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Archive for the ‘Psychology’ Category

Parents and those who work with the kids (well, in fact, all of us), listen up!  Psychologist and the author of Mindset: The Psychology of Success  Carol S Dweck  spent years studying the ways children handled failure and found that those ways played a very important part in how they later in life would deal with challenges. She called those ways mindsets: the growth mindset (when children understand that failure is the only way to grow and that they can develop their abilities and intelligence) and the fixed mindset (the idea that you either have the ability or you don’t and everything you do is a test for how smart you are).  Not surprisingly, she found that children who are more likely to fall apart under  failure where the ones with the fixed mind set. 

For children it is essential to see failure as feedback, information because this is the only way they can develop the necessary skills. When toddlers make their first attempts to walk, they use failure to learn how to make the next attempt even better, to adjust the strategy. I believe we are all like this in the beginning. When we start getting conditioned by parents and the society, we change our attitude to learning and become more result-oriented, taking feedback as a sign of personal failure. Ever heard a grown up say, “I tried to do this but it was hard so I gave up”, be it about new dance moves or a relationship. I sure did! Ever heard your kid say this? If the answer is yes, you might want to rethink how you speak to her/him when you are giving your evaluation of their achievement. Some praise fosters a fixed mindset while other praise fosters a growth mindset. Praising your child’s intelligence backfires and creates a fixed mindset. The children do not want to make a mistake and avoid challenging tasks from which they can learn.

What to do? Instead praise the process, effort, strategy, persisting in the face of obstacles. Research that Carol S Dweck and her colleagues conducted showed that the way in which parents had praised their children age could predict how the same children would address challenges five years later. So next time your kid shows you the drawing she made, hold back your initial response, that might be “Oh, how talented you are!” or “What a beautiful drawing!”, but rather focus on praising the strategy, the use of colors or how the child solved a particular issue in the drawing or how she did not give up. That might help your child develop the growth mindset, teach her enjoy difficulty and keep on going when things get tough. That actually sounds like a good advice for self-evaluation as well!

I imagine it is not easy to rethink the praising and positive labeling strategy when talking to one’s child. After all we have been brain washed by self-confidence boosting strategies which teach us to praise children. However, real self-confidence is something children start cultivating on their own, when they are actually facing the challenges and figure out the ways of dealing with it.

As a parent/teacher/coach, what are your thoughts on the subjects and how have you been giving praise to your child?

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In his  interview at  Buddhist Geeks lama Surya Das was asked about the ways that would allow us to experience the transformative powers of spirituality in our everyday lives and outlined the following six building blocks as a base for a well-rounded and grounded spiritual practice.

  • a daily, formal spiritual practice period (meditation, prayer, yoga, chanting, etc)
  • some form of spiritual study (anything from opening the book of nature to studying yourself to studying your relationships)
  • inner growth work (therapy, men and women’s support groups, twelve step programs)
  • working with teachers, elders, experts, and mentors
  • group practice, being a part of a community
  • some form of service, giving back

He also noted that most of the time we already are doing one or two of those and that could be enough for some period of time (parenting, being a good colleague and worker, being engaged in the community work, etc). What I particularly was glad to hear was the point about the inner work. It is my understanding that meditation alone is not enough to help us deal with the internal issues and as another guest at BGs mentioned some time earlier, it was not designed for it.  This inner growth work includes any kind of self-inquiry work that gives us insights about ourselves such as expressive arts, gardening, contemplation.

I have been exploring different forms of inner work, depending on what I have access to and what appeals to me at the moment. Moving to a greener part of town that would allow me to take walks in the fields and the forest at any time was a way to come closer to nature that always brings me back to center and is conducive to the contemplative moods as opposed to analytical thinking. I see the inner work as coming close to the unconscious part of ourselves by getting to know its language that uses symbols to communicate to us.

“To get a true sense of who we are, become more complete and integrated human beings, we must go to the unconscious and set communication with it. …It is only by approaching it that we have a chance to become conscious, complete, whole human beings… We begin to live in partnership with the unconscious rather than at its mercy or in constant warfare with it.”

Robert A. Johnson “Inner Work: Using Dreams and Active Imagination for Personal Growth”


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A certain person came to te Friend’s door

and knocked.

“Who is there?”

“It’s me”

The Friend answered, “Go away. There’s no place

for raw meat at this table.”

The individual went wandering for a year.

Nothing but the fire of separation

can change hypocisy and ego. The person returned

completely cooked,

walked up and down in front of the Friend’s house,

gently knocked.

“Who is it?”

“You.”

“Please come in, my self,

there’s no place in this house for two.

The doubled end of the thread is not what goes through

the eye of the needle…”

Rumi, from The Essential Rumi, translation by Coleman Barks


Nathan’s post on fear of abandonment inspired me to revisit that old companion of mine since childhood. According to psychologists the two main fears that shape our reactions in childhood are fear of abandonment and fear of being overwhelmed by the large world. Already as children we develop defence mechanisms such as withdrawal, pleasing others and others in order to deal with them the best way we can. We have to. We are entirely dependent on our caregivers and have to make it in this world. Interestingly, most of us use the same mechanisms even in adulthood and do not take some time to reflect on how those reactions to the old fears shape our (unconscious) decisions and influence our relationships today.

Pretty much early in life it became clear to me that people and relationships were not there to stay and that nobody could ever truly get me. People were there to teach me something and our time together, however fleeting, was valuable. Some would teach me read in English, others taught me generosity, and others – what mattered to me when I felt those values were violated.  As a child, I was terrified to get lost, that my parents would forget me somewhere. When the waiting became unbearable, I’d convince myself that they did forget me and would start looking for them myself and – of course – got lost, wherever it was they had left me to play. I would finally make it home with the help of strangers, thankful for this opportunity to return and enriched by the experience.

I made my worst fears come true. I guess somehow it was preferable to the waiting to be abandoned. Now it seems funny and sad but I see how through those experiences I’ve learnt the art of getting lost and found and that I would not always need my parents or people I thought I depended upon. Those were pretty useful lessons to learn as a child. I did not become better with directions and often times I get lost in the fields and forest not far from my new home but now I look forward to those brief moments. And never for a second do I feel lost and lonely in a forest full of trees. Getting lost makes me more aware of the potential to be at home wherever I am and to establish connections with others.

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When I ask someone what it is they like about their partner, often the answer tells me more about what that person receives from their partner – a feeling of being appreciated, loved, understood, safe, etc. It seems what we are looking for in relationships is to have our emotional needs satisfied. Is this not expecting too much? Is it even possible?

I am interested in how something that starts like a romantic movie on the scale of “Titanic” turns into a low-budget drama with elements of nightmare. What is it in me that triggers and steers this process from the very start? Why longing for a working relationship, I set myself up for failure and sabotaged the few ones I had? What would it take from me to live together without hurting my beloved? I have been trying to remember a single morning when I woke up and said to myself, “How can I make sure I get hurt again and while I am at it, why not help another soul feel miserable?” Not that I remember. There seems to be a glitch in the system somewhere.


So I thought I’d take a good look at the dynamics of intimate relationships and try to see where my own judgement fails me.

Why this exploration? Because

a) those same patterns show up in all our relationships although not as powerfully

b) I strive to live a conscious life in this universe not of my choosing

c) let’s just say I finally bought Elisabeth Gilbert’s “Committed” and find myself warming up to the idea of giving myself a try at relationships

“Of all the ideologies that possess the contemporary soul, perhaps none is more powerful, more seductive, and possibly more delusory than the romantic fantasy that there is someone out there who is right for us, the long-sought soul mate, what I call “the magical other” , the one who will truly understand us, take care of us, meet our needs, repair the wounds, and, with a little luck, spare us the burden of growing up and meeting our needs”.

James Hollis, “Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Your Life”, p 104

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As it often happens in life, once we ask a question, answers start coming from all possible directions. My journey into the basement to meet my shadow led me to often shocking discoveries of the patterns that kept surfacing in my personal life and insights as to how they were shaping my life. Some of those discoveries could have been done much earlier with the help of a professional, I suppose. Nevertheless, here I am, years and multiple sabotaged relationships later and my research on the subject (without looking for anything in particular) led me to mooching the book by Jungian analyst James Hollis “Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life“. This just a week or so before my birthday (interesting coincidence). I was saving the book for the week-end. Today, when iTunes started downloading the podcast updates, I opened it up to see who Tami Simon interviewed this time on “Insights at the Edge” and gasped in disbelief when I saw the title of the new episode: “James Hollis: Underneath the Midlife Crises”. Come on!  Now I had both the book and a very skillfully done interview with the author.

So what’s the deal with the so-called “midlife” crisis and how come it seems I’ve been having one for years although I don’t have any conscious fear of aging?

Hollis posits that any crisis occurs when the maps we are carrying (conscious or unconscious ones we adopted from our culture or family of origins) do not match the terrain, when there is discrepancy between “what we sought, served, and accomplished, and what we feel in our private, honest moments”. This occurs when we experience the unavoidable conflict between the natural Self and the acquired “sense of self” (he calles it “the false self”) with “the values and strategies we have derived from internalizing the dynamics and messages of our family and our culture”*.  As children, we adopt certain defense mechanisms to ensure our survival and  we carry those with us into every decision we make as adults. Those unconscious mechanisms often guide our choices in directions quite different from those our soul desires. Most of us experience this identity crisis many times in the course of our lives and as any collision, it’s a painful experience.

As for “midlife” crisis, Hollis does not see it as “a momentary madness” , but an invitation from our soul to a more authentic existence, when something larger is wishing to emerge; an opportunity to radically examine one’s life. We have gathered enough internal material to actually address the critical question,

Am I living my life or somebody else’s?


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