By Zawn Villines
In her seminal book, On Death and Dying, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross identified five distinct stages of grief. Kübler-Ross worked with dying people and designed her model to describe the distinct grief of dying.
In On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss, a book co-authored with David Kessler, Kübler-Ross expanded her model to include many other types of grief. A modified version of Kübler-Ross’s model adds two new stages, shock and testing. This seven-stage model of grief is familiar to many people who have grieved a loss, yet little research supports the model.
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THE SEVEN STAGES OF GRIEFAccording to Kübler-Ross, and later to her co-author David Kessler, there are five stages of grief: denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance.
Some grief experts suggest this model might leave out two additional stages. This is sometimes called the Extended Kübler-Ross Model. According to that seven-stage model, the stages of grief are as follows:
While the original model was presented as sequential, most grief experts now argue that a person can go through the stages in any order. They may also repeat or revisit stages, especially during times of intense emotional distress. For example, a person grieving the loss of their father might become angry over his loss when he is not present at their wedding, even if they already experienced the anger stage years before.
While the original model was presented as sequential, most grief experts now argue that a person can go through the stages in any order.
SHOCK: THE FIRST STAGE OF GRIEFGrief often begins with bad news—a stunning diagnosis, a phone call announcing a loved one’s death, or an ultrasound that reveals a baby is not developing normally. This can feel like a massive blow, sending a person into a state of emotional shock. During this earliest stage of grief, a person may feel unable to process the meaning of the news.
Shock can last just a few moments or for many days. For some people, shock reappears as the grieving process unfolds. A person grieving the death of a relative may feel another wave of shock settle in at the funeral or burial, for instance.
Some hallmarks of shock include:
Testing differs from bargaining in that testing is about finding sustainable strategies for living with bad news. Bargaining is about escaping the bad news and regaining control.
A person in the testing stage may:
Factors such as a person’s social environment, how supported they feel, and the nature of the loss may also change how a person grieves.
Factors such as a person’s social environment, how supported they feel, and the nature of the loss may also change how a person grieves.
Some studies have found a person’s grief may depend on the loss. A 2016 study, for example, argues that people caring for a loved one with dementia face a unique grieving process. This is because they “lose” the person before they die but then experience another loss at death. The study proposes a dementia-specific model of grieving and argues that ambiguity is a core component of each stage of dementia grief.
The extent to which a stage-based model of grief helps people is unclear. People who experience one of the traditional stages may feel less alone when they learn their feelings are common. People who do not go through the stages of grief, however, may feel alone or stigmatized. They may even feel pressured to manifest outward signs of internal grief stages they do not actually feel.
There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Grief is the natural reaction to a loss. Cultural norms, personal factors, social support, health, religious and social values, and myriad other factors may affect how a person experiences grief. Therapy can help people manage their grief and find a way forward. The right therapist may even help a person find meaning in a loss, or a sense of purpose in persisting despite the loss.
“These models can…help people understand and explain their experience. However, grief is not predictable, linear, stable, or neat. It is an experience marked by its ferocious aliveness and proclivity for shape shifting. Models run the risk of being too prescriptive…and can render people feeling like they have a map of mere country borders and seashores, not the detail or scope to actually navigate one’s way around with any seriousness. Use the seven stages as a basic introduction to the language of grief, but when one becomes fluent in their own personal grief experience, they will realize it’s a language entirely unto its own. Therapy and other therapeutic work help hold and develop the latter,” says Jade Wood, MA, LMFT, MHSA, a Washington, D.C. therapist who specializes in managing grief.
To begin your search for a compassionate grief therapist, click here.
© Copyright 2019 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.
Original article: https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/shock-testing-two-more-twists-on-road-to-grief-recovery-0314197
Recently I was contacted by a local TV station asking about the use of weighted blankets to help people with insomnia. Typically, when people ask about which pillows and mattresses are best for sleep, I have to explain that there really isn’t much in the way of research to guide decision making about what to use. In general, I would say the best mattress or pillow is the one that you are comfortable with. Whether you need to be on a stack of feather beds to drift off or you enjoy sleeping out under the stars with a rock for a pillow, it's fine if it works for you. That being said, if you are interested in quality and pricing ratings on items such as pillows, sheets, and mattresses, you could check out the March 2019 issue of Consumer Reports. It provides some guidance for people looking to purchase these items for the highest quality at the best price.
Weighted blankets, however, are different in that there has been some research looking into their effectiveness. I had not appreciated the degree to which weighted blankets had become a “thing” until I heard from the reporter. Weighted blankets have become very popular and sold like hotcakes during the last holiday season. People I know who watch a good deal more TV than I do explained that they had seen quite a few ads for weighted blankets and a number of them had strongly considered getting one. It turns out that one of the most popular of these blankets is known as the gravity blanket and got started as a Kickstarter campaign. It has earned millions in sales.
Because my wife worked in autism research at the Yale Child Study Center for many years, I had become aware that weighted blankets have been used to help some people with autism feel calmer and more comfortable. It is easy to imagine that people would probably find the feeling of a weighted blanket to be comforting, something like being in a safe cocoon. Occupational therapists have utilized weighted blankets for years for grounding patients, increasing reality orientation, helping them to relax, and helping them to self-sooth, among other uses.
These blankets provide tactile sensations including warmth, pressure, and a feeling of being held. Because anything that allows you to be comfortable and relax is likely to help you fall asleep, at least in theory, a weighted blanket could be helpful to those with insomnia.
A study by Ackerley, Badre, & Olausson (2015) was conducted in Sweden and specifically explored whether weighted blanket can decrease symptoms of insomnia. The research was undertaken in an effort to find simple and easy methods to reduce insomnia without the need for medications, supplements, or extensive therapeutic interventions. This is a worthy goal as insomnia is a disorder that significantly and negatively affects quality of life and can be challenging and expensive to treat.
They used blankets that were commercially available and had previously been used with elderly individuals living in nursing homes and with patients who had autism spectrum disorders. The blankets were weighted by a metal chain that was evenly distributed throughout the blanket. This allowed for application of constant pressure and sensation across the body. These blankets had two sides and participants could choose to have the padded side or the chain side next to them. The weighted blankets could be used with another quilt either over or under them.
Unlike some weighted blankets that can be purchased today, the study blankets were not thick and did not provide much additional warmth. The blankets were tested in three different weights: 6 kg (13.2 lb.), 8 kg (17.6 lb.), or 10 kg (22 lb.). Participants were allowed to choose their preferred weight and the most commonly chosen was the 8 kg version.
Participants had to have an existing complaint of chronic insomnia. If they were taking a sleep medication immediately prior to the study they could keep taking it throughout. People with recent onset insomnia, sleep apnea, untreated metabolic disorders, and high blood pressure were excluded. There were 31 participants, inclduing 20 women and 11 men. The study was conducted with participants sleeping in their usual setting. There was a week-long pre-test baseline period, a two-week period of nightly use of the weighted blanket, and then a one-week post-test period in their normal setting but without use of the weighted blanket.
A number of measures were used. Questionnaires were used to assess patients’ level of insomnia (they had moderate difficulty falling and staying asleep) and sleepiness (they had some excessive daytime sleepiness). Objective measures of sleep were utilized including actigraphy (used to analyze patterns of movement to show likely periods of wakefulness and sleep) and polysomnography (that uses brain waves to specifically score the presence of sleep). Subjective measures were also used including sleep diaries, ratings of quality of sleep, and feelings about the weighted blankets.
The results were quite interesting in that, on average, length of sleep was significantly increased by the use of the weighted blanket. Additionally, movement during the night was reduced with the blanket. For participants already using sleeping medication, the time to fall asleep and time spent in bed were reduced when using the blanket.
Sleep time was reduced and activity level was increased during the post-test period when the blankets were no longer used. For the 20 participants who liked using the blanket, wakefulness during the night was reduced and total sleep time was increased. Quality of sleep was judged to be better when using the weighted blanket. By far, participants (63%) preferred the padded side of the blanket to the chain side. Most (63%) just used the weighted blanket without an additional quilt but when the additional quilt was used most preferred to have it under rather than over the blanket. In general, the blankets had a positive effect on sleep for participants with chronic insomnia, especially when they enjoyed using the blanket and if they were already taking sleeping medication.
The authors concluded that weighted blankets were effective in improving quality and quantity of sleep for participants with mild to moderate insomnia who had some excessive daytime sleepiness. Thus, these blankets could be beneficial for use by patients with general insomnia and mild sleep problems. Physiological arousal may be reduced by the sensation of deep pressure and consistent sensory input, as provided by the weighted blanket, and this can facilitate relaxation into sleep. This was seen in the decreased nocturnal movement of participants while using the blankets. Not everyone liked using the blankets, the mid-weight blanket was most often chosen by participants, and the positive effects only occurred while the blankets were used and did not persist after use was stopped. Weighted blankets may indeed be an effective, complementary, non-pharmacological intervention for patients with chronic insomnia.
So, should you purchase a weighted blanket? It could be a good choice, if you struggle with the sleep problems above. I would be aware of cost considerations and the types of materials used. Also, it would be important to be sure that there is a good return policy before you give it a try—no sense in losing sleep over a bad investment!
By Shelbie Fowler // July 13, 2018
Parenting is often described as one of the best and most stressful jobs that a person can take on. Becoming a parent is an incredible responsibility that comes with a new set of rules, and the need to constantly be “on.” So what happens when parents go from being “on” top of things to being distracted and “on” their phone maybe a little too often?
The term for this phenomenon is distracted parenting. You may not have heard this term before, but you’ve likely seen it in action. Here are some examples of distracted parenting:
The dangers of distracted parentingThese distracted parents gave their children the perfect opportunity to take risks that could otherwise be prevented such as throwing sand, climbing up the slide, or jumping from large heights. Over 200,000 children under 14 years of age are treated in emergency rooms for playground-related injuries each year, and children will take risks regardless. While none of the children in this study were seriously injured, researchers noted that children are more likely to take those risks when their parent is distracted.
Not only is there a potential for physical harm when distracted parenting happens, it can also be emotionally damaging if a child or teen feels that their parent is too busy to be attentive or connected to them at the moment. Children may even engage in risky behavior just to attract the attention of distracted parents, and distracted parents are not as responsive to their kids, or as sensitive to their needs.
Parents, instead, might share that perfect Instagram pic of their kid going down the slide rather than going down with them. Parents may be more interested in posting about their family dinner rather than participating in a conversation at the table. These actions in place of making eye contact, engaging in conversation, and actively participating in play can leave a child wondering what they need to do to regain the attention of their parent(s).
Distractions are a part of life, but they can be managedAn article on Psychology Today notes that being distracted as a parent is expected to a degree, especially with multiple children in the home and/or with parents working. It’s part of family life when you have to balance chores, meals, jobs, and a budget.
However, it is the level to which the distraction occurs that matters. Children and teens are aware when the important people in their lives, like their parents, are not paying attention to their needs physically or emotionally. In those moments when a child feels a disconnect from their caregiver, they will test what they can get away with, whether it’s jumping from the highest point of a jungle gym, sneaking out at night, or skipping school, among other risky behaviors in the hopes that someone will notice them.
Make efforts to be intentionally attentiveIf you think you may struggle with being a distracted parent, leader, teacher, or caregiver, think about your habits and ask yourself these questions:
These acts, like The Gottman Institute’s motto of “Small Things Often,” may seem small in nature but they will have long-lasting positive effects on the emotional health of families. To do that, we can focus on creating undistracted time in order to fully engage with the people that we interact with on a daily basis. Try setting aside an hour at home, with your kids, where no phones or screens are allowed, and do something fun with them. Try putting your phone away more often when you’re engaged in conversation with others. Your children, teens, friends, and other family members will notice when you make the effort to give them your attention on a regular basis.
Failure: you can’t grow through adolescence without experiencing it.
Frustrating at best, often disheartening, at worst it can cause a sense of worthlessness that is serious indeed when a painful incident is turned into a personal descriptor: “I’m such a failure!”
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Now you have a wipe-out of self-esteem.
So, parents need to monitor experiences of failure in their teenager’s life to make sure the young person is getting through the unhappy experience without significant injury. They don't want the experience of failure to drive the young person emotionally further down into significant despondency.
Of course, parents should NEVER (in disappointment, frustration, or anger) call their adolescent a “failure.” Such a painful criticism from such high family authority can severely wound adolescent self-worth, like being called a “loser” who will never measure up and “win” their approval. Never forget: adolescents partly see themselves through their parents' eyes.
Adolescence is littered with experiences of failure because growth challenges must be continually surmounted, every kind of failure raising its own powerful psychological issues. Consider just a few.
Any of these failures and many others can be emotionally costly and no teenager can escape encountering some of them along the way. Like missing younger dependencies and fearing older demands, they’re simply part of the discomforting price that must be paid for growing up. Every effort carries with it a risk of failure, so failure is not a problem; it is a fact of life.
Worth noticing is how failure often comes bearing unexpected gifts. Consider a few of the following questions a parent might helpfully ask.
"If you succeed in giving your all but don't get what you strived for, is that only a failure?"
