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March 23, 2015

The discovery of science

In 1979, Steven Weinberg (81) won the Nobel Prize in physics for his contribution to the unification of the weak nuclear force an electromagnetic interaction between elementary particles. Recently, he published an interesting book, To Explain the World, about a subject that has fascinated him for a long time: the discovery of science. First, the book takes us to the old Greeks. The civilization in Ancient Greece is generally divided into three era's: the Archaic era (roughly from 800 to 480 BC) with Athene as its center and great thinkers like Thales, Heraclitus, and Democritus, The Classical era (roughly from 500 to 323 BC) with Athens as its center and Socrates, Plato, and Artistotle as its main philosophers, and the Hellenistic era (from 334 tot 30 BC) with Alexandria as its center and Euclid, Ptolemy, and Archimedes as its greatest thinkers.

March 21, 2015

New possibilities for progress at a higher age?

An assumption in the progress-focused approach is that all people can make progress wherever they are. For children, this is easy to understand. They are constantly learning and exploring and we constantly see them make fast progress and in many ways. Middle aged people also show all sorts of progress both in their private lives and in their careers. From age 30 to 40 we begin to see clear signs that some physical and cognitive functions no longer progress but actually start declining. Does this mean that everything is destined to go downhill from that age on? No, this is a too pessimistic view. Recent publications (for example this one and this one) show that certain capabilities indeed decline from a certain age but other capabilities peak at a higher age and some do not peak at all (they can continue to grow stronger). Harvard researcher Laura Germine summarize how cognitive capabilities peak at different ages in this picture:

March 16, 2015

Improving your concentration by practicing

Being able to concentrate and to keep concentrating is necessary when you are doing an important or difficult task. Doing such a task requires that you fully focus on that task and are not distracted or start mind wandering. When your mind wanders when you are doing a difficult task you must divide your attention between the task and the mind wandering. This means you are doing two things at the same time; you are multitasking. Research has shown that we are rather bad at multitasking. When we are mind wandering when doing a challenging task our performance will suffer. Such tasks require that we keep our focus on the task.

March 15, 2015

Grit: what do long term passions look like?

Angela Duckworth is a psychologist researching grit. Grit is the quality of people to work hard and keep focusing on their long term goals, or their long term passions. Grit consists of two aspects: resilience, the ability to continue after setbacks, and consistent long term goals or passions. People with much grit are less easily distracted and conquer setbacks and obstacles more effectively (one study this was found in is Duckworth et al. (2007). In a study by Duckworth & Quinn (2009) grit was found to be a better predictor of academic success than IQ and, surprisingly, grit was negatively correlated to IQ.

March 12, 2015

Let's change our mindset about the world

Hans and Ola Rosling show that we know too little about the progress in the world and they explain how we can change that. 

Hans Rosling, founder of the Gapminder foundation, became famous for his TED presentations about the development of the world in areas such as health, wealth and environment. In those presentations he use Tendalyzer software which made them spectacular and dynamic (see here). They were also surprising in their content. They showed that the world has improved, and is still improving, in many ways. Examples of such improvements are decreasing child mortality, decreasing extreme poverty, better and longer education, especially for women, increase life expectancy, etc.

March 9, 2015

Why should it always have to be better?

An assumption in progress-focused work is that people are motivated to make progress. Making progress means improving something. As coaches or trainers we work with this assumptions, for example by asking questions like: "What would you be better?" Most people who learn about the progress-focused approach are enthusiastic about this idea of focusing on desired progress. But every now and then we also get reactions which are a bit more reluctant or skeptical, such as: "Why progress? Why should we all make progress?", or: "Why should the situation become better? Why can't just of making it different instead of better?"

March 8, 2015

Mind wandering can be useful

Is it important to always try to avoid mind wandering in order to function well and be happy? No, it is more nuanced than that.  

When we are mind wandering we have spontaneous thoughts, thoughts which are not triggered by any external stimulus. When having spontaneous thoughts a circuit in the brain becomes more active which is called the default mode network (DMN), sometimes also simply called the default network (DN). A question which many people ask is what the function and effects of mind wandering are. It is often thought that mind wandering is not very good for people because it can lead to rumination and negative feelings. This is not a strange thought because some forms of psychopathology are associated with an excessive or deviant activity of the DMN (see here, here, and here). On the other hand, there are also indications that DMN activity has an important social function (see here and here).

March 6, 2015

When facts contradict people's views they may reframe the issue in untestable ways

A new publication shows the appeal of untestable beliefs, and how it leads to a polarized society. Read more in this Scientific American article. Here is the abstract of the publication itself:

The Psychological Advantage of Unfalsifiability: The Appeal of Untestable Religious and Political Ideologies.
~ Friesen, Justin P.; Campbell, Troy H.; Kay, Aaron C.

