More ArticlesDevelopmental psychology

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

5 habits that make of your home a "toxic" place

personal growth

The harmonious family environment is a source of well-being, a place where we always want to return because in it we find the peace and support we need. A toxic environment creates malaise and makes us more vulnerable to physical and psychological illnesses, it is a place where we feel bad and from which we want to escape as soon as possible.

Mentally toxic environments

The concept of "mentally toxic environment" was proposed by Kalle Lasn. About 30 years ago, the "green" movement was born, motivated by the growing concern that environmental toxicity could be harmful.

A group of psychologists transferred this concept to mental health, analyzing how our lifestyle has changed in recent years and the rise in mental disorders. In fact, in the more developed Western countries, disorders such as schizophrenia have increased by 45% since 1985, according to WHO data. In the United Kingdom, the depression in teenagers has gone from 6% in 1987 to 18% today. Today, if you ask anyone in the street, they will probably confess to feel anxious, stressed or depressed.

Some psychologists suggest that these mental problems are caused by a profound cultural change that is reflected in a lifestyle marked by consumerism, lack of emotional intelligence, a change in the scale of values, and the growing difficulty in maintaining assertive interpersonal relationships. The family is usually the environment in which everything begins, or where these toxic behaviors are perpetuated.

Coexistence is not without conflict. But we must not allow certain behavior to end up transforming our home into a mentally toxic environment. Our life is at stake. This is confirmed by a study at College London University, where over 10,000 people were followed for 12 years. These psychologists have found that those who maintained negative relationships had a greater risk of suffering heart attacks with fatal consequences.

Attitudes and habits that we must eliminate from our home

1. Scream

Screaming begins as an exceptional event and ends up becoming the norm. It happens without noticing it. One day you scream because you think they do not understand you the next day because you think they do not listen to you and the other because you want to be right at all costs. So screams become the daily bread. However, screams hide the seeds of violence. They imply the desire to impose our will and subdue the other. The consequences in children are even worse. A study at Harvard Medical School revealed that screaming can significantly and permanently alter the infant brain structure by affecting the integration between the two parts of the brain, which can cause personality problems and affect emotional balance.

How to fix the problem? In our home there should be a simple rule: do not scream, never. Every member of the family must remember that screaming won’t give him more reason. It is important to cultivate empathy and assertiveness. Screams are always a sign of the incapacity to handle the situation.

2. Hostility

If you come home and feel as if a weight suddenly falls on your back is probably due to the fact that you perceive hostility. There are houses where there is no enthusiasm, where people rarely smile and, on the contrary, show hostile attitudes and act as if the others were enemies. In these houses prevails the law of the strongest, so it is very difficult to relax, rest and find tranquility.

How to fix the problem? When the house becomes a battlefield, there are no winners, everybody loses because there is no harmony. Therefore, it is important to focus on the problem solving rather than seek the guilty.

3. The drama

In life, we pass through dramatic moments. However, when the family turns into a daily drama, despair, frustration and depression take root. The drama usually comes from people who always find a problem for each solution, focusing only on the negative aspects of life and the lament becomes their lifestyle. These people end up "infecting" the family, spreading an atmosphere of pessimism.

How to fix the problem? Adopting a more positive attitude, that will end up being contagious and will counteract the negative attitudes of the others. It is important to show these people, without attacking or criticizing them, as their attitudes harm everyone and create a very negative emotional climate.

4. The chaos

The space where you spend several hours a day ends up influencing your mood. Therefore, an unorganized and chaotic space may end up causing itself mental chaos, it is a place where is not pleasant to stay and that generates stress. It has been seen that when we spend time in disorganized and chaotic environments, our brains have more difficulty in processing information, so we have a feeling of saturation that affects our productivity and increases anxiety and stress. But this confusion does not only refer to physical space but also to the lack of rules that ensure a harmonious coexistence between family members.

How to fix the problem? It is important that in every home there is order and some rules of coexistence, even implicit, so that everyone knows what are the limits they must not overcome.

5. The denigration

If family members do not appreciate and respect all members, it is difficult for them to develop a good self-esteem and have the confidence they need to deal with life. There are many forms of denigration, from not recognizing the person's efforts to minimizing their achievements or even ignoring them. In some families there are very harmful dynamics in which one member is labeled as the "black sheep" of the family or the scapegoat. Obviously, these dynamics are not only negative for those who are blamed but also for the rest of the members, as it prevents them from assuming their responsibilities and get more mature.

