Nuggets from Psychology Today's 200 Latest "Essential Reads"

Useful, not-obvious takeaways.

Posted Dec 15, 2019

James St. John, Flickr, CC 2.0
Source: James St. John, Flickr, CC 2.0

Psychology Today's editors select a small percentage of its articles as Essential Reads. Five years ago, I reviewed many to identify some particularly useful nuggets.

It seems time for a current version. So, from among the latest 200 Essential Reads, here are excerpts containing particularly useful takeaways. For most, I add a comment.

From Bella De Paulo’s post, Why You Want to Be Alone and Why That Matters

For some people who choose to be alone, there is no reason at all to be concerned. People who choose to be alone for positive reasons (enjoying the quiet and the privacy; getting in touch with your feelings; doing things you love) seem to be at no special risk for feeling lonely or anxious. Instead, people who choose to be alone for positive reasons may be more likely to enjoy greater self-acceptance and personal growth.

MN: That post and DePaulo’s extensive other writings on singlehood are a vital antidote to the broad-brush view that people are healthiest when social and coupled.

From John Randolph’s 3 Key (and Free) Activities that Boost Brain Health

Individuals who engage in moderate activity at least 20-30 minutes per day tend to have better cognitive abilities like attention, memory, and executive functioning