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May 18, 2015

5 Forms of brain maintenance

In a new article, Five ways to improve your brain power, Norma Doidge describes 5 ways to make and keep your brain fit: 1) walk two miles a day, 2) learn a new dance (or language or musical instrument), 3) do serious brain exercises, 4) pay close attention to your voice, and 5) get the rest your body requires. Below, I will briefly summarize what he says and add a view things myself.

Existence of ego depletion very doubtful

Previous research has already shown that the ego depletion model of willpower is too simple. New research suggests ego depletion may not exist at all. 

A popular concept in modern psychology is ego depletion (see Baumeister & Tierney, 2012). Briefly put, the ego depletion model says that self-control or willpower depends on a limited amount of mental energy. When you try to concentrate or control yourself for a long time, according to Baumeister, you use this energy and you will slowly but surely run out of it. The more this resource gets depleted the harder it gets to keep controlling yourself. This ego depletion effect is supposed to be general. Each task which requires self-control depletes your resources and when this happens its gets harder to control yourself for whatever task or seduction. According to Baumeister, you then need to supplement your resources, for example by eating or sleeping.

Why psychology is harder than it seems

It is understandable that exact sciences are generally viewed as the most difficult. But psychology may be harder in some ways. 

One of my favorite science writers is Sean Carroll. He is a theoretical physicist at Caltech and author of the awarded book The Particle at the End of the Universe which is about the discovery of the Higgs particle. Recently he surprisingly said: “Physics is by far the easiest science.” False modesty? Or it there some truth in it?

Reasons for skepticism about happiness research

Since the beginning of the 1980's psychologist have done much research into happiness. Often instead of the term happiness terms like subjective well-being are used. I remember that I once read somewhere that Ed Diener, pioneer in the field, had chosen this name because it sounded more scientific that the term happiness. Positive psychology, which emerged around the year 2000, has emphasized the importance of happiness a lot and of finding out which factors foster it. Since then many books and articles have been publishes about happiness and its determinants. In those publications factors where often mentioned like: (1) expressing gratitude, (2) cultivating optimism, (3) building and maintaining relationships, (5) searching flow experiences, (6) practicing religious and spiritual activities, and (7) practicing meditation (this list is not exhaustive).

HIIT – brief high intensity exercise

HIIT, High Intensity Interval Training; it takes little time and it is quite healthy. 

Several times I have written about the many benefits of physical exercise and, in particular, I have emphasized the advantages of brisk walking (for example, see here and here). But, as some readers have pointed out, moderately intensive exercise is not the only form of exercise which is beneficial. is. I agree. Maybe it is good to mention another form of exercising which has some unique benefits. This form is HIIT, high intensity interval training. With HIIT, you exercise intensively for about half a minute to a minute. While doing that, you approach the limit of what you can bear.

20 Psychology principles for teaching and learning

The APA has published a report in which a group of experts has made a list of 20 psychological principles for teaching and learning. The full list can be read in the report (along with explanations of the principles). As a preview, here are some of the principles:

  • PRINCIPLE 1 Students’ beliefs or perceptions about intelligence and ability affect their cognitive functioning and learning. 
  • PRINCIPLE 3 Students’ cognitive development and learning are not limited by general stages of development. 

May 6, 2015

Brain plasticity: what is it and how can you use it?

Following up on my two recent posts Is neuroscience relevant for coaches? and How do you find your path through the jungle of neuroscience? I now want to share some thoughts about what I think is one of the most fascinating topics in neuroscience: brain plasticity (also often referred to as neuroplasticity). For decades people have been thinking about the brain in rather statical terms. While they thought that brains of young people were in full development which enabled them to learn many new things they viewed brains of adults as hardly malleable anymore so that learning new things for older people would be much harder if possible at all. Also it was thought that damage to the brain normally was irreversible. And finally it was thought that little if anything could be done about the fact that with ageing brain functions deteriorate.

May 1, 2015

Realizing continuous small improvements together

A good way to attain changes in organizations is to involve everyone in continuously realizing small changes. 

One of the important aspects of progress-focused work is to focus on small steps forward. Small steps have multiple advantages. One of the most important advantages is that the threshold to come into action is lowered. And once in action it is easier to make further progress. Sometimes people fear that taking small steps is not applicable in situation in which there are big problems. But maybe the opposite is the case. Especially when there are big problems small steps can be quite powerful.

