Category Archives: Health

Information and useful news to keep your brain and body in good health. Interesting articles about psychology, latest discoveries, brain health, interesting facts, nutrition, IQ, memory, etc. Different professionals and specialists help us understand health and how to take care of ourselves.

Memory Exercises: Help strengthen your memory

Memory—it’s tied to everything that forms our person. The vivid images in our minds are how we recall our favorite moments, communicate with those we love, learn new information, and even perform routine behaviors. With memory involved in daily life, this cognitive skill is highly beneficial. There are many memory exercises to strengthen and improve all types of memory.

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

What is Memory?

Memory is a cognitive process. When applied, it is how the brain encodes, stores, and then recalls or retrieves information from the environment and previous experiences. Encoding is taking in information through the senses, learning it, and relating it to past knowledge. In the memory process, storing memory is retaining that information over time until retrieval, which is accessing the information as it is needed. Without memory, language, behavior, and personal identity are impossible because we would have no concept of recalling past events.

Types of Memory

There are three types of memory that can be divided into subcategories and improved in various ways!

  1. Sensory Memory—Information is taken in through the sense (i.e. sight, touch, hearing, taste, and smell), processed by the nervous system, and is stored for mere seconds after the initial stimuli are no longer present before being transferred to short term memory

  2. Short Term Memory—The ability to hold or store current information for a limited time (between 15 and 30 seconds) and capacity, meaning only several items can be held until they are forgotten or moved to long term memory
    • Working Memory—The process of temporarily storing current information and then manipulating it for use
  3. Long Term Memory—The unlimited capacity to store any information occurring over a few minutes ago for an extended period of time; information is encoded and manipulated  
    • Explicit—Memory that is easily recalled unconsciously and unknowingly influences thoughts and behavior
    • Implicit—Memory that is remembered intentionally with work like recalling a phone number
    • Declarative—Recalling factual information like dates, events, concepts, faces, or words
    • Procedural—How to perform a skill, action, or behavior
    • Episodic—Remembering personal experiences and events
    • Semantic—Remembering general facts

Why Should We Use Memory Exercises To Improve Memory?

Memory is involved in every facet of our lives. Essentially, it makes us who we are. So, to become the fullest version of ourselves, it is important to use memory exercises to prove memory. Memory naturally declines with age as the number of neural synapses (nerve cells and their connections) decreases. While genetics and environmental factors do play a role, practicing memory exercises can potentially prevent such a drastic reduction in memory skills.

Concrete or Abstract Memory Exercises: Which is Best?

Concrete and abstract are two types of thinking. Concrete thinking includes concepts derived from information taken in through the senses. It is literally and focused on the physical world as facts, objects, and definitions. Contrarily, abstract thinking is ideas that are not tangibly related to the physical world. It is a more complex manner of thinking that allows us to understand and make connections about the information processed through concrete thinking. Examples of abstract thinking are concepts such as freedom, love, and metaphorical language.

A combination of both forms of thinking is useful for memory exercises. However, concrete exercises are beneficial because they target specific goals. Abstract thinking cannot occur without real, physical experiences of the concrete.

Memory Exercises: Learn A Language

Memory is an integral component of learning. Learning a new skill is a memory exercise because it challenges the brain to recall information. It utilizes the brain’s neuroplasticity to do so, which is how the brain forms neurons (nerve cells), strengthens the connections between those cells, and repairs damage. One study of bilingual participants with Alzheimer’s disease demonstrates how learning multiple languages delays symptom onset like that of memory loss by up to 4.5 years.

Memory Exercises: Visualization

Visualizing is the act of creating images in your mind. The sense of sight is incredibly powerful—lingering in the memory more so than hearing, smelling, tasting, or the sensation of touch. Visualization trains short term memory by enhancing the encoding process. When visualizing, including information from all of the senses ensures the clearest, most vivid image. That also increases the likelihood of remembering. Visualization exercises can range from trying to reproduce a picture you previously observed, an object, a person, or a location. Begin by looking at the image you wish to recreate in your mind for one minute.  

Memory Exercises: Numeracy Games

Numbers games foster logical thinking. Doing math, especially without pencil and paper, requires you to repeat and rehearse numbers in your head. That heavily relies on memory and is considered a memory exercise because of the amount of information held in short term memory necessary to complete the math problem. Examples of numeracy games are Sudoku or simply performing math equations such as choosing a number and adding or subtracting digits from that number multiple times to arrive at the correct answer.

Ex: 3(46 x 7 – 18)

Memory Exercises: Repeat and Recall

Repeat and recall may seem to be a simple practice, but it is an extremely effective memory exercise. This is one reason why you repeat a phone number in your mind to dial it later. The repetition of the repeat and recall process commits it to long term memory because short term memory can only hold the phone number for merely seconds. To train the brain, repeat and recall conversations, numbers, song lyrics, poems, or even books read. In conversations, repeat and recall exercises are beneficial for listening skills. Listening skills are often lacking, and repeating a conversation makes the main idea of the conversation more clearly.

Memory Exercises: Physical Exercise

Physical exercise does not solely exercise the body. It works out the brain too! Aerobic exercises are particularly helpful for memory. Firstly, the body’s physiological response to exercise serves as a protection against memory loss. As one exercises, the blood flow increases the amount of oxygen available to the brain. When the brain has more oxygen, the body is less susceptible to cardiovascular disease and various forms of dementia which both impair memory. According to leading neurologists at Harvard University, exercise also boosts neurotransmitters, which are chemical messengers in the brain. Studies suggest that those who avidly exercise have more volume in the regions of the brain that control memory and cognition.

Memory Exercises: Teach A Skill

They say practice makes perfect! The same concept applies to memory. Teaching a skill is a memory exercise because it gives the opportunity to practice the skill being taught. As a teacher, you have to refine your own technique as you are explaining it to somebody else. This repetition trains the memory.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Memory Exercises: Change Your Routine

The brain needs diversity. Sticking to the same routine day after day does not challenge the brain. Altering your routine, however, does. The hippocampus is the area of the brain that stores long term memories. Changing your routine in any way, like working out in the morning instead of the evening, going out for lunch rather than staying at the office, or taking a new route to class stimulates the hippocampus to improve memory.

Memory Exercises: Observe Details

Details are in everything—the people we surround ourselves with, the places we go, the movies we watch. Observing these details can be an effective memory exercise. For the observation exercise, intentionally observe and note at least four details of a stimulus in your environment. For example, committing to memory that the restaurant you are dining in has checkered floors, red walls, six tables, and a green jukebox in the corner. Later, try to recall those details. This is referred to as passive memory training. It trains the memory not only to retain information but to easier access the details stored in memory.

Memory Exercises: Social Connections

Humans are social creatures. Research analyzing the social connection patterns of patients with Alzheimer’s disease establishes a connection between patients with active social lives and those who remain more isolated. Published in the American Journal of Public Health, “women with the larger social networks were 26 percent less likely to develop dementia than those with smaller social networks” (Crooks et al., 2011). Daily connection is key, as the chance of developing dementia is then lowered by nearly half. This is because the brain is stimulated as we respond to others. Additionally, group activities that bring about socialization (i.e. exercise) encourage healthy behaviors and lend emotional support during times of trial. A contented emotional state is imperative for building strong brain connections for cognitive skills such as memory.

Memory Exercises: Eat Breakfast

Diet is linked to memory function. Starting the day with a healthy breakfast is the first step to successful memory exercise. To retain information, pay attention, and perform other cognitive skills related to memory, the brain requires a balance of protein, carbohydrates, and antioxidants. It cannot function optimally without energy to do so. Foods with high levels of vitamin E are also essential to building memory function. These include nuts and seeds, eggs, and green leafy vegetables like spinach and broccoli. The typical breakfast foods like sugary cereals, processed meats, and pastries do not provide the brain with enough nutrition for optimal brain function.

Memory Exercises: Read

Reading is a memory exercise most beneficial in old age. It stimulates the occipital and parietal lobes, which are the areas of the brain associated with visual information and reading comprehension. As the occipital and parietal lobes are “exercised,” the brain can more effectively process visual information of other stimuli in the environment that we store to memory.  

Neurobic Exercise = Memory Exercise

Each of these memory exercises is known as neurobic exercises—the idea that cognitive skills like memory can be maintained and enhanced through exercising the brain. They reflect how actions like reading a book, taking up a hobby or having a conversation potentially train the brain with minimal effort.

References

Crooks, V.C., Lubben, J. Petitti, D.B., Little, D., & Chiu, V. (2011). Social Network, Cognitive Function, and Dementia Incidence Among Elderly Women. American Journal of Public Health, 98(7). DOI: https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2007.115923

Diament, M. (2008). Friends Make You Smart. Retrieved from https://www.aarp.org/health/brain-health/info-11-2008/friends-are-good-for-your-brain.html

Harvard Health Publishing. (N.d.). Exercise can boost your memory and thinking skills. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/exercise-can-boost-your-memory-and-thinking-skills

Cognitive Health: What is its meaning and how to improve it.

Do you forget things lately? Have you lost the skills you used to have? Many people worry about memory loss and skills as they get older, and feel a decline in their cognitive function.

In this article we will talk about what are the causes of this decline, what is cognitive health and steps to strengthen it. Read this article to keep your brain healthy as you get older.

Cognitive health: definition and meaning

How can we define Cognitive health? What is its meaning? Cognitive health refers mainly to thinking, learning, and memory. It also can include other components as the motor function (how the person controls movements), emotional function (how a person can manage their emotions) and sensory function (how a person feels and respond to sensations as pressure, pain, temperature, etc). A person with good cognitive health is a person who can think, learn and remember.

Therefore, “Cognition” is an important element of the brain health, and to have good cognitive health means that the brain is fit and ready to carry out life and work demands. In conclusion, cognitive health is related to brain health and its complete function. It includes areas such as memory, language, learning, emotional function, sensory function, motor function, etc.

Cognitive health and cognitive reserve: definition and difference

Now that we have defined what is cognitive health, it is important to mention a crucial concept to the understanding of cognitive health: cognitive reserve.

Cognitive reserve is your capacity of developing several thinking abilities during your life. It is also known as the ability of the brain to improvise and find other ways of completing a job. People with good cognitive reserve are more protected against memory losses and the decline of their mental skills. Cognitive reserve is developed throughout a life of education and curiosity, which helps your brain to cope with any deterioration that has to deal with. Cognitive reserve is the mind’s defense to brain damage.

The cognitive reserve is based on using the brain networks that we have in a more efficient way or on a greater capacity.

Considering all the information above, it is important to keep in mind that cognitive reserve is very important to protect people against losses and damage that can occur through aging. It could be said that cognitive reserve is a tool that helps people to develop resilience and to have more reserve to call on an older age.

Cognitive health: issues and meaning

Everyone forgets something sometimes, like misplacing your keys or blanking out on a name. That is completely normal, but if these episodes become recurrent or interfere with daily life, you may need to pay attention to your cognitive health and go to a specialized professional. If that happens to you, you may have Mild Cognitive Impairment or MCI, which is an intermediate state between normal aging and dementia.

What is Mild Cognitive Impairment?

We can say that Mild Cognitive Impairment is something between the usual cognitive decline expected with aging and the first signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 10% to 20% of adults older than 65 have Mild Cognitive Impairment, but it is difficult to detect.

Mild Cognitive Impairment could be categorized in two different types:

Amnestic mild cognitive impairment. It refers to problems with memory (for example forgetting recent information and details of conversations, or misplacing personal items).

Non-amnestic mild cognitive impairment. It refers to problems with other areas instead of memory, such as attention and concentration. It also can include difficulties in planning and decision making, language skills (for example, difficult to find or choosing words), etc. Although recognizing Mild Cognitive Impairment could be difficult, it is essential because it is the first step to identify it before it can get worse.

Cognitive Health: What are Cognitive disorders?

Related that we explained before, cognitive disorders or neurocognitive disorders are a group of mental health disorders that affect cognitive abilities such as learning, memory, perception, problem-solving, etc. In other words, cognitive disorders are a group of mental health disorders that affects some cognitive abilities. Cognitive disorders can also be defined as any disorder that affects cognitive function in a way that prevents a person from living a normal life.

The most common type of cognitive disorders are:

  • Dementia
  • Developmental disorders
  • Motor skill disorders
  • Amnesia
  • Alzheimer’s disease

To shed light on the question of what causes cognitive disorders, we need to think about a variety of factors. Some scientific studies point to hormonal imbalances in the womb, genetic predisposition, environmental factors during vulnerable stages of cognitive development, particularly during infancy, or substance abuse and physical injury.

What about the symptoms?

Cognitive disorder symptoms could vary depending on the particular disorder, but some of the most common symptoms are present in most disorders. Some of them include:

  • Confusion. The affected person may appear dazed too.
  • Problems with motor coordination. The affected person may have a lack of balance and normal posture.
  • Loss of memory. This could include a lack of coordination and other signs as forgetting names and significant faces.
  • Identity confusion. About who he is and his own identity.
  • Emotional symptoms. As suffering cognitive issues is frustrating, some people suffering from it react with emotional explosion. Other people with cognitive issues react with apathy.

Cognitive Health: What is the difference between Mild Cognitive Impairment and Cognitive disorders?

Although there are similar features between Mild Cognitive Impairment and Cognitive disorders, they are not the same: The symptoms developed in mild cognitive impairment do not cause any interference with normal daily life activities. On the other hand, cognitive disorders symptoms interfere with a person’s normal daily life.

If, after reading this, you believe that you or one of your loved ones may be suffering from Mild Cognitive Impairment or Cognitive disorders, you may need to contact a mental health professional who can evaluate your case.

How can you strengthen your cognitive health?: Cognitive health exercises and some advice.

Not everything is negative! The good news is cognitive issues can be prevented or delayed putting your brain in shape. People can maintain their brains fit through activities that are destined to improve cognitive functioning: attention, memory and concentration exercises, problem-solving, planning, etc.

So, what can you do to stimulate your brain and have a good cognitive health? Different researches and studies aimed that there are some different advice to follow:

1. Eat Healthy foods: a plant-based diet.

Different studies show that a diet based on high amounts of plant-based foods like fruits (especially berries), green leafy vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and olive oil is associated with slower mental decline in older adults. It is important to drink enough water and other fluids too.

2. Be physically active: exercise regularly.

It is important to do at least 30 minutes to an hour of moderate-intensity exercise three to five times a week. We know that the benefit of exercising regularly is incredible to prevent or delay heart disease, diabetes and other diseases. Studies also show that physical activity has benefits for the brain too. Some studies have shown that exercise can help to improve learning and spatial memory. It is also important to take care of your health limiting the use of alcohol and quit smoking.

3. Get enough sleep.

Generally, experts recommend sleeping seven or eight hours each night. When you sleep, the functions of your brain are still active, processing information. It is important to have good quality and enough quantity of sleep as your brain can go through the five different stages of sleep. That helps you to process new information.

4. Manage your stress

Neurologists say that the best ally could be laughter. It is important to have a positive attitude towards life and avoiding or manage stress to take care of your brain.

5. Stay connected with social activities and contacts.

It is essential to visit family and friends and to join programs in your community. Participating in social activities may lower the risk of some brain decline and other health problems. Be connecting with other people through social activities and programs keep your brain active and also help you to feel part of a community and less isolated. This is essential to improve your well-being and to keep your brain safe.

6. Keep your mind active and continue to challenge your brain.

Many people who participate in volunteer programs or have hobbies claim that they feel happy and healthy. It is important to be intellectually engaged to fit and benefit your brain. Some ideas of activities that can keep your mind active: reading books or magazines, taking classes about something new, playing games, and, as we mentioned above, learning a new skill or hobby, volunteering…

All of these activities can benefit your brain, moreover: they can be fun! Now that you know all the steps to take care of your brain, start putting them into practice!

We don’t know for sure yet if these actions can prevent or delay Alzheimer’s disease, but some of them have been associated with reduced risk of developing cognitive impairment and dementia.

If you have been diagnosed with Mild Cognitive Impairment, that doesn’t mean that you are going to develop dementia or Alzheimer’s for sure, it changes from case to case. While there is no method for preventing or slowing Mild Cognitive Impairment, some studies have found that people can reduce their risk of cognitive decline by applying the steps described above.

Cognitive health in older adults

Although cognitive health is a concern, it is important to know that serious decline is not imminent, even at old age, we can prevent it and slow it down. The brain is an organ that ages like the rest of the body. The aging process and how it affects one’s daily life differs from one person to another, but we know that some cognitive abilities, like memory, decrease with age. However, other mental abilities, such as knowledge and wisdom, tend to increase.

There are some recent studies about when cognitive decline reaches its peak, but it was found a considerable variability in the age at which cognitive abilities decline throughout life. In general, we can say that the areas that experiment some decrease:

  • Attention. Age interfere with attention, especially when it is necessary to multitask. It could be a challenge to pay attention to multiple traffic lanes while driving, for example.
  • Memory. It declines for many people over time, but again, differences have been found for each person.
  • Language skills. They are well retained during adulthood in general, but it could be a challenge to a person more than seventy years old to recall a particular word during a conversation.

However, as we say before, this process is not the same for everyone, and older people experience an improvement in other areas:

  • Knowledge. Strengthened by experience.
  • Vocabulary continues to improve into middle age and well retained throughout the life cycle. According to recent studies, adults can improve their cognitive health in older age by raising their fitness level. Cognitive health in old age is also influenced by other factors as “cognitive reserve.” This means that people who were more intelligent when they were younger or had better cognitive maintenance through education, occupation, or stimulating activities, maintain cognitive health better than people who were not.

Finally, some studies suggest that it is very important for the cognitive health of older people not to be alone. These studies indicate that it is essential to have an extensive social network and feel part of a group.

Bibliography

  • Anderson, L. A., & McConnell, S. R. (2007). Cognitive health: an emerging public health issue. Alzheimer’s & dementia: the journal of the Alzheimer’s Association ​ , ​3 ​ (2), S70-S73.
  • Everything ages, even your brain. Don’t worry so much. It’s probably not Alzheimer’s, Lenny Brillstein, The Washington Post, April 14, 2015. Recovered from: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2015/04/14/everything-ages-even-your-braindont-worry-so-much-its-probably-not-alzheimers/
  • Hillman, C. H., Belopolsky, A. V., Snook, E. M., Kramer, A. F., & McAuley, E. (2004). Physical activity and executive control: implications for increased cognitive health during older adulthood. ​Research quarterly for exercise and sport ​ , ​75 ​ (2), 176-185.
  • Jedrziewski, M. K., Lee, V. M. Y., & Trojanowski, J. Q. (2007). Physical activity and cognitive health. Alzheimer’s & Dementia ​ , ​3 ​ (2), 98-108.
  • Laditka, J. N., Beard, R. L., Bryant, L. L., Fetterman, D., Hunter, R., Ivey, S., … & Wu, B. (2009). Promoting cognitive health: a formative research collaboration of the Healthy Aging Research Network. ​The Gerontologist ​ , ​49 ​ (S1), S12-S17.
  • Parletta, N., Milte, C. M., & Meyer, B. J. (2013). Nutritional modulation of cognitive function and mental health. ​The Journal of nutritional biochemistry ​ , ​24 ​ (5), 725-743.
  • Sperling, R. A., Aisen, P. S., Beckett, L. A., Bennett, D. A., Craft, S., Fagan, A. M., … & Park, D. C. (2011). Toward defining the preclinical stages of Alzheimer’s disease: Recommendations from the National Institute on Aging-Alzheimer’s Association workgroups on diagnostic guidelines for Alzheimer’s disease. ​Alzheimer’s & dementia ​ , ​7 ​ (3), 280-292.
  • Stern, Y. (2009). Cognitive reserve. Neuropsychologia, 47(10), 2015-2028.

Social Media and the Brain: Is Social Media Healthy For the Brain?

Modern-day society is immersed in technology. Glued to smartphones and other devices, there is an app for everything—including socialization. Human connection has been reduced to words and photos on a screen rather than face-to-face communication with accounts like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Although fun and convenient, the positive and negative effects are enough to make one question: is social media healthy for the brain?

Social Media and the Brain: What is Social Media?

Social media is a broad term describing computer-based technologies that allow the sharing of ideas, communication, and interactive virtual communities. This includes email, instant messaging, and accounts like YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Snapchat. We are surrounded by social media on a day-to-day basis. Communicating with others via computerized technology connects us with loved ones we may not otherwise have contact with.

Consisting of key platforms for marketing, social media is also beneficial for work and academics. Scholars easily share articles and reports with recent findings. Consumers purchase products because of social media marketing strategies applied by businesses, which furthers the economy. With the prevalence of social media, there’s no doubt its presence in our lives produces both positive and negative effects on the brain.

Positive Effects of Social Media on the Brain

Social media receives a negative stigma when judging its effects on the brain. Of course, there are countless pitfalls of technology-based social platforms, but social media is a positive presence in the lives of many. Brain activity in multiple areas of the brain responds to the stimuli by multiplying productivity, boosting mood, and expanding the learning of some key cognitive skills.

Enhanced Communication

Social media platforms foster open communication. The hustle and bustle of daily life do not leave as much time for face-to-face social interactions. Social media is a solution. Individuals can connect across distances and networks are formed with people who would otherwise be inaccessible. The increased connections with social networks also provide the opportunity to learn social and communication skills. Aspects of mental health are enhanced as the strengthened relationships contribute to “social capital and subjective well-being” (Bekalu et al., 2019).

Creativity

Creativity is the capacity to generate original ideas, techniques, or possibilities in useful ways. It is related to divergent thinking in which the ideas generated occur from a non-linear, free-flowing thought process by employing the brain’s executive functions. Social media is an outlet for creativity with its photos, text posts, GIFs, and videos. It is a resource to explore new ideas and to build upon information—all while receiving constructive input from others.

Improved Memory

Memory is a brain function that encodes, stores, and recalls information as needed to complete a task or perform a behavior. The process of memory recall—the ability to retrieve memories previously stored from the past by replaying neural activity—is made easier with the use of social media. One study of 66 students from Cornell University highlights how social media improves the brain’s memory. Each of the students was directed to document their experiences, rate them on emotional intensity, and were then asked about which of those experiences they shared on social media. After taking two quizzes a week apart, students better remembered the experiences they had shared online regardless of the emotional intensity rating.

Feelings of Happiness

Although social media can be a source of depression when users endlessly scroll through posts and compare their lives, physical appearance, or occupations to their friends, social media can provoke happiness. Feelings of happiness from social media use originate from social connections. Michigan State University conducted a study of Facebook users. Users who provided empathetic support through engaging in social media posts had an increase in well-being and self-esteem, whereas the passive users did not. Dopamine and serotonin, neurotransmitters that send chemical messages to nerve cells in the brain, are present when experiencing this social connection. The neurotransmitter release is associated with feelings of happiness and reward.

Emotional Support

Social media creates a sense of belonging. The aspect of emotional support is protective against mental illness. It brings together groups of people with similar struggles, missions, and goals. Additionally, people update about their lives on social media. The awareness of the lives of others creates the perception of emotional support even when there is no direct communication occurring. With emotional bonding, the pituitary gland at the base of the brain releases the stress hormone oxytocin that produces feelings of protection.

Negative Effects of Social Media on the Brain

On average, a person spends 144 minutes per day checking social media accounts. Although 81% say social media has a positive influence on their life, frequent use of social media has negative effects on the brain and nervous system that they do not realize. Social media users are at risk for mental health disorders, declines in cognitive skills like attention, and physical ailments.

Photo by Tracy Le Blanc from Pexels

Reduced Attention Span

Scrolling through Facebook while watching TV and writing a paper may appear like multi-tasking at its finest, but what effect does it have on the brain?

There are four types of attention.

  1. Sustained—the ability to focus on one stimulus for a prolonged period of time
  2. Selective—the ability to select which stimuli to focus on
  3. Alternating—the ability to switch between tasks with differing cognitive stimuli
  4. Divided—the ability to complete multiple tasks at the same time

Sustained attention was once the most essential skill, but excessive social media users, display marked declines in sustained attention and an increase in alternating and divided attention. Enhanced multi-tasking probably seems like a positive aspect of social media; however, the increase does not apply to settings outside of social media.

The Technical University of Denmark performed a study that concluded social media is rewiring the attention process in the brain and reducing gray matter responsible for inhibitory control, memory, speech, and sensory perception (Lorenz-Spreen et al., 2019). The changes are similar to that of the brain of someone with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)—a neurodevelopmental condition characterized by inattention, hyperactive behavior, and impulsivity.

Vision Problems

On average, we blink approximately 15 times per minute. When exposed to electronics, that number is cut in half. Vision is regulated by the nervous system. It helps us focus on images in the environment as the brain processes visual information. Studies claim that the human brain processes images that the eyes see in 13 milliseconds. As the number of hours spent on social media increases, along with the visual content posted via social media sites, the result is blurred vision, eyes that burn, and headaches from straining the eyes. In fact, these vision problems are so common there is now a diagnosis for its symptoms—Computer Vision Syndrome.

Altered Sleep Patterns

The sleep-wake cycle is controlled by a hormone known as melatonin. Located in the brain, the pineal gland is triggered by darkness to release melatonin into the bloodstream. The light from social media technology inhibits the production of melatonin, leading to poor sleep quality. Further, scrolling through Facebook or Instagram before bedtime stimulates the brain. It prolongs the time it takes to fall asleep, as it drives to physiological and emotional arousal.

Low Self-esteem

People are impressionable. Low self-esteem is common in adults, teens, and children who feel self-conscious and inferior as they seek to fit in with peers or make a good first impression at work or school. Social media compounds those harmful emotions because its media is centered around creating a presence. A 2012 study conducted by The Center For Eating Disorders found that over 30% of Facebook users feel sad when comparing themselves to photos of their friends posted on social media. One can edit photos for their Facebook account, but when face-to-face in the world, that is not an option.

Cyberbullying

Bullying is not limited to face-to-face interaction. Cyberbullying is a type of bullying through electronic communication. The threatening behaviors conducted while cyberbullying include not only the sending of threatening messages like rumors, sexual threats, and derogatory remarks but the sharing of personal information and photos intended to cause humiliation. With constant access to social media, cyberbullying is difficult to avoid. The information shared is likely permanent, having a significant impact on the individual’s reputation. The stress can lead to anxiety, depression, and even suicide.

Aside from the mental health effects, studies show bullying decreases brain volume in the putamen and the caudate—two parts of the brain responsible for how memories are influenced future behavior.

Mental Health Disorders

Social media sites, particularly Facebook, have been associated with anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and narcissistic personality. A variety of factors tie into the relation of psychiatric disorders and social media—bullying, a sense of inferiority, isolation. One study of teens and adolescents who visited social media platforms at least 58 times a week were found to be three times as more socially isolated because in-person interactions are made impersonal through social media. In a second study, 435 Utah college graduates reported feeling “life is not fair” after viewing Facebook posts of other users. The basic assumption that others are happier based solely on social media posts contributes to depression.

Social Media and the Brain: Childhood Development

A child’s brain is still developing. As a result, social media impacts them differently than an adult or adolescent. Childhood is the prime stage for developing brain architecture. This means the brain is growing new cells and connections necessary for cognition. More than a million neural connections are formed every second.

Interactions and experiences shape the developing brain—including social media. The frontal lobe of the brain is responsible for attention, inhibition, problem-solving, and memory. Social media particularly influences those functions. While their attention spans are quicker at multi-tasking due to social media, they take longer to complete single tasks. Their cognitive skills show a decline rather than following the normal developmental patterns.

Interestingly, a study of 9 and 10-year-old children by the National Institutes of Health found that the type of social media does matter. Children who primarily used Instagram and text messaging experienced positive effects from social media such as less conflict, increased physical activity, and strong social skills, but the children exposed to general media via the internet and television were prone to sleep disturbances and increased family conflict.

Social Media and the Brain: Teenagers and Adolescents

With an emphasis on a strong desire for peer connection, teenagers use social media more frequently than any other age group. The prefrontal cortex of a teenager is last to fully develop. Since that area controls motivation and reward, it explains why teenagers are infamous for impulsive behaviors. They seek instant gratification. Social media provides them with the instant gratification they crave because they are able to access socialization at any hour.

The teenage brain also responds to environmental stimuli more quickly, leaving them prone to mental illnesses often exacerbated by social media (i.e. depression, anxiety, and eating disorders). However, the likelihood of mental illness is dependent on how the teen uses social media. According to adolescent psychologist Paul Weigle, M.D., social media can actually increase self-esteem and the risk of mental illness such as depression is relatively low if the teen has a strong social support system. They use social media to engage positively with their peers. Contrarily, teenagers without a support system are at risk for mental illness because they are not actively engaged in positive social media posts.

References

Bekalu, M.A., McCloud, R.F., & Viswanath, K. (2019). Association of Social Media Use With Social Well-Being, Positive Mental Health, and Self-Rated Health: Disentangling Routine Use From Emotional Connection to Use. Health Education and Behavior, 46(2). DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1090198119863768

Chou, H.T., & Edge, N. (2012). “They are happier and having better lives than I am”: the impact of using Facebook on perceptions of others’ lives. Cyberpsychology, Behavior & Social Networking, 15:117–121.

Lorenz-Spreen, P., Mønsted, B.M., & Hövel, P. et al. (2019). Accelerating dynamics of collective attention. Nat Commun 10, 1759. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-019-09311-w

Talking to yourself: is it good for you?

Have you ever been caught absent-mindedly talking to yourself in public? It can be really embarrassing. Unless you have the quick wits to pretend that you’re wearing an ear-piece and talking to someone on the phone, people will probably assume that you’re crazy. But don’t worry, talking to yourself is quite normal. What’s more, it can even be good for you. Let’s take a look at some of the surprising benefits of self-talk

Is talking to yourself normal?

There is nothing strange about talking to yourself. It’s actually very common. We all do it, although most of the time, instead of saying things out loud, we talk to ourselves in our heads. 

There are two kinds of self-talk that people regularly engage in: internal and external self-talk. 

Internal self-talk refers to your internal monologue, your inner voice, which provides a constant flow of thought whenever you are awake. This type of self-talk is very healthy and plays an important role in organizing your thoughts, planning, consolidating memories and processing emotions. Our inner discourse – sometimes referred to metaphorically as a stream of consciousness – is vital because it improves our ability to control our actions and behavior. 

External self-talk, on the other hand, can be a vocal manifestation of this inner voice. When we talk to ourselves out loud, it’s usually because we’re experiencing an intense emotion like surprise, anger, sadness, nervousness, or heightened focus. This is what happens when you stub your toe and exclaim out loud even though no one else is around, or when you mutter under your breath before an important public speaking engagement.  

We also engage in self-talk when we’re facing a stressful decision, or trying to cope with difficult emotions. 

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Benefits of talking to yourself

Not only is talking to yourself perfectly normal, but it can also have a whole host of benefits. Research suggests that both inner speech and having a conversation with yourself out loud can have a positive effect on your cognitive performance.

Talking to ourselves isn’t just something that we do occasionally when we let our guard down – it actually plays an important role in human development. Children learn by repeating things they hear to themselves, and one study has shown that pre-schoolers do better on motor tasks when talking to themselves. (1)

 Here are some of the scientifically proven ways that self-talk can be beneficial for the brain

Talking to yourself boosts confidence

Feeling nervous about a test or an important meeting? Maybe you just need a motivational pep talk – from yourself. Talking to yourself has been linked to increased confidence – but only when it’s done in a specific way. 

In a compelling study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers found that it makes a difference what pronouns you use when talking to yourself in your head. (2)

Subjects were asked to participate in a public speaking challenge. When they referred to themselves in the second or third person during introspection, they experienced less anxiety attacks and performed better.

According to the researchers, this is because self-distancing – thinking about yourself as though you were someone else, from an observer’s point of view – increases self-regulation. When you change the language that you use to refer to yourself and move away from the egocentric, first-person point of view, you can look at your situation from a more objective, emotionally neutral place. This way, you are able to better control your thoughts, feelings and behavior, even in stressful situations. 

These findings are important because they confirm that motivational self-talk, if done right, can be an effective tool to boost confidence, personal growth and performance.

Can talking to yourself help you perform better at sports?

Motivational self-talk has been extensively studied in sports psychology. Research on the connection between sports performance and talking to yourself shows that self-talk can be intentionally used to focus attention, increase confidence, regulate effort, self-control emotions and ultimately enhance performance. (3)

Both overt and covert (external and internal) self-talk have been found to use similar brain structures, and they are thought to serve the same self-regulatory functions. 

Positive self-talk, in particular, appears to have benefits for sports performance (although it may not work for everyone, especially some people with low-self esteem). 

Self-talk is so powerful that it can have an impact on an athlete’s motor skills. A study conducted among basketball players with the aim of evaluating the effects of instructional and motivational self-talk on speed and accuracy found that participants who engaged in self-talk performed better at passing and shooting. (4)

So next time you take part in a sporting event, why not try to give yourself a verbal pat on the back? 

Talking to yourself improves control over goal-oriented tasks

In certain cases, saying something out loud works better than thinking the same thing to yourself. 

A study published in Acta Psychologica showed that verbal instructions improve control over goal-oriented tasks more than inner speech. (5) Participants were given a set of written instructions and asked to read them either silently or out loud. When the subjects read the instructions out loud, both their concentration and their performance improved. 

Much of this benefit appears to come from simply hearing oneself, as auditory commands seem to be better controllers of behaviour than written ones,” says Paloma Mari-Beffa, one of the study’s authors in an article published on The Conversation. (6)

Talking to yourself may seem strange, but as this study proves, it can help you focus on tasks and carry them out more efficiently

Talking to yourself improves search performance

So, if you were to deliberately use self-talk as a tool to focus your attention and make your brain work more efficiently, what else could you use it for?

Surprisingly, talking to yourself out loud can be very helpful when trying to find something, for example, your favorite shirt in a pile of other clothes or a specific fruit at the supermarket. As long as you can visualize what you’re looking for, saying the name of the object out loud may help you find it quicker. 

A study published in The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology showed increased visual search performance when subjects said the name of the object they were searching for out loud. (7) 

The participants were asked to find a picture of a specific object (the target) – an airplane, a butterfly, an umbrella – among pictures of other objects (the distractors), and they were able to pinpoint it faster when they said the name of the object out loud. The researchers concluded that instructional self-talk appears to speed up cognitive processes and helps to improve search performance.

Talking to yourself: mental illness

In rare cases, talking to yourself may be associated with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia. However, this type of self-talk is very different from the healthy internal or external speech that everyone experiences. 

What disorder causes someone to talk to themselves?

Schizophrenic auditory hallucinations cause patients to perceive their self-talk as if it were coming from an external source, from a different person. This may lead them to engage in conversations with people who are not there. In reality, they are talking to the voices inside their heads. This is a sign of a very serious mental disorder that requires medical treatment. 

Mindfulness and talking to yourself

Positive thinking and positive self-talk are often associated with mindfulness, the psychological process of bringing awareness to our thoughts and focusing on the present moment through techniques such as meditation. 

Mindfulness coaches often hail positive self-talk as the key to reducing stress. (8)

According to them, paying attention to your inner monologue can help you discern forms of negative self-talk, such as magnifying the negative aspects of a situation, blaming yourself for things you can’t control, anticipating the worst and seeing everything as either good or bad, with no middle ground. These negative thought patterns may lead to unnecessary stress. 

On the other hand, practicing positive self-talk and gratefulness may lead to better psychological wellbeing.

So is it OK to talk to yourself out loud?

Talking to yourself out loud is perfectly fine. You may get a few glances from strangers, but the truth is, it can help you rev up your brain and give your confidence a boost.

As we’ve seen above, there’s research to suggest that the language you use to speak to yourself in your head can influence your feelings, your behavior and your anxiety levels. Saying things out loud can help you perform better at certain tasks, like finding what you’re looking for in an assortment of objects. For athletes, self-directed verbal cues are especially beneficial, as they can boost sports performance. 

So, if you want to reap the cognitive benefits, don’t shy away from talking to yourself. 

References

https://www.sciencedaily.com/
https://www.doi.org/
https://oxfordre.com/
https://theconversation.com/
https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/

(1) George Mason University (2008, March 29). Preschool Kids Do Better When They Talk To Themselves, Research Shows. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 9, 2020 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080328124554.htm
(2) Kross, E., Bruehlman-Senecal, E., Park, J., Burson, A., Dougherty, A., Shablack, H., Bremner, R., Moser, J., & Ayduk, O. (2014). Self-talk as a regulatory mechanism: How you do it matters. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 106(2), 304–324. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0035173
(3) Judy L. Van Raalte, Andrew Vincent (2017). Self-Talk in Sport and Performance. Oxford Research Encyclopedias. Retrieved March 9, 2020 from https://oxfordre.com/psychology/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780190236557.001.0001/acrefore-9780190236557-e-157
(4) Shahzad Tahmasebi, Boroujeni Mehdi Shahbazi (2011). The Effect of Instructional and Motivational Self-Talk on Performance of Basketball’s Motor Skill. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 15, 3113-3117. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sbspro.2011.04.255
(5) Alexander James Kirkham, Julian Michael Breeze, Paloma Marί-Beffa (2012). The impact of verbal instructions on goal-directed behaviour. Acta Psychologica, 139(1), 212-219. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.actpsy.2011.09.016
(6) Paloma Marί-Beffa (2017, May 3). Is talking to yourself a sign of mental illness? An expert delivers her verdict. The Conversation. Retrieved March 9, 2020 from https://theconversation.com/is-talking-to-yourself-a-sign-of-mental-illness-an-expert-delivers-her-verdict-77058
(7) Gary Lupyan, Daniel Swingley (2011). Self-directed speech affects visual search performance. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 65(6), 1068-1085. https://doi.org/10.1080/17470218.2011.647039
(8) Dana Sparks (2018, September 26). Mayo Mindfulness: Stop negative self-talk to reduce stress. Mayo Clinic News Network. Retrieved March 9, 2020 from https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/mayo-mindfulness-stop-negative-self-talk-to-reduce-stress/

Social Distancing: How it impacts the brain

As proposed in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory, humans are social creatures. We require human contact to thrive. But with relationships and intimacy comes situations that may require social distancing. That is, avoiding contact with others to prevent contagious disease. Does social distancing have negative effects? Let’s read how prolonged social distancing triggers a series of brain changes that impact the psyche, cognitive development, and physical function.

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What is Social Distancing?

Social distancing describes the measures taken to prevent the spread of disease by limiting physical contact between people. By maintaining a physical distance from others, the goal of social distancing is to decrease a healthy individual’s exposure to those who are carrying the contagious disease because the infection can be transmitted in the following ways:

  • Droplet contact—airborne, coughing or sneezing
  • Direct physical contact—touching, sexual contact
  • Indirect physical contact—touching a contaminated surface such as doorknobs, rails, etc.
  • Ingestion—contaminated food or water supply

The public health practice includes remaining home as much as possible. This means no unnecessary travel, not frequenting stores, dining in restaurants, visiting community facilities (i.e. libraries, gymnasiums, etc.), and school and non-essential businesses are transitioned remotely or may be canceled entirely. These extremes are not implemented for the common cold. However, for more serious illnesses that are considered a pandemic—an illness spreading rapidly across a large region—social distancing is life-saving.

Examples of Social Distancing Measures

Practicing successful social distancing demands the effort from government officials, business owners, and the general population. According to the CDC, social distancing requires “remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible.”

Below are the additional steps taken at the first sign of a pandemic. Each of these social isolation measures creates the segregation of human contact, which presents the opportunity for extensive effects on the brain.

  • School closure—Colleges and grade school education is transferred to web-based online courses or homeschooling rather than attending large lectures.
  • Work closure—This includes reduction of work hours and/or closing all non-essential businesses. Businesses make accommodations (i.e. pick-up only dining).
  • Closing recreational facilities—All non-essential facilities like malls, libraries, community pools, youth clubs, sports teams, gymnasiums, childcare centers, etc.
  • No unnecessary travel—Public transportation (i.e. buses, airplanes, subways) are limited.
  • Restriction of goods—Few resources are imported or exported to avoid infected areas.
  • Cancellation of mass gatherings—Sporting events, films, concerts is refunded.
  • Canceling non-urgent medical appointments—This reduces the exposure of non-infected individuals to the population seeking medical care for the contagious disease.

Brain Changes From Social Distancing

Anyone is bound to have fluctuations in happiness and mood when staying home weeks to months at a time with little human contact. Imaging studies of the brain reflect variances in gray matter in those who are experiencing significantly loneliness (Kanai et al., 2012). Multiple brain regions are involved. Further studies by the California Institute of Technology using mice show that the activation of tachykinin regulated by the hypothalamus and amygdala, a protein released by the brain’s nerve cells, triggers a stress reaction in the body in response to social isolation exceeding 24-hours. As the body releases stress hormones and neurotransmitters, both of which are known to regulate mood, behavioral changes can be expected.

Can Social Distancing Effect Cognitive Development?

These alterations in brain chemicals are not restricted to mice. Humans are susceptible too. Prolonged social distancing does have an effect on cognitive development. Cognitive development is the growth and maturation process of thinking. As children age, skills like problem solving, perception, attention, language, logic, reasoning, memory, social development, and other aspects of cognition evolve. Acquiring these skills over time is cognitive development.

Social distancing can interfere with the natural development of cognition. Children especially need social interaction to learn. Studies show that lonely individuals have a decreased understanding of nonverbal communication along with a deficit in social skills. CogniFit has offered 300 million licenses to train your child’s brain. This may offer a solution to keep their cognitive skills in shipshape. Visit #stayathome to learn more.

Social Distancing: Social Equilibrium

Like food, water, and shelter, socialization is a human need. The brain and body undergo the process of social homeostasis to fulfill socialization. Scholars report three phases of social homeostasis occurring within numerous brain regions: (1) a detector that recognizes changes in socialization, (2) a control center to establish a “set point”—the amount of socialization required to meet needs—and how far off a change in a social situation is from that point, and (3) an effector which governs the return to the set social point.

Mental Health Effects of Social Distancing

Social distancing interferes with the equilibrium of social homeostasis leading to mental health effects. Firstly, social distancing presents stress factors. Examples of stressors from social distancing include fear of infection, boredom, financial hardship, and limited supplies (i.e. food, water, medical care). Increased stress is linked to mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.

Mental Health Disorders

Psychiatrists agree that a range of mental health problems stems from social distancing. Those practicing social distancing are generally more anxious and hypervigilant displaying exaggerated behaviors because prolonged isolation induces chemical changes within the brain from the release of tachykinin previously discussed in the mice studies at the California Institute of Technology. Changes in mood, particularly anger and aggression, but also emotional exhaustion and insomnia, result.

The main mental health disorders caused by social distancing include:

  • Acute stress disorder—Acute stress disorder is crippling anxiety and dissociation developing within one month of a traumatic event. Other symptoms are flashbacks, hallucinations, sleep disturbances, difficulty concentrating, and irritability.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)—Similar to acute stress disorder, PTSD is the symptoms of trauma that can occur months or years after the traumatic experience.
  • AnxietyAnxiety is extreme worry disproportionate to the situation. Those who experience anxiety have symptoms like increased heart rate, nervousness, trembling, weakness, difficulty concentrating, hyperventilation, panic, excessive sweating, and more.
  • Depression—Depression is a mood disorder characterized by persistent, unexplained sadness, apathy, and a loss of interest in regular activities that lasts three or more months.
  • Substance abuse—Substance abuse is the unhealthy dependence on drugs or other substances in harmful amounts. In the case of prolonged social distancing, substance abuse can develop from an attempt to cope with the anxiety and depression or by simply picking up a new habit for recreation to cope with the boredom of isolation.
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The Effects of Social Distancing Based on Personality

The idea of social distancing may not sound half bad to those with specific personality characteristics. To introverts, people who rely on their own thoughts and feelings, social distancing is a reprieve from the socialization they find mentally draining. They may even feel less stressed than before. Regardless, a decreased want of socialization does not spare them from the negative effects of social distancing. Their fondness for alone time can prevent them from connecting with people virtually while continuing to maintain distancing measures. They are most prone to alterations in mood from social distancing.

Extraverts are outgoing. They thrive on conversation, are energetic, and thoroughly enjoy social interaction. Social distancing is a more difficult concept to follow for these individuals. Anxiety levels increase when they cannot use socialization to process their emotions. During social distancing, it’s imperative for extroverts to socialize and partake in activities through technology.

Who is Most Susceptible to the Negatives of Social Distancing?

A specific subset of people is more susceptible to the negative mental, emotional, and physical impact of social distancing. They are:

  • Healthcare workers like doctors, nurses, and hospital staff—They put themselves at greater risk by treating infected individuals.
  • Lower-income families—Those with lower socioeconomic status have increased stress from the financial and economical burdens resulting from social distancing, as work hours decrease or they fear the risk of being laid off.
  • Public workers—Uber drivers, delivery services, grocery store staff: essential businesses continue to operate during social distancing to maintain the functioning of the economy and as a way to meet the basic needs of society. These workers are exposing themselves to the illness.
  • The elderly—Elderly individuals are already isolated due to poor health. Many also have a limited support system because family and friends have passed away.
  • Mental illness patients—Someone with a previously existing mental disorder is prone to the combined effects of social isolation with their illness. For example, the sadness and decreased interest in regular activities commonly exhibited in depression are exacerbated by the situation.

Technology and Social Distancing

In today’s modern times, socializing is possible while still abiding by social distancing protocols. Technology keeps family and friends connected despite not being in close proximity. Obvious options such as Skype, Facetime, and Zoom which allow video chatting comparable to face-to-face conversation. Easily accessible social media apps like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram are great for long-distance communication. Of course, there are also traditional phone calls and text messages for verbal and electronically written chats.

However, technology is an integral component of social distancing in other ways. When isolated from society, the media accessed through technology (i.e. mobile phones, computers, and television) informs the social distancing population of the ongoings of the world. They can access updates on news stories. Additionally, computers support the economy. Businesses that would otherwise be shut down are able to operate remotely.

If social distancing, contact with others through technology provides the socialization and fun necessary to improve mood, reduce anxiety, enhance psychological functioning, and lead to better physical health.

Resources

Brooks, B.K., Webster, R.K., Smith, L.E., Woodland, L., Wessely, S., & Greenburg, N. (2020). The psychological impact of quarantine and how to reduce it: rapid review of the evidence. Rapid Review, 395(10227).

California Institute of Technology. (2018, May 17). How social isolation transforms the brain: A particular neural chemical is overproduced during long-term social isolation, causing increased aggression and fear. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 29, 2020 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/05/180517113856.htm

Chopik W. J. (2016). The Benefits of Social Technology Use Among Older Adults Are Mediated by Reduced Loneliness. Cyberpsychology, behavior and social networking19(9), 551–556. https://doi.org/10.1089/cyber.2016.0151

Kanai, R., Bahrami, B., Duchaine, B., Janik, A., Banissy, M. J., & Rees, G. (2012). Brain structure links loneliness to social perception. Current biology : CB22(20), 1975–1979. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2012.08.045

Matthews GA, Tye KM. (2019). Neural mechanisms of social homeostasis. Ann N Y Acad Sci. Dec;1457(1):5-25. https://doi.org/10.1111/nyas.14016

Affective Forecasting: Predicting your emotions

“Will I be chosen for the job interview?” “If I accept the offer, what is the likelihood I will enjoy my new position better than my old?” We all wish we could predict the future, as well as the feelings that accompany those predications. With affective forecasting, such an endeavor is possible! Affective forecasting allows us to predict our future emotional states. It is a critical asset to the decision-making process in day-to-day life and reveals both the positive and negative attributes of personality.

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What is Affective Forecasting?

Affective forecasting is the process of predicting a future emotional state or how you will feel in the future. In psychology, the term is derived from predicting one’s “affect,” which refers to the experience of feelings and mood. Affective forecasting involves our reactions to certain events, as well as how we feel if we were to finally obtain something we want. This type of predicting differs from anticipating the weather or whether you will win the next lottery. Instead, affective forecasting focuses on the feelings of such events. For example, you may believe winning the lottery may impact your happiness. The process of affective forecasting is relevant to guiding decision making, behavior, and preferences because we are constantly forming expectations regarding our emotional states.

History of Affective Forecasting

In the 1990s, social psychologists Daniel Gilbert and Timothy Wilson founded the concept of affective forecasting, which also took on the name of hedonic forecasting. Both Gilbert and Wilson studied the accuracy of affective forecasting. In the beginning, they did not focus as much on people’s responses. Their main concerns were the emotions underlying said responses.

Components of Affective Forecasting

Affective forecasting is a multi-faceted concept. According to Wilson and Gilbert (2003), there are four distinct components:

  1. Valence—Will the emotion be positive or negative?
  2. Specific emotion(s) experienced—Do you feel happy, sad, anxious, etc.?
  3. Emotional Intensity—How strongly do you feel the specific emotion(s)?
  4. Duration of the emotions—How long do the emotions last?

Investigating these components, researchers conducted studies starting with the ways participants forecasted their specific emotions based on winning or losing a simulated dating game. Further studies by Woodzicka and LaFrance used with female participants who predicted they would feel angry and frightened if they were asked sexually harassing questions during a job interview. These studies each revealed that people tend to accurately predict what emotions they will feel about future events. However, they are often inaccurate in predicting which emotion will be felt most intensely. For example, in the Woodzicka and LaFrance study, the women were actually more frightened than angry.

Affective Forecasting Errors

Wilson and Gilbert proposed that people are prone to errors in predicting their future emotions about an event. Although they expect their general emotions about something occurring in the future (i.e. happy, sad, anxious, etc.), the following affective forecasting errors can potentially skew these predications.  

Projection Bias or “Mental Contamination”

Projection bias is the most common affective forecasting error. It is when current emotions impact the prediction of future emotions. For example, spilling coffee on your favorite blouse provokes a bad mood, and if you later forecast how you will feel about an upcoming work function, your negative emotional state can affect your prediction. This creates a biased view. We must be cognizant of our projection biases—or “mental contamination”—to have an accurate affective forecast.

Empathy gaps are the leading cause of projection bias, which is a cognitive bias characterizing the physiological arousal influencing one’s attitudes, preferences, and behaviors that the forecaster fails to consider.

False Consensus

Also a form of cognitive bias, false consensus is the overestimation of the extent to which personal opinions, preferences, values, and habits are normal. Someone displaying false consensus believes people generally feel the same way they do. False consensus involves the availability heuristic—a concept that, when attempting to determine how common something is, we notice the examples that easily come to mind. False consensus occurs because we surround ourselves with others who are similar in beliefs and values. Thus, our beliefs are most familiar and we are more likely to notice people who have mutual opinions.

Expectation Effects

Expectation effects are significant in affective forecasting. This forecasting error stems from expecting one outcome but experiencing another. Expectation effects influence perception, as well as behavior. There is a range of expectation effects that help explain how expectations can interfere with forecasting in situations pertaining to work productivity, education, medical treatment, and more. The placebo effect demonstrates this. Solely because they believe the treatment will be successful, a patient experiences positive treatment effects.

Focalism

Focalism includes the cognitive skill of attention. This describes the tendency for people to hyperfocus on specific details of an event or emotion while ignoring others. Focalism is an illusion that creates biased judgments, as it leads to an exaggeration of the factors receiving the most focused attention. As an example, considering the negative ways a disability impacts one’s life, an able-bodied individual may believe the disabled are not as happy and content as their healthy counterparts. Focalism also plays a role in social comparison. People focus on their own futures, abilities, and traits while underestimating their peers.

Temporal Discounting

Temporal discounting goes by the names of time discounting or time preferences. The forecasting error is the capacity for people to weigh future events with their present desires. A great number of the population prefers immediate gratification versus delayed gratification. If not cautious, emotions centered around the desire for obtaining what we want immediately obscure accurate predictions of how we will feel in the future.

Affective Forecasting and Personality

Researchers have extended much effort into studying how personality connects to affective forecasting. Various personality types do have an impact on the accuracy of future predictions. While forecasting, personality should be accounted for to accurately predict future emotions. Traits like optimism lead to generally positive forecasts. The chronically optimistic might diminish the negative feelings they will feel after receiving bad news. The inverse is also true. Those who are pessimistic may underestimate their happiness for good events.

Recent studies of the association between affective forecasting and the Big Five personality traits (i.e. openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, neuroticism) reflect that personalities high in introversion and neuroticism had more accurate predictions for negative emotions, whereas those who are extroverted and less neurotic predicted positive emotions more accurately (Hoerger, Chapman, and Duberstein, 2016).

Affective Forecasting: Happiness Versus Negativity

Related to personality, affective forecasting has lasting implications on happiness. We cope with negative emotions through affective forecasting, because the process assists us in maintaining realistic expectations of life events. As we anticipate positive future events and manage expectations, we are content in recognizing the value of happiness. We cherish the happy emotions rather than taking them for granted.

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Individuals who underestimate their positive feelings of a future event during affective forecasting are happier than those who overestimate how happiness. Overestimating happiness progresses to disappointment. However, underestimating boosts feelings of happiness because of increased positive emotions.

Affective Forecasting in Day-to-Day Life

Affective forecasting is not a foreign psychological topic that people rarely apply. It is relevant in many aspects of day-to-day life. In fact, it is so prevalent we do not even realize we are forecasting the future.

Social Relationships

Affective forecasting is applied while interacting in our social groups. Forecasting begins with our first impression judgments of another person, especially in those we do not already know. From there, we decide whether we are interested in spending time with that person. A favorable first impression leads to positive forecasts, as we predict we will benefit from that particular relationship. An unfavorable impression leads to negative emotions, and consequently, avoidance of that relationship.

Studies by Wilson and Gilbert (2008) demonstrate that differences influence affective forecasting. With students as participants, they overestimated their negative emotions when told they would be interacting with students from a different racial group.

Setting Goals

Setting goals are how we reach accomplishments in life. Affective forecasting, when appropriately utilized, optimizes goal setting. We set goals based on our predictions of the future. Affective forecasting encourages us to cultivate goals from the view of what we want instead of what will please others. Through affective forecasting, we predict how we will feel about a potential future accomplishment. For example, a career with a higher salary does not necessarily produce the same satisfaction as a job we are passionate about but earns less. This fosters hard work to achieve good outcomes consistent with our goals.