How to fix the problem? Every person is unique, and therefore should be valued. We do not have to ask apples from an oak, but we should learn to focus on his/her strengths and what makes them specials. Everyone shines with their own light, we have to make this light nourish, not turn it off.

Wang, M. T. & Kenny, S. (2014) Longitudinal Links Between Fathers’ and Mothers’ Harsh Verbal Discipline and Adolescents’ Conduct Problems and Depressive Symptoms. Child Developmental; 85(3): 908–923.
De Vogli, R. et. Al. (2007) Negative Aspects of Close Relationships and Heart Disease. Arch Intern Med; 67(18): 1951-1957.
Teicher, M. H. et. Al. (1993) Increased prevalence of electrophysiological abnormalities in children with psychological, physical, and sexual abuse. J Neuropsychiatry Clin Neurosci; 5(4): 401-408.
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Monday, June 26, 2017

5 principles of Psychology that will change the way you see life

persnal growth

Understanding how our mind and that of the others work will bring great benefits to life, especially in terms of serenity and happiness. Unfortunately, we all have a number of limiting beliefs that come from our past experiences and the teachings we have been transmitted when we were children, which have become obstacles that prevent us from enjoying life, as they often generate misunderstandings, stereotypes or negative perceptions.

Getting rid of these preconceptions will give us enormous freedom because it will help us eliminate that forceful shirt that keeps us tied. Some principles of Psychology can help us understand that some of the things we think are not so certain.

1. People do not look at you as much as you think

We tend to think of being the focus of attention, an idea that in many people generate a lot of stress and anxiety, to the point of being the basis of social phobias. However, the reality is that most people are too busy thinking about what others think of them rather than focus on the others.

Knowing that the others are worried as much as you of the image of themselves they are projecting, busy with their problems and insecurities, is extremely liberating. So, stop worrying about what others think and start worrying about meeting your own standards, feel more comfortable and be happier.

2. Your personality is constantly evolving
We tend to believe that we are the same person ten years ago and that in ten years we will think and feel the same as today. That is not true. A study conducted by psychologists at the University of Edinburgh revealed that we are completely different people at the age of 14 and 77. The circumstances in which we live make us change our idea of ​​the world and ourselves, so it would be abnormal that we remain the same for the rest of our lives.

This means that you have the right to change your mind, to review your decisions if you consider them to be immature or inadequate, and also to change tastes and preferences. Change is the only constant in life, you do not have to grasp to the past or try to be "faithful" to values ​​with which you do not identify yourself anymore.

3. Making mistakes makes you look more sympathetic

Many people are afraid of making mistakes, especially in public, because they believe that the others will judge them hard or reject them. But a curious experiment conducted by psychologists at the University of Minnesota has found that we prefer those who make some mistakes rather than those who are extremely competent; it is what is known as "Pratfall effect".

The key is that small mistakes make us appear more human and vulnerable, so that people identify themselves more easily with us and perceive us as more sympathetic and close to them. Therefore, do not become obsessed with mistakes, try to be as natural and authentic as possible, because it is the best way to connect with the others.

4. Do not assume that your advice will be heard

It is likely that on more than one occasion someone came to you, worried about a problem. In this case, you probably would have taken the time to listen to him and give him some advice. However, noting that these tips have fallen into the void you may be bothered or frustrated. This is a normal reaction, but you should not take it as something personal.

In Psychology there is what we know as a "reactance", an emotional reaction that is produced only when someone tells us what to do and how to do it, it is a kind of defensive reaction with which we intend to defend unconsciously our freedom and decision-making power. Therefore, instead of giving advices, offer suggestions that contain examples. And remember that sometimes people just need to make catharsis, so you should not be angry if they do not listen to you, you've already accomplished your mission: give them emotional support.

5. You can only control your reaction

Sometimes we are obsessed with control, so when things do not go as expected we end up being frustrated, depressed or anxious. However, the only thing that we can control is our reaction to the circumstances, and that is more than enough, because the way to react to a problem, event or situation is often more important than the situation itself.

This does not imply a defeatist attitude or that with a good attitude you will get everything you proposed, but learning to flow will avoid you many unnecessary worries and, above all, it will free you from the weight that involves wanting to control everything without having the tools to do it. The goal is to try to see the positive side, or at least minimize the emotional damage. It is a very important change of perspective that will radically change your life.

Harris, M. A. et. Al. (2016) Personality Stability From Age 14 to Age 77 Years. Psychology of Aging; 31(8): 862–874.
Aronson, E., Willerman, B., & Floyd, J. (1966) The effect of a pratfall on increasing interpersonal attractiveness. Psychonomic Science; 4(6): 227-228.
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Friday, June 23, 2017

Manual Activities: A cure for Anxiety and Depression

personal growth

Today, simplicity is almost a luxury. Bombarded with advertising and technology, we spend more and more time watching screens of electronic devices or doing things that don’t give us anything.

As never in our history, we have moved away from manual and creative activities. We also lost the ability to observe small details and find pleasure in everyday activities.

This way of life moves us away from ourselves and ends up fueling states such as depression or anxiety. It is interesting to note that therapists are increasingly recommending, as treatments complementary to therapy, to carry out manual activities that capture our attention, even better if they involve some degree of creativity.

The simplest activities are also very useful for our emotional balance

- Cooking

Cooking without hurry, enjoying the whole process. Cooking is an activity that relieves stress and frees the mind of worries. Just entering the kitchen we are immersed into smells, scents and flavors that stimulate our senses, making it a complete experience that encourages us to focus on here and now. That is why many American psychologists ask their patients to wear the apron and start cooking to complete the psychotherapy.

Cooking is also an activity that stimulates creativity, because we can combine ingredients in a thousand different ways. A survey conducted in the United Kingdom revealed that one person every three claimed to feel more stressed and anxious than five years ago, but the 80% also indicated that cooking helped them relax.

- Gardening

A very relaxing manual activity is gardening. It is also a joy for senses, as it allows us to connect with nature. In fact, it has been seen that when we are surrounded by green our brain relaxes a lot more because it can break off, activating what is known as the "default mode network", which facilitates a state of calm and well-being.

As if that was not enough, a study at the University of Bristol found that there is a non-pathogenic bacterium in the soil, the Mycobacterium vaccae, which has the same effect as depression drugs because it increases serotonin levels in the brain. These scientists found that animals exposed to these bacteria react much better to stress. Another study, carried out at Royal Marsden Hospital, revealed that these bacteria are effective in relieving pain because have an anti-inflammatory effect, a process that has also been associated with depression at the cerebral stage.

- Knitting

The repetitive weave movement of knitting generates a state very similar to mindfulness meditation. Knitting we have to concentrate on the activity, but at the same time our brain can relax because it is not a very cognitive activity.

In this regard, researchers at Cardiff University analyzed 3,545 people around the world and found that those who knitted in free time said they felt more relaxed. These people affirmed that their hobby helped them relieve stress and daily pressure. In fact, when we enjoy the activity in our brain are produced dopamine (the neurotransmitter of reward), endorphins (which produce a feeling of well-being) and serotonin (associated with pleasure).

- Drawing
This activity we liked so much when we were children is a great weapon to fight anxiety, depression and stress. In fact, Jung recommended his patients to draw mandala, as additional therapy, to feel better. The key is that drawing not only helps to relax but also allows you to replace negative thoughts with more enjoyable images.

A study conducted at Texas universities and Emory concluded that drawing is a very interesting non-verbal therapy to relieve the symptoms of people suffering from post-traumatic stress. Another research at the Northwestern Memorial Hospital showed that just one hour of drawing per day can help relieve pain and improve our mood when we are sick.

Finally, remember that there are many sweet and bitter moments in life, these activities are not an instant and magical solution, but the return to simplicity is a good start to eliminate a little chaos from our lives and reconnect with our essence. Sometimes, to feel good, we just need to stop and embrace simplicity.

Riley, J. et. Al. (2013) The Benefits of Knitting for Personal and Social Wellbeing in Adulthood: Findings from an International Survey. British Journal of Occupational Therapy; 76(2): 50-57.
Lowry, C. A. et. Al. (2007) Identification of an immune-responsive mesolimbocortical serotonergic system: potential role in regulation of emotional behavior.Neuroscience; 146(2): 756-772.
Henderson, P. & Rosen, D. (2007) Empirical Study on the Healing Nature of Mandalas Patti. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts; 1(3): 148 –154.
Nainis, N. et. Al. (2006) Relieving symptoms in cancer: innovative use of art therapy. J Pain Symptom Manage; 31(2): 162-169.
Assersohn, L. et. Al. (2002) A randomized pilot study of SRL172 (Mycobacterium vaccae) in patients with small cell lung cancer (SCLC) treated with chemotherapy. Clin Oncol; 14(1): 23-27.
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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Wisdom also means ignoring anything that is not worth it

personal growth

Our brain can give us an extraordinary lesson of life.

When we sleep the brain makes a sort of tabula rasa. To learn, it is necessary to establish new connections, or synapses, between neurons. These connections allow neurons to send signals to each other quickly and efficiently. In these networks is where we memorize the new memories and abilities we learn.

However, some neuroscients from the University of Wisconsin-Madison have found that synapses grow fast during the day, and are cut during the night. Our brain automatically makes a selection of the information that it needs to memorize and discard the rest.

The curious fact is that by deleting all unnecessary information, the worthwhile memories are better stored. The psychologists at Johns Hopkins University saw that when this process does not happen, our memories become more confused. Additionally, selective forgetting is essential to subtract emotional impact to the events that occur during the day.

This process which is occurring naturally offers us a great lesson: keeping old grudges, fueling frustrations, reviving dramas, and giving too much importance to things that do not deserve it, creates only chaos and dissatisfaction. The wisest thing to do is to learn to ignore all that is not worth it that can affect our inner peace.

Five things you can choose to ignore to be happier

A Buddhist saying states that "only what we care about can damage us". It is not the situations, but the meaning we give them and how we react, what determines their impact on us. So if we want to protect our emotional balance, we must learn to ignore a few things.

Ignorance does not mean adopting a passive attitude, nor will we stop dealing with certain situations, it means learning to give importance to things that really deserve it and minimize the impact of things that should not have such an important presence in our lives.

Ignoring, in this case, is not synonymous with lack of knowledge, but involves a conscious act, it means removing from our conscience those insignificant things that only make us sick. It does not mean ignoring or hiding problems, but freeing the mind from all that takes space unnecessarily to make room for what really matters.

1. Offenses and destructive criticisms. Remember that unhealthy criticism says more of the person who criticizes than of who is being criticized. Do not let critique and contempt affect your self-esteem. Remember that when you spend too much time worrying about the opinion that others have about you, or what they want you to be, you forget who you really are.

2. People who want to relieve their emotional misery on you. There are people who act like real garbage trucks who want to relieve on you their fears, frustrations, anger or anxiety. Don’t leave them do it. Learn to identify them and create a protective shield.

3. The little frustrations of everyday life. A bad day is just a bad day. It comes and goes. There is no reason to remain locked in those little frustrations. If you learn to ignore those bickers immediately, you will realize that you can resume your routine with more serenity. If you accumulate them you will end up carrying a very heavy burden. It's just to put them in perspective and you’ll realize that it's not worth to ruin your day for these bickering.

4. Your negative internal dialogue. Often your mind becomes your worst enemy. Therefore, in many cases, you must learn to mute the noise you have inside, the obsessive thoughts of failure, fears and anxiety. In most cases, this inner dialogue comes from the expectations that others have put on you. In fact, you’ll probably find out that you repeat the sentences you’ve been told by your parents, teachers or partners. If those phrases do not allow you to go ahead and do not make you feel good, ignore them all, they will slowly disappear with the passing of time.

5. Situations you can’t control.
Taoism encourages us to flow, not to force situations. Which does not mean being passive but learning how to identify the opportunities to act and know when something is counterproductive. There are many things that are beyond your reach, trying to control them creates unnecessary tensions. Therefore, there are times when you have to forget everything that might go wrong and start trusting in the flow of life.

An exercise to learn to ignore what's hurting you

It is not easy to ignore certain things, certain people, certain situations... we do not always perceive what can hurt us and end up grabbing us to it. Other times, it means break ties, change our way of thinking and our attitudes, something that is not easy and requires a great deal of courage.

Anyway, I encourage you to do this simple exercise:

Take a pencil or any small object that can’t be broken. Hold it in your hand and tighten it tight. Imagine that this object is one of the emotions, feelings, or people that bother you and your hand represents your mind or consciousness.

At first, everything will look a little strange, but gradually you will feel less uncomfortable and the object will look familiar to you. But if you keep tightening the object it will end up hurting you.

Now, open your hand and let the object fall to the ground. Realize that you were the one who grabbed the object, it was not attached to your hand. The same applies to your emotions, feelings, and people who can harm you.

