Kids Who Believe They Can’t Sing Tend to Quit Music Education

-Traci Pedersen

Elementary school children who have confidence in their own musical abilities are more likely to continue their music education through middle school, while those with poor musical self-concept are more likely to opt out of music class — regardless of their true talent for singing or even their love of music, according to new research at Northwestern University.

For the study, the researchers took a close look at the attitudes and beliefs that help determine whether children will continue to take music classes in middle school and how these factors relate to their actual singing ability.

“The decisions people make as a child could have lifelong consequences for their relationship with music as an adult,” said Dr. Steven Demorest, a professor of music education at Northwestern’s Bienen School of Music. “We are talking about a major form of human expression that many people may be missing out on because they believe, falsely, that they do not have musical talent.”

Although music is a required subject in elementary school, only 34 percent of U.S. students go on to register for elective music instruction when they enter middle school, according to recent statistics.

To gain a better understanding of why so many students choose to opt out of music class, Demorest, with co-authors Jamey Kelley and Peter Pfordresher, surveyed 319 sixth-graders from five elementary schools. The students were asked about their family background, attitudes toward music, their beliefs about themselves as musicians, and questions relating to peer influence and other variables. Then they waited until those same students chose their classes in middle school.

The study found that a combination of family background, musical self-concept, and peer influence predicted with 74 percent accuracy which students choose to continue in elective music. Surprisingly, students’ attitude toward music, or how much they liked it, was not a predictor of whether they chose to continue.

“This decision seems to be rooted in our mistaken belief that musical ability is a talent rather than a skill,” Demorest said. “Children who believe themselves to be musically talented are more inclined to continue to participate in music, and subsequently they get better and better. Conversely, children with a poor musical self-concept were inclined to quit, a decision people often grow to regret as adults.”

In part two of the study, the researchers measured the singing accuracy of students drawn from the opt-in and opt-out groups. They found no significant differences in singing accuracy between the two groups. There was, however, a link between musical self-concept and accuracy.

“The data raises an alarming prospect that singing accuracy could be part of a self-fulfilling prophecy in the case of individuals with poor musical self-concept,” said co-author Dr. Peter Pfordresher, professor of psychology at the University at Buffalo SUNY. “If a child falsely believes he or she is a poor musician, for a variety of reasons that child may actually become one.”

This research builds on a previous study, published in the journal Music Perception, which suggested that the ability to sing accurately is more of a skill than a talent — meaning it gets better with practice. In that study, Demorest and Pfordresher compared the singing accuracy of three groups: kindergartners, sixth graders, and college-aged adults.

The researchers found considerable improvement in accuracy from kindergarten to late elementary school, when most children are receiving regular music instruction. But in the adult group, the gains were reversed — to the point that college students performed at the level of the kindergartners on two of the three tasks — suggesting the “use it or lose it” effect.

Demorest theorized that the children got better at singing because they practiced regularly while the adults may have stopped working on their singing skills altogether.

“The current study provides support for the interpretation of the previous study because the kids who chose to go on differed from those who did not in background and musical self-concept, but not in terms of ability,” Demorest said.

The new findings are published in the Journal of Research in Music Education.

Mind-Body Practices Can Ease Early Memory Loss

-Rick Nauert, PhD

A recent pilot study of adults with early memory loss suggests simple mind-body practices may help to mitigate or even reverse early memory loss in older adults.

The West Virginia University research team discovered the practice of meditation, or a music listening program, may have multiple benefits for older adults with preclinical memory loss.

In the study, 60 older adults with subjective cognitive decline (SCD) — a condition that may represent a preclinical stage of Alzheimer’s disease — were assigned to either a beginner meditation (Kirtan Kriya) or music listening program and asked to practice 12 minutes per day for 12 weeks.

Investigators discovered both the meditation and music groups showed marked and significant improvements in subjective memory function and objective cognitive performance at three months.

The study appears in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Researchers discovered the interventions influenced domains of cognitive functioning most likely to be affected in preclinical and early stages of dementia. That is, attention, executive function, processing speed, and subjective memory function.

Importantly, the substantial gains observed in memory and cognition were maintained or further increased at six months (three months post-intervention).

Researchers found that both intervention groups showed improvements in sleep, mood, stress, well-being, and quality of life. The meditation group showed the most pronounced improvements; however, all benefits were sustained or further enhanced at three month’s post-intervention.

The findings of this trial suggest that two simple mind-body practices may significantly improve quality of life.

Specifically, investigators discovered Kirtan Kriya meditation and music listening may not only improve mood, sleep, and quality of life, but also boost cognition and help reverse perceived memory loss in older adults with SCD.

Study Finds Workplace Peer Pressure Impacts Performance

-Janice Wood

A new study has found that the presence of high-performing co-workers can improve an individual’s performance, which boosts earnings.

Researchers from the University of York and the Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration at University College London (UCL), found that in low-skilled occupations, an increase of 10 percent in the average performance of co-workers raises a worker’s wage by almost one percent.

This is most likely driven by increased productivity because of pressure to keep up with better co-workers, the researchers said.

For the study, researchers looked at the wage records from administrative social security data for millions of workers and all of their co-workers over a period of 15 years across 330 professions in a large metropolitan area of Germany.

“We would expect that some positive practices would ‘rub-off’ on co-workers, and in fact we knew from previous research that such effects exist for specific occupations,” said Dr. Thomas Cornelissen, a researcher in the Department of Economics at the University of York.

“For example, a U.S. study showed that supermarket cashiers scanned shopping items faster when they worked the same shifts as fast-working employees. Our research showed that this effect was not unique to shop workers, but is applicable across many low-skilled jobs, such as waiters, warehouse workers, and agricultural assistants.

‘Moreover, our results show that improvements in performance due to co-worker quality raise a worker’s wages, something that hadn’t previously been analyzed.”

It was not clearly understood whether improvements in performance were due to learning from colleagues or whether it was more to do with the pressure to keep up, the researchers noted. To get a better sense of this, they looked at what happened after a high-performing co-worker left the company.

If learning from colleagues was the explanation for the positive performance effects, it was expected that remaining workers would keep up their performance after a high-performing co-worker left the company, the researchers speculated.

However, the data suggested that the opposite was true. Researchers found that the remaining workers tended to slip backwards after a good worker left, suggesting the productivity boost is more closely aligned with peer pressure, which lessens when good workers leave, potentially causing productivity and wages to stagnate.

The same rule did not apply, however, to high skilled occupations such as lawyers, doctors, and architects, according to the researchers. A reason for this could be that it is not as easy to observe the working practices of other colleagues in high-skilled professions, the researchers hypothesized. This means workers might not always know what everyone is doing or what it takes to achieve the objectives of that particular role.

The findings suggest there is less social pressure in high-skilled occupations compared to low-skilled, the researchers said.

“There are many challenges to conducting this type of work, such as the structure of the company, how to accurately establish cause and effect between co-workers, and finding a measure of good and poor performance,” Cornelissen added. “The more work we can do analyzing data from across the labor market, the more likely we will start to see common trends.”

He noted the study’s findings could be applied to a number of areas within companies, such as working from home policies, the design of office spaces, and training.

“Working from home is generally considered a good thing, for example, but if co-workers are as important as we think, it might not be the best option for everyone,” he said.

The study was published in the journal American Economic Review.

The Four Horsemen

-The Gottman Institute

Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we would like to continue The Four Horsemen series by providing you with a strong foundation of understanding before we go into further depth about each specific communication style. Consider today’s posting an overview of what is to come over the next four weeks.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is a metaphor depicting the end of times in the New Testament. They describe conquest, war, hunger, and death respectively. Dr. Gottman uses this metaphor to describe communication styles that can predict the end of a relationship.

The first horseman of the apocalypse is criticism. Criticizing your partner is different than offering a critique or voicing a complaint! The latter two are about specific issues, whereas the former is an ad hominem attack: it is an attack on your partner at the core. In effect, you are dismantling his or her whole being when you criticize.

  • Complaint: “I was scared when you were running late and didn’t call me. I thought we had agreed that we would do that for each other.”
  • Criticism: “You never think about how your behavior is affecting other people. I don’t believe you are that forgetful, you’re just selfish! You never think of others! You never think of me!”

If you find that you are your partner are critical of each other, don’t assume your relationship is doomed to fail. The problem with criticism is that, when it becomes pervasive, it paves the way for the other, far deadlier horsemen. It makes the victim feel assaulted, rejected, and hurt, and often causes the perpetrator and victim to fall into an escalating pattern where the first horseman reappears with greater and greater frequency and intensity.

The second horseman is contempt. When we communicate in this state, we are truly mean – treating others with disrespect, mocking them with sarcasm, ridicule, name-calling, mimicking, and/or body language such as eye-rolling. The target of contempt is made to feel despised and worthless.

“You’re ‘tired?’ Cry me a river. I’ve been with the kids all day, running around like mad to keep this house going and all you do when you come home from work is flop down on that sofa like a child and play those idiotic computer games. I don’t have time to deal with another kid – try to be more pathetic…” 

In his research, Dr. Gottman found that couples that are contemptuous of each other are more likely to suffer from infectious illness (colds, the flu, etc.) than others, as their immune systems weaken! Contempt is fueled by long-simmering negative thoughts about the partner – which come to a head in the perpetrator attacking the accused from a position of relative superiority. Contempt is the single greatest predictor of divorce according to Dr. Gottman’s work. It must be eliminated!

The third horseman is defensiveness. We’ve all been defensive. This horseman is nearly omnipresent when relationships are on the rocks. When we feel accused unjustly, we fish for excuses so that our partner will back off. Unfortunately, this strategy is almost never successful. Our excuses just tell our partner that we don’t take them seriously, trying to get them to buy something that they don’t believe, that we are blowing them off.

  • She: “Did you call Betty and Ralph to let them know that we’re not coming tonight as you promised this morning?”
  • He: “I was just too darn busy today. As a matter of fact you know just how busy my schedule was. Why didn’t you just do it?”

He not only responds defensively, but turns the table and makes it her fault. A non-defensive response would have been:

“Oops, I forgot. I should have asked you this morning to do it because I knew my day would be packed. Let me call them right now.” 

Although it is perfectly understandable for the male to defend himself in the example given above, this approach doesn’t have the desired effect. The attacking spouse does not back down or apologize. This is because defensiveness is really a way of blaming your partner.

The fourth horseman is stonewalling. Stonewalling occurs when the listener withdraws from the interaction. In other words, stonewalling is when one person shuts down and closes himself/herself off from the other. It is a lack of responsiveness to your partner and the interaction between the two of you.  Rather than confronting the issues (which tend to accumulate!) with our partner, we make evasive maneuvers such as tuning out, turning away, acting busy, or engaging in obsessive behaviors. It takes time for the negativity created by the first three horsemen to become overwhelming enough that stonewalling becomes an understandable “out,” but when it does, it frequently becomes a habit.

Being able to identify The Four Horsemen in your conflict discussions is a necessary first step to eliminating them, but this knowledge is not enough. To drive away destructive communication patterns, you must replace them with healthy, productive ones. This Friday, we will introduce you to the antidotes!

Tip: Practice, practice, practice! Pay close attention the next time you find yourself engaged in a difficult conversation with your partner, a friend, or even with your children. See if you can spot any of The Four Horsemen, and try to observe their effects on the people involved.

Projective Identification: How Narcissists Project Their Identity Onto Others

-Christine Hammond, MS, LMHC

A client walked into my office for the first time and began to describe her husband as a narcissist. They had been married for 15 years, had two children, were well-established in the community, and were both very career oriented. She came across an article about narcissism and concluded that her husband fit the profile. Not interested in getting a divorce, she wanted to learn how to manage his narcissism.

But something seemed a bit off about her as she was too put together and completely lacked the usual anxious reaction that corresponds with living with a narcissist. Her appearance was immaculate, her mannerism was guarded, she shed what seemed like an obligatory tear, and within minutes she revealed her income, square footage of her house, and details of her latest European vacation. There was nothing about the kids, no evidence of even the slightest abuse, and no signs of PTSD, anxiety or depression. Then it hit me, she was the narcissist.

Twisted Perception. The distorted perception of reality that narcissists possess allows them to be the stars in a world that is centered on their wants and desires. Everything they see is colored by that viewpoint. Narcissists have a limited picture of life as they are the superior ones in beauty, knowledge, power, or influence. It is easier to think of it as seeing the world through 50 shades of yellow. Yellow because they are the bright shining stars in a world that caters to their demands.

This client viewed herself as perfect with an imperfect husband who needed to be fixed. She would play the victim card when backed into a corner of realization for her contribution to the marital issues. There was no acknowledgement of her wrong doing, a complete lack of remorse, and no empathy for anyone but herself.

Unhealthy Coping. This twisted perception is the perfect stage for utilizing denial, projection, and intellectualization as coping mechanisms. In order to maintain their perfect world, narcissists need to cope with anything that poses a threat to their reality. They usually start with simple defense mechanisms: denial (refusing to acknowledge the existence of a problem), projection (taking their negative emotional responses and assigning them to others), and intellectualization (distancing through overthinking so as not to feel). If those fail, they escalate to abusive measures.

Within the first hour of meeting, all of these defense mechanisms were exploited. She denied any issues with her children, which is impossible with a narcissistic parent. She showed text messages from her husband that were mild in nature and claimed instead that he was furious. When asked how she felt about an incident, she dodged the question by talking about her thoughts on the matter. When pressed for any signs of abusive treatment, she insisted that he could be violent but lacked any explanation of how or when.

Projective Identification. Taking projection one step further, a person assigns an aspect of his or her personality onto another person. In the case of narcissism, all of the narcissistic traits may be splintered off and attributed to a spouse. This is done at an unconscious level where the narcissists are not even aware of what they have done. In some cases, it may be malicious but for the most part it is due to their twisted perception of reality where the narcissist must remain perfect.

While it appeared in our first encounter that my client was doing this to her spouse, it was further confirmed by meeting her husband. He had zero signs of narcissism and instead was extremely co-dependent. His natural tendency was to enable the narcissism as he adopted the viewpoint that she was perfect and he was the one with the problem. He even agreed that she was right and he was narcissistic.

It took many sessions to reveal the actual narcissist. The projective identification was so integrated and well managed that it required much convincing to expose the real narcissist. The unraveling of the truth was painful at first but then it transitioned into healing as the husband was able to see the multiple colors of reality instead of only yellow narcissism.


6 Tips to Manage Stress and Avoid Burnout at Work

-Joe Wilner

At times, we all experience stress, and for many people a major source of stress arises from work-related issues.

Feeling overworked, facing tight deadlines, and experiencing a lack of job-security can keep us in a chronic state of fight-or-flight.

Stress isn’t all bad, of course. A healthy dose of stress in the right context is positive and productive. This healthy stress is called eustress, and it helps us stay motivated and engaged in our goals and objectives.

But, when stress gets the best of us we can experience burnout, feel overwhelmed, and end up struggling to deal with our day-to-day responsibilities.

So here are six tips to defeat that unhealthy stress in your life so that you can stay focused and productive at work.

1. Get your heart pumping

Some people have a more active work life than others, but if you’re sedentary most of the day it’s important to make exercise a regular part of your routine.

“Exercise is truly one of those little tricks in life that can really reduce stress of any lifestyle,” says Jim Laird, Ph.D., professor at Clark University in Worchester. The minimum exercise to aim for is roughly 30 minutes of accumulated moderate exercise on most days of the week.

Start with some light stretching. From there, go for a walk and try to get at least 10,000 steps per day. There a numerous popular apps to help you track your activity level. If possible, make working out fun by playing sports, being outdoors, or trying yoga.

Here’s a list of exercise ideas you can start incorporating into your life today.

2. Use diet to ease stress

Medical science clearly shows that our diet is directly related to our overall well-being. If you aren’t making this connection it’s time to consider how to create healthier eating habits.

When it comes to increasing energy and stamina, consider including complex carbs and proteins in your diet, as well as snacking throughout the day and drinking plenty of water.

Whether it’s through your meals or supplementing vitamins, incorporate omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B-12 to keep yourself mentally and emotionally nourished.

As I’m not a doctor, please consult a medical professional with questions or concerns related to diet, but these are a few ideas you can research and explore further.

3. Honor interests and hobbies

When was the last time you did something remotely fun and entertaining?

We all need time to unwind and enjoy life. Make enjoyable activities a part of your routine to avoid stress.

Hobbies and passions take our attention away from our worries and help us let go of stress. We also get a boost of positive emotions when we’re engaged in activities we enjoy. This dose of positive emotions in crucial to help balance out the negativity bias we’re faced with as a human being.

4. Find meaning and value in your work

There’s a story of three construction workers laying bricks. One afternoon a man walked by and asked the construction workers what they were doing.

The first worker said, “I’m laying one brick after the other.”

The second worker said, “I’m making a wall.”

The third worker said, “I’m building a cathedral.”

When we take pride in what we do and realize the value of our work, we’re more likely to focus on the positive and make productive meaning out of stressful events.

Make it a point to review what you appreciate about your work.

5. Mind over matter

Often the more stressed out we feel the more we start to think negatively. Worry intensifies and we dwell on what we don’t like. This of course only exacerbates stress.

Learn to master your mindset and attitude. Watch and observe your self-talk and use self-encouraging statements to assist you in maintaining a helpful perspective.

Be intentional about what you read and watch and try to consciously have a mental diet of positive ideas and motivating messages.

6. Let it go 

Relaxation techniques may be the most underestimated tool for managing stress. When the sympathetic nervous system triggers the stress response, relaxation techniques provide us the means to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and calm our physiology.

You can utilize meditation, deep breathing, taking a hot shower, or going for a soothing walk, but one way or another create a relaxation ritual that helps you calm your mind and body.

Sometimes dealing with stress is a matter of letting go of what we can’t control and staying present in the moment.

The more tools you have on your tool belt the better equipped you are to manage stressful events as they occur. Hopefully these ideas help to grow your set of tools.

The Curse of Counter-Dependence

-Jonice Webb, PhD

Sophie was excited about her new position. Finally she would have the opportunity to use the marketing skills she had learned in her MBA program. But in the first week, it was clear to Sophie that she was somewhat over her head. With multiple demands coming at her from every direction, she realized that she desperately needed to rely on her immediate supervisor for help and support. But instead of letting her supervisor know her situation, Sophie simply continued to struggle, falling farther and farther behind.

James was packing up his apartment to move into his new condo. Every day after work for a week, he packed boxes, sorted and stacked for hours. By the end of the week, he was exhausted. With moving day fast approaching, James could not bring himself to ask any of his friends for help with packing or moving.

Everybody needs help sometimes, there’s no way around it. For most people, it’s not a big deal. You ask someone for assistance and usually, presto! Help is delivered.

But not so for many other people. These are the ones who balk at letting themselves even need help, much less ask for it. To these folks, relying on another person feels scary, and it may even feel just plain wrong.

These are the ones who are living with the curse of counter-dependence.

Counter-Dependence: A deep discomfort with any form of reliance on others.

In reality, the word “discomfort” is probably an understatement. I have seen many counter-dependent folks in my time. For a significant number, it’s a fear of depending on anyone, and that fear can reach the level of a phobia. It’s a fear that can keep you stuck in a bubble of self-sufficiency, and also hold you back from opportunity and growth.

3 Ways Counter-Dependence Hold You Back

  1. It prevents you from receiving the help and support that others get, putting you at an automatic disadvantage to everyone else.
  2. It keeps you isolated, feeling unsupported and alone in the world.
  3. It holds your relationships back, since you don’t get to experience the richness and depth of a truly mutual, trusting relationship where each party relies on other.

Exactly what is the source of the curse over Sophie and James? How did they each become so averse to depending on another person? It all goes back to how they were raised. It was Childhood Emotional Neglect.

13-year-old Sophie tiptoes carefully up to her sleeping mother, afraid of the reaction she might receive if she wakes her. She has no choice but to do so, because she needs her mother to  sign a permission slip for tomorrow’s school field trip. After silently watching her mother sleep for a few minutes she loses her nerve, and silently tiptoes out.

13-year-old James lives in a bustling, active and loving family. The family is so active that talk of schedules, soccer games and homework rule the day, from the moment of waking up to the dinner conversation. James’ parents and siblings have no idea how to respond to emotion or talk about anything difficult, so as a family they just don’t go there.

Why is Sophie afraid to wake her mother? Perhaps she’s an alcoholic who is passed out from drinking and whose responses to Sophie can be highly unpredictable, or even violent. Perhaps Sophie’s mother works two jobs to support the family and will be exhausted if Sophie wakes her up. Or her mother might be ill or depressed, so that Sophie feels guilty asking her for anything.

Interestingly, the specifics of Sophie’s predicament do not matter. The lesson for her is,

Never burden others with your needs.

Many would envy James for his family. Yet James’ family is unwittingly searing an important message into his developing brain:

Your emotions and needs are bad. They are to be hidden and avoided.

These messages we receive in childhood are powerful, even if they are never stated outright. Sophie and James will walk through their lives unaware that they are controlled by fear. A fear that a normal, healthy part of themselves (their emotional needs) will be exposed. A fear of chasing away the people they want in their lives by asking them for something. A fear of feeling or appearing weak or needy.

4 Steps to Reverse The Curse of Counter-Dependence

  1. Become aware of your fear, and how it holds you back from allowing others to help and support you.
  2. Work on accepting that it’s okay to have needs. You are human, and all humans have needs. Make it a point to pay attention to yours, notice them, and treat them as valid.
  3. Know that those who care about you want you to depend on them. They want to be there for you and to help you, and they are probably frustrated and feel shut out by your counter-dependence.
  4. Start taking risks. Make it a point to ask for help. Step-by-step, try to increase your comfort level with depending on another person.

Just like James and Sophie, the fear of depending upon other people may be seared into your brain from childhood. But that does not mean that it’s permanent. You can reverse the curse by directly challenging and over-riding it.

The curse will only run your life as long as you allow it. Why should you fight it? Yes, it requires perseverance and work. But deeper relationships, less exhaustion, more support and less alone.

It definitely pays to reverse this curse.

7 Red Flags to Watch Out for in a New Relationship

-Kurt Smith, Psy.D., LMFT, LPCC, AFC

You’re dating someone new and everything seems to be going pretty well. That is until you spot something a little off in his (or her) behavior. When you’re first getting to know someone, you don’t want to analyze and judge every single thing he does or way he acts, but you also want to evaluate what kind of person he is and if he could be a good fit for you.

When we really like someone, we often want to overlook certain behaviors and chock it up to him or her having a bad day or our reading the situation wrong. But before you get too invested in someone, it’s important to know what her personality is really like. Here are seven red flags to watch out for in a new relationship.

1. Your friends don’t like him

True friends have your best interest in mind. If they don’t like the new guy you’re dating, they probably see something in him that you don’t. Sometimes the excitement of a new relationship blinds us to someone’s true qualities. If you’re not getting a good report from your friends, step back and take a closer look at your beau to try to better see what they see.

2. She talks about herself a lot

People who constantly talk about themselves are usually self-absorbed and a bit narcissistic. If she doesn’t ask you questions about your day, your family, etc., then she likely doesn’t truly care. Staying in a one-sided relationship with someone who is completely self-centered isn’t healthy and will ultimately leave you unfulfilled.

3. You find him checking out other women

Your guy should be into you. If you find him scanning the restaurant or club, looking at other women, then he might be looking for his next fling. It’s disrespectful to check out other women, especially when he is on a date with you. If he respects you, he won’t be doing this.

4. She talks down to you or others

No one wants to feel belittled or talked down to. If your new romantic interest criticizes you, diminishes your feelings, or insults you in any way, then she isn’t a good catch. The same thing goes with how she treats others. If she treats you like a god, but you see her discounting others, the time will likely come when she discounts you, too.

5. Small things set him off

Some men tend to have tempers when they become angry and this isn’t always a cause for concern. But if little things make him furious, or minor details cause him to erupt, then he could have anger issues. If little things make him mad, how will he react when larger problems come your way?

6. She is controlling

Whether she tells you to stop hanging out with your guy friends or she always dictates when and where the dates will be, she has to have the final say in your life. Sometimes this can come out in small ways, such as her asking, “Oh, you’re wearing that?” Stay with this girl and she will eventually want to control every aspect of your life. It is probably wise to get far away from this one.

7. You’ve experienced any sort of violence

If he has grabbed you forcefully even once, get out. Violent men are dangerous men and need professional help. A common mistake is to stay and tell yourself you will be the one to help him. Violence is never acceptable. Run the other way if he is acting aggressive toward you or anyone else.

New relationships should be drama-free for the most part. Early on, it’s all about the excitement of getting to know each other, first kisses, and having fun together. If you just started dating someone and are questioning his or her maturity, character, or sincerity, trust your gut, value yourself, and consider if the relationship is really worth continuing.

Four Ways To Become More Innovative

-Claire Dorotik-Nana, LMFT

The philosopher Heraclitus famously said, “No man steps in the same river twice.”  His point — life is always changing.

But the underlying message might have been even more insightful. Perhaps we shouldn’t be expecting to step in the same river twice.

Life, after all, is anything but predictable. And yet how we deal with life’s uncertainties makes all the difference in the world.

In his brilliant book, Adapt: Why Success Always Starts With Failure, Tim Harford (also known as the Undercover Economist) asked several of the world’s most recognized leaders to predict which businesses would succeed or fail. Then he compared the success rate of businesses to evolutionary trends.

What did he find? Neither successful businesses or evolutionary trends (as measured by the success of specific species) follow any pattern whatsoever. Even further, when Harford compared the “experts” predictions to that of a control group, the experts did no better than the general population at predicting business success trends.

The takeaway is that we simply cannot predict the future — nor should we try. What we should do instead (and Harford makes a strong case for this) is develop our innovation skills.

Just how do we do that? Here are four ways:

Remove fixed beliefs. Fixed beliefs are absolutes about the world. People will always be fair (or unfair). You can’t ever trust x people. Bonds will always pay out. Real estate is always a good investment. What fixed beliefs do is shut the door on variation — because we already know what is going to happen. They hold us hostage to our own internal blocks, and keep us from trying new approaches. So what’s a better way? Also yourself to see things from multiple perspectives. People are not always fair, or unfair. Sometimes businesses work and sometimes they don’t. Some people can be trusted while others can’t. Often the difference lies in how willing we are to see things from another perspective.

Expose Yourself to Other Perspectives. As Harford says, there is a reason that we don’t look for innovation on isolated islands. Isolated ideas, he says, are not subjected to contrary ideas, and like evolution, are not improved by environmental stresses. The result? Ideas that won’t stand the test of experience. So what’s a better way? Listen to other’s perspectives. Consider alternative thoughts, beliefs, and ideas. Open your mind and think beyond yourself.

Be Open to New Opportunities. Opportunities don’t usually knock on our door. Instead they are often disguised in the form of roadblocks. We are stuck. We can’t find a way. We are faced with a problem for which there seems to be no solution. But for each of these often frustrating situations is also an opportunity. What is it? The opportunity to learn something new. Maybe we have to learn to say no. Maybe we have to learn to ask for help. Maybe we have to learn to recognize our limits. Maybe we have to learn to overcome our limits. Whatever the lesson is, it is also an opportunity to discover new abilities we didn’t know we had. And given enough time, these new abilities might just take us down a road we never dreamed of.

Try New Approaches. Innovation, whether it be in deciding how best to solve a problem, how to deal with a difficult situation, or even what areas of your life to salvage after a setback, depends on varying your approach. When you allow yourself the freedom to try something new as a simple act of exploration — without judgment — not just do you open your mind to new possibilities, but your also widen the possibilities you consider.  As Harford points out, some of the greatest innovations come from what Nassim Taleb, author of The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, calls “positive black swans.” While these innovation projects, Harford argues, do not have a known payoff or a fixed probability — in fact, no one ever really knows what ideas will work or even why — they cannot be predicted or planned. For this reason, their very existence depends upon our ability to vary our approach, even trying the opposite of what we might think will work, in service of research and development.

Innovation, like evolution, often doesn’t follow a planned approach. Instead it is rooted in the willingness to look beyond, to see what might’ve otherwise been missed, to let go of our ideas about how things should be, and instead, to see them another way. Perhaps a better way.

No Longer Bending Over Backward To Please People

-Edie Weinstein, MSW, LSW

The term co-dependence has been in the recovery vernacular for a long time. It originated in reference to the enabling family and friends of those with addictions. You know, the folks who will consistently pick their partner up at the bar when they are too impaired to drive. On the one hand, that is a positive, protective gesture for everyone on the road and on the other, an action that may perpetuate the pattern. Another example is the spouse who calls their loved one’s boss to say that they are too ill to come to work when they are actually hung over from a bender the night before. Perhaps it reflects a litany of excuses for why this person is unable to change. The word has evolved to reflect the attitudes and actions of those who are known as people pleasers, approval seekers, those who are emotional chameleons and enmeshed with loved ones. I know the phenomenon well since I too exhibit some of the Patterns and Characteristics of Co-Dependence as explained in the website

The most notable for this co-dependent in long-term recovery, include

  • minimize, alter, or deny how they truly feel.
  • perceive themselves as completely unselfish and dedicated to the well-being of others.
  • think they can take care of themselves without any help from others.
  • judge what they think, say, or do harshly, as never good enough
  • are extremely loyal, remaining in harmful situations too long.
  • compromise their own values and integrity to avoid rejection or anger.
  • put aside their own interests in order to do what others want.

I came to the awareness of its role in my life in my 20’s. I had been reading my journals from college days (I still have them) and noticed a pattern in relationships. I would bring into my life, people with wounds that I thought I had to heal. Having grown up with parents who modeled doing it all, including raising a family, working several jobs, volunteering in the community, having a large circle of friends and maintaining a life-long loving relationship, I believed I needed to emulate them. If I wasn’t busy doing things for others, seducing them to love me and continuing to do what they wanted so they wouldn’t leave, I was worried that they would. I realized that this persona that I called ‘Little Shirley Temple, tap dancing for attention,’ was born in early childhood. The charm and charisma that are also aspects of co-dependence were taking root and growing in me. Those qualities do serve me as a therapist, writer, and speaker, but when left to run amok, can devolve into dysfunction. And so they did, in many relationships over the years. Quite simply, ‘Shirley’ wanted to be loved best of all.

In 1986, I met a man who became my husband. He too was charming and charismatic, as he wooed and won me. The red flags began waving early on in our relationship. A child of an alcoholic/rageaholic father and a mother who rode her own emotional roller coaster ride, and desperately wanted to be loved, he was primed and ready to go head to head and sometimes heart to heart with me. The former, rather than the latter characterized much of our nearly 12 years as a married couple, before he died in 1998 of Hepatitis C. At the time, I was deeply immersed in my own fear-based patterns. I felt called to heal his wounds, kiss the boo-boos and make them all better. I ramped up the attributes of this process addiction, thinking that if I met his needs more fully, he would be kinder and more patient and less angry. Many years later, I came to call that ‘savior behavior’.

What are the signs of savior behavior?

  • Consistently putting the needs of others before your own.
  • Ignoring signs of fatigue and burnout, but unable to slow the pace and regroup.
  • Doing for others what they are fully capable of doing for themselves.
  • Feeling resentful and unappreciated.
  • Attempting to help others circumvent pitfalls and personal potholes while falling into them yourself.
  • Anticipating what others want and offering before they even ask.
  • Wanting to appear altruistic and earn approval.
  • Getting extreme gratification from being a caregiver.
  • Believing that you know what is in another’s best interest.
  • Attempting to convince others how to feel and what to say.

One of the most brilliant things he shared that remain with me to this day as barometers for my progress are these lines.  He said I was “an emotional contortionist who would bend over backward to please people,” “a deer caught in the headlights when it came to decision-making,” and that I would “be looking over my shoulder to see if the ‘propriety police’ were watching.”

For years, I resisted viewing them as behaviors to banish, since they had earned me love and approval. I had become adept at reading people to determine what they wanted and would often provide them with same before they could even request them. I would hesitate and procrastinate, delaying decisions until the last possible moment to prevent making the ‘wrong one’. I would cover my mistakes and lies that I had told in order to keep the peace. I would sacrifice integrity to prevent rocking the boat. I would second guess myself in an effort to be absolutely certain I was heading in the right direction and even then, I doubted.

In the past 18 years since his death, I have evolved dramatically. I chalk it up to a number of factors. They include a sense of freedom from living with someone who in many ways was as addicted to his anger and married to his wounds, perpetuated by having lived with parents who were unhappily married, as I was to being conflict avoidant and having been raised by parents whose marriage and lives I idealized.  I have also remained in the recovery field as a therapist, teacher, and journalist, which keeps me on my toes and won’t allow me to sink into complacency. Many of my friends are in recovery from all manner of addictions and they call me on my stuff often.  In addition, I have been able to stretch my comfort zones as I speak my truth and express my own needs. Three examples from this week alone, follow.

I had been doing some work for someone I love. It was rewarding and fulfilling creatively. It made a difference. The person publically praised my work. All of these fed my approval seeking inner child.  While I was paid,  the budget wouldn’t permit remuneration in alignment with what my investment of time and my expertise was worth. I was able to confidently let her know my feelings and she accepted them.  I am not moving forward with the next round with her professionally, even as we remain friends.

A few weeks ago, while in the midst of a slump, feeling discouraged about the trajectory of my life, a friend reached out and generously offered to have me enroll in a 21-day program her was leading, in order to turn it around. I was excited about it until I learned that one of the requirements was that I would need to take that time away from social media. I knew I wouldn’t be able to do so for many reasons, among them, the requirement to post my articles so that they will be well read and the need to remain visible to the public. I also find social media to be a means of having ongoing discussions about topics that matter. I sat with my decision for a day and then reached out to him to share my concerns. He understood and let me know that it was a must and when I was ready to take that leap, I was welcome in the program. Not sure that will ever happen, but it was nice to know there was an option. The interesting thing, which is a common phenom, is that my decision to state my case assertively meant that the training had already begun and perhaps had met its goal.

Lastly, I shared with another friend that I noticed a pattern in our relationship that she had expectations that I respond immediately (or nearly so) to her messages. She is assertive in asking to have her needs met, which I do admire and it sometimes borders on excess. I pointed out that it seems my role in her life is to provide resources and promotion for her work in the world, which is valuable. I let her know that there are others in my life to whom I have been offering attention, including one whose mother just died and another who is facing the possibility of a breast cancer diagnosis after just having had hip replacement surgery. The tone of the message was not apologetic as it would have been at an earlier point in my life. It was clear and compassionate to both of us. I have not heard back from her, but have no sense of trepidation about her response.

In all of these cases, I am worlds away from that emotional contortionist. Ironically, over the past few weeks, I had been in the throes of bronchial distress to such a degree that I injured my ribs from coughing and ended up in the ER on New Years Day. Last night, they were healed to the point at which I could actually do a back bend.  I remain on the road with recovery.