Decision Making and Self-Regulation

Affective forecasting is crucial to the processes of decision making and self-regulation. Similar to goal setting, other decisions are determined through the predictions of future emotions. This can range from expecting fulfillment from an evening outing for dessert because you have been craving vanilla ice cream all day to serious decisions such as planning which college you wish to attend out of the excitement of finally moving forward with a new life milestone. We are likely to make decisions forecasted to have good outcomes, yet inaccurate affective forecasting by not accounting for errors and bias drives negative outcomes. Along with decision making comes our behaviors. When affective forecasting is done effectively, we are better equipped at self-regulation—the ability to better handle emotions surrounding both positive and negative outcomes. We are also able to adjust our behaviors to prepare for a future event. Our lives are brimming with possibilities because of affective forecasting!

References

Hoerger, M., Chapman, B., & Duberstein, P. (2016). Realistic affective forecasting: The role of personality. Cognitive Emotion, 30, 1304-1316. doi:10.1080/02699931.2015.1061481

Kurtz, J. L. (2018). Affective forecasting. In E. Diener, S. Oishi, & L. Tay (Eds.), Handbook of wellbeing. Salt Lake City, UT: DEF Publishers. DOI:nobascholar.com

Wilson, T. D., & Gilbert, D. T. (2003). Affective forecasting. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 35, 345-411.

Woodzicka, J. A., & LaFrance, M. (2001). Real versus imagined gender harassment. Journal of Social Issues, 57, 15-30. doi:10.1111/0022-4537.00199

Discover What are Cognitive Learning Styles

Consider a problem you recently encountered. How did you solve it? Did you need to visualize the solution or were you likely to verbalize your thought process aloud? These questions all pertain to cognitive learning styles—a term used to describe the way an individual processes information from the world around them. Cognitive learning style is influenced by personality, environment, culture, and social interactions. Read further to understand more about your cognitive learning style, as well as how to develop your learning habits.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

What Is Cognitive Learning Style?

Thoughts, experiences, the five senses (i.e. sight, touch, smell, hear, and taste)—they are all ways in which we take in information from our environment and interactions with others. The mental action of acquiring that information is known as cognition. It is related to a term called cognitive learning style.

Cognitive learning style describes an individual’s habits of processing environmental stimuli (information). Cognitive learning style simply indicates the tendencies of certain behaviors that occur during thinking and learning.

Learning Style and Personality

Cognitive learning style is, in essence, a personality component. Leading institutions have used the Myers Briggs personality testing to connect specific personality types with learning processes. For example, someone who is extraverted and outgoing may not learn best through auditory learning where they are required to listen for long periods. Instead, hands-on-learning with plenty of social interaction is optimal. These variances in learning styles amongst people influence their attitudes, values, and relationships.

Why is Cognitive Learning Style Important?

Knowing an individual’s cognitive learning style is critical to learn at one’s full potential. The concept is applied to many settings, especially in education. Cognitive learning develops the capacity to think abstractly, which is important in a classroom. Rather than memorization, students who are aware of their cognitive learning style are able to fully comprehend the information they have learned. They understand the reasons behind complex topics and are more likely to retain information to further build on that knowledge. Training our cognitive skills can also help our cognitive learning styles. CogniFit trains up to 23 different cognitive skills.

Types of Cognitive Learning Styles: Visual

As the name suggests, the visual learning style encompasses learning through the sense of sight. To effectively learn, a visual learner needs to visualize the information. They learn best by visualizing images, pictures, maps, and diagrams to organize and process learning material. This occurs by various visual attributes: spatial awareness, photographic memory, color or tone, and brightness or contrast. Visual learners can easily imagine their ideas to bring them to life, as they are skilled with imagery.

Personality habits of visual learners include being focused and well organized in planning. Many are not very talkative, yet are prone to frequent daydreaming. They have a good memory for faces and facts that are conveyed in images but tend to forget faces and verbalized information.

Types of Cognitive Learning Styles: Auditory

Auditory learning is a type of cognitive learning style in which the individual learns by hearing or listening. They are very successful in the typical classroom lecture setting and excel at oral presentations, following verbal directions, and explaining topics aloud. Most auditory learners are talkative. In conversation, they are intuitive to changes in tone that underlie the meaning of speech.

Types of Cognitive Learning Styles: Kinesthetic

The kinesthetic learning style is a tactile, hands-on approach to learning. It is an active form of learning based on physical activities rather than reading text or listening to a lecture/presentation. To learn through the sense of touch, incorporating motions into teaching new information increases understanding. Kinesthetic learners possess energetic, creative personalities. They are skilled in physical activities like sports and have developed coordination.

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

Types of Cognitive Learning Styles: Reading/Writing

The cognitive learning style reading and writing refers to a preference for learning through words. It emphasizes the importance of understanding the words used in what the individual is expected to know. Reading and writing learners best process information by utilizing glossaries, reading notes, and arranging lists of words into questions. They often enjoy reading and demonstrating comprehension of abstract topics expressed in their writing.

Types of Cognitive Learning Styles: Field Dependent Versus Independent Model

Developed by psychologist Herman Witkin in 1962, field-independent versus independent model is a concept in cognitive learning styles. Field independence is marked by the ability to separate details from context. Field independent learners are independent. They are highly focused, working best individually while relying less on peer groups to process information. Reading and writing are two skills field-independent learners excel in because they can be performed alone without intervention from others.

Contrarily, field-dependent learning is characterized by the inability to separate details from context. In field-dependent learning, information is one “big picture.” Field dependent learners struggle to isolate the details that form the whole. These learners work most effectively in groups or with teacher support. They have strong interpersonal relationships and function well as part of a team. Although not as focused on field-independent learners, they exceed in processing information orally.

Types of Cognitive Learning Styles: Reflection Versus Impulsivity

The cognitive learning model of reflection versus impulsivity was created by psychologist Jerome Kagan in 1958. This cognitive style can be determined by the ways someone approaches a problem. Those who display reflectivity in their learning consider alternative solutions, whereas impulsivity is spontaneously responding to a problem with little thought of the various possible solutions and their outcomes.

Studies show these differences in learning begin in pre-school years. In a classroom setting, reflective learners are conscientious. They do not rush to complete their assignments, taking time to ensure its accuracy. Impulsive learners make more mistakes and turn in their assignments quickly.

Types of Cognitive Learning Styles: Leveling Versus Sharpening 

Leveling versus sharpening pertains to the cognitive skill of memory. The two learning variances differ in how an individual uses memories to process information. Those who apply to level to their learning apply numerous memories and prior knowledge to organize the new information. However, learners who lean towards sharpening depend on fewer memories to assimilate information. Studies reveal that sharpeners are more accurate in the information they are learning at present. This is because levelers blend so many pieces of their memories with the information they are expected to learn that some may be inaccurate.

Types of Cognitive Learning Styles: Scanning

The learning style known as scanning refers to individual differences in a cognitive skill known as attention. Whether relevant or irrelevant to the information to be learned, scanners direct their attention to all features of their environment. They have a broader view of a problem.

Types of Cognitive Learning Styles: Serialist Versus Holist 

Serialist versus holist is a cognitive learning style stemming from Gordon Pask’s conversation theory. Serialist learners learn linearly in a sequential manner. Learning tasks are worked systematically one at a time. These learners are overwhelmed by excessive details, as it distracts from the task at hand. They prefer structured teaching.

Holists learn top-down, hierarchical fashion. They approach learning as a whole without breaking it down into sub-tasks. Overall, they work spontaneously. To process information, holists do not need structure and are able to think broadly about a subject.

How to Develop Your Cognitive Learning Style

While cognitive learning style differs from person to person, there are basic skills and techniques to develop your cognitive learning style:

  • Explore new ideas—Learning involves comprehending ideas taken in from the world around you. One idea inevitably leads to another. Do not be afraid to investigate those resulting ideas, as they provide the opportunity to practice applying your unique learning style.
  • Explain patterns of thinking—After learning occurs, explaining patterns of thinking displays a complete understanding of the subject. Being able to explain how you learn develops your potential to learn additional information.
  • Refine cognitive skills—Cognitive skills entail attention, memory, logic, reasoning, and auditory and visual processing. Regardless of one’s learning style, these skills are necessary for you to take in information and apply it to daily life.
  • Reflect on your learning experiences—Learning through your cognitive learning style means you must be intuitive about your learning habits. Reflect on instances when learning was successful as well as unsuccessful. What did you do? Is there something you could do differently in the future?
  • Reduce stress—Excessive stress distracts the brain from processing other stimuli in the environment. Keep stress levels low for optimal learning.
  • Sleep—The brain requires rest to heal and regenerate neurons (i.e. brain cells). Without proper rest at night, the brain cannot form the pathways for learning. Experts recommend 7 to 9 hours of sleep for the average adult.
  • Exercise the brain—Play brain training games, solve puzzles, play board games, or read books. Activities that stimulate the brain build the brain pathways for learning.

References

Messick, S. (1989). Cognitive Style and Personality: Scanning and Orientation Affect. Princeton, New Jersey: Educational Testing Service.

Sternberg, R. (1997). Thinking Styles. Boston: Cambridge University Press.

Positivity: 11 tips to change your negative mindset

If we believe that we are going to be successful in our work, it is much more likely that we will be than if we think the opposite. This is something that is well known by almost everyone, but that almost nobody applies in a conscious and rational way. In fact, the mindset that prevails is thinking that things will go wrong as if that were some kind of protective charm against bad luck. In this article, we encourage you to change your mindset in order to be a positive person!

Photo by Franciele Cunha on Unsplash

What is positivity?

I often meet people who are looking to make their lives full of positivity. However, positivism is formally a philosophical movement whose main idea is based on the definition of arguments that seek to determine whether a certain concept is true or false.

Positivity is basically related to seeing each activity in a beneficial way, seeing the world with winning eyes. Positivity is closely related to faith and self-confidence. Believing that everything will turn out well for us is not a simple matter, nor does it guarantee that it will, but it fills us with conviction and inner strength to try.

Basically, positivity is about putting aside the negative, isolating all feelings of failure and turning them into success and joy.

How can you include positivity in your life?

Positivity is a state of mind, it is nothing more than a way of seeing things, and therefore, it can be modified and transformed into a habit. Being positive is not achieved overnight, but it is easier than many people think.

If you spend a few hours of your day analyzing your thoughts, you will discover that you are actually more negative than you think, so there is indeed a way to improve and eliminate all the negativity, in order to increase positivity and its effects on your life.

Just with phrases like: “I hope everything goes well”, “I might win”, “I don’t think I did as well as I expected, etc.”, people condition themselves under a negative mental state, which does not allow them to visualize success within the possibilities.

Modifying such thoughts for others such as: “I know I will do very well”, “of course I will win”, “I did better than I expected, etc.” you will fill your mind with positive thoughts, and therefore, the results will also be positive.

Fear keeps positivity away

Fear makes us insecure, it restricts us, and it alienates us. Fear is something natural, it is that alarm that tells us, beware, something might happen. However, what will happen? There are only two options, broadly speaking. Something we feel as good, or something bad. Probably a fifty-fifty chance.

Does fear make sense then? Can’t we turn our fearful ideas, our fears, into hopeful, positive, and more enriching ideas?

It has been shown that people with a positive mind live longer and better than people with a negative mindset.

A positive mindset makes our day better and less stressful. We can wake up in the morning and think: “wow, it’s cloudy, it’s going to rain today, what a day, there will be traffic jams, I won’t make it into work, my boss will take it out on me, I won’t have time to finish everything I have to do, it’ s too much, it’s going to be a lousy day”.

Or: “wow, it’s a cloudy day, well its winter it makes sense. I’ll take my car but leave earlier so I can avoid traffic jams since I have a few things to finish today. Everything will be great!”

Those are two alternatives. One makes you go to work upset and predisposed to the negative aspects of your day, including maybe even arguing with your colleagues and family, and the other makes you smile, which activates in the brain substances that favor that state, allowing you to feel a positive mindset.

Being positive is almost synonymous with being happy

A day-to-day reality is that positive people relate better and have more friends and acquaintances because they give off positive energy and good vibes. You know that if you approach them you will have good feelings, and that is something we all like. You know that you will have fun, and maybe even feel that positivity they portray.

First impressions are a perfect example of this. When we see a person we don’t know smile, we “like” them better than someone who is next to them, serious and grumpy. This does not mean that we have to go around smiling at everyone laughing like crazy, however, being a positive mindset can make you more approachable.

Positivity is almost synonymous with happiness. Thinking about the future in a positive way can lead us to better decisions and get us closer to our hopes and dreams.

Positivity: Tips for being a positive person

It’s up to you.

You set your mindset: positive or negative. According to psychiatrists and psychologists, 50% of our character is determined by genetic factors; and 10% by our environment, but there is a 40% that depends only on us and our attitude towards life. It is this 40% that we must work on to keep a positive mindset and that this will help us to be happier and even to live more years in better health.

The happier, the healthier

It may surprise you, but being positive not only helps you reduce stress and anxiety, it also protects your health. According to a study from University College London, maintaining a positive attitude is linked to having a strong immune system and therefore fewer neuroendocrine, inflammatory and cardiovascular problems.

Changing your thoughts is possible

Having positive thoughts and facing life in an optimistic way is essential to be happy. It is something that our brain can learn. You can change your way of thinking and improve your life. To achieve this we propose some tips and tricks that will help you see the world with more optimism.

Look for the bright side

In everything that happens to us, there are both positive and negative aspects. The trick is to look for the bright side even in the negative. Even the worst criticism can be constructive.

Focus on finding something good in adversity. For example, there is no doubt that receiving negative criticism does not please anyone. But in the face of criticism you can choose to think that you didn’t deserve it and that they just wanted to hurt you, or reflect on what you’ve been told and, if you think there might be some truth in it, see how you can improve.

Focus on the solution

Whenever you find yourself in a difficult situation, instead of dwelling on the problem, which will lead you nowhere but to despair, concentrate on finding a solution and trying to define the steps that will allow you to reach it. This will help you to abandon the negative mindset. In general, setting goals (as long as they are realistic) gives us a more positive outlook on life and encourages us to move forward. If the problem or concern is something you can’t change, try to accept it and accept that life is sometimes “unfair”. It doesn’t make sense to waste your energy worrying. Constantly thinking about it will only make you more frustrated.

Pay attention to the subtleties

Avoid polarized thinking, it’s never all or nothing. Things are not just black or white; between the two extremes, there are many shades of gray. Instead of thinking about only two outcomes (one positive and one negative), make a list of all the possible outcomes that can happen between the two options. This will help you realize that the situation is not so dramatic.

Don’t blame yourself.

Don’t think you are responsible for everything that goes wrong. If your neighbor doesn’t greet you in the elevator doesn’t mean she’s upset with you, she’s probably having a bad day.

Runaway from the complaining

Constant complaining strengthens the chain of harmful thoughts. If we think in destructive or negative terms we end up making them happen. Your goal should be to replace negative thoughts with positive ones, and that should be noted in your language as well. Substitute expressions like “I’ve made a mistake” with “I’ve learned that” or “If I don’t make it through the job interview, I won’t be able to pay for the house” with “I’m confident in my abilities to get this job. Everything can be formulated in a positive way; the more you practice the easier it will be.

Visualize future achievements

The simple fact of imagining yourself getting what you want (making it to the end of the month, passing an exam, etc.) makes you feel more positive about the effort it takes to achieve those goals and unconsciously increases your self-confidence. Let your imagination run wild and visualize those scenes.

Nourish yourself with positive emotions

Positive thinking is certainly easier if you are also feeling positive. To encourage this, the best thing is to do activities that you like and that brings you joy, satisfaction, happiness, etc. Watching a funny movie, having a coffee with a friend or playing with your children are simple, everyday things that boost your positivity. The problem is that sometimes they go unnoticed or we get used to them, and when we consider them normal we stop appreciating them. To prevent this from happening, reflect at night on all the good things that the day brought you and write down in a notebook five things that made you happy that day.

Surround yourself with positive people!

Like smiles or yawns, optimism and pessimism are also contagious. Try to surround yourself with positive people, as this will be very beneficial for your mood. Likewise, avoid pessimists as much as possible. And if you can’t avoid the buzzkill try to counteract their negativity.

This article is originally in Spanish, it was translated to English.

Keys To Success: Use cognitive skills to reach your goals

What is success? Is it a college degree? Getting hired for your dream job? Finally, securing financial stability? Or is success about thriving relationships, connecting with your inner self, or finding happiness? Success is something we all strive for, but do not always know the best way to obtain it. Keep reading to discover the keys to success, as well as the underlying cognitive skills you can apply to reach your version of success!

Photo by bruce mars from Pexels

What is Success?

Success is the achievement of set goals and desired objectives. The term “success” is ambiguous—open to more than one interpretation—being that each individual possesses unique aspirations. While some endeavor to earn a six-figure salary and rank high in social status, others are content with a few strong relationships and a meager salary at a job they are passionate about. Neither version of success is wrong. Defining the concept of success simply depends if you meet your personal goals.

Why is Success Important?

Success is important because if done properly, it contributes a sense of well-being. Reaching your view of success brings happiness, fulfillment, and increases confidence. You know that if you were successful in achieving your goals despite the obstacles, you are equally capable of tackling whatever you set your mind to in the future. However, following another’s version of success is counterproductive. You cannot feel satisfied aspiring towards goals that are not your own expectations. Still, success can facilitate outside success. Accomplishing your aspired intentions benefits the productivity of businesses and the economy, which can inspire others to seek their own keys to success.

Keys To Success: Have Goals

The beginning key to success is to formulate realistic goals. Having a goal provides you with direction. You cannot “achieve” your desired outcome unless you know what it is you wish for in the first place.

Outline your goal(s). Write them down. Visualizing your goals on paper allows you to brainstorm how to go about achieving them. From there, you can divide the main goal into smaller, short-term goals, to increase your chance of success.

When mapping your goals:

  • Ask yourself, What are your values and priorities?”—Your inner beliefs are a guide through the decision-making process.
  • Consider your skills—What are you good at? What skills have proven beneficial in previous jobs?
  • Keep your goals realistic—While it’s important to aim high, you will eventually become burned out or discouraged if you create unrealistic goals.
  • Research—Have others been successful at your goal? How did they accomplish this? Learning from their mistakes may make reaching your goal easier.

Keys To Success: Strengthen Cognitive Skills

Now that you have a goal, you must framework each step necessary to successfully meet that goal. The complex thinking involved in doing requires cognitive skills. Cognitive skills are a set of higher-order thinking processes that allow us to reason, pay attention, learn, and remember. They are the skills we use to make sense of the world around us and to complete tasks with problem-solving. Cognitive skills are the keys to success because being successful entails overcoming problems and analyzing our environment.

Memory

There are multiple types of memory, but working memory is the most crucial key to success. Working memory is a form of short-term memory designed to temporarily hold the information we see and hear for our brain to work with it. Only a few pieces of information are stored in working memory at any given time. Remembering the digits of a phone number long enough to make a call is a prime example. Working memory is comparable to a mental sticky note. The process of working memory also assists in organizing information for long-term use if deemed important.

To be successful, working memory is imperative. You must recall information to meet your goals. Brain training games, like those offered by CogniFit, are great resources to strengthen working memory.

Attention

Attention describes the ability to selectively choose to focus on relevant stimuli in the environment and respond to it, while intentionally ignoring irrelevant stimuli. The cognitive skill of attention relied on our level of alertness, the amount of time we can attend to a stimulus, and the ability to alternate attention between multiple stimuli. Success demands attention because you need to focus in order to create and attain your goals. A tip to improve your attention span is to limit distractions in the room when working. This includes a cell phone or television.

Logic and Reasoning

Logic is the step-by-step method of problem-solving, whereas reasoning is abstract thought in which we deduct conclusions from premises. Together, logic and reasoning lead to using information for concept formation and problem-solving. These two cognitive skills are strengthened through stimulating the mind by trying new activities and hobbies. Because of logic and reasoning, you can think innovatively about your goals to become successful.

Processing

You easily visualize vivid representations as you conjure your inner thoughts, right? That is visual processing—the ability to think in images. Processing occurs with sound too. Auditory processing is blending and segmenting sound. Processing is also how we respond to the information we receive. Arriving at success calls for imagining what goals you seek to be successful at, along with the actions required (i.e. the response).

Keys To Success: Possess Confidence

Confidence is believing in your power to succeed. It really is the key to success because of the belief in your own abilities drives your actions. Ruminating on the ways in which you may fail or putting yourself down is a form of self-sabotage that confidence counteracts. If you possess confidence, you are more likely to pursue opportunities for success out of your comfort zone. Recent Princeton University research on mathematicians revealed that those who were confident in their numeric abilities had better financial outcomes and fewer instances of disease.

Keys To Success: Mindfulness 

Mindfulness is maintaining awareness of your thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations in the present. It is the state of accepting current experiences without judging them as good or bad. Mindfulness is developed through meditation training. During mindfulness meditation, the intention is to focus on breathing. As distracting thoughts enter your mind, you simply reroute your thoughts back to your breathing and do not attend to them. Mindfulness is important for success because it cultivates self-awareness, which is crucial to prevent biases and opinions from impacting decision-making.

Keys To Success: Connect with Values and Spirituality

Values are fundamental beliefs that motivate behavior. They are how we establish what is desirable so that we can generate a vision of how we want to be successful and what we have to do to get there without compromising our standards. Your values are sourced from your inner-core and spirit—who you are as a person. Studies of college studies indicate that spirituality provided students with a life purpose, thereby reassuring students of their academic plans and provided an ability to overcome barriers (Wood & Hilton, 2012). As you connect with your values and spirituality, you live an authentically honest life and are more likely to take responsibility for your thoughts and behavior, as well as having a matured sense of self-esteem.

Values and spirituality differ from individual to individual. For some, values are rooted in their religion (i.e. Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, etc.). But religion is not the sole form of spirituality. Prayer and are great, yet practicing environmentalism, humanism, or volunteering for social justice issues are also means of increasing spirituality for success.   

Keys To Success: Creativity

Photo by Gerd Altmann from Pexels

Creativity is characterized as the ability to think abstractly, discover possibilities, produce innovative ideas, and then apply those ideas to real-world situations. Creativity sets people apart and makes them unique. It is beneficial for success because it adds to the available resources we need to reach our goals. While art and creative writing are obvious examples of creativity, the result of creativity is not always tangible. Successful creativity is:

  • Organization—Clearly state your goals and your plan of action to reach your goals.
  • Communication—You will notice success requires effective communication skills in both writing and in speaking orally. Communication also includes knowing which questions to ask regarding your goals and to whom.
  • Open-mindedness—The willingness to consider unconventional concepts or produce ideas others have not thought of is a key to success.
  • Physical activity—Exercise is a mode of expression. The endorphins released during exercise have a positive effect on the brain, which increases the use of complex thinking skills.
  • Mathematics—Connecting math for real-life situations is creatively thinking about numbers.

Keys To Success: Build Strong Relationships

Humans are social creatures. Although we may be content being alone for brief periods, friendships and interactions with others have many benefits to success. Firstly, relationships promote feelings of happiness. When we are happy, we are motivated to be productive.

Next, healthy relationships offer you the increased freedom to focus on your goals. You are less likely to have disputes with the people surrounding you (i.e. coworkers, classmates, etc.) if you have strong relationships. The attributes of a strong relationship include trust, respect, communication, integrity, and openness.

Further, nobody can be successful alone. Those people are available to help you reach your goals. Relationships offer a surplus of resources you would not have connections to otherwise.

Keys To Success: Use Effective Communication

Communication is how we exchange information between groups of people. Whether at work, school or in your personal life, effective communication is a key to success. Communicate may take the form of speaking orally, a written language like in a letter or email, and through bodily gestures. Communicating incorrectly leads to misunderstandings and controversy. While communicating for success, be specific about your goal. Say exactly what you mean. Ensure the information you are delivering is accurate and concise. To practice effective communication:

  • Listen—Engage in active listening. Truly hear the other person out before responding with your perspective. Do not interrupt them in the middle of their conversation.
  • Be constructive—Constructive feedback gives each party a central point to focus on, whereas destructive comments create tension and defensiveness.
  • Control your emotions—Communicating in an emotional state is not advised. If angry or upset, you are more likely to say something you regret or give inaccurate information without thinking thoroughly about your decisions.
  • Speak with purpose—Know what you are going to say and why. You cannot achieve your overall goal without a purpose.

Keys To Success: Establish A Healthy Routine

Routines are often viewed as boring or monotonous. However, when it comes to success, a healthy routine is anything but! Adopt a routine that incorporates all of the keys to success into your day. For example, setting aside twenty minutes to free-write daily fosters creativity and encourages a routine for success.

Ideas for a healthy routine include abiding by a sleep schedule, consuming healthy foods, exercising daily, and meditation. Eventually, these actions form consistent habits to more efficiently track your progress.

Keys To Success: Learn

Knowledge is power. The more you learn, the more successful you potentially become. Learning combines all of the keys to the success mentioned above. It gives you the skills to adapt to unexpected obstacles interfering with your end goal. The learning process initiates new ideas, and in turn, alters your perspective. Almost anything can be a potential learning experience. Yes, what you read in books imparts knowledge, but discovering information via technology, directly applying experiences from past situations, and observing others are additional opportunities for learning.

References

Peters, E., Tompkins, M., Knoll, M.A.Z., Ardoin, S.P. (2019). Despite high objective numeracy, lower numeric confidence relates to worse financial and medical outcomes. PNAS, 116(39), 19386-1939. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1903126116

Wood, J.L., & Hilton, A.A. (2012). Spirituality and Academic Success: Perceptions of African American Males in the Community College. Religion and Education, 39(1):28-47. DOI: 10.1080/15507394.2012.648576

Consciousness: Find out about a variety of mental states

Consciousness is a highly contested subject within a variety of different fields, so it’s no surprise that there are multiple accepted definitions. Some consider consciousness as one simply being awake and aware of their surroundings, while others consider it an individualized awareness of one’s own, unique mind. Depending on the context it’s being used in, it can range from being limited to internal volition and introspection, to including all types of experiences and perceptions. It’s also hard to separate consciousness into respective types or forms, because consciousness is used in describing such a large variety of mental states, and the interdisciplinary debate has yet to reach any conclusion.

In psychology, Sigmund Freud is regarded highly in academia for his base theory of divided human consciousness, where it separates into three levels of awareness: the conscious, the preconscious, and the unconscious.

  • The conscious level consists of what we are aware of, our internal understanding of ourselves and our external understanding of our surroundings.
  • The preconscious consists of things that are below of threshold of immediate conscious awareness but are able to focus in on at our own will.
  • The unconscious consists of things that are outside of all conscious awareness and are unable to be achieved. The unconscious is typically concerned with memories, thoughts, and urges that we repress, but still influence our behavior outside of our own understanding. The preconscious is considered unconscious when it is not being recalled, but it differs with the unconscious because it can be easily retrieved and understood. 

Altered States of Consciousness 

Now more than ever, mindfulness practices are becoming staples in peoples’ wellness routines. Mindfulness as a concept is rooted in Buddhist meditative practices and includes maintaining full awareness of one’s thoughts and feelings with full acceptance. The goal is to be fully immersed in the present moment and separated from thoughts related to the past or the future. In addition to its use in meditation, mindfulness is often used therapeutically, in order to confront latent emotions without judging oneself for them. Mindfulness is often achieved through practice in relaxed environments, breathing techniques, and sensory exercises. 