The problem is that we grab so strongly these situations that we forget to let them go when we have to. In fact, when we experience anger or sadness, we say "I'm sad" or "I'm angry", which represents an identification with these states and implies being attached to them. Instead, we should say "I feel sad" or "I feel angry" and learn to let go.

How to apply this idea of ​​ignoring everything that hurt us?

- Do not take things to a personal level. Many of the things that happen to us are not personal. Taking them to this level means that you are giving it too much importance and you are allowing it to affect your emotional balance. Therefore, it is essential to protect that space and allow entering only the things that really matter to you.

- Do not miss the perspective. Immersed in the small problems of everyday life, it is easy to overcome these small dissatisfaction and stumbling blocks so you end up losing your compass. Always remember to keep your perspective, focus on what defines you, your goals, and what really excites you. Do not let trivialities deprive you of being happy today.

- Take a step back. When you feel that emotions take control, take a step back. Stop, take a couple of minutes and get the control. Think about why this situation is generating these emotions. You are probably exaggerating or you are giving it more importance than it has. Breathe and let go.

- Anchor yourself to the present. If you feel bad, it is probably for something that has already happened, which belongs to the past. Therefore, it does not make much sense to continue to feed these feelings. To let them go, you just need to hold the present. Focus on all the positive things you have now. The key is to learn to get out of the past.

Diering, G. H. et. Al. (2017) Homer1a drives homeostatic scaling-down of excitatory synapses during sleep. Science; 355(6324): 511-515.
Vivo, L. et. Al. (2017) Ultrastructural evidence for synaptic scaling across the wake/sleep cycle. Science; 355(6324): 507-510.
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Monday, June 19, 2017

Here's what happens in your brain when you read a poem


Poems are darts in form of words that go straight to the emotional part of our brain. There are poems that give rise to a real emotional tsunami and give us shivers, such as Rainer Maria Rilke's "First Elegia", here are some verses:

"Beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror,

which we still are just able to endure,

and we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.

Every angel is terrifying."

Rilke describes the terror we experience when we acquire a wider knowledge, at that time we realize our limits and the complexity of the world, and we realize everything we do not understand and we can’t understand. It is a beautiful and seductive possibility but also terrible.

Poetry has the ability to send powerful emotional messages and activate reflection, though it is true that the greatest pleasure of reading a poem, as when we enjoy a work of art, does not come from profound reflection, but from the sensations we experience. In fact, Vladimir Nabokov said that one should not read with the heart or the brain, but with the body.

The Max Planck Institute Empirical Aesthetics Researchers decided to further explore how poetry affects our brain, and the results of their study are fascinating.

Poetry generates more pleasure in the brain than music

The researchers asked a group of people, some of whom often read poems, to hear poems read aloud. Some of the poems belonged to famous German poets such as Friedrich Schiller, Theodor Fontane and Otto Ernst, although the participants could choose some works, including those of authors such as William Shakespeare, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich Nietzsche, Edgar Allan Poe, Paul Celan and Rilke.

While volunteers listened to the poems, the researchers monitored their heart rate, facial expressions, and even hair movements on the skin. Also, when people had shivers they had to report it by pressing a button.

It is interesting to note that all people, even those who did not read poems, reported having had shivers during the reading and 40% said they had multiple goat skin. These reactions are similar to what we experience when we listen to music or watch a scene of a movie that has a strong emotional impact.

However, neurological responses to poetry were not the only ones. The data showed that listening to poems triggered parts of the brain that remain "off" when we listen to music or watch movies.

The neuroscientists discovered that poetry creates a state that they called "pre-chill"; that is, that provokes a reaction of pleasure that slowly grows to the extent that the verses are heard. In fact, instead of getting suddenly excited, as when we hear a song, poetry generates an emotional crescendo that begins with 4.5 seconds before we perceive the thrill.

It is interesting to note that emotional peaks were mainly produced in certain positions within the poems, as at the end of the verses and, above all, at the end of the poem. This is a very interesting discovery, especially if one considers that 77% of the participants who had never heard a poem showed the same neurological reactions and signs anticipating the critical points, emotionally speaking, of the reading.

Poetry stimulates memory, facilitates introspection and relaxes

The neuroscientists of the University of Exeter scanned the brain of a group of participants while reading various content, from a heating installation manual to the suggestive passages of some novels, rhythmic sonnets and their favorite poetry.

The researchers discovered that our brain processes poetry differently from how it manages the prose. A "reading network" is activated, involving a number of particular areas, including those associated with emotional processing, which are mainly activated with music.

It was also seen that poetry stimulates the areas of the brain associated with memory and parts of the brain, such as the back crawler cortex and medial temporal lobes, which are areas that are predominantly activated when we are relaxed or immersed in ourselves.

This shows that there is something very special in the poetic form that generates pleasure. In fact, poetry is a very special literary expression that transmits feelings, thoughts, and ideas by accentuating metric restrictions, rhyme and alliterations.

Therefore, it is not too much to include a poem in our daily routine...

Wassiliwizky, E. et. Al. (2017) The emotional power of poetry: neural circuitry, psychophysiology, compositional principles. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.
Zeman, A. Z. et. Al. (2013) By heart. An fMRI study of brain activation by poetry and prose. Journal of Consciousness Studies; 20(9-10): 132-158.
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Friday, June 16, 2017

The poisoned arrow: The Buddhist parable that puts us in front of our worst mistake

personal growth

Buddha, pursuing enlightenment, also sought to understand how to free us from ignorance and suffering. Like other great wise men of the past, he proposed a practical philosophy that encourages us to focus on the simplest things, as a way to achieve higher goals. Taoism summed it up perfectly in one sentence: a thousand miles journey begins with a single step. However, in everyday life we ​​find it difficult to apply these teachings.

The parable of the poisoned arrow

In Majjhima Nikaya, a collection of texts attributed to Buddha that are part of the Pali Canon, we can find the "Parable of the Poisoned Arrow". Gautama Buddha told this story to a disciple who was eager to hear from the teacher the answers to the "14 unanswered questions" related to metaphysical issues such as life after death.

"There was once a man who was hurt by a poisoned arrow.

The family and friends wanted to get him a doctor but the patient refused, saying that he first wanted to know the name of the man who had wounded him, the caste to which he belonged and his country of origin.

He also wanted to know if the man was tall and strong if he had a light or dark skin and he wished to know what kind of bow wounded him, whether the rope was made of bamboo, hemp or silk.

He said he wanted to know if the feather of the arrow belonged to a hawk, vulture or peacock...

And he wondered if the bow that had been used to strike him was a common bow, curved or made with oleander and any other kind of information, the man died without knowing the answers".

By reading the parable the first idea that comes to mind is that the wounded man's attitude is absurd and senseless. However, Buddha is telling us that we all behave in the same way without realizing it.

In a sense, we are all hurt with this poisoned arrow because sooner or later we will die. But we live without being fully aware of our mortality, so we often over-emphasize insignificant things that prevent us from enjoying the present and sink us into a state of unnecessary concern.

Great lifelong lessons

- Focus on what's really happening to you

On many occasions, to solve a problem, it's important not to get lost in divagations, we have to act. Usually these fears and uncertainties are hidden behind these reflections. When we face a problem and lose sight of the details, though we know what the definitive solution is, is because we are afraid of something. But remember that long-term warm solutions only serve to generate more problems and create a state of inner dissatisfaction.

In other cases, we activate defense mechanisms such as projection or transfer, by which we move the problem out of us, or we try to hide it. Usually this happens because we do not want to accept that we are part of the problem, and therefore to solve the problem we must first work on ourselves. In any case, the proper strategy is to not distract the attention, it is important to understand what is really happening to us and learn to prioritize the here and now.

- Take a step at a time

The mind can become our best ally or our worst enemy. We can use it to solve problems positively or we can use it negatively to find a problem for each solution. To live with less anguish and stress the key is to go one step at a time. This does not mean we can not anticipate the problems, but we must make sure that we do not feed a catastrophic way of thinking.

Focus on the present, carefully evaluate the situation you are in and move on step by step, that step will not take you directly to your destination, but at least it will move you from where you are. Live day by day, as if every day was the first and the last of your life.

- Let it all flow and that nothing influence you

Sometimes we remain prisoners of troubles, even though these have already been resolved or are part of the past, because they remain in our minds, causing frustration, rage, and resentment. When we cling to what has happened, when we do not let those emotions and feelings go away, they transform us into their slaves.

In this regard, a study at Harvard University found that we spend 47% of waking hours thinking about what happened to us or what could happen to us. This "wandering mind" leads us to overly worry and to be unhappy. The best antidote is to focus on the present and express gratitude for what we have and are. So we will succeed in subtracting negative impact from experiences and we will achieve the balance.

- Eliminate everything that is useless

Leonardo da Vinci said that "simplicity is the utmost refinement" and was not wrong. Throughout our lives, we take on many things that only serve to create chaos and take energy away. When you realize that you can live without these and be happier, you will be able to appreciate more of what you have and you will get rid of a great deal of weight.

Eliminating anything that does not serve also refers to feelings, beliefs, stereotypes and dreams that do not belong to you and are just obstacles. When you look inside you, you're amazed to find that many of the phrases in your inner dialogue are not really yours, but you have been inculcated. Make mental cleansing and get rid of emotions that hurt you, like resentment for a past event, anxiety about something that will probably never happen and the fear of losing what you have. If we move on with a lighter luggage we will not only get further, but we will also enjoy more the journey.

Killingsworth, M. A. & Gilbert, D. T. (2010) A wandering mind is an unhappy mind. Science; 330(6006): 932.
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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Those who shines of their own light bother those who live in the darkness

personal growth

"A man in the village of Neguá, on the coast of Colombia, managed to climb to heaven.

When he returned he told his experience. He said he had contemplated human life from above.

And he said we are a sea of ​​small fires.

-The world like that - he explained - a lot of people, a sea of ​​small fires.

Every person shines with their own light among all others. There are no two fires equal. There are big and small fires and fires of all colors. There are people of clear fire who do not even realize the wind, and people with crazy fire filling the air with sparkles. Some fires, stupid fires, do not light up or even burn, while others burn life with so much passion that they can’t be overlooked, and whoever approaches them is turned on".

This beautiful story by the writer Eduardo Galeano that appears in his book "The Book of Hugs" shows the differences between people. There are self-confident people who have built a good self-esteem and are overwhelmed with energy, and is pleasant to have them close by.

There are other people who have never managed to grow up and end up being consumed in resentment, envy, hatred and rancor. These people usually bother those who are shining with their own light and sometimes can also try to do everything possible to turn off that light.

What does it mean to have our own light?

During some periods of life we let others illuminate us with their light. These people give us a hand when we need them most, they give us the tools to deal with the difficulties and help us solve the problems. Next to them we learn and grow.

However, it is wrong to live continuously in the light of others. Everyone must learn to cultivate their own light, which means nourishing their dreams and illusions, strengthening their abilities and cultivating their true "self". If you do not feed your light you will end up disappointed with life, accumulating frustrations and dissatisfaction will turn you into a bitter person.

To shine on your own light it is essential that:

- You are an authentic and coherent person. We all have a different light that makes us unique and special, but if we don’t make sure to feed it, it will end turned off. The best way to shine on your own light is to be yourself, looking every day to be the best version of you.

- Do not hide your dark side. The dark sides, understood as "defects", mistakes or failures, are not a reason to be ashamed of and we don’t need to hide them. The dark sides that come to light ends up to become lights, those we keep hiding can end by shutting off our light. There is nothing special being proud of successes, but be proud of how you managed to overcome the obstacles and you got up after a fall.

How to protect yourself from the people who turn off the lights?

There are people who do not stand others shining, as if that light dazzled them. So they can try to make you believe that you are not worthy of certain things, that your efforts are not worth it or that you could do much better.

They can also cast very painful criticisms or even attack you where it hurts the most, using emotional manipulation. The problem is that these people carry a lot of frustration with them, and this causes them to project their own obscurity on others and give others the responsibility of what they have not been able to accomplish.

If you do not build a shield that protects you from their words and attitudes, these attacks are likely to turn off your light, which means that you will adopt their negative and defective way of seeing life and you too will want to turn off the light of those who surrounds you.

The three pillars of this shield are:

1. Learn to ignore. Perhaps some of the people who are bothered by your light are friends or colleagues. Instead of getting angry with them, assume that they are different people with different life experiences who are perhaps not even fully aware of the damage can make their comments and attitudes. Learn to ignore everything that does not allow you to grow. Remember that you can only be hurt by what you have given value to.

2. Cultivate the sense of humor. There is no more powerful weapon against problems, unhealthy criticisms, and attempts to denigrate a person than the sense of humor. Do not assume everything as something personal, learn to laugh at what should make you feel uncomfortable, angry or denigrated. The sense of humor is the tool of intelligent people to protect themselves and not allow others to harm their self-esteem.