Abstract: We propose that people may gain certain “offensive” and “defensive” advantages for their cherished belief systems (e.g., religious and political views) by including aspects of unfalsifiability in those belief systems, such that some aspects of the beliefs cannot be tested empirically and conclusively refuted. This may seem peculiar, irrational, or at least undesirable to many people because it is assumed that the primary purpose of a belief is to know objective truth. However, past research suggests that accuracy is only one psychological motivation among many, and falsifiability or testability may be less important when the purpose of a belief serves other psychological motives (e.g., to maintain one’s worldviews, serve an identity). In Experiments 1 and 2 we demonstrate the “offensive” function of unfalsifiability: that it allows religious adherents to hold their beliefs with more conviction and political partisans to polarize and criticize their opponents more extremely. Next we demonstrate unfalsifiability’s “defensive” function:

February 26, 2015

Looking wiser at your situation by taking some distance

By looking at your problems from a distance, by taking a third person perspective, you may come to wiser judgments.

A powerful tool for making progress in many situations in the perspective-change technique. This tool enables you to look at your situation from a third person perspective. In progress-focused coaching we use this principle by asking perspective-change questions. An example of such a question is: "How would other people notice your situation will have improved?" In this article I describe evidence for the motivating effect of visualizing such a third person perspective. In this article I describe how you can use perspective changes to prepare for difficult conversations. A new publication demonstrates that it is easier to come to wise judgments when taking a third person perspective.

February 23, 2015

Mindfulness-meditation reduces stress

Mindfulness meditation (MM) leads to many health benefits. It now begins to become apparent that this is mainly due to a reduced stress experience. 

Previously I wrote about the emerging research into the health benefits of MM. That MM has health benefits has become clear from overview studies like this one and this one. There is also research which shows that MM leads to structural (anatomic) changes in the brain, such as this study (thickening of the right insula and somatosensoric cortex), this study (forming of gyri), this study (higher density of grey matter in the hippocampus, the posterior cingulate cortex, de temporo-parietal junction and the cerebellum), this study (looser connections between the dmPFC and the insula and amygdala). Also, there is research which shows that MM reduces blood pressure and the experience of stress. Taken together, studies such as these suggest that MM causes all sorts of good things to happen but there is no clear overarching theory about how MM triggers these positive effects.

February 22, 2015

The combination of critical thinking and hope

Hope without critical thinking leads to naïveté and critical thinking without hope leads to cynicism. To survive, we need both.

An  interesting new article by Maria Popova (photo) contains some valuable insights. Some phrase which struck me was: "The assumptions people make about the motives of others always reveal a great deal more about the assumers than the assumed-about." Another one which I like is: "But evil only prevails when we mistake it for the norm."

February 20, 2015

Let's be a drop in the waves

When we hear about the various tensions and problems in the world we may feel fearful and powerless. Is our freedom in serious danger due to religion-inspired terrorism? Could an upswing of the radical right throw us back to the time of world war II? Is there a serious threat of large-scale war because of the Ukraine conflict? Will global warming bring serious deterioration to people and environment? Does commercialization of medical practice lead to a situation in which we can no longer trust doctors?

February 19, 2015

7 Dimensions of mindset

Are you a teacher or a parent inspired by Carol Dweck's growth mindset? In that case, you may be looking for a way to help children to develop their mindset. An interesting way to do this is by a simple tool called the Mindset Works Effective Effort Rubric. This is a table which, by use of 7 dimensions of mindset, shows the differences between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. What you can do is to sit down with kids and look at the matrix and ask them how they are currently dealing with each of these dimensions.

February 16, 2015

Moving Parkinson's symptoms away?

Several times, I have mentioned the benefits of walking (see here, here, and here). In my review of Erik Scherder's book Laat je hersenen niet zitten I summarized the benefits of walking as he describes them. Daily moderately intensive physical activity, for at least half an hour, not only contributes to a better physical health but also to keeping your brain healthy. It helps to improve cognitive functioning and delays and often decreases brain related diseases. Scherder quotes research which shows that the benefits of physical activity have mainly been demonstrated for people who have not yet been affected by brain disorders and diseases. For people who do already have these kinds of problems there is much less evidence, in some cases because little relevant research has been done, in other cases because the findings of studies which have been done are varied and inconclusive.

February 14, 2015

Resetting during the conversation

Have you ever experienced, as a coach or consultant, that you were in a conversation with a client and felt that the conversation wasn't going too well? I guess we all have experienced that. Perhaps the conversation wasn't going too well because your own contribution in the conversation was not the best, for example because your questions were not so relevant or your way of responding to what the other person has said was not adequate. Or maybe you were not satisfied with the conversation because your conversation partner did not seem to find the conversation useful or pleasant. You may get such an impression when they frown or seem to have some resistance. Wouldn't you like to be able to reset the conversation in such situations? Well, you can. Here is a simple way in which you can do that.