Category Archives: Psychology

Puppies & Project Progress

What a rainy day this was! I snuck out to the dog park before the downpour started to let the dogs run around a bit. It has been difficult to take them consistently these past few days because it’s been torrentially raining every evening after work, and no one wants muddy dogs! Especially not four of them!
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They were so happy and tired!

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So after they ran around and got all their energy out, I spent the rest of the day working on my weekend project and I made tons of progress!

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And before I leave you to enjoy the rest of your Saturday night, I would like to share a very inspiring quote that was sent to me today. It’s through our struggles that we all become the special and beautiful people we are!

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Happy Weekend!

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Zeigarnik Effect

As I am studying for my licensure exam, I am reviewing several concepts I studied while I attended undergrad. What a difference it makes to read those same concepts years later! Cognitively, they have the same meaning to me, but emotionally, I’m finding new perspectives. I think the first time I was learning about these concepts, I was perhaps just trying to pass the exam or understand the ideas behind them. Now, because I already have a foundation as to how they are defined, I can re-learn them with more applicability and personalization than before. [Side lesson – learn and re-learn because both experiences will give you a new experience, even if on the surface you think you already know the material! Every moment is a new moment]

A particular concept that got me thinking this week is the idea that we, as humans, tend to focus more on incomplete tasks more than tasks that we consider to be completed/successful. This is called the Zeigarnik Effect. I took a moment to really look within myself and find where this shows up in my life and how it affects me. I found that, for me, it’s true. I tend to ruminate on my “failures” and quickly brush off my successes. As a result, I get a feeling of “not being quite good enough” or “not doing enough.” How would I be different if I spent more time focusing on the positive aspects of my day and instead of interpreting uncompleted/negative tasks as “failures,” I instead saw them as a gift in disguise? 

Easier said than done, right? Of course. Because we have been practicing “interpreting failure” for so long, that it almost becomes automatic. When I was thinking about our natural bias to do so, I realized that out of all the times that I engage in that behavior, I’m not even aware of it on most cases! Since having that “a-ha” moment earlier this week, I’ve been practicing focusing on my “successes” at the end of the day. I also found that, although I continue to focus on the negative or incomplete, it has been happening less and it’s easier for me to shift from that.

 

And for more information, read this article on the Zeigarnik Effect!

I also found this video that discusses how to use the Zeigarnik Effect to our favor. Disregard the explicit and shameless advertising (Ha!).

So how about today you take a moment to end your day focusing on everything you did accomplish and complete. 

 

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Re-interpreting Interpretations

I am going through an amazing and powerful self-discovery journey through a training called Gratitude Training.  Someone in my group sent me this image today and completely shifted me and set a new tone for my day!

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How often do we avoid “being blamed” or “looking bad” or “being right” about a number of things? My truth (and I say “my” truth because there is no ultimate truth, even though we like to believe there is) is that we tend to interpret everything that happens in our lives all the time. Our reactions are a direct result of those interpretations. And overall, we see results from the entire process! Something like this:

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I’m sure you’ve heard people say that an event (or person) directly caused them to feel something or forced to behave in a certain way. But take a second to examine what are the things you are saying about that event. Let’s say that you and I are both sitting in a room full of people, and a stranger barges through the door and scream, “I AM THE KING OF THE WORLD!!!” (and no, this man is not Jack from Titanic… but if it makes you happy to picture it that way, go for it!) I might interpret his action as being rude and interrupting, you might interpret him as having immense passion and joy, someone else might see him as been attention-seeking, and so on. The same event had an entire group of people make completely different interpretations, and therefore, completely different reactions. Now let’s look at the results that come from those interpretations. My results might be that I’ll be in a bad mood for the rest of the day and I might even get into arguments with my loved ones. Your results might be that you are inspired by him and make decisions so as to reflect passion and joy. Someone else’s results might be that they shut themselves off to other people for the rest of the day. Different results based on the reactions and interpretations we made. However, we all get to evaluate the results we are seeing. Is that something I want for my life? Yes? Great! No? Let’s re-interpret events and see how that shift in perspective impacts my life. And we can do that with everything we come across. 

Now to connect this idea with the metaphor of the dogs. If I can re-interpret everything that happens to me AND I am a reflection of everything in the world, the possibilities are infinite. I can tell myself that I am an immensely powerful and charismatic person and interact with the world from that place. Isn’t that much different than telling myself that “there’s nothing I can do, the world will always be the same, nothing will ever change”? Or on a smaller scale…. if you tell yourself, “I am selfish, it’s just who I am,” what kind of effect is that having in your personal relationships. What if you shifted that self-interpretation to “I am giving and caring…” what kind of changed would you see in your relationships? Including the one with yourself….

I also invite you to spend the next 24 hours seeing everything that happens in your life as being neutral, rather than being good/bad, right/wrong, fair/unfair. Think about the messages you are telling yourself about yourself and the world, and seeing how they are directly impacting everything and everyone around you. Also, consider what it would take for you to shift. How will you make that shift happen?

Re-interpret your interpretations!

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Ropes Adventure

I have been M.I.A. this weekend but there is a good reason for that! I went on an adventure with a wonderful group of people and tested my limits….and survived!!

We all participated in a ropes course, which basically means you climb onto really really really high wooden poles and ropes and walk across it without falling. It was amazing! Everyone got to challenge themselves physically and emotionally, and we had an entire team of supporters cheering everyone on! It rained all day but that didn’t stop anyone from having a blast!

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COURAGE!!!!

I have to say, I am NOT a fan of other people in high places. This entire experience pushed me to trust and have fun, even when I was scared. 

What brave thing will you do today? How will you take yourself on?

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Supertaster!

I read an article a few years ago about “supertasters” and felt inspired to share this idea with you, especially since this blog is all about food! What is a “supertaster,” exactly? Some individuals seem to have increased sensitivity to taste. This might explain why some people enjoy some foods more than others – some of us might be tasting them more intensely. So if Brussels sprouts have a slightly bitter taste, a supertaster might experience it as super bitter. 

 

This can actually be tested with a tasting strip! It contains a chemical called “propylthiouracil” (thanks, Wikipedia!). If you put it on your tongue and find it extremely bitter, then you’re a supertaster! Believe it or, Amazon.com sells these test strips for a low, low price! BUT, if you want to be more adventurous, I also found a home test that you can do using blue food dye and a hole punch reinforcer…. follow this link!

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(photo credit: sciencebuddy.org)

So let’s talk about some statistics!

  • According to research, about 25% of people are supertasters, 50% are “medium” tastes, and 25% are non-tasters. 
  • Women and individuals from Asia, Africa, and South America have higher percentages of supertasters
  • And finally, supertasters may be more sensitive to these foods: alcoholic beverages Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale,  coffee, grapefruit juice, green tea, soy products and carbonation in some beveragestaste

I did the strip test a few years ago and it tastes horrid! That explained why I’m not a fan of coffee, Brussels sprouts, grapefruit, and most alcoholic beverages. On the plus side, I find it easier to discern different ingredients in the foods I eat at restaurants and can attempt to replicate them at home, if I enjoy them! 

And since I like giving credit where credit is due, I got most of my information here from Wikipedia, theguardian.com, and the inner depths of my memory.

So next time you are called a “picky eater,” know that you are, in fact, a supertaster!

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The Freedom in Being Vulnerable

A few weeks ago, I saw someone posted a YouTube video on Facebook by Brené Brown, called “the Power of Vulnerability.” I didn’t click on it. A few weeks ago, during one of our meetings, one of my supervisees recommended I watch the same video. I didn’t watch it. Today, one of my clients brought it up in session, and told me about the impact it had for her. I finally watched it.

Isn’t it telling that I heard the word “vulnerability” and avoided it? I think so many of us do that. It’s a frightening word because we equate it with pain, hurt, weakness, risk. But is that what it truly means? Logically, I think we can understand that’s not the case, because when we are vulnerable, we are also connected, joyful, and faced with infinite possibilities. But we have practiced the idea that vulnerability is negative for so long, that it became so ingrained to point it is now our automatic and we don’t even notice when we avoid it. And we miss out. 

This video was a reminder to me that if we shut down our vulnerability to avoid pain, we are also shutting down our vulnerability to create meaningful relationships (with others AND OURSELVES), fulfillment, enjoyment… And it’s as though there’s a part of us saying that avoiding pain has more value than living a fulfilling life. Think about that….

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If that’s true, then it means we are merely surviving rather than living. I choose to give my life more meaning than survival. Survival implies that everyone and everything is out there to hurt us, that everything is a constant fight, and, as a result, we adopt a “me vs. the world” mentality. It breeds adversity and competition. That sounds absolutely exhausting to me. It makes me think of learning a new dance – I can try to perfectly perform a choreography and beat myself up every time I “mess up,” fight with and blame my dance partner, or I can surrender to the rhythm and flow with the music. Which one sounds more enjoyable?

Brené Brown talked about some ways in which we defend against vulnerability.

– We make the uncertain certain. She talked about how we approach religion and politics, as if our personal beliefs and feelings are facts. I will add to that and say that, when we do that, instead of sharing our identity and experiences with others, we are more concerned about being right. Beliefs are not facts. Feelings are not facts. Check in with your perceptions and see how they open you up to some possibilities and close you off to others. Use that information to make choices that grant you a fulfilling life.

– We undermine the impact we have on others. Sometimes we morph into bulldozers and can become very destructive to others. And the same is true on the positive end of the spectrum – we minimize the positive effect we have on others and might become less inspired to contribute. Everything you do affects something or someone. You always matter. 

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I love how she concluded that we have to raise the next generation with the mentality that humans are imperfect but that’s perfect in itself. We are perfect in our imperfections and we will always be “enough” and  worthy of love.

I invite you to watch this TED talk and think about the relationship you have with yourself and see how it translates to your other relationships. Think about the personal meaning you give to vulnerability and practice that today. See how you shift and how your relationships shift, as well. 

“When I am vulnerable, I am alive.”

 

 

 

 

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Animals and Mental Health

I’m a huge animal lover, as you can probably tell from my About Me section. I cannot imagine a life where I come home from work to an apartment with no pets. No one to greet me at the door, no one to remind me that it’s important to go outside and breathe some fresh air. 

Animals have always had an important role in the life of humans. We can trace it back to the idea of predator/prey, where we see a lot of activity in our brains (to be more specific, the amygdala, found in our limbic system, which is responsible for processing memory and emotional reactions.). Our brain is able to differentiate between dangerous animals and cute/harmless animals, as we see a very specific set of cell activity depending on the situation. This is important for survival – dangerous animal? RUN!… harmless animal? HUNT!) So just by seeing an animal, our bodies begin to experience changes at a cellular level. 

 

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(Image obtained from http://www.brainwaves.com/)

What kind of changes occur if we spend a significant amount of time with an animal? Or if we touch the animal? I recently ran into this article, which talks about how spending time with animals can have a positive effect on our mental health. Generally speaking, when around animals, we experience:

 

*less stress, because cortisol levels decrease

*more feelings of joy, because we release more oxytocin and endorphins

*more energy, because there is an increase in dopamine release

 

Thanks to this kind of research, Animal Assisted Therapy came about. One of my dogs, Tulipa, is a certified Animal Assisted Therapy dog. She has visited many individuals at hospices and assisted-living facilities to brighten their days. It was amazing to see everyone’s face light up when they saw her coming. The nurses and techs told me that the patients did so much better on the days that Tulipa and I visited, in that they were more compliant and generally experienced less pain and discomfort. 

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The article I mentioned above goes on to specifically talking about the effects of Animal Assisted Therapy on different mental health concerns, like trauma (e.g., sexual abuse) and Alzheimer’s Disease. Since my interest and expertise are in the arena of Schizophrenia and other severe and persistent mental illnesses, I was most intrigued by their findings on that matter. Just to give you a brief description of what Schizophrenia is: individuals with this diagnosis are faced with a chronic battle in which they have difficulty establishing reality from internal distorted perceptions, as they often experience hallucinations (sensory experiences that are not based on reality, such as seeing/smelling/feeling/hearing/tasting what is not actually there) and/or delusions (beliefs not based on reality). The recommended treatment for this disorder is a combination of therapy and medication management. When a person is having these sensory or thought disturbances, performing everyday tasks becomes challenging. (Can you imagine being able to completely focus and successfully complete projects at work when there is so much turmoil happening in your head?) This article cited other studies, in which individuals diagnosed with Schizophrenia spent time with different farm animals. After 12 weeks, researchers found an improvement in coping skills and self-efficacy. This improvement was seen even at a 6-month follow-up. Spending time with these animals significantly helped these individuals better function in their everyday lives.

So, moral of the story, animals can help in big and small ways – whether it’s giving you some relief from your everyday routine, or making such a huge, impacting difference in the lives of individuals diagnosed with a mental illness.

I invite you to spend some time with your pets or your friends’ pets, and share your experiences with me! 

 

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