Good Self Improvement Involves Psychic Suffering

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The self improvement industry is worth $10 billion dollars and rising. Greedy vultures flock to the industry to try to seperate people who are looking to better their lives from their money. Too many people are trying to make money rather than help others. Such a realization led one author to explore what industry “experts” get wrong. The hard truth about good self improvement exercises is that they won’t be fun, they’ll force you to question assumptions about you and the world you live in.

It took me a long time to accept the fact that just because something can be improved in my life, does not mean that it should be improved in my life.
The improvement is not the problem, it’s the WHY that’s motivating the improvement that matters. When one compulsively looks to improve oneself, without any greater cause or reason driving it other than self-aggrandizement, it leads to a life of immense self-preoccupation, a light and beneficent form of narcissism where one’s constant attention and focus is on oneself.
And ironically, this will probably make your life worse off

Read more.

Live in the Now, Plan for Your Future Self

There are many things that make one happy, but what if our fundamental approach is wrong? Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert looks into other ways of thinking about happiness and the overall take we have on our self.

“Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished.” Dan Gilbert shares recent research on a phenomenon he calls the “end of history illusion,” where we somehow imagine that the person we are right now is the person we’ll be for the rest of time. Hint: that’s not the case.

Be Optimistic by Learning About It

The book Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life by Dr. Martin Seligman is not new, but it is to me. For others who have not heard about it before, it looks like an uplifting read. The central thesis of the book is to essentially learn what a worthwhile life is for you and to un-learn the other things: learn optimism.

‘Happiness’ is a scientifically unwieldy notion, but there are three different forms of it if you can pursue. For the ‘Pleasant Life,’ you aim to have as much positive emotion as possible and learn the skills to amplify positive emotion. For the ‘Engaged Life,’ you identify your highest strengths and talents and recraft your life to use them as much as you can in work, love, friendship, parenting, and leisure. For the ‘Meaningful Life,’ you use your highest strengths and talents to belong to and serve something you believe is larger than the self.


Ultimately, Seligman points to optimism not only as a means to individual well-being, but also as a powerful aid in finding your purpose and contributing to the world:

Optimism is invaluable for the meaningful life. With a firm belief in a positive future you can throw yourself into the service of that which is larger than you are.

Read more about the book itself and see Brain Picking’s best books of 2011.

Play Tetris to Reduce Traumatic Flashbacks

Playing games is tons of fun and enterprising people are finding ways to better humanity through gameplay. I just found out that Tetris can be used to help people deal with traumatic experiences – cool!

Research tells us that there is a period of up to six hours after the trauma in which it is possible to interfere with the way that these traumatic memories are formed in the mind. During this time-frame, certain tasks can compete with the same brain channels that are needed to form the memory. This is because there are limits to our abilities in each channel: for example, it is difficult to hold a conversation while doing maths problems.

The Oxford team reasoned that recognising the shapes and moving the coloured building blocks around in Tetris competes with the images of trauma in the perceptual information channel. Consequently, the images of trauma (the flashbacks) are reduced. The team believe that this is not a simple case of distracting the mind with a computer game, as answering general knowledge questions in the Pub Quiz game increased flashbacks. The researchers believe that this verbal based game competes with remembering the contextual meaning of the trauma, so the visual memories in the perceptual channel are reinforced and the flashbacks are increased.

Read more at the University of Oxford.
Hat tip to Reddit.

Using Psychology to Save the Environment

People will use less energy if told that their neighbours are more efficient energy consumers. That’s just one way to get people past their psychological barriers to acting more environmentally friendly according to new research out of the University of Victoria in British Columbia. New Scientist has the story.

This month, an American Psychological Association (APA) task force released a report highlighting these and other psychological barriers standing in the way of action. But don’t despair. The report also points to strategies that could be used to convince us to play our part. Sourced from psychological experiments, we review tricks that could be deployed by companies or organisations to encourage climate-friendly behaviour. Also, on page 40 of this issue, psychologist Mark van Vugt of the Free University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands describes the elements of human nature that push us to act altruistically.

The affluent young, for instance, tend to be diet conscious, and this could be used to steer them away from foods like cheeseburgers – one of the most climate-unfriendly meals around because of the energy it takes to raise cattle. So when trying to convince them to forgo that carbon-intensive beef pattie, better to stress health benefits than harp on about the global climate.

Though conservative pundits have been known to attack such efforts, characterising them as psychological manipulation or “mind control”, experiments indicate that people are willing to be persuaded. “From participants in our experiments, we’ve never heard a negative backlash,” says Wesley Schultz of California State University in San Marcos. In fact, according to John Petersen of Oberlin College, Ohio, we are used to far worse. “Compared to the barrage of advertising, it seems milder than anything I experience in my daily life,” he says.

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