Tag Archives: thinking

weird goings-on in the head

we have a roommate, let’s call him harry.  sometimes early in the morning, harry gets a bit mixed up.  he uses my toothpaste and then puts it in his drawer.  the other day we were all in the kitchen, and then i went to the bathroom, which is right beside the kitchen, to brush my teeth.  i couldn’t find the toothpaste, so i opened harry’s drawer, and there it was.  now here’s the funny thing:  all the while i was brushing my teeth i was thinking, “oh god, did he hear that i opened his drawer?”  “does he think i open his drawer all the time and rummage around in it?”  “this is so embarrassing!”  “he probably thinks i’m the most nosey, impolite person on the planet!” etc., etc.

fortunately, i could see my silliness and told harry about it and we had a good laugh.

but – wow!  what a crazy thing our minds are.  did i really think he had nothing better to do but to listen to what i was doing in the bathroom?  that he could hear when i open his drawer instead of mine?  that instead of placidly brewing a cup of tea, he was all busy suspecting me of wrongdoings?

i think it’s important to watch out for such strange goings-on in our heads.  it’s harmless when it’s about your roommate’s toothpaste but you can see how, unnoticed, these thoughts can grow to dangerous proportions.

do you ever catch yourself being irrational like this?

creativity: the murky mind

artist brent cole, thinking.  photograph by will foster http://flickr.com/people/mazakar/this is the first in a series of blog conversations about creativity with jeremy of PsyBlog, one of the leading psychology blogs.

in a post in january, jeremy wrote

how do great artists create? how do brilliant scientists solve the hardest problems in their field? listen to them try to explain and you’ll probably be disappointed. artists say mysterious things like: “the picture just formed in my mind.” writers tell us that: “i don’t know where the words come from.” scientists say they: “just had a hunch.”

of course, not all scientists, artists and writers give such mysterious answers. some talk about the processes they went through or what inspired their conceptual jump. but their explanations are almost invariable unsatisfying. they usually can’t really explain how they made that vital leap of the imagination.

cognitive psychologists find that this is true for all walks of life; we often have little understanding of what goes on in our own minds. jeremy cites a classic literature review by nisbett and wilson of psychological studies on this topic. some of the conclusions are that

a) when people’s thought processes are manipulated, they are mostly unaware of it and even if they are, it is difficult for them to identify what occurred
b) when explaining what they do, people don’t seem to access the correct thought process(es). if they do, it only happens when the explanation is plausible.

so this is one way of looking at this topic. let’s go for another perspective, that of dr. mihaly csikszentmihalyi (“me high, chicks sent me high”, as the good doctor likes to joke about the pronunciation of his name). csikszentmihalyi is one of the leading researchers on the topic of creativity.

the chapter “the work of creativity” in his book creativity: flow and the psychology of discovery and invention has a heading, the mysterious time, where we read:

… conscious [thought] sequences can be analyzed, to a certain extent, by the rules of logic. but what happens in the “dark” spaces defies ordinary analysis and evokes the original mystery shrouding the work of genius: one feels almost the need to turn to mysticism, to invoke the voice of the muse as an explanation.

csikszentmihalyi’s research subjects unanimously state that it is important to let problems simmer below the threshold of consciousness for a time without paying too much attention to them, maybe even consciously moving attention somewhere else.

so here’s my thought: perhaps these accounts of thought processes that are “disappointing”, “unsatisfying” or “implausible” are so murky because creativity needs that muddiness, needs to work away from the light of our attention?

what do you think, jeremy? and gentle readers – especially if you are artists, what do you think?

losing weight using the law of attraction

today we have a guest post by david hooper. it is an excerpt from his book ask, believe, receive and fits right in with the theme of men with weight issues we were talking about last week.

david’s and my views on this overlap in some areas, and they don’t in others. tomorrow i will present my thinking about this approach. dialogue is good! so first, heeeeere goes david:

body imagea very popular question about the law of attraction is “can it be used for weight loss?” the answer is a definitive yes! however there are a few steps you should take to ensure success.

