Behavior

How Practicing Compassion May Help You Feel Better

 

Photo / Picography

Photo / Picography

 

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” — Aesop

 

Think about the most disagreeable person you know or ever met. This might even be you on one or more occasions. If you ask people who are a little rough around the edges, those individuals who seem gruff, know-it-all, smug, superior and can’t be bothered, they’d likely say they don’t need anyone else. While compassion is an admirable and fairly basic trait, some of us either lack it (we’re short on empathy) or could use a little help on how to best show it.

Even the Most Disagreeable People Benefit from Showing Compassion

Yet, research into learning how to be compassionate shows that even the most disagreeable people – who are often suffering from depression – can benefit from the simple training.

Researchers at York University engaged 640 mildly depressed individuals in online training to boost their ability to behave with compassion toward others. Average age of the study participants was in the mid-30s. For the study, they were asked to engage in one of three online “compassion intervention” exercises, complete their exercise and log back in to record their reports every other day for a three-week period.  The exercise called Acts of Kindness resulted in the most benefit to study participants: those who performed acts of kindness in their close relationships showed the greatest reductions in depression and greatest increases in self-reported life satisfaction.

The lead researcher for the project said that highly disagreeable people often lack empathy, they’re hostile and don’t cooperate well with others, with the result that they may be ostracized or rejected. Giving these individuals specific suggestions, some practical things they could do each day to express “empathic concerns” toward their close relationships, proved “tremendously helpful.”

The project was easy to implement and, from the perspective of the study participants, quick (10-15 minutes every other day), and easy to complete. Another exercise called Loving Kindness Meditation was also helpful, said researchers, but it didn’t result in the same level of improvements as the Acts of Kindness exercise.

Evidence Proves Neanderthals Showed Compassion

Further evidence that compassion is instrumental not only in affirming quality of life but also in overall survival comes from research that shows that Neanderthal man was compassionate and knowledgeable in their care of others experiencing injury or illness. The study, from the University of York, showed that Neanderthals were genuinely caring for their peers – no matter what their level of illness or injury.

The research involved pathological analysis of injuries that would have occurred long before death and would have required caretakers providing careful hygiene, facilitation of sleep and rest, staunching wounds, maintaining posture, maintaining and assisting mobility, ensuring safety, monitoring and control of fever, and massage, among other types of care and accommodation. Bioarcheology of care analyses suggest that the injured/ill “likely received extensive care in response to their experiences of pathology.” Neanderthals provided The scientists argued that “organized and caring healthcare is not unique to our species but rather has a long evolutionary history.”

The Brain Can be Trained in Compassion

Earlier research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, sought to determine if compassion could be trained and learned in adults. They wanted to know if practicing a compassionate mindset could cause adults to be more caring. The results of their study showed an affirmative yes.

The study made use of an ancient Buddhist technique called compassion meditation, in which study participants (young adults) were trained to increase caring feelings for people who were suffering. After training, they were asked to show compassion for loved ones (those for whom they’d easily feel compassionate towards), then themselves, then a stranger, and lastly for a difficult person, such as a co-worker, with whom they had conflict. Researchers said that this “weighted training,” in which study participants actively built up their “compassion muscle,” helped them respond to others’ suffering with care and a desire to help.

What researchers determined with this and other exercises designed to measure compassion is that compassion, like academic and physical skills, is not something that seems to be fixed, but rather can be enhanced through training and practice. The suggest that compassion training could be employed in schools to help combat bullying, and it may prove beneficial to those who have social anxiety or antisocial behavior. Furthermore, researchers said they’d be excited to see what compassion training could do for the general public in terms of seeing what changes they notice in their life. Training to boost the compassion muscle is available on the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Healthy Minds website.

Additional research from these same authors was published in 2018 in Frontiers in Psychology. According to their findings, researchers suggest that compassion meditation training may help to decrease aversive neural responses to suffering at the same time as visual attention to suffering increases. This may have prosocial benefits, as in a doctor tending to a patient, or allowing individuals to remain calm in the case of suffering and more willing to lend aid. Researchers said further research with larger sample sizes should look into whether compassion intervention strategies could prove helpful to caregivers and healthcare workers who are often exposed to others’ suffering.

How You Can be More Compassionate

While research continues on the benefits of compassion, what can you do as an individual to help boost your compassion muscle? First, be attuned to the fact that your actions and behavior have consequences. How you behave toward others, what you think about before you speak or act, makes a difference.

Simple compassion strategies you can employ include behaving toward others the way you’d want them to act toward you – with kindness, empathy and basic humanity. Practicing meditation and consciously intending to be more compassionate can also put you in the frame of mind where expressing yourself verbally with compassion and acting compassionately will become easier. Furthermore, think of compassion as being loving, caring and supportive – as in a parent nurturing and helping a child.

Of course, compassion toward others also means learning how to be self-compassionate. This example of self-care may take some practice to become comfortable being kind to yourself, yet the results in your overall well-being and life satisfaction will be well worth the effort.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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10 Dangers of Always Making Safe Choices

Photo by Elena Prokofyeva on Unsplash

Photo by Elena Prokofyeva on Unsplash

“I don’t want an uneventful and safe life. I prefer an adventurous one.” – Isabel Allende

 

Every day you make choices. Some you make without thinking, part of a routine you’ve become accustomed to. Others you think about for a long time before deciding – if you do – to act. What most of us don’t realize, however, is that the time for making choices is not infinite. You can procrastinate too long in making a decision and the opposite of that, acting too quickly and always going for the safe choice isn’t wise either.

What are some dangers of always making safe choices? You might be surprised. Yet there are proactive steps you can take to modify your decision-making approach, so you avoid these dangers and enjoy the rewards from taking calculated risks.

1.    Life lacks excitement.

A boring life may be safe, yet who wants to live bored all the time? That’s the trouble with safe choices – you’re not likely to get into trouble, yet you’re not likely to find yourself excited about too much either. Think of excitement as a vitamin you need for health and well-being. Life is all about opportunities to sample myriad experiences. Adjust your mindset to welcome the slightly less safe choice with more potential to add excitement to your life.

2.    Growth may stall.

When you stick with what you know, what you’re familiar with and comfortable doing, you may never challenge yourself to add more skills or increase your knowledge base. That can be detrimental to future growth, not to mention current satisfaction with life. It’s tough to venture outside your familiar routine, yet you can take incremental steps to encourage positive growth with some calculated choices.

3.    Fear prevents discovery.

If you’d like to make a bold choice, yet you’re afraid of what you may encounter, you’ll stymie discovery. This is just as bad as stalling growth and usually accompanies always making safe choices. Perhaps you can take a reasonable risk to overcome fear and help broaden your world-view, enhance your experiences, see or try something new. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

4.    It’s difficult to meet new people.

Still seeing the same people, the ones you always know will be the same no matter what? There’s nothing wrong with lasting friendships, yet there comes a time when you must move beyond childhood friends or broaden your sphere of friends to add new ones who share your changing interests, attitudes, values or are in a career or vocation you aspire to. Join different types of groups, from those pertaining to hobbies and recreational activities, to travel, educational, sports and other desirable pursuits.

5.    Intimate relationships may suffer.

No doubt you know some individuals whose partners or spouses left them for someone more exciting, a companion who knew how to keep their interest and was brimming with life, active, happy and engaged in proactive pursuits. Who wouldn’t want to be with such a vibrant personality? When your daily life and interaction with the man or woman closest to you is just so-so, expect some turbulence ahead. Besides, life consists of change, some good, some heartbreaking, some in-between. Wouldn’t you want to share your deepest experiences with your loved one in a forthright and loving manner? This, however, requires that you step off the safe choice path and embark on a bit of a risk-taking journey. Most importantly, you must be willing to be vulnerable for true emotional intimacy. That’s a scary choice, yet one worth making.

6.    Potential goes unrealized.

How can you ever reach your true potential if you stay in the same course you’ve always taken? Not only do you forego the many opportunities that come your way because you won’t allow yourself to entertain them or don’t see them in the first place, you also have no idea just what you can become or how good your skills and talents are. Instead of wasting your potential, create your ideal scenario, what your life would look like if you achieved everything you ever wanted and more. This isn’t the end of striving to achieve your potential, just the beginning.

7.    Happiness remains an elusive goal.

If you remain stunted, lacking excitement, fearful of what you may discover by making bolder choices, still sticking with a safe daily routine, you may find that you’re always somewhat less happy than you’d like to be. This may be because happiness involves energy, involvement, challenging yourself and working to achieve desirable goals. Think of something you’d like to be successful at. Then, craft a plan and a strategy to achieve it. Start small, keeping in mind that success builds upon success. There’s plenty of time to get more creative after you’ve embarked on a path of smart and motivating choices in your decision-making.

8.    You’re never the go-to expert, only the go-along guy.

The employee who always takes the safe route, never going beyond what’s acceptable, customary and familiar, will never be a leader. Others will gravitate toward the individual who dares to be bold, who is engaging, or who is smart enough to recognize that what’s needed are new ideas with a likelihood to succeed. To counter a tendency to be middle-of-the-road in your work decision-making, try stepping a little outside your normal safe course of action. You won’t know how much of a difference it will make until you try.

9.    Nothing motivates you.

Like boredom, lack of motivation is a quick way to smother joy of life. Doing the same safe thing every day starts to look like a lifelong pattern. No wonder it’s difficult to get motivated to do anything, especially anything new. Remembering how jazzed you felt when you enthusiastically went after something you really wanted? Recapture that feeling and apply it to some new task or pursuit today. Positive motivation can be powerfully rewarding as a stepping-stone to success.

10. Success seems unattainable.

Speaking of success, if it always seems just out of reach, could the reason be that you’re always taking the safe route, making choices destined to create no waves – or cause any excitement? To succeed in anything, you must be willing to entertain risks – calculated ones, that is – to do the hard work despite minor or major setbacks, and to keep on even when you’d rather quit. The results will be worth the emotional journey you may experience in the process. For, as Socrates reportedly said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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To automatically get my posts, sign up for my RSS feed.   

Want to get my free newsletter? Sign up here to receive uplifting messages and daily positive quotes in my Daily Thoughts. You’ll also get the top self-help articles and stories of the week from my blog and more. I also invite you to like me on Facebook, follow me on LinkedIn,  TwitterInstagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Google+.

 

 

Surprising Research on Cannabis

Photo by Rick Proctor on Unsplash

Photo by Rick Proctor on Unsplash

Much of what we think we know about cannabis may soon change as a result of new research that uncovers some surprising facts. Indeed, the topic, which can be emotionally charged, is the focus of intense scientific study. Is cannabis good for you? Is it addictive? What long-term harms can use cause? The answers to these questions are multi-layered and not always clear-cut, which is why cannabis research continues with even more urgency.

FACTS ON CANNABIS ADDICTION AND DEPENDENCE

Current estimates are that one in 10 cannabis users will develop cannabis addiction or dependence. The potency of the delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive constituent in marijuana, in today’s cannabis is much higher than in years past. Besides traditional marijuana use, designer drugs created from synthetic cannabinoids are growing in popularity – along with increased concern for their unknown addiction potential and negative health effects. According to a report from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Addiction, at least 169 different synthetic cannabinoid compounds have been discovered since detection of the market’s first synthetic cannabinoid in 2008.

Using gene-based testing, four genes have been identified that are significantly associated with lifetime cannabis use:

  • Neural cell adhesion molecule 1 (NCAM1) – which is also associated with substance abuse
  • Cell adhesion molecule 2 (CADM2)
  • Potassium sodium-activated channel subfamily T member 2 (KCNT2)
  • Short coiled-coil protein (SCOC)

While vulnerability to starting cannabis use and developing cannabis use disorder (CUD) is heritable, other risk factors are believed to speed the transition. These risk factors include:

  • Age of first use of cannabis
  • Drug use by peers
  • Availability of drugs
  • Lower socioeconomic status
  • Childhood sexual abuse
  • Early adolescent smoking and/or drinking
  • Presence of pre- or comorbid psychiatric conditions — including mood disorders, psychosis, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Other studies found certain biological and personality traits – such as impulsivity, sensation-seeking, and schizotypy – are positively correlated with youths and young adults initiating cannabis use.

CANNABIS AFFECTS WOMEN DIFFERENTLY

Comprehensive research published in Frontiers in Behavioral Science outlines some fascinating details of the differences between men and women when it comes to the effect of cannabis. The bottom line is that women are more likely to become addicted to cannabis than men. In addition to genetic background and fluctuations in hormones, here are some of the study’s findings, using animal models:

  • Men are four times more likely than women to try cannabis.
  • Men are also more likely to use cannabis more frequently than their female counterparts.

The male sex steroids (including natural sex steroid testosterone and synthetic steroids such as nandrolone) increase risk-taking and suppress the reward system in the brain. This could explain why men are more willing to experiment with drugs, including cannabis.

Women, on the other hand, seem to be more vulnerable to developing an addiction to cannabis, at least on a neurochemical level. To put it plainly, females can transition from first use to habit more rapidly than men. The rodent studies showed researchers that the female hormone estradiol affects three targets of drug-taking: control of movement, filtering of sensory input to the brain, and social behavior. This occurs through modulation of the endocannabinoid system which, in turn, influences the production of estradiol.

In addition to different levels of endocannabinoids, female rats have more sensitive receptors than males in the specific brain areas related to the three drug-taking targets – plus, significant changes along the female rats’ menstrual cycle.

Researchers noted that the result is that “the interactions between the endocannabinoid system and brain level of dopamine – the neurotransmitter of ‘pleasure’ and ‘reward’ – are sex-dependent.”

They suggest that gaining a deeper understanding of how cannabinoids and sex steroids interact is both crucial to assess the effect of increasing cannabis use and to effectively deal with the results. For example, cannabis addiction detoxification treatments and relapse prevention may be gender-tailored for better effectiveness. Still, much further research needs to be done to make evidence-based progress in this area.

MARIJUANA EXTRACT CBD OFFERS PAIN RELIEF WITHOUT THE HIGH

For the millions of Americans suffering with chronic pain, there’s promising research that shows that pinpointing an effective dose of cannabidiol (CBD), an extract from the marijuana plant can provide safe relief from chronic pain minus the adverse effects of THC from marijuana. Researchers from Canada’s McGill University Health Centre, using animal models and administering low doses of CBD over a period of seven days reduced both pain and anxiety – two symptoms commonly associated with chronic or neuropathic pain. The researchers say this is encouraging evidence for the use of CBD over THC or opioids for pain management in conditions that include sciatica, diabetic cancer, back pain, chronic pain and pain that occurs post-trauma. CBD became legal in Canada in mid-October 2018, following passage of the country’s Cannabis Act. More robust clinical trials are needed, say researchers, for the kind of evidence-based proof of CBD’s effectiveness and safety to provide pain relief for humans.

In another study published in JAMA Psychiatry, researchers from Syracuse University found that cannabinoid drugs do not reduce the intensity of chronic pain, but they do perhaps make the pain feel more tolerable and less unpleasant. Even though 30 states allow medical marijuana use, cannabis is still a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance as classified by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). This presents significant challenges for research into the therapeutic effects of cannabis. As a result, there is a lack of high-quality evidence supporting the effectiveness of cannabis in treating chronic pain.

CANNABIS USE ACCELERATES BRAIN AGING

In the largest known imaging study of the brain, researchers affiliated with several California institutions, including Amen Clinics, Inc., Google, Inc., UCLA Medical Center, UCSF Medical Center, and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD, found that cannabis use is one of the drivers of accelerated brain aging. Using brain SPECT (single photon emission computer tomography) to evaluate 30,000 scans from individuals ranging in age from 9 months to 105 years, researchers say they can now track common disorders and behaviors that prematurely age the brain. Schizophrenia, for example, contributed to an average 4 year early brain aging, while cannabis abuse accelerated brain aging by 2.8 years. Other disorders found to amp up brain aging were bipolar disorder (1.6 years), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (1.4 years), and alcohol abuse (0.6 years). Researchers pointed out that the results of this study should give everyone pause, especially considering the current cultural perception that cannabis use is innocuous. They added that better treatment of these disorders could slow or even halt the brain aging process.

STONED DRIVING ON THE RISE

The most prevalent detected intoxicant in drivers in the United States isn’t alcohol, it’s THC. Approximately 13 percent of drivers tested positive for marijuana, compared with about 8 percent for measurable amounts of alcohol. Despite findings that cannabis intoxication (stoned driving) while driving impairs reaction time and visual-spatial judgement, a plurality of cannabis users believe that cannabis has no effect or decreases crash risk, while only 38 percent think that driving under the influence of cannabis increases crash risk. This underestimation of risks of cannabis intoxication plus current cannabis consumption trends suggest cannabis-impaired driving may significantly contribute to highway injury and death. Alcohol and other drugs combined with cannabis use may “more than additively” increase highway risk.

TEEN CANNABIS USE PRESENTS RISKS TO COGNITIVE DEVELOPMENT

Research published in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that adolescent cannabis use is associated with concurrent and lagged effect on cognitive functioning, such as working memory, memory recall, perceptual reasoning, and inhibitory control. The lasting effects of cannabis use on inhibitory control is particularly concerning, since inhibitory control is a risk factor for other addictive behaviors. Early onset of cannabis use during adolescence results in even more pronounced cognitive and behavioral effects. Researchers highlighted the importance of protecting youth from the adverse consequences of cannabis consumption through more investment in drug-prevention programs.

CANNABIS USE MAY INCREASE HYPERTENSION RISK OF DEATH THREE-FOLD

Research published in the European Journal of Cardiology has found a three-fold increased risk of death from hypertension due to cannabis use. Compared to non-users, marijuana users had a risk of hypertension death that was 3.42 times higher – and an additional 1.04 greater risk for each year of cannabis use. Researchers pointed out that this finding is not surprising, considering that marijuana use is known to have multiple effects on the cardiovascular system, including increases in heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen demand. Cases of heart attack and angina have been reported in hospital emergency departments after cannabis use. They cautioned that the cardiovascular risk associated with marijuana use may be even greater than the risk already established for cigarette smoking.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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To automatically get my posts, sign up for my RSS feed.   

Want to get my free newsletter? Sign up here to receive uplifting messages and daily positive quotes in my Daily Thoughts. You’ll also get the top self-help articles and stories of the week from my blog and more. I also invite you to like me on Facebook, follow me on LinkedIn,  TwitterInstagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Google+.

 

 

 

Limiting Time on Social Media Increases Well-Being

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

“Today, spend a little time cultivating relationships offline. Never forget that everybody isn’t on social media.” – Germany Kent

 

If you are among those who anxiously check the posts of your social media contacts because you obsessively have to know what’s going on in their world and can’t seem to curb your urge to remain riveted to your feed, new research on the negative effect of too much social media on well-being is worth reviewing.

I recently spoke with Melissa G. Hunt, one of the authors of “No More FOMO: Limiting Social Media Decreases Loneliness and Depression,” published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.

Hunt and her research colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania, in a 2018 study, alleged there is a causal link between usage of social media and loneliness and depression. They say that spending inordinate amounts of time on popular social networking sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat does more than connect users to their contacts. It’s also making them decidedly more miserable, promoting greater feelings of loneliness and depression.

During the period of the study, participants in the research significantly reduced their time on social media for about three weeks. The result was they reported reduced feelings of loneliness and depression.

Researchers said that the fear of missing out (FOMO) is what drives people to obsess over social media, spending extraordinary amounts of time in this sedentary activity. They strongly recommend limiting screen time to about 30 minutes a day, saying that this simple self-limiting measure may lead to “significant improvement in well-being.”