Metacognition, also known as “cognition about cognition”, “thinking about thinking”, or “awareness of one’s awareness” is known as a higher-order cognitive function. Metacognitive behaviors are used most commonly by those in school and higher academia as a tool to revise and understand their own learning behaviors. It is divided into two types: metacognitive knowledge and metacognitive regulation. Metacognitive knowledge includes what learners know about their own preferred styles of learning, methods available for said learning, and the subjective ability to determine how best to approach a task. Metacognitive regulation involves planning, monitoring, evaluating, and reflecting upon a certain task. Those utilizing metacognitive regulation are able to recognize the task at hand, how it should be deliberately approached, and whether or not changes need to be made to optimize learning efficiency.

Many people report achieving spiritual awakenings or enlightenment, whether by religious practices, such as meditation and/or prayer, drug use, such as high doses of a psychoactive substance, or peak life experiences, such as a close brush with death or a thrilling rock climb. This is typically described as opening up one’s conscious awareness beyond the confines of their subjective reality, or their ego, and becoming aware of a higher sense of self. Humans are always driven by some sort of egoistic desire, whether it be hunger, thirst, success, self-confidence, etc… The mark of this higher state of being is that one is no longer driven by these basic human instincts but are instead able to simply exist. 

Freud, in conjunction with his consciousness studies, posits that the human psyche is divided into three essential components: the id, the ego, and the superego. The id is primitive and instinctive and includes biological aspects, like libido and the need to eat, and is selfish and irrational in fulfilling their needs. Babies are said to be born with only their id, and the ego and superego are said to develop later on. The ego is developed to mediate the irrational requests of the id and reality.

The ego is rational, working out the objectively reasonable and unselfish way, willing to compromise to avoid societal consequences; however, is still concerned with pleasure-seeking. The superego incorporates values learned directly from one’s parents of society. Instead of simply realistic, the superego strives to become moralistic in goal setting. The superego exists between two stages: conscience and ideal self. The conscience encourages us, through guilt and other methods, to achieve our ideal self, or the version of self that meets our ultimate goal. When the ego dissipates, there is no concern outside of being, and letting the rest work itself out. 

Deep and dreamless sleep is considered an unconscious state, but the dream world opens an entirely new conscious reality, separate from any kind of wakeful consciousness. For the most part, we cannot control our dreams, but we are not entirely passive within them; we are most often the main actors. The idea of dreams contributes new evidence to resolve the mind-body problem since the brain initiates consciousness in the absence of any other external stimuli. Scientists are still looking to fully answer the question of how and why the brain creates dreams, aside from its strong association with REM sleep and contributions from the audiovisual region within the junction between the parietal and occipital lobe. 

We do know that there a variety of different dream states, however. Lucid dreaming, for example, is where one can control their dreams and have a conscious awareness that they are, in fact, in a dream. Essentially, the mind is awake when the body is asleep while in REM sleep, and while it can be accidental, it is oftentimes purposefully induced to meditate or practice mindfulness. An extension of this is a phenomenon called astral projection, an esoteric, intentional out-of-body experiences wherein users claim their consciousness is separated from their physical body and capable of traveling on its own. However, there are minimal scientific studies that prove the existence of astral projection as an objective experience, out of body, consciousness separating experiences are known to be induced by dissociative and psychoactive drugs, deliberate spiritual practice and suspension of belief, sensory deprivation, and more.

Disordered States of Consciousness 

Following severe brain injuries, such as those following a vegetative state or coma, it is common for people in healing to have a slow recovery of consciousness, and this period is known as being in a minimally conscious state. They are inconsistent in their abilities to be self-aware and aware of the world around them. It is common for these people to falter when trying to follow simple instructions, can only sometimes speak in a manner that is understandable, and change in their ability to focus on a specific thing for a sustained period of time. Since these actions are so inconsistent, it can be hard to distinguish a minimally conscious person from a vegetative person.

The main difference is that the vegetative person has no level of conscious awareness, while the minimally conscious person can fluctuate between not having conscious awareness and having some level. Further along in the recovery process than a minimally conscious person, is a person in a confusional state. They are much more adept in paying attention, recalling memories, and following instructions. However, it is common for them to regularly become disoriented, hallucinate or become delusional, and experience severely impaired responsiveness and cognition. From this state, it is extremely likely that the person will make a full recovery and one day achieve normal levels of consciousness.

Dissociative disorders are the involuntary disconnection between one’s identity, memory, and consciousness. There are multiple different types of dissociative disorders, most commonly considered as dissociative identity disorder (DID), depersonalization and derealization, and dissociative amnesia and/or dissociative fugue. DID is characterized by a person that has a lack of connection between their consciousness and true identity, which often results as the person appearing as though they take on different personalities. It is most likely caused by severe, repetitive physical, sexual, or emotional trauma in early childhood. In rare cases, certain dissociated states can be concurrently conscious and understand themselves as distinct identity. Some philosophers theorize that evidence of operationally different, yet concurrent consciousness experiences in the brain, suggests a universal consciousness that gives rise to these dissociated personalities. However, it is most common for the alternate states to exist entirely separated from the primary consciousness that exists in accord with the body. 

Depersonalization disorder is characterized by periods of feeling disconnected from or foreign to one’s body or thoughts. It is frequently described as feeling like you are an outside observer to your own body, and the distorted consciousness state is often referred to as being dreamlike. Derealization is a feeling that one’s perception of reality is false, and a fear that their external reality is fabricated by their own mind.  Derealization is similar to depersonalization in that there is a detached consciousness, but in derealization, the idea is that one’s bodily-influenced consciousness is deceiving them, and depersonalization is more thought of like the disconnect of one’s body and mind. Both depersonalization and derealization are often brought on by heavy substance abuse, more severe personality disorders, seizure disorders, and trauma.

Dissociative amnesia results in an inability to recall important information. It is different from basic memory loss, since it includes gaps in memory for extended periods of time and often erase memories associated with the traumatic event, and it is not typical amnesia, since it does not result from any physical brain injury or disease, but rather, the result of a deeply repressed traumatic event. Dissociative fugue is extreme dissociative amnesia, where a person completely loses their sense of identity and all past memories. These people may wander aimlessly away from their homes, or even take on a new identity, with no recollection of their previous one. This, like many other dissociative disorders, is linked to severe stress and/or prolonged trauma. 

Theories & Research

The Ancient Mayans are credited as being some of the first groups to formulate some form of hierarchical consciousness structure. Understanding consciousness incorporates both internal and external stimuli, they regarded it as the most basic form of existence. In the 17th century, John Locke was one of the first philosophers to begin to ponder the mystifying world of consciousness. He was the first to say that our identity is tied to our consciousness, but it is not tied to our physical bodies and can sustain once the physical body dies. Rene Descartes, another 17th-century philosopher, hypothesized Cartesian dualism, or the idea that the mind and body exist in different domains. 

Modern-day psychologists have evolved a lot, but not without expounding upon, as well as criticizing these past theories. Development psychologists see consciousness as exactly that: a developmental process with the potential for reaching higher levels. Social psychologists view consciousness as a product cultural influence, and not something that is necessarily intrinsic to an individual. 

Neuropsychologists see consciousness as being highly ingrained in our neural pathways and structures. They believe there is a correlation to be found through subjective experiences as reported by an individual, and brain activity. There is not a definitive neural correlates for consciousness states, but rather, it is possible that all subjective and perpetually changing states of consciousness have specific neural correlates. While this may seem impossible to derive useful data from, neuropsychologists believe that inducing activity in particular regions and/or networks will allow them to find common causes among these different correlates. Neurobiology takes a different approach, evaluating the body in greater detail than the mind, considering neural results of consciousness as the cause of certain bodily responses, where consciousness is regarded as a state-dependent portion of a different biological system. 

Brain imaging has also been a recent tool in consciousness studies. Researchers believe that different patterns in brain waves, recorded by an electroencephalograph (EEG) could indicate the production of different states of consciousness. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI scans) are also commonly used to measure physical activity in the brain, and how this activity may correlate with various consciousness states.

Additionally, there are multiple areas of the brain implicated in consciousness, the prefrontal cortex and temporal lobe being the primary candidates for more in-depth study. The prefrontal cortex is considered pertinent in triggering visual awareness throughout other areas of the brain, and the temporal lobe is essential in auditory processing, object and facial recognition, and the ability to utilize language. Damage to the prefrontal cortex can lessen one’s capacity of compassion, guilt, and other social emotions, which is a massive component of consciousness. Damage to the temporal lobe can result is a disturbance in auditory, visual, and language perception, comprehension, and output, as well as a disturbance in selective attention abilities.

Conflict Resolution: How to manage conflict

Conflict Resolution. Do we all experience conflict? Yes, we do. Whether interacting with family, friends, or co-workers, we are bound to face disagreements. However, not seeing eye to eye does not have to mean the end of a relationship. Keep reading to learn about conflict resolution—a set of skills intended to manage conflict healthily.

Photo by Belle Co from Pexels

What Causes Conflict?

Conflict is described as disputes or disagreements between two parties. The presence of conflict can arise at home, in schools, at work, and in community organizations—any place where there are social interactions.

The main cause of conflict stems from poor communication. One individual is unable to adequately convey their complete message to another. This causes them to make assumptions about their thoughts, feelings, or stance on a particular issue.

Outside of poor communication, conflict is also caused by:

  • Stress
  • Manipulation
  • Differing Viewpoints
  • Conflicting Roles
  • Improper Planning
  • Resource Allocation
  • Incompatible personalities
  • Unmet Needs

Effects of Unresolved Conflict 

When poorly managed, conflict is detrimental to both the individual and their relationships. Firstly, unresolved conflict poses the risk of severing ties with important people in our lives. With constant arguing, ignoring the person completely, or tension, a relationship is unlikely to possess the trust and harmony to prosper.

On an individual level, the unresolved conflict has detrimental effects on physical health. Studies show the resulting psychological stress weakens the immune system, increasing susceptibility to developing illnesses. Research from Northwestern University also confirms that 80% if males involved in arguments suffered high blood pressure and chest pain.

Overall work productivity steadily declines in the presence of unresolved conflict. Rather than the job at hand, time is dedicated to reducing avoidable problems arising from the conflict. This causes poor decision making.

What is Conflict Resolution?

Conflict is inevitable, and can even be a healthy aspect of social interactions only if it is managed through conflict resolution. Conflict resolution is the process in which individuals peacefully arrive at a solution to their disagreement. It is essential for maintaining effective, rewarding relationships for both parties.

The goal of conflict resolution is to avoid damaging relationships. Through compromise, conflict resolution preserves limited resources, fosters understanding, explores possibilities, and creating a foundation for forming new interactions.

Conflict Resolution and The Brain

The brain perceives conflict as a stressor. As the body recognizes a threat, a portion of the brain known as the amygdala triggers the release of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline to provoke the fight or flight response designed for survival mechanisms. The brain becomes equipped to identify objects, make a judgment, and carry out the appropriate reaction. Our bodies, however, have elevations in heart rate, flushed skin, sweating, and tense muscles.

Attention focuses solely on surviving the problem at occurring. To do so, the amygdala deactivates other brain regions such as the pre-frontal cortex. An inactive pre-frontal cortex narrows complex thought processes needed for decision making, along with memory function. This is a protective mechanism. While conflict is not typically the same life-or-death situations experienced by our ancient ancestors, these physiological responses shape how we interact in conflict resolution.   

Common Conflict Resolution Styles

Humans are diverse creatures—each possessing unique qualities, personality characteristics, and environments. The qualities we display the impact on how we approach conflict, ultimately leading to our preferred conflict resolution styles.

Conflict Resolution: Avoiding

As the name implies, the conflict resolution style of avoidance involves withdrawing from conflict entirely. Rather than confronting the problem, those who avoid conflict pretend it does not exist or shut down. Fear is a common motivator for avoidance. However, avoidance of a conflict not necessarily negative. Ignoring the problem gives additional time to think of the ideal response to resolve the conflict without harming either party.

Conflict Resolution: Accommodating

Accommodating is a style of low assertiveness. When accommodating for conflict resolution, there is no compromise to establish a middle-ground solution. Instead, one sacrifices their wishes for that of the other party. It is best used in situations of low importance.

An example of accommodating is the following:

“Where do you want to go out for dinner?”

“I don’t care. Wherever you want.”

Conflict Resolution: Competing

Conflict resolution through competing is characterized by dominance and a sense of power. It is taking a firm, unwavering position against the opposing party. This style is optimal for moral issues and situations in which a quick decision is required. The downfall of competing is that the other person may feel disregarded or unheard, potentially adding to the tension of conflict.

Conflict Resolution: Compromising

Comprising is establishing a middle-ground solution that pacifies every party. Each person has a different viewpoint, and compromise seeks to partially satisfy them all. The effectiveness of compromise varies on the original conflict. It is optimal for temporary decisions such as an approaching deadline or if a decision must be reached, yet the quality of that decision is not as important.

Conflict Resolution: Collaborating

Collaborating uncovers a win-win solution that is pleasing to all parties. It entails cohesive teamwork to arrive at a pleasing solution for everyone. This conflict resolution style entails cohesive teamwork where no individual is dissatisfied and attempts to preserve important relationships.

Effective Conflict Resolution Strategies

Regardless of the conflict resolution style one instinctively employs during a disagreement, developing a conflict resolution plan is vital to positively diffusing controversy.

The below conflict resolution strategies transform conflict from a problem that is toxic to relationships to a productive interaction that motivates change, breaks down barriers, and increases understanding. Communication is at the center of resolving any and all of the conflict resolution strategies.

Acknowledge Conflict

The initial step of conflict resolution should be recognizing the conflict that exists. Acknowledging conflict is the mutual agreement to address the problem and to find a solution that eliminates harm from either party.

Acknowledgment also involves:

  • Distinguishing the conflict’s source
  • Assessing the risk of addressing the conflict
  • Identifying the needs of both parties
  • Declaring your intention to actively resolve the conflict

Emotional Awareness

Emotions run high in conflict. The stress response conflict triggers can lead to a lack of emotional control. We must know how we feel to understand the problem, your own needs, and the needs of others. Emotional awareness is the conscious awareness of your emotional state. Do you feel sad? Are you angry? Fearful? These feelings are normal during the conflict. How we choose to handle our feelings determines the effectiveness of conflict resolution.

Active Listening

We all wish to have our opinions, thoughts, and feelings heard. Listen to the other person’s view. Despite disagreeing with their perspective, understanding their stance on the conflict is necessary to effectively communicate. However, listening goes beyond hearing another’s words. Active listening ensures you truly comprehend the other party’s meaning.

Clarify what the person is saying. Rephrase their dialogue as a question:

  • “From my understanding, you meant….”
  • “You’re saying that…?”  
  • “Am I correct in thinking you said…?”
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Validate Concerns

Validation is a significant part of feeling heard. Encourage the other person to share their stance. Express your eagerness to understand the cause of conflict and what is upsetting them. Ask to know their interest in resolving conflict. What do they have to lose? What do they wish to gain from this exchange? What are their concerns? Validation communicates that you care enough to resolve the conflict.

Assertive Communication

Assertiveness is often assumed to be rude, confrontational, or domineering. However, being assertive differs from aggression. In conflict resolution, assertive communication is expressing your position using respectful open dialogue. It is not an attempt to gain power, nor is it passively complying with the other party in a way that does not meet your needs. Assertive communication is straightforward, communicating your needs, attitudes, and intentions. It maintains confidence and builds self-esteem while standing up for your rights and the rights of others.

Avoid Accusations

Accusations lead others to feel judged, which precipitates defensive behavior to defend their position. That causes the conflict to be counterproductive, as it delays arriving at a solution. Accept your fault in the conflict without blaming the other person.

I-messages are helpful to state the problem without accusations of blame. I-messages or I-statements describe the conflict and the feeling the conflict creates. They begin with “I” and focus on your feelings without implying causation. Instead of a You-statement (i.e. “You make me mad,) an I-statement (i.e. “I feel upset…) is effective.

Utah State University outlines the general format for I-messages:

  • I think ____________ (your thoughts about the situation).
  • I feel ____________ (be sure to state an emotion rather than a thought. For example: excited, frustrated, concerned, etc.)
  • because ____________ (provide the specific reason you are feeling this way, preferably with an example).

Manage Nonverbal Communication

Although verbal communication is the most prevalent mode of communication, we are constantly conveying messages nonverbally through body language such as:

  • Eye Contact
  • Tone of Voice
  • Posture
  • Touch
  • Gestures
  • Facial Expressions (i.e. frown, smile, etc.)

Speaking the words to diffuse conflict is great, but if unsupported by appropriate gestures and facial expressions, the message is easily disregarded. For example, wildly waving your arms does not communicate trust and respect during a heated exchange, but a reassuring touch is a welcoming sign to proceed with amicable conflict resolution.

Be Polite

Approaching someone with rudeness is almost a guarantee that conflict will escalate. The person will feel attacked and defensive rather than valued and understood. To address a conflict, be respectful. Treat the other as an equal deserving of understanding. A positive way to convey politeness is to pay them a compliment before conveying anything negative. If you are respectful, the other party will likely treat you with the same respect to optimize conflict resolution.

Reference

Darrington, J. & Brower, N. (2012). Effective Communication Skills: “I” Messages and Beyond. Retrieved from https://articles.extension.org/sites/default/files/I%20messages%20and%20beyond%20Utah.pdf

Hamilton, D.M. (2015). Calming Your Brain During Conflict. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2015/12/calming-your-brain-during-conflict

Fear of Change: What to Do When You’re Afraid

What is the fear of change ? What are the signs? Why do humans fear change? Do humans enjoy any type of change? How do you know if you need to make a change? How do you make a change?

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Metathesiophobia, or what’s more commonly known as the fear of change, originates from the Greek word “meta”, meaning changes and “phobos” meaning fear. Most people worry about the future and question themselves, but for some, this fear of change can be much more debilitating. It is intense anxiety over confronting change. “A marked or persistent fear of one or more social or performance situations in which the person is exposed to unfamiliar people or to possible scrutiny by others.”

Someone with a fear of change is likely uncomfortable with that which is unfamiliar to them. If some sort of change is on the horizon, it is likely that their fear is continuous. “Exposure to the feared social situation almost invariably provokes anxiety.”

Someone that fears change will definitely experience some form of anxiety when confronted with said change. Most people who fear change are able to recognize that their fear isn’t completely rational. This rationality, though, may not be enough to assuage anxiety. 

“The feared social situations are avoided or else they are endured with intense anxiety or distress.”

If one fears change, it is extremely likely that they avoid it. If they are not able to avoid change, they would likely experience a major increase in stress

If one fears change, it will commonly interfere with their life. It may cause them to remain in situations that make them unhappy, leave a lot of potential untapped, and even cause a strain in their relationships. 

Fear of Change: Manifestation

Having a fear this severe is relatively rare and would almost certainly coincide with some other type of social phobia. However, most people still fear change to some degree. Even if one is not experiencing blatant effects from this fear, like avoiding important opportunities or having obsessive thoughts, this fear could be causing someone to miss out on a lot of chances.

Could a fear of change be disguising itself as complacency in one’s current life? Maybe one’s choice to stick with certain people, certain activities, certain jobs, etc doesn’t only stem from preference. Fear of change can manifest itself in ways that aren’t explicit but could potentially have a massive impact. It’s possible your fear of change is impacting you or someone you know negatively if they:

  • Are staying in an unhappy marriage/relationship, where emotional or physical manipulation is not part of the influence. 
  • Are staying in a job where they are underemployed or unfulfilled, despite having the ability to seek employment elsewhere.
  • Have a very distinct set of interests and do not usually like trying new things.
  • Have a very distinct set of friends and has no desire to meet new people. 
  • Have a very distinct list of places where they like to go and do not like to deviate from them.
  • Turn down opportunities that have the potential to be beneficial for them.
  • Become upset and irritable when their daily routine becomes mixed up.
  • Become very defensive when someone suggests they make a change in their life. 

These symptoms can be indicative of a lot of things, like an antisocial personality disorder or a generalized anxiety disorder. However, these often occur in the absence of any mental disorder. Fear of change is likely to underlie these disorders, implying that it could be the root of a lot of anxiety-related issues. 

“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy is when men are afraid of the light.”

Plato

Fearing change is not only the root of many anxiety-related issues but a root of humanity. Infants experience inborn stranger anxiety, and soon after, experience separation anxiety in toddlerhood. In fact, evolutionary psychologists theorize that this fear of change could be embedded into our DNA from thousands and thousands of years ago when people were hunter-gatherers. Compared to the other creatures that lived in the wild, humans were extremely vulnerable, lacking the natural strength and resilience that allowed other species to be more suited to hunt all day and withstand difficult weather conditions. Before humans had a full grasp of their intellectual capacity and technology developed into the marvel that it is today, we were prey.

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Being the most successful predator on the planet due to our intellectual advantages in the present day, most of us no longer have to fear being killed by hungry animals. We now have the means to avoid starving to death because its winter and our only source of sustenance is in hibernation and we have nearly no protection against the brutal elements. These external issues don’t remain, but these fundamental survival responses do persist for humans internally. The explosion of human knowledge through periods like the Age of Enlightenment and the Renaissance and the eruption of technological advancements like in the Industrial Revolution happened much quicker than our genes could possibly mutate. Because of the inconsistency between the speeds of society’s evolution and humans’ evolution, we are left with an intrinsic fear of change in a new world that changes constantly. 

This inconsistency doesn’t necessarily code for undeniable tragedy, however. Society is propelled only by the people within it. It would not have been possible to make the strides we’ve made as a human race without a lot of people working towards, pushing for, and desiring change. This seems like it doesn’t align at all with our DNA. Why would we as humans catalyze the most rapid and influential changes ever conceived if we’re scared of it? It seems that this fear of change has some stipulations.

We may resist change in most cases, in general, but when we can foresee a change improving our life or the lives of others, this aversion to change will sometimes dissipate. In school, students study the genius inventions of scientists before them. People almost always encourage their friends to take that new job opportunity; it’s rarely the other way around. It seems as though people applaud change when they are not the ones having to take the risk. When there is minimal risk involved, our attitudes are generally different. People fear and abhor the unknown, possibly more than anything else.

“Time isn’t the enemy. Fear of change is.”

Oprah Winfrey

Fear of Change and the Brain

It was discovered that our cerebellum, the part of our brain responsible for muscle memory and certain fine-motor controls, has a neural substrate that plays a big role in anticipatory anxiety, a more specified fear of change categorized by its ambiguity. These substrates, which come from a periaqueductal grey-cerebellar (a part of the cerebellum that contributes to our defense-arousal system) link, underlie fear-evoked freezing. This is contrary to the response more commonly associated with fear in general, our fight-or-flight response. Scientists have found that threats that can be predicted will more likely to produce this fight-or-flight response, while more vague stimuli seem to trigger something closer to this freezing response. The reason behind this distinction is still unknown, but one prediction is that it occurs because, in the face of a vague threat, there is not much you can do to combat it. 

Our fear of change, when we know what’s ahead of us, produces this fight-or-flight response in people. Since we are less afraid when we know what we are confronting, most people choose to fight or face the change. We still may have underlying anxiety, but our attitudes are naturally going to be more open when we believe something positive will come of it. Humans generally enjoy this type of change.

The reason why it’s a more acceptable statement to say that humans resist change is that most change that we encounter is going to be wracked with uncertainty. One may know what their new job is going to entail and where it is and who their boss is, but they are still likely to feel uneasy about their new coworkers and worry about messing up. When you truly don’t know what’s to come, though, it’s impossible to choose between fight-or-flight, so freezing is the most likely response. This may explain why having “brain-freezes” and engaging in those awkward, “drawing a blank” conversations are such common occurrences when confronting first day jitters. 

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”

H.P. Lovecraft

Humans also have a tendency to resist change because we are creatures of habit. Studies have connected the acquisition of habits with the basal ganglia, a part in brain focused around reinforcement and procedural learning. When we begin to create a routine, our brain maps our reality around these new habits, which can be useful when trying to reach a goal, but inhibitive when trying to create new ones. When thinking and acting with intention, people have to make a conscious effort. In order to achieve this, the prefrontal cortex becomes highly engaged, which creates hard work for the brain. It’s made even harder due to the fact that the fear processing center of our brain, the amygdala, restricts risky and exploratory behavior when it’s activated. Even if we don’t explicitly fear change, we’re inclined to avoid it merely because it’s hard to overcome old patterns of thought. 

However, just because we’re wired to dislike change doesn’t mean we can’t rewire our brains. Change is important to embrace because we often to don’t have a choice. Still, we do have the ability to make a change at our own discretion. Staying in your comfort zone forever will not allow you to gain new perspectives, experience the world around you, or find your authentic self. Feeling content does not always equate to feeling entirely fulfilled and happy. 

Symptoms

You may need to consider making a change if:

  • You dwell on the past, especially a past that you cannot return to.
  • You are caught up in the future that you are not taking initiative to get to.
  • You feel like you don’t know yourself, or that you don’t like yourself.  
  • You lack a passion or strong emotion that you once had.
  • You crave more direction and sense of purpose.
  • You feel like you are trapped or held down in your daily routine. 
  • You believe that you are settling for less than you deserve or can attain.
  • You have regrets about where you are or feel “burnt out”.
  • You are jealous of the lives of others and have low self-confidence.
  • You’re consistently irritated and “making mountains out of molehills.”
  • You experience regular fatigue that can’t be attributed to anything else.
  • You dread going through your daily routine and feel bored for most of the day.
  • You feel like you can’t be your authentic self in your current setting.
  • You don’t like sharing details about your life with others.
  • The things you stress over never seem to amount to anything worthwhile. 

Tips on how to get over the fear of change

Experiencing the symptoms on the above list may not force you to make a change, but it’s not living a life that most people would consider ideal. Here are some ways you can slowly start conquering your fear and initiating change for yourself:

  • Try to create certainty where you can. When you can ensure certain things, like your own approach to the change, it becomes easier to tackle. 
  • Expect and prepare for the worst. Repressing the idea of a bad outcome may only worsen underlying anxieties.  When you are ready to address even the worst-case scenarios, not knowing what is going to happen becomes more manageable. 
  • Learn to create goals that are realistic but challenging. Challenge your own critiques but adjust as necessary. Overcoming perfectionism and opening up to the idea of failure is hard but setting yourself up for “trying again” can be easier to stomach. 
  • Become aware of all the choices you truly have. Open yourself up to possibilities that may not be achievable now but could be later. Setting small goals can make these choices more attainable in the long run and acknowledging all the choices you have means you aren’t limited if something doesn’t go as planned.
  • Make sure old business is completed before you move onto new business. You cannot fully embrace a new way of living if you are caught up in the very thing you were trying to change.
  • Be deliberate. When breaking past habits and forming new ones, existing on autopilot makes it difficult. Think about what you’re doing and especially why you’re doing it while you’re doing it. When we go about our lives with intention, we can more easily find meaning and reason to continue our efforts. 
  • On the same note, be proud. Remind yourself that you should feel good about yourself, and that what you’re doing is to improve your life. Be excited about your successes, no matter how big or how small, and give yourself incentives to continue stepping outside your comfort zone. 
  • Create a rock-solid support system. Gather a group of people that will not allow you to give up, even when you may feel like you want to. It is a lot harder to go back when you have people encouraging you to move forward. It’s also difficult to tell those closest to you that you are giving up, giving you even more of a reason to persevere. 
  • Work on overcoming less significant fears that don’t necessarily have to do with the change you’re working on. It will gradually desensitize you to your primary fear, making it easier to deal with overtime.
  • Get out of the echo chamber! Being around people that think exactly like you can be peaceful, but you won’t be exposed to doing things in new ways. Surround yourself with people who think differently and adopt new strategies and outlooks.

