Tag Archives: #mind

How to Change the Mind of the Most Stubborn Person You Know (Psychology)

Science reveals that this method works best to convince others to see your side.

KEY POINTS

  • Changing bizarre or entrenched beliefs requires a defined process to overcome change resistance.
  • Some persuasion methods work much better than others.
  • The type of evidence you use in persuasive arguments is crucial.
  • Change can be transitory or enduring based on how you approach the change initiative.

We all have stubborn friends, family, or colleagues who stubbornly hold opinions regardless of evidence to the contrary. Maybe they embrace conspiracy theories or tell you “I have always done it this way,” while harboring bizarre beliefs. Sometimes we get so frustrated by failed persuasion attempts that we feel like banging our heads against a wall, but there are better strategies that work! Humans are resistant to change when it means admitting that existing beliefs or strategies are, indeed, wrong. Fortunately, psychology research shows that some persuasion methods work better than others.

The persuasion process starts with knowing how others respond to “anomalous data” (Chinn & Brewer, 1993), meaning information that disputes their existing thinking. What if I told you that giving people bonuses to incentivize productivity doesn’t work? Unless you agreed, you would probably tell me to mind my business and defend your bonus beliefs. What if I presented you data that indicated performance decreases after a reward is received? Research supports my contention because reward anticipation, not attainment drives performance. Once the reward is received, performance wanes (Lepper et al., 1973). You might say your theory is better, or you might dispute the accuracy of the data I just presented, or maybe you would even say I am entitled to my opinion, but I am indeed wrong. In other words, you have beliefs and a theory about bonuses and so do I. My theory is different than yours and herein lies the age-old persuasion problem!

There are at least seven different ways that people respond to data that disputes their beliefs. Knowing which reason causes resistance helps tailor your persuasion effort, so be sure to figure out which one prevails.

Ignoring data occurs when individuals are highly committed to their own impressions and beliefs. This type of response is frequently observed when people completely discount recommendations. Rejecting data means individuals consider the merits of the information but neglect to change their theory or behaviors related to the topic. Holding data in abeyance is a deferral strategy, suggesting neither acceptance nor rejection of a different approach and signifies the intention to revisit the information later. Reinterpreting data and maintaining existing theory involves consideration of the ideas advanced. During reinterpretation, the information is closely scrutinized, but the individual concludes after evaluation that the information provided was flawed, unclear, or irrelevant, leaving existing beliefs intact. Reinterpretation and revision imply partial modification of one’s thinking based upon the information provided. Acceptance connotes a successful change effort.

The five change steps

Persuasion means overcoming resistance. While there is no secret formula, there are defined steps needed to enhance the probability of effectiveness. These steps are verified by evidence (Dole & Sinatra, 1998), meaning that the 5-step process has been tested and the essential elements described are generally more effective than other forms of haphazard persuasion.

The first step toward a successful change effort is raising awareness. One beneficial approach used to foster awareness is to create cognitive conflict about current approaches. This means that the individual who needs to change must have at least a small about of doubt about the efficacy of their approach. Without some doubt, change is unlikely.

The next step is persuading the individual that plausible alternatives exist. Plausibility means that, at a minimum, the individual is willing to consider an alternative strategy because the recommendation is understood, coherent, and relatively simple and because the proposal is deemed as a potential solution. Plausibility doesn’t mean acceptance, but it does mean the message is understood and could reasonably eliminate the doubt instilled in step one. This means verbally confirming that the plan you are proposing is practical and can work in practice.

Third, refutational evidence promotes the formation of different perspectives. Keep in mind the key role of beliefs. For change to stick you must give people a reason to question the accuracy of their current views and provide them with a compelling reason to make a change. Providing refutational evidence persuades individuals to believe that existing representations are flawed considering inconsistencies with evidence. By instigating doubt, the goal of refutation is to encourage the nonbeliever to relinquish an existing belief in favor of another.

Next, when the individual begins to doubt the merits of their existing view and see that there may be a good reason to change, we must provide relevant alternatives. Relevant implies that the individual perceives that the alternative recommendation as useful and can potentially solve the problem by eliminating the doubt created in step one. Individuals will have a higher probability of change and be more motivated to consider alternatives when the change effort satisfies their personal goals.

Finally, few of us can initiate radical change in isolation. We need help, support, and what psychologists call scaffolding. The most enduring change efforts are those that are conducted with the support of significant others. Assuming the factors of awareness, plausibility, refutational evidence, and personal relevance have been met, the individual is more likely to exhibit the motivation to adopt new approaches.


References

(1) Chinn, C. A., & Brewer, W. F. (1993). The role of anomalous data in knowledge acquisition: A theoretical framework and implications for science instruction. Review of Educational Research, 63, 1–49. (2) Dole, J. A., & Sinatra, G. M. (1998). Reconceptalizing change in the cognitive construction of knowledge. Educational Psychologist, 33(2–3), 109–128. (3) Lepper, M. R., Greene, D., & Nisbett, R. E. (1973). Undermining children’s intrinsic interest with extrinsic reward: A test of the “overjustification” hypothesis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 28, 129–137.


Provided by Psychology today


Text credit: Bobby Hoffman

Can’t Draw A Mental Picture? Aphantasia Causes Blind Spots in the Mind’s Eye (Neuroscience)

If you were asked to draw a picture of your grandparents’ living room from memory, could you do it? For most people, certain details are easy to visualize: “There’s a piano in the corner, a palm by the window and two seashells on the coffee table.”

Some individuals with aphantasia—a recently-characterized condition that causes a lack of visual memory—have reported that they don’t understand what it means to ‘count sheep’ before going to bed, because they cannot visualize sheep without seeing them. Credit: Tanner Yould on Unsplash

But for others, such a task would be almost impossible. These individuals have a rare condition called aphantasia, which prevents them from easily recreating images in their mind’s eye—in fact, the phrase “mind’s eye” may be meaningless to them.

“Some individuals with aphantasia have reported that they don’t understand what it means to ‘count sheep’ before going to bed,” said Wilma Bainbridge, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Chicago who recently led a study of the condition, which can be congenital or acquired through trauma. “They thought it was merely an expression, and had never realized until adulthood that other people could actually visualize sheep without seeing them.”

Bainbridge, who is an expert on the neuroscience of perception and memory, decided to experimentally quantify the differences between aphantasic individuals and those with typical imagery on a specific set of visual memory tasks. The goal was to better characterize aphantasia, which is little-studied, and tease apart differences between object and spatial memory.

For the study, published in the journal Cortex, Bainbridge and colleagues showed photographs of three rooms to dozens of individuals with both typical and limited imagery. They then asked the participants in both groups to draw the rooms, once from memory and once while looking at the photo as a reference.

The differences in the memory experiment were striking: Individuals with typical imagery usually drew the most salient objects in the room with a moderate amount of detail, like color and key design elements (a green carpet, rather than a rectangle).

Individuals with aphantasia had a harder time—they could place a few objects in the room, but their drawings were often simpler, and relied at times on written descriptions. For example, some wrote the word “window” inside an outline of a window rather than drawing the windowpanes.

While people with aphantasia lack visual imagery, they appear to have intact spatial memory, which is distinct from imagery and may be stored differently, according to Bainbridge. People who are congenitally blind, for example, can still describe the layout of a familiar room.

As such, individuals with aphantasia were able to place the objects that they did remember in the correct location within a room most of the time, just like those with typical imagery, even though they couldn’t remember many details.

In the above example, typical differences between aphantasic and control participants are clear: The aphantasic participant drew few details from memory and relied on verbal coding of the space, while the control participant drew more details. Both included details when drawing while viewing the original image. Credit: University of Chicago

And surprisingly, even though people with aphantasia remembered fewer objects overall, they also made fewer mistakes: They didn’t create any false memories of objects that hadn’t been in any of the rooms, and placed objects in the correct location—but the wrong room—only three times.

“One possible explanation could be that because aphantasics have trouble with this task, they rely on other strategies like verbal-coding of the space,” Bainbridge said. “Their verbal representations and other compensatory strategies might actually make them better at avoiding false memories.”

By contrast, people with typical imagery made fourteen mistakes overall, and regularly included objects that hadn’t been in the photographs. In one instance, a person even drew a piano into a living room that had only contained a fireplace, chairs and a couch. Bainbridge said this could be because they were drawing on their visual memories of other living rooms—something people with aphantasia couldn’t have done.

Both groups drew more objects, made no mistakes and scored equally well when they were asked to simply copy the photographs, suggesting that the difference is real and specific to memory, not artistic ability or effort.

Recognition is also not affected: People with aphantasia knew which pictures of rooms they had already seen when shown them a second time, and also recognize family and friends—though they cannot visualize their faces without seeing them.

Aphantasia has only come to light recently as a psychological phenomenon. Bainbridge said that’s due in part to famous people—including Ed Catmull, a co-founder of Pixar, and Blake Ross, a co-founder of Firefox—stepping forward and writing about their lack of experience with visual imagery, thereby calling attention to the condition.

Since aphantasia affects only a small percentage of the population, Bainbridge and her coauthors recruited participants from online forums where people with the condition have shared their experiences to ensure a large sample size of 61 aphantasic individuals and 52 controls with typical imagery. The drawings of both groups were scored objectively by almost 2,800 online volunteers.

Bainbridge said the study adds to a growing body of research that validates aphantasia as an experience and demonstrates key differences between object and spatial memory.

