Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Psychology of voting

This deserves a re-post from 2008:

Here is an excerpt from a very interesting article by Jonathan Haidt. Click or cut and paste the link to read the article in its entirety.
Diagnosis is a pleasure. It is a thrill to solve a mystery from scattered clues, and it is empowering to know what makes others tick. In the psychological community, where almost all of us are politically liberal, our diagnosis of conservatism gives us the additional pleasure of shared righteous anger. We can explain how Republicans exploit frames, phrases, and fears to trick Americans into supporting policies (such as the "war on terror" and repeal of the "death tax") that damage the national interest for partisan advantage.
But with pleasure comes seduction, and with righteous pleasure comes seduction wearing a halo. Our diagnosis explains away Republican successes while convincing us and our fellow liberals that we hold the moral high ground. Our diagnosis tells us that we have nothing to learn from other ideologies, and it blinds us to what I think is one of the main reasons that so many Americans voted Republican over the last 30 years: they honestly prefer the Republican vision of a moral order to the one offered by Democrats. To see what Democrats have been missing, it helps to take off the halo, step back for a moment, and think about what morality really is.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Welcoming Dr. Verena Murphy to Solutions & Results

Verena Murphy, PH.D, LISW, LCSW-C
I have known Verena and worked with her in many capacities for more than 15 years. Verena is a caring, kind, and compassionate therapist who adds incredible skills, knowledge and resources to Solutions & Results.
Verena is very skilled in Systems-Centered* Therapy, SCT and will begin training in EFT for couples this year. She will be available Fridays and Saturdays, and accepts some insurances.
It's great to have you here Verena!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Revisiting the Resolution

Revisiting the Resolution:
by Robert Hartford, LICSW
February 21, 2013

February is a short month and March is nearly here.
It is the perfect time to revisit your New Year resolution.  Or, if you forgot to set one this year, be happy that your oversight to set a resolution spared you the shame of failing to reach it.  Now is as good a time as any, so go head and choose one, just one simple, easy, habit change with an impact.

I work with a lot of stressed out executives and professionals in Washington DC, from politicians to actors, environmentalists, bankers, lawyers, doctors, realtors and hoteliers.  Some of the most common problems that they come to me with stem from stressors in the workplace, relationships or a lack of relationships.  The stress often manifests in anxiety, tension, anger and depression.

Some people come in because they want more and just feel like they are not reaching their potential. Some come because they know something doesn’t feel quite right.  Others want to reach specific goals and have run into obstacles that their current behaviors and strategies just aren’t working or sometimes are even working against them.

I love my job.  Nothing is more rewarding to me than seeing people flourish, and begin to actualize their potential.  In this day and age it is not such the stigma that it once was to see a therapist or coach.  People see the value they gain from having someone to give them unconditional positive regard when needed, or a working structure when lacking in organization. 

Just the other day a regional developer I’ve been working with for years was asked to share his success strategies with the other regions.  When he mentioned his coach he was surprised at the reaction he received from his counterparts.  “You have a coach”?  “I never thought you would need a coach”.  His response was, I don’t “need” a coach.  I just wanted to be the best in the company and now I am.

February can be a busy time of year for me because the motivation of the new year and resolve to make changes hits the reality of life and the suction back into old patterns is powerfully strong.  People often come in disillusioned and defeated.  