first, you need to become aware of the negative thoughts surrounding us about weight. “if you eat that, you’ll get fat.” “obesity is genetic and can’t be controlled.” “it’s hard to lose weight.” now, these extremely common statements and regularly accepted “facts” are part of the root cause of our obesity problems. what we accept, we allow. what we believe, is.

if you have accepted that eating certain foods will make you fat, and then proceed to eat them because you like them, you may expect to grow fat. if you accept that obesity is genetic, you will not attempt to lose weight. you won’t even try. and if you accept that losing weight is difficult, as almost anyone will happily tell you, then you are agreeing that your path to losing weight must be difficult, if not impossible.

however, step back and take a good hard look at your beliefs about diet, exercise, and weight. do you believe that because you are a couch potato or a computer geek, your lack of exercise will cause you to become fat? then don’t be surprised when it happens. do you believe that eating the large fries instead of small is going to probably make you fat? you’re probably already gaining weight. our beliefs, thoughts and expectations firmly dictate our reality. so if you want to change your reality, first you need to change your thoughts.

man in the mirror; about body imagethis world of solid matter is not nearly as solid as it appears. it is in fact woven from a maelstrom of subatomic particles, whizzing and whirling around, inhabiting less than 1% of all space. these particles can simply blink in and out of existence and teleport from one spot to another. that’s not science fiction – that’s science fact.

bring it up a few levels, and you have the human cells. most of the cells in your body die and are replaced fairly frequently. these cells grow according to what you place in your body and what nutrients they are given or deprived of. if you begin a healthy lifestyle now, the potential for fast bodily change is very real, but you must be aware that this is possible, otherwise you are going to fall back onto the old stockpile belief of “losing weight is hard”.

your thoughts can easily manipulate your reality, and what could you possibly have more control over than your own physical body, the one apparatus in the physical world with which you do not appear to have a disconnect? (all disconnection from the external world is false, but appears to be real).

but the most important thing in weight loss is your mental bodily image. every day you look at yourself in the mirror. you snarl at your weight. you groan that you do not look the way you want to. you twist, turn and contort yourself and look with disgust at the part or parts of your body that you are unhappy with. this is feeding negative energy into your bodily image, and that’s exactly what you will attract – more things to feel disgusted with about your body.

when you see yourself in the mirror, stop judging yourself and begin loving yourself. that body carries you around, and you should be grateful that you have one at all! fully accept your body as it is right now, and decide that you would like to change it in order to give yourself a happier, healthier existence. again, accept your body in the mirror, and stop snarling and judging yourself. when you love your body, then naturally your body will feel better and will become healthier. as this happens your body will naturally shift to fit the image that you are holding in your mind: a healthier, thinner body. you will never lose weight while you judge yourself fat. that is rule number 1, and unfortunately that is the rule that 99% of people break from the get-go.

i hope this has shed some light on how you can readjust your thinking to allow yourself to develop a thinner, healthier body using the law of attraction. good luck to you!

(images by christi nielsen and prettywar-stl)

robbie burns and robbie laing: teachings on blind spots

suspicion is a heavy armour and with its weight it impedes more than it protects
robert burns

the range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice. and because we fail to notice that we fail to notice, there is little we can do to change; until we notice how failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds.
rd laing

this coming friday, january 25, is robbie burns day. this made me think of one of my favourite scotsmen, the rebellious, compassionate, thoughtful, cranky rd laing, the psychiatrist who initiated the anti-psychiatrist movement. i think his politics of experience may have been the first book on psychology i ever read.

so let’s see, do these two scotsmen have something to teach us?

rd laing’s quote is very, very important. we need to always be on our toes for our blind spots, and the first thing to do is to emphatically acknowledge that we do have them. then we can go on a hunt for them. i try to do that on a regular basis. here are a few things that can alert us to possible blind spots:

