Category Archives: Education

A People-Pleaser’s Guide to Saying “No”

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Kindness is a good thing, especially in today’s fast-paced world that seems to be filling up with disturbing headlines by the minute. All the more reason for people-pleasers to spread the love, right? Not so fast. Constantly saying “yes” isn’t doing you—or those around you—any good, whether you’re trying to preserve relationships, make the world a kinder place, or avoid confrontation. In fact, experts say that people-pleasers face extraordinary amounts of stress because of their inability to turn others down. The pressure you put on yourself to please others is not only taxing, but it takes away from tending to your own life issues. Furthermore, people-pleasing can rob your of your personal and professional time, sabotaging productivity.

Here’s a guide to help you say “no” with more ease, and feel better about sticking to it.

Focus on your needs first

Many people-pleasers are so tuned in to the needs of others that they put aside their own desires. If you’re constantly putting your own plans or problems on the back burner for fear of saying “no” or because you think you’ll make someone else feel left out, chances are you feel drained and perhaps a bit sad. No wonder—you’re not doing much to boost your own happiness and well-being when you barely give yourself any attention!

Instead, tell yourself that it’s perfectly fine to take care of your wants first and foremost. This doesn’t mean you have to completely ignore others or ditch their needs during critical moments, but by taking the time to tune into what you want instead of what other’s want, you’ll find more balance in your life.

Enjoy the present moment

As a people-pleaser, you’re probably often thinking about how you can help during future events involving friends, family and colleagues. But when you’re always planning a birthday party two months out or thinking of how you can assist a coworker, your mind never gets a chance to enjoy the here-and-now.

Self and relationship coach Jennifer Twardowski explains that focusing on the “here” allows you to learn more about yourself and hone in on your needs. Learning to appreciate the moment frees you of people-pleasing thoughts so you’re not constantly thinking of how you can be there for others (whether it’s 10 minutes or one week from now).

Say “no” without saying “no”

You can say “no” without using the word—an ideal option for people-pleasers who feel that the one-word response is too curt and unkind. By informing others of your plans, you’re not only engaging in friendly conversation but you’re also conveying that you have a lot on your plate and therefore won’t be able to tend to their request(s). In some cases, a rundown of your weekend agenda isn’t even necessary; simply saying, “I can’t; I have a lot on my plate this week” will suffice.

Of course, there are moments when a firm “no” is well-deserved. Offensive requests or ones you feel can be emotionally or physically harmful should prompt your people-pleasing tendencies to be left by the wayside without a second thought.

Don’t be overly apologetic

Saying “no” (either directly or indirectly) may make you feel rude or unkind, leaving you with the need to apologize excessively. Some degree of expressing understanding over the other person’s need for help is a thoughtful reaction. However, being overly apologetic about turning down someone’s request signals that you might change your mind. At the very least, it could make others more likely to continue asking for your help in the future, banking on you saying yes to make up for your bad feelings about not being able to help previously.

Surround yourself with people who truly consider your feelings

Let’s face it, some people can’t get enough of themselves. They’re the ones who really tell you how their life is when you ask, right down to the fuzz they plucked off their left sock while getting dressed in the morning. Their life is one drama-infused event after another. What they ate, why they’re ticked off and what their plans are for tomorrow seem to matter most. And of course, asking you to step in and help in any (or all) aspects of their ever-important life is a given. Such me-myself-and-I people thrive on your people-pleasing tendencies.

Take the time to ask yourself if you’re truly enjoying this person’s company, or if you’re only there because of an inability to easily say “no.” If the latter is true, consider easing out of the relationship and finding new friends who actually care enough to ask you how you are doing. Surround yourself with others who genuinely care about your needs and who ask about life events (good or bad) that have happened to you, without being prompted to ask. You’ll soon forget about relationships in which you never seemed to matter until the other individual needed something.

By giving yourself as much attention as you tend to give others, you’ll notice your stress levels drop and your well-being improve. It’s wonderful to help others, but when people-pleasing becomes the only behavior you feel comfortable with, it can define you, drain you, and even encourage others turn to you only when it best suits their needs. Put yourself first for a change; you deserve it!

What to Do When You Can’t Stop Thinking About It

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There are only two things you have true control over in life, your thoughts and your behavior. No one else can choose either one of those for you. But sometimes intrusive thoughts about unwanted events can flood your mind and it can feel like your thoughts are controlling you. Whether it is something that happened in the past such as a fight with your partner, or a future event you are worried about such as not having enough money to pay the rent or not doing well at the job interview, negative rumination robs you of your present moment well-being and over time can lead to serious problems like depression or anxiety.

So why do we ruminate on negative things?

  • Sometimes you are trying to figure out a solution to a problem.
  • Sometimes you are expecting something to go wrong and you are trying to avoid an unfavorable outcome.
  • Sometimes it might be that a part of your brain isn’t functioning properly and a set of neurons gets stuck firing over and over again.
  • Sometimes it is just a bad habit you have.

