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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.

April 8, 2015

5 Tips for sleeping better

Sleeping well has all kinds of benefits for our functioning. In his new book The upward spiral, Alex Korb explains how you can improve you sleep without medication. 

Poor sleep can mean two things. First, it can mean getting too little sleep. Most people need approximately 8 hours per night. Older people can do with a bit less. Second, it can mean low-quality sleep. Often this means that you wake up during the night and that the normal built up of your sleep is disrupted. Normal sleep happens in 5 stages which are gone through multiple times during the night. People with depressive symptoms often have briefer deep sleep and intensified REM sleep.

April 7, 2015

Want-to goals make self-regulation easier than have-to goals

The type of goals you have affects the amount of self-control you need to achieve them.

When you want to achieve goals you need to be able to concentrate on the activities which help to make progress in the direction of those goals. This is not only the case with work-related goals (how can I finish that article on time?) but also with personal goals (how can I eat healthier?). Remaining focused on the activities needed to achieve goals requires that you can direct your attention. In the psychological literature this type of skill is usually referred to as self-regulation.

Races don't exist

Nowadays we hear a lot about racism and how bad it is. Famous football players, in a UEFA campaign are sending the message to say 'no' to racism. By using the word racism we refer to the underlying concept of race. Races, subspecies, exist throughout biology. We all understand, perhaps not precisely, but roughly what is meant when we talk about human races and racism. I say that we understand roughly what is meant, because we all associate the term race with concepts like the with race, the black race, the Jewish race, and the Asian race. I say that we do not know precisely what is meant, because we do not know exactly, for example, what makes someone a Jew, and whether Chinese people and Indian people belong to the same race. It also gets confusing when we think about the race of president Obama. Does he belong to the 'black' race? That is what is often said ("the first black president' of the United States) but what about the fact that his mother was 'white'?

April 4, 2015

The harder we push, the worse it gets

Parents, teachers, and managers play an important role for respectively children, students, and employees. They not only have a facilitating, helping role but also a directing role. They pay attention, show understanding, they help and facilitate, they give a good example and they clarify expectations and set limits. When they fulfill their role effectively, the individuals they work with will be likely to function and develop well en feel good. These individuals are likely to engage in what they find interesting and important and to behave in well-adjusted ways and offer useful contributions.

April 3, 2015

How do you get goals that work?

Self concordant goals, goals that fit with your interests and values have many advantages. How do you get them?

It is not only important that people set goals but also what types of goals they set. Within Self-Determination Theory the term self concordant goals has been introduced. Self concordant goals are goals which are consistent with the developing interests and values of the individual. When goals are self concordant people fully endorse these goals. They are autonomously motivated to pursue them.

April 2, 2015

10 Advantages of walking

I've mentioned the dangers of an inactive lifestyle several times (see here). Such a lifestyle not only increases the chance of physical diseases and discomfort but also increases the chance of different kinds of brain disease and mental problems. When you are moderately intensively physically active for at least 30 minutes per day the blood circulation in your brain is improved and your brain activity and alertness is increased. This type of physical activity also stimulates the development of new neurons (neurogenesis) and the growth of longer and more complex dendrites.

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: