Last Week’s Links

When a DNA Test Shatters Your Identity

You’ve certainly seen the ads for genetic tests that will help you discover more leaves for your family tree. While many people are happy to discover far-flung relatives they never knew about, others are distraught to learn that their parents or grandparents aren’t who they thought they were.

This article from The Atlantic discusses a Facebook group founded by a woman whose DNA test delivered disturbing results. “The DNA test didn’t erase her happy childhood memories, but it recast her entire life up to now.”

How We Create Personal Myths (and Why They Matter)

In graduate school I took a course called something like Identity and Personal Mythology, which centered on the fact that we all create a personal mythology, or life story, to make sense of our experiences and to create our sense of self, our sense of identity. There’s a whole subgenre of psychology examining this field, which is known as narrative identity theory.

In this article self-described data nerd Angela Chen describes how, despite her preference for data over narrative, she came to realize that she, too, has a personal mythology that has shaped her life.

To resist narrative is to resist the brain itself. Sometimes we must do so, to avoid the clean, satisfying story that may be too simple. But I was wrong to think I could escape defining the narrative in my own life. We are always creating and searching for meaning, whether we recognize it or not.

Caves all the way down

Do psychedelics give access to a universal, mystical experience of reality, or is that just a culture-bound illusion?

Philosopher Jules Evans article begins with this assertion:

In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re in the middle of a psychedelic renaissance. Research into the healing potential of psychedelics has re-started at prestigious universities such as Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and Imperial College London, and is making rock stars out of the scientists carrying it out. Their findings are being reported with joy and exultation by mainstream media – on CNN, the BBC, even the Daily Mail. Respectable publishers such as Penguin are behind psychedelics bestsellers such as Michael Pollan’s book How To Change Your Mind (2018), which was reviewed enthusiastically across the political spectrum.

Evans is an academic, policy director at the Centre for the History of the Emotions at Queen Mary, University of London. Here he explores, with an academic’s vigor and rigor, the history of the nature of psychedelic mystical experience, begun by Aldous Huxley’s 1954 book The Doors of Perception. He uses his own psychedelic experiences to examine the differences between science and theology to conclude:

To use the language of secular psychology, psychedelics seem to reliably take people briefly beyond their customary ego and to allow the contents of their subconscious to emerge. Even if you’re not mystically inclined, that process can still be very healing.

How the West became a self-obsessed culture

It’s common to hear Eastern and Western cultures contrasted in a way that goes something like this: Eastern cultures focus more on society collectively, while Western culture emphasizes the individual.

In this article Sean Illing interviews Will Storr, a British writer and author of the recent book _ Selfie: How We Became So Self-Obsessed and What It’s Doing to Us_. As Illing explains, Storr’s book is about a phenomenon psychologists call “collective narcissism”:

An individual narcissist is someone with a deep need for validation, someone who thinks they’re great and resents anyone who doesn’t recognize their greatness. Collective narcissists … are “a group of people who desperately need their group to be admired and validated by others.”

Collective narcissism is a fashionable idea these days in psychology, and it’s linked to psychologists’ larger concern about a “narcissism epidemic” — more and more individuals with an inflated sense of self.

Storr has some ideas about how a culture emphasizing self-esteem has gotten us into the self-absorbed position we’re in today. Read his advice on how to find happiness and fulfillment despite the way our culture has made us think about ourselves.

Down with the larks: on the virtues of sleeping like a sloth

A Gallup poll in 2013 found that Americans sleep, on average, 6.8 hours a night, with 40 per cent getting less than the recommended minimum of seven hours. According to Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio, teenagers get a little more than seven hours of sleep a night, while actually needing at least nine. Yet society continues to function … if only like a frail, untuned clock.

Joel Frohlich reports on the health drawbacks of chronic sleep deprivation.

© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

‘Mysterious power over humanity’: How cats affect health

Have you ever thought about all those cat videos you seen whenever you check Facebook? In this article for CNN Alice Robb talks with Abigail Tucker, author of The Lion in the Living Room: How Cats Tamed Us and Took Over the World, about:

the disturbing similarities between cats and lions, the reason cats failed to uphold the Rabbit Suppression Act of 1884, and the somewhat baffling question of why people put up with them.

How We Got From Doc Brown to Walter White

Eva Amsen on “the changing image of the TV scientist”:

The change in TV offers insight into the image and impact of scientists today, say communication scholars. Although recent headlines may have been dominated by people who bend scientific facts into the molds of their personal ideologies, surveys reveal a deep public esteem for scientists. Viewers now want and demand their scientists to be realistic, and what the viewer wants, Hollywood delivers. As a result, scientists on screen have evolved from stereotypes and villains to credible and positive characters, due in part to scientists themselves, anxious to be part of the action and the public’s education.

You’re an Adult. Your Brain, Not So Much.

A look at how the human brain matures and when the brain can be considered mature. Investigation in this area might have profound implications on policy issues such as when people are old enough to vote or to be held accountable for committing crimes.

Praise Is Fleeting, but Brickbats We Recall

Have you ever wondered why you and other members of your family remember experiences so differently? This article explains why: “almost everyone remembers negative things more strongly and in more detail” than they remember positive experiences.

Why time management is ruining our lives

“The quest for increased personal productivity – for making the best possible use of your limited time – is a dominant motif of our age,” writes Oliver Burkeman.

Personal productivity presents itself as an antidote to busyness when it might better be understood as yet another form of busyness. And as such, it serves the same psychological role that busyness has always served: to keep us sufficiently distracted that we don’t have to ask ourselves potentially terrifying questions about how we are spending our days.


© 2017 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

Recent Articles on Psychology

10 Telling Signs You’re an Emotionally Intelligent Person

Emotionally intelligent people are the advice-givers among their group of friends. Do you have a friend who seems to know what you’re feeling before you’ve verbalized it? This friend is emotionally intelligent. There are many of those people in the world. They are the healers, the untrained therapists among friends.

Testing for Joy and Grit? Schools Nationwide Push to Measure Students’ Emotional Skills

A recent update to federal education law requires states to include at least one nonacademic measure in judging school performance… . But the race to test for so-called social-emotional skills has raised alarms even among the biggest proponents of teaching them, who warn that the definitions are unclear and the tests faulty.

Should schools be testing students for social-emotional skills such as grit and resilience? The approach has both proponents and critics.

13 Sleep Lessons From A Landmark British Sleep Report

If you’re like most people, these findings probably won’t surprise you:

A recent report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that a third of Americans don’t get enough sleep. And now, a British report finds that no one is faring any better across the Atlantic.

According to the Royal Society for Public Health — one of the world’s oldest health education organizations — Britons may be missing out on as much as a full night of sleep each week, on average.

Seeing the Light: Emotional Intelligence

We know emotional intelligence is critical to personal and professional development, but how do we define this amorphous concept? A widely accepted definition: Emotional intelligence is the regulation of our own emotions and the ability to recognize, understand, and influence others’ emotions.

Emotional intelligence is both an innate and a learned skill. This article contains some advice for improving it.

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

Midpoint Check-In: 30-Day Digital Journaling Challenge


Related Posts:

Habits are usually hard to break but quite easy to simply fall out of. For years I have been an active journal writer—with a fountain pen and purple ink in a paper journal, often also purple. But during a recent move that came about very quickly, I had fallen out of the journaling habit. I was about six weeks into re-establishing my journaling habit by writing every day as soon as I arrived at my office when I discovered the 30-Day Digital Journaling Challenge.

30-day-challenge-682x1024When I’m well into the habit of journaling nearly every day, I usually have no trouble finding something to write about. It’s as if my unconscious knows that this opportunity is about to arrive and seizes the chance to open itself up on the page. But when I’m not in the habit, my journal writing sometimes doesn’t flow so easily. At those times an occasional writing prompt can help. Part of the reason why I signed up for the 30-Day Digital Journaling Challenge was that it promised daily prompts.

As soon as I had signed up for the month-long digital journaling challenge, I knew that I did not want to give up the habit of writing in my journal each morning. I had, after all, been working hard at getting back into that habit. I therefore decided to make the digital journaling something I did when I got home from the office in the late afternoon or early evening. I was interested in looking at two questions:

  1. Did the time of day make a difference in my journaling?.
  2. Did the different input method (keyboard vs. writing) make a difference?.

Obviously this wouldn’t be a controlled experiment, since it has two separate variables, but it would serve my own purpose of discovering which approach to journaling works best for me.

And the results are now in:

  1. I ended up doing hardly any real journaling at all beyond copying and pasting the daily prompts into my MacJournal program. The late-in-the-day timing just wasn’t good for me. By the time I got home, I was tired and pretty much written out from several hours of work. All I wanted to do was kick off my shoes and put on my slippers, get some dinner, and relax with a couple of shows from my DVR.
  2. I can’t even begin to determine whether typing works better or worse than writing for me, since I did so little of it.

Therefore, I will change things up for the second half of this month-long challenge. I now know that afternoon/evening journal writing doesn’t work for me, but I still don’t want to give up my morning journaling when I get to the office. So I’ll be hitting MacJournal—which is only on my desktop machine at home, not on the laptop at the office—the very first thing in the morning. Then I’ll continue my at-home morning routine of checking email and blogs I follow, and reading news. After that, I’ll leave for the office, then begin my day there with writing in my paper journal.

Here are three possible results of this new schedule:

  1. Having already typed a journal entry at home will leave me with nothing to write by hand about.
  2. The time between the typed entry and the written entry will allow for more processing of the prompts so that the written entry will supplement the electronic one.
  3. My unconscious will still welcome the opportunity to unburden itself, even if what it wants to say has nothing to do with the prompts for the digital entry.

One big bonus of this challenge is something I didn’t foresee: I have immensely enjoyed interacting with other challenge participants on the Facebook page. Journaling is essentially a solitary activity, but sharing experiences has certainly illuminated the journaling process for me.

The most prominent lesson has been reinforcement of something I already knew: There are many, many ways of journaling, and none is either right or wrong. What works for some people won’t work for others, and all journal writers need to discover what works best for them. A benefit of the group discussion is the great array of approaches that people have tried. Even if someone tried an approach that didn’t work for him or her, other people who had never heard of that idea can give it a try for themselves.

And the other important lesson for me comes back to habit. Yes, it’s good to establish and maintain a regular journaling habit. But from the group discussion I realized that too much of a habit can become a bad thing. Too much of an emphasis on habit means that I often journal mechanically, without much thinking. I sometimes go through the motions without much presence of mind, without allowing the challenges that can lead to insights and self-discovery to arise. Reading other participants’ joy at discovering the magical possibilities of the journaling process has reawakened my own desire to seek out and reconnect with that magic and joy.

I want to thank all the challenge participants for being willing to share their experiences with each other. That has certainly been the most important result of my experiment with the 30-Day Digital Journaling Challenge.

© 2014 by Mary Daniels Brown