difference between cognition and cognitive skills, but I still liked it.

When I saw this quote, it reminded me that I've neglected the topic of emotion while focusing primarily on thinking. Yes, feeling and thinking do go together, maybe more connected for women and more detached for men. But maybe not? So I'm going to check into what's new in neuroscience about emotion/attention/cognition. Does brain imagery detail emotional pathways?

The original psychological theory of rational thinking says thinking precedes emotion which comes before behavior. H-m-m-m, maybe there's a whole different model that neuroscience can demonstrate. Any readers have knowledge or thoughts about the quote or neuroscientific info re neural connections between emotions and thinking?

I'll be back with more on the topic, but not right away!
Emotions and Thinking — A New Model?SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Loneliness Ameliorated Through Writing?

This quote from William Kenower in The Author, an online newsletter from Pacific Northwest Writers Association, hit me at the holidays. I was feeling lonely although not alone, and sometimes in a crowd; a not uncommon experience for me during times of expected celebration, such as  birthdays.

"Writing answered loneliness, and perhaps precisely because I had to do it alone. Not only did I require physical isolation, but mental as well. One thought of another person and the spell of writing was ruined. But within that spell I felt the very opposite of loneliness. Within that spell, life seemed as interesting and available as the perfect lover, and loneliness seemed like nothing but a restless lie in search of an empty night to ruin."

I had inadvertently stumbled on the outcome Kenower expressed, although with less insight and fewer inner words to express the experience. It's the kind of detachment from one's inner self that meditation provides, while also an intensity of absorption that I rarely find in other activities of my life. Comforting.

 What do you find about writing and loneliness?
Loneliness Ameliorated Through Writing?SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Monday, January 2, 2012

Goal for January? Get Rid of NST — Start Now, End February 1.

The Writer magazine, January 2012, provides a brief  article about combating negative self-talk — for writers. I've long believed that NST causes most symptoms of writers' block or even acetia, a topic I posted about last week. It's just the content of the internal monologue that differs slightly between people. E.g. "No one wants to read your writing," hangs in with "Your opinions are disrespected," or  further along the continuum, "You're an idiot."

Stefanik's article suggests recognizing NST and the negative emotions as the first step, followed by asking yourself why you feel this way. I'm all for acknowledging that you have the habit, but don't bother asking why.  Insight doesn't produce change is one of my strongest basic beliefs. The process of elimination is similar for writers and pilots, women and men, intuitive and rational thinkers.  Here are links to previous posts on starting out, problem-solving thinking, cognitive restructuring and detachement/distraction, to help with the do it now approach I'm pushing.





I do agree however with the final sentiment expressed in the article, quoting psychologist Arlene M. Cooke. "We have the choice to believe in the good or the bad about ourselves. It's never too late to change the directions of your thinking and start the journey to a more optimistic, happier and healthier version of you."
Goal for January? Get Rid of NST — Start Now, End February 1.SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend