Your Greater Goal

We often imagine that we generally operate by some kind of plan, that we have goals we are trying to reach. But we’re usually fooling ourselves; what we have are not goals but wishes. Our emotions infect us with hazy desire; we want fame, success, security – something large and abstract. 

Clear long-term objectives give direction to all of your actions, large and small. Important decisions became easier to make. If some glittering prospect threatens to seduce you from your goal, you will know to resist it You can tell when to sacrifice a pawn, even lose a battle, if it serves your eventual purpose.   

Robert Greene, 33 Strategies of War

 

A one-way ticket to a toxic relationship

Many people are addicted to the ups and downs of romantic love. They are in it for the feels, so to speak. And when the feels run out, so do they. Many people get into a relationship as a way to compensate for something they lack or hate within themselves. This is a one-way ticket to a toxic relationship because it makes your love conditional — you will love your partner as long as they help you feel better about yourself. You will give to them as long as they give to you. You will make them happy as long as they make you happy.  This conditionality prevents any true, deep-level intimacy from emerging and chains the relationship to the bucking throes of each person’s internal dramas.

Mark Manson

The Paradox of Emotions

“A desire (or emotion) is turned not to itself but to its object. Not only that, but it owes all its character to its object.. It is the object which makes the desire harsh or sweet, coarse or choice, ‘high’ or ‘low.’ It is the object that makes the desire itself desirable or hateful.”

Those words were penned by CS Lewis.

In other words, if you want to love your wife then concentrate--not on love--but on her.

If you wish more faith in God, do not concentrate on faith. Focus on God.

Stephen Goforth

wishes are not goals

We often imagine that we generally operate by some kind of plan, that we have goals we are trying to reach. But we’re usually fooling ourselves; what we have are not goals but wishes. Our emotions infect us with hazy desire; we want fame, success, security – something large and abstract.

Clear long-term objectives give direction to all of your actions, large and small. Important decisions became easier to make. If some glittering prospect threatens to seduce you from your goal, you will know to resist it You can tell when to sacrifice a pawn, even lose a battle, if it serves your eventual purpose.

Robert Greene, The 33 Strategies of War

Painting your Internal World

Therapists often run into a curious problem during treatment: Clients aren’t very good at describing their emotions. How exactly do you express the nature of your depression? So this spring, relationship counselor Crystal Rice hit upon a clever idea. She had her clients use Pinterest, the popular picture-pinning social network, to create arrays of images that map out their feelings. It’s a brilliant epiphany: While emotions can be devilishly difficult to convey in words, they’re often very accessible via pictures. “This way we can really identify what’s going on,” Rice says.

As Rice discovered with her clients, Pinterest’s appeal is that it gives us curiously powerful visual ways to communicate, think, and remember. If you see one picture of a guitar, it’s just a guitar; but when you see 80 of them lined up you start to see guitarness. This additive power is precisely what helps Rice’s clients paint their internal worlds.

Part of the value of Pinterest is that it brings you out of yourself and into the world of things. As the Huffington Post writer Bianca Bosker argued, Facebook and Twitter are inwardly focused (“Look at me!”) while Pinterest is outwardly focused (“Look at this!”). It’s the world as seen through not your eyes but your imagination.

Granted, Pinterest encourages plenty of dubious behavior too. It can be grindingly materialistic; all those pins of stuff to buy! Marketers are predictably adrool, and as they swarm aboard, the whole service might very well end up collapsing into a heap of product shilling.

But I suspect we’ll see increasingly odd and clever ways of using Pinterest. If a picture is worth a thousand words, those collections are worth millions.

Clive Thompson, Wired Magazine

Regret is overrated

Regret is an emotion, and it is also a punishment that we administer to ourselves. The fear of regret is a factor in many of the decisions that people make (‘Don’t do this, you will regret it’ is a common warning), and the actual experience of regret is familiar. The emotional state has been well described by two Dutch psychologists, who noted that regret is “accompanied by feelings that one should have known better, by a sinking feeling, by thoughts about the mistake one has made and the opportunities lost, by a tendency to kick oneself and to correct one’s mistake, and by wanting to undo the event and to get a second chance.” Intense regret is what you experience when you can most easily imagine yourself doing something other than what you did.

Decision makers know that they are prone to regret, and the anticipation of that painful emotion plays a part in many decisions.

We spend much of our day anticipating, and trying to avoid, the emotional pains we inflict on ourselves. Susceptibility regret, like susceptibility to fainting spells, is a fact of life to which one must adjust.

You can take precautions that will inoculate you against regret. Perhaps the most useful is to be explicit about the anticipation of regret. If you can remember when things go badly that you considered the possibility of regret carefully before deciding, you are likely to experience less of it. You should also know that regret and hindsight bias will come together, so anything you can do to preclude hindsight is likely to be helpful. You should not put too much weight on regret; even if you have some, it will hurt less than you now think.

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

wobbly furniture

Craving emotional stability? Then start by fixing your shaky chair. A Canadian study found a connection between sitting in a wobbly chair and assumptions about judging relationships.

University of Waterloo Researchers divided volunteers into two groups. The group sitting in shaky furniture not only saw instability in the relationships of others but also said that they valued stability in their own relationships more highly. The researchers’ conclusion: Even a small amount of environmental wobbliness will encourage a desire for emotional balance and security.

Details of the study were published in the journal Psychological Science.

Stephen Goforth

Painful Memories

If you suffer from great, recurring anger, the cause could be painful memories, rooted in childhood. Charles Dickens said, “Injustice is the most painful hurt in childhood”. All of us remember times, especially in our youth, when we were "done wrong." Healing from this is a process that can take a great deal of time. It also takes reprogramming our thought patterns, so we don't react to current situations as if they are part of past injustices. Don’t stuff the past down. Are you on the road to healing? Are you a little further along today than you were yesterday? Life is not about having arrived, but “becoming.”

Stephen Goforth

If you go to bed angry

If you go to sleep after a fight with someone, you may “preserve” those emotions. That’s the finding of researchers at the University of Massachusetts. Scientists showed images (some positive, some negative) to more than 100 people and checked 12 hours later to see which pictures stuck with them. There was a different response depending on whether the person had slept during the 12 hour break or not. Sleeping seemed to protect the emotional response. You can read the details in The Journal of Neuroscience. Other studies also support the idea that sleep enhances emotional memories. If you have trouble sleeping after an upsetting day, it could be your mind’s way of trying to avoid storing that memory. In any case, these findings explain the value of the Bible verse that says, “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath” (Ephesians 4:26).

Stephen Goforth

What Your Childhood Memories tell you about yourself

A counselor once told me that our memories work something like a cheerleader's megaphone-only in reverse. The opening is wide but there is not enough room for very many memories to crawl through the tube to come out at other end and stick in our heads. So we unconsciously pick the memories we hang onto. This is why he suggested I try to recall my earliest memory tied to a strong emotion. It would tell me something about myself.

At the age of five or so, I walked with my grandfather to a playground near his home. The road was tarred but not paved. I was looking down at the rough surface when I spotted a $5 bill. I remember gleefully looking up at my grandfather and proudly showing it to him. He offered an approving nod.

My counselor guessed that choosing to keep this memory might speak of my closeness to my grandparents and optimism. The road may be rough, but if you keep your eyes open, you'll discover wonderful surprises-and there is joy in sharing them.

The very fact I choose to remember talking to my counselor about this story, out of the many hours that we chatted, could say as much about me as remembering that story does itself.

Say, what's your youngest memory tied to a strong emotion? What does it say about you?

Stephen Goforth

emotional blackmail

When someone attempts to make you responsible for their feelings, they are committing what psychologists call emotional blackmail. A parent uses this when he or she tells a child, "You've hurt me so much" or when a spouse says, "You hurt my feelings."

It is placing responsibility for their emotional outcome on you--pretending you have control over something you do not. The parent may choose to become angry or sulk or become bitter or irritable toward the child. Someone may claim your action justifies their emotion. But that person is still doing the choosing of their own emotions.

When you see a family tiptoe around the house because "we don't want to upset mother (or father)" then you have a family who has decided to make everyone responsible for a single person's feelings--taking on a burden they were never meant to carry. Each family member is responsible for his or her actions. To make preventing someone from being upset a goal is wrong.

Elizabeth Kenny once said, “Anyone who angers you, conquers you.” To allow someone else to decide how you feel is abdicating your responsibility to define yourself. Don't allow someone else to sell you on the idea that you are responsible for what they feel. And don't blackmail those around you by threatening to unleash an emotional outburst over something you are blaming them for creating.. when you did that yourself.

Stephen Goforth

Painting your Internal World

Therapists often run into a curious problem during treatment: Clients aren’t very good at describing their emotions. How exactly do you express the nature of your depression? So this spring, relationship counselor Crystal Rice hit upon a clever idea. She had her clients use Pinterest, the popular picture-pinning social network, to create arrays of images that map out their feelings. It’s a brilliant epiphany: While emotions can be devilishly difficult to convey in words, they’re often very accessible via pictures. “This way we can really identify what’s going on,” Rice says.

As Rice discovered with her clients, Pinterest’s appeal is that it gives us curiously powerful visual ways to communicate, think, and remember. If you see one picture of a guitar, it’s just a guitar; but when you see 80 of them lined up you start to see guitarness. This additive power is precisely what helps Rice’s clients paint their internal worlds.

Part of the value of Pinterest is that it brings you out of yourself and into the world of things. As the Huffington Post writer Bianca Bosker argued, Facebook and Twitter are inwardly focused (“Look at me!”) while Pinterest is outwardly focused (“Look at this!”). It’s the world as seen through not your eyes but your imagination.

Granted, Pinterest encourages plenty of dubious behavior too. It can be grindingly materialistic; all those pins of stuff to buy! Marketers are predictably adrool, and as they swarm aboard, the whole service might very well end up collapsing into a heap of product shilling.

But I suspect we’ll see increasingly odd and clever ways of using Pinterest. If a picture is worth a thousand words, those collections are worth millions.

Clive Thompson, Wired Magazine

If I Really Cared

If I really cared...

I’d look you in the eyes when you talk to me;

I’d think about what you’re saying rather than what I’m going to say next;

I’d hear your feelings as well as your words.

 

If I really cared...

I’d listen without defending;

I’d hear without deciding whether you’re right or wrong;

I’d ask you why, not just how and when and where.

 

If I really cared...

I’d allow you inside of me;

I’d tell you my hopes, my dreams, my fears, my hurts;

I’d tell you where I’ve blown it and when I’ve made it.

 

If I really cared...

I’d laugh with you but not at you;

I’d talk with you and not to you;

And I’d know when it’s time to do neither.

 

If I really cared...

I wouldn’t climb over your walls;

I’d hang around until you let me in the gate.

I wouldn’t unlock your secrets;

I’d wait until you handed me the key.

 

If I really cared...

I’d love you anyhow;

But I’d ask for the best that you can give

And gently draw it from you.

 

If I really cared...

I’d put my scripts away,

And leave my solutions at home.

The performances would end.

We’d be ourselves.

 

Ruth Senter

Giving yourself time to play

Play has a positive impact on creativity because— in addition to helping us both mind-wander and diversify— it stimulates positive emotion, which research shows leads to greater insight and better problem solving. Barbara Fredrickson of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, found that positive emotions increase our cognitive resources by expanding our visual attention. When we feel good, we gain the ability to pay attention to a wider range of experiences. We see the big picture rather than getting bogged down in the details. In other words, if you feel stuck in a rut or you can’t think yourself out of a problem or don’t see a way out of a situation, play may be a way of getting “unstuck” and coming up with innovative ideas.

Just as joy and fun can make you more creative, creativity in turn enhances your well- being. The more creative you become, the more joy you invite into your life. Nikola Tesla wrote, “I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success. . . . Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything.”

By naturally tapping into your inner creativity, you reconnect with the joy you had as a child playing. You engage in a positive feedback loop that continues to replenish you with joy and creativity. It makes for an adult life rich with delight and inventiveness.

Stanford psychologist Emma Seppälä writing in the Washington Post

Dealing with a moody man

Men are rewarded in our society for ignoring their feelings, except for anger. When emotions overwhelm a man and tightly wrap around his gut, he certainly knows something is wrong--but he will struggle if he attempts to label those feelings or articulate the cause--especially when the emotions are still in play. Lacking control, he looks down on himself with disdain because he believes it's a flaw to be a man without control. As that tight ball of emotion begins to uncurl and subside, as he feels that he's gaining mastery of himself once again, he has the opportunity to gain a handle on defining the emotion he is experiencing.

But if a partner puts a spotlight on those emotions, while he's in that uncomfortable place, the man may try to hide even more. He's not in control of himself and thinks he should be. The spotlight makes that all the more obvious.  If she can restrain herself, it's possible to slowly draw the emotion-averse man out of his cave by building his confidence... by encouraging him to believe that he is able to handle the uncertainty. The passage of time, emotional space, and distractions often provide healing for him... and perspective.

Before the man moves completely away from that raw sensation in his gut, there's a brief period of realization where he can catch an authentic glimpse of himself and his emotional limitations. In that moment he can catch a glimpse of who he is--or go right back to repeat the cycle.

Stephen Goforth

controling emotions

Think about your childhood experiences. Did your parents spend a lot of time teaching you the outward behavior that would make you a responsible adult? I don’t mean to imply that there’s anything wrong with this if it’s not carried too far, but did you ever have an opportunity to talk about the way you felt? Were you able to admit you angry or irritable or afraid? Did anyone take time to help you understand why you felt these kinds of emotions? Children who don’t have this kind of encouragement gradually learn to suppress their negative feelings. It is easier to pretend that you don’t have them than to be criticized for expressing them.

When you felt angry, perhaps bitter, you assumed that you’d better keep it to yourself because you might get in trouble if you exposed a feeling that didn’t match your reputation as a nice, well-behaved girl.

Individuals assume very early in life that they can conquer their feelings of inadequacy only if they perform well enough. So when a stain spoils their performance record, they feel they have no choice but to put a demerit mark on their value rating.

I’m not implying that a parent should never set firm boundaries for children. That might lead to chaos. But time can be spent discussing the why’s of behavior and listening to each others' opinions.

I recall one woman who protested the idea of discussing options with her children. My kids would run absolutely wild if I gave them choices,” she said. “If I don’t stay right on top of them, they’ll never learn to live correctly.”

Respecting her desire for orderliness, but questioning her dictatorial manner, I responded, “I’m thinking more of your children’s future when Mom won’t be around to tell them what to do. They’ll have so little practice in making healthy decision that chaos will almost be guaranteed.”

Maintain control is an ever-present goal of the imperative person. Conversely, relinquishing control and encouraging another person to think and reason are the goals of healthy interpersonal relations.

Les Carter, Imperative People: Those Who Must Be in Control

Love Hurts… Really!

Heartache can have the same effect as someone spilling hot coffee on us. Imaging scans show the same parts of the brain light up for physical pain as when you are separated from a loved one or have a broken heart, say researchers at the University of Michigan. They asked 40 people who had a recent unwanted romantic breakup that gave them feelings of rejection to look at a photo of their former partner to think about the relationship. The brain scans taken during this, and other, similar situations were compared to scans when subjects were given a slight pain. The similarities in the brain scans suggest a close connection between our minds and our bodies. The painful emotions that come with feeling socially rejected can scar us in more than one way. The sting of heartbreak and rejection can literally makes us physically ill. Our social well-being is a critical part of maintaining a healthy life.

