Bored to Death While Waiting to Die – Stop Adapting, Start Living

The Cycle of Adaptation adapted from Perry Belcher’s Cycle of Boredom

John Schinnerer Ph.D.

Thanks for stopping by my positive psych blog (or maybe an anti-positive psychology blog given the title of today’s post!). As a way of saying thanks, I’d like to offer you a free PDF version of my first book on the latest positive psychology tools when you visit my site at www.GuideToSelf.com.

 

Are you tired of your job? Do you feel trapped in your relationship? Do you fear failure? Does it sometimes feel like you will never make it to the other side? Would you like more happiness?

If so, you are not alone.

Check this out. There is a cycle that we go through with everything in our life – jobs, spouses, relationships, cars, houses, clothes, everything.

Here is the cycle…

1) Interested

2) Excited

3) Safe & comfortable

4) Bored

5) Trapped

6) Despairing/Guilty

7) Seeking out new options or replacements

8) Fear of change

9) Fear of failure (stall out here if you’re unlucky)

10) Break through (if you’re lucky!)

One of the most interesting tenets in psychology is that of the hedonic treadmill…the idea that we adapt to change  – good or bad. You can win the lottery and adapt to those winnings within a year. You can suffer a bad car accident and lose the use of your limbs and most people adapt to that tragic situation.

Play around with this idea. You can apply it to every situation in your life. It’s amazing.

 

Remember…if you are not a master of your mind, you are a victim of it.

If you are not a master of your emotions, you are a victim of them.

 

Do not wait. Do not procrastinate. Take the risk on yourself. You deserve it. Start reading this blog now to reclaim your life and take the first step on the pathway to happiness.

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.
Positive Psychology Coach
Anger Management Specialist
Expert Consultant to Pixar
Founder, Guide to Self, Inc.
913 San Ramon Valley Blvd. #280
Danville CA 94526
Positive psychology blog: http://drjohnblog.guidetoself.com
Anger management blog:
http://WebAngerManagement.com
Twitter: @johnschin

How Do We Make Sense of the Irrational? Emotions, Moods and Temperaments as Dramatic Theater!

How Can I Be Happy? Learn Positive Psychology and How Your Mind Works…

By John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Guide to Self

Emotional power is maybe the most valuable thing that an actor can have. Christopher Walken

The most embarrassing, shameful, stupidest things I’ve done in my life occurred when my emotional mind was in charge of me…angry, anxious, excited, doubting. As a result, I’ve spent 25 years studying ways to manage my emotional mind.

Analogies are a powerful means to help us understand the emotional mind. One of the best analogies to help you understand your mind – the relationship between emotions, moods, thoughts and temperament is that of an intense broadway play.

If you think of your emotional life as a play on stage, emotions are the actors that move quickly around the stage, speaking in short and energetic bursts. Each of the actors temporarily acts out the role of an emotion such as anger, surprise, or contentment. The actors temporarily embody emotions that are positive, negative or neutral.

How Can I Be Happy? Learn positive psychology coaching w John Schinnerer PhD
The Mind is Like a Broadway Play

Perhaps most importantly, you can feel more than one emotion simultaneously, just as if you have several actors on stage at once. There are layers of emotions…afraid of your anger, guilty about your lust, curious about your pride, and so on.

As an actor, there is room for a certain amount of creativity, but you’re always ultimately going to be saying somebody else’s words. – Daniel Radcliffe

 

One theory of emotions is that they are action scripts that have been around for millions of years. Intense emotions, such as rage, dictate how one responds to certain situations. In a very real sense, you are ‘saying somebody else’s words.’

 

The actor is in the hands of a lot of other people, over which he has no control.  William Shatner

Emotions are often experienced as a loss of control, something over which we have no control. Many clients have told me that anger overtook them in less than a second. Some have said that they don’t remember what they did while angry. Others have shared that it felt as if they were possessed.

Emotions are short in duration, lasting seconds to minutes. Emotions have a cause such as losing a family pet (grief) or observing earth from space (awe).  And emotions have visceral, bodily sensations associated with them (e.g., throat constriction, heart rate increase, perspiration, shoulders pulled back, chin elevation, etc.).

Moods are like individual elements of scenery that are rolled on and off the stage with each scene. The scenic elements “set the stage” for the scene. The scenic elements may create an ominous and scary setting. Or they may create a peaceful, sunny and relaxed environment. The scenic elements change every act and may change many times during the course of the play. Moods are like emotions stretched thin over time. For example, anger stretched thin is irritability. Fear stretched thin is anxiety. Happiness stretched thin is contentment.

Moods don’t typically have a cause. They just are. Some days you wake up in a stressful ‘scene’ and other days a pleasant one.

Temperament is the large screen that serves as the background for the entire first act or the entire play. The backdrop separates the front of the stage, where the play takes place, from backstage, and the area where many activities are happening at a rapid pace to create the illusion of reality out on stage. Temperament ranges from pessimistic to optimistic.

The director is like the rational, thinking mind who has some control over the direction of the actors and the play. The good news is that the director can learn to have greater influence over the actors in the heat of the moment. Yet even the director can be overcome with emotion at times. And when the director loses her cool, it’s best to yell ‘cut’ and take a break so everyone can start anew.

About the Author

John Schinnerer, Ph.D., an expert in positive psychology, is revolutionizing the way in which people make sense of the mind, behavior and emotion. In December of 2011, he was one of three emotion experts (along with Paul Ekman and Dacher Keltner) to consult with Pixar on a feature-length movie in which the main characters are emotions. Much of his time is spent in private practice teaching clients the latest ways to turn down the volume on negative emotions such as anger, anxiety and stress. He has developed a unique coaching methodology which combines the best aspects of entertainment, humor, positive psychology and emotional management techniques. His offices are in Danville, California. He graduated from U.C. Berkeley Summa Cum Laude with a Ph.D. in educational psychology.  He has been an executive, speaker and coach for over 14 years.  He hosted over 200 episodes of Guide To Self Radio, a daily prime time radio show, in the SF Bay Area.    He wrote the award-winning book, ‘Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion and Thought,’ which is available at Amazon.com.  His blog, Shrunken Mind, was recently recognized as one of the top 3 in positive psychology on the web (drjohnblog.guidetoself.com ). His new video blog teaches people the latest ways to manage anger using positive psychology. (WebAngerManagement.com). He is currently working on a destination site to teach individuals paths to sustainable happiness via positive psychology and ongoing practice at HowICanBeHappy.com.

how can i be happy
John Schinnerer, Ph.D. … Positive psychology coach… San Ramon Valley, Danville CA 94526

 

Can You Learn to Manage Your Mind?

This is a recent article by a research hero of mine, Richie Davidson, one of the premier neuropsychology researchers in the world…

Originally Published on Big Questions Online (https://www.bigquestionsonline.com)

 


Can You Learn to Control Your Mind?

Richard Davidson February 19, 2013

Many people believe that it is not necessary to learn to control one’s own mind because they think they already have such control.  Others, based on casual introspection and analysis of forces constantly impinging upon our minds, believe that we will never have control of our own minds and that such control is simply an illusion, though it may well be an illusion with important adaptive consequences.  The view the question invites is somewhat more nuanced.  It asks whether we can learn to control our mind, and thus assumes that there is a gradient of control ranging from little to more, and that individuals may vary in where they fall along this continuum.  Further, it implies that control of one’s mind is a skill and as with other skills, it can be trained. 

When we refer to controlling our mind what do we typically mean?  If you are reading this essay, you can say to yourself that I can decide to stop reading this at any moment and get up and get a drink of water.  This is a form of controlling one’s mind.  Does the control of one’s mind require that we control our overt action, as in this example?  What about the control of attention, or the control of emotion?  To varying degrees, each one of you can decide to direct your attention to your right foot and to notice the sensations that are present in this body location.  You might notice tingling or pressure or warmth and you can isolate these sensations to your right foot, with varying degrees of success. 

Do we emerge at birth endowed with this ability?  Or does this ability develop over the course of maturation?  Is it associated with the development of specific circuits in the brain?  To what degree are individual differences in this ability present early in life and what environmental and genetic influences modulate this ability?  These are all important questions that bear on the larger issue of whether we can learn to control our mind.  To address these questions requires that we consult scientific findings in a diverse range of areas that indirectly bear on our central question. 

Insights from Developmental Considerations

Can newborns control their minds?  Most scholars considering this question would say no.  The requisite neural machinery has not yet matured for infants to exert voluntary control.  Their attention, for example, is captured rather than directed.  Their emotions are stimulus-driven and not voluntarily modulated.  It seems reasonable to assume that voluntary control of one’s mind requires that a requisite competence be available and that such competence maybe an innate potential of human beings in the same way that language is an innate potential, but it is not present at birth and requires the maturation of particular neural systems likely involving the prefrontal cortex. This brain region undergoes slow development and is not fully anatomically mature until the mid 20’s.  Insofar as the prefrontal cortex is critical to our capacity to control our mind, this fact suggests that there will be developmental changes in our capacity to control our mind that will not reach adult levels for quite some time, likely post-adolescence.

Default Mode of Brain Function, Mind Wandering and Voluntary Control

Neuroscientists noticed that when participants are given challenging cognitive tasks and activation patterns in response to the tasks were compared with a resting (uninstructed) control condition, not only are certain brain regions activated, but there were reliable de-activations in another set of brain regions.  In such brain imaging studies, a contrast between two conditions was performed to isolate brain activations specific to the task. These de-activations during the task indicate that those de-activated regions were more active during the resting period.  This provided the first clue that the brain “at rest” showed a lawful pattern of activations and this pattern has been referred to as the default mode.  The presence of such activity suggests that it is misleading to think that the brain is quiescent until a specific task activates it.  Indeed, even a mere casual introspection would suggest that there is a lot of endogenous mental activity occurring within the mind that seems to be there when we are not doing very much and pay attention to our interior dialogue.  Recent findings indicate that this “mental chatter” is associated with the default mode (Christoff, Gordon, Smallwood, Smith, & Schooler, 2009 [1]) and that such mental chatter is often self-focused rumination about the past and the future.  A recent study using experience-sampling measures (Killingsworth & Gilbert, 2010 [2]) reported that the average American adult spends 47% of their waking life mind wandering, that is not attending to the task at hand.  Moreover, these periods of mind wandering were accompanied by reports of unhappiness.  Killingsworth and Gilbert conclude that “…a human mind is a wandering mind and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.  The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost.”  Is this an obligatory state of affairs?  Can we learn to mind wander less and control our minds? Related Questions

These findings imply that we are not in control of our minds for a significant fraction of our waking lives since mind wandering is typically reported as a process that is involuntary.  Our minds wander.  We do not usually choose to engage in mind wandering. 

Individual Differences

The research mentioned above on mind wandering suggests that people differ in how much their minds wander.  The flip side of mind wandering is mental control and these findings indicate that some people have more control than others (Heatherton, 2011 [3]).  In studies of the default mode of brain function, scientists have discovered that people who report mind wandering have greater activation in sectors of the default mode that are particularly implicated in narrative self-relevant processes.  The fact of such individual differences raises the possibility that some of these variations among people might have arisen, at least in part, as a consequence of learning. 

Training the Mind Can Improve One’s Ability to Control the Mind

In his very famous chapter on attention in the Principles of Psychology, William James (1890) stated:

“And the faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgment, character, and will. No one is compos sui if he have it not. An education which should improve this faculty would be the education par excellence. But it is easier to define this ideal than to give practical directions for bringing it about.”

Educating attention is a core feature of controlling one’s mind.  If we can effectively control our attention, many other aspects of mental control will follow.  We can view the control of attention as a core foundation upon which other aspects of mental control are based, such as the control of emotions. 

What is the evidence that we can learn to control our attention?  Here the technologies provided by the meditative traditions which fundamentally concern the training of attention, are noteworthy.  Hard-nosed behavioral and neuroscientific research over the past 5 years has clearly established the possibility of training different aspects of attention through simple mindfulness meditation practices.  These practices generalize to standard tasks for assessing subcomponents of attention and they are associated with alterations in brain function.  One example from our own research concerns the learning of selective attention—the ability to focus on a chosen object and to ignore other distracting objects.  We (Lutz et al., 2009 [4]) tested participants before and after an intensive three-month retreat during which they practiced mindfulness meditation on a daily basis and compared them to a control group just learning these practices.  We found a significant improvement in the meditators ability to selectively attention to stimuli compared with the control group.  Moreover, these behavioral changes were predicted by specific changes in prefrontal brain function that was measured before and after the three-month retreat.

These findings suggest that we can indeed learn to control our attention and by extension, learn to control our mind.  Findings such as this lead us to the view that controlling the mind should best be regarded as a skill that can be enhanced through training.

Summary and Conclusions

The ability to control the mind differs across development and varies among individuals.  The developmental differences provide us with clues about the necessary neural machinery that is required to come “on-line” that is a prerequisite for controlling the mind.  Sectors of the prefrontal cortex appear critical to this process and are not fully mature until the mid 20’s.  Adult individuals also vary considerably in their ability to control the mind.  Such differences likely are due to a myriad of factors including genetic and experiential influences.  Mind wandering is the flip side of mind control and appears to occur involuntarily.  It is associated with the default mode of brain function and is frequently accompanied by reports of dysphoric affect, perhaps a consequence of not paying attention to the task at hand. 

This state of affairs, while typical of the average adult in our society, is not obligatory and this essay invites the view that we all can indeed learn to control our minds.  Humans are endowed with the capacity to learn to control their minds and such learning should be accompanied by a decrease in mind wandering and by corresponding changes in brain function in the default mode.  The ability to attend to the present moment in the absence of distraction appears to be intrinsically rewarding and people report increases in positive affect when this occurs.  Many humans seem to have a propensity to place themselves in difficult and/or dangerous situations in order to fully capture their attention, which effectively, though transiently, eliminates mind wandering.  Often referred to as “flow”, people report that such experiences are highly positive. 

An important implication of the perspective advanced in this essay is that we do not need to place ourselves in such difficult and dangerous situations to experience flow.  The quality of awareness characterized by being fully present in the moment is a skill that can be learned and does not require a specific context or challenge to be expressed.  In light of the known sensitive periods for neuroplasticity early in life, this perspective invites the suggestion of implementing training for mental control in the early years of life, as the prefrontal cortex is developing.  Such early training may take advantage of the increased neuroplasticity evident at this time and lead to more enduring changes in our ability to control our minds.  Research focused on this question is critically needed and if the outcome is as implied here, the findings would provide an important foundation for a call to include within the regular preschool and elementary school curriculum, methods to train the mind in such ways.  The modest investment in the mental capacity of our children will likely pay off in a multiplicative way later in life as a consequence of improved adult outcomes based upon this early life training.  The possibility of such an outcome demands that we marshal the resources to subject it to serious scientific test.

Questions for Discussion:

At what age can children start learning to control their minds?

Why do people mostly report unpleasant emotions when they are mind wandering?

Are some people better able to learn to control their minds than others?

What are the most effective strategies to teach people to learn to control their minds?

How is neuroplasticity related to the ability to control our mind?

.

 


Source URL: https://www.bigquestionsonline.com/content/can-you-learn-control-your-mind

Links:
[1] http://www.pnas.org/content/106/21/8719.full
[2] http://www.sciencemag.org/content/330/6006/932.abstract
[3] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3056504/
[4] http://www.jneurosci.org/content/29/42/13418
[5] https://www.bigquestionsonline.com/tags/mind
[6] https://www.bigquestionsonline.com/tags/meditation
[7] https://www.bigquestionsonline.com/tags/self-control
[8] https://www.bigquestionsonline.com/tags/habits
[9] https://www.bigquestionsonline.com/tags/mindfulness-meditation
[10] https://www.bigquestionsonline.com/topics/behavior

Have a fantastic day,

John

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Positive Psychology Coach

Author of the award-winning Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion & Thought

Guide To Self, Inc.

913 San Ramon Valley Blvd. #280

Danville CA 94526

GuideToSelf.comWeb site

WebAngerManagement.com – 10-week online anger management course

DrJohnBlog.GuideToSelf.com  Awarded #1 Blog in Positive Psychology by PostRank, Top 100 Blog by Daily Reviewer

@johnschinTwitter

Are You Rational When It Comes to Money?

I just read a great blog post by Ben Hayden on Psychology Today. I tried leaving a comment but was enable to due to website difficulties. Instead I’ve reprinted the post here with my comment below. Click on the article title below to go to the original blog post on Psychology Today…

The Decision Tree

Decision-making from all perspectives.

by Ben Hayden, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the University of Rochester.

Are you rational?

What do economists mean by rational and irrational?

Published on June 26, 2011 by Ben Y. Hayden, Ph.D. in The Decision Tree

My last post raised a lot of questions about rationality. Rather than reply to them individually, I decided to devote this column to the topic.

I talk to the public a lot about economic discoveries that violate assumptions of rationality. And one thing that always surprises me is just how pleased people are to hear about these violations of rationality. Gleeful even. Relieved to not be the only dummy out there.

It’s surprising that people are so excited because, when it comes to economics, violations of rationality are pretty darn recondite.

An economically rational individual is someone whose preferences obey certain formal rules that insulate them from economists’ bugbear: intransitive preferences. Intransitive preferences means I prefer an apple to an orange, an orange to a pear, and a pear to an apple. This pattern of preferences is distressing to economists because some opportunistic evildoer could come along and offer to trade me an apple for my orange plus a small fee, and then offer me a pear for that same apple plus an additional fee, and then offer me an orange for the pear plus another small fee. Then that evildoer winds up with a free lunch from me. And there’s nothing economists hate more than a free lunch. (Economists would say that this evildoer has turned me into a ‘money pump’).

Bottom of Form

But the real reason this bothers economists goes much deeper than their annoying perennial reminders about free lunches. In the early 20th century, economics struggled to establish itself as a formal and rigorous science. Economists craved respect. (Anyone who has heard economics called the dismal science knows it’s been an uphill battle). Many brilliant economists built the field a solid foundation that was axiomatic – based on a few simple and obvious rules – the same way Euclid did with geometry and Peano did with arithmetic. And to make these axioms, economists had to come up with an economist’s equivalent of mathematically true and false. And they chose the terms rational and irrational.

Aristotle and Plato

Aristotle and Plato Discussing Reason and Emotion

These words were not intended to describe what people do. Humans are not robots; most (but not all) economists know that. Even if we were, our brains are finite. We have to take mental shortcuts. We are approximately rational and even that only sometimes. We economic psychologists love the phase ‘bounded rationality’.

Economics 101 is one of the most popular undergraduate courses in the United States, and it often gives rationality a central place. But we all have money anxieties, so we are predisposed to hear personal judgment coming from our economics professors. Every year, a new crop of students thinks their teachers are criticizing them about how they manage their personal finances.

But that’s not it at all.

Violations of rationality are nothing to be ashamed of. They are like optical illusions in vision: they are universal and they provide clues to how the visual system works. We study irrationality because it gives us essential clues to help us learn how the brain makes economic decisions. And we do that because it leads us to solutions for the real irrationalities: depression, addiction, schizophrenia, and so on.

Invite your local economists to the bar, buy them a round of beer and ask them about it. They’ll admit (in my experience, cheerfully) that when they go to the store, they make the exact same mistakes as the rest of us do. Because we are all human. We are all irrational.

          Ben

 ——————————————————-

Dear Ben:

Thanks for the insightful blog post! I have this difficulty with clients frequently – they want to believe the illusion that they are primarily, if not solely, rational individuals. This would be great if it were so, but as you point out, it’s not the case. And I find individuals vary on a spectrum as to how much of the time they spend being rational vs. emotional. My challenge, for years, has been to decipher how to become aware of and train the emotional mind.

 

Different emotions can increase or decrease our rationality, reasoning and focus. Anger, for example, makes us more focused and rational – to a point. Think of anger on a 1 through 10 scale with 1 being calm and 10 be enraged.  Anger can  be useful below a 5. Once you go above a 5, the emotional mind is in charge, rationality goes out the window and we become atavistic and primal.

 

Thank you for pointing out our ubiquitous illusion of rationality.

Best regards,

John L. Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Founder Guide to Self

Award-winning author, blogger and anger management coach

For a free copy of John’s award-winning book on reason and emotion, visit GuideToSelf.com, click on the yellow book icon and enter your name and email.

How to tell when someone’s lying

May 11, 2011 by Editor
From Kurzweil.net
Professor of psychology R. Edward Geiselman at the University of California, Los Angeles, has been studying for years how to effectively detect deception to ensure public safety, particularly in the wake of renewed threats against the U.S. following the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Detecting a liar

Geiselman and his colleagues have identified several indicators that a person is being deceptive. The more reliable red flags that indicate deceit, Geiselman said, include:

* When questioned, deceptive people generally want to say as little as possible. Geiselman initially thought they would tell an elaborate story, but the vast majority give only the bare-bones. Studies with college students, as well as prisoners, show this. Geiselman’s investigative interviewing techniques are designed to get people to talk.

* Although deceptive people do not say much, they tend to spontaneously give a justification for what little they are saying, without being prompted.
* They tend to repeat questions before answering them, perhaps to give themselves time to concoct an answer.
* They often monitor the listener’s reaction to what they are saying. “They try to read you to see if you are buying their story,” Geiselman said.
* They often initially slow down their speech because they have to create their story and monitor your reaction, and when they have it straight “will spew it out faster,” Geiselman said. Truthful people are not bothered if they speak slowly, but deceptive people often think slowing their speech down may look suspicious. “Truthful people will not dramatically alter their speech rate within a single sentence,” he said.
* They tend to use sentence fragments more frequently than truthful people; often, they will start an answer, back up and not complete the sentence.
* They are more likely to press their lips when asked a sensitive question and are more likely to play with their hair or engage in other “grooming” behaviors. Gesturing toward one’s self with the hands tends to be a sign of deception; gesturing outwardly is not.
* Truthful people, if challenged about details, will often deny that they are lying and explain even more, while deceptive people generally will not provide more specifics.
* When asked a difficult question, truthful people will often look away because the question requires concentration, while dishonest people will look away only briefly, if at all, unless it is a question that should require intense concentration.

If dishonest people try to mask these normal reactions to lying, they would be even more obvious, Geiselman said. Among the techniques he teaches to enable detectives to tell the truth from lies are:

* Have people tell their story backwards, starting at the end and systematically working their way back. Instruct them to be as complete and detailed as they can. This technique, part of a “cognitive interview” Geiselman co-developed with Ronald Fisher, a former UCLA psychologist now at Florida International University, “increases the cognitive load to push them over the edge.” A deceptive person, even a “professional liar,” is “under a heavy cognitive load” as he tries to stick to his story while monitoring your reaction.
* Ask open-ended questions to get them to provide as many details and as much complete information as possible (“Can you tell me more about…?” “Tell me exactly…”). First ask general questions, and only then get more specific.
* Don’t interrupt, let them talk and use silent pauses to encourage them to talk.

———————————

In my job, I’m constantly looking for ‘tells’ to see if people are telling the truth or lying (or somewhere in between). The emotional mind gives a lot of information away without our conscious awareness. Human beings have exquisitely tuned emotion-detecting radars. To find out more about how to use your radar to live a more satisfying life, visit www.GuideToSelf.com for a FREE copy of my award-winning self-help book, Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide to Managing Emotion and Thought.

For those interested in turning down the volume on anger, visit my new online anger management site http://webangermanagement.com.

All the best,

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Founder Guide to Self, Inc.

Award-winning author, blogger, anger management expert