Here is my top 10 list of reasons people don’t stick with their plan to make changes or reach their goals:
Top 10 reasons people break their New Years resolutions:
10.  Shooting from the hip.  Blindly shooting for goals that overreach ability and reality.  Blind ambition is no more than a wish.  Discover your motivation to change motivation is the fuel and the behaviors in reality are the actual change. Wishing is not enough.
 9.  Complicated. Overly complex goals with multiple behavior changes mean too many choices which decreases the probability that any of them will be utilized.  Pick one simple behavior change and stick to it. 
8.  "Shoulds"and other ir-realities:  Setting goals based on other what we think we "Should" do, "shoulds" that are often based on other peoples opinions and judgments is a driving force for failure. 
7.  Ambiguity.  When resolutions are too vague we are setting our human brain up for a near impossible task to focus on the goal.  The more specific the task or goal the better chance you have of achieving the new behavior.  Instead of "Eat healthier food" which is vague try substituting something specific, like "I'll trade out that sticky bun every morning for an orange or banana.
6.  Tying your friends or spouse to your resolution.  It may start out well but it's too easy to place blame.
5. No resonance.  When you set a goal that really doesn't speak to you, you are setting yourself up for failure. Find goals that have a resonance with who you are and who you want to become.
4.  Self targeting. Too often people don't make space for missteps, or errors and attach themselves to a sense of perfection.  Then when humanity/reality shows up they beat themselves up, put themselves down.  It sounds something like "I'm such an idiot looser hopeless retch". "I'm never going to amount to anything". "What's wrong with me?" or they 'should' themselves which is like a mini self-targeting.   "I never should have eaten that sundae" The trouble with this type of internal dialogue is that it not only takes energy away from working toward the goal or solving the problem, it also has the unfortunate side effect of reinforcing the very problem one is trying to solve.  It gives fuel to the problem which reinforces it in our human brain.
3.  Time traveling into "Ir-reality". This is a common form of self sabotage.   All of us at times jump to the future with a negative prediction. "I'm never going to be able to do it".  Then we time travel to our history and our mind locks in to all the times we failed in the past and with this reinforcement of the Negative Prediction, we begin to behave in similarly to the ways of the past, increasing the chance of a self fulfilling prophesy.  So instead, try moving from the irrealities of the past and future, ask yourself, "what's different now?" This will help to determine what is required "now" to move towards your goal and will give you more perspective of how to get around or through the obstacles along the way.
2.  Competing goals. Often a move away from one goal is simply a move toward another.  Don't beat yourself up over this, it simply a choice that may even be common sense.
1.  Loosing context.  When you loose sight of the larger context or the bigger picture, if you will,  there is a tendency to take the world "just-personally" as my mentor Yvonne Agazarian says.  This often leads to anxiety, tension and depression.  For example if a goal is to go the the gym before work and we slept until it was time to go to work and too late. There may be a pull to get anxious, with thought like: "I'm never going to reach my goal" and depressed, with self-targeting like: "I'm such a looser I' always fail" but on further exploration with a clear sense of the context you will often find that the context of the reality of the situation means that sleeping in was actually common-sense. Realizing something like "Oh ya, I was up until 3:00 the last two nights to make that deadline, that my boss insisted on"  then maybe you can fantasize about ringing his neck and realize that sleeping in was the competing goal which is tied to survival and trumps the goal of going to the gym.  So plan to get back on track using common sense and steer away from the self-targeting.

We are human after all, which is often one of the biggest challenges for people to accept about them selves.  Sometimes it is as if it’s “fine for everyone else” even feeling compassion for others who are in the same boat, but not for themselves. So give yourself a break and then get back on track.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Origin of Hatred

The Origin of Hatred
Brain scans reveal how hate begins to emerge--and it's not too far from love
By Katherine Harmon

If love is said to come from the heart, what about hate? Along with music, religion, irony and a host of other complex concepts, researchers are on the hunt for the neurological underpinnings of hatred. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has begun to reveal how the strong emotion starts to emerge in the brain.

Neurobiologist Semir Zeki, of University College London's Laboratory of Neurobiology, led a study last year that scanned the brains of 17 adults as they gazed at images of a person they professed to hate. Across the board, areas in the medial frontal gyrus, right putamen, premotor cortex and medial insula activated. Parts of this so-called "hate circuit," the researchers noted, are also involved in initiating aggressive behavior, but feelings of aggression itself—as well as anger, danger and fear—show different patterns in the brain than hatred does.

Certainly loathing can spring from positive feelings, such as romantic love (in the guise of a former partner or perceived rival). But love seems to deactivate areas traditionally associated with judgment, whereas hatred activates areas in the frontal cortex that may be involved in evaluating another person and predicting their behavior.

Some commonalities with love, however, are striking, the study authors note. The areas of the putamen and insula that are activated by individual hate are the same as those for romantic love. "This linkage may account for why love and hate are so closely linked to each other in life," they wrote in the October 2008 PLoS ONE.

This initial study, however, does not have everyone convinced that researchers have uncovered the neurological root of hatred. "This is really early in the game," says Scott Huettel, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University who was not involved in the study. Other emotions, such as happiness and sadness, are much better understood, he says: "Even things like regret have some pretty clear neural coordinates."

The next step, Huettel points out, will be to conduct more research on clearly defined aspects and types of hatred—including group hate rather than that aimed at individuals—then test them across several different situations. It will also be important, he notes, to look for cases in which parts of the brain have been impaired and emotional tendencies have changed. "Once you show the positive activation and impairment when the brain region is damaged you have good evidence that you have at least part of the circuit," he says.

What purpose the emotion of hate serves is also still up for conjecture. Although some argue that the feeling has an evolutionary advantage—it might help an individual decide whom to confront or scorn—Huettel notes that, like pinpointing a dedicated neural circuit, it is all just "educated guesses at this point."

Don't you just hate that?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

People Naturally Walk in Circles

My colleague Peter Bernhardt regularly postes some interesting reading.

