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Tue, 26 Mar 2019
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Phoenix

Five revelations for finding your true calling, according to psychology

college students
"Look. You can't plan out your life. What you have to do is first discover your passion-what you really care about." Barack Obama, as quoted by David Gergen (cited in Jachimowicz et al, 2018).

Last Saturday, the first of two BPS career events took place - "perfect for anyone looking to discover where psychology can take them in their chosen career." A second follows in London on Dec 4. If, like many, you are searching for your calling in life - perhaps you are still unsure whether psychology is for you, or which area of the profession aligns with what you most care about - here are five digested research findings worth taking into consideration:

There's a difference between having a harmonious passion and an obsessive passion

If you can find a career path or occupational goal that fires you up, you are more likely to succeed and find happiness through your work - that much we know from a deep research literature. But beware - since a seminal paper published in 2003 by the Canadian psychologist Robert Vallerand and his colleagues, researchers have made an important distinction between having a harmonious passion and an obsessive one. If you feel that your passion or calling is out of control, and that your mood and self-esteem depend on it, then this is the obsessive variety, and such passions, while they are energising, are also associated with negative outcomes like burnout and anxiety. In contrast, if your passion feels in control, reflects qualities that you like about yourself, and complements other important activities in your life, then this is the harmonious version, which is associated with positive outcomes, such as vitality, better work performance, experiencing flow, and positive mood.

Comment: And what if you don't have a true calling or any goals? This might be a good place to start:




People

The prolonged suffering of avoidant grievers

distressed woman
A new study between published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience demonstrates that avoidant grievers unconsciously monitor and block the contents of their mind-wandering, constantly protecting themselves from thinking about their loss.

People who are grieving a major loss, such as the death of a spouse or a child, use different coping mechanisms to carry on with their lives. Psychologists have been able to track different approaches, which can reflect different clinical outcomes. One approach that is not usually successful is avoidant grief, a state in which people suffering from grief show marked, effortful, repeated, and often unsuccessful attempts to stop themselves from thinking about their loss. While researchers have shown that avoidant grievers consciously monitor their external environment in order to avoid reminders of their loss, no one has yet been able to show whether these grievers also monitor their mental state unconsciously, trying to block any thoughts of loss from rising to their conscious state.

A new collaborative study between Columbia Engineering and Columbia University Irving Medical Center published in SCAN: Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience demonstrates that avoidant grievers do unconsciously monitor and block the contents of their mind-wandering, a discovery that could lead to more effective psychiatric treatment for bereaved people suffering from impairing or pathological grief. The researchers, who studied 29 bereaved subjects, are the first to show how this unconscious thought suppression occurs. They tracked ongoing processes of mental control as loss-related thoughts came in and out of conscious awareness during a 10-minute period of mind-wandering.

Comment: See also:


Snowman

A lovely but pernicious story: How the self-esteem myth has damaged society

self-esteem


Will Storr is an award-winning journalist and novelist. His work has appeared in outlets such as the Guardian, the Sunday Times, the New Yorker, and Esquire. His latest book is
Selfie: How We Became so Self-Obsessed and What it's Doing to Us. As a psychologist who studies the self and related topics, I was excited to read the book and was not disappointed. I highly recommend it. Below is an interview I conducted with Mr. Storr about Selfie.

Clay Routledge: What made you interested in researching and writing a book focused on the self?

Will Storr: My previous book, The Unpersaudables, was an investigation into how intelligent people come to believe crazy things. It focused on the ways we become intellectually stuck. I concluded that we don't really choose the things we believe-at least not those things that are core to our worldview. What we believe is just part of the accident of who we are. In an important way, our core beliefs and our self are indivisible.

But this was also a slightly unsatisfying answer, because clearly people do change. I became curious about how this happens and began focusing, in my journalism, on people who'd changed their minds. One of these people was the eminent psychologist Professor Roy Baumeister who used to be a believer in the self-esteem myth. Not only did he change his mind, he was an important figure in proving to the world that the idea, which was dominant at the time, was wrong.

CR: What is the self-esteem movement and how did it come about?

WS: Its proponents believed self-esteem was a "social vaccine" that could cure us of a vast array of problems, and to make us more successful and competitive in our working lives. At its simplest, it said that in order to become amazing we must believe we're amazing. It helped change the way we raised and taught our children.

At the heart of Selfie is a deep investigation into one of its main proponents, a politician named John Vasconcellos, and his government mandated task force to look into self-esteem. He told the world that the scientific part of his investigation confirmed that high self-esteem was, indeed, a social vaccine. I tracked down former members and spent weeks pouring through their archives and found that he'd deliberately lied and attempted to cover up about what the science really showed-which was no causative link between self-esteem and good outcomes.

SOTT Logo Radio

The Truth Perspective: The Myth of Symptoms: Why Most People Are Actually Mentally Ill

Anxiety
For many people the term mental health is synonymous with the absence of symptoms. With this outlook our mental health rests in positive emotion, our ability to cope, maintain emotional balance, and adjust to the world and society. Viewing mental health in such a way leaves little room for good or evil, high or low, or better or worse ways of adjusting, or of experiencing certain symptoms. So what would a psychology of value look like, and how mentally healthy are we when viewed through that psychology? These questions were the subject of Kazimierz Dabrowski's formidable intellect over the course of his entire career.

So join us today, on the Truth Perspective, as we use Dabrowski's Theory of Positive Disintegration to explore and add real depth to the concept of mental health, also utilizing insights gained from our discussions on the hypnotic power of the crowd, Paul and the Stoics, and experiments into the nature of consciousness, today we're taking a new look at what mental health really is for us in this crazy, upside-down world.

Running Time: 01:22:36

Download: MP3


Wedding Rings

Couples show more humor and tenderness toward each other as marriage progresses

swing couple dancing
© Desconocido
A new UC Berkeley study shows those prickly disagreements that can mark the early and middle years of marriage mellow with age as conflicts give way to humor and acceptance.

When it comes to several health indicators and risks, marriages have been proven to offer considerable benefits according to a large population-based studies. Married individuals usually have lower levels of the stress hormones than those who never married or were previously married. Exactly how marriage works its magic remains mysterious. Perhaps a strong personal relationship improves mental health and helps the individual to ward off physical illness.

Married couples who have well over a decade together typically become more tolerant and compassionate towards the needs of each other. Although this may not be directly evident to casual observers, researchers have found the behavior consistent at levels revealed after investigation.

Researchers analyzed videotaped conversations between 87 middle-aged and older husbands and wives who had been married for 15 to 35 years, and tracked their emotional interactions over the course of 13 years. They found that as couples aged, they showed more humor and tenderness towards one another.

Comment: See also:


Shoe

The mental side of physical exercise: Nick Goolab tackling self-doubt head on

Nick Goolab runner
© Mark-Shearman
British international tells Euan Crumley about why he had to take a break from athletics and how a change in mindset has been crucial to rediscovering his love of the sport.

Nick Goolab was no longer enjoying his running. Even though he won the Ipswich 5k in May, he spent the entire race inwardly berating and criticising himself. The Belgrave Harrier knew his mindset was not doing him any favours at all and that something had to change.

He took a two-month break from the sport and during that time began to work with Wendy Hilton, a life coach who is also a masseuse with British Athletics.

Comment: This is a good illustration of having the right mindset that can be applied to a number of areas in life besides just or any physical exercise. The mental game, getting a handle on self-doubt and general attitude, are often the most important factors in accomplishing your goals.

See also:


Birthday Cake

Why children are ready to shift toward more independence around age 4

birthday cake
My earliest clear memories of events I experienced, which are not simply memories of stories told to me about my childhood, are from when I was 4 years old. I know, because those memories are clearly situated at and near the apartment in Minneapolis where we lived when I was 4, from which we moved about the time I turned 5. One of those memories, which would have occurred when I was about 4 years and 4 months, is the following. On a hot summer day, my grandmother told me that it was time for me to take an adventure by myself. We lived on a busy street with traffic lights, and I'm sure that my grandmother had already explained to me how to cross streets at lights as we took walks together. But this day, she told me, I would go by myself, a distance of about two blocks, crossing at least one busy street, to buy myself a popsicle and then walk back home.

She would sit on the stoop and watch to make sure I came back OK. I did. And then, after that, I could take walks like that myself, to get things my grandmother or others in the family needed, without having to be watched. I'm sure that one reason I remember this event so well is that it was very exciting to me, a big step toward growing up.

There are a number of significant things to note about this memory. First, this was seven decades ago, back when it wasn't unusual to see little kids walking along the sidewalk and crossing streets unaccompanied by an adult. There was no fear that someone would call the police or Child Protective Services. If Jack were 4, you might not want to trust him to make a good bargain on his sale of the cow (he might trade it for beans), but you could trust him to walk to the marketplace and find his way back. Second, this illustrates something that parents (or grandparents, as in my case) did in those days; they taught kids safety rules, so they could safely gain independence, rather than protecting them from independence.

