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.

May 25, 2015

5 Benefits of asking for help

Frequently, I have heard people say: "I'd rather not ask for help. I think I have to solve this myself." This way of this thinking surely has something admirable and sympathetic about it. Probably, people saying such things have a strong sense of responsibility. They think they should be able to solve their problem on their own without bothering other people. But I think it is good to be aware of another way of viewing asking for help. Asking for help can have many benefits, especially for yourself, but also for other people. Here are a few benefits of asking for help:

May 18, 2015

5 Forms of brain maintenance

In a new article, Five ways to improve your brain power, Norman 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.

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