"If you don't get what you want but grow wiser in the process, is that only a failure?"
"If you give up a futile effort only to find a better objective, is that only a failure?"
"If you dared to follow a dream and came up wanting, is that only a failure?"
"If you can say to yourself, 'well at least I tried,' is that only a failure?"
Or maybe all that is required is empathizing with the hurt, providing some emotional support, and encouraging the wounded young person to move forward in a healing way.
Whenever I think about how a parent can help an adolescent process failure, I recall the father consoling his downcast teenager who was hunched over in disappointment, entrapped in self-blame for “failing again!”
“Son,” the older man said, “as far as I’m concerned, the only real failure in life is the failure to try. If a person isn’t failing sometimes that just means they’re not trying hard enough. I admire how you keep after it!”
At that, the young man looked up, straightened up, and smiled: “Thanks, Dad. Just what I needed to hear!”
By Drs. John & Julie Gottman
The plain and simple truth is date nights make relationships.
You’re probably thinking, that sounds great and in a perfect world date nights are doable, but who has the time, the money, or the childcare (if applicable) to go on dates?
As we explain in our new book, Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, date nights are always doable, even if it means getting a little creative in carving your time out together.
It also helps to define what a date night is and what a date night isn’t. Watching Netflix on the couch together while scrolling through your Instagram feed is not a date night.
A date night (or date afternoon or morning) is a pre-planned time where the two of you leave your work life and work-in-the-home life, and spend a set amount of time focusing on each other, and really talking and listening to each other.
Here are the most common date night obstacles and how to overcome them.
Life can feel so incredibly busy that the thought of finding time for yet one more obligation feels overwhelming. But a date night is more than an obligation—it’s a commitment to your relationship. It helps to carve out a specific and regular time each week and make this “appointment” a priority.
Unless someone is in the emergency room, make date night a “no matter what” event. Set aside time like you would for a birthday, or church, or an anniversary, or any other special event you celebrate in your life together.
Date nights should be sacred times to honor your relationship. Think of them as such, schedule them in your calendars for as much time as possible—even if it’s just for an hour, show up no matter what.
Dates don’t have to be expensive. In fact, they don’t have to cost anything at all. Pack a picnic, go for a walk, sit in a park. There are endless ways to spend time together without breaking the bank. In each of the Eight Dates, we make suggestions about where best to go on your date depending on the topic of conversation. These are only suggestions.
We used to have a cheap date by getting dressed up and going to the beautiful Hotel Sorrento in Seattle, and pretending that we were hotel guests. We would sit in the beautiful lobby in front of a fire and nurse one drink all evening. We would answer each other’s open-ended questions for hours.
Childcare is often the stickler for couples who want to go on date nights but have young children at home. Childcare does not have to be expensive or stressful. At times, we would trade childcare with other couples, so both couples could enjoy date nights. If that’s not possible, see if a trusted family member or close friend will help you in your quest to spend sacred time together.
Look for inexpensive babysitters in your neighborhood, or ask friends for recommendations. Some parents worry about leaving their children with other people, but if you find a safe and reliable person to watch your children, you’re helping them learn that other people, besides their parents, are trustworthy and reliable.
Children are incredibly resilient, and by showing your commitment to your relationship with your partner, you’re nurturing your children by ensuring that they will be raised by parents in a healthy and stable relationship.
Too often, especially after couples have children, date night becomes a random, freak act of nature. Don’t let it. If you’re too busy for date night, you’re too busy.
Why Forgiving Does Not Require an Apology: There is an important difference between forgiving and reconciling.
by Robert Enright Ph.D.
When I discuss the theme of forgiving people who acted unfairly, I sometimes get this response:
What you are proposing is dangerous. It makes no sense to forgive. Forgiveness lets my guard down. I then am vulnerable to the abuses which I suffered before. No, I will not forgive until the other person: 1) knows that wrong was done; 2) feels an inner sorrow for doing it; 3) apologizes to me; 4) and makes amends. Then I know it is safe to forgive and enter back into the relationship.
The above statement, which is quite common, confuses what forgiveness is and what reconciliation is. Forgiveness is a moral virtue in which the offended person tries, over time, to get rid of toxic anger or resentment and to offer goodness of some kind to the offending person. Reconciliation is not a moral virtue, but instead is a negotiation strategy in which two or more people come together again in mutual trust.
All moral virtues concern the inner quality of goodness and the possible outward manifestation of it. For example, the moral virtue of justice has the inner quality of knowing what it means to give people what they deserve and the outward manifestation of being fair. If you contract with a bricklayer to pay $1,000 for a new wall to be built, you first have the inner intention to pay for the work. You then follow through outwardly when you exercise the virtue by paying the bricklayer once the work is done. If the bricklayer, for some unexplained reason, leaves the United States never to return, and gives no forwarding address, you do not then exercise the outward manifestation of justice. You do not pay the $1,000. Yet, you have exercised the moral virtue of justice because you have the inner quality of fairness and the intention to pay.
It is the same with forgiveness. You start with the inner quality of a motivation to rid yourself of resentment and the inner intention to be good, within reason, toward an offending person. If that person has no inner sorrow, never intends to apologize or to make amends, then you do not exercise the outward quality of forgiveness directly to that person. Yet, you still can have the intention to reconcile if the person substantially changes and the interactions become safe. You even can show an outward quality of forgiveness, for example, by not talking disparagingly about the offending one to other people.
In forgiveness, if a person continually verbally abuses you, you can have the inner quality of struggling to rid yourself of resentment as well as the inner quality of intending to be good to the other if that other substantially changes. Yet, if that person shows you by continued verbal abuse that there will be no apology, no making amends, then you do not exercise the outward quality of forgiving, at least not toward the person directly.
As you forgive in the above circumstance, you do not reconcile.
Suppose now that you decide to make the following rule for your life: I will not forgive if I cannot reconcile. What, then, are the implications for your own inner world, for your own psychological health? In a recent blog here ("8 Reasons to Forgive," April 16, 2018) I argued that one of the reasons to forgive is “to become emotionally healthier. Forgiving can reduce unhealthy anger.” A growing body of research shows that as people forgive by exercising the moral virtue of forgiveness by trying to be good, within reason, toward an offending person, then the forgiver can reduce not only in anger but also in anxiety and depression and improve in self-esteem and hope (Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2015). There are more reasons to forgive than this one, but this one can make a substantial difference to the forgiver’s health.
Why would you not want to become healthier? If you reject forgiving because you conflate it with reconciliation, you may be inadvertently depriving yourself of a second chance at a healthy psychological life and even at a healthy relational life with others (not necessarily with the offending person). Deep anger from injustices can lead to a lack of trust in general, thwarting potentially uplifting relationships.
The offer of forgiveness can be **unconditional,** not at all dependent on the other's response of any kind, including an apology. Reconciliation, when at least one party is deeply and unfairly hurt, is **conditional,** dependent on how the offending party or parties understand their hurtful ways, change, and even apologize.
How we think about forgiveness matters a great deal. If we make the philosophical error of equating forgiving and reconciling, then we are allowing the effects from an offending person to live within us for a long time, perhaps even for a lifetime if the psychological wounds are deep enough.
Forgiving and reconciling are not the same. You are free to forgive, if you so choose, even if the other refuses to apologize.
Enright, R.D. & Fitzgibbons, R.P. (2015). Forgiveness therapy. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Original Article: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-forgiving-life/201804/why-forgiving-does-not-require-apology
You long for sleep. You may even feel tired before going to bed. But as soon as your head hits the pillow, it happens again. You're wide awake. You can't stop thinking. It's the worst.
I regularly speak to groups about the necessity of sleep for prevention of burnout, management of stress, improvement of mood and a host of other benefits. Almost every time I do, someone comes up to me and says:
“I know I need more sleep. But what do I do if I can’t fall asleep? I get into bed early enough to get eight hours, but then I just lie there with my mind racing.”
I also frequently hear this from coaching clients and patients. When I do, I start asking questions. And usually find the answer.
Here are the questions, for you to ask yourself:
1) Do you take your phone to bed?
First of all, the light from the phone is stimulating to the brain and can suppress melatonin release (melatonin helps you sleep). The best solution is to not look at your phone after 9 pm (or an hour or two before bed), but lots of people aren’t ready to give up that habit. If that’s you, use a blue light blocking mode like “Night Shift” on iPhones and turn your screen brightness down as far as it can go.
2) What are you reading or doing in bed, before you go to sleep?
This is my second point about the phone. I once heard a sleep expert at Harvard say that texting at bedtime is a bad idea. The thought processes that you use are too stimulating to your brain. Obviously, checking work emails (or any email) at bedtime is a really bad idea, especially if you come across something stressful. You may not even want to read the news, in case there’s a headline that stimulates thoughts or concerns.
If you like to read to wind down, choose a book (the printed kind). Ideally, that book should not be too thought-provoking or stimulating. It shouldn’t be disturbing. It also probably shouldn’t be so incredibly captivating that you can’t put it down…
3) What do you do with your evenings?
If you have trouble winding down to sleep, take care not to wind yourself up over the course of the evening. Good rules of thumb:
4) What lighting do you use at night?
This is another key to winding down. People used to sleep an average of nine hours a night, before the advent of widespread electricity. The lights we have on at night in our homes are stimulating and can also suppress melatonin secretion.
Feel the difference between two late evening scenarios:
A) All the lights are on. The TV is blaring. You’re sitting at a table catching up on emails while simultaneously conducting a logistical discussion with your spouse. You feel stressed and don’t even want to go to bed. You’ll need at least an hour of Netflix to wind down from this (not a good idea, because of the screen involved and also if it’s a really well-written show it will be hard to turn off in time for bed).
B) All the lights are off, except a warm yellow lamp in the corner of the room. Soft music is playing. You and your spouse are quietly reading. As you read, the inevitable happens. Your eyelids start to droop. Your head bobs as you fall asleep for a split second. Even though it’s earlier than you’d planned, you get up and head over to the bathroom to start getting ready for bed.
5) Is there something specific you're worried about?
article continues after advertisementPerhaps there’s a stressful situation you can’t stop worrying about, keeping you awake. In this case, I’d recommend a variety of approaches:
6) How are you using your bed?
Leverage the strategy of “stimulus control.” If you do lots of different things in bed (watch movies, answer emails, take phone calls etc.), your body and mind get confused about the purpose of bed. If you have insomnia, it’s best to only use your bed for sleep. For the same reason, if you can’t fall asleep, get out of bed and go do something quiet and relaxing until you start to feel sleepy and then head back to bed.
7) How much caffeine are you drinking?
The sleep expert I mentioned earlier also said that if you struggle with insomnia, you should eliminate caffeine (and any other stimulants) completely and see if that helps. If that feels impossible, start by eliminating caffeine in the late afternoon or evening. Sources of caffeine include coffee, non-herbal teas, chocolate and some supplements.
Note: some people who can’t sleep have a bigger issue, such as Generalized Anxiety, Bipolar Disorder or other medical concerns. If your sleeplessness is extreme or doesn’t respond to simple interventions, it’s important to talk to your doctor about it.
In 1942, an American psychologist called Abraham Luchins published a seminal experiment called the “Water Jug Problem” . In this experiment he investigated the cognitive asset of mental flexibility—the ability to be adaptable in the way you think and solve problems, as opposed to always thinking in the same, rigid way.
To do this he asked people to answer a series of 10 numerical problems. For each question the person had to propose a simple equation which allowed them to solve how the capacities of 3 different jugs could deliver a desired quantity. For example, if jug A could hold 21 units, jug 2 could hold 127 and jug 3 could hold 3 units, what equation was needed to compute the desired quantity of 100 units?
Here is a full list of the 10 problems he set them.
Source: Luchins, 1942All these problems (except number 8) could be solved using one particular formula B – 2C – A. For problems 1-5 this was the simplest solution. However for the subsequent problems (6-10) it was possible for the person to use a simpler equation (either A + C or A - C) to solve the problem. By designing the problems in this way Luchins was able to explore whether the person’s experience of solving the first five problems prevented them from realizing that the subsequent ones could be solved by this simpler solution. In other words, demonstrating whether their “familiar” routes of thinking and problem solving would inhibit their ability to use a novel, more efficient, approach to solve the problems.
Choosing the simplest solution?
Luchins gave the set of problems to two groups of people and recorded what equations they used to solve each of the 10 problems. In the first group, people answered all problems in order, while in the second group, they were only given the last 5 problems.
What he found was that in the first group, the majority of people used B – 2C – A on the later problems instead of choosing to use the simpler solution. In addition, 64% completely failed to solve problem 8 (compared to 5% in group 2), which could be solved by the relatively simple formula A – C, but not the familiar one. In contrast, almost everyone in the second group—who skipped the initial problems—arrived at the simplest answer for the later problems.
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So arose the idea of the “Einstellung Effect”—a mentally undesirable situation in which your familiar thoughts block or inhibit your ability to generate novel solutions and ideas. They introduce a degree of rigidity—where you steadfastly stand by what you know and think, often blind to other interesting possibilities or more efficient alternatives. And like many “biases” in your thinking, it all happens without you even realizing it.
This Einstellung effect, explored more recently by researchers such as Merim Bilalić from the University of Oxford [2,3], is one example where “forgetting” can actually be beneficial—something that has also been shown in other creative contexts. For example, researchers at the University of California showed that people who were better at “forgetting” recent distracting information (in this case, ideas provided by the experimenter), were actually able to generate more novel ideas on a creativity task .
Regretful thinking and fear inhibit flexibility
There are also other examples of how your inability to “let go of the past” prevents you from being flexible. Take the example of regret, a feeling that can prevent you from choosing the optimal action to take, causing you to “shut down"—paralyzed by the fear of making the wrong decision as you recollect the unpleasant outcomes of your past choices [5,6].
However, you also have inbuilt mechanisms to help you “extinguish” or re-program these unpleasant memories (a process called fear extinction), allowing you to flexibly update and adjust your thoughts and behavior in line with the ever-changing environment . The neural dynamics of this memory re-programming have even been shown using neuroimaging techniques such as electroencephalography (EEG). For example, researchers from Justus-Liebig University Giessen and Harvard Medical School measured EEG activity when people underwent a “fear extinction” task . They found that when people recalled memories of feared experiences, it was associated with changes in theta activity across anterior mid cingulate cortical sites. In contrast, when they recalled the “reprogrammed” memories where this fear had been extinguished, it was associated with changes in gamma activity across ventromedial prefrontal sites.
Mental flexibility is your ability to update, inhibit and overcome well-worn neural pathways to ensure that you are capable of adapting to your diverse and ever changing technological and social environment. It is the cognitive asset that has enabled humans to be so evolutionarily successful across a diverse range of experiences. Understanding the weaknesses in our mental flexibility, such as those illustrated by the Einstellung effect, and learningmore about how we can make it more efficient, is therefore key to creating human success stories across the globe.
Holidays can be tough. Some people love them; some people dread them.
I thought a lot about the holidays as I was writing Happier at Home, because the holiday season tends to be a time when we focus on home. Maybe you’re going “home” the way I go home to Kansas City for Christmas–which may be fun for you, or not. Maybe you’re deciding how to decorate your home. Maybe you’re making an effort to arrange the holidays the way you experienced them as a child–or the opposite. Maybe you’re feeling sad, or happy, about whom you will or won’t be seeing.
From talking to people, it seems that one of the biggest happiness challenges of the holidays is dealing with difficult relatives. You want to have a nice dinner, but Uncle Bobby makes you crazy. What to do?
1. Ahead of time, spend a few minutes thinking about how you want to behave. If you’ve had unpleasant experiences in the past, think about why they were unpleasant and what you could do to change the dynamics of the situation. Get more sleep. Give yourself more travel time. Pick a seat far away from Uncle Bobby. In particular…
2. Think about how topics that seem innocuous to you might upset someone else. You may think you’re showing a polite interest, but some questions will rub a person the wrong way: “So do you have a girlfriend yet?” “When are you two going to get married/start a family?” “Didn’t you give up smoking?” “Can you afford that?” “When are you going to get a real job?” Show an interest with more open-ended questions, like “What are you up to these days?” or “What’s keeping you busy?” Also…
3. Dodge strife. Some families enjoy arguing passionately amongst themselves; however, most don’t handle arguments very well. If you know Uncle Bobby’s views are going to drive you crazy, don’t bring up the subject! And if he brings it up, you don’t have to engage. Try to make a joke of it, and say something like, “Let’s agree to disagree,” “Let’s not talk about that, and give the rest of the family something to be thankful for,” etc.
4. Don’t drink much alcohol. It can seem festive and fun to fill up your glass, but it’s easy to lose track of how much you’re drinking. Alcohol makes some people feel merry, but it also makes some people feel combative, or self-pitying, or lowers their inhibitions in a destructive way. I basically had to give up drinking because alcohol makes me so belligerent. And if other people seem to be trying to avoid or curb their drinking (or their eating, for that matter), don’t make a big deal of it or urge them to indulge. In my study of habits for Better Than Before, it became clear to me that many people become very uneasy when they feel out of step with what others are doing, and that makes it tough for them to stick to a good habit. Don't make someone feel conspicuous or strange in what they're doing.
5. As best you can, play your part in the tradition. For some people, traditions are very, very important; for others, no. You may feel irritated by your brother’s insistence on having exactly the same food every Thanksgiving, or by your mother’s extreme reaction to your suggestion to eat dinner an hour earlier. Try to be patient and play your part. In the long run, traditions and rituals tend to help sustain happiness and family bonds. On the other hand…
6. If you’re the one who wants everything to be perfect, try to ease up on yourself and everyone else, so you can enjoy the day, whatever happens. Even if the day isn’t exactly the way you hoped it would be, try to enjoy what it is. My mother once told me, “The things that go wrong often make the best memories,” and it’s really true. And too much fussing to make an experience “perfect” can sometime ruin it altogether.
7. Find some fun. One of my Secrets of Adulthood is Just because something is fun for someone else doesn’t mean it’s fun for you, and vice versa. If the time with your relatives is meant to be fun, make sure you’re spending at least some time doing something that’s fun for you. Working in the kitchen, playing touch football, sitting around talking, running errands, watching the parade on TV—these things may or may not be fun for you, no matter how the rest of the family feels.
8. Find reasons to be grateful. Be thankful that you get to cook, or that you don’t have to cook. Be thankful that you get to travel, or that you don’t have to travel. Be thankful for your family or your friends. Be grateful for electricity and running water. Find something. Studies show that gratitude is a major happiness booster. Also, feeling grateful toward someone crowds out emotions like resentment and annoyance.
Wait, you might be thinking, these strategies don’t tell me how to deal with my difficult relatives—they tell me how to behave myself. Well, guess what! You can’t change what your difficult relatives are going to do; you can only change yourself. But when you change, a relationship changes.
by Cindy Ricardo, LMHC, CIRT, Mindfulness Based Approaches/Contemplative Approaches Topic Expert Contributor
“Stressed souls need the reassuring rhythm of self-nurturing rituals.” --Sarah Ban Breathnach
Do you find yourself doing things for others, with little or no time for yourself? Do you walk around feeling stressed out and irritable? Is there little room for joy, gratitude, and peace in your life?
If you feel like an electrical outlet on its way to burnout, it’s time to look at how and where you’re spending your energy.
Signs that you are in need of self-care:
Let’s face it: If you don’t take care of yourself, who will? Neglecting yourself to meet others’ needs can negatively impact your physical, emotional, and mental health. For example, not getting enough rest or a good night’s sleep can result in feelings of exhaustion, difficulty concentrating, increased anxiety, and irritability. Over time, the stress might settle in your shoulders, neck, and back, creating physical pain like backaches or headaches. Your appetite could be affected, leading you to eat too much—seeking to tame anxiety by eating more—or too little—under stress, the brain releases a lot more acid, which can lead to feelings of nausea or heartburn. Living with a high level of stress could lead to high blood pressure or other heart conditions. The reality is that your body is like a car: if you don’t take good care of it, it will break down!
Emotional stress is often linked to stressful thoughts. This combination can have a detrimental effect on your level of energy, mental clarity, and emotions. Years ago, a family relative was stressed and overwhelmed by the things that were happening in her life. Her mother was ill and in need of personal care. She was also going through a divorce, on an emotional rollercoaster, and walked around with a constant headache. As a result of these factors, she was overwhelmed and her ability to focus and perform at work was seriously affected. Pressure was mounting, and something was bound to happen.
One morning, she was driving. She was so overwhelmed by emotions and thoughts that she didn’t notice a red light and ended up getting into an accident. Thankfully, she wasn’t seriously injured. Emotionally, however, it was a wake-up call for her to shift perspective and identify ways to create balance in her life by attending to her needs.
Lack of self-care can lead to anger and resentment. Putting your needs last on the list creates feelings of resentment and anger and can hurt close relationships. You may feel as if others are taking advantage of you or taking you for granted. You may be angry with yourself for not setting boundaries and being assertive. Mentally berating yourself or others doesn’t help. What helps is learning how to value yourself just as much as you value others. This can be a challenging task!
There are many reasons you may have a hard time practicing self-care:
Reflect on ways to incorporate self-care into your daily routine by reviewing the following list:
When you become still enough to connect with what is going on in your body, mind, and heart, you take the first step toward self-care. It is in that moment, when you identify needs and make time to nurture yourself, that you open the door to balance and life.
May you have moments of peace.
© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Cindy Ricardo, LMHC, CIRT, therapist in Coral Springs, Florida
I write articles based on my experience as a therapist or a training or conference attendee. Many of these articles are written by others who are experts in their field and I share their information as resources for others.