Candle

The scents of heaven: Frankincense and myrrh

incense
© Marco Longari/Getty
Orthodox Armenian priests burn incense.
Frankincense and myrrh have long links to the sacred. Why has Christianity viewed them with both fascination and suspicion?

In the traditional Christmas narrative, wise men from the East brought gifts of frankincense, myrrh and gold for the infant Christ. Many explanations exist for the choice of these three items. Most centre on the idea that frankincense was for the birth of a divinity, myrrh was for his embalmment after death, and gold was a recognition of his status as king. I find the plant extracts - frankincense and myrrh - to be particularly interesting. How is it that they existed as both medicinal and ritual substances, and endured as such despite the profound shifts in culture and science over the ensuing centuries? What is it about frankincense and myrrh that caught the imagination of early Christians, and how have their material properties - powerfully alluring and at times highly contested - helped to shape religious behaviour?

Even people familiar with the story of the three wise men might struggle to explain the material origins of their gifts. But if Christmas is a story about the 'Emmanuel' (literally, 'God with us') being born in human, bodily form, then the physicality of the gifts - and their relation to our human body - is of great importance. The resins of both myrrh (Commiphora myrrha) and frankincense (Boswellia sacra) come from the sap of small trees in the Burseraceae family. They grow in arid or semi-arid climates, where soil and weather have considerable impact on the flavour and aroma. Frankincense - 'frank', simply denoting high quality incense - has a woody, or warm spiced smell; myrrh smells like rose or even sweet basil, but is sometimes said to have a bitter aroma. Both their smells are wildly variant, however, and myrrh especially - even from the same source - can be said to take on various aromas depending on the mood and spirit of the event. In the ritual practice of Orthodox Christianity, which boasts a continuity of tradition across Eastern Mediterranean regions from the 1st century CE, frankincense is most valued as resin pellets, while myrrh usually comes as an oil infusion.

Broom

Clean your room! The problem with completing household chores in a timely manner

chores
© John M Lund/GETTY
Chores are the worst.

I'm trying to construct an alternative theory of myself in which I'm a tidy person. It's not going well. Walking my recycling from my apartment to the trash room down the hall takes me anywhere from two minutes to a month. I hate looking at broken-down boxes and empty LaCroix cans in my apartment, but studies say humans are bad at prioritizing long-term goals over instant gratification, and I apparently find doing anything else much more gratifying.

It doesn't take a scientist to explain why I might put off other things, such as doing my dishes. Those are annoying and kind of gross, and the primary reward is just being able to use them in the future. Still, at a certain point, the anxiety of not having done these tasks surpasses the annoyance of doing them in the first place. That's an entirely predictable cycle that many otherwise productive people find themselves in when it comes to simple household jobs: A chore that I could feel good about completing in 10 minutes instead stresses me out for days or weeks.

Comment: Incorporating mindfulness into household chores can increase mental stimulation and decrease anxiety


Attention

Information overload: Attention is not a resource but a way of being alive to the world

attention
© Christoph Schmidt/dpa/AFP/Getty
Street sign in Reutlingen, southern Germany.
We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom.' Those were the words of the American biologist E O Wilson at the turn of the century. Fast forward to the smartphone era, and it's easy to believe that our mental lives are now more fragmentary and scattered than ever. The 'attention economy' is a phrase that's often used to make sense of what's going on: it puts our attention as a limited resource at the center of the informational ecosystem, with our various alerts and notifications locked in a constant battle to capture it.

That's a helpful narrative in a world of information overload, and one in which our devices and apps are intentionally designed to get us hooked. Moreover, besides our own mental wellbeing, the attention economy offers a way of looking at some important social problems: from the worrying declines in measures of empathy through to the 'weaponisation' of social media.

The problem, though, is that this narrative assumes a certain kind of attention. An economy, after all, deals with how to allocate resources efficiently in the service of specific objectives (such as maximizing profit). Talk of the attention economy relies on the notion of attention-as-resource: our attention is to be applied in the service of some goal, which social media and other ills are bent on diverting us from. Our attention, when we fail to put it to use for our own objectives, becomes a tool to be used and exploited by others.

Comment: What you pay attention to ends up controlling your life