Convergent Thinking: The key to problem-solving

Imagine sitting in class shading the bubble on a multiple-choice test. You would not think that simple action has a whole lot to do with creativity, but when combined with divergent thinking, convergent thinking is an integral component of problem-solving. The thought process that goes into answering standard questions opens up a world of possibilities known as convergent thinking.

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What is Convergent Thinking?

While studying human creativity, psychologist Joy Paul Guilford first created the term as the opposite of divergent thinking.

When presented with a problem, it allows someone to arrive at a solution by analyzing the information available to them and later applying established rules and reasoning. It relies heavily on logic. Its purpose is to decrease the chance of ambiguity—seeking to bridge the gap between multiple interpretations. Ideally, it leads to one correct answer or method to solve a problem. Examples are IQ tests, standardized tests, math quizzes, and spelling tests.

Convergent VS. Divergent Thinking

Being linear and systematic, convergent thinking is straightforward. It filters ideas to a single solution. The process focuses on the questions, “why?” and “what’s best?”

Contrarily, divergent thinking is web-like—creating connections between ideas. Divergent thinking generates multiple ideas that are original, open to more than one solution, and unconcerned with the risks or limitations.

While different concepts, convergent and divergent thinking go hand-in-hand. Typically, we use divergent thinking to generate multiple ideas followed by convergent thinking to analyze and narrow down those ideas.  

Convergent Thinking and Brain Activity

Brain activity in convergent thinkers is unique. Such activity is measured by a test called an electroencephalogram (EEG). Electrodes on the scalp measure a person’s brain waves. It causes a distinct increase in Theta bands, which is a type of brain wave linked to learning, memory, and intuition.

Studies of patients with hippocampal damage suggest that the ability to apply convergent thinking is associated with the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory (Warren et al., 2016). Neurotransmitter systems that carry signals to brain cells are also involved. Convergent thinking function is greater when lower levels of dopamine—the chemical for arousal, thinking, and planning—are present in the nervous system.

Convergent Thinking and Personality

Thinking processes affect personality. Personality traits are categorized into 5 basic dimensions. This is known as the Big Five method.

The Big Five personality traits are:

  • Openness—Curious, imaginative, sensitive to inner feelings
  • Conscientiousness—Efficient, organized, and diligently hardworking
  • Extraversion—Enjoys interacting with the world, talkative, energetic
  • Agreeableness—Considerate and kind to others, optimistic of human nature
  • Neuroticism—Sensitive and nervous, likely to be moody, anxious, or depressed, easily angered

After assessing brain activity studies, researchers conclude that divergent thinking, with its emphasis on creativity, is specifically linked to the traits of openness and extraversion. It was not found to be affected by any of the core personality traits. However, cognition does affect mood. Convergent thinkers tend to display more negative moods than their divergent thinking counterparts.

Executive Function Skills For Convergent Thinking

Executive functions are cognitive skills that assist in goal formation and achievement. There are three main areas: working memory, cognitive flexibility, and inhibitory control. Like this type of thinking, we practice executive function skills in daily life. These skills have a predominant role in creativity.

Executive function skills include but are not limited to:

Attention and Initiation

Attention is an executive function characterized by staying focused on a task. Attention is especially important for it because narrowing down one best solution requires focus. Additionally, attention helps sustain initiation—the executive function responsible for beginning a task and finishing it to completion.

Inhibition

Inhibition is an executive function that utilizes attention and reasoning to control impulsive, automatic responses. To put it simply, inhibition is part of self-control. A lack of inhibition prevents the ability to discard partial or incorrect solutions. When a person does not have inhibition, it also impacts their attention. They cannot remain focused enough to stay on task. Thus, poor inhibitory control is a disadvantage for convergent thinking.

Shifting

Although divergent thinking is unconcerned with limitations, the ‘best’ solution determined by convergent thinking tasks cannot be deterred by extensive limitations. Shifting is the executive function that allows us to adjust to these situations as they change or as limitations arise. In it, focus must shift to narrow down the ideas that were generated during divergent thinking.

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Regulating Emotions

Depending on the task, the thinking process can be stressful. Studies conclude that both convergent and divergent thinking tasks induce mood swings (Chermahini et al., 2011). Regulating emotions is the ability to deal with feelings, which is essential in times of stress. With its focus on filtering ideas, convergent thinking demands the managing of emotions. One has to acknowledge what they are feeling and address those feelings to overcome barriers to the most suitable solution.

Organizing

Convergent thinking is structured. The executive function, organizing, provides that much-needed structure. Organizing entails planning and prioritizing—each of which is relevant in convergent thinking. It is the point in the thinking process when ideas come to life. One has to identify key priorities to achieve their goals.  

IQ Tests and Convergent Thinking

Intelligence is a major component of cognition and thinking. IQ, which stands for intelligence quotient, measures convergent thinking. Questions on standard IQ tests are a prime example of this type of thinking. They measure logic, reasoning, basic knowledge, and thought flow. Intelligence does not depend on creativity, but they do have a relationship. Indicative of intelligence, higher IQ scores provide a starting point to it carry out. Problem-solving increases in difficulty if intelligence is low. However, intelligence does not guarantee creativity. Arriving at a correct textbook answer to a problem does not guarantee the capacity to generate original ideas before delving into the convergent thinking process.

How To Explore Creativity with Convergent Thinking

Most assume only divergent thinking is associated with creativity, but that is incorrect. It is necessary for creativity too. According to the Geneplore model, creativity is a cycle consisting of the generation stage and the exploration stage. Divergent thinking is the generation of ideas and convergent thinking explores ideas to put them in motion.

These general guidelines are beneficial to enhance creativity with convergent thinking:

Be Original

Do not dismiss novelty ideas. While divergent thinking is the stage in which original ideas are generated, convergent thinking involves actually working with ideas. Creative ideas may initially seem impossible due to limitations but think deeper. They may be able to be revised or modified. Step out of the ‘norm’ to courageously approach new ideas others do not understand.

Ask Questions

Questions beginning with “what,” who,” “when,” or “where” are typically convergent thinking questions. Convergent questions are less complex, easy to formulate, and strategic in nature. Asking questions creates goals to strive towards. The questions structure the thinking process. They also determine which information is no longer relevant and should be discarded.

Practice Objectivity

Convergent thinking is an objective experience. After establishing clear goals, those goals become the basis for the thought process. Objectiveness is focal for the organization and planning. Guide all questions around the objectives. This ensures the overall solution is met competently and without excessive distraction.

Take Time

Although we all appreciate situations of instant gratification, arriving at the single best solution to a problem is not instantaneous. Be deliberate when practicing convergent thinking. Hasty decisions prematurely eliminate ideas that could have potentially been successful. If overwhelmed, take a break from the process and return later with a fresh perspective.   

Convergent Thinking In Education

As previously stated, convergent thinking is implemented throughout the tasks of daily life. It has been put to practical use in educational settings. When convergent thinking is implemented for educational purposes, it requires information to be provided from numerous sources. Teachers are wise to deliver rigid, well-defined information for convergent thinking—not unfocused, open-ended ideas subjected to change. Concepts and materials are then combined to conclude the correct answer.

Examples of convergent thinking in school are study materials like flashcards, rote memorization, and drill learning. Class discussions between students and the teacher also contribute to convergent learning, as it is an opportunity to filter out incorrect ideas.

Photo by Riccardo Annandale on Unsplash

Techniques of convergent thinking in the classroom are:

Grouping

Problem-solving processes originate with many ideas generated during divergent thinking. In contrast, those ideas must be organized into groups for convergent thinking. Some of the ideas are likely to be similar. By combining like-ideas, grouping makes the data easier to find the most accurate solution to the problem. The like-ideas can be merged into a single comprehensive solution.

Outlining

Students benefit from outlining because it offers structure. Facts and information in excess get disorganized, so outlining prevents useful data from getting lost amongst what is non-useful. Outlining techniques ensure the gathered research is easier retrieved from working memory. This is similar to grouping, except with more structure. Examples of outlining include step by step lists, web maps, or reframing questions with multiple choice answers.

Filtering

Both outlining and grouping are vital to the technique known as filtering. Outlining and grouping present the information in an organized manner to filter or weed out ideas that offer no solution to the problem at hand. Students cannot ‘choose the best answer’ on their exam without methodically eliminate the incorrect answers first.

As with anything, practice makes perfect. Convergent thinking does not come effortlessly. It requires repetition to refine the process.

References

Akbari Chermahini, S., & Hommel, B. (2012). Creative mood swings: divergent and convergent thinking affect mood in opposite ways. Psychological research, 76(5), 634–640. doi:10.1007/s00426-011-0358-z

Warren, D. E., Kurczek, J., and Duff, M. C. 2016. What relates newspaper, definite, and clothing? An article describing deficits in convergent problem solving and creativity following hippocampal damage. Hippocampus 26(7):835–40. doi:10.1002/hipo.22591

Resiliency: Overcoming negative experiences

Throughout our lives, most of us will encounter trauma—an incident that inflicts physical, emotional, spiritual, or psychological harm. While we all endure misfortune, how we respond to trauma is what’s important. Resiliency provides the ability to cope mentally and emotionally. The mental processes and behaviors applied by resilient individuals are a huge aspect of overcoming negative experiences.  

Resiliency- Photo by Zoltan Tasi taken from Unsplash

What is Resiliency?

Resiliency is the thoughts, behaviors, and actions that promote the ability to cope during times of stress. This includes adversities such as trauma, threats, death, physical disability, financial difficulties, or family and relationship problems. Someone possessing resiliency copes both mentally and emotionally with their stressors or trauma—quickly returning to baseline. The term resiliency is the psychological equivalent to “getting up and dusting yourself off” after getting knocked down by life’s tragedies.

People with resiliency still experience significant emotional pain and distress. However, they apply key behaviors that allow them to experience their sadness, accept the events occurring, and then continue moving forward. They manage to avoid psychological consequences under extreme stress.

Why is Resiliency Important?

Resiliency is important because it makes overwhelming experiences easier to handle without negative repercussions. For example, it protects against the development of mental health issues like increased depression and anxiety. Those with high levels of resiliency have stable relationships, are less likely to engage in substance abuse behaviors, and have improved academic and job achievement.

Risk Factors For Poor Psychological Resiliency

Poor psychological resiliency is a struggle for many. Studies in clinical neuroscience (Levine, 2003) proved there are certain risk factors for low levels of resiliency:

  • Poverty
  • Childhood abuse
  • Lack of nurturing adults during childhood
  • Family conflict or divorce
  • Parenting style—excessively severe or inconsistent punishment
  • Substance abuse
  • Academic failure or inadequate education
  • Community disorganization
  • Exposure to violence
  • Delinquent peer culture or community environment

Protective Factors For Resiliency

Someone encountering adversity can potentially respond in three ways. They may exhibit sudden, extreme anger, go numb—failing to express their overwhelming emotions, or they become reasonably upset. The former two reactions do not respond to the situation. Instead, they do not cope with the negative experience, do not accept their feelings, and blame others. These individuals do either not have protective factors or do not have the skills to utilize them.

Contrarily, those with resiliency tend to respond to adversity with the latter. They accept unsettling emotions (i.e. fear, anxiety, hopelessness, etc.) and overcome them through coping methods. Protective factors in the environment like family support, competent schools, and interactive communities strengthen their resiliency. The resilient response is best for an individual’s wellbeing.

Neurobiology of Resiliency

Resilience is directly linked to the nervous system. Numerous brain structures stimulate resilience. Firstly, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis initiates the hormonal and physiological response to stress. Recent research suggests that dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), a steroid hormone, counteracts the harmful effects of cortisol released in times of stress. Studies (Russo et al., 2012) on PTSD reflect that higher levels of DHEA are related to symptom improvement. The hippocampus and medial prefrontal cortex control these processes.

What Promotes Resiliency?

With the knowledge of the risk factors against resiliency comes the determinants that promote it! Multiple traits, characteristics, and behaviors are associated with resiliency. These factors occur over a range of dimensions from the self to the culture in which an individual ascribes to.

Self

  • Self-esteem
  • Self-awareness
  • Self-efficacy
  • Independence
  • Positive outlook
  • Having goals
  • Abstaining from substances (i.e. drugs, alcohol, etc.)
  • Ability to solve problems
  • Responsibility

Community

  • Safety and security
  • Social equity
  • Quality education
  • Access to learning resources
  • Work and career opportunities
  • No exposure to violence
  • Housing
  • Healthy environment with sustainable resources

Relationships

  • Age-appropriate emotional expression
  • Peer acceptance
  • Family monitoring
  • Positive role models
  • Getting along with others
  • Social support at school, work, home, or community

Culture

  • Cultural identification
  • Sense of duty
  • Affiliation with a religious organization
  • Tolerant of contrasting beliefs
  • Preserving values
  • Knowledge of history and cultural traditions

How To Build Resiliency

We are not born with a fixed, innate capacity for resiliency. Creating and refining the skills takes practice. Anyone can build upon the necessary thoughts, behaviors, and actions that begin to construct resiliency.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on recognizing unproductive thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors and challenging those cognitive distortions to regulate emotions and cope with current problems. In cognitive-behavioral therapy, the therapist works with the client to change thought patterns. While the therapy treats depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions, it is useful in building psychological resilience.

A way cognitive behavioral therapy is particularly conducive for building resiliency is that clients are taught coping skills such as meditation, socialization, and behavioral experiments, and they can practice these techniques in a safe setting. Studies advocate for the “four steps to resilience” protocol that entails the steps: (1) search for strengths, (2) construct a personal model of resilience, (3) apply the personal model of resilience to life difficulty, and (4) practice resilience (Padesky & Mooney, 2012).

Develop Goals

Developing attainable goals cultivates resiliency. It is a sign that the person is willing and equipped to move forward regardless of the stress they are currently experiencing. Goals must be realistic and reachable to incite feelings of accomplishment.

Enhance Executive Function Skills

Executive functions are cognitive skills that control behavior and facilitate the attainment of goals. They are important to manage all of life’s tasks. Executive function skills include:

  • Working memory—Being able to retain information and put it to use when needed
  • Cognitive flexibility—Thinking about something from multiple angles
  • Inhibitory control—The voluntary inhibition of impulses which is the ability to have self-control over thoughts and actions  
  • Attention—Selectively focusing on a stimulus while ignoring irrelevant stimuli
  • Organization—Manipulating memory to plan and prioritize information

Developed executive function skills promote healthy relationships, academic success, and appropriate behavior. Additionally, they are responsible for regulating emotions, self-monitoring, and understanding points of view. The effects of executive function skills combined lead to resiliency.

Healthy Lifestyle

Preserving a healthy mind is imperative to managing stress. Lifestyle adjustments are often beneficial. Consume a diet of proper nutrition; the body needs healthy fats, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals to combat mental and physical illness. In combination with dietary changes, exercise releases endorphins that boost mood. Getting enough sleep at night provides a period of rest and healing for the brain. The aim is to keep the brain healthy to boost the thinking skills and mental energy necessary for resilience.

Maintain Positive Relationships

Strong interpersonal relationships with family and friends lend support during a crisis. Unconditional love and support is normally a product of positive relationships. Having relationships around builds resiliency because the individual knows they have others for support in a crisis. This also generates a happier mindset.

Acceptance

Readiness to accept any negative transpiring events is a central aspect of resiliency, but that is solely for unchangeable stressors. While accepting the challenges that cannot change is a characteristic of resiliency, do not view stress as hopelessly undefeatable. Even in instances where an individual is not in control, they can choose how they respond to a given situation.

Self-Discovery

As we learn about ourselves, we are building the foundation for resiliency. Tragedy and trauma cause individuals to analyze who they are. Amid self-discovery, many establish self-esteem, self-acceptance, and self-efficacy. They locate a larger purpose from their crises that bring them comfort in times of stress—anything from charity work to participating in meaningful activities.

Promoting Resiliency in Children

Childhood is a critical stage for developing resiliency. Parents, teachers, and other authority figures play a key role in promoting its development. Children who display resiliency continue to mature mentally and emotionally at normal rates despite adversity. However, without resiliency, children face the risk of sleep disturbances, poor appetite, difficulty concentrating at school, fluctuating mood, headaches or stomachs, and losing interesting in activities they previously enjoyed. The following can promote resilient traits and behaviors.

Resiliency In the Classroom. Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Maintaining A Positive Family Environment

For optimal development, children require a family who is nurturing, sensitive, and present. Parents especially promote resilience through their parenting styles. Resilient children have parents who actively participate in their lives. In their awareness, they ensure the child has their share of independence to grow into their own person. Even when hardships like divorce occur, families must openly communicate their emotions to set the basis for productively expressing emotions and reframing negative experiences. Maintaining a trusting relationship with at least one adult drastically reduces the possibility of poor resiliency.

Supportive Community

Community contains the sectors of businesses, faith-based organizations, first responders, the media, health care professionals, school personnel, and town leaders. A community that promotes resilience is prepared to respond in case of emergencies. Its leaders form connections with the community’s residents, creating a sense of security integral to a child’s resilience. The community also contributes activities (i.e. sports, church groups, etc.) that teach children responsibility, belonging, and other skills great for building resiliency.

Classroom Environment 

Students, which comprise the majority of the population of young people in developed countries, spend most of their time at school. Thus, teachers have the responsibility of promoting resilience. The main focus should be on fostering positive peer relationships, as well as the student-teacher relationship. Implementing a curriculum that includes peer interactions allows students to practice the socialization needed to overcome adversity. Research shows student appreciate a teacher that demonstrates “authority and influence over the class” and that they “trust and have positive regard for the student” (van Uden, 2014). A teacher is meant to provide structure to the classroom to allow students to learn, which undoubtedly enhances resilience by introducing them to problem-solving skills.

Prevent Bullying

Bullying is an intentional act of aggressive physical or verbal behavior directed towards an individual in a lower position of power. Behaviors such as making threats, teasing, spreading rumors, isolating another, or hurting their body or possessions are considered bullying. Being bullied is a type of emotional trauma. Lessening that by preventing the occurrence of bullying promotes resilience.

Regulating one’s emotions is paramount to resilience, yet bullying stems from the inability to express emotions productively. The process of bullying prevention begins in the home and at school. Families and teachers must teach children how to express their emotions in a non-aggressive manner. This reduces the chance of them taking their frustration out on their peers.

References

Levine S. (2003). Psychological and social aspects of resilience: a synthesis of risks and resources. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 5(3), 273–280.

Padesky, C.A., & Mooney, K.A. (2012). Strengths-Based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: A Four‐Step Model to Build Resilience. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 19(4). doi: https://doi.org/10.1002/cpp.1795

Russo, S. J., Murrough, J. W., Han, M. H., Charney, D. S., & Nestler, E. J. (2012). Neurobiology of resilience. Nature neuroscience, 15(11), 1475–1484. doi:10.1038/nn.3234

Van Uden, J.M., Ritzen, H., & Pieters, J.M. (2014). Engaging students: The role of teacher beliefs and interpersonal teacher behavior in fostering student engagement in vocational education. Teaching and Teacher Education, 37, 21-32.

Brain Training: Discover the Benefits of Brain Exercises

Much has been said about physical exercise and the multiple benefits it to your body. However, what about brain exercises? Do we really know what benefits you can get from brain games? Discover what brain training is about and how cognitive stimulation can benefit us throughout our lives.

What is cognitive stimulation and how does it work?

Brain gym and cognitive rehabilitation are synonyms to refer to cognitive stimulation techniques. However, what is brain stimulation?

Cognitive stimulations are actions and activities where the main objective is to improve or maintain brain functions. It is about carrying out different exercises aimed at stimulating cognitive abilities such as attention, memory, language, executive functions, visuospatial functions, perception, etc.

When the brain is not stimulated it tends to get weaker and weaker. Our neurons which are responsible for receiving, processing and transmitting information through chemical signals, are the main engine of our brain. Therefore, when we exercise our brain, what we do is stimulate our neurons so that they regenerate, both anatomically and functionally, and form new connections.

At a scientific level, it has been shown that brain training regularly stimulates brain plasticity. Even if we don’t realize it, in our daily actions whether it’s reading a book, driving to work or cooking we exercise our neurons. However, our brain tends to stimulate the parts that it uses most but we stop stimulating very important parts. That’s why it’s important to do a proper brain training to train all the functions.

In order for brain training to be more effective, it must be adapted to the person who is doing it and look for the ideal moment when the brain is at its maximum level of activity.

To understand well what brain training and cognitive stimulation are about, we must learn and understand concepts such as brain plasticity.

Broadly speaking, according to recent research we can say that brain plasticity (or neuroplasticity) is “the ability of the nervous system to change its structure and functioning throughout its life, as a reaction to the diversity in the environment”.

In other words, brain plasticity allows the brain to adapt to new situations or even sometimes recover after suffering injuries or certain pathologies. In this way, brain training and cognitive stimulation aim to help the brain generate new connections between neurons thus promoting greater brain plasticity.

Brain Training

Brain training can (and should) be performed by everyone. Children in an early intervention during the first years of life, or adults when enhancing the skills required in different jobs, everyone can benefit. In people with cognitive impairments, cognitive stimulation is essential for the deterioration to be slower even though unfortunately, the impairment is irreversible.

People tend to associate cognitive stimulation only for people who have some alteration. It is true that cognitive stimulation is the most supported non-pharmacological intervention applied to people with mild cognitive impairment, mild dementia or even normal aging.

Brain Training- Neuroplasticity

Cognitive stimulation and brain training not only work on cognitive processes but they are perfect for anyone, with or without pathologies.

Brain Training for Children and Teenagers

The brain continues to develop since we are born. Childhood and adolescence are especially critical stages as they form brain crisis periods where the brain undergoes drastic changes. There are many differences between a brain and an adult brain.

Brain plasticity appears every time we learn something new, and it stays that way throughout life. Our brain is prepared to learn over the years, but we have to exercise it.

Neuroeducation or brain-based technology is now part of education. Brain training helps children relax and concentrate. Teachers can use puzzles, reading, crossword puzzles, etc.

Brain training results are visible in children over time. They understand reading better and solve problems and exercise better than children who have not trained. These children tend to develop their creativity and have better study habits which give them a better quality of life.

Among the most relevant cognitive abilities to train in children are planning, working memory, cognitive flexibility, reasoning and creativity among others.

Brain Stimulation in Healthy Adults

If we want our brains to age in a healthy way, we must stay active both physically and mentally.

Wanting is power and neuroscience is helping a lot. When we talk about staying mentally active, we think of spending hours and hours doing additions, subtractions, math problems… Wrong! It is clear that activities like these can help stimulate mental capacities but they are not the only ones, nor are they the best way to activate your brain.

There are traditional board games (cards, bingo, etc.), question and answer games and even digital leisure games (video games) that can bring us benefits. Discover brain games that can help train your mind.

Brain training traditional Games

Traditional games can bring us benefits such as:

  • Social interactions. They are extremely important for brain development and reduce loneliness.
  • Moods improve and motivation and self-esteem increase.
  • It increases self-efficacy, increases levels of satisfaction and coping capacity in stressful situations.
  • Exercising cognitive skills enhances sensory perception and improves the maintenance of healthy habits

the other hand, some video games can improve people’s executive processes.

Some researchers have wondered whether video games benefit brain functions that deteriorate over time and after several studies, they concluded that video games such as “Rise of Nations” improve cognitive abilities.

Brain training with video games

This particular video game (“Rise of Nations”) consists of “conquering the world” by building cities, expanding territories, maintaining armies and caring for citizens. Among the most significant cognitive improvements that have been found in Kramer’s team study are processing speed, updating, shifting, reasoning, spatial memory, etc

There are also pages where you can carry out personalized brain training.

By regular brain training, over time we retain more information and faster. The trick is to perform different activities to relax your mind and get better results.

CogniFit Brain Training: Trains and strengthens essential cognitive abilities in an optimal and professional way.

For example: When Einstein was exhausted he would play the violin to clear his head, thus solving his mathematical problems better. Apply it to yourself!

Among the benefits of cognitive stimulation in healthy adults we find:

  • Increased brain function.
  • Prevention of cognitive deficits.
  • Better brain plasticity and greater potential therefore, you will be more skillful.

Brain Training in Adults with Brain Injury

In people with some kind of impairment, cognitive stimulation is essential. It is the main non-pharmacological treatment used in cognitive impairment and dementias to slow evolution and preserve abilities.

  • Benefits of cognitive stimulation in adults with some impairment are:
  • Keep non-altered cognitive functions healthy.
  • Improve brain plasticity.
  • Increase in the quality of life and delay in the evolution of the disease.
  • The activities must always be adapted to the person and their degree of deterioration.

Some activities that can be carried out in adults with any type of brain injury, deterioration or dementia are:

  • Attention exercises: Counting
  • Language exercises: Ordering letters to form words, crosswords, word searches, completing words, etc.
  • Mobility exercises: You can use everyday tasks to make the person feel entertained and motivated.
  • Time estimation exercises: Keeping a calendar, a clock or anything that they can have as a reference.
  • Number exercises: Math problems, additions, subtractions, etc.
  • Creativity exercises: Drawings can be used to encourage people’s creativity and motivation.
  • Reading exercises: Newspapers, books, magazines adapted to the person’s tastes.

Just as we take care of our bodies, we must remember that it is important to take care of our brain. Brain training is a great resource for strengthening our mental abilities. Remember that it is never too late to train your brain.

And what do you do to train your brain? ????

Taking Responsibility: 3 Simple Tips to Take Control and be more Responsible

A useful guide to responsibility: What it is, what does it mean to be a responsible person, how does it benefits us, how I can be a more responsible person. Discover the difference between responsibility and guilt, and everything you need to know about social responsibility.

Responsibility

What do we mean by responsibility? If you stop to think, this concept, surely, has been hovering over our heads since we’re kids. Almost from the moment, you get to decide whether to follow the rules and obey or “challenge authority” (mom and dad) we have heard the words “You have to be responsible”.

If you ask a child what it means to be responsible, he or she will say something like “do the right thing,””do what Mom and Dad say,””do my homework”. Adults use the term responsibility to make children understand and assume that they must behave well and do the tasks adults request of them.

Do you think the term responsibility involves more than just obligations? What comes to your mind when you think of responsibility?

What does it mean to be responsible?

If we look at the etymological origin, the meaning of responsibility is not so much related to the tasks performed or the obligations, but rather with commitment involved.

Becoming a responsible person means being able to consciously make decisions, conduct behaviors that seek to improve oneself and/or help others. Most importantly, a responsible person accepts the consequences of his or her own actions and decisions.

The word responsibility comes from the Latin “responsum” (the one who is forced to answer to someone else). The verbs “Respondere and Spondere” are closely related and were widely used in the legal field. The first meant defending or justifying a fact in a trial and the second meant swearing, promising or assuming an obligation.

Therefore, we can define a responsible person as one who accepts the results of the decisions he or she makes. Oxford dictionary defines responsibility as:”The state or fact of being accountable or to blame for something.