The problem with ruminating is that most often you are focused on things going wrong instead of how to generate the solutions to resolve the situation and make it go right. If your boss got angry with you at work, you may be ruminating on what you did, wishing you could have done it differently, and worrying that if you do it again there might be serious consequences like losing your job. You might replay the scene with your boss over and over in your head, or worry excessively about what would happen if the worst-case scenario did play itself out. This kind of thinking activates you fight flight response which actually shuts down your creative problem solving thought process. In order to find the resolution that will allow you to let go of the problem, you will need to disengage from the ruminative thought pattern.

Stopping thought isn’t something we are good at. Psychologists refer to this as the white bear problem, because deliberate attempts to suppress thoughts can often make them more likely to resurface.1 If I say think of a white bear, then tell you to stop thinking about it, chances are the white bear image will still be in your mind.  The reason for this is that there is no off button in the brain. In order to stop any one thought you need to turn on or activate a different stream of thinking.

Below are 4 ways you can begin to regain control over your thoughts.

1) Engage in an activity that is on a different emotional frequency.

Feeling follows thought so negative rumination generates negative emotions. Worrying makes you feel anxious. However, psychologists know behavior can change emotions too. If you do something that you know generally makes you feel better like going for a run, calling a friend, going for a walk in the park, watching your favorite movie, meditating, you can raise your emotional frequency. When you are in a better mood you can think more clearly and will often gain a different perspective on the situation. Doing something that generates positive emotion also acts as a distraction task by simply giving you something else to focus your attention on.

2) Write down all the reasons why what you fear will NOT happen.

The majority of what you worry about never happens. That’s because most of the time there are lots of valid reasons why what you worry about is unlikely. However, because our brain works on an activation/inhibition model,2 active thoughts about what could go wrong inhibit your brain from thinking of the reasons why these thoughts may not be rational. It requires a concentrated conscious effort to shift this train of thought and think of the reasons why your fear isn’t likely to come about.

3) Write down all the reasons why even if the worst-case scenario did happen you would still be ok.

Many times we feel that if something unwanted happens it would be completely devastating, we wouldn’t be able to survive, or we will be forever unhappy. But the truth is difficult unwanted things happen all the time and people do survive, and sometimes even come out the better because of them. Our brains are extremely adaptive to our relative circumstances. Paraplegics, a year after their injury, report just as much happiness as lottery winners.3 How well you handle any situation depends largely on how your perception of your ability to cope with the situation. Instead of focusing on why you won’t be ok, think of your strengths, the difficult things you have already overcome in life, why you are resourceful enough to get through other challenges.

4) Create an action oriented solution-focused re-frame.

When you have a resolution to the situation you will have both reduced the need for your brain to ruminate and you will have given yourself something constructive to focus on instead, which replaces the ruminative thoughts. Asking yourself a few simple questions can help you move you towards generating a solution.

a. What do I believe this situation means for me? Because we can only move forward in time we tend to think of events that happen to us in terms of what they mean for us in the future. If you have an argument with your boss, you worry about what it will mean for your future e.g., the relationship with my boss might be damaged, I might not get a promotion. If something bad happened but it had absolutely no bearing on your life going forward, it wouldn’t bother you much.

b. What do I want to happen? I would like to repair the relationship with my boss. Clarity about what you want is a prerequisite to developing a solution to any problem.

c. What can I do that is likely to bring that about? I can ask to meet with my boss and discuss the situation, I can make sure to keep my temper in check in the future, I can continue to interact in a positive way, I can make an effort to show my value. A plan to deal with a problem causes you to see the situation differently and reduces your anxiety and the need to ruminate.

If all else fails remember that thoughts are only thoughts and just because you think something, that doesn’t make it true. You don’t have to act on your thoughts; you can just observe them and let the unhelpful ones go by.

Our Presence, not Presents, Matters Most

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Depending on your faith tradition, you have likely just wound up the gift-giving winter holidays or are finally in the home stretch.

Each year, the months-long build-up to these important celebrations seems to instill hope that this time we can get it “right.”

We feel compelled to turn sacred, intimate moments into flawless staged productions.

Pinterest boards, Facebook, and Amazon.com have clearly conspired to create an “ad hoc commercialization collaborative” that compels us to stage the moment, not live in the moment.

Finding the “perfect” recipe, craft, or gift idea on Pinterest may lead to a few more mouse clicks so that Amazon can deliver the now essential supplies for your holiday perfection. Overnight shipping seems worth its cost if it means folks’ smiles will be a little broader as they feast at your table or unwrap their gifts.

Unfortunately, you are still likely to find yourself desperately photo-shopping pictures and cropping out the lumps, bumps, or other shortcomings of your masterpiece or the messy kitchen counter in the background.

Hey, it’s the holidays! No effort or expense is too much to spare to make those moments perfect, right?

Nope, that’s wrong.

Perhaps we need a rule of thumb in life – at the holidays and throughout the year.

If you find yourself spending increasingly more time each holiday photo-shopping images of your bickering relatives, cranky children, wailing infants, or impatient spouses, just to make a photo Facebook-worthy, maybe you need to put down the phone and “crop yourself” back into to the events going on around you.

Staging your life – at the holidays or beyond – will never bring the lasting joy that just “living your life” can provide.

84% of Vegetarians and Vegans Return to Meat. Why?

Hal Herzog Ph.D.
Hal Herzog Ph.D.
Animals and Us

One of my daughters recently asked me for suggestions on types of meat she might enjoy. I was shocked. A vegetarian for nearly 18 years, she has always found meat, well, icky. In retrospect, I should not have been surprised about her new interest in carnivory. After all, as a researcher, I have studied vegetarians who return to meat. But I never figured she would join the ranks of ex-vegetarians, so I asked her to jot down a few words about why she originally gave up the consumption of flesh and why she now feels compelled to change her veggie ways. Here’s what she wrote….

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I stopped eating meat when I was 13. I told my mom and dad that my decision was based on animal welfare and the high carbon footprint of meat. But the truth is that while I theoretically cared about animals and the planet, mostly I just wanted to be different. I lived in a small Southern town where it was more common to see the image of Jesus in a piece of toast than encounter a real live vegetarian. So while my motives weren’t entirely pure, giving up meat certainly made me different: Population of Cullowhee, NC: 9,427 meat eaters and 1 vegetarian.

For the next 17 years, I ate grains, produce, legumes, and fake meat products like those Morningstar bacon strips that have a lower nutritional value than cat food. And for the next 17 years, it seemed like I was always hungry no matter how large my bowl of beans and rice. Even worse than constant hunger, I didn’t seem to enjoy food the way other people did. Eating was a chore, like folding laundry or paying bills, but even more annoying because if I didn’t do it I would die. I was sick of being hungry, I was sick of beans and rice, and so at the age of 31, I have made a decision: I will try and become a meat-eater.

Thanks to a new study by the Humane Research Council, we now know a lot more about the psychology of why so many vegetarians and vegans, like my daughter, give up their all-veggie ways.

 The Methods

The Humane Research Council(link is external) is a non-profit that uses market research techniques to assess public opinions related to animal issues. Their mission is to provide information animal protection organizations can use to more effectively spread their messages. And for this study, they recruited a group of top flight social scientists to design a survey to examine differences between current and ex-vegetarians and vegans.

The study sample was unique for a couple of reasons. First it was huge – 11,399 adults of all dietary stripes which were recruited from a representative group of Americans maintained by Harris Interactive (part of the company that conducts the highly respected Harris Poll). Second, while not perfectly representative of the American public, it is a much closer representation of the population of the United States than other studies of our collective dietary choices. (While the sample was a bit older, wealthier, more educated, whiter, and more female that the general public, I was more impressed by how diverse it was.)

The Findings:

For anyone interested in the psychology of meat-eating and meat avoidance, the data is a gold mine. Here is a quick overview of some of the more interesting findings

How Many? – The proportion of true vegetarians and vegans in the United State is surprisingly small. Only about 2% of respondents did not consume any meat – 1.5% were vegetarians and 0.5% were vegans. These finding are generally consistent with other studies(link is external).

Going Back – Five out of six people who give up meat eventually abandon their vegetarian ways.

Vegans Vs. Vegetarians – Vegans are less like to backslide than vegetarians. While 86% of vegetarians returned to meat, only 70% of vegans did.

Political views – More than twice as many vegetarians and vegans indicated they were politically liberal rather than said they were conservative.

Demographics – Compared to current vegetarian/vegans, ex-vegetarians tended to be older, more conservative, and more likely to be traditional Christians. There were no differences in the gender ratios, education, or race/ethnicity of former and current vegetarian/vegans.

Gender differences – As expected, there were higher proportions of women than men among both present and former meat avoiders. (Nearly every study has found that women are more concerned about animal issues. For a review, see here(link is external).)

Reasons for going veg – Current vegetarians/vegans were considerably more likely than former meat avoiders to say they originally gave up eating meat for reasons of taste, concern for animals, feelings of disgust, social justice, and religious beliefs.

Health problems – Only 29% of ex-vegetarians/vegans indicated that they experienced specific health-related symptoms while on a no-meat diet.

Back to veggies? – 37% of ex-vegetarian/vegans indicated that they would be interested in going back to a no-meat diet at some point in the future.

The purity problem – 43% of ex-vegetarians/vegans said they found it too difficult to be “pure” with their diet.

The Implications: Meat Reduction Is More Effective Than Meat Elimination

The implications of this study are important. Only 2% of Americans do not eat any animal products. (This number has not changed appreciably for 20 years). Further, the fact that five out of six vegetarians go back to eating meat suggests that an all-veggie diet is very hard for most people to maintain over the long haul. Hence, the authors of the report argue that animal protectionists would be better off concentrating their efforts to persuade “the many” to reduce their consumption of flesh than trying to convince “the few” to take the absolutist route and give up meat completely. Sounds right to me.

Post script: In reality, my daughter was not the only vegetarian in her home town when she was a kid. And today she is still a reluctant omnivore. The truth is that she does not like meat very much — but we did eat a sausage and mushroom pizza for dinner last night.

What Influences Our Happiness the Most?

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I have two friends, Seth and Michael, and one of them is a lot happier than the other.

Seth is chronically unhappy. He is often glum, frequently irritable, and sometimes hopeless, though he has never been clinically depressed. By contrast, Michael is a remarkable happy person. Although he has his low moments and periodic stress, he manages to find joy in his days and is quite content with the way his life is going. To understand why these two men are so different, let me tell you a little bit about them.

Both are in their early 40s and doing well in their careers. Seth is a professor of psychology at a prestigious university, who has reasonably bright students, a fair amount of autonomy in his work, and many opportunities for travel. His research program has been successful, garnering attention from all over the U.S. Michael is a deputy city attorney in a small but beautiful city right on the Pacific Ocean. He specializes in landlord-tenant disputes and other civil matters, and his success as a litigator has led to occasional media appearances, in which he is asked to speak about his latest cases. He gets a kick out of doing that.

Both have close-knit families. Seth is married to Allison, whom he met while on sabbatical in the Netherlands, and they have 5-year old twin boys. Michael is married to Holly. They started dating in law school, and now have a boy (age 6) and a girl (age 3).

Both men own homes in the suburbs of a major metropolitan area, about half an hour from the city and their jobs.

So, why is Michael happier than Seth? Was he simply lucky to be born with a sunnier disposition? Or, is he more fortunate with regard to the events and circumstances of his life?

Knowing them, I would be hard-pressed to assert that the life situation of one is clearly superior to the other. On balance, neither seems to have the better job, wife, kids, house, or car. Furthermore, scientific research has shown that prosperity, health, and physical attractiveness are only minimally related to one’s overall happiness. For example, a study by Ed Diener from the University of Illinois demonstrated that the richest Americans – those earning more than $10 million annually – report levels of personal happiness only slightly greater than the people who work for them. So, even if Seth had fewer of life’s “goods,” this shortfall wouldn’t explain his acute unhappiness.

What about genetics? Growing research done with identical and fraternal twins suggests that each person is born with a particular “happiness set point” – that is, a baseline or potential for happiness to which he or she is bound to return, even after major setbacks or triumphs. The set point for happiness is similar to the set point for weight. Some people are blessed with a “skinny disposition.” Even when they’re not trying, they easily maintain their weight. By contrast, others have to work extraordinarily hard to keep their weight at a desirable level and the moment they slack off even a bit, the pounds creep back on. So, Michael may simply possess a higher set point for happiness, a higher potential for well-being. He doesn’t have to work hard at it – he just is happy.

So if Michael’s happiness is due to genetics, what is left for Seth to do? Are we all doomed to obey the directives of our genes?

The answer is “no.” I am an experimental social psychologist who has conducted the first controlled experimental intervention studies to increase and maintain a person’s happiness level over and above his or her set point. In broadest terms, this research suggests that sustainable happiness is attainable regardless of genetics, if one is prepared to do the work. Much like permanent weight loss and fitness, becoming lastingly happier demands making some permanent changes, requiring effort and commitment every day of one’s life.

My two colleagues – Ken Sheldon at the University of Missouri and David Schkade at UC San Diego – and I developed a theory that describes the most important factors determining happiness. In sum, we argue that the set point determines just 50% of happiness, while a mere 10% can be attributed to differences in people’s life circumstances – that is, whether they are rich or poor, healthy or unhealthy, married or divorced, etc. This leaves a surprising 40% of our capacity for happiness within our power to change. This means that Seth can be a great deal happier and Michael could be even happier too.

What’s the Best Way to React to an Insult?

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At some point in time, we’ve all been the target of insulting comments. If the insult seems real, and not some misguided attempt at a joke, the situation can be hurtful and confusing.

Insults don’t always come in a form that allows you to know immediately that you’ve been insulted. The insult wrapped within a compliment, for example, place you in the position of wondering whether to respond to the implicit derogation or the explicit expression of praise.

Suppose, for example, you graduated from school with an excellent record of accomplishment, but the school itself isn’t one that has a particularly excellent reputation. You did your best with the opportunities handed to you and feel good about what you’ve done. However, while in a job interview for a very competitive job, the interviewer looks critically at your resume, and then you. The employer says “You should be pleased that you made it to the interview stage for this job. You’re definitely a credit to your school as most of its graduates never make it to this point in the process.”

This seems like a compliment but in actuality, it’s a put-down of the school you attended and hence, you. “You’re a credit to your school” sounds positive, but the next part of the sentence is distinctly patronizing and derogatory implying that most of its grads are losers. Making matters worse, you’d like to tell this person off, but if you do, you might be burning some important bridges for your future. Plus, it doesn’t seem like a good idea to return an insult with an insult in any kind of interview situation.

Simple insults do seem a little bit less perplexing because they have a clear meaning and intent. A stranger passing you by while you’re wearing your favorite Tom Brady tee shirt looks at you and shouts “The Patriots are a bunch of cheaters!” The insult, though aimed at the team and its quarterback, is by inference aimed at you as a fan.

Then there are compliments intended to be compliments that you misinterpret. An acquaintance says “Nice hat,” and you’re not sure if it’s meant sarcastically. If you replay the comment in your mind, you can sort out from the intonation whether it was intended to ridicule or admire your somewhat flamboyant protection from the cold and wind.

People with narcissistic tendencies tend to be particularly likely to hurl an insult your way so that they can feel better about themselves. However, in other cases, insults come from people who just don’t like anyone who’s different than they are (ingroup-outgroup bias) or just lack  something better to say or do. People who know each other well might also engage in teasing which includes, for the most part, harmless but well-placed jibes. You might also be teased for your accent, the type of job you do, or your choice of smart phone (or lack thereof), but these aren’t typically on a scale with a personal insult.

Researchers who study insults of this more personal nature use the term “verbal derogation” to characterize the things people say that are intended to belittle someone else (the “target”). Norwegian researchers Mons Bendixen and Ute Gabriel (2013) were particularly interested in how the sex of the sender and that of the target would interact in the way that individuals perceive these verbal slurs. They expected that these gendered insults would be perceived as particularly disturbing by the members of the respective sex, but that people of both sexes would find it equally offensive to be the target of an insult to their appearance.

The Bendixen and Gabriel research used a replication design (repeating the same study) involving a total of about 500 Norwegian college students involving roughly equal percentages of men and women. The insults fell into 7 categories:

Promiscuous: i.e. “tart,” “whore”

Objectification: off-color references to a person’s sexual organs

Homosexual: “dyke,” “fag”

Unethical: “bitch,” “bastard”

Stupid: “idiot,” “loser”

Cowardliness: “sissy,” “weakling”

Unattractive: “pig face,” “ugly”

In both the original and replication studies, women had a lower threshold for insults, finding any insulting comment to be more offensive than did men. Also, insults offered by women were perceived as harsher than the same slurs originating from men. The slurs perceived least offensive were those directed toward men by men, the verbal equivalent of “rough and tumble play”.

Combining sex of sender and sex of target led to a distinct pattern of within-sex differences. Women were most offended by the categories of objectification and promiscuous insults, leading the authors to comment that “Fifty years of using ‘the pill’ in our western culture, liberating women from the burden of unwanted pregnancies (comparable to men), does not yet seem to have resulted in equal judgment of having multiple sex partners” (p. 240).  For men, it was the insults about their sexual orientation that brought about the most pain, essentially amounting to “homeopathic bullying”.

As you can see from this study, an insult’s impact and meaning depend heavily on its sexual content and on whether it’s being directed at a woman or a man. Sexual insults perhaps are the most difficult to tolerate because they strike at such a fundamental and deeply personal aspect of people’s identities. Men may be more used to exchanging slurs. Furthermore, no one seems to like it when a woman is the source of an insult. This may be one of the reasons that female comedians have so much more trouble being perceived as funny than men. The well-placed insult is a key feature of the comic’s repertoire going back, perhaps, as far as Shakespeare (“Thou whoreson, senseless villain!”, from The Comedy of Errors).

Now we can return to the question of what it is you should do when someone insults you.Most importantly, decide on the nature of the insult and whether it is poking into a fundamental aspect of your identity. Making fun of your shirt or hat is entirely different than having an insult directed at a sexual part of your body, your sexual history, or sexual orientation. The insulter may not be intending to be mean, but by tapping into your deepest layer of identity, it’s going to strike a nerve. Such direct aims at your personhood constitute harassment and may call for you to take action to call out the perpetrator especially if this is occurring in the workplace.

The disguised insult- that is, the insult wrapped inside a compliment- may provoke similar reactions in you, but since you can’t call out the sender, you’ll be left with a far more complex set of emotions. In fact, that disguised insult may be far more difficult to handle on any level, because you don’t have “proof” that you’ve been a target. You can’t lodge an official complaint without having been officially insulted. Therefore, as difficult as it may be, you need to confront the individual then and there by asking for clarification. Just by asking for an explanation, you may be showing the sender that you’ve noticed the implicit insult and aren’t happy about it.

Opening the channels of communication instead of retreating into insecurity and anxiety about a possible insult will allow you to gain the data that will allow you to proceed accordingly. It would be nice if we lived in a world without either obvious or subtle insults, but since we don’t, you can at least gain insight into the feelings these provoke within you. Fulfillment may not always be within the realm of possibility in your relationships, but by handling these unpleasantries, you can improve your chances of achieving it.

Will He Cheat? Don’t Check His Phone, Check His Credit

o-CHEATING-HUSBAND-facebookHow can you tell if your relationship will go the distance? Unconditional love? Shared dreams? Great sex? Actually, it seems that in the long term, one of the best predictors of relationship success has nothing to do with any of the factors that you probably think of when you are deciding who to marry.

Brand new research from The Brookings Institute, The Federal Reserve Board, and UCLA shows that one of the best predictors of relationship longevity is your credit score.

Credit scores predict relationship longevity in two key ways:

1. Higher Is Better: People with higher credit scores are both more likely to get into committed relationships and are more likely to stay in them over time.

2. Similar Is Better: People who have similar credit scores are more likely to have relationships that last. For example, if you have a credit score of 750 and your prospective partner had a score of 450, you are several times more likely to break up within the first two years of living together than people who have scores that differ by less than 75 points.

Why are credit scores so eerily effective at predicting relationship outcomes? The authors posit that your credit score is a proxy for trustworthiness and commitment to obligations. My own reading of the data is that people who have similar credit scores may do better in the long run because they have made similar choices when faced with the same types of challenges. Thus, the similarity of the scores may reflect similar values as well as personality structure.

What does this all mean?

I’m glad you asked. Let’s start with what it doesn’t mean. This new data doesn’t mean that you should immediately check your partner’s credit scores and dump him or her if it’s low or very different from yours.

Instead, use this information as a jumping off point to start talking about money in your relationship. As a clinical psychologist, I can tell you that the thing that people are most reluctant to discuss, even behind closed doors, is not sex, but money. We have a culture of secrecy about finances in our society, which I have seen lead to poor outcomes in relationships. Partners who know about each other fiscally as well as physically tend to be better off in the long term. By discussing your financial past, present and future goals you will be sharing more about yourselves. When you know about how you think about and manage your finances and credit you will have a good sense of whether you are compatible partners. Regardless of what your credit scores are, I can tell you that couples who communicate well tend to stand the test of time.

You Are The Best Investment You’ll Ever Make

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“Investing in yourself is the best investment you will ever make. It will not only improve your life, it will improve the lives of all those around you.” –Robin S. Sharma

Like Robin, I am a big believer in the power of “self-investment.”

I invest in myself by reading books and articles that inspire me, by working with teachers and mentors who expand my world, by making time for my daily exercise, by eating the best possible food that I can, by socializing with dear friends who enrich my life, by getting enough sleep, and by taking steps to keep my stress levels in check (de-stressing is probably my most important self-investment!).

Have I always functioned in this way? Nope! I’ve certainly had years where I didn’t invest in myself very consistently or lovingly—and the quality of my life suffered as a result.

I definitely know what it feels like to be running on empty, feeling frenzied and behind on my work, telling myself I don’t “deserve” good food, nice experiences, time to rest, or compassionate treatment from myself and others. Ohhh yes. I’ve been there.

I’m grateful that I no longer hear those types of self-critical thoughts pummeling through my mind every day, and I’m grateful that I’ve learned a new way of “being.” Today, I know that I deserve love and respect from myself and others, every day, no matter what. Today, I know that investing in myself isn’t “selfish” or “vain.” Investing in myself is crucial. It’s what keeps me going strong!

How about you?

What is your favorite way to invest in yourself?

Do you invest in yourself often enough?

What is something you’ve been meaning to start doing—or do with more consistency?

As we move into the holiday season, when life tends to feel especially hectic and bustling, I invite you to make a list of 4 or 5 ways that you can, and will, invest in yourself.

Your list might look something like this:

Throughout the rest of 2015, I will invest in myself by…

—Starting each morning with three deep, full breaths.

—Listening to a calming meditation if my day starts to feel frantic.

—Making time for at least two workouts per week—and I will schedule these in advance!

—Spending at least one hour per week reading a book or an article purely for inspiration and enjoyment—any genre or topic that I want.

—[And so on…]

Try to keep your list of self-investments simple and attainable.

You don’t have to commit to an intensive 30-day yoga challenge or start cooking 100% organic at every meal. It’s OK to start small. Just like adding two dollars to a jar every day for a whole year, small investments add up.

However you decide to “invest” in yourself—through coaching, therapy, training,education, new books, nourishing food, more rest, new habits, healthier routines, or anything else you might choose to do, remember this, always:

YOU are the best investment you’ll ever make.

Be well & have a beautiful holiday season!

Why Do The Lonely Stay Lonely?

alone-beach-girl-hey-ocean-Favim.com-90080All the lonely people.  Where do they all come from? All the lonely people.  Where do they all belong?   – Eleanor Rigby

What causes some people to be chronically lonely?  And why do lonely people often have difficulty in social situations?

The need to belong is a fundamental need for all human beings and feeling connected can be an important predictor of emotional health.  Loneliness, on the other hand, stems from the perceived difference between the social lives we actually have and the kind ofsocial life we often feel we should have.  More often than not, we feel especially lonely when we compared our current lives against some ideal that we’ve set for ourselves.  This ideal can involve comparing ourselves to people we know or to the kind of social ideal that can come from the fictional people we see in movies or television. We all feel lonely at some point in our lives though the feelings are usually temporary.

Not surprisingly, chronic loneliness can be linked to a wide range of emotional problems such as low self-esteem, depression, and an increased risk for suicide. For people who have a long history of loneliness and who don’t have the sort of social support that comes from the friends and family accumulated over a lifetime, the long-term consequences can be even more severe.  Survival studies even suggest that chronic loneliness can lead to increased risk of dying from a wide range of different causes.

All of which leads to the fundamental question of why loneliness can persist over time in some individuals.  Many researchers suggest that people who feel lonely tend to respond to those feelings in different ways depending on the social opportunities open to them and their own social skills.  These different kinds of responding can be classified as:

  • Loneliness reduction –  feeling lonely can motivate people to “fix things” by engaging in different activities to reconnect with people in their lives or to form new connections.  Whether it involves joining a new social club, meeting new people in different social settings, or just “hanging” out more in places where greater social interaction can occur, lonely people often experience a boost in positive emotion due to being with other people and regaining a sense of belonging.  Even online social interactions can reduce loneliness by giving people the sense that they are part of a greater community.
  • Loneliness perpetuation– Chronically lonely people often become accustomed doing things on their own and being less dependent on other people for help or support. One research study showed that people who are frequently frustrated in their need to belong become more desensitized to socially rewarding experiences. Conversely, lonely individuals also become hypersensitive to any perceived social slights or negative comments which makes them more uncomfortable in social settings.  The feeling of being constantly judged or criticized often leads to lonely people deliberately isolating themselves to avoid this kind of social anxiety.    Adolescents who are “loners” can become especially sensitive to any attempt to exclude them from social activities, which can reinforce their need to isolate themselves.

For most people feelings of loneliness typically lead to healthy attempts to reduce that loneliness by becoming more social.  With chronic loneliness however, attempts at loneliness reduction are often sabotaged by fear of rejection or social anxiety that leads to loneliness perpetuation instead.   While this clash between loneliness reduction and loneliness perpetuation can occur at any age, it is especially crucial during late adolescence since that is the time of life when we are especially vulnerable to changing social roles.

As adolescents, we often find ourselves in an awkward stage of our development when we are especially fearful of rejection and trying to belong any way we can.  Lonely children are particularly vulnerable since they can develop self-defeating attitudes in which they attribute social success to factors beyond their control (such as being wealthy or attractive) while viewing social rejection as being due to internalized factors that are hard to change (obesity, being too unattractive, etc.).  This kind of self-defeating attitude can prevent the kind of social development adolescents need to enter healthy adulthood.  And thus, lonely adolescents become lonely adults.

A new research study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology takes a closer look at chronic loneliness in adolescents and how they respond to being socially included or excluded.   A team of Belgian and American researchers led by Janne Vanhalst of the University of Leuven in Belgium focused specifically on late adolescence since this is a particularly important developmental period in which to study loneliness.

Research has already shown that chronically lonely adolescents are at a high risk for a variety of emotional and physical health problems, not to mention being more prone to suicide.  In the current study, the researchers specifically looked for evidence of loneliness reduction and loneliness perpetuation at work in comparing chronically lonely and non-lonely adolescents. They also looked for evidence of self-defeating attitudes that reinforced chronic loneliness and how this affected their ability to socialize over time.

The study was set up in four annual measurement waves using students recruited from three secondary schools in Belgium. During each wave, students completed the same questionnaires to measure changes over time.  Adolescents who had graduated before the study was complete were mailed questionnaires to complete at home.  Seven hundred and thirty adolescents completed the fourth wave of questionnaires with three hundred and ninety-seven completing all four waves.  Seventy-two percent of all participants were female and the average age during the fourth wave was nineteen.

During each wave, participants completed a Dutch version of a psychometric measure of loneliness with items such as “I feel isolated from other people” and “I feel left out by my friends.”   They also completed ten hypothetical scenarios describing social inclusion  or social exclusion presented randomly.  These scenarios had been developed during a previous study using undergraduates and included vignettes such as “A new lunch place opened in town, and they are giving away
free sandwiches today. Some of your classmates are going there for lunch and they ask you if you want to join them.”

After each vignette, participants were asked to rate different attributions for why they were either included or excluded.  These could include self-stable attributions (being included or excluded because of innate qualities that were relatively stable), self-variable attributions (being included or excluded because of something they said or did), other-stable attributions (being included or excluded because of innate qualities in the other people involved),  other-variable attributions (being excluded or included because of the mood that the others were in at the time), or attribution to coincidence (included or excluded simply due to coincidence).  They were also asked to rate different emotions they would experience following each vignette.

Based on the study results, the researchers identified five different loneliness trajectories (whether or not loneliness rose or fell over time).  Only three percent of the sample stayed chronically lonely over the four years of the study while most adolescents reported low levels of loneliness over time.  As expected based on previous research, chronically lonely adolescents reported consistently higher negative emotions when faced with being excluded from social situations.  Even when they are included in social activities with other people, they tend to enjoy themselves less than more social adolescents do.