April 27, 2015

Ending downward spirals by replacing them with upward spirals

One of the most interesting aspects of the book The upward spiral by Alex Korb is thinking in terms of downward and upward spirals in human functioning. The concept of a spiral is based on what is called a positive feedback loop, a loop of cause and effect which continues and amplifies itself. A simple example of a positive feedback loop is a microphone which is held closely to a speaker. It will pick up the sound of the speaker and amplifies that again and again and again. The result is a shrill high tone. In human functioning these positive feedback loops can also happen in all kinds of ways. When the consequences of such positive feedback loops are negative we may speak of downward spirals; when they are positive of upward spirals. Such spirals can happen in many areas of life. I will give some examples. 

April 26, 2015

How do you find your path through the jungle of neuroscience?

Reading about and immersing oneself in neuroscience can be interesting and useful but also confusing. Here are some thoughts about how to find your way in the jungle of neuroscience. 

I received quite a few assenting reactions to my article Is neuroscience relevant for coaches? In the article I discuss whether neuroscience is relevant for coaches and whether it is reasonable to ask of coaches that they learn about neuroscience. I came to the conclusion that although it is probably not indispensable for coaches to know a lot about neuroscience it is probably a good idea because it can be interesting and useful. It can help coaches justify better how they work and help them understand better which interventions may be helpful in which situations.

April 21, 2015

Influencing mindsets

There are several ways to foster a growth mindset in other people. Below, I'll describe a few of them. 

When people begin to understand and experience the benefits of a growth mindset they often become interested in the question how they might foster a growth mindset in other people. This is especially the case with people in guiding roles such as parents, teachers, and managers. There are many ways in which you can influence other people's mindsets. Some of them are more direct, others are more indirect. With direct ways of influencing mindsets I mean stating or explaining something. With indirect ways of influencing I mean behavior in which you do not state or explain something but still influence the other person. I will give a few examples. 

Equality bias (making the Dunning-Kruger effect worse)

Equality bias
Frequent readers of this website know the Dunning-Kruger effect (Kruger & Dunning, 1999). Briefly put this effects says: incompetent people do not know how incompetent they are. The reason for this is that in order to be able to know how competent you are at something you need to have knowledge about that competence domain. People who know very little about a topic do not realize how much there is to know about that topic and therefore how much competence they lack. The Dunning-Kruger effect means that people who are not so competent at something are inclined to overestimate their own competence. This phenomenon is sometimes referred to as confident ignorance.

Is neuroscience relevant for coaches?

Neuroscience is becoming increasingly popular. How relevant is this scientific discipline for coaches? 

In recent years there has been a growing interest in neuroscience. Neuroscience is the scientific study of our nervous system and it is more than just a branch of biology because many scientific disciplines contribute to it. It is a huge field of study which is relatively young and developing rapidly. When I talk about neuroscience with coaches (for example about a new book or a new study) I usually notice two types of reactions. The first, and in my perception dominant reaction, is one of great interest. Many people are curious about topics like brain structures, neural circuits, neurotransmitters, and neuroplasticity. The second is one of skepticism. One type of skeptical question I sometimes hear is whether neuroscience is relevant for coaches. In other words, is it useful at all for coaches to start learning about neuroscience? A second skeptical question is whether it is feasible for coaches to acquire knowledge about neuroscience.

April 15, 2015

The upward spiral: getting rid of your depression step by step

Neuroscientist Alex Korb has written an interesting book about depression called The upward spiral. A core idea in his book is that depression is not simply a state in which you feel badly but rather a downward spiral. What he means by this is that while you feel depressed you are inclined to do things which do not relieve your depression but maintain or aggravate it. Things such as physical activity, social contact, and thinking about happy memories, among other things, might help but are precisely the type of things which you are not inclined to do when you feel depressed. Because of this, it is easy to get stuck in a depressed mood.

April 13, 2015

Changing your personality

For a long time, within psychology, the consensus has been that personality is hardly malleable from a a certain age on (which is supposed to be around 17 years old). This assumption was largely based on findings, in longitudinal studies, that peoples scores on personality questionnaire dimensions are generally rather stable. In other words, it seems that many people describe their personality in a rather stable manner throughout their lives. But does this justify the conclusion that personality is not very malleable? I don't think it does. That many people do not appear to change their personality a lot during their adult life does not prove that it is not possible to do so, at most it suggests that it does not appear to happen too frequently.