This definition of responsibility emphasizes the need for the person to comply with the negative consequences of his or her actions.

From what we can see, it is a term that has different evaluations and can be quite abstract, but we use it regularly in our daily lives.

Why is it important to be responsible?

Being responsible brings us many benefits. It can help you achieve your goals and objectives in any area of your life. Responsibility allows you to create principles, morals and helps you to lead your life. Being a responsible person helps us to:

  • Be more honest: When we tend to tell the truth and keep our promises, the people around us will believe us and see us as an honest person.
  • Be more independent: Assuming the consequences of our actions will help us make better decisions.
  • Be more reliable: By being responsible, we gain other’s trust and we will also gain confidence in ourselves. Doing the right thing will make us feel good. And even if we are wrong, we will be satisfied because we know that we have done our best.

The value of responsibility

Responsibility is taught from childhood. Both in families and in schools, the aim is to educate in values and morals.

It is clear that everyone wants a committed and responsible partner, responsible children who don’t get into trouble, responsible parents and teachers who take care of the children, professionals who do their work responsibly. Why is that?

Because having people like that around us generates confidence, gives us security. We think,”yes, he is a responsible person, he will do it and things will work out. Feeling safe is one of the basic necessities in Maslow’s pyramid.

This is one of the reasons why in our society, responsibility is so positively and highly valued because it gives us security, confidence, and a certain stability.

How can I be more responsible?

There is no magic formula that makes us more responsible. However, responsibility can be trained.

If you want to fulfill your purposes, your obligations, and commitments, what you need is, to a large extent, predisposition and motivation. Now, if you’re still reading this then it’s a sign that you do want to be more responsible so here are some guidelines for you:

  1. Set goals: It’s important to know what we do things for. Having a sense and direction helps us to be consistent and to continue to do our duty. If you think the goal is too long term, set small goals to achieve it. I advise you to write them down. It sounds silly, but putting it on paper makes them real. Writing your goals can help you be more responsible!
  2. Objectivity: What is under my control or up to me and what is not? Make a list of the things that depend on you and you can control them. Your attention must be directed to those aspects, for what does not depend on you is not your responsibility.
  3. Routines: If it takes a lot of effort to “get dressed”, it’s best to get organized. If you have a routine, you’ll know what to do at every moment. But not only that, sometimes, knowing how much time you have to put in the effort also helps. “Come on, it’s only an hour of study before I go to the movies!”
  4. Rewards: Internal attributions come into play here. If you’ve reached what you set out to do, why not admit it? It’s your moment, give yourself a pat on the back.
  5. Be honest with yourself: Have you failed, was it something that you could control? Take responsibility, assume the consequences and analyze what you could have done differently, how would you improve for another time?
  6. Share your plans: I’m not talking about posting on social networks. No, I mean something more intimate. Talk to your partner, your mother or your best friend and tell them what you’re going to do, when and how. This way they will ask and become more involved and there will be no escape, you will have to comply.
  7. Operationalize: This means that the things you can take responsibility for are actions. For example, picking up your room, delivering a job, preparing food, etc. These are concrete behaviors that you can take on as responsibilities and obligations to fulfill, but you cannot assume responsibility for the consequences. For example, the teacher can give you an A, people might like or not the food you prepared or flatter you but this is not up to you. Therefore, specify activities and tasks that you have the resources and willingness to do and get on with it!

I’m not going to trick you, becoming a responsible person will not come overnight. It requires effort and a commitment. Remember, the key to success is consistency. I encourage you to focus and get it.

You can start by writing your final goals in capital letters and their subtypes or sub-objectives with minuscules. It begins little by little, assuming responsibilities and step by step.

Remember the responsibility for your actions (not the arbitrary consequences). If one day you don’t get the result you were expecting or you haven’t found the clues to using your willpower, don’t punish yourself. Analyze, think that you are on the right track because you are realizing the difficulties and accept the challenge again.

Responsibility & guilt

Guilt is not the same as responsibility. Being responsible for something doesn’t mean guilty. This stuff that seems so basic but how many times have you been surprised saying: “It’s not my fault!”

To understand each other, I’m going to tell you a story, which may even look familiar:

“You found a WhatsApp message just as soon as you got up. You have to finish and deliver the project by 13.00h. In addition, it is essential to be on time to the meeting and to do things perfectly, because it is a very important client. You invest all morning in this assignment, all your effort. When you leave the house, you take the subway, but it’s late. “I should’ve left earlier, I’m gonna get caught.” You’re already five minutes late. You leave the subway and there is a rally that crosses the avenue “I can’t believe it! Did it have to be today?” You’re going to the other sidewalk, you’re 15 minutes late. You get to the office, wait for the elevator. When you get upstairs, you look at the clock before you go in but you are 20 minutes late. The client’s gone, your boss is going to kill you.”

  • I told you it was so important that you got here on time! Look at the time! The client’s gone very angry because of your tardiness! It was your responsibility!
  • You think I did it on purpose? It’s not my fault that the subway was late and there was a rally cutting down the avenue!

What’s going on here?

Everything you did was with good intentions, effort, and interest. However, different factors have caused you to fail to deliver the project on time.

  • What is the real responsibility? Deliver the completed project by 13.00h
  • Whose responsibility is it that the client got angry? The client’s own responsibility, because we cannot control the emotions that another person feels.

Guilt carries implicit components that don’t help us at all. For example, it is not the same being responsible for a decision as being guilty of a decision. What does guilt involve?

  • Voluntary Action: To make someone feel guilty of something, you need an active search to get that result.
  • The result will be negative. If you’re guilty of something, that something is going to be negative.
  • It adds up: The fact that we blame someone for an event means that the only way to prevent it from happening would be to eliminate the culprit. However, being responsible means that he or she engaged in certain behaviors that helped produce that outcome.
  • Guilt leads us to think about the cause – consequences: Not everything in life happens because of cause and effect. Most things depend on a multitude of factors, as in the story we’ve seen before. Even sometimes, changing one of them doesn’t give us get a different result.

It is important that we bear this in mind because sometimes we take responsibility for things that we cannot control, that we could not change even if we wanted to change it with all our might. Feeling guilty for events, results or situations that do not depend on us affects our mood, frustrates us and often angers us.

The same thing happens when they make us feel guilty. We see it as unfair because what has happened was not in our plans either. Before blaming someone, ask yourself if the negative results obtained have been intentionally sought by the other person or not. Make sure you have done everything in your power to fulfill your responsibility.

Responsibility: Why do I feel bad when I’m not responsible?

In social psychology, Wiener’s theory, the theory of attributions refers to the explanations given by each one of us to the causes, reasons or results of what happens to us. Attributes have a strong influence on the way we feel, how we relate to others and even how we act. And of course, it influences us when we take on responsibilities.

There are:

  1. External attributions: When the explanation or cause of the facts is transferred to something external. We have no responsibility. For example, when we say that “you get on my nerves” as if we were not in control of them and it was inevitable to feel that way. Most people use this type of attribution to evade responsibility, doing so in the wrong way. Another case could be when we say “it was such bad luck”, implying that we have all the skills and abilities necessary to obtain an optimal result, however, chance has negatively influenced the result= zero responsibility.
  2. Internal attributions: The explanation or cause of the facts is in ourselves. It can be used when you succeed “thanks to me this happened”,”without my effort it wouldn’t have been possible”. Also in a situation where we know that there have been negative consequences for another and we assume that we have been involved. We ask for forgiveness by taking on the responsibility “I’m so sorry”,”Sorry, I didn’t realize”.

Clearly, a person’s attribution style can have a great influence on their self-esteem, their self-concept and, why not, their happiness. For example, someone who does not take responsibility for his or her accomplishments out of excess modesty will have a low self-concept. Giving the impression that his accomplishments never depend on him. On the contrary, a person who always takes credit for his or her merits will give the impression of being a self-righteous, arrogant, and narcissistic person.

What do you think will happen if we use internal attributions for negative and external results for positive ones? Exactly the same.

We must be consistent and objective. It is good to follow our principles and take responsibility for the consequences of the things we do wrong, but for the things we do well. This will give us emotional balance and promote our self-confidence.

3 tips to be more socially responsible

When we speak of social responsibility, we are referring to certain specific guidelines that are set in a given society, with the aim of ensuring that co-existence is correct, peaceful and leads to well-being.

Social responsibility affects relationships with others, but also with oneself:

Tip 1: Commitment

One of the angles of social responsibility is commitment. We commit ourselves continuously. In our work, with family, friends, partners, etc. Commitment means making a promise to someone and keeping it.

It’s funny because on many occasions, we make promises to ourselves and we skip them. “On Monday I will start eating healthy for sure”, ” I’m going to the gym three days a week, no excuses”. I am absolutely sure that one of these promises rings a bell for you, and I am also sure that one of them has not been fulfilled. Don’t you think it’s strange that even though we’re committed to ourselves, we don’t carry out our promises?  Imagine what would happen if you made those promises to someone else:

  • “This Monday, yes or no, grandma, I’m going to take care of you”: But you don’t show up.
  • “Today I have to work, but tomorrow I will help you to study son”: But you don’t help him.
  • “I’m teaching at the gym three days a week.” But you don’t show up.

Why do responsibilities and commitment towards others seem more important than to ourselves?

Tip 2: Obligations

The second angle of social responsibility is obligations. They’re the ones that are taught from childhood. At every age and at every stage of life, it is up to us to learn and incorporate into our repertoire different tasks, in order to adapt ourselves to the society. These are our responsibilities and/or obligations.

Many times, these obligations are not said out loud, they are just assumed. We have certain activities that become a part of our obligations. For example, Mom always puts the washing machine in, Dad always does the shopping, my brother always takes out the dog, I set the table.

What if one day Mommy gets off work late? No clean clothes

What if one day my brother forgets to take the dog out? He pees inside the house

What if dad doesn’t have a car to go shopping that day? No food

They may seem extreme examples, because in general, what happens is that responsibilities rotate. However, sometimes this happens and we find ourselves in situations like “Mom, I don’t have any clothes!” Dad, you haven’t bought me the cookies I like!”,”John is grounded because the dog has peed!”

I invite you to consider examples in which the people around you had implicit obligations and responsibilities, not agreed upon, have failed to fulfill them, and it has become a conflict when it comes to assuming the consequences. Whose responsibility is it? Whose fault is it?

Tip 3: Willpower

Willpower could be defined when we continue to make efforts and sacrifices to achieve a goal or objective, which will bring us great satisfaction in achieving it.

This becomes more relevant when they are short-term goals. It’s easier to maintain willpower. Therefore, it is good to set small goals when the effort has to be very constant over a long period of time.

It also helps to wonder why. Why did I decide to do this? Do I still want that? What do I have to do to get it? Answering these questions will give you strength and make you reaffirm your decision, prompting you to continue forward!

As always, I invite you to comment below, what did you think? What do you do to be responsible? If you have any questions or want to share your opinion, go ahead.

This article is originally in Spanish written by Patricia Sanchez Seisdedos, translated by Alejandra Salazar.

Career Coach: The perfect guide for a successful career

From an early age, we all ask, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” The answer inevitably evolves, beginning as youthful longings of becoming an astronaut or princess and later transforming to a more mature occupation. With such a question comes the matter of attainment: What are my career options? Is there special training involved? How do I secure the appropriate connections in my job? Even if already employed, a career coach can be the perfect guide for any successful career.

Career Coach

What Does a Career Coach Do?

A career coach is a professional who offers expert career advice. They are specially trained to identify a client’s strengths and then build on proficiencies to help people plan a career path. While working together, a career coach is like a personal cheerleader. They provide tips on creating an attractive resume and cover letter, locating job opportunities, and how to optimally respond to interviews. For clients that are already employed, a career coach advises on improving a work environment and earning promotions. The plan is tailored to the exact needs of the client. 

They differ from career counselors. Their focus is not solely on academics, as they consider all aspects of a client’s life. This includes not only strengths, but interests, values, and support system too.

Signs You Need a Career Coach

The backgrounds of those seeking a career coach are diverse. Clients come from numerous employment situations, varying in education level and socioeconomic status. However, the one commonality is they all desire a successful career, yet do not feel empowered with resources to reach their goals. Hiring one is nothing to be ashamed of. Here are signs you should consider one:

  • You’re unemployed
  • You’re anxious about the future
  • You feel unfulfilled
  • You’re tired of job hopping
  • You want a promotion
  • You have job stress
  • You dread going to work
  • You have poor lifestyle habits (i.e. unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, not sleeping)
  • You are unsure how to navigate a new job position
  • You need unbiased advice
  • You’re unprepared for an interview

Average Cost of a Career Coach

Don’t you prefer to get paid for your hard work? Career coaching is someone’s profession, so logically, sessions are not free. The cost varies depending on the needs of the client, the number of sessions scheduled, and the length of each session. The coach’s previous experience and credentials impact the cost as well. On average, a two-hour session can range from $75 to $250.
 
Most cannot accomplish their career goals in a single session. Multiple sessions are optimal to build a lasting relationship with your coach. Some have monthly services instead. Monthly packages are between $450 and $2,500. Group rates are less expensive. Remember, a career coach is an investment. You contribute time, effort, and resources to further your professional career.

How Can a Career Coach Improve Your Career Options?

Maybe you know what you want to do with your life, but you are struggling to execute a plan. Or perhaps your aspirations are undiscovered and necessitate direction. A career coach is helpful in either situation. They can expand your career opportunities through the following tasks:

Goal Formation and Tracking

Goal formation is the crucial to meeting with a career coach. If you are already certain of your goals, a career coach ensures they are specific, attainable, and realistic. They increase your sense of accomplishment by dividing your goals into long-term and short-term. Just because you are not reaching your end goal immediately, you are still showing progress. Career coaches track this progress.

There are clients who are unsure of their goals. A career coach uses a series of vocational tests which determine the client’s interests and skills. The client then chooses career options based on their strengths.

Assisting in the Job Seeking Process

A career coach has a role in the job seeking process. They research the current market for career opportunities and facilitate networking for their clients. Networking creates connections for future occupational promotions or opportunities.

Enhancing Resumes

A career coach understands how imperative an impeccable resume is to establish a career. Essentially, your resume is your first impression with your future employers. While they do not draft the entire resume, they teach clients the skills to do so. They are available for editing and proofreading and for suggestions on additional details that will enhance your resume.

Advising On Employment Related Conflicts

Conflict is part of working with others. Every employee is bound to encounter controversy of one form, but a career coach strives to reduce problems in the workplace—specifically those involving human resources. With an improved work environment, companies can focus on expanding job positions.  

Advocating for Clients with Differences

Clients who suffer from a disability or another adversity benefit from an advocate like a career coach. A career coach promotes the client to the intended employer. By depicting how their client would be an asset, employers see their value. Career coaches with an interest in disability negotiate job positions for their clients who require accommodations.

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Personal Benefits of a Career Coach

The benefits of a career coach are not entirely confined to your professional career. They extend into your personal life too. During your sessions with a career coach, you practice leadership, communication skills, and conflict management. These are the kinds of people skills which carry over into your relationships in daily life. As you grow as a person, you gain emotional intelligence to effectively express your emotions and respond to others with empathy.

How A Career Coach Relieves Anxiety

Lacking direction in your professional life leads to significant anxiety. You fear for the future not knowing your purpose, and each rejection is a blow to your self-esteem. Job stress is hindering you from feeling fulfilled in your current career situation. Career coaches relieve anxiety by providing clarity to your worries. By advising on a plan to reach your goals, you can overcome setbacks of rejection and implement actions to change aspects of discontentment in your job position.  

Career Coaching While Currently Employed

As previously mentioned, a career coach is not solely for the unemployed. For clients interested in pursuing a different career, they counsel clients on how to properly search for a new job while already employed.

Career coaching is advantageous even for those who have a stable job with a reputable company. If you seem to be stagnant in your current position, advice from a career coach can lead to a promotion and/or a raise in salary. A career coach aims to help clients make the most out of developing opportunities in their present career.

Employers ranking high within a company profit from career coaching. They discuss what goals they have for the company, and the career coach proposes which employees have the attributes to contribute to those goals.

Preparing for A Career Coach Session

It is important to note that a career coach does not do the work for you. Their job is to equip you with the resources and guidance to achieve your goals. For career coaching to be successful, you have to be willing to set aside the time, energy, and dedication. Knowing what to expect from a career coaching session makes the process less overwhelming. There are steps you can take to prepare.

Preparing for A Career Coach Session

Tell Your Story

The foundation of a career coach’s work is the client’s story. What is your background? What inspired your passions? Be ready to dive into the nitty-gritty details with complete honesty. Your career coach cannot assist you in your goals if they do not know the real you.

Prepare Your Resume

Arriving at your first session with a completed resume is a good indicator you are seriously committed to furthering your career. Your resume and cover letter are a reasonable starting point for the session because it is a reflection of how you are marketing yourself to employers.

Generate a List of Questions

Initially, meeting with a career coach is overwhelming while contemplating multiple thoughts, ideas, and plans for your career. The main topics you wish to address are easily disorganized. Although your coach is prepared to surmount any beginning obstacles, think about what you want out of your coaching. Generating a list of questions lends structure to the session and guarantees none are accidentally neglected. For example:

  • What are my strengths?
  • What are my weaknesses?
  • Do I have passions and interests?
  • How can I incorporate my interests into a career?
  • What past jobs have I liked the most? The least?
  • What does a successful career look like to me?
  • What are my goals?
  • Which aspects of my current job to I dislike?

Maintain Realistic Expectations

Rome wasn’t built in a day, or so the saying goes. The same applies to your career goals. It’s unlikely your career goals will come to fruition in a day. Do not attend your coaching session with unrealistic expectations. You won’t leave your first session with your dream job, but you can return home with empowering resources and hope of a satisfying future.

Finding a Career Coach

Not every career coach is for you. While searching for a coach, keep your goals at the forefront of your mind. Find a coach that aligns with those goals and meshes with your personality. You must feel comfortable with your coach to have productive coaching sessions.

Contact associations and organizations you are affiliated with to find a career coach. Educational facilities are also equipped for career coaching recommendations because they are trained to assist students in kickstarting their careers. Try college career offices near your area.

Coaches receive certification through the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches (PARCC) and the International Coaches Federation (ICF). Browsing the online databases gets you one step closer to the career of your dreams.

Cognitive Psychology and Legal Decision-Making

Cognitive Psychology and Legal Decision-Making. How is the legal profession changing? What cognitive challenges should modern lawyers meet? How can cognitive psychology help to improve legal decision making? All of these aspects are covered below. The relevance of the study is extremely high because, so far, there are very few that address legal decision making from the cognitive psychology perspective.

Cognitive Psychology and Legal Decision-Making Photo by Iñaki del Olmo on Unsplash

Modern lawyers have to work on their cognitive skills to improve legal decision making.

Nowadays, many jobs are facing major changes and legal jobs are no exception. The market demands from lawyers more cognitive abilities compared to the times before the widespread use of computers. With the help of modern search engines, information is becoming more and more available. So, people find answers to most of their legal questions themselves and ask lawyers for help only on the particularly difficult cases.

Analyzing a case is complicated given the number of individual circumstances, it is not an easy task. Especially, when the decisions need to be made at very short notice. Clients usually pay for the number of hours the lawyers have been working on their case. Both to save money and because some business decisions need to be made urgently, the clients prefer to get legal advice as soon as possible. They believe that lawyers can provide the available information in the first meeting and deem it “good enough.”

Perhaps, modern lawyers desperately want to satisfy their clients’ requests. They try to be always available on websites or by cell phones and ready to give online-advice. 

Unfortunately, people’s cognitive abilities impose limits on how fast decisions of high quality can be made. As a result, modern lawyers tend to be in over their head, not taking into account their cognitive abilities.

The process of legal decision making is supposed to be impartial and objective, but in practice,it is not always the case. It is often influenced by subjective judgments resulting from systematic errors in our thinking, known as cognitive biases. All participants of the legal decision-making process can suffer from such cognitive biases. A client, for example, may incorrectly convey the circumstances of the case, on the basis of which the lawyer has to make a legal decision. Another example is when a client overestimates or underestimates the consequences of the legal decision and, hence, forces the lawyer to make a biased decision. Lawyers are also human beings and they are vulnerable to cognitive biases, which can sometimes lead to choosing the wrong strategy and, as a result, losing the case. 

Robot processes and AI are gaining momentum. So, there is a possibility that lawyers will be replaced by unbiased artificial intelligence, which can make quality decisions much quicker than human lawyers and identify clients’ biases.

To summarize, there are two challenges the lawyers should accept:

  • Challenge 1. Modern lawyers have to make quality legal decisions within short time limits.
  • Challenge 2. Lawyers have to eliminate cognitive biases (both clients’ and their own) in order to improve legal decision making.

Cognitive Psychology and Legal Decision-Making- Challenge 1

To understand cognitive psychology and legal decision-making we need to know the basics of the decision-making process, in particular, the dual-process theory.

The dual-process theory was developed by several different scientists, including Keith Stanovich, Richard West, and the Noble Prize winner Daniel Kahneman. According to their research, our thinking process is an interplay between two systems, called System 1 and System 2.

System 1 is responsible for quick, almost subconscious decisions. It can be thought of as an automatic brain mode. We use System 1 when we perform simple tasks, such as driving a car on an empty road or inferring a person’s mood from their facial expression.

System 2 is responsible for conscious decisions. It is a slow, thoughtful and thorough process. We use System 2 when System 1 fails to produce quick and accurate results. For example, when we face a non-trivial problem. Nevertheless, System 2 is a “lazy” system, which requires time to turn on and some additional time for the analysis.

When we need to make a quick decision, we are most likely to use System 1. This system has helped us survive as a species: it helps us in emergency situations to make quick decisions.

The modern world requires lawyers to be good System 1 decision-makers without compromising the quality of legal advice. However, the limits of our thinking do not allow us to make decisions that are both as fast as if we were to use System 1 and as quality as if System 2 was engaged. Since lawyers cannot cheat their nature, they are deemed to fail meeting Challenge 1.

Cognitive Psychology and Legal Decision-Making- Challenge 2

Cognitive biases can be thought of as errors in our thinking process, which happen due to the interaction between System 1 and System 2. This means that one of the systems take other system’s task and, as a result, the person perceives a distorted view of reality. 

Nowadays, there are at least 175 different types of cognitive biases. According to Buster Benson, cognitive biases are based on four main causes of their origin: (i) the excess of information, (ii) the difficulty of understanding, (iii) the demand for an urgent response, (iv) the limits of our memory and the necessity to remember only important things. All these causes serve the main goal of cognitive biases, which is to reserve energy of our brain. These four causes manifest themselves as follows:

(i) It is safe to assume that cognitive biases are positive consequences of our evolution. We are surrounded by massive amounts of data, which we are not able to process fully.

(ii) The world is too complex and our knowledge can cover only a small piece of it. However, in order to choose the right strategy for survival, we need to have a complete picture of the world. Cognitive biases help our brain to fill all these gaps.

(iii) Our brain is designed to make quick decisions and draw fast conclusions, which are helpful when there is no time to think in danger.

(iv) The abilities of our memory are limited. So, we should select and remember only potentially useful information that can be helpful for us in the future.

Being essential for survival, cognitive biases have become obstacles for effective decision-making.  As a result, in order to simplify the information and save some energy for our brain, we tend to:

  • make judgments on something/someone based on our observations or beliefs;
  • generalize and apply patterns to specific things or events, ignoring their individual properties;
  • perceive changing things in comparison to their previous image in our brain, not examining them on their own merits;
  • believe that we know what everyone is thinking;
  • simplify numbers and probabilities to better understand them;
  • convince ourselves that our judgments are correct to save time that would otherwise be spent on considering other alternatives;
  • avoid changing strategy and finish what has been started in order to make already spent energy worth;
  • make decisions in favor of simple, familiar and safe options that do not need additional analysis and do not lead to irreversible changes;
  • simplify events and remember only their key moments;
  • evaluate past and future events based on our current experience. So, our interpretation of the same things changes with time and sometimes might not coincide with the true situation.

To sum up, even though the evolution creates cognitive biases with the best intentions, they seem to be serious obstacles that prevent us from being rational. Unfortunately, lawyers, as all humans, are prone to cognitive biases and are unable to eliminate them. So, regarding Challenge 2, lawyers are also helpless.

Below you find a description of 10 cognitive biases that occur frequently in legal decision making. For your convenience, all biases are divided into two categories based on whether these biases have a greater impact on lawyers or clients. Please, remember that these biases have been grouped quite broadly for the purposes of the general review. In practice, they should be revised on a case-by-case basis.  

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Cognitive Psychology and Legal Decision-Making -Top 5 cognitive biases

Lawyers

  1. Availability Heuristic is a tendency to overestimate/underestimate the frequency or probability of events based solely on the information that quickly comes to mind. For example, when there is not much time to determine a strategic plan for a particular case, a lawyer often makes a decision by recalling the outcomes of the most vivid and memorable cases that he or she remembers. This, in turn, can lead to dismissing important judicial statistics on similar cases and ultimately losing the case. 
  2. Confirmation Biases is a tendency to pay more attention to pieces of evidence that support our own point of view. In legal decision making, this phenomenon manifests itself in situations when a lawyer attributes weight only to the statements of a client that prove the lawyer’s hypothesis about that case. The facts that contradict the lawyer’s ideal version of the events are ignored.  Ambiguous evidence is often interpreted as supportive of the lawyer’s hypothesis.
  3. Anecdotal Fallacy is a tendency to base arguments on someone’s personal experience, which for obvious reasons cannot be generalized to everyone and every circumstance. Professional lawyers often suffer from this bias. They rely on their experience and, as a result, neglect some specific circumstances of the considered case.
  4. Transparency Illusion is a tendency to overestimate how much we know about other people. In legal decision-making practice, it is not uncommon to see lawyers making judgments about their clients after the first meeting. Such first impression judgments lead to lawyers believing that they know exactly what their clients want. And therefore, the lawyers’ perception of the clients’ arguments may be twisted. 
  5. Just-world Fallacy (a.k.a. Blaming the Victim) is a tendency to believe that if someone is punished or under investigation, they must be guilty; while a person who seems to be good all his life has to be innocent. This bias is common among lawyers with conservative views.

Clients

  1. Framing Effect is a tendency to perceive information differently based on its presentation (positive or negative). The proverbial question “is the glass half empty or half full” is a great example of this bias. Since clients are prone to perceive facts as good and bad, the lawyers should be careful when providing legal advice.
  2. Anchoring Biases is a tendency to make key decisions based on the initial piece of information received. In legal decision making, it is particularly important for a lawyer not to make an assessment of the outcome of the case during the first meeting with the client. Otherwise, the client may rely on such preliminary evaluation too heavily. And as new important facts appear, the client may fail to consider them since they contradict the original assessment of the case.
  3. Ambiguity Bias is a tendency to choose options for which the probability of the positive outcome is known over options with poorly defined winning chances. In legal decision making, clients favor low-risk strategies with well-defined probabilities of success. The lawyers should take this effect into account when making recommendations to the clients.
  4. Attentional Bias is a tendency to focus on things that matter for us. In legal decision making, clients may be inclined to present facts that seem important for them and dismiss other information. The lawyers must be aware of this bias, and make their best efforts to receive all facts relevant to the case (regardless of how important the clients considers them to be).
  5. Attribution Bias is a tendency to evaluate differently our own and other people’s behavior. In legal decision making, this can be observed as clients trying to justify their actions by putting the blame on other people or circumstances of their cases. The lawyers need to understand this effect and take it into account when they make the analyses of the clients’ statements. 

Conclusion

To sum up, it seems that lawyers have no chances to meet the main cognitive challenges posed by the modern world: making quality legal decisions within short time limits (Challenge 1) and eliminating cognitive biases for improving legal decision making (Challenge 2). 

Lawyers do not possess superhuman abilities that would allow them to masterly use System 1 and System 2 at their own discretion.  They are prone to a number of cognitive biases that they cannot cope with. On top of that, clients have their own biases too. And not all present-day lawyers can correctly identify their clients’ biases and collect full and accurate information from their statements.

Even though lawyers cannot make quality decisions in a amount of time, they can work on their cognitive skills to improve legal decision making. Also, they should strive to collaborate more with each other because teamwork helps both to save time and reach high-quality legal decisions. Finally, it is better for lawyers to specialize in only one field of law rather than try to be experts in everything.

Although lawyers cannot eliminate all cognitive biases (especially the ones of their clients), they can minimize these biases by reflecting on their judgments and questioning them every time. Regarding clients’ cognitive biases, lawyers can only learn how to ask questions that help their clients to present an objective view of the case.

As the famous proverb says “forewarned is forearmed.” In the context of legal decision making this should be read as follows:

Lawyers who understand human cognitive abilities and their limitations are one step ahead of their colleagues remaining in ignorance of such important things.

References

Benson, Buster. “Cognitive bias cheat sheet.”, https://medium.com/better-humans/cognitive-bias-cheat-sheet-55a472476b18 . 1 Sep. 2016. Accessed 21 Jul. 2019.

Grady, Ken. “Welcome to Your Brain: Cognitive Psychology and Legal Decision-Making.”, https://medium.com/rethink-the-practice/welcome-to-your-brain-cognitive-psychology-and-legal-decision-making-2ccabcebfc17 . 3 Feb. 2016. Accessed 21 Jul. 2019.

Kahneman, Daniel, and Amos Tversky. “Prospect theory: An analysis of decision under risk.” Handbook of the fundamentals of financial decision making: Part I. 2013. 99-127.

Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, fast and slow. Macmillan, 2011.

Tversky, Amos, and Daniel Kahneman. “Judgment under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases.” science 185.4157 (1974): 1124-1131.

Weinstein, Ian. “Don’t Believe Everything You Cognitive Bias in Legal Decision Making.” Clinical L. Rev. 9 (2002): 783.

Effective Communication Skills: 10+ tips for speaking up at work, school, or wherever.

Have you ever wanted to communicate better? Do you feel insecure when speaking in public? Is it hard for you to write? Do you not know what to say sometimes? In this article, we will tell you what are effective communication skills, what types there are and where can you apply them. Furthermore, we will give you tips on how to improve them.

Effective communication skills

Effective communication skills: Definition and purpose

Communication skills can be defined as a set of skills that enable a person to communicate properly. According to Hymes, the creator of this concept, effective communication skills consist of knowing “when to speak, when not, and what to talk about, with whom, when, where, in what form“.

We interact constantly with other people and we can’t stop expressing ourselves. Therefore, mastering these skills is fundamental to our personal and social development. We use them when speaking, listening, reading and writing.

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Nowadays it’s hard to get away from our computer screens and mobile phones. Communication is constantly changing and we have to quickly adapt to it. Even so, no matter with what you communicate, you need to use effective communication skills.

We all know how upsetting misunderstandings are. We also know or can imagine the uncomfortable feeling when someone doesn’t pay attention to us when we speak. Sometimes, it’s inevitable that what we say is not interesting or that there are errors in the communicative process. However, here we will give you some guidelines to encounter those situations as little as possible. Discover how to improve your communication skills.

Effective communication skills: Applications

We can’t stop communicating, even if we try. A single gesture betrays us. In fact, even when we are alone we talk to ourselves. Finding the right words and thoughts comes in handy in all aspects of life. We will mention three main ones.

1. Effective communication skills at work

People who work harder or better don’t always receive all the attention. Sometimes the main thing is how ideas are sold to the boss and the power of persuasion. Effective communication skills allow us to develop influential techniques and reach a greater audience.

At the professional level, it is essential to know how to deal adequately with peers, make good decisions even in stressful situations or under job stress. This is one of the reasons why effective communication skills are increasingly valued.

They are almost as important as mastering other languages or handling various computer programs. A person with good communicative skills stands out above the others in several areas and is the most prominent candidate in job interviews.

Specifically at work, effective communication skills are highly valued as well as assertiveness. Communicating what you need in a polite and respected way is very important in corporation settings.

2. Effective communication skills in education

We can train these skills from childhood, the best and most appropriate way to develop these skills is in our natural environment. Communicating well improves our personal relationships and our well-being. It makes us feel competent.

It is essential to include these skills while teaching. If we make sure that our children are capable of effectively communicating then we will make sure they become resolute and satisfied adults.  Likewise, we will be able to improve our communication with children. In order to educate in communication, we also have to be good communicators. It is impossible to convey this knowledge well if we are not good role models to imitate.

3. Effective communication skills in everyday life

We need these skills to communicate constantly. For example, to tell our roommate to wash the dishes, give bad news to a friend or send a postcard to our relatives. From the smallest to the most complicated interaction, we are in constant demand to effectively communicate ourselves. Communicating well saves time, effort and makes life more enjoyable.

Everyday effective communication skills what us come complex settings. It’s like a trial run for complicated situations for us to see our mistakes and work through so we can communicate effectively in other areas of our daily life.In

4. Effective communication skills in a difficult conversation

We all have conversations that we feel are difficult to tackle, here are some things to keep in mind when dealing with this issue. Miscommunication is very common because even though we might be in a conversation speaking the same language, our interactions are more complex than you could imagine. The next video explains how miscommunication is very easy and how to avoid it.

a) Deliver more positive than negative feedback

Postive statements are those that come across as supportive, appreciative, encouraging, meanwhile negative ones are those that are critical, disapproving and contradictory. Our brain tends to focus on the negative aspects more than the positive, therefore, it’s important to deliver around five to six times as many positive statements to every negative statement. This comes in handy not only for work settings but personal relationships as well.

b) Facial expression

Remember that emotional intelligence is all about reading another person’s emotion and empathizing. For effective communication skills, it’s important to focus on their facial expression. Smiling is important for social interactions when delivering feedback try to keep your facial expression as positive as possible and always looking for cues of how the other person might take it.

c) Stress the importance of working together to solve difficulties

When speaking about a problem always try to describe the situation without any evaluation, identify your feelings regarding the situation (don’t place blame) and suggest solutions that can make it better (avoid arguing about who is right or wrong).

d) Eye contact

Psychologists describe resonance as a person’s ability to read someone else’s emotions. This is mainly done through eye contact, it allows for people to create a connection and helps with feedback.

e) Be authentic 

Even though there are many tips on how to effectively communicate in complicated situations the critical aspect of all is that you should always remain authentic. If you come out as someone other than yourself your efforts will backfire.

f) Be Compassionate

Treat every conversation, regardless of context, as an opportunity to connect with another person who has their own needs and pain. Everyone, at some point, goes through tough times, sad times, etc. By remembering the human experiences we all share, you will find that you are able to bring kindness and compassion into the conversation.

Effective communication skills in everyday life

10 Characteristics of a person with effective communication skills

1. They are observers

In a way empathy allows us to infer the mental states of others. Good communicators know how to anticipate the reactions of others, recognize them, and modify their speech accordingly.

2. Can understand the context

People with effective communication skills are characterized by being curious about the world and adapting to the individual, social and cultural differences. Imagine that you are traveling to an Asian country and you notice that its inhabitants feel uncomfortable talking to you. It is probably because they consider disrespectful to stare into their eyes.

We do not have to go that far to assess the situation. It is important to always take into account your surroundings when assessing the best way to communicate.

3. Have high self-efficacy

They see obstacles as challenges. Believing in our possibilities makes it easier for us to focus on what we have to say without being distracted by our insecurities. It is normal to have certain doubts (and convenient when learning to improve ourselves), but there are appropriate ways to value more the perception that we have about our abilities.

4. They are respectful

A person with effective communication skills is able to talk to people with whom he disagrees and not lose their temper or patience. This is complicated if we argue about politics, religion or football. How many times have we seen people lose their tempers over nonsense? Good communicators accept the other person’s point of view and give their arguments kindly.

5. They are emotionally intelligent

They worry about what their interlocutor feels. They are assertive and empathetic. They know what questions they have to ask, how to address them, and when it is best to keep quiet.

6. They are organized

They order their thoughts before explaining them. They think before they speak and are not afraid to admit that they don’t know something. Both speaking and writing require that we order our ideas consistently. This way we will make it easier for our interlocutor to follow our argument and find our words more attractive.

7. They are creative

They tend to tell stories to generate emotional bonds with their listener, create the right metaphors, look for witty and memorable examples, etc. They are flexible and know what is best for each occasion.

8. Have good references

They examine other’s communication skills and take the best out of each encounter. They learn fast and perfect their techniques. If this is not something you tend to do, put it into practice as an exercise to achieve effective communication skills.  

9. They are not afraid to be wrong

We can’t have everything under control, no matter how effective our communicative skills. Excellent communicators are not great for their perfection. They are great because they learn from their mistakes, they don’t give up and take their mistakes with humor. Failures are inherent in the communicative process.

10. Practice, practice, and practice

It is true that there are people who seem to have a supernatural ability to communicate. However, this potential is wasted if our communicative skills are not exercised. A little rehearsal never hurts. Practice enough to make sure your communicative skills are effective. 

Types of effective communication skills

1. Grammatical or linguistic skills for effective communication

Language knowledge is important for this skill. This consists of integrating every aspect of the language, form, and meaning, maintaining a bidirectional relationship.  It includes the phonetic level (intonation, rhythm, etc.), lexical-semantic (vocabulary) and grammatical (structure of words, how they combine, etc.). It is the basis of communication, without it, we could not even understand ourselves.

2. Sociolinguistic ability 

To use this ability correctly we must be able to understand different expressions depending on the situation. Language is time-based, therefore it’s important to always have context. We can tell the difference between listening to a couple say “silly” affectionately and hear the same term when two people criticize another. Learn more about how we listen.

3. Fluency skill for effective communication

It includes different skills, from interpreting messages and transmitting various types of speeches in different circumstances. The content of the speech must be coherent and cohesive. We put it into practice when we tell (orally or written) a group of friends about our weekend through an orderly and logical structure.

4. Strategic skill for effective communication

It allows communication to be effective and enables mistakes to be repaired without breaking the course of the conversation. It involves a great deal of tactics to fill long silences or correct misinterpretations. It also includes non-verbal language. For example, it consists of redirecting the conversation what the argument gets heated without being too abrupt.

10 Tips for effective communication skills

1. Analyze yourself

Look for people in your environment who broadly convey what you want to say and examine their style. You will be more aware of what you do well and how you can progress. Soon you will carry out this process automatically. Try to not be too severe on your self-evaluation or self-appraisal, because it will only make you more nervous.

2. Be simple

Many times “less is more”. This is no exception. Do not waste time with huge expressions or bombastic terms. They will stifle the communicative process and do not always look good. This does not mean that we have to stop expanding our vocabulary. We simply have to know when to use the exact word and do it naturally.

3. Be natural

Have you ever thought that a person is not being themselves while talking to you? Sometimes we try to look and express ourselves like other people. This does not mean that we are lying but rather adapting. Imagine a person on a first date. You may be unsure and seek acceptance from your companion above all else. You may try to show that you have knowledge or characteristics that please your potential partner. Although we have the best intention in the world, this is forced and unconvincing. It is essential that you trust yourself and feel comfortable communicating well.

4. Be nice

It may seem obvious. However, sometimes with the rush, stress or bad mood, we forget to smile. It is hard for us to speak by transmitting positivity rather than by frowning. Not all circumstances require us to maintain cheerful behavior, but we can try to be as empathetic as possible. Develop your social skills. You will notice the benefits of being kind in both how others relate to you.

5. Adapt to your listening partner

Each person has their own reality. We differ in our sociocultural level, contemplate different points of view or have a different mental representation for the same word. This can lead to misunderstandings.

These mistakes can be avoided if we observe the listeners reactions and act accordingly. If you see that they are not understanding, look for explanatory examples. On the other hand, don’t let anything left unsaid if in doubt ask if your communication is effective. 

6. Try Relaxation Techniques

An important exam, presentation or a person who makes us nervous can dimish our communicative skills. It is normal that we find ourselves restless in these circumstances. Still, there are ways to stay calm in stressful situations. For example, you can count until you feel better. It may seem silly to you, but it serves to focus on something else and get some distance from the problem.

7. Look for inspiration

Search and read more about effective communication skills. You can research topics such as body language, storytelling or neurolinguistic programming (NLP). Search the Internet for experts in your field and see how they communicate. On the other hand, literature can be another source of inspiration, in addition to producing great satisfaction.

8. Remember the power of images 

If you have to make a presentation rely on visual resources. Use photos, illustrations or graphs to boost your ideas. You can rely on color psychology to create a more emotional bond with your audience. You will reinforce your words and the audience will remember them better. Just remember that the power will always rely on words.

9. Enjoy communicating

Communication is not just a medium, it can also be enjoyed.  Not everyone loves to write stories or expose a delicate subject to hundreds of people. However, our communicative skills can also be comforting as telling a joke or giving a hug. Improving them will make these experiences even more satisfying.

By the way, this process will be more gratifying if we are not doing more things at the same time. This can not only be irritating to the other person. It will also diminish our attention and will not let us appreciate the conversation to the fullest.

10. Listen

Practice active listening, be empathic and try to get your interlocutor to feel understood. Knowing how to listen is as important as being grammatically flawless or having a broad vocabulary. That way you will not stop learning and you will enrich your interpersonal relationships.

11. Ask for feedback

Receiving honest feedback from peers, family members and even bosses will help you become an effective communicator and improve your skills. It is the perfect way to discover areas of improvement that might be overlooked.

12. Engage the audience (if its a group setting)

Every person has a different attention span, imagine all of those attentions spans combined. Keep this in mind when applying effective communication skills in group settings. Be sure to make your speech interactive by asking questions, allowing others to speak, etc.

13. Manage you time

Remember you are not giving out a monologue. Effective communication skills are all about time management and giving others the opportunity to speak as well. If you are giving a presentation and need to restrict information into a time frame, remember to always keep in mind your key points in order to communicate them effectively.

14. Be concise

Remember to always be direct, simple and to the point when trying to apply effective communication skills. Focus always on getting your point across keeping in mind all the other variables mentioned.

15. Be curious

Ignite your curiosity! Keep up to date with the news, your interests, etc. This will help you engage people and your effective communication skills will be great!

Watch to see more tips for effective communication skills by Celeste Headlee.

Thank you very much for reading this article. Will you exercise your communicative skills? I invite you to practice and comment if you liked the article or want to know more.

This article is originally in Spanish written by Ainhoa Arranz Aldana, translated by Alejandra Salazar.

Short term memory: What is it and practical exercises

What is short-term memory? How is it different from long-term memory? In the following article, we will try to answer these and other questions with practical examples and everyday situations.

Short term memory

What is short term memory?

Short term memory is a system that allows us to store a limited amount of information for a short period of time.

For example, short-term memory has made it possible for you to be able to read the previous sentence and understand its meaning. Without short term memory, by the time you had reached the last word of the sentence, you would probably have forgotten the first word you read. We use short-term memory many times in our daily lives. Another example would be when someone gives us their phone number: we need short-term memory to keep the number in our mind for as long as it takes us to write it down or dial it on our phone.

Activities to exercise short-term memory

How much information can we store thanks to short-term memory? And for how long? To answer these questions, we are going to use the following exercise:

1. Remembering numbers

Read aloud the following numbers: 7293 and then cover them with a piece of paper. Can you remember the numbers in the same order? Well, let’s try more numbers. Cover them with a piece of paper as soon as you have read them and try to remember each set of numbers in the same order in which they are written before moving on to the next set. Ready?

  • 40863
  • 785342
  • 7916382
  • 16249067
  • 912308462
  • 6129347320

How many numbers have you been able to remember? This type of task is known as a digit span. It has been used on numerous occasions to study short-term memory. In this task, most people remember about seven digits in the same order.

Therefore, what this task tell us about short-term memory is that a person has a short-term memory capacity of about seven elements. As for the duration of this type of memory, as you have seen, the elements remain in our mind only for a few seconds and then they vanish.

In summary, short-term memory is a fragile type of memory with a limited capacity, very sensitive to interference. The content stored in short-term memory usually disappears within a few seconds unless we repeat it over and over again or use some other strategy. In these cases, the stored information may become part of the long-term memory. Unlike short-term memory, long-term memory is stable, insensitive to interference, and long-lasting.

2. Free recall task

Another way to study short-term memory is through the free recall task. This task consists of repeating a long list of words a certain number of times in order to see the learning process of the person evaluated. Let’s look at an example of this type of task. Next, words will appear in four columns. Read them consecutively, cover them with a piece of paper and try to remember the words you have read. You don’t have to remember the words in the same order they appear.

short term memory list

What words do you remember? Write them down on a piece of paper and repeat the procedure four more times. Have you managed to remember all the words?

When doing this task, it often happens that especially in the first attempts, the people evaluated prefer to remember the first and last words on the list. Remembering the first words on the list is known as the primacy effect and occurs in a stable way throughout repetitions. In this case, “analysis, approach, and area” would be more likely to be remembered than words in the middle columns. On the other hand, remembering the last words in the list is called the recency effect and has particular characteristics. At the end of the list, we are more likely to remember the words “structure, theory, and variable” than the words in the middle columns. Unlike the primacy effect, the recency effect is very sensitive to interference. This means that if we take a break after reading the list or do another task before trying to remember the words in the list, the recency effect will fade away and we will no longer remember which were the last words we had read.

The primacy effect is related to long-term memory or learning, while the recency effect depends on how we use short-term memory.

A trick to train your short-term memory: Chunking

Several studies show that training can improve a person’s performance o short-term memory tasks. One strategy to increase the number of elements we are able to repeat in a digit span task is chunking. A chunk can be defined as a set of elements treated as a unit. For example, the first sequence of digits we saw in the first section was 7293, which is equal to four elements, 7, 2, 9 and 3. However, if instead of reading digit by digit we read that sequence as “7.293”, we will be coding those four digits as a single element, a chunk.

Let’s see another example of chunking, but this time using letters instead of digits. Let’s imagine that we have to memorize a sequence of ten letters: “h”, “a”, “p”, “p”, “i”, “n”, “e”, “s”, “s”. To repeat this sequence of letters, we need to retain ten elements in our short-term memory system. Instead, we can put those ten letters together in the word “happiness” which will count as a single element.

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Studies have shown that the retention capacity of chunks in digit-width tasks is about four or five chunks.

A well-known example of this type of memory training using the chunking technique is the S.F. case, presented by researchers Ericsson, Chase and in 1980. S.F. was a normal person with average intellectual performance who, after more than a year’s training in digit tasks, went from repeating seven digits to repeating 79. How could S.F. achieve this? The researchers stated that S.F. grouped the digits presented in chunks of three and four digits each, and then associated each chunk with mnemonic strategies of time it took runners to complete a race. Thus, the sequence “3, 4, 9, 2” was categorized as “3 minutes and 49.2 seconds”, a world record in one race. In other words, S.F. associated each of the sets of digits retained in his short-term memory with codes that already existed in his long-term memory.

However, the fact that S.F. could repeat up to 79 digits in the digit range task does not mean that he had short-term since as we said in the first section, short-term memory is a system with limited capacity. In fact, when the researchers changed the format of the task and S.F. had to repeat sequences of letters instead of digits, the number of letters he was able to repeat was no longer 79, but about seven elements or four/five chunks.

Curiosities: Clive Wearing

Another highly studied case in psychology in relation to memory is the case of Clive Wearing, a case that has linked memory with consciousness. Clive Wearing was a musician who suffered acquired brain damage as a result of an infection by herpes. The brain damage from this infection caused Wearing to have an important effect on his memory.

In addition to losing most of his memories, Clive Wearing lost his ability to retain information beyond a few seconds or minutes. That is, the information remains in his memory only for a few seconds and then fades away without becoming part of his long-term memory. As a result, Wearing is unable to recognize the people he works with every day or remember what has happened to him.

What Wearing seems to experience is that he recovers his consciousness, as reflected in a diary that he updated every few minutes. During those seconds or minutes, Clive Wearing felt he had woken up and didn’t remember anything he had done minutes before. When his temporary memory store was exhausted, all the information retained during those seconds would fade away and Clive would rewrite that he had regained consciousness.

However, some memories from Clive’s previous life remained, such as his musical ability. This can be seen as evidence that memory is a complex system that includes different independent memory systems.

References

  • Baddeley, A. D. (2014). Essentials of human memory. New York, United States: Psychology Press.
  • Baddeley, A. D., Thomson, N. Buchanan, M. (1975). Word and the structure of short-term memory. Journal of verbal learning and verbal behavior, 14, 575-589.
  • Schwarb, H., Nail, J. and Schumacher, E. H. (2015). Working memory training improves visual short-term memory capacity. Psychological Research, 80(1): 128-148.
  • Ericsson, K. A., Chase, W., and Faloon, S. (1980). Acquisition of a memory skill. Science, 208, 1181-1182.
  • Morgado, I. (2005). Psychobiology of learning and memory. Cuadernos de Información y Comunicación, 10, 221-233.
  • Mathy, F. and Feldman, J. (2012). What’s magic about magic numbers? Chunking and data compression in short term memory. Cognition, 122, 346-362.

Positive Discipline: 23 Techniques

All parents want the best for their children, but sometimes we don’t have the knowledge to act properly. Educating is not an easy task. For this reason, it is essential to have resources to help us act out of understanding and kindness. Positive discipline is that tool for educating children through cooperation and mutual respect between parents and children.

Positive Discipline

What is positive discipline?

Positive discipline was developed by psychotherapist Alfred Alder and his apprentice Rudolf Dreikurs. Later, Jane Nelsen and Lynn Lott (founders of the American Association of Positive Discipline) regulated its principles and techniques.

Many times, when we hear the word “discipline” we associate it with negative factors, but the true meaning of this word is “disciple”. We could see our children as disciples who need our help during their development, in order to be free, happy and independent in the future.

Firm & Kind

Several studies have shown that children need to create significant relationships with the people closest to them, such as their parents, friends or teachers. The children who maintain these strong bonds generally behave better. Positive discipline is based on the premise “Firm & Kind” and reinforces these bonds through respect, understanding, self-esteem, communication.

Basic principles of positive discipline

  • Communication and understanding
  • Mutual respect between parents and children
  • Kindness and firmness
  • Strengthening bonds
  • Children’s active participation
  • Emotional and independent development

Positive discipline and why children misbehave

Children are children and sometimes they can make us despair when they don’t do what we expect. Perhaps that is the first mistake: “to expect something from them”. First, we shouldn’t expect their behavior to be one way or the other. We must understand that they don’t communicate like adults communicate, therefore we must the message they are trying to get across.

Positive Discipline To Educate

Rudolf Dreikurs mentioned: “When children don’t behave well, they are trying to say something in a different way than an adult would and therefore, we perceive it as the wrong way, without stopping to think that maybe it is the only way they can/know how to express themselves”. The reasons can be several; to claim our attention, boredom, hunger, etc. This is why important to empathize with our children to know the real reason their behaviors.

Positive discipline is not the same as being permissive

Positive discipline does not mean of it or of permissiveness. Nor does it resemble punitive discipline (based on punishment), since it makes children learn by feeling bad and by feeling afraid. With positive discipline, we are looking for long-term results. The objective is for children to understand why certain things are wrong and why they shouldn’t do them. We don’t impose punishments without knowing if children have really understood why they shouldn’t act in certain ways.

23 positive discipline techniques

Positive Discipline
  1. Self-monitoring
    Many parents lose a lot of energy trying to control their children, but the only behavior we can really control is our own. It’s up to us to adopt an attitude that benefits our mental health and not let difficult situations overwhelm us. We can redirect our children’s behavior and/or tell them what they can do, instead of focusing our attention on what they shouldn’t do. Transmitting safety and calmness will benefit the relationship with our little ones.
  2. Communication
    It’s the basis of every relationship. We must try to look for moments to connect with our children. For example, going for a snack after school, having breakfast together every morning before going to school, or even holding family gatherings. Keeping in touch with our children and up to date on possible problems they may have at school, after-school activities, etc., will help us understand their behavior.
  3. Showing interest
    Ask about our children’s interests, hobbies, and preferences. Making children feel valued strengthens their self-esteem and well-being. Avoid asking “Have you done your homework?” questions. If you know he hasn’t done his homework. We can replace it with phrases like: “I realize you haven’t done your homework”. That way we’ll prevent children from feeling trapped by our questions.
  4. Listening
    No matter how small they may be, they have their own feelings and emotions, listening to what they tell us will help us understand their behaviors. Through them, we have the opportunity to turn the world in a new and surprising way, like when we were children.
  5. Understanding
    Try to understand what is behind a bad behavior; it can be fatigue from school, after-school activities, being hungry, having a bad day, or being uncomfortable with something in particular. Finding out what is really happening to them will help us adopt effective solutions.
  6. Firm & Kind
    Be firm in your decisions but kind at the same time. Show understanding for them but do not give in. For example, the child wants to play video games when they get home but has homework to do. A “Firm & Kind” attitude would be: “I know you want to play video games, but first you have to do your homework and then you can play”.
  7. Be an example
    Children have many ways of learning, one of the best known is by imitation. If we try to keep our children from behaving in certain ways, we should be an example to them and make our words coincide with our actions. That is to say, we can’t tell them not to use their phones when we are eating but then use it ourselves. Being an example is fundamental for them to develop principles and positive values, so it is also important to constantly ask ourselves what mistakes we’re making and try to improve every day.
  8. Pay attention to effort rather than success
    It is very common to focus on success rather than on the efforts made. We all want our children to be the best in school and other activities, but this requires time and effort that must be valued even more than success. Imagine our child fails an exam. We agree that it is not a very high grade, but we must bear in mind that the child has improved, so we have to focus our attention on that.
  9. Seek solutions that involve children
    Let us imagine that our child is playing in the room. When we are going to call them to sit at the table for dinner, we notice that they have painted the wall with colored pencils. One solution that involves the child would be to tell them to clean the wall, or to clean it together.
  10. Taking Responsibility
    Teach them to take responsibility for their own actions. In this way, they learn to relate actions with consequences. We can try phrases like: “As you have done all your homework now we can go to the park”.
  11. Redirect actions
    Redirect actions that are not appropriate in a gentle and subtle way. Imagine that you are in the park and have been swinging for a long time and other children want to get on the swing. We can kindly invite our child to leave the swing and take them to the slide.
  12. Limits
    Limits are necessary to protect our children from danger and help them adapt to the world around us. It is important that children participate in these if they are 4 years and over. The decision should not be unilateral, as in this way we promote power and this can sometimes result in rebellion. For example, decide together when to go to bed or curfew hours.
  13. Natural consequences
    They are those that occur without the intervention of an adult. For example, the child does not want to eat the food and if they don’t eat it later they will be hungry (natural consequence). It is a matter of the child learning them by themselves. Avoid phrases such as “I told you so” or “I warned you”. These kinds of phrases can make a child feel humiliated. Do not forget that the main objective is that children learn and do not repeat the same mistakes, not that they realize that adults know everything.
  14. Logical Consequences
    Logical consequences require adult follow-up. For example: “If you go to bed late, I won’t have time to read you the story. Therefore, we decide a consequence for their actions directly related to unwanted behavior.
  15. Follow-up
    When we apply logical consequences, we must keep them constant. If we deem it appropriate, we can give them a new opportunity to fulfill them later.
  16. Avoiding rewards and punishments
    Prizes and punishments are arbitrary. The consequence is not directly related to the cause and promote authority and power, without regard to mutual respect. Try to replace them by applying logical consequences, as they are based on choice and understanding.
  17. Error = opportunity
    The word crisis in Chinese is composed of two characters, the first means danger and the second opportunity. A mistake is an opportunity to learn. We can let children make mistakes and learn for themselves. When they make mistakes, we will not give them the solution immediately. We can brainstorm and discuss the pros and cons together.
  18. Never use physical violence
    It is not advisable to use physical violence when children misbehave, as this teaches them that violence is okay. When we are very angry, we need to try to calm down and then adopt logical consequences from serenity. We must remember that no one is perfect and that we have all made mistakes.
  19. Time
    Devoting exclusive time to our children is fundamental. This will help to avoid tantrums, focusing too much on electronic devices or even waking up at night in search of our attention. It is advisable to quality invest with them, read them a story before going to bed or take advantage of meals and dinners to share with them.
  20. Tone of voice
    It is beneficial to address them in a friendly and loving tone, that will make it easier for them to pay attention and really listen to what we want to say to them. Perceiving the “sermon tone” will make them want to disconnect and not pay attention to our words. It is important to educate without shouting.
  21. Words
    Choosing the right words accompanied by the right tone of voice is essential for communication between parents and children to reflect respect and affection.
  22. Autonomy
    Although we sometimes have the instinct to protect them, it is not advisable to do so if we want them to grow up safely and independently. Children should be allowed to experience consequences based on their own actions and/or decisions (using common sense, of course). We should not do things that they can already do for themselves, so we will help them to be more autonomous.
  23. Patience
    Accumulated fatigue, stress, or self-demanding can easily cause us to lose patience. We are human and it is normal that sometimes we feel overwhelmed and lose patience with our children. We should not blame ourselves for this, we can look for activities that make us disconnect like sports or simply dedicate time to ourselves.

Piaget Cognitive Development: A Quick Guide

Piaget Cognitive Development. From infancy through childhood, parents physicians place great emphasis on physical milestones. Walking, crawling, and the first tooth peeking through pink gums are the tangible manifestations of growth. However, the mental aspects are just as significant. Although the inner workings of the brain are invisible to the naked eye, promoting a child’s cognitive development is essential to their thought processes, memory, problem-solving, and decision making well into their adult years.

Cognitive Development

Cognitive Skills To Piaget Cognitive Development

To understand Piaget cognitive development, one must first be aware of cognitive skills. Cognitive skills are skills pertaining to cognition—the way we acquire knowledge about the environment and the world that surrounds us. Processing information is possible because of the various cognitive skills that allow us to interpret perceptions of the five senses: what we hear, see, touch, taste, and smell. Cognitive skills consist of the following:

These skills are involved in all daily tasks such as answering the phone, responding to a friend’s message, or even watching television.

What is Piaget Cognitive Development?

Cognitive development is the neurological and psychological development of the various functions of thinking. It entails applying cognitive skills to consciously interpret one’s surrounding environment. As a person matures, so does their ability to engage in higher thinking processes like problem-solving, emotional regulation, learning, and remembering. The term describes the brain’s development as it pertains to cognition.

According to Piaget cognitive development, there are set age-appropriate milestones spanning from infancy into adulthood. Reaching these milestones on time indicates optimal development. The concept first originated in the early 1900s when IQ tests were proposed as an accurate measurement of intelligence.

Areas of Piaget Cognitive Development

Cognitive development includes basic components of thinking. For optimal cognitive development, it is best to focus on the areas of information processing, intelligence, reasoning, memory, and language.

  • Information Processing—As the brain works in a sequence, it receives input through the senses, processes that information, and then receives output.
  • Intelligence—The mental capacity to learn, reason, plan, solve problem and comprehend complex ideas.
  • Reasoning—Applying and establishing facts, beliefs, and information.
  • Memory Part of the brain that stores and retrieve information as needed.
  • Language—The process in which children understand and communicate language.

Piaget Cognitive Development: 4 Stages

Jean Piaget (1896-1980) was a Swiss psychologist who constructed the most widely accepted theory of cognitive development known as Piaget Cognitive Development. While there are numerous theories, Piaget Cognitive Development provides an accurate depiction of the evolution of a child’s thinking processes. His theory was inspired by observing his children. He assumed that children’s intellect develops through accommodation, which is the process of taking in and altering information from their environment, and assimilation, which is how humans relate new information to previously existing information. It is concerned with all children and focuses on the progression of development instead of learning miscellaneous behaviors. A series of four stages mark the progression of cognitive development beginning in infancy and throughout childhood, adolescence, and into adulthood.

Sensorimotor Stage – Birth to 2 Years

The sensorimotor stage of cognitive development starts at the time of birth and ends as a toddler. Cognitive growth happens rapidly as the infant familiarizes itself with their reality. Cognitive abilities remain limited, but the child learns to separate their bodies from the environment through their senses and reflexes. In the sensorimotor stage, they respond to the sudden influx of new stimuli: noises, movements, people, and emotions.

The sensorimotor stage is divided into six substages:

  • Reflexes: Birth to One Month—A child’s intelligence is rooted in action. The child acquires knowledge in the reflex stage by adapting to their environment. This includes all natural “instinct” behaviors upon birth.
  • Primary Circular Reactions: One to Four Months—Reflex actions, like sucking a thumb, are intentionally repeated after the child realizes they are pleasurable. Primary circular reactions refer only to reactions within the body.
  • Secondary Circular Reactions: Four to Eight Months—Actions that are not reflex based originate in the child’s behavior. The child’s action results in a preferred event in the environment, rather than their body, and they seek to recreate the event by engaging in the behaviors that precipitated the event.
  • Coordination of Secondary Circular Reactions: Eight to Twelve Months—Cause and effect relationships are correlated with the child’s behaviors in the previous stages. They intentionally interact with the environment to fulfill their needs.
  • Tertiary Circular Reactions: Twelve to Eighteen Months—Minor change to cognition comes about as the child purposefully alters their actions to solve problems. Tertiary circular reactions have a trial-and-error foundation.
  • Mental Combinations: Eighteen to Twenty-four Months—Mental combinations concludes the period in which children understand their environment solely through actions. They associate symbols and language with their environment and form basic sentences.

Pre-operational Stage – 2 to 7 years

The pre-operational stage starts as a toddler at age two and continues until seven years of age. This stage is characterized by the child’s eventual expansion towards logic, but they still are unable to think logically or separate ideas because the egocentric mindset which surfaces in this stage limits their intellectual abilities. Children in the preoperational stage think in a manner that is primarily concerned with self. Their thoughts, perceptions, and ideas are indistinguishable from those of other people. They only see the world through their own point of view and cannot consider differing perspectives. Ecocentrism is the reason why young children experience conflict with their peers. While language is central to the pre-operational stage, the children do not use language to communicate with others and resolve conflict, but to make their thinking known.

The pre-operational stage is divided into two substages.

  • Symbolic Function— Children possess the ability to think about an object that is not in their immediate view. They attach symbols to their toys and caregivers in which they have associated with comfort.  Attempts at art and expression through play are manifestations of symbolic function.
  • Intuitive Thought—Thinking changes from symbolic to intuitive with the use of primitive reasoning. Intuitive thought refers to the vast knowledge children learn yet struggle to apply. They become curious about the world, asking many questions.

Concrete Operational Stage – 7 to 11 years

The concrete operational stage is the turning point in a child’s cognitive development. It begins at roughly seven years of age and is defined by the development of organized and rational thinking. Children begin to understand rules and use operations to logically solve problems. As children mature in the concrete operatorial stage, they apply logic exclusively to physical objects. They cannot turn their thinking towards hypothetical situations, only their concrete experiences.

The cognitive development during the concrete operational stage is cornerstone to the education of school-age children. They refine their cognitive abilities to remember information, and then to organize that information logically. Selective attention keeps them focused on a single task, despite distractions. Egocentrism that was previously prominent is eliminated in the concrete operational stage. Children start to see multiple viewpoints.

Although there are no substages, other processes (known as operations) in the concrete operational stage are:

  • Decentering—Considering all aspects of a problem in order to solve it.
  • Seriation—Sorting objects according to its characteristics (i.e. color, size, shape, etc.).
  • Transitivity—Recognizing logical relationships between objects in serial order.  
  • Classification—The ability to identify objects by their size, appearance, or characteristics.
  • Conservation—The length or quantity of an object does not dictate the appearance and arrangement.

Formal Operational Stage – 12 and Up

The formal operational stage is the last stage in Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development. It begins in adolescence around the onset of puberty and lasts into adulthood. These young teenagers in the formal operational stage undergo rapid transformations in their cognitive development. This stage introduces the potential for abstract thought. They think about objects and situations hypothetically, which entails making inferences about situations that are “possibilities.” The former trial-and-error thought process is abandoned for problem-solving through deductive reasoning. They test solutions based on hypotheses.

How To Promote Piaget Cognitive Development

Each child develops at his or her own pace. However, they are not entirely on their own in their progress. Interactions with adults who serve as role models and other children facilitate cognitive development. Despite the child’s stage, incorporating these key activities into a daily routine are conducive to cognitive development.

“Play” with the 5 Senses

Sensory play is any hands-on learning activity that stimulates the five senses—seeing, hearing, touching, or smelling. This form of play of the five senses strengthens the neuron pathways in the brain. A neuron is a specialized brain cell that sends chemical messages to the nerves throughout the nervous system. Sensory play refines the efficiency of the pathways. As a result, the brain responds to the environment and can successfully complete more complex skills.

Exploring the environment through sensory play can be accomplished in a variety of ways. Playdough, building blocks, simple puzzles or board games, singing and reading aloud are some examples.

Sensory Play For Cognitive Development

Establish Routine

The technical definition of routine represents the steps taken to complete the tasks scheduled throughout the day. Waking up and eating breakfast before going to class, and later returning home to finish homework and watch television constitutes as routine. Everyday routines differ depending on the activity. Routines are crucial to cognitive development because it teaches children how to observe transition cues, predict, and become flexible when routines deviate from the norm.

Open-ended Questions and Statements

 Typical questions and statements are closed-ended—requiring only a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer or a one-word response, whereas open-ended questions require in-depth answers. Thought out responses encourage children to partake in conversation. Children must think creatively, broadening the use of language and the cognitive skills.

Open-ended questions and statements begin with:

  • “Why do you think…?”
  • “What if…?”
  • “Tell me about…”

Visual Aids

Visual aids such as illustrations, charts, and three-dimensional models improve cognitive development help the child understand the information presented. Visual learning allows the brain to more easily recall details, as they are concrete.

The type of visual aid provided should be catered to the developmental stage. Drawings and illustrations are best for toddlerhood and early childhood, while three-dimensional models in middle childhood. The visual aids increase in complexity throughout adolescence.  

Communication

Language is an integral part of cognitive development. Consistently communicating language skills to children fosters their cognitive development. Speak to children ages five and up in complete sentences with challenging vocabulary words. Ensure to explain the context of the words to demonstrate proper use.

Locus of Control: Internal or external?

Do we have control over what happens to us? To what extent can we influence the events that occur throughout our lives? The term locus of control seeks to differentiate two ways of thinking—the belief that some people are able to control the outcome of their lives versus the belief that outside factors have the greatest effect, and individuals cannot determine their situation. An internal and external locus of control are forces at play in all of humanity. Keep reading to find out why.

locus of control

What is Locus of Control?

It is a concept of personality psychology describing the tendency for people to believe they control the outcomes of their lives internally through their own actions or that external forces outside of their control influence life’s events. The term was developed in 1954 by psychologist Julian Rotter. Rotter founded this term under the premise that behavior is affected by the expected results of behavior. Positive consequences motivate an action, while negative consequences discourage it. It is useful because it directs our behavior towards the events that occur in life.

No one has an entirely internal or external locus of control. There is a spectrum which varies depending on the individual and the situation. However, most favor one view over the other and make the majority of their decisions through that perspective.

Internal Locus of Control

An external locus of control is based on the idea that an individual has control of their life. Their actions are the primary influence for both good and bad outcomes. For example, someone with a strong internal locus of control would claim their job promotion is due to hard work or that the A+ on their last test was because they dedicated countless hours studying.

A high internal locus of control is optimal, as it is related to increased success, motivation, and people with a high internal locus of control are less affected by the opinions of others. They accept responsibility for their successes and failures even in the case of unfavorable outcomes.

Internal Control Personality Characteristics

  • Hard working—always putting in effort to achieve goals
  • Confident—recognizing the skills and knowledge required to overcome challenges
  • Physical healthy—considering it their active obligation to eat healthily, partake in regular exercise, and remaining diligent in keeping up with medical appointments  
  • Responsible—holding themselves accountable for successes and their mistakes or failures  
  • Positive—feeling happiness, peaceful, and relaxed about the future because increased control over life leads to minimal stress
  • Independent—not relying on others for success
  • Studious—valuing knowledge and the skills it contributes to overcome obstacles
  • High self-esteem—respectful of oneself and confident in abilities

External Locus of Control

An external control stems from the idea that the outcomes of life are beyond personal control. Whether good or bad, uncontrollable factors in the environment dictate events. It is often compared to fate and luck. For example, someone with an external control would assume they did not receive a job promotion because they did not have adequate connections or that they failed their last test because the questions were about the teacher did not assign.

Operating under a high external locus of control is generally not perceived as productive. People with an external locus of control blame others for their failures, yet attribute success to mere chance. They do not deeply analyze situations and typically blame others for their problems. This creates the inclination to refrain from action.

External Control Personality Characteristics

Those with control also display a particular set of personality characteristics.

  • Insecure—not confident in their own abilities and continually doubting they can accomplish difficult goals. Low self-esteem.
  • Dependent—reliance on other people for tasks they are capable of doing without assistance
  • Hopeless—feeling emotions like “what’s the point” or as if any response to a life event is futile
  • Passive—resigning effort to surmount challenges because their actions won’t make a difference in the outcome
  • Indecisive—events are not analyzed to the fullest causing difficulty to make concrete decisions  

Measuring Locus of Control

It is not as simple as pronouncing a propensity for an internal or external way of thinking. Professionals have formulated multiple scales to assess the topic. The first scale is the forced-choice scale for adults by Rotter in 1966. Rotter’s scale is a series of 29 questions, like choosing between “There are certain people who are just no good” or “There is some good in everybody.”

Originating in 1961, Bialer’s scale assesses children and has supported much research in child behavior. However, it scales today mainly focus on health psychology including the Health Locus of Control Scale and the Multidimensional Health Locus of Control Scale.

Locus of Control and Health Psychology

Health psychology studies the psychological and cognitive processes in health and wellness. It is concerned with how behavior impacts illness, the prevention of illness, and medical compliance. It is applied in daily life as it pertains to health psychology.

Psychologists proposed that health is contingent on three factors: internal factors, powerful others such as a doctor, or luck. Studies indicate that patients with an external locus of control are susceptible to “loneliness and helplessness and unfavorable fight with diseases” (Pourhoseinzadeh et al., 2017). Knowing a patient’s locus of control is useful for medical treatment. Believing in luck for health outcomes potentially interferes with healing, as these patients are not as likely to comply with the treatment plans formulated by their doctors. Physicians and patients can make informed treatment decisions incorporating locus of control scales as part of the diagnostic process.

Apply Locus of Control to Other Real Life Situations

It is relevant in other aspects of life. In all actuality, we implement the characteristics of the concept in almost every behavior. Our sense of control is rooted in every response to life’s events.

  • Academics— Students with a high internal locus of control earn better grades, dedicate more time to studying, and have greater levels of fulfillment. Counseling tactics for the students with an external locus of control have its benefits.
  • Advertising—Entrepreneurs have improved success in selling products when they cater their advertising efforts towards the of consumers.
  • Sports— Sports psychology has a keen interest in this concept. Athletes with an internal locus of control model mental toughness, lower stressors, resiliency, and they frequently set realistic goals. Studies also show that a coach’s locus of control orientation influences the speeches he or she gives to their team (Sidhu & Arora, 2017).
  • Religion— An internal locus of control is optimal even in religion. While the religious are falsely depicted as having an external control, most operate internally—believing God grants them the responsibility to control their actions.
  • Addiction One’s locus of control orientation complicates addiction. For example, it affects smoking behaviors, as well as whether someone will seek intervention for their addictions. When Gambling, externals are apt to take riskier bets.
  • Politics—People with an internal control exercise their right to vote, whereas those with an external control do not participate in elections as often because they believe their contribution will not make a difference in the outcome.

Demographics of Locus of Control

Certain groups reflect a tendency towards an internal and external control. Age is significant. An external control is especially pronounced in children and in the elderly population. Middle-aged adults have the highest internal control before their internal orientation declines. Until then, an internal control increases with life experience. Elderly adults depict a change in it when health problems increase.

Gender differences are not as clear. In U.S. studies, men and women are nearly equal in their expression of internal control. However, cultural differences do have an effect. Women in other countries might have a higher external control because they view themselves as powerless under the control of men (Zahodne et al., 2015).

Ethnic minorities, those with lower socioeconomic status, and the disabled are predisposed to an external control. Discrimination skews the individual’s conception that they do not hold the power to control their life when surrounded by negative environmental influences.

Core Self-Evaluations

Core self-evaluations are personality traits that represent an individual’s subconscious fundamental evaluations about themselves. It is one of the core self-evaluations, along with neuroticism, self-efficacy, and self-esteem. Experts from the University of Florida (2002) explain that self-evaluations represent worth and value (self-esteem), locus of control, confidence (self-efficacy), and emotional stability (neuroticism). Scoring high in the core self-evaluations predicts success and life satisfaction.

Locus of Control is a Core Self-Evaluation

How to Develop an Internal Locus of Control

If an external control is a detriment to your success, it is advantageous to develop an internal control. The initial step to shaping an internal locus of control is to target only what we can control. We cannot control all aspects of our environment, and we cannot control other people, but we can control our thoughts and our actions.

Next, adopting an internal control is becoming aware of our choices. It is accepting that we have a choice in how we choose to act. Approach these choices with rational thinking and problem-solving skills. Activities like journaling solutions, brain games, jigsaw puzzles, and physical exercise enhance problem-solving abilities.

Transform “I can’t” statements into “I can.” Identify others with your desired locus of control. Modeling their behavior is constructive, as they provide an example of appropriate behavior in stressful, problem situations—opening a world of possibilities.

References

Pourhoseinzadeh, M., Gheibizadeh, M., & Moradikalboland, M. (2017). The Relationship between Health Control and Health Behaviors in Emergency Medicine Personnel. International journal of nursing and midwifery, 5(4), 397–407. with external control have more mental disorders compared with internal ones.

Sidhu, A. & Arora, A.K. (2017). A study of passion and control among athletes and non-athletes. International Journal of Yoga, Physiotherapy, and Physical Education, 2(5), 222-223.

Zahodne, L. B., Meyer, O. L., Choi, E., Thomas, M. L., Willis, S. L., Marsiske, M., … Parisi, J. M. (2015). External control contributes to racial disparities in memory and reasoning training gains in ACTIVE. Psychology and aging, 30(3), 561–572. :10.1037/pag0000042

Divergent Thinking: Become a Divergent Thinker

Consider your most creative idea. Next, imagine how that idea came to be. More likely than not, it manifested from a number of possibilities prior to focusing on a single topic. There is a name for the jumbled series of miscellaneous thoughts that eventually lead to innovation. It is a thinking process called divergent thinking. Find out what is divergent thinking, elements its composed of, differences with convergent thinking, etc.

Journaling for Divergent Thinking

What is Divergent Thinking?

Divergent thinking is a thought process beginning with the breaking down various components of a topic to generate answers to a question. As the topic is divided into separate parts, it leads to the formation of new ideas and even new questions! The overall goal is to produce a number of possible solutions in a timely manner that could not have emerged from a more focused method of thought. Divergent thinking is unstructured, spontaneous, and non-linear—meaning individuals approach problems starting with one topic that drives many further ideas. There is no specific direction.

Elements of Divergent Thinking

Eight elements comprise the divergent thinking process:

  • Risk-taking—Possessing a willingness to courageously explore, experiment, and accept new, potentially controversial ideas
  • Originality—The capacity to discover ideas others have not previously thought of
  • Fluency—The art of generating a variety of ideas to increase the number of solutions
  • Imagination—Visualizing and thinking of original ideas
  • Flexibility—An open-mindedness to accept unexpected idea combinations on a topic
  • Complexity—The ability to understand and form well rounded, multifaceted ideas
  • Curiosity—The yearning for knowledge to ask the appropriate questions that will guide new ideas
  • Elaboration—Readiness to further ideas to experiment and build on a topic

Divergent VS. Convergent Thinking

Contrary to divergent thinking, convergent thinking is another way to confront a problem. Convergent thinking applies logic to arise at a single solution from many ideas. The process is linear, centralized around one point and does not draw from creativity. A prime example of convergent thinking is choosing an answer on a multiple-choice test. It is straightforward because there is only one right or wrong answer.

Although the two thinking processes vastly differ, divergent thinking relies on convergent thinking to arrive at a solution. Successful problem solvers confront a problem in which creative ideas are copious, yet they narrow down their chosen solution through convergent thinking.

Divergent Thinking and Creativity

While both of these concepts are undoubtedly related, the words are not synonymous. Experts define creativity as the ability to uniquely utilize original ideas to solve problems. It also involves identifying problematic aspects of a given situation (Jaarsveld & Lachmann, 2017).

Creative thinking supports innovation. The world prospers through the creativity to invent technological advances and to surmount problems at work, school, and in relationships. Still, creative thinking is not possible without its predecessor, divergent thinking. It fosters creativity because it generates those “creative” ideas. After a problem is creatively identified, divergent thinking expedites the variables of available solutions.

Activities of Divergent Thinking

Divergent thinking does not occur on its own. Frequently, it is prompted by an initial trigger to cultivate an idea and additional complex ideas stem from those. Engaging in the following activities are conducive to divergent thinking.

Brainstorming

Brainstorming is cornerstone to divergent thinking. The activity entails a lengthy, unedited list of ideas. All ideas are recorded regardless of whether or not they are deemed a worthy solution. This list format inspires new ideas from those that precede it.

Subject Mapping

As previously stated, divergent thinking is non-linear. The path from one idea to another is indirect. Think of a spider web model for planning. The main idea is in the center with separate sub-ideas branching out. Sub-ideas can also have ideas branching out (i.e. sub-sub-topics).

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Journaling

Journaling is essentially a bound book of creative thoughts. Carrying a journal highlights the spontaneous aspect of divergent thinking, as an individual documents ideas as they emerge throughout the day. The journal can be reviewed later to stimulate a range of diverse ideas.

Free Writing

Free writing is similar to journaling. However, they differ in the fact that free writing is typically intentional. Structure has the tendency to impede the divergent thinking, but sitting down with the intention to write has the potential to spur the creative process. To undertake free writing, start by writing whatever comes to mind about a particular topic for a short period of time. Free writing produces collective thoughts on a subject. The key to free writing is not to stop for editing because the focus on grammatical mechanics disrupts the flow of ideas.

The SCAMPER Technique

The SCAMPER technique is a critical thinking technique designed to provide a creative thinking flow. The aim of the SCAMPER technique is to encourage free-flowing thoughts and ideas necessary for divergent thinking. SCAMPER is an acronym where each letter represents types of questions to evaluate and assess an idea.

  • Substitute—What part of ideas can be substituted? The technique of substitution determines if there is a better alternative that will increase the overall gains of a solution. 
  • Combine—Can multiple ideas be merged? ‘Combine’ implies that two ideas can be combined to result in a new, innovative solution.
  • Adapt—Should elements of an idea change for a favorable output?Flexibility is an immense factor. The ‘adapt’ technique is essential to making an idea more flexible for unexpected topic combinations.
  • Modify—Can this process be viewed from a fresh perspective? Changes made during the modification stage concentrate on the solution as a whole rather than a single idea.
  • Put to another use—What benefits does this idea bestow on alternative problems? Divergent thinking is innovative and creative, which demands we examine an idea from all angles—like its usefulness for other problems. Putting an idea to another use revolves around originality.  
  • Eliminate—What would happen if an idea were removed? Eliminating ineffective ideas is imperative to the process.
  • Reverse—How can reversing the order of the initial thought process lead to a better outcome? Divergent thinking is as complex as the ideas it produces. Contemplating the sequences of the thinking process, as well as how the thinking process is altered, strengthens the usefulness of the ideas.

Divergent Thinking and the Brain

Neuroscientists have long expressed an interest in divergent thinking, which caused them to test it by measuring fMRI brain activity. Those efficient have prominent brain connections in three brain networks—the default network, the salience network, and the executive control network. The default network is especially significant, as it associated with spontaneous and imaginative cognition. Creative thinkers show increased connections in hippocampal activity on fMRI studies when asked to perform divergent thinking tasks. For example, naming creative purposes for common household objects. This lends evidence that divergent thinking is advantageous to cognitive thinking skills such as attention and memory.

Barriers to Divergent Thinking

Divergent thinking does not always transpire with ease. There is an array of emotional and mechanical barriers to the process. Overcoming the barriers are crucial for divergent thinking to be advantageous to problem solving.

  • ProcrastinationThe most difficult step is beginning the process. While the process may occasionally be delayed for whatever reason, solutions cannot emerge without ‘jumping right in’ to it.
  • Time—Speed is a major component. With the goal of one idea leading to another, it is not meant to designate much time to one thought.  
  • Organization—Divergent thinking is unstructured and disorganized. Focusing on organization prevents the formation of numerous ideas.
  • Fear—Those wishing to become divergent thinkers need to take risks. Mistakes are unavoidable and not to be feared.  
  • Conformity—Conformity and fear go hand-in-hand. People fear non-conformity, afraid to stand out. However, divergent thinkers are not concerned with embracing original ideas that challenge society’s perception of normal and what is accepted.

References

Elmansy, R. (2015). A Guide to the SCAMPER Technique for Creative Thinking. Retrieved from https://www.designorate.com/a-guide-to-the-scamper-technique-for-creative-thinking/

Jaarsveld, S., & Lachmann, T. (2017). Intelligence and Creativity in Problem Solving: The Importance of Test Features in Cognition Research. Frontiers in psychology, 8, 134. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00134

Roger E.B, Yoed N.K, Alexander P.C., et al. (2018). Robust prediction of individual creative ability from brain functional connectivity. Silvia PNAS January 30, 2018 115 (5) 1087-1092; published ahead of print January 16, 2018 https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1713532115