People Naturally Walk in Circles
Emily Sohn, Discovery News

Aug. 20, 2009 -- If you're lost in the woods and you feel like you're walking in circles, you probably are.
Without landmarks to guide us, people really do go around and around, found a new study.
The finding emphasizes the importance of being prepared if you're going to set off into the wilderness or even into a maze of city streets.
"Just walking in a straight line seems like such a simple and natural thing to do, but if you think about it, it's quite complicated thing going on in the brain," said Jan Souman, a psychologist at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tubingen, Germany.
"After these experiments, I would never go into a big forest or desert without a compass or GPS anymore."
Souman's project started when a German popular-science television show approached his group with a viewer question: Why do people walk in circles when they're lost?
At first, Souman wasn't sure if that common sensation was actually true. When lost, he suspected, people might veer to the left or right. But he didn't expect them to actually walk in true circles.
To find out, he instructed nine people to walk as straight as possible in one direction for several hours.

Six walkers forged through a flat, forested region of Germany. Three trekked through the Sahara desert in southern Tunisia. (A sand storm stopped further testing in the desert). All walkers wore GPS receivers so that the researchers could analyze their routes.

The results, published today in the journal Current Biology, showed that no matter how hard people tried to walk in a straight line, they often ended up going in circles without ever realizing that they were crossing their own paths.
But there was a twist.
Circular walking befell only the four forest walkers who had to walk in overcast conditions and the one desert walker who walked at night after the moon had set. Those who could see the sun or moon managed to travel fairly straight.
Previous studies have shown that bees, pigeons and a variety of other animals move in tight circles when orienting cues like the sun are missing. The new study suggests that, whether we're conscious of what we're doing or not, people are tuned into those types of environmental signals, too.
"People find it really hard to say what they did exactly," Souman said. "It's pretty clear from our data that they do use the sun somehow."
In a follow-up experiment, the researchers challenged 15 people to walk straight while blindfolded. When they couldn't see at all, the walkers ended up going in surprisingly small circles -- with a diameter of less than 66 feet.
In repeated attempts, blindfolded walkers circled in one direction sometimes and in the opposite direction other times.
The blindfold experiment dispelled one theory -- that people might walk in circles because one leg tends to be longer or stronger than the other. Instead, Souman suspects that little mistakes in brain add up until the sense of what's straight turns into something round.
The results aren't necessarily surprising, said Randy Gallistel, a cognitive neuroscientist at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Most dead hikers, after all, are found within a mile, if not 100 meters from where they got lost.
Still, he said, if you do get lost, it's important to know that your body might end up doing the opposite of what your brain intends.
To counter the tendency to spiral, Gallistel suggested that hikers learn some simple Boy Scout tricks. Moss grows on the north side of trees. There is less vegetation on the south-facing side of a valley than on its north-facing slopes. And the sun moves from east to west throughout the day.
Better yet, bring a map and compass or GPS device.
"If you are going to move, make sure you know how to move in a straight line," Gallistel said, adding that it's hard to find a spot in the continental United States that's more than 20 miles from a road. "Straight lines are helpful. Circles don't get you anywhere."

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Holiday Joy, Stress and 12 tips from the Mayo Clinic

With Halloween over and the election just days away, the holidays are coming. Thanksgiving, Hanukkah (Hebrew: חנוכה‎, alt. Chanukah) Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Years are just around the corner. For many this is the most joy full time of the year, however stress is inevitable. For some this stress may be part of the efforts that bear the fruits of satisfaction and joy of the season. However, for many this can also be a time of reflection and nostalgia, sadness, loss and depression.

Money, Family, Hosting, Shopping, Loss are all factors that add stress into the mix.

There are several things you can do to help prepare for a successful season.

This compilation of information about the stresses of the season will hopeful help you navigate your way through a satisfying season.

Volunteering is one way to find connection.

Cut and paste the links below or click on the corresponding links to the top right of this page.

Family Conflict can also contribute to a stressful holiday. Visit this link for more information:

The following posting from the from the Mayo Clinic give 12 useful tips for coping with the stress of the holidays.

Stress, depression and the holidays: 12 tips for coping

Stress and depression can ruin your holidays and hurt your health. Being realistic, planning ahead and seeking support can help ward off stress and depression.

For some people, the holidays bring unwelcome guests — stress and depression. And it's no wonder. In an effort to pull off a perfect Hallmark holiday, you might find yourself facing a dizzying array of demands — work, parties, shopping, baking, cleaning, caring for elderly parents or kids on school break, and scores of other chores. So much for peace and joy, right?

Actually, with some practical tips, you can minimize the stress and depression that often accompany the holidays. You may even end up enjoying the holidays more than you thought you would.

The trigger points of holiday stress and depression

Holiday stress and depression are often the result of three main trigger points. Understanding these trigger points can help you plan ahead on how to accommodate them.

