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July 2, 2015

Respecting truth

Philosopher Lee McIntyre has written a very interesting new book called Respecting truth: willful ignorance in the Internet age. If you liked my article On the importance of evaluating truth claims and my little tool for evaluating truth claims, you must also like this book.

In the book, Lee McIntyre argues that our relationship with truth is complex. On the one hand we often live our lives as if we believe that truth exists. On the other hand many of us are often willfully ignorant. What this means is that we refuse to consider evidence which contradicts our beliefs because we don't want to abandon those beliefs. McIntyre says that ignorance or false beliefs aren't what is dangerous but the choice to remain ignorant by insulating ourselves from new ideas or evidence.

Progress monitoring works

Does Monitoring Goal Progress Promote Goal Attainment? A Meta-Analysis of the Experimental Evidence
Harkin et al. (2015)

Abstract: Control Theory and other frameworks for understanding self-regulation suggest that monitoring goal progress is a crucial process that intervenes between setting and attaining a goal, and helps to ensure that goals are translated into action. However, the impact of progress monitoring interventions on rates of behavioral performance and goal attainment has yet to be quantified. A systematic literature search identified 138 studies (N = 19,951) that randomly allocated participants to an intervention designed to promote monitoring of goal progress versus a control condition. All studies reported the effects of the treatment on (a) the frequency of progress monitoring and (b) subsequent goal attainment.

June 30, 2015

Is there such a thing as civilization?

Is there such a things as civilization? Or is what we call civilization an illusion and would we be wiser to return to our natural state? 

A central theme in the discourse about progress was the difference between the views of the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) and the French philosopher (from Swiss origin) Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778). Hobbes view people as naturally cruel and violent, in other words as bad. In his book Leviathan, he explained that the solution for this problem is a monarchy or other form of government which represents the will of the people and has the monopoly on violence.  He saw civilization as a way of curbing people's badness.

June 24, 2015

No progress-warranty

Making progress in what is important to us is very motivating. I am referring both to individual progress, progress in your own life, and collective progress, progress at the level of groups and societies. What can be a problem is that progress is not always easy to see. When we do not pay close attention we can easily overlook it. Also, it is not always clear whether we should interpret a development as progress. There is, I think, an inherent reason why progress can be hard to see. By making progress we may encounter new situations which pose higher demands on us. Those higher demands, we can perceive as signs of decline or regress instead of progress.

June 18, 2015

Activating a student

I came across a beautiful example of activating a student in a progress-focused manner. 

Tina teaches high school students in a special boarding school. During the brief period (usually several months) in which these students are at the boarding school they work independently on their subjects most of the time and whenever they need some help or explanation Tina and their colleagues provide it to them. Of course, every now and then the students also have to take tests. Tina frequently uses progress-focused principles and techniques such as growth mindset interventions and autonomy supportive interventions. Every day, she writes brief observation/reflection diary entries, both for her own purpose and to inform her colleagues about what happened on that day. I have read and remembered one of the recent entries in that diary. I went something like this.

June 15, 2015

7 Skeptical comments about neuroplasticity

On this website, I have written several enthusiastic posts about neuroplasticity (for example, see this, this, this, this, and this). According to Wikipedia, neuroplasticity refers to changes in neural pathways and synapses due to changes in behavior, environment, neural processes, thinking, and emotions - as well as to changes resulting from bodily injury. Because I believe that it is wise, when learning, to alternate between an attitude of receptiveness and enthusiasm and an attitude of skepticism and criticism, it seemed like a good idea to explore some critical voices about (publications on) neuroplasticity. I'll do this on the basis of a few authors who have expressed themselves rather skeptically (and, in some cases, cynically) about the use of the concept of neuroplasticity or publications about neuroplasticity.

Working in solitude on very ambitious goals

New research suggests how people may work in solitude on very ambitious goals and feel good about it. 

Some famous artists and scientists from the past must have set extraordinary ambitious goals for themselves and must have worked for extremely long periods of time in solitude on their work and discoveries. For example, it is known that Isaac Newton, generally viewed as one of the greatest scientific geniuses of all time, who was highly productive as well, spend many years working in relative solitude. I have sometimes wondered how such people have managed to accomplish such things and to what extent they experienced gratification about their life style. I came across two articles by Thuy-vy Nguyen which give a clue about how some people are able to lead and bear such lives.

The real lesson from the Stanford prison experiment?

Which lesson can we draw from the Stanford prison experiment? 

The Stanford prison experiment, designed and conducted by Philip Zimbardo in 1971, is one of the most famous experiments in psychology. In the basement of Stanford University an imitation of a prison was built. Students who participated in the study were randomly assigned the role of prisoner or guard. Zimbardo himself also participated in the experiment in the role of superintendent. The standard interpretation of the findings of the study is something like: after a while prisoners started to behave helplessly and submissively while guards started behaving cruel and abusively. The experiment was stopped after a student who conducted interviews in the imitation prison objected to the cruelty of what was happening.

June 8, 2015

Feedback in Three Steps

© 2003, Coert Visser

As a manager you have just led a meeting. John brought forward a proposal to implement a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. He did this convincingly and enthusiastically but seemed to leave very little room for his colleagues Michael and Peter to respond. You want to talk to John about this...but how?

June 4, 2015

The plus behind the minus: which questions can you ask?

Several years ago, I introduced the technique of 'finding the plus behind the minus'. The basic I idea behind it is that when people express themselves negatively (through a complaint, a reproach, or criticism) there is always something positive behind that negative expression. That positive thing is something which they find valuable or important, a value, a principle, a goal, of whatever you want to call it. Briefly, the technique comes down to searching for that plus behind the minus. In our progress-focused training programs we frequently practice this technique with our participants, especially in cases which deal with resistance of conflicts. When you are trying to help people in a conflict situation to express the plus behind their minus this has several benefits. First, they themselves find it helpful and pleasant to be able to explain more clearly what their preferred situation is. Second, it will be more acceptable and clear for the other person or people involved in the conflict to understand what the positive intentions are behind someone's initially negative behavior. For them, it will be much easier to respond to these positive formulations than to the initial formulations which were negative.

June 2, 2015

Mindset and personality

I often meet people who think that personality is hardly malleable. They think that personality is something which you have been given by your genes and early life experiences and that who you are in essence is not or hardly changeable. Some time ago I wrote Changing your personality in which I argued that personality is more malleable than we have long thought. Also, I mentioned a few studies which seem to confirm this belief. But you could ask yourself: what does it matter whether or not you believe that personality is malleable? I think it matters a lot and I came across an article which seems to support that belief:

June 1, 2015

The basement metaphor: finding past successes in the basement of our brain

One of the important parts of the progress-focused approach is to make visible what has worked in the past. Progress-focused coaches, for example, ask their clients questions about their past successes. When those clients find examples of past successes they generally become more positive and optimistic. Furthermore, they often come up with some ideas about how they might take a step forward. This might sound a bit strange. Why would something which has worked before not be visible right away? Why should you make an effort to make it visible? You have already experienced it, haven't you? And it was a positive experience. Why wouldn't you remember it, anyway? 

May 27, 2015

On criticizing concepts and methods

A while ago I wrote about the importance of combining hope and critical thinking. Hope without critical thinking is naïveté; critical thinking without hope is cynicism; lack of both is apathy, is argued in that post. That combination is not only important in general in life but also, and especially when we read about approaches or methods which are claimed to be able to improve our life or our work. One of the reasons for me to think about this topic is that I received an interesting mail by David Creelman which I will summarize below.

David started saying that scientific rigor is important because it discredits cherished false beliefs and snake-oil solutions. He went on to say that also more serious concepts and approaches like work engagement, the innovator's dilemma, and the growth mindset come in for criticism. He said: "I feel it's only a matter of time before someone writes a harsh critique of the growth mindset." He then pointed out that there is a risk that healthy skepticism might turn into cynicism. He closed his email by raising the question whether sometimes a concept which perhaps is not scientifically rigorous might still be useful and better than nothing.

May 26, 2015

7 Myths about mediation

Meditation is becoming quite popular. Much research suggests that it is very beneficial. But there are some reasons to remain skeptical. 

Prevously,  I have written several post about mindfulness meditation. For example, I wrote about research which shows that mindfulness meditation has various benefits for body and mind (see here, here, and here). Also, I have written a post about a few concerns about mindfulness meditation which I have. In that article I wrote that we do not seem to know a lot about what mindfulness medition is, which aspects of it work, and how they work. In addition to that, I expressed my concern about the hype character of mindfulness meditation and warned for exaggerated expectations.

Lately, I have read a few more critical articles about mindfulness meditation. James Coyne, for example, is one of the academics who is quite critical about the mindfulness meditation hype (here is a recent post by him). Another, a bit more accessible, article is written by Catherine Wikhol: Seven common myths about meditation. She describes the following 7 myths about mindfulness meditation (read her article for more information):
  1. Meditation never has adverse or negative effects. It will change you for the better (and only the better)
  2. Meditation can benefit everyone
  3. If everyone meditated the world would be a much better place
  4. If you’re seeking personal change and growth, meditating is as efficient – or more – than having therapy
  5. Meditation produces a unique state of consciousness that we can measure scientifically
  6. We can practise meditation as a purely scientific technique with no religious or spiritual leanings
  7. Science has unequivocally shown how meditation can change us and why
Wikhol's article is a good reminder to remain not only open minded but also critical when reading about popular approaches such as mindfulness meditation.