“Americans, like other people around the world, used to sleep in an unconsolidated fashion, that is, in two or more periods throughout the day.” They went to bed not long after the sun went down. Four or five hours later, they woke from their “first sleep” and rattled around—praying, chatting, smoking, or making love. (Benjamin Franklin reportedly liked to spend this time reading naked in a chair.) Eventually, they went back to bed for their “second sleep.”
Phillips, Britain’s foremost psychoanalytic writer, dislikes the modern notion that we should all be out there fulfilling our potential. In his new book, he argues that, instead of feeling that we should have a better life, we should just live, as gratifyingly as possible, the life we have. Otherwise, we are setting ourselves up for bitterness. What makes us think that we could have been a contender? Yet, in the dark of night, we do think this, and grieve that it wasn’t possible. “And what was not possible all too easily becomes the story of our lives,” Phillips writes. “Our lived lives might become a protracted mourning for, or an endless trauma about, the lives we were unable to live.”
How expectations shape experience explored at book length in Mind Over Mind–and at interview length here (Scientific American):
[P]lacebo effects in medicine are just one example of how our expectations can bend reality. For instance, brain scans reveal that expectations about a wine’s quality (based on price or a critic’s review) actually change the level of activity in the brain’s reward centers when a person takes a sip. Highly-trained weight lifters can out-do their personal bests when they believe they’ve taken a performance booster. People who wear taller, better looking avatars in virtual reality behave in ways that taller and better looking people tend to act. For example, they approach better-looking potential dates and they are more aggressive in negotiations, both in the virtual world and after the headgear is removed. In lab and field experiments, people who stand in powerful poses (think Superman) for a minute or two, have similar hormonal changes to people who are given actual power and authority over another person, and they exhibit the same sorts of behavioral changes.
Madeline Levine, a psychologist who lives outside San Francisco, specializes in treating young adults. In “Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success” (HarperCollins), she argues that we do too much for our kids because we overestimate our influence. “Never before have parents been so (mistakenly) convinced that their every move has a ripple effect into their child’s future success,” she writes. Paradoxically, Levine maintains, by working so hard to help our kids we end up holding them back.
“Most parents today were brought up in a culture that put a strong emphasis on being special,” she observes. “Being special takes hard work and can’t be trusted to children. Hence the exhausting cycle of constantly monitoring their work and performance, which in turn makes children feel less competent and confident, so that they need even more oversight.”
Canadian researchers found those with low self-esteem actually felt worse after repeating positive statements about themselves.
They said phrases such as “I am a lovable person” only helped people with high self-esteem.
The study appears in the journal Psychological Science…They found that, paradoxically, those with low self-esteem were in a better mood when they were allowed to have negative thoughts than when they were asked to focus exclusively on affirmative thoughts…”Repeating positive self-statements may benefit certain people, such as individuals with high self-esteem, but backfire for the very people who need them the most.”
And it was all so perfectly clear. No wonder I had found that woman so offensive. Sometimes things feel that bad.
Sometimes you just feel like sh!t.
And telling yourself you feel terrific and wearing a brave smile and refusing to give in to “negative thinking” is not only inaccurate -dishonest- but it can make you feel worse.
Which makes perfect sense. Because if you want to feel better, you need to pause and ask yourself, better than what?
Better than how you feel at this moment, perhaps.
But in order to feel better than you feel at this moment, you need to identify how you feel, exactly.
It’s like this: if California represents your desire to “feel better,” you won’t be able to get there -no matter how many maps you have- unless you know where are starting from.
Finally, trained researchers in white lab coats with clipboards and cages filled with monkeys had demonstrated in a proper clinical setting what I myself had learned several years earlier in a rehab setting: affirmations are bullsh!t.
As the name suggests, endocannabinoids are chemicals that, like cannabis in marijuana, alter and lighten moods. But the body produces endocannabinoids naturally. In other studies, endocannabinoid levels have been shown to increase after prolonged running and cycling, leading many scientists to conclude that endocannabinoids help to create runner’s high.
Couples living together out of convenience–”sliding, not deciding”–gets roughed up in the NYT by psychologist Meg Jay, author of The Defining Decade:
Sliding into cohabitation wouldn’t be a problem if sliding out were as easy. But it isn’t. Too often, young adults enter into what they imagine will be low-cost, low-risk living situations only to find themselves unable to get out months, even years, later. It’s like signing up for a credit card with 0 percent interest. At the end of 12 months when the interest goes up to 23 percent you feel stuck because your balance is too high to pay off. In fact, cohabitation can be exactly like that. In behavioral economics, it’s called consumer lock-in.
For couples going through a rough patch, here’s a short video sampling of Getting the Love You Want author Harville Hendrix’s take on what draws people to each other and how to make a relationship work (short version: “be nice”). Lots more detail in the book.
Jonah Lehrer’s new book, Imagine, excerpted in the Wall Street Journal:
[C]reativity is not magic, and there’s no such thing as a creative type. Creativity is not a trait that we inherit in our genes or a blessing bestowed by the angels. It’s a skill. Anyone can learn to be creative and to get better at it. New research is shedding light on what allows people to develop world-changing products and to solve the toughest problems. A surprisingly concrete set of lessons has emerged about what creativity is and how to spark it in ourselves and our work.
Although we live in an age that worships focus—we are always forcing ourselves to concentrate, chugging caffeine—this approach can inhibit the imagination. We might be focused, but we’re probably focused on the wrong answer.
And this is why relaxation helps: It isn’t until we’re soothed in the shower or distracted by the stand-up comic that we’re able to turn the spotlight of attention inward, eavesdropping on all those random associations unfolding in the far reaches of the brain’s right hemisphere. When we need an insight, those associations are often the source of the answer.
Will Baum, LCSW is a licensed psychotherapist in Los Angeles working with anxiety and depression, relationship problems, addiction recovery, and stress-related chronic pain. Office in Los Feliz. Convenient from Silver Lake, Echo Park, Atwater Village, Glendale, Eagle Rock, Mt. Washington, Glassell Park, Downtown L.A., USC, Hollywood, West Hollywood, Studio City, Los Angeles. For comments, questions, or to arrange an appointment, write email@example.com or call (323) 610-0112.
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