3. Continue to be yourself. Do not change your way of being to please others, because this is the most direct path to dissatisfaction and unhappiness. You can adapt your behavior without sacrificing your essence. Keep in mind that the most effective tools to counteract negativity are happiness and the fact that you feel good about yourself.

And whenever you can, project some of your light on the others. You will not be poorer, but richer, because the inner light, the more it spreads, the more it grows. And always remember that those who shine with their own light do not need to turn off the light of others.
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Monday, June 12, 2017

Children notice what the adults don’t see

developmental psychology

Sometimes the alleged immaturity and limitations of childhood can turn into the strong point of children. In fact, an increasing number of studies force us to rethink the infantile phase as the development of some cognitive functions causes the loss of other abilities. Such is the case with attention.

The more we develop the selective attention the much more we overlook the details

As we grow our cognitive functions get mature, as a result of the increasing complexity and differentiation of the brain structures. However, the development is not a straight line and can produce also a kind of evolutionary reversal, particularly in the field of attention.

Even if adults can prove to be better in most cognitive activities, sometimes the limitations resulting from the immaturity of brain connections that characterize the brain of children can be a point in their favor.

This is what has been discovered by some psychologists at Ohio University, who saw that adults are very good at selecting and retrieving information, but only to those who were asked to pay attention because they tend to ignore everything else. In practice, the adults focus on the trees and lose the sight of the forest. On the contrary, 4 and 5 year-olds children tend to pay attention to everything that is shown to them, whether it is important or not for the task.

The purpose of these psychologists was to compare the ability to process adult and child information through various attentive tasks. In the first study they worked with 35 adults and 34 children between 4 and 5 years old. The researchers presented to them an image with two opposing figures and later, another series of images in which they were to find the pattern that appeared in the first image.

As expected, adults were more able to identify the target model that they were asked to pay attention to. 94% of adults surveyed it accurately compared to 86% of children. However, the children were better off in recognizing the other model that in theory they had to ignore. 77% of children recognized it in some figures, compared with 63% of the adults.

What happened is that the children paid more attention to all the details of the images, regardless of the relevance of the different elements. Conversely, adults focused solely on finding the best solution to quickly solve the task.

This is not the first study that comes to this conclusion because in a very similar experiment that compared the visual memory of some five-year-old children to that of some college students, the psychologists found that 31% of children recognized correctly some models that were not asked to look to while among the students only 7% were able to do it.

Selective Attention vs. Distributed attention

This natural mechanism would allow children to notice things that we are unable to see because of what we know as "selective attention", which develops after the age of 7 when the maturation of the frontal lobes allows to implement a more effective selection of environmental information.

The selective attention is the ability to select and focus on a single stimulus among all those in the environment. This process can be considered as a "filter" that allows us to reduce the amount of incoming information, deciding what to process and what is relevant to the task we must accomplish, and ultimately what is irrelevant and must be ignored.

Children, with their innate curiosity and the tendency to explore everything around them, have a different mind-boggling mechanism, even when asked to focus on a very specific aspect of the environment. In some cases this mechanism can be very useful and beneficial. In fact, selective attention offers us advantages such as the ability to quickly and efficiently select information, but it also involves a number of disadvantages because it ignores many details.

Instead, the distributed attention of children helps to better understand the surrounding environment by simultaneously processing information from different sources. Obviously, the processing is slower and less efficient because it involves a huge amount of cognitive resources to capture and process each stimulus.

In short, the selectivity of the more mature systems of attention is an advantage in some cases and a disadvantage in others. In fact, when we walk, it is more convenient to activate the distributed attention as it will allow us to enjoy more the environment. That's why children often point things along a walk, making us aware of details that adults had not seen, like a flower, a tree, a dog, a squirrel on the trail, or just a special shape.

Hanania, R., & Smith, L. B. (2010) Selective attention and attention switching: Towards a unified developmental approach. Developmental Science; 13(4): 622-635.
Plebanek, D. J. & Sloutsky, V. M. (2017) Costs of selective attention: when children notice what adults miss. Psychological Science.
Sloutsky, V. M. & Fisher, A. V. (2004) When development and learning decrease memory. Evidence against category-based induction in children. Psychological Science; 15(8): 553-558.
Plude, D. J. et. Al. (1994) The development of selective attention: A life-span overview. Acta Psychologica; 86(2): 227-272.
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