Is there someone you’ve cast aside with a harsh word, or a loved one on whom you have regularly dumped your negative attitude? It’s not that far removed from poisoning or hitting that person because in the end the results can be similar.

Details of the study are in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Stephen Goforth

Conditional acceptance

Too often we claim that we accept others for what they are when we truly mean that we accept them as long as they do what we want them to. When we truly accept others the way they are we no longer have to take unnecessary responsibility for others’ emotions an behaviors, we maintain emotional balance at a time when it is most needed, and we encourage the other person to be more responsible for his own emotions and behaviors.

Les Carter, Imperative People: Those Who Must Be in Control

Video Game Design

Good game designers know how to draw us in by catering to some very basic emotional needs. (Researcher Jane McGonigal) notes that the best games have four elements: clear goals that allow us to feel a sense of purpose; rules that make the task harder and thereby challenge our creativity; rapid feedback to chart our progress; and an experience that is voluntary.

Wouldn't it be nice if work was more like a video game? Your boss would articulate a clear mission and set of milestones you were expected to meet. You would go into the office every day and receive ongoing feedback about your progress so you could see the impact you are having.

The truth, of course, is that reality is messy. Our goals are fuzzy, our progress unclear. Video games, the majority of which now focus on getting us to cooperate rather than compete, offer a more fulfilling existence, McGonigal argues.

"We all want to find more meaning in what we do, like we're part of something bigger," McGonigal said. "Games give us a place to feel that, to cooperate and do something that is more satisfying."

Stop and consider the astonishing amount of time that people are now spending on games. In the U.S. alone, there are 183 million active gamers out of a population just under 310 million. Each day in "World of Warcraft" alone, people spend more than 30 million hours playing. And that's just one game. If we redirected even a fraction of that time into making schools better, the result could be an epic win for all of us.

Chris O'Brien, Mercury News Columnist

How we create our own false memories

Some witnesses to crimes who are struggling to recall them are instructed to let their minds roam freely, to generate whatever comes to mind, even if it is a guess. However, the act of guessing about possible events causes people to provide their own misinformation, which, if left uncorrected, they may later come to retrieve as memories.

Suppose the police interview a witness shortly after a crime, showing pictures of possible suspects. Time passes, but eventually the police nab a suspect, one whose picture has been viewed by the witness. If the witness is now asked to view a lineup, he may mistakenly remember one of the suspects whose photo he saw as having been present at the crime.

We cannot remember every aspect of an event, so we remember those elements that have the greatest emotional significance for us, and we fill in the gaps with details of our own that are consistent with our narrative but maybe wrong.

Imagination inflation refers to the tendency of people who, when asked to imagine an event vividly, will sometimes begin to believe, when asked about it later, that the event actually occurred. Adults who ask "Did you ever break a window with your hand?" Were more likely on a later life inventory to report that they believe this event occurred during their lifetimes. It seems that asking the question led them to imagine the event, and the act of having imagined it had the effect, later, of making them more likely to think it had occurred (relative to other group answer the question not having previously imagined it occurring).

Accounts that sound familiar can create a feeling the feeling of knowing and be mistaken for true. This is one reason that political or advertising claims that are not factual but repeated can gain traction with the public, particularly if they have emotional resonance. Something you once heard that you hurt again heard it again later carries a warmth of familiarity that can be mistaken for memory, a shred of something you once knew and cannot quite place but are inclined to believe. In the world propaganda, this is called "the big lie" technique-even a big lie told repeatedly can come to be accepted as truth.

Peter C. Brown and Henry L. Roediger III, Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning