Psychology Round-Up

How The Impact Bias Affects Your Expectations Of Happiness

It seems to make sense that an extreme experience, such as a catastrophic injury, would affect our future level of happiness. But, writes James Clear, the truth is much more counter-intuitive. Research has shown that six months after a traumatic event, people’s happiness levels are about the same as they were before the event.

The inaccuracy of our expectations about how major experiences will affect us is called the impact bias:

Researchers refer to this as the “impact bias” because we tend to overestimate the length or intensity of happiness that major events will create. The impact bias is one example of affective forecasting, which is a social psychology phenomenon that refers to our generally terrible ability as humans to predict our future emotional states.

Moreover, the impact bias applies to positive experiences, such as winning the lottery, as well as to negative ones.

Read why Clear draws the following two conclusions from a study of the impact bias:

  • First, we have a tendency to focus on the thing that changes and forget about the things that don’t change
  • Second, a challenge is an impediment to a particular thing, not to you as a person

The Benefits of Getting Comfortable With Uncertainty

Back in 1971, when my husband and I left our families in New England for St. Louis, where he would attend school and I would start my first teaching job, my mother-in-law hosted a “happy/sad party.” She was happy that we were going to start our new life together, but sad that we were going so far away.

Even though we naturally seek clarity, it’s important to understand that people, including ourselves, can feel contradictory emotions about a single situation or event. In his article for The Atlantic, Julie Beck interviews Jamie Holmes, author of Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing, about “the many ways that uncertainty shapes people’s behavior, and what gets lost when people seek clarity above all else.”

Says Holmes:

I think the reason why ambivalence is just downplayed in general, is because we don’t like ambiguity. We don’t like to think of intentions as fluid or ambivalent and I think they are, far more often than we acknowledge.

For True Freedom, Learn to Deal With Uncertainty

In the New York Times, financial planner Carl Richards discusses the uncertainty of a life in which our fortunes fluctuate in relation to the economic conditions of a particular time. He bought a house that appreciated quickly in value, then borrowed against the equity in the house to start a business. But when the economy tanked, his house became worth less than he had paid for it and his business, closely tied to the local economy, floundered as well. But a couple of years later, his life changed again: “He now has superpositive net worth. His relationships are better than ever.”

Richards writes that he has asked himself many times what he did wrong to deserve the bad experience and what he did right to deserve the the better experience. But deserve, he says, is loaded language. It’s a myth that we “deserve” any specific outcome:

For years, many of us have believed this myth. In reality, life is irreducibly uncertain. That doesn’t make us more or less successful or more or less happy. The true joy in life, the real peace, comes when we let go of the idea that we deserve a predetermined happy ending.

Whatever the goal, we can learn to trust ourselves and deal with the reality of uncertainty. And for me that’s become the definition of true freedom.

Today Is World Arthritis Day

First observed in 1996, World Arthritis Day aims to raise awareness of the condition and make both patients and caregivers aware of available help and support. On the web site you can find a World Arthritis Day event in your area or publicize your own event. The site also provides tips and support for managing rheumatic and musculoskeletal disease (RMD).

While rheumatoid arthritis is the most well known arthritic condition, the broad category of arthritis includes other conditions as well. Rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases (RMDs) are divided into inflammatory and non-inflammatory types:

  • Common non-inflammatory RMDs consist of degenerative spine diseases, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, and fibromyalgia
  • Common inflammatory RMDs consist of rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, reactive arthritis, connective tissue diseases, and polymyalgia rheumatica

In the industrialized world, RMDs affect more individuals than any other disease group. In the European Union they affect a quarter of all people—more than 120 million individuals. In the United States, more than 50 million adults—one in five people over age 18—have doctor-diagnosed arthritis; about 300,000 babies and children—one in every 250 children—have arthritis or a rheumatic condition. Arthritis is the number one cause of disability in the U.S. and accounts for $156 billion annually in lost wages and medical expenses.

The theme for this year’s observance of World Arthritis Day is “It’s in your hands, take action!” The campaign focuses on giving High 5s. Participate on social media with the hashtag #WADHigh5.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 35.6% of women and 28.5% of men in the United States have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by in intimate partner in their lifetime. Moreover, nearly half of all women and men in the U.S. have experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

Such intimate partner violence (IPV) had led to the observance of Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM). This observance, begun in 1995, is sponsored by the Domestic Violence Awareness Project, a division of the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence:

Do you think you’re being abused? Do you often feel ashamed or scared? Has being with this person lowered your self-esteem? Do they try to stop you seeing family or friends? All of these signs and more suggest that you’re being unfairly abused by your partner.

An abuser’s manipulation may be so subtle at first that you don’t even realize it’s happening until you’re deeply into a potentially dangerous situation. Learn the red flags of abuse from the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Review these safety tips if you think you might be in danger. There is a lot of advice here, including how to use technology to try to get help. Remember that your home computer is probably not a good tool to use when searching for help, since your abuser may be able to see what you’ve been doing. There are also phone numbers here for contacting a local domestic violence help line.

You can find more information about DVAM here.

SHARE YOUR WORLD – 2015 WEEK #40

Here’s this week’s SHARE YOUR WORLD – 2015 WEEK #40.

If you have been to a foreign country name those you have been too?

grand_european_map
Click to see a larger version

I’ve been to the following foreign countries:

  • England
  • Scotland
  • Hungary
  • Slovakia
  • Austria
  • Germany
  • Holland
  • Ireland

Is the glass half empty or half full? What type of glass is it and what is in the glass?

The glass is definitely half full, but I’ve never thought about what the glass is half full of. My non-alcoholic choice would be iced tea. My alcoholic choices right now would be a Moscow Mule or a Margarita.

If you could have an endless supply of any food, what would you get?

Ice cream. I’d hope for a variety of flavors—just about everything except vanilla, which is so, well, plain vanilla.

List: List at least five places worth shopping.

  • Trader Joe’s
  • Tacoma Boys
  • Costco
  • King’s Books
  • Barnes & Noble

Bonus question: What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up?

Yesterday we actually had RAIN! We sorely needed it. I hope for a bit more rain this coming week. As much as I love sunshine, we desperately need a lot of rain right now.

SHARE YOUR WORLD – 2015 WEEK #39

It’s time for this week’s installment of SHARE YOUR WORLD – 2015 WEEK #39.

Which way does the toilet paper roll go? Over or under?

Over, of course. Every time I see this question asked, as it was recently on Facebook, everybody answers “over.” I’ve never seen one “under” answer yet.

If you were a crayon, what color would you be?

No question: This:

purple-crayon

You are comfortable doing nothing? For long stretches of time?

I’m afraid not. I tried fishing once and nearly went crazy sitting on a bluff holding a fishing pole and feeling as if I was doing absolutely nothing. All I could think was, “I could be reading.”

Rather: Would you accept $5,000 to shave your head or die it bright lime green and continue your normal activities while not explaining the reason for your haircut or color?

A Seattle Seahawks fan watches during the first half of the NFL football NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers Sunday, Jan. 18, 2015, in Seattle. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
A Seattle Seahawks fan watches during the first half of the NFL football NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers Sunday, Jan. 18, 2015, in Seattle. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Oh, baby, here in Seattle Seahawks country I could die my hair lime green and never have to explain it to anyone. I’d fit right in. So I’d go with the green hair if it would net me $5,000.

Bonus question: What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up?

Last week was a good one. I even got some writing done. In the week coming up we are traveling a bit east of the Cascade Mountains for a Road Scholar program about the Methow Valley. I’m looking forward to learning about the region’s history. We should also get to see some beautiful fall foliage.

How I Use Scrivener & Excel to Manage My Blog Challenge

Scrivener

Like a lot of other writers, I have used the outstanding writing program Scrivener from Literature & Latte for a few years now. If you haven’t heard of it, I encourage you to check it out. You can find lots of information, including video tutorials, about it online. If you decide to take the plunge and purchase it—the price is very reasonable compared to other comparable programs—I recommend the book Scrivener for Dummies by Gwen Hernandez.

Although I cannot give a full-tilt tutorial in Scrivener here, I can describe a couple of its features that particularly make it great for blogging:

  1. The basic unit of the program is the document, which can contain a virtually unlimited amount of text, from a short note to a whole book chapter. The program also allows you to create folders and subfolders in which to store selected documents. This ability to structure information allows me to collect separate bits of information that I will eventually combine into a single blog post.
  2. The program has a default research folder into which you can save material to consult later. The feature I use most often here is the ability to save a web page as a PDF file, although you can also save other types of files (such as Word files, text files, or even images) here too. And you can create subfolders underneath the main research section to group related materials together.

Other people have also recognized Scrivener’s power as a blogging tool:

I started using Scrivener to manage my three blogs in the summer of 2014. I began by adapting Jennifer Mattern’s Free Scrivener Template for Managing Multiple Blogs at All Indie Writers. Her directions made it easy to download and import the template into Scrivener. I was then able to look at her structure and see what I wanted to change to make the template fit the way I work.

Jennifer includes two blogs structured by date and a third structured by categories. I chose to arrange all three of my blogs by date because I’m a Virgo and like to track things in a logical, linear way. It was easy to delete the main folder for the category blog, then copy and paste one of the dated blog folders, with subfolders, to replace it for my third blog.

Jennifer also includes more than one year for each blog, but I decided to start a new multiblog project folder each year because the amount of material I was collecting, including research materials (I’m a big fan of Scrivener’s print function called “save PDF to Scrivener”), became unwieldy. Once again, changing the folder structure to accommodate this preference was easy.

I tweaked Jennifer’s template in other minor ways significantly. When I finally got things just the way I wanted them, I used Scrivener’s “save as template” feature in the file menu to save my set-up as a project template. (A project is Scrivener’s top level of organization. If you are working on two novels, each novel would be a project, a separate Scrivener file.) I can now use the revised template to start a new multiblog project each year.

If you start looking at what other people have to say about Scrivener, you’ll see that the most common knock against it is that it has a steep learning curve. I agree that’s true, but it’s true because the program has so many powerful features. I’ve always been a believer that we learn what we need to know when we need to know it, and you only need to know a few basic things to get started with Scrivener. You can learn everything necessary to manage the procedures I’ve discussed here in a short time. Like anything else, the most important thing is to start working with Scrivener instead of just reading about it. The folks at Literature & Latte let you download a trial version before requiring your credit card number.

So far I’ve used only basic functions within Scrivener, but now that I’m blogging much more, I need to learn how to use Scrivener’s status and labeling functions to keep track of which posts are completed and published and which ones I’m still working on.

Excel

Scrivener makes it easy to manage my blog posts, but for my Blog Post a Day in 2015 challenge I needed Excel to track data about the posts, such as how many words I wrote each month and how many posts appeared on which blog. I set up a worksheet with the following columns:

  • A: Date
  • B: Blog #1
  • C: Blog #2
  • D: Blog #3
  • E: Post title
  • F: Number of words

When I document my post published each day here, I put a 1 in the column of the blog where the post appears. (Occasionally I publish the same post on more than one blog, but I only include it once in my total word count.) Having a column for each blog allows me to see easily how I need to distribute future posts and to calculate how many posts appeared on each blog at the end of the month.

At the end of each month I calculate the number of posts published on each blog and the total number of words I wrote that month.

At the end of February, after I had calculated my February totals, I realized that I also wanted to be able to compare the statistics across months. I set up a second sheet with the following columns:

  • A: Month
  • B: Total words written
  • C: Number of posts
  • D: Average post length
  • E: Number of words in shortest post
  • F: Number of words in longest post

At the end of the year, I hope this second sheet will allow me to see the patterns in my writing.

End of 30-Day Digital Journaling Challenge

Related Posts:

In my Midway Check-In for the 30-Day Digital Journaling Challenge, I reported that I was going to try digital journaling at home, first thing in the morning, then continue to journal by hand later when I got to the office.

30-day-challenge-682x1024One question I wanted to look at was whether the early digital journaling would prevent me from having anything to write by hand about a while later. I’m pleased to report that it did not. Many days I didn’t write as much by hand as I often do when not journaling digitally, but I still had more to write about when I had started by typing earlier. Usually what I wrote about by hand was some kind of amplification of what I had typed.

Another question I’ve been thinking about during this whole month-long challenge is whether the input method (typing vs. writing) would make a difference in my journaling. When I focused on journaling digitally for the last 15 days, I initially found that working on the computer made a big difference. When typing, it’s too easy to constantly use the backspace or delete key and correct typing mistakes rather than continuing to write uncensored and unedited. Also, since most of my daily work involves writing, which I do on the computer, journaling looked and felt too much like a work project, which needed to be edited and polished, rather than a spontaneous outpouring of my unconscious mind.

But early on in this second-half experiment, I tried closing my eyes when I typed. I originally tried this approach as a way to avoid constantly editing and correcting, but I soon discovered that it freed up my writing in other ways as well. Closing eyes causes the brain to transition into producing alpha waves, a state of relaxation similar to meditation and that dreamy feeling between wakefulness and sleep. The alpha state forms a bridge between the conscious and the unconscious, thereby tapping into our creativity and intuition. Poised on that bridge is where we do our most penetrating and revealing journal work.

As I result of my experiences during this challenge, I have concluded that digital and hand-written journaling are not mutually exclusive but rather complementary. This is something I will continue to experiment with on my own.

I’d like to thank all the sponsors, organizers, and participants for making this challenge so meaningful to me. As I concluded in my midway check-in post:

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

New Look, New Focus

Finally, I had to make a decision.

Now that I’ve gone back to school and earned my doctorate (2011), now that we’ve retired and relocated (2013), I finally have to decide what I want to be when I grow up.

I’ve been thinking about all this inchoately for some time, but, in a marvelous example of synchronicity, a recent writing prompt in the 30-Day Digital Journaling Challenge made everything fall into place.

I had already decided that I was spreading myself too thin and needed to make changes to spend more time on my own writing. But when the journaling prompt asked me to have a talk with my inner critic, I was surprised at where the conversation went. All writers grapple with the inner critic, that internal voice that constantly tells us we have no right to write, no talent, nothing worth saying. I had barely started asking my inner critic to go easy on me when she interrupted and starting talking back.

And here’s what she had to say: You and I are not adversaries. In fact, I’m your writing best friend. I’m that alternate state of consciousness that takes over and does just about everything right when you’re in the zone, writing in flow. You know that we do your best work together. But you haven’t invited me to come visit you for quite a while.

And I had to admit that she was right. I haven’t written in flow since I finished my dissertation in the spring of 2011. I had forgotten how exhilarating that writing state feels and how good is the work that comes out of it. I’ll explain writing in flow in more detail in another post, but its most pertinent characteristic for this discussion is that it can be nurtured and cultivated. To court flow, the writer—or at least this writer—has to provide conditions conducive to that mental shift of gears that happens when flow kicks in.

So in my journal entry I agreed to once again offer her—let’s call her Flow and get her a big tricked-out name tag—what she needs to operate:

Flow nametag

  • meaningful writing projects
  • real deadlines
  • specific target audiences
  • extended periods of uninterrupted writing time

For me, that final one has always been the most important. I’m sure some people can slip in and out of flow at short notice and for small bursts of time, but my Flow doesn’t work that way. She likes to move in and stay a while.

As a result of the compromise I’ve reached with Flow, I’ll be narrowing the focus of this blog to the following topics:

  • journal writing
  • memoirs and memoir writing
  • therapeutic benefits of expressive writing
  • creative nonfiction writing, both general advice and my own writing process
  • psychology news as it pertains to these topics

Also, since one of my areas of study is the intersection of psychology and literature, I will try to create more interweaving between this blog, which emphasizes psychology and writing, and my literature blog, Notes in the Margin. To that end, I have changed to the same design theme for both blogs to create a sense of continuity for readers moving between them.

Unlike Peter Pan, I think I’m finally ready to grow up into who I want to be. Thanks for listening.

Flow and I would love for you to write something in the comment section below.

Writing Resources

The Psychology of Writing: 5 Ways to make your Characters “Click” with Readers using Vulnerability, Proximity, Resonance, Similarity, and Shared Adversity

For those of you who write fiction, Casey Lynn Covel at Meek-Geek has some advice for crafting compelling characters:

In this article, I’ll be discussing a unique, psychological-based approach to creating this connection, built on collected research from noted organizational expert and psychologist Ori & Rom Brafman. Read on to learn five ways in which you can make your book and characters “click” with your readers.

Think about her information in relation to my recent post Literary Life Stories: The Character Biography over on my literature blog.

Ghosts in the machine: how AI research is bringing game characters to life

The ambition to create “real”, believable characters has been a cornerstone of literature since the 19th century. The Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin praised Fyodor Dostoyevsky for his ability to give each of his protagonists their own sets of beliefs, “as if the character were not an object of authorial discourse, but rather a fully valid, autonomous carrier of his own individual word”.

Fast forward a hundred years and writers such as Joseph Conrad and Virginia Woolf were even more enthralled with the idea of character autonomy.

Here’s another take on how writers create compelling characters. This article looks at how advances in artificial intelligence (AI) may foster character-building in computer games:

For authors who’ve fantasised about their characters leading a life of their own, could the situation of AI avatars roaming a fictional world, interacting based on their own individual drives, offer greater freedom of expression? Or is it likely to result in hundreds of dead-eyed puppets walking repeatedly into the sides of houses? Don’t stories require direction?

“I don’t see AI replacing human authors in the creation of existing forms of literature — novels, short stories, poetry and the like,” says artificial intelligence expert Malcolm Ryan from Macquarie University. “Rather I envision new literary forms that will be enabled by narrative AI.”

The best way for students to become writers

Common knowledge holds that the best way to become proficient at any skill is to practice, practice, practice.

But here Joanne Yatvin, a past president of the National Council of Teachers of English, offers a different slant on how students can best become writers:

Now, as a writer myself, I still believe that the best way for students to become writers is by reading as much good writing as possible and internalizing the various structures and techniques they encounter. For extras, the habit of reading will also increase their vocabulary, improve their spelling, and help them grasp the fact that many of the conventions of written language are different from those of spoken language.

Passive Resistance: The active voice isn’t always the best choice

Yes, all those writing-advice books tell us to avoid the passive.

But, as Steven Pinker points out here, sometimes the passive voice is exactly what the writer needs:

The passive is the voice of choice, then, when the done-to is in the spotlight. In recounting the climax of Oedipus Rex, in which a messenger explains the backstory, it is more natural to say The messenger had been given a baby to get rid of by a shepherd from the Laius household than A shepherd from the Laius household had given the messenger a baby to get rid of. All eyes are on the messenger, so the sentence should begin with him.

Also, the passive’s ability to hide the doer, though abused by mistake-makers, is handy when the doer’s identity is irrelevant. In the news item The suspect was arrested in connection with the killing of three Israelis, we don’t need to know that a guy named Shlomo made the arrest.

Books for Daily Writing

Sometimes the unconscious knows what it wants to write about and sends the words bubbling to the surface and onto the page. At other times we find ourselves staring at a blank page or computer screen and wondering what we have worth writing about. At times like those, we might need a bit of prompting in our writing.

I had reached one of those times last month. One reason why I signed up for the 30-Day Digital Journaling Challenge is that it promised a daily writing prompt.

But once this challenge is over, there are some books to fill the gap. On my bookshelf are the following books that I have collected over the years:

A Daily Dose of Sanity: A Five-Minute Soul Recharge for Every Day of the Year by Andy Cohen (Hay House, 2010)

sanityThis book has a spiritual emphasis, though Cohen uses the word spiritual in its broadest sense: “This book is not associated with any particular religion, organization, or spiritual path” (introduction). Each entry comprises a general discussion of some topic, with illustrative anecdotes, a pertinent question or two, and an affirmation. The focus on general affirmations would allow for reuse in subsequent years. Entries are dated and printed one to a page.

The Daily Writer: 366 Meditations to Cultivate a Productive and Meaningful Writing Life by Fred White (Writer’s Digest Books, 2008)

daily-writerAccording to the introduction, “The Daily Writer is designed to help awaken and nurture the spiritual side of writing through daily meditation and practice throughout the calendar year.” Like Cohen (above), White uses the word spiritual in its broadest sense. Each entry discusses a broad topic (e.g., daydreaming with a purpose, discouragement as inspiration) and ends with a “try this” writing exercise. Because the entries are so broad, this book could be used many times, with each run-through bringing up new possibilities for writing. Entries are dated and printed one to a page.

The Write-Brain Workbook: 366 Exercises to Liberate your Writing by Bonnie Neubauer (Writer’s Digest Books, 2006)

write-brainNeubauer’s book addresses a writer’s worst nightmare, the dreaded blank page. She encourages users to write for 10 minutes every day on one of her colorful, graphically intense pages: “At the end of the year you will have written at least 365 pages … And not once during the year will you have faced a blank page.” The entries are numbered (Day 129) rather than dated, so you can jump in any time during the year. At the bottom of each page is a box labeled “take the next step” that includes suggestions for expanding on that day’s writing exercise or for thinking about the writing life in general (e.g., “What is keeping you from asking for help?”). I don’t plan on actually writing on the workbook pages, however, as these exercises could be reused in subsequent years.

One Year to a Writing Life: Twelve Lessons to Deepen Every Writer’s Art and Craft by Susan M. Tiberghien (Da Capo Press, 2007)

one-yearIn this book Tiberghien combines two components of the writing life: inspiration and instruction. Each of the 12 lessons contains several writing exercises. In the introduction Tiberghien lays out her logic for the order of the lessons, but she also says that writers can use the lessons in whatever order works best for them. And although the number of lessons corresponds to the number of months in a year, she gives writers permission to spend whatever amount of time they feel is appropriate for each lesson. The use of lessons rather than dated entries allows users to pick up the program at any time.

Starting Points: A Year of Writing Prompts by Susan Wittig Albert (Story Circle Network, 2007, 2013)

starting-pointsLike many writing gurus, Albert advocates writing every day. “I’ve chosen the one-prompt-a-week format (rather than a daily prompt) because I believe it results in longer and deeper thoughts, as you explore the question or issue from different directions during your daily writing sessions.” Albert organizes the book by month, but she says writers can start at any time during the year and then cycle through the book until they come back round to where they started. She also wants writers to work on each month’s four prompts in whatever order appeals to them. The book concludes with several short sections of writing advice.

A Writer’s Book of Days: A Spirited Companion and Lively Muse for the Writing Life, by Judy Reeves (New World Library, 1999)

writers-bk-days-849x1024There is a revised edition (2010) available, but my comments pertain to the original version, which I have.

“The book is divided into months, with each of the twelve months containing a profusion of writerly counsel and advice, words of inspiration, and literary lore and legend” (p. 6). Each month begins with a Guideline for Writing Practice. Reeves intersperses dated prompts for the month within a wealth of informative nuggets about writers and the writing life. Because the prompts are suggestive enough to evoke many different responses, the book can be used repeatedly.

Of the books listed here, this is the one I return to most often.

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These are just a few books that I happen to have. If you search for “writing prompts,” you’ll find many, many more. If you have used others, please post to the comments.