With co-authors Zoe Pounder and Alison Eardley at the University of Westminster and Chris Baker at the National Institute of Mental Health, she is hoping to further explore aphantasia as it is manifested in the brain, by using MRI scanning to elucidate some of the mechanisms behind imagery in typical and aphantasic individuals.

Reference: Wilma A. Bainbridge, Zo Pounder, Alison F. Eardley, Chris I. Baker, “Quantifying aphantasia through drawing: Those without visual imagery show deficits in object but not spatial memory”, Cortex, 2020, ISSN 0010-9452,
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cortex.2020.11.014.
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0010945220304317

Provided by University of Chicago

Big Brains And White Matter: New Clues About Autism Subtypes (Psychiatry)

UC Davis MIND Institute researchers tracked brain changes in children over many years using MRI scans.

Two groundbreaking studies at the UC Davis MIND Institute provide clues about possible types of autism linked to brain structure, including size and white matter growth.

The research is based on brain scans taken over many years as part of the Autism Phenome Project (APP) and Girls with Autism, Imaging of Neurodevelopment (GAIN) studies. It shows the value of longitudinal studies that follow the same children from diagnosis into adolescence.

“There is no other single site data set like ours anywhere,” said Christine Wu Nordahl, associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, MIND Institute faculty member and co-senior author on both papers. “In one of the studies we have over 1,000 MRI scans from 400 kids, which is unheard of. It’s been 15 years of work to get here.”

The researchers tracked brain growth and structure in hundreds of children from age 3 to age 12 © UC Davis Health

Big brains: An autism subtype?

In the first study, published in Biological Psychiatry, the researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to track brain size (volume) in 294 children with autism and 135 children without autism between the ages of 3 and 12. In children with autism, they found evidence of larger brain size relative to height – or disproportionate megalencephaly – a subtype that has been linked to higher rates of intellectual disability and poorer overall prognosis.

Previous cross-sectional research had found that children with autism have larger brains at early ages, but no evidence of larger brains in later childhood. The widely accepted theory is that these brains “normalized” or shrank as the children grew up.

The MIND Institute study found that wasn’t the case. The children who had bigger brains at age 3 still had bigger brains at age 12. Why? Unlike most research, which studies different individuals at different time points, this research studied the same children longitudinally, or over time.

Also, unlike most other studies, this one includes children with significant intellectual disabilities. These were the children who tended to have the “big brain” form of autism.

David Amaral, co-senior author on both studies, suggested that the difference between this and previous research was that children with intellectual disability were left out of previous cross-sectional studies focused on older children.

“Bigger brain size in autism has been linked to lower IQ, and children with intellectual disabilities are harder to scan as they get older,” said Amaral, a distinguished professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and MIND Institute faculty member. “It’s a matter of sampling bias and the previous “dogma” appears to be an artefact of who got scanned when,” he explained.

Children under age 5 can be scanned while they’re asleep, but Nordahl and her team have created unique, innovative protocols that allow researchers to more easily scan older children with intellectual disabilities while they’re awake.

“It’s so critical that we include those aspects of the autism spectrum that most impact quality of life, such as intellectual disability, anxiety and verbal functioning.” said Joshua Lee, postdoctoral scholar at the MIND Institute and the lead author on the study. “It’s important to capture everyone who has autism, not just the ones who are easiest to get images from.” 

White matter: Connecting the clinical dots

The second study, also published in Biological Psychiatry, linked changes in the brain’s white matter growth with autism traits in some children.

The researchers used a type of MRI scan called diffusion-weighted imaging, which allowed them to look at white matter regions, or tracts, in the brain. White matter provides the structural connections in the brain, allowing different regions to communicate with each other.

The study included 125 children with autism and 69 typically developing children who served as controls, between the ages of 2.5 and 7.

The researchers found that the development of the white matter tracts in the brain was linked to changes in autism symptom severity. They observed slower development in children whose symptom severity increased over time, and faster development in those with decreased severity over time.

“From a biological standpoint, this emphasizes the role of white matter development in autism and autism symptoms,” said Derek Sayre Andrews, postdoctoral scholar at the MIND Institute and lead author on the paper. “We hope that in the future, measurements like this can identify children who would benefit from more intensive intervention – and serve as a marker to determine the effectiveness of an intervention for a particular child,” he said. 

Changes in autism severity over time

The white matter research builds on a previous MIND Institute study, which found that while many children experience fairly stable levels of autism symptoms throughout childhood, a significant portion can be expected to increase or decrease in their symptom severity over time.

“This new analysis provides an important clue about the brain mechanism that may be involved in some of these changes,” said Amaral.

Studying sex differences

The studies are unusual not only because they include children with severe intellectual disability, but also because they include a larger number of girls, who tend to be under-represented in autism research.

“For the first time, we are able to have a large enough sample of girls, where we are able to evaluate their brain trajectories separate from boys to see how they’re different,” said Nordahl. “For example, we don’t see the big brain subtype as frequently in girls, but we do see subtle differences in how autistic girls’ brains are growing.”

Nordahl, who has also studied the role amygdala size may play in psychiatric challenges for young girls, noted that the MIND Institute’s longitudinal data set is likely to play a key role in many future studies about sex differences in autism.

“Collectively, I believe these studies are so important because they get us closer to a point where we can use our understanding of the underlying biology of autism to directly improve the quality of life for individuals in the autistic community,” Andrews said. “And that really is the ultimate goal of our research.”

Co-authors on “Longitudinal Evaluation of Cerebral Growth Across Childhood in Boys and Girls with Autism Spectrum Disorder” include Sally Ozonoff, Marjorie Solomon, Sally J. Rogers and Derek Sayre Andrews.

Funding for this study was provided by the National Institute of Mental Health (R01MH104438, R01MH103284, R01MH103371); the UC Davis MIND Institute Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center (U54HD079125); and Autism Center of Excellence (P50HD093079).

doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/ j.biopsych.2020.10.014

Co-authors on “A Longitudinal Study of White Matter Development in Relation to Changes in Autism Severity Across Early Childhood” include Joshua K. Lee, Danielle Jenine Harvey, Einat Waizbard-Bartov, Marjorie Solomon and Sally J. Rogers

Funding for this study was provided by the National Institute of Mental Health (R01MH104438 R01MH103284, R01MH103371). This project was also supported by the MIND Institute Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center (U54HD079125) and the MIND Institute Autism Research Training Program (T32MH073124).

doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2020.10.013.

Provided by UC Davis Health

7 Ways To Get Your Mind Back (Neuroscience)

Feel like you’ve “lost your mind”? Check out these science-based strategies.

Sometimes it can feel like our minds have been hijacked. Whether it’s from technologies designed to consume our attention, the anxieties of a pandemic, or simply the stress of working in a world that’s connected 24-7, most of us have a zillion things constantly running through our heads. This can leave us feeling frazzled—Wait! Where did the last hour go?

©Gordon Johnson From Pixabay

A mind on overdrive can not only mess with our ability to focus or be productive. It can also be distressing. Maybe we feel keyed up or agitated and end up snapping at people that don’t really deserve it. Or maybe we feel so tense that we’ve literally got a pain in the neck. Or maybe the ongoing stress of a full mind is hurting our sleep. Really, we just want to get our mind back, but how do we do it? Here are 7 science-based strategies you can start using today.

1. Stop Rumination Cycles

You know that feeling when you just keep thinking about the same thing over and over again—maybe you’re agonizing over something you said that landed wrong, or you’re stewing about something someone else did that got under your skin. You know that your thoughts aren’t getting you anywhere, but you’re just stuck in your head, unable to focus on anything else. That’s rumination. And it’s a monster that feeds on itself.

Stopping rumination requires actively shifting your mind. Easier said than done though, am I right? Usually the most effective way to shift your mind is to focus on something else entirely. For example, you could pick an object in the room and start listing every tiny detail you see—what color, shape, size is it? What else do you see when you look at it a bit longer? By focusing your attention on something else, even for a short period, you short-circuit those negative thought cycles.

2. Reframe And Refocus

When our minds get hijacked we are actually hyper-focused—we’re just focused on the wrong things. Usually we get stuck thinking about the negative part of whatever the thing is. If we reframe the situation, this time paying attention to the good things, we can shift gears and begin to settle our frantic mind.

One way to reframe a situation is to use cognitive reappraisal. Cognitive reappraisal is simply the act of shifting our thoughts to shift our emotions. We can do this in two ways. The first way is to think about how the situation could be worse—At least we’re not starving and homeless. The second way is to think about what’s actually good about our situation—Hey, maybe this is an opportunity to learn and grow. By reframing the situation, we get to choose what we focus on and we start to get our mind back.

3. Use Mindfulness

A buzzing mind is often one that focuses on either the past or the future. We may be upset about something from the past or we may worry about what will happen in the future. Either way, we are not here in the present moment. By using mindfulness, we can bring ourselves back into our body and finally get out of our head. So how do we do it?

To use mindfulness, we need to practice both awareness and acceptance. To be more aware, we need to start training our attention to notice the little stuff—How does it feel to breathe in and out? What sensations do we feel in our body? What are we thinking about and why? But awareness is not enough to calm our mind. In fact, hyper-awareness can lead to an even busier mind. We also need to cultivate acceptance by mentaly letting go of our thoughts when they arise—for example, you can imagine them floating away like leaves in a river or clouds in the sky. By training our minds to notice thoughts and then let go, we free our minds from the constant chatter.

4. Reboot Your Mind

The thing about our brain is that it likes to just keep doing the things it has always done. That means shifting our thoughts can be tough, especially for those of us who are overthinkers. Our brains have gotten so good at overthinking that they just don’t know any other way to operate. That’s why getting our mind back can sometimes require shutting down and rebooting our mind.

You can do a quick mental reboot just by changing the scenery. Go for a walk, go to a different room, or face a different direction. These subtle changes can interrupt the processes in your brain just enough to shift gears. For a bigger mental reboot, take a mini-vacation to a new location. This time, make sure your mind gets to think about something else. For example, maybe instead of obsessing about that work project, you do an activity that forces you to think about something else—something like climbing a mountain, cooking a new meal, or painting a picture. By doing different types of activities, you can reboot your mind and start fresh.

5. Show Your Mind Who’s Boss

We often feel at the mercy of our mind—it always seems to go running off wherever it wants. But at the core, our brain is just another body part, and ultimately we have control over our body parts. So how might we stop our brains running off just like we might stop our body running off?

We just need to use the parasympathetic nervous system to remind our brain who is boss. When we get caught up in a stress cycle, the parasympathetic nervous system works like the brakes. When we activate this system, it stops the fight or flight bodily responses that go along with a stressed mind. We could take a cold shower, gargle, or take a few long deep breaths—these things activate the parasympathetic nervous system and help you short-circuit anxieties that run through the mind.

6. Shift Your Mental Gears

If we’ve “lost our mind”, we’re often frustrated too. We just want “peace of mind” so we can simply get stuff done. This mental distress can be exhausting. But, let’s pause to reframe. The truth is that the things from the past that we obsess over may not have even happened the way we think they did. And the future things we worry about may not ever happen. So the silver lining is, we really do have a fantastic imagination! And we can use our imagination to get our mind back.

The truth is that thoughts we have are bothersome because they are negative. Rarely are we annoyed by positive thoughts. So why don’t we use our imagination to generate positive thoughts instead of negative thoughts? To use this strategy, first make sure you’re seated comfortably and close your eyes. Start to imagine you are in a beautiful, calming place. Then imagine you’re with people you love and doing things you love to do. Keep thinking these positive thoughts until your negative thoughts fall into the background. Finally, take a few deep breaths and sit with these thoughts for a moment. You’ve just used your imagination to get your mind back.

7. Get A Little Help To Calm Your Mind and Reset

You’ve just learned a bunch of ways to get your mind back. But sometimes your mind is so full that you need a little more help—you want something that you don’t have to think too much about or work too hard at. Maybe you need a quick reset after that intense working session, between zoom meetings, or before you go to bed, but you’ve only got 2 minutes (and about 2 brain cells) left to get your mind back. That’s when you need to reset your mind.

Neuroscientists have found that when you activate your brain in just the right ways, you can hard stop those distracting thought cycles. Your mind is clear and able to focus. And those lingering anxieties that hide somewhere deep inside the brain get released. All that’s left is calm—This must be what it feels like to have peace of mind.

Originally published at Think-Now.com.

The Mind and the Body (Neuroscience)

Some people can literally feel their heart beating in their chest. This type of perceptive ability varies from one person to the next and has to do with our interoceptive sense, which helps us understand and feel what’s going on inside our body. Our body’s sensory cells generate a constant stream of information about the movements of our organs, the pressure in our vessels, our spatial orientation and, of course, our heartbeat. Millions of impulses rush to our brain 24/7, giving us a sense and awareness of our body, at least in part.

An increasing number of researchers today believe that internal body signals are the basis for the development of our sense of self. (Image: iStock / quickshooting)

An increasing number of scientists now believes that these internal signals are a prerequisite for developing the sense of self and self-consciousness that are the defining characteristics of the human species. “The experience of our consciousness depends on our body’s sensory signals,” says Bigna Lenggenhager, professor of cognitive neuropsychology at UZH, who researches the physical self and the development of self-perception.

Descartes’ Error

One of the pioneers in the field of body and consciousness is the US neuroscientist Antonio Damasio. In the 1990s, his book Descartes’ Error presented an evolutionary-biological theory on self-consciousness that contradicts the hypotheses of 16th-century philosopher and mathematician René Descartes. The French scholar saw the body and the mind as separate entities, with the tiny pineal gland as the principal seat of the soul and the place in which all our thoughts are formed.

According to Damasio, this dualist separation of mind and body is an error. In his book, he explains how the information on biochemical and physical body functions became more and more integrated as organisms developed. This ultimately led to the development of the brainstem, where an unconscious and rudimentary proto-self was generated. In the millions of years that followed, the Homo genus developed higher cognitive functions in the cortex above the brainstem, which enables us to reflect on and change our behavior. From this, our consciousness emerged, along with our language skills and memory. These abilities are located in multiple regions of the brain which work together and onto which the body’s sensory input is projected. “By integrating these signals, a coherent sense of self is created,” says Lenggenhager.

Break new ground

The neuropsychologist researches how changes in our bodily self-perception affect how we experience our self. Her aim is to better understand our self-consciousness, but she also wants to break new ground when it comes to treating people suffering from body dysmorphic disorders (BDD). People with BDD perceive some part of their body to be severely flawed. An extreme form of this disorder is xenomelia, where sufferers believe one or more of their limbs do not belong to their body.

It seems that our bodies and our consciousness are much closely linked than previously thought. Of course, external influences such as our social environment and family situation remain important factors. Likewise, psychoactive substances such as drugs can alter the biochemical processes in our brain and distort our self-perception.

Seat of our lifelong, conscious identity

As an object of perception, however, the body can deliver new insights and theories on some long-held mysteries, such as the sense of continuity of our personal identity, which has long been on the minds’ of consciousness researchers. Every day, we wake up and experience ourselves as one and the same person, for as long as we live. There is speculation that the uninterrupted stream of organ signals such as the heartbeat could be the foundation of our sense of self. The heart could then not only be considered our body’s engine, pumping oxygen into our system, but also the seat of our lifelong, conscious identity.

Provided by University of Zurich

You Have a Beautiful, Powerful Mind (Psychology)

Our thoughts are so powerful that they actually do shape our reality.

Did you happen to see the movie A Beautiful Mind? It was released in 2001 to great critical success, and it won four Academy Awards, including best picture.

The main character of the film, played by Russell Crowe, is John Nash, a real-life mathematician who actually won the Nobel prize, as the movie depicts, and also suffered from schizophrenia, as Crowe masterfully interprets.

Source: Sasha Lebedeva/ Unsplash

Schizophrenia is a terrible mental illness that involves hearing and seeing things that aren’t actually there. People with schizophrenia believe that what they are seeing and hearing is real. Typically, these hallucinations are extremely negative ones that center on the person with the illness. Nash, for example, heard voices in his head that told him constantly that he was a failure. Even though the world saw him as a great success, Nash could not believe that this was true because of his schizophrenia. Not even distinguished positions at some of the world’s greatest universities or accolades as high as the Nobel Prize could convince him otherwise. Part of Nash’s hallucination was that he was a failure, even as he was admired throughout the world.

I once read a study about models. Some of the most beautiful people in the world are models, yet when asked if they consider themselves beautiful, this research revealed the surprising fact that most did not. Most models felt they were average, and most reported being dissatisfied with some noticeable flaw to their appearance. Gracing the covers of magazines and walking the world’s most elite runways didn’t shake these models’ views that they were ordinary, or even less than ordinary.

It’s possible that you’re reading these examples, and you’re wondering what these words have to do with you. You may be thinking, “I’m not a supermodel or a brilliant mathematician. I’m just an average Joe.” I won’t try to convince you otherwise, because the bottom line is that you’re absolutely right. We are always right, and whatever we think about ourselves is true and correct.

Whatever we are feeding our minds, that’s what we are. Our thoughts are so powerful that they actually do shape our reality. Never mind the fact that they may have nothing to do with what’s true or apparent to others. What we feed our minds is what we believe, and what we believe is our truth.

If we feel we do not have enough, we suffer. This is true, even if in the world’s eyes we have everything we could possibly need. The root cause of our suffering is not what we have or don’t have, or what we’ve accomplished or not accomplished. At the base of our suffering is our thoughts about our lives.

What we are feeding our minds throughout the day will be our reality. This is true even if our reality is madness. What we are feeding our minds matters.

The first thing we have to do is discover what it is that we are thinking about all day long. This involves a straightforward assessment without judgment. We must take a walk past the metaphorical mirror and take a look. Maybe we are saying, “I’m bad, “I’m ugly,” or “I’m stupid.” Do we like these feelings? Probably not. So let’s focus on something else.

John Nash could still see his hallucinations, but he made the remarkable choice to focus on what was real. If our thoughts are hurting us, we should focus on other things. If our thoughts about ourselves are negative, they will only lead to suffering. If we are to live happy lives—and obviously that is our goal, since we are meeting here in the space—we need to take control of the thoughts that hurt us.

The thoughts we experience have to do with all parts of our lives. Maybe we focus our attention on our looks, our success, our health, or even where we live. All of these things have the ability to cause us to suffer if we allow them to, or if we go on wishing our lives were different.

I live and work in Southern California. Public transportation here is not the best, and most of us get around by car. When we get a car, usually we love the feeling. We can get ourselves around from place to place and be productive while doing what we enjoy. But then we get on the road, and we can’t help but notice that others have nicer cars than we do. We might think, “My car is ugly” or “I hate it.” These are the sorts of thoughts we create all day long. But we have a choice in the thoughts we express or believe.

One final step we can take is a hard one, but so worthwhile. I talk about it often, so it may sound familiar, but it is this: Stop paying attention to your thoughts. Instead, just be. Instead of shifting your attention to positive things, just live in the now, and really savor each moment and each breath. We don’t need to label everything as good or bad. Rather, we can choose to experience each new breath with wonder as if we are experiencing it for the first time. If we think about the car analogy, perhaps we can stop thinking about whether our car is pretty or nice or fast, and instead we can experience it as if it is brand new and we are driving for the very first time. We can say, “Wow! I have a car!” And we can exhilarate in the feeling of the wind whipping through the windows and the speed with which we get from here to there.

Sometimes the world seems to think highly of us. Other times, it does not. But I’m making the choice just to suck the marrow out of life. When we need to shift our thoughts to something else, we can—or we can just enjoy the presence and stillness of living life one moment at a time.

This article is republished here from psychology today. Author of this article is Robert Puff.

Your Mind Wanders Half The Time You’re Awake (Neuroscience)

Try this: Clear your mind. Think of absolutely nothing. Take the next minute or so to try it; we’ll wait. Done? Great. What went through your head? If it was something like, “Why is this article telling me what to do? Don’t forget to swing by the grocery store later. I’m hungry. Can a ghost and a zombie come from the same person?” then good news: You’re completely normal. Mind-wandering is your brain’s default mode. That doesn’t mean you need to accept it, though — learning to focus your mind has a lot of benefits.

When we say mind-wandering is the brain’s default mode, that’s not a metaphor. The part of the brain that starts its engines the minute you stop trying to think is called the default mode network, or just the default network. The discovery of this network happened by accident: Neuroscientists in the mid-20th century noticed that brain activity in certain areas spiked when their subjects were asked to rest, even though that rest was included as the scientific control for experiments looking into other brain regions. The brain was supposed to be quiet, but for some reason, it started chattering.

It wasn’t until the 1970s when someone actually looked into this odd activity spike. The Swedish brain physiologist David Ingvar took scans of the brain’s blood flow during rest and noticed that this spike happened in specific areas, most noticeably in the frontal lobe — the center of memory, learning, and cognition. In the early 2000s, a group of researchers used more advanced imaging to identify the responsible regions even more specifically and named this web of brain areas the “default mode network.”

In essence, the default mode network makes up the parts of the brain that take a break when we’re paying attention, but jump into action when we’re not focusing on anything. It’s what leads you to daydream about the future, obsess over your fears, and reminisce about the past. It’s the jingle that pops in your head and the random fact you suddenly remember. In fact, memory is a big one: a 2012 study suggests that greater mind wandering is associated with a higher capacity for working (short-term) memory.

A wandering mind is perfectly, utterly normal. But that doesn’t mean it’s harmless.

Studies have shown that wandering minds aren’t as happy as focused minds, but which direction that goes is in question. A 2010 study in the journal Science found that mind wandering leads to negative moods, but not the opposite; a 2017 study found that fantasizing about the future specifically can lead to depressive symptoms over time. Other studies, however, found that the opposite is true: a bad mood leads to a wandering mind, not vice versa. If the former is true, it could mean mind wandering is making you miserable; if the latter is true, it could mean that it’s just a way to cope when you’re feeling blue.

Of course, there are other, more obvious drawbacks to a wandering mind. When you’re not focused, your thinking suffers: Your reading comprehension, memory, and overall cognitive control decrease. When you need to think creatively, daydreaming can be a powerful tool, but when you need to get down to business, focus is best.

So how do you sharpen your focus? That’s where meditation comes in. For a 2012 study, neuroscientist Wendy Hasenkamp and her team had people sit in an MRI brain scanner while they performed “focused attention meditation” — the kind where you focus your attention on one thing, like the sensation of breathing — and had them push a button every time they noticed their minds wandering. The scans showed that, sure enough, the brain’s default mode network activated during mind wandering. But when the meditators noticed it, it only took 12 seconds for them to redirect their attention and let the attention-focused executive brain network take over. Experienced meditators did this even more quickly.

“This might explain how it feels easier to ‘drop’ thoughts as you become more experienced in meditation — and thus better able to focus,” Hasenkamp writes in Greater Good Magazine. “Thoughts become less sticky because your brain gets re-wired to be better at recognizing and disengaging from mind-wandering.” This makes sense; meditation makes you practice focusing your attention, and practice makes perfect. The next time your mind wanders, realize that it’s just your brain’s default. Then redirect your attention to the task at hand.

“Money Can’t Buy Happiness”, Isn’t Always True (Psychology)

We all know the tired cliché: “Money can’t buy you happiness.” But when you compare a Hollywood billionaire to someone who just got evicted from their apartment, the phrase starts to lose its meaning. Clearly, there’s a certain amount of money that can mean the difference between happiness and misery. But what amount is that? In 2010, researchers decided to find out, and their answer was pretty interesting.

For their study, which was published in the journal PNAS, Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deacon differentiated between two types of happiness. The first they called emotional well-being, defined as a person’s day-to-day emotional experience — “the frequency and intensity of experiences of joy, stress, sadness, anger, and affection that make one’s life pleasant or unpleasant,” as the researchers put it. The second they called life evaluation, defined as the self-perception of one’s life as a whole.

To gauge people’s feelings on these two metrics, They analyzed 450,000 responses to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which is a daily survey of U.S. residents conducted by the Gallup Organization. The survey asked questions about things like how they were feeling yesterday and how they see life as a whole, in addition to basic demographic information such as gender, age, and income. Questions about emotional experiences were things like “Did you feel stress during a lot of the day yesterday?” and “Did you smile or laugh a lot yesterday?” Life assessment, meanwhile, required people to imagine a ladder with numbered rungs — rung 0 at the bottom, representing the worst possible life, and rung 10 at the top, representing the best. The survey then asked, “On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time?”

Here’s what they found: When it comes to emotional well-being, money certainly does buy happiness — but only to a point. The more money you make, the more your day-to-day happiness improves until you hit around $75,000 per year. After that, the improvement levels off. That means someone who makes $150,000 per year isn’t likely to have a significantly happier day than someone making $75k. But when it comes to life evaluation? That’s a whole different ballgame. No matter their income bracket, people who make more money have a more favorable evaluation of their own life as a whole. The study concluded that “high income buys life satisfaction but not happiness, and that low income is associated both with low life evaluation and low emotional well-being.”

Why is this? Kahneman and Deacon have some ideas. “Low income exacerbates the emotional pain associated with such misfortunes as divorce, ill health, and being alone,” they write. It could be that once you have enough to weather the storms that head your way, it doesn’t matter how much extra you make — your day-to-day life is pretty much stable. But, the researchers note, it’s generally recognized that overall life evaluation is tied to your level of education, which in turn is tied to your income. In that way, the fact that money can buy you a positive assessment of your life makes sense. Maybe it’s time we all asked for a raise.

Knowing The Ending Makes The Story Better, Not Worse, Says Spoiler Paradox (Psychology)

When you miss the finale of your favorite show, avoiding all social media until you watch it. Is. A. Must. The risk of catching a spoiler is too great, and nothing is worse than accidentally stumbling upon the season’s last big twist. Other than not reading a spoiler, that is …

Don’t chastise your Facebook friends for ruining the ending; they’re only making it better for you. Show a little gratitude, would ya?

According to a 2011 study published in Psychological Science, story spoilers don’t spoil stories. (Actually, that is the exact title of the study.) Researchers from the University of California, San Diego, conducted three experiments with 12 short stories from authors such as John Updike, Agatha Christie, Roald Dahl, and Anton Chekhov. Each story contained some sort of juicy twist, mystery, or irony.

The stories were given to the participants in three conditions: the ending was revealed as part of the introductory text, the ending was revealed in a text separate from the story, or the ending was not revealed at all. The study found that participants enjoyed the spoiled stories more than the unspoiled stories, preferring the stories that had the ending revealed in a separate text the best.

In other words, that give-away Facebook status you accidentally scrolled to will make the season finale of “Game of Thrones” that much better. Although we’re calling this the spoiler paradox, it’s not technically a paradox. It’s just a little ironic how we go so far out of our way not to “ruin” the endings of stories when “ruining” them may actually improve them. If you believe this research, “No spoilers!” should be interpreted as a demand not to withhold the ending.

Now that we’ve demolished everything you’ve ever considered holy in storytelling, we need to tackle the big question: Why do we like having prior knowledge of the big twist, the grand reveal, the closing whammy? Knowing the end of a movie, book, or TV show frees up some space in your brain to focus in on details, instead of expending mental energy on trying to predict the ending. The study’s authors describe how “suspense regarding the outcome may not be critical, and could even impair pleasure by distracting attention from relevant details and aesthetic attributes.”

Don’t you have a favorite movie that you still love watching over and over? (Of course you do — it’s good for you, too!) Basically, knowing what will happen helps us understand the story with greater ease. And, as this 2001 study maintains, the human brain really likes when things are easy for it to grasp.

“So it could be,” said Jonathan Leavitt, a co-author of the 2011 study, “that once you know how it turns out, it’s cognitively easier — you’re more comfortable processing the information — and can focus on a deeper understanding of the story.” As you take this knowledge to your next Netflix binge, just know that Bruce Willis is dead the whole time. You’re welcome.