  • a strong urge to criticize someone. if you can’t help yourself, go ahead, but then ask yourself: do you do something similar? and where does the desire to criticize come from?
  • a strong “negative” emotional reaction to something or someone. fear, anger, disgust are good tip-offs. these emotions almost always arise because there’s something we’re saying no to. if we say no to something, we don’t want to see it, so it’ll automatically be in our blind spot or at least tucked away somewhere in our emotional basement (something that can cause depression, as i pointed out in this post.)
  • a strong non-reaction can be a sign of a blind spot, too. it’s one thing to notice in passing that we’re not interested in something. that’s normal. but sometimes we just emotionally blank out on something.
  • being overly certain of something. if you feel you are 100% right on something, it might be that you’ve arrived there after quite a while of thought or experience. or you may be one of those people that can honestly rely on your gut feelings. however, if they say that you “doth protest too much”, if you tend to become defensive of your certainties, you might have a blind spot there.
  • suspiciousness is another clue. robbie burns puts it very well: it’s a heavy armour that impedes clear thinking. i had a client once who had a very hard time keeping relationships going, even though she wanted them so much. but she always suspected people of taking advantage of her, of laughing behind her back, of disliking her. and you know what, that brings me back to rd laing. he was a firm believer of the healing powers of a good relationship between a client and a therapist. it was in this relationship, indeed, that my client slowly started softening her suspicious armour.

so let’s thank these two scotsmen for their teachings today.

why don’t we celebrate it with a bit of oatcakes and scotch! while we do this, let’s wave a hello to vancouver’s own todd wong, who’s in the picture up top, and who celebrates his own hilarious brand of robbie burns day.

(cat-and-whiskey image by leff)

albert ellis: empirically, logically and self-helpingly

the other day i was listening to a little audio clip of an interview with albert ellis, the no-holds-barred founder of rational-emotive behavioural therapy (REBT, also known as RET and RBT). ellis was one of the grandfathers of cognitive therapy; he wasn’t too enamoured with the theories he said freud “made up” and jung’s “mystical nonsense”.

but just like jung and freud, ellis’s ideas made their way into mainstream and pop psychology, forever entrenched there – for he is not only one of the grandfathers of cognitive therapy but also one of the people who helped midwife the psychological “arm” of the self-help movement.

in the interview, ellis was asked how he helps people. his response (slightly paraphrased):

we dispute people’s irrational beliefs which lead them to become neurotic. individuals upset themselves, they tell themselves nonsense and then they blame it on their early childhood!

it works usually within the first 5-10 minutes.

they come in with anxiety, depression, rage. so i ask them, what happened? “well so and so did this and that and i got enraged”

and we say, “let’s assume you are right and they treated you unjustly. what did you tell yourself after that?”

“he was wrong and he shouldn’t be doing this!”

well, they may be wrong alright but that doesn’t matter. the problem is that people say this should not be, this must not be.

and here comes my favourite part

so we get them to think about this. and first they think about their thinking and then think about how they think about it – which human beings, being constructivists, can do, but rarely do.

and then we help them to realize, empirically, logically and especially self-helpingly, that it’s unrealistic to say someone should not or must not do XYZ. and that it doesn’t follow that they are no good as a person; just that they act no good.

finally, ellis tells us

then we say, “it’s too bad that he treated you this way – now what are you going to do to change that or to live with it?”

we show them that they’ve become anxious or depressed because of what they told themselves about this event.

then we use cognitive, behavioural and emotional techniques to act help them act otherwise.

i already mentioned some of those techniques in my eulogy to albert ellis back in june. another one is a shame-attacking exercise, and i’ve certainly used that in my practice.

example: a client, let’s call her marion, is always nervous of what people think of her. she doesn’t even want anyone to know that she’s in therapy, and that troubles her a lot. we decide to allocate a whole session to that. i ask her for a list of people who she thinks might think ill of her for being in therapy.

we then pick a person from that list – usually one who is not too “scary” – and i support marion as she calls that person and casually mentions that she’s just come from a therapy session.

after that we debrief. marion is surprised and delighted to shed a light on her thoughts, beliefs and feelings around the experienced – and she is relieved because she knows she’s starting to put down the burden of always looking over her shoulder to see that “they” think.

interested in experiencing how this works? email me at moritherapy at shaw dot ca, and i’ll give a free taste of it.

for a post i wrote on the occasion of albert ellis’ death at 93, go to don’t should on yourself: albert ellis dead at 93

(this post was mentioned in the carnival of quotes)

thinking differently about success, failure and learning

a few weeks ago i wrote a blog post, the scrunchie challenge, where i felt inspired by a post at monk at work to change a habit.

i said i was going to keep a scrunchie on my wrist for three weeks, to remind me to ground myself whenever i wasn’t experiencing my body enough. i also said i was going to check in with you occasionally and report back on october 12. i turned it into a meme and tagged a number of people with it.

i didn’t keep the scrunchie on for a long time. i only checked in once, and barely at that. i didn’t report back on october 12. i didn’t really follow up on the meme. nobody took me up on the meme.

what a failure. of course you didn’t remember any of this because i’m not important enough and now that you’re reminded you just snort and say, geesh, what a flake. and how unreliable. i’m so embarrassed.

i better never start a meme again. obviously i can’t follow through on it. and you guys are going to think of me forever as an unreliable, flaky failure.



peter's think different challenge

okay, let’s try this again.

a few weeks ago i wrote a blog post, the scrunchie challenge, where i felt inspired by a post at monk at work to change a habit.

i said i was going to keep a scrunchie on my wrist for three weeks, to remind me to ground myself whenever i wasn’t experiencing my body enough. i also said i was going to check in with you occasionally and report back on october 12. i turned it into a meme and tagged a number of people with it.

i kept the scrunchie on for a few days. i still remember what it looked and felt like. something small shifted in me. since that post, i’ve been paying way more attention to my body. i feel more “in” my body.

one of the things that happened as a result of that was that i became aware that an old but irritating sinus problem had crept up again. i watched it for a while and decided not to have any sugar at all for 10 days, see whether that makes a difference. i’ve never done that before and am now on day three of that.

it also prompted me to work more on meal planning, to coincide better with my daily biorhythm.

i really gained something from this exercise! i guess there were a few things that i didn’t do and i would have preferred to have followed up on the announcements i made but, oh well, live and learn.

what’s the difference between the first story and the rewrite? the events were very much the same. what i focused on was different.

what have i learned from this process? what is my “metalearning”?

  1. how the look and feel of the physical reminder of the scrunchie imprinted on me. even though i didn’t use it much, it still stayed with me.
  2. how important it is to learn things over and over again. i knew about each and every one of the points here but for them to be effective, they need to be reinforced once in while.
  3. one things leads to another, and there are always surprises. i certainly didn’t think that this exercise would lead me to experiment with cutting out sugar!
  4. if i just keep at it and keep being open, i can always find new ways to deal with long-standing challenges such as meal planning.
  5. that, when i focus on my learning, what others think of me becomes uninteresting.
  6. next time i do a meme and nobody takes me up on it, i will first follow up on the people tagged and if that doesn’t work, tag a few more people.
  7. and that i can look at any thought, action and event in the light of learning. i don’t even want to say success. success brings up the dichotomy of success and failure. learning, on the other hand, is open-ended.

a heartfelt thanks to jennifer from heal pain naturally for inviting me to participate in the think differently meme. i had been wondering how i would write about the scrunchie experience and when i got jennifer’s tag this morning, it all popped into my head.

because that’s what i’m doing here. thinking differently about success, failure and learning.

who else wants to think differently? this meme was started by fellow vancouverite peter, so maybe i’ll tag a few more people from here. please read the guidelines for participating here. i’m tagging carol, paul and maggie.

(this post appeared in the 25th total mind and body fitness carnival)