There were also important differences in terms of basic attitudes about being included or excluded socially.   While most adolescents tended to attribute being included in social events to their own likability and being excluded to coincidence,  chronically lonely adolescents don’t seen to bother.  Instead, they are far more likely to blame themselves for being excluded and less likely to take any kind of personal credit for being included.

As well, these results indicate that chronically lonely adolescents are much more vigilant in social situations due to their fear of being rejected and are less likely to respond in a positive way to being included in social events.  By following these adolescents over time, the researchers were also able to get a sense of how stable these self-defeating patterns are as well as getting a sense of whether they would carry over into adulthood.

While there are limits to how this study can be used to explain loneliness in general, Janne Vanhalst and her co-researchers do suggest that their research has important implications for dealing with chronically lonely people. Many of us, whether as treatment professionals or just concerned friends or family members. often try to help the chronically lonely people in our lives. That usually involves providing them with different social opportunities or else helping them to develop their social skills.   Instead, it is likely more effective to focus on the kind of maladaptive social cognitions that can reinforce loneliness.

Even though there is no magic bullet for overcoming chronic loneliness at any age,  recognizing that how lonely people respond to fear of rejection often leads to them becoming even more isolated in future can be an important part of learning to be more social.  This is a lesson that everyone needs to learn and remember as we live our lives as social beings.

Kegel exercises for better orgasms

Pelvic-ExercisesDoing Kegel exercises daily will improve your orgasms… and your sex life.

Don’t bother with the many fine how-to books on having a more fulfilling orgasm. The quick, easy and zero-cost answer to a more satisfying and intense orgasm is (drum roll, please!) daily Kegels. They are the best two-minutes-a-day you could ever spend on the road to better sex.

Before there is any eye rolling, please hear me out.

When I speak to people about doing Kegels, many women nod their heads sagely and explain they have already done them. Problem is they only ever tried it once and it was a while back.

And don’t even get me started on how the men’s Kegel movement still hasn’t even caught on—I’m zealously working on getting them on board.

Unfortunately, very few people have made Kegels a daily habit.

Where did Kegels originate? In the mid-1900s, Dr. Arnold Kegel developed his Kegel exercise for women experiencing urinary incontinence. During followup examinations, the women reported an amazing side effect: Kegels helped their vaginas become a lot more sensitive during intercourse.

Of course, this intrigued Dr. Kegel and, subsequently, he found that doing Kegels exercised the pubococcygeal (PC) muscle—the muscle group that forms the orgasmic platform. So during orgasm, along with the other pelvic muscle, the PC muscle contracts.

Understandably, every muscle group needs to be exercised in order to maintain tone and strength—and to feel at its best. If not exercised, the muscle group will become slack and eventually atrophy. Therefore, a lack of sensation around a woman’s vaginal opening is usually caused by an out-of-shape PC muscle.

Kegels after childbirth are a great way to tone and strengthen the vagina. In addition, some postmenopausal women find Kegels help them to maintain lubrication because of the daily increase in blood flow to that area.

So what could you possibly be waiting for? Get on board the daily Kegel bus right this minute!

Finding Your PC Muscle

In case you’ve never done a Kegel exercise, here are the basics. To find where your PC muscle are located, sit over a toilet and, with your legs apart, start a flow of urine. Halfway through, stop the flow. Concentrate on which muscle you used to stop the flow—that is your PC muscle. It is important to do this trial exercise because it’s easy to mistake your stomach, buttocks or thigh muscles for your PC muscle.

Mastering the top three Kegel exercises

Once your PC is located, there are three simple exercises you can do.

  1. The Squeeze and Release Exercise. Contract your PC muscle for three seconds. Then let them rest for three seconds. If holding for three seconds is too much at first, start with one or two seconds instead. Do this exercise 10 times per day.
  2. The Flutter Exercises. This exercise is about squeezing and releasing the PC muscle as quickly as possible. Rapidly squeeze and release ten times. Then take a short rest. Doing this to upbeat music helps keep you on track. Do three sets of ten per day.
  3. The Advanced Kegel Exercise. Once you get good at Kegels, it’s time to take it up a notch. Pull up the entire pelvic area as though trying to suck water up into the genitals. Then push out or bear down as if trying to push the imaginary water out. This exercise will use a number of stomach muscles, as well as the PC muscle. w

Do all of this ten times per day. It’s pretty normal at first for your PC muscle to tire out easily. However, if you find some soreness in your thigh, stomach or buttocks muscle, you need to go back to the start and properly locate your PC muscle once again.

The hardest part will be keeping up your daily Kegel routine. Do your Kegels in unison with other daily habits. For example, make it a part of your morning routine. Do your Kegels while in the shower, brushing your teeth, on the commute to work, waiting at stop lights or while exercising and listening to your favorite music. Perhaps at work, you could liven up that boring meeting, make answering the telephone more fun or have your own little party while waiting in a take-out line for lunch. There are tons of opportunities. The wonderful thing about Kegels is you can do them anywhere without anyone having the slightest idea of what you are up to.

Just make sure to wear a big smile on your face, in order to confuse the heck out of whoever may be watching you. It will be your own, naughty little secret.