The three main trigger points of holiday stress or depression:

  • Relationships. Relationships can cause turmoil, conflict or stress at any time. But tensions are often heightened during the holidays. Family misunderstandings and conflicts can intensify — especially if you're all thrust together for several days. Conflicts are bound to arise with so many different personalities, needs and interests. On the other hand, if you're facing the holidays without a loved one, you may find yourself especially lonely or sad.
  • Finances. Like your relationships, your financial situation can cause stress at any time of the year. But overspending during the holidays on gifts, travel, food and entertainment can increase stress as you try to make ends meet while ensuring that everyone on your gift list is happy. You may find yourself in a financial spiral that leaves you with depression symptoms such as hopelessness, sadness and helplessness.
  • Physical demands. The strain of shopping, attending social gatherings and preparing holiday meals can wipe you out. Feeling exhausted increases your stress, creating a vicious cycle. Exercise and sleep — good antidotes for stress and fatigue — may take a back seat to chores and errands. High demands, stress, lack of exercise, and overindulgence in food and drink — all are ingredients for holiday illness.

12 tips to prevent holiday stress and depression

When stress is at its peak, it's hard to stop and regroup. Try to prevent stress and depression in the first place, especially if you know the holidays have taken an emotional toll in previous years.

Tips you can try to head off holiday stress and depression:

  1. Acknowledge your feelings. If a loved one has recently died or you aren't able to be with your loved ones, realize that it's normal to feel sadness or grief. It's OK now and then to take time just to cry or express your feelings. You can't force yourself to be happy just because it's the holiday season.
  2. Seek support. If you feel isolated or down, seek out family members and friends, or community, religious or social services. They can offer support and companionship. Consider volunteering at a community or religious function. Getting involved and helping others can lift your spirits and broaden your friendships. Also, enlist support for organizing holiday gatherings, as well as meal preparation and cleanup. You don't have to go it alone. Don't be a martyr.
  3. Be realistic. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Hold on to those you can and want to. But accept that you may have to let go of others. For example, if your adult children and grandchildren can't all gather at your house as usual, find new ways to celebrate together from afar, such as sharing pictures, e-mails or videotapes.
  4. Set differences aside. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don't live up to all your expectations. Practice forgiveness. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. With stress and activity levels high, the holidays might not be conducive to making quality time for relationships. And be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are they're feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression, too.
  5. Stick to a budget. Before you go shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend on gifts and other items. Then be sure to stick to your budget. If you don't, you could feel anxious and tense for months afterward as you struggle to pay the bills. Don't try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts. Donate to a charity in someone's name, give homemade gifts or start a family gift exchange.
  6. Plan ahead. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, visiting friends and other activities. Plan your menus and then make one big food-shopping trip. That'll help prevent a last-minute scramble to buy forgotten ingredients — and you'll have time to make another pie, if the first one's a flop. Expect travel delays, especially if you're flying.
  7. Learn to say no. Believe it or not, people will understand if you can't do certain projects or activities. If you say yes only to what you really want to do, you'll avoid feeling resentful, bitter and overwhelmed. If it's really not possible to say no when your boss asks you to work overtime, try to remove something else from your agenda to make up for the lost time.
  8. Don't abandon healthy habits. Don't let the holidays become a dietary free-for-all. Some indulgence is OK, but overindulgence only adds to your stress and guilt. Have a healthy snack before holiday parties so that you don't go overboard on sweets, cheese or drinks. Continue to get plenty of sleep and schedule time for physical activity.
  9. Take a breather. Make some time for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Steal away to a quiet place, even if it's to the bathroom for a few moments of solitude. Take a walk at night and stargaze. Listen to soothing music. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm.
  10. Rethink resolutions. Resolutions can set you up for failure if they're unrealistic. Don't resolve to change your whole life to make up for past excess. Instead, try to return to basic, healthy lifestyle routines. Set smaller, more specific goals with a reasonable time frame. Choose only those resolutions that help you feel valuable and that provide more than only fleeting moments of happiness.
  11. Forget about perfection. Holiday TV specials are filled with happy endings. But in real life, people don't usually resolve problems within an hour or two. Something always comes up. You may get stuck late at the office and miss your daughter's school play, your sister may dredge up an old argument, your partner may burn the cookies, and your mother may criticize how you're raising the kids. All in the same day. Accept imperfections in yourself and in others.
  12. Seek professional help if you need it. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to face routine chores. If these feelings last for several weeks, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. You may have depression.

Take back control of holiday stress and depression

Remember, one key to minimizing holiday stress and depression is knowing that the holidays can trigger stress and depression. Accept that things aren't always going to go as planned. Then take active steps to manage stress and depression during the holidays. You may actually enjoy the holidays this year more than you thought you could.