Why do people use social media, such as Facebook and Instagram, if it makes them feel lonelier and more depressed?

MGH: Social media companies hire experts whose job is to make the sites as appealing and addictive as possible.  For example, they use algorithms to ensure that you are getting “new” information, and “likes” on a variable ratio reinforcement schedule.  That is, things appear at intervals to reward you for logging on and spending time.

Social media also gives the appearance of engagement and intimacy and sites like Instagram promise to keep you up to speed on the latest trends.  Women have been reading “women’s” magazines for decades, and we know that reading them decreases self-esteem and increases body image concerns and self-loathing.  Certain types of social media are no different.

What do you say to those who complain that social media is essential in today’s world, that they can’t live without it? Isn’t this an impossible recommendation, suggesting people limit their time? Or, can they get the benefit of social media with less screen time?

MGH: It might be unrealistic to suggest foregoing social media completely (although I do).  That’s why we didn’t require that.  We just asked people to limit themselves to 30 minutes per day.  That’s more than enough time to catch up with friends, find out when your study group is meeting, and like your cousin’s cute kid picture.  It prevents going down the “rabbit hole” of clicking randomly, following celebrities, or cyber stalking your ex’s new flame.

How do you wean yourself off social media? Any quick tips?

MGH: Self-monitoring seems to help.  Although we didn’t study them, apps that increase your awareness of how much you’re using (like In Moment and Space) may well help people become more mindful and self-aware.

Do you know of other studies that document how social media fuels loneliness and depression?

MGH: There are many correlational studies out there that establish the association, and a number that suggest that social media fosters social comparison that makes you feel bad about your own life, and FOMO that makes you aware of all the things you weren’t invited to and weren’t included in.

I think that social media tends to foster inauthentic connection.  True intimacy involves sharing both life’s highlights and the terrible times.  Things you’re proud of, and things you’re sad or anxious or embarrassed about.  Social media tends to reward only the highlights, and that doesn’t lead to true intimacy or social support.

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SUGGESTED WAYS TO LIMIT SCREEN TIME.

It’s not all dire. You don’t have to completely withdraw from social media. Indeed, according to the University of Pennsylvania’s Hunt, you can reap the benefits of moderate limitations on your social media consumption. The next and most obvious question is, how do you limit social media time? Here are some suggestions.

Get an app for that.

Apple, the maker of perhaps the most popular smartphone in the world, recently made an update available that helps its users set limits on certain apps they use and track those that take up so much of their time. The update section this pertains to is called Screen Time.

Meanwhile, there are several apps that allow users to limit how much time they’re using their phones. These, of course, vary in terms of how intensely you limit phone time.

Yet another potential help for limiting social media time is the use of browser extensions such as StayFocusd, available through the Chrome web store. The idea is that users are allowed a certain amount of time on the website and then the screen is locked – and there’s no way back in. Check out the so-called “nuclear option” that prevents users from going into a specific website altogether. Now, that is a bit extreme, but it is out there.

Exert self-discipline.

Not everyone is blessed with the ability to not only set limits on how much social media time they’ll engage in, but actually follow through with the discipline it takes to do so effectively. Think of all the other things you could be doing instead of frittering away hours poring over likes, comments, postings and the like. Maybe enlist a trusted friend, a loved one or family member to get you out of the house and doing something in real time, with live people (not digital connections). What a concept!

Disable (temporarily) all social media notifications.

Another helpful way to curb your constant social media obsession (if not quite social media addiction) is to turn off or disable the notifications from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social media time-wasting sites. No more suffering through the anxiety-provoking habit of having to instantly reply to every notification. This doesn’t have to be a permanent deletion, just a temporary pause to allow you to get back in the realm of living in the present and interacting with real people.

Go colorless.

In the world of social media, just as in any websites, advertising, TV programs and other forms of media that grab attention, color is king. The brighter the color, the more enticing, right? As an experiment to see if this can help you ratchet down your social media consumption, use grayscale to make the sites less attractive. When everything is in shades of gray, it’s easier to forego the temptation to linger there. On iPhones, hit settings, general, accessibility, display accommodations, color filters (turn this on), and then grayscale. That’s it, you’ve made your screen colorless.

Get rid of your phone – or leave it home.

A bit more extreme is the suggestion you ditch your phone completely. Like that would ever happen in today’s always-on society. You could try leaving it at home while you go out for a walk. That would give you a social-media breather at least. It might even persuade you that you don’t need to be tethered to your phone. After all, you’re not really missing out on anything. All that social media interaction will still be there after you return from a well-deserved (and much-needed) break.

Make it a point to be with people who appreciate you for who you are.

Nobody’s perfect. Each of us has flaws and traits we’d like to minimize, as well as talents we wish we had or accomplishments we’d love to broadcast. The problem with too much time wasted on social media is that everybody else looks better than we do. That’s not reality and it certainly does nothing for our self-esteem. A proven remedy to increase well-being is also one of the easiest to implement: Spend time with those who appreciate you for who you are. Laugh together. Share a meal. Go to a movie. Garden, spend time in nature, take in a concert, do various types of activities together. In fact, once you resurrect the in-person kind of communication, you’ll find that digital connections are a pale and distant substitute.

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A version of this article was originally published on Psych Central. However, the interview with Melissa G. Hunt is new.

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To automatically get my posts, sign up for my RSS feed.   

Want to get my free newsletter? Sign up here to receive uplifting messages and daily positive quotes in my Daily Thoughts. You’ll also get the top self-help articles and stories of the week from my blog and more. I also invite you to like me on Facebook, follow me on LinkedIn,  TwitterInstagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Google+.

 

 

 

New Research on Gambling Use Disorder

Photo by Benjamin Lambert on Unsplash

Photo by Benjamin Lambert on Unsplash

“Gambling: The sure way of getting nothing from something.” – Wilson Mizner

 

Who doesn’t enjoy a game of chance now and then? Trying your luck on an inexpensive lottery ticket can seem innocent enough, and might even net you considerable return. Spurred on by the lure of winning the big jackpot through television, radio, Internet, newspaper and other media ads may even prompt you to spend more than you intended. And it’s not just lottery tickets that people become hooked on but other forms of gambling as well: horse racing, slot machines, card games, sports betting. It should come as no surprise, then, that gambling use disorder (GUD) has steadily gained prominence as another form of addiction.

New research on gambling addiction and GUD is both illuminating, troubling, and promising with respect to prevention, treatment and recovery.

Gambling Officially Recognized in DSM-5 as Behavioral Addiction

The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) took gambling out of the “Impulse Control Disorder” section and reclassified gambling disorder as part of the expanded section covering “Substance-related and Addictive Disorders.” With this action, gambling disorder is the first non-substance behavioral addiction. A 2016 review in Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation examined the similarities and differences between gambling disorder and substance use disorders (SUDs) and found many shared characteristics, some of which include diagnostic criteria, comorbidity, genetic and physiological factors, even approaches to treatment.

Suicide Rates Increasing Among Those with Gambling Disorder

While previous research found that gambling disorder appeared to be an independent risk factor for suicide, and few studies looked at all-cause mortality as it relates to gambling disorder, 2018 research published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions explored both mortality and suicide rates in those with gambling disorder and the general population, as well as risk factors associated with mortality due to suicide and all causes. Their findings showed significantly elevated rates of mortality and suicide among those with gambling disorder. Furthermore, even though common comorbid mental health issues did not predict overall mortality, depression was found to predict suicide death. Researchers suggested that medical and mental health professionals pay attention to long-term risk of death in their patients with gambling disorder and promote effective interventions for mental health and other comorbid conditions.

Personality Disorders Consistently Associated with Pathological Gambling

In 2017 review published in Current Opinion in Psychiatry, researchers found a strong association between pathological gambling and personality disorders. They noted that studies consistently showed that the presence of a personality disorder is associated with severity of gambling and early age of onset of pathological gambling. Researchers called for further research on pathological gambling that goes beyond merely estimating rates of personality disorders and instead concentrate on longitudinal research to understand both the pathways between personality disorders and the early onset and severity of pathological gambling.

Disordered Gamblers Seeking Treatment Frequently Have Psychological Distress

What used to be called problem gambling or pathological gambling is now generally referred to as disordered gambling, according to several sources, including the New York Council on Problem Gambling. A 2017 study published in the Journal on Gambling Studies examined psychological distress as an indicator of co-occurring psychopathology among disordered gamblers seeking treatment. They found evidence of severe gambling pathology among those with greater levels of psychological distress. Furthermore, greater scores of psychological distress was found to significantly predict anxiety, depression, and deviancy. Researchers suggested that clinicians treating disordered gamblers may want to conduct a brief screening to check for the presence of co-occurring psychopathology, especially with reference to measures of psychological distress. The results could greatly aid clinicians in determining effective treatment approaches for disordered gamblers with psychological distress.

Co-morbid PTSD and Gambling-Related Cognitions: How They Affect Treatment

A 2018 study published in Addictive Behaviors looked at the association of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and gambling disorder in individuals with both conditions. Researchers sought to determine how PTSD might be related to specific gambling-related cognitions in terms of expression and experience. Hypothesizing that those with symptoms of PTSD (or symptoms of PTSD, even if undiagnosed) would show greater erroneous beliefs and cognitive distortions about gambling, researchers found the study participants consistently reported greater gambling-related cognitions. This led researchers to suggest that PTSD is uniquely associated with increased levels of cognitive distortions and erroneous beliefs about gambling and, further, that the findings both add to current understanding about the relation of PTSD and gambling to each other and to treatment of those diagnosed with the co-morbid conditions.

Other 2018 research published in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors postulated that PTSD symptoms were likely to be associated with unique beliefs about types of gambling behavior and unique motivations to gamble. Researchers studying two groups, an inpatient group of U.S. Armed Forces veterans in treatment for gambling disorder and an online sample of gambling adults found that symptoms of PTSD were related to positive expectancies for gambling and consistently associated with greater coping mechanisms for gambling for both sample groups. Researchers said that the high co-morbidity of symptoms of PTSD and gambling disorder are likely of interest for clinicians treating individuals for either PTSD or gambling disorder (or both).

Flashing Casino Lights/Sounds: Influence Risky Decision-making and Promote Problem Gambling?

Research published in the Journal of Neuroscience indicates a possible connection between the sensory cues of flashing lights and sounds in casinos and increased risky decision-making, potentially even promoting problem gambling behavior. Researchers from the University of British Columbia found that individual choices were less influenced by the odds of winning when the gambling environment featured the audio and visual sensory cues. In other words, they took more risks in gambling despite the odds. Researchers suggested that the findings might help explain why individuals continue to gamble even though the odds of winning are against them. In addition, they said that gambling sights and sounds are far from innocuous and may form an important piece of the puzzle surrounding gambling addiction in that such environmental cues encourage risky decision-making and bias attention.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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Best Way to Effect Change

Best Way to Effect Change

Photo by Artem Sapegin on Unsplash

 

“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” – Wayne Dyer

 

When something’s not right and you want it to change, there are several ways to go about it. No doubt you want to tailor your actions, so they reflect the best way to effect change. While taking the initiative and acting may be the quickest and most efficient approach, there are some caveats to consider. You might not have all the facts, for example, or what you do know may be distorted by perception or long-held belief. It is also quite possible that your viewpoint is skewed, thus leading to erroneous conclusions and poor judgment.

Considering that there are always going to be situations and instances where change is desirable, as well as times when only you can do something about what needs changing, perhaps the best way to effect personal and situational change is by changing the way you look at things.

Granted, this isn’t easy to do, especially if you grew up in an atmosphere of rigid compliance where any testing of authority was not tolerated, and you were constrained to act within certain boundaries. Questioning the status quo may feel like anathema now that you’re an adult may feel like an impossible task, one that you’re loathe to entertain. A little-known yet very powerful way to begin to assert your independence is by thinking outside the box you were put in when growing up.

Suppose you were always called stupid and told you’d never amount to anything. Many well-meaning parents fall into the trap of being overly critical of their children, perhaps projecting their own insecurities while wanting in good faith to ensure their offspring have a better life. That their thoughtless remarks and labels have the opposite effect may never occur to them, at least without parenting counseling. That kind of cruelty on the part of parents, siblings or others is enough to stunt anyone’s growth. Finding your own path under such circumstances was likely difficult because you believed the criticism was right. Difficult, but not impossible.

Maybe you’ve attempted to change things in your life and failed repeatedly. This also tends to put a damper on any motivation to seek further change. Again, the prospects for self-change are difficult, yet not impossible.

It is important to note that there is no directive of human behavior that requires any individual to steadfastly accept their circumstance. You have the power to effect change for yourself above all else. It doesn’t matter if you grew up impoverished, in a dysfunctional family, with no support system, suffering childhood illness, mental health disorder or some other condition. Nor does an upbringing in an affluent household guarantee the ability to enact change, even if such changed is steadfastly desired. What is necessary, however, no matter the circumstances or conditions under which you grew up, is the willingness to put aside old beliefs and negativity and look at the world around you with open eyes and an unbiased heart.

Is there a wrong you seek to make amends for? What about an injustice you believe came about as the result of your actions? What avenues can you take to create a better life for yourself than that which you came into the world to? Can you find the path to follow to achieve greater success? Is it possible to mend your ways, repair your reputation, begin to love again, heal damaged relationships, find a way to balance work and home, explore your true potential and achieve almost any goal?

You bet there is.

If you are willing to cast aside the barriers and suspend judgment so that you can take in the reality that is now, you may be surprised that what you thought was so, what seemed impossible to change, is false. What is available to you, what you can change, will not only astound but also invigorate you.

How to get started with a plan.

Once you’ve cast aside beliefs that may have held you back in the past and resolved to move forward with determination and enthusiasm, you still need a plan. Venturing forth without a firm grasp of the change you’d like to effect, or a timetable to help guide your actions and help you stay the course, or a guide to refer to so you know if you are making progress or not, the mere desire to effect change will stall. To help you navigate effecting change, your plan must consist of the following:

  • The plan must be motivating, a course of action that you can not only see yourself taking, but one that fills you with vigor and excitement. The more internally motivated you are, the more likely your chances of success. “If you can dream it, you can do it.” – Walt Disney

 

  • It must be workable, a blueprint that you readily accept and believe yourself capable of putting into action. Deciding on a plan that’s going to put you in a position of tackling goals currently far out of reach is not the way to go. You need incremental stages, perhaps smaller goals or ones that are shorter in duration, before you can feel confident of your ability to take on harder goals or ones that require skills you don’t now possess. “Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities. Without reasonable but humble confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy.” – Norman Vincent Peale

 

  • To increase likelihood of success, the plan must consider potential hurdles and contain alternate scenarios and courses of action. Weigh each one according to its merits, gauging how close it gets you to your goal. “I have a number of alternatives, and each one gives me something different.” – Glenn Hoddle

 

  • The plan must also be modifiable, a guide that you can modify as conditions or needs change, or you’ve attained the goal and want to proceed to something else. Being constrained to a rigid plan is a quick recipe for disappointment and abandonment of the impetus to change. “Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.” – Tony Robbins

Expect the unexpected when proceeding to effect change. To the extent that you can bounce back from setbacks, learn from your mistakes and missteps and find the lesson that’s often hidden within seeming failure, you’ll be developing and enhancing resilience, a crucial self-strength that allows you to overcome life-changing situations and stressful circumstances.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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How to Do the Right Thing

How to Do the Right Thing

Photo by Fabien Bazanegue on Unsplash

 

“With integrity, you have nothing to fear, since you have nothing to hide. With integrity, you will do the right thing, so you will have no guilt.” – Zig Ziglar

 

When faced with deciding on how to act, sometimes the toughest part is figuring out how to do the right thing. Of course, how you view the right thing, what you think of as the right thing, makes all the difference. And this is often not clear. You may experience conflicting emotions, feel ambivalent about potential choices, or strongly for or against certain action – whether you are convinced that it either is or isn’t the right thing to do. How, then, can you make an informed choice and be confident that you’ll do the right thing?

Start with integrity.

Merriam-Webster defines integrity as, “firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values.” The word refers to moral or ethical strength and the quality of being honest. When you start with integrity, you are being true to your core values, not straying to conform with popular opinion. Acting in integrity is not always easy, for there are shortcuts that will speed the process that may sabotage the outcome, even as they provide a quicker path to the result. Without integrity, you may feel remorseful and guilty at an unfair or unfavorable result, while you have no cause for such negative thoughts when you act in accordance with your beliefs. Ask yourself first what you know in your heart feels right. Your mind may rush in with excuses or propose different courses of action, but your integrity will never fail you.

What about when the right thing isn’t so obvious, or when it’s decidedly against prevailing opinion? If you must act in opposition to what others think or do, will you be considered a disruptor, an outsider, someone to keep at a distance, decry, criticize? Temporarily experiencing discomfort when you do the right thing is likely something you can weather without too much difficulty. The key is to be comfortable with your choice. Again, when you start with integrity and follow through with action that reflects your integrity, you’re reinforcing your commitment to truth, justice and honor.

Be considerate how your actions will affect others.

Recognize that people may not agree with your action, even if they approve of the intent of your decision. Think through the possible ramifications of your action and how they will affect others, as well as how your actions may make them feel. This does not mean you compromise your desire to do what is right, although it may allow you to incorporate softening effects into your action.

For example, if a co-worker consistently shows up to the job with alcohol on his or her breath, or exhibits other signs of drug or alcohol addiction, you may not want to notify human resources, but it is the right thing to do. Your colleague needs professional help, and this may be the necessary wake-up call so that he or she can get the detox and psychotherapy it will take to get clean and sober. If it’s a family member you believe is in distress from substance abuse, poly-drug use, and/or mental health disorder such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other conditions and could benefit from counseling and treatment of some kind, figuring out a compassionate way to approach him/her and the specific language to use may somewhat ease the shock of your words. Note that those suffering from drug and/or alcohol abuse are often expert in denial. Also, you cannot force anyone to get treatment, no matter how desperately it is needed. You can only be there with your support and love and encourage your loved one to seek help. Know that family support is crucial in recovery from substance use and mental health disorders.

Stop worrying what others think.

Suppose you know that what you’re about to do will aggravate, infuriate, confuse or surprise others. Despite being the right thing to do, you fear the retaliation and disapproval that will follow. There’s no point to stewing over what others think. They’re going to vent their emotions, let you know their opinion, maybe even steer clear of you for a while. Stop worrying what they think. What’s more important is to be at peace with your actions.

What about loved ones and family members who take offense or retaliate with rejection, harsh words or withdrawing of affection over your actions they deem harmful to them in some way? The sting may be onerous, yet if you truly believe you’ve done the right thing, you must be able to live with your decision. The offended loved one or family member may come around, even thank you later, although it is also true they may hold resentment for your do-good actions.

There is also a bright side of doing the right thing, however, taking action that others don’t expect, and that is the opportunity for them to see you in a different light, to rethink their perception of you. When you do the right thing, you’re also giving yourself a boost in self-esteem. Knowing what’s right and doing it are the hallmarks of personal integrity.

Doing the right thing can be contagious.

Standing up for what’s right can inspire others to take similar action, to step out of their comfort zone and act in accordance with core beliefs and values. While you may initially feel alone in choosing the course of action you firmly believe is the right thing to do, your example may encourage others to follow your lead. First one, then another, then a few more may do the right thing. Your action can precipitate contagious behavior. Yet, even if it doesn’t, you are content with your decision, knowing that you acted with integrity and followed through to do the right thing. You can lead by example, even if others decide not to emulate your behavior.

 

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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What Does Your Apology Say About You?

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Why It’s Good That You’re Not Perfect

Why Its Good That Youre Not Perfect

Photo by Monica Galentino on Unsplash

“Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life. Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.” — Brené Brown

 

It’s practically a universal fact that almost everyone wants to get ahead. If I’m being honest, I must confess that I do. Even though I’m no longer striving to achieve a lofty career goal at a large corporation, I still have goals and want to succeed at them. It’s just that striving for recognition, money and advancement is no longer at the top of my wish list. I used to want that more than anything. Now I prefer to live a life of abundance: of spirit, joy, surrounded by loving family and friends, healthy, content and curious, willing to go out of my way to help others, to rejoice in the goodness of others.

I also know that I’m not perfect. The fact that I can readily admit that alleviates a certain amount of tension.

Trying too hard to be perfect never gets you anywhere. I learned that a long time ago. Granted, you make mistakes. Everyone does. Some of mine have been colossal blunders, while others were the result of being too hasty or careless or skipping some steps in pursuit of a goal. After beating myself up about it, I finally figured out that such hyper self-criticism was a waste of time. It made more sense to determine the lesson from the failure, if for no other reason than to not repeat it again. But perfectionism, trying to be perfect? According to experts, that’s an impossibility and a losing strategy.

On the other hand, striving to do better is an effective approach. With a worthwhile goal providing motivation, healthy striving can lead to a richer and more fulfilling life. I’ve found that to be true with goals large and small, some more immediate and others requiring considerable time and effort to achieve.

Suppose you’re not very good at math and want to become more proficient. Or you want to train yourself to be better at differentiating differences and spotting changes, as in identifying what’s different in a field of changing icons and images in a brain teaser game online. With diligent practice and the belief that you can improve your skill, you do indeed get better. That’s not trying to be perfect but striving to improve. The former is a hopeless pursuit, the latter laudable and likely to succeed.

In an average day, most of us experience a few disappointments, make the wrong turn, put the wrong ingredient in a recipe, rush through a quiz and make a few mistakes, forget what we were going to say, say the right thing at the wrong time or the wrong thing at the right time. These are examples of what we’d consider a failure, blunder, mistake or stupid move. With the mindset that always demands perfectionism, we’re likely to continue to spiral down, never quite making the mark and sinking deeper into a less hopeful and more negative state of mind.

In contrast, by taking mistakes, disappointments and failures in stride and striving to do better, we’re bolstering our resilience, maintaining good balance and promoting a healthy way of living. Sure, it may take practice to overcome a tendency to get things right every time, as well as learning to ignore the comments from others about “Better luck next time.” This is especially true if perfectionism has become ingrained and those who know you expect you to be perfect all the time.

Having witnessed a few friends and acquaintances who’ve succumbed to the tantalizing and wrong siren song of perfectionism – and coming close myself on one or two occasions – I know that the preferred and much more effective and satisfying way to live is to engage in healthy pursuit of achievable goals.

If you tend to believe the same way I do, you’re not perfect – hooray! Neither am I, thankfully. Life is so much more enjoyable this way and that’s why it’s good that you’re not perfect. Keep in mind, though, that just because you’ve let go of pursuit of perfectionism does not mean you relinquish your goals. Adding incrementally to your strengths, skills and accomplishments boosts your self-confidence and self-esteem and intensifies your sense of purpose in life.

 

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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What Does Your Apology Say About You?

Photo by Will O on Unsplash

Photo by Will O on Unsplash

 

“A meaningful apology is one that communicates three R’s: regret, responsibility and remedy.” – Beverly Engel

 

When you say that you’re sorry to another person whom you’ve wronged, or who believes you’ve wronged them, what does your apology say about you? Is that even important? Doesn’t the fact that you deliver the apology in the first place hold greater weight? After all, an apology should be about the person harmed, not the offender. While the apology has been much studied, not much literature exists about the effects of the apology on the apologist. Maybe it’s time that someone study that.

“I’m sorry.” But, do I really mean it?

Countless times each day we hear people say, “I’m sorry.” We say it when we inadvertently cut in front of someone to get into a door, when we bump into them in line, when we’re taking too long to order, and the queue of customers continues out the door. While we may mean what we’re saying, we likely don’t consciously think about the words. We just say them out of habit. Not that being quick to acknowledge the wrong or perceived wrong is bad, it may just be perceived as insincere – if it’s even overtly acknowledged. What’s the other person going to say, anyway? Unless they’ve got a wild hair, are easily angered, impatient or just rude, they won’t call you out on your behavior. But maybe we really don’t mean it. Others may notice, or they may have become so used to such feigned apologies that it doesn’t faze them anymore.

Timing is everything when you deliver your apology.

It’s a familiar quote, “Timing is everything.” Whether in whole or as part of a longer quote, the exact words have been uttered by sports professionals, entertainers, business executives, Internet sensations, religious leaders, politicians, chefs and others. There must be a germ of truth in the statement. In fact, there is, according to research.

Aaron Lazare, author of a book about the apology, and others have said that effective apologies generally share certain underlying features, the most important of which is timing of the apology. Lazare also said this about apologies: “One of the most profound human interactions is the offering and accepting of apologies.” Early and delayed apologies, if heartfelt, can be equally effective.

A 2013 study published in the Western Journal of Communication, “Effects of Timing and Sincerity of an Apology on Satisfaction and Changes in Negative Feelings During Conflicts,” found variability in satisfaction of recipients of apologies relative to timing. Earlier apologies resulted in greater satisfaction in being understood during the communication in conflicts that could have gone past 10 minutes. On the other hand, later apologies were deemed more satisfying communications when delivered in less than 10 minutes of conflict discussions. One author noted that apologizing too frequently “becomes background noise.”

The lesson to take away here is to make a determined effort to be forthright in your apology, considering how and when best to deliver it so that the recipient is both ready to receive it and you can communicate honestly and empathetically.

It’s not about you, but an apology you make does affect you.

Granted, an apology is supposed to be about the other person, not you. Yet, the affect your apology has on you is often overlooked. To be more in touch with your motives, as well as your humility and humanity, it’s first wise to understand the basis and purpose of the apology. In an important study on apology by Cynthia Frantz of Oberlin College, “Better Late Than Early: The Influence of Timing on Apology Effectiveness,” the author reminds us to be more focused on the person we’re apologizing to than ourselves. The point is that you want to be reassuring to the point that he or she believes you sincerely understand your wrong. In addition, without acknowledging the wronged person’s emotional state, your apology likely will fall flat, being received as insincere.

However, it’s also worth noting that once you focus your intentions and fashion your words, giving appropriate thought to the timing and place to deliver your apology, you’re engaging in proactive behavior that will have an emotional effect on the recipient as well as you. You know you’ve followed through on a substantive issue, even at some pain, shame and embarrassment on your part. It feels good to lift this burden and you can move on from here.

If you blurt out the apology with no consideration of when and how it’s delivered, though, it likely says something quite different about you, perhaps that you’re more concerned with getting this off your mind than caring how it’s received. Other potential reflections of you as a person because of this ill-conceived and half-heartedly delivered apology could be that you’re self-centered, superficial, and overly consumed with appearances than substance.

Sex makes a difference, apparently.

It seems that men apologize less frequently than women, and that they report fewer offenses they believe they’ve committed. That’s according to a 2010 study published in Psychological Sciences, “Why women apologize more than men: gender differences in thresholds for perceiving offensive behavior.” Another study found that men apologized more frequently to women than other men.

A side note is that hallmark traits of psychopaths include lack of empathy, lack of remorse or guilt, no matter how much they hurt others, failure to accept responsibility, pathological lying and shallow affect, among others. If a psychopath does offer an apology, it’s usually to exert control or manipulate the other person, as they are masters at both.

How to deliver a heartfelt, genuine apology.

You want to be earnest, honest, empathetic, concerned and compassionate when you’ve hurt someone by your actions or words and want to offer an apology. What does a real apology look like? It’s all the former and a few more necessary ingredients. A real apology must contain the following:

  • Delivered with appropriate timing.
  • Acknowledgement of the hurt you have caused.
  • Recounting the incident in detail – so the wronged person knows you know what you’ve done wrong.
  • Taking responsibility for the situation.
  • Recognizing your part in the event.
  • Stating your regret.
  • Asking for forgiveness.
  • Promising that it will not happen again.

Note that in some situations where you’ve wronged another, an apology is not complete unless and until you also make appropriate restitution.

 

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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How to Remain Focused in an Increasingly Distracting World

How to Remain Focused in an Increasingly Distracting World

Photo by Rodion Kutsaev on Unsplash

“One way to boost our will power and focus is to manage our distractions instead of letting them manage us.” – William Goleman

 

I know I’m not alone in being easily distracted. In fact, with the proliferation of smartphones, smart TVs and other home devices, I’d venture a guess that all this burgeoning availability and use of technology contributes to societal distraction, not the opposite. Indeed, it’s so easy to succumb to the siren call of an incoming tweet or message, to pore through social media for hours to see what’s happening, to feel included, in the know, popular and liked that zeroing in on tasks at hand or what’s really important today can get lost in the competition for our attention.

After missing a few deadlines and failing to accomplish more than one pressing task, I embarked on a mission to teach myself how to remain focused – despite the lure of incessant distractions around me. Maybe some of the tips I’ve discovered that worked for me will help you find focus as well.

Take a personal time-out.

No, this isn’t a recommendation to go sit in a corner as punishment for bad behavior. On the contrary, when you opt for a personal time-out, what you’re doing is opening space to clear your mind and allow focus to return. I find that taking my time-out is most useful when I can feel my heart rate increase, my breath becomes shallower, and I sense the pressure of not enough time to get something done. In fact, it’s at these times that taking a pause is the best way to address digital distraction overload – literally.

During a personal time-out, it’s important to do nothing. That means no multi-tasking jotting notes, listening to TV news, reading emails, posting on social media, doing laundry or whatever. Put aside everything else and be in a quiet place where you can let your mind go blank. I like meditation, although yoga is also a great practice to utilize. As difficult as this may be for always-on-the-go and ever-connected individuals, stopping the whirlwind distractions for a short time is the only way to calm the noise and regain balance, equilibrium and sense of well-being. Trust me, after some trial-and-error, you’ll find this technique works. When you return to your day, you’ll likely be better rested and even find solutions or answers to problems or questions pop into your head without effort – almost as if they only needed the space to come out and be noticed.

Learn self-discipline.

Discipline often gets a bad rap, associated for years with punishment doled out by parents, educators, law enforcement, the court system and others. Yet, discipline is an integral part of learning, self-growth and success. Without discipline, no one would ever learn the multiplication tables or why you shouldn’t bang your sister over the head when she snatches your toys. The discipline to continue higher education by taking a series of ever-more complex and difficult courses is required to achieve a desired degree. It’s much the same way when it comes to self-discipline and how that can help you regain focus in today’s distracting and distracted world.

How does self-discipline in this context work? Take losing yourself in social media for hours as an example of distraction that erodes focus. Using self-discipline as a technique here means setting and adhering to limits on time spent with this activity. It must be something meaningful and workable in order to work, however, or you won’t wind up benefitting. If you say you’ll only devote one hour per day to social media, and it will be late afternoon once you’ve finished work, reward yourself with unfettered access to your social media for that allocated hour. Do not allow yourself to be tempted to sneak in a few furtive peeks when you’re supposed to be engaged in other tasks – like work, school, tending to the kids.

Now, the fact that research shows that teens spend up to nine hours per day using social media platforms and adults devote 4.7 hours per day on smartphone and other connected devices only shows how formidable the pressure of nonstop distractions is. Combatting this obsession will require cultivating some measure of self-discipline. The ultimate reward, though, when you exercise self-discipline to be gadget-free will be your ability to focus and remain focused when you need to.

Reap the benefits of family face-to-face communication and interaction.

The joke about family disconnection that’s not funny is played out daily in homes throughout the country. Mother, father and kids are at the dinner table and everyone’s on their smartphone. Communication between family members is often via text – while in the same room, ostensibly sharing a meal! Talk about lost opportunity for family bonding, parents and children sharing their day’s experiences.

Where all this broke down is anyone’s guess, but it likely had much to do with the proliferation of smartphones and the skyrocketing popularity of social media. Instead of face-to-face dialogue, where differences can be ironed out in real-time and by using visual and auditory clues, emojis and abbreviated language and shortcuts sabotage genuine conversation for a quick exchange, albeit less satisfying.

Granted, kids may not want to look their parents in the eye when they’ve gotten a bad report card, got caught speeding, or mom and dad are likely to grill them on their friends, who’s going to chaperone the party they want to attend and so on. For their part, parents may much rather issue vague generalities or denials of anything wrong than let on to the kids. Hiding from the truth, however, in this form as well as others, does nothing to confront and solve problems. Least of all, it aids and abets resorting to distractions as a coping mechanism.

How about instilling a family rule that says there’s no use of technology at the dinner table? Be prepared for intense opposition, even for yourself, as curbing the use of smartphones and such won’t be easy. Tell yourself that the benefits of seeing and hearing what’s really going on instead of getting it third-hand will be more than worth the temporary separation from the distraction of tech devices. After all, for many families, mealtime is the only block of time they share. Make it free of distracting interruptions. Make this family time count by focusing on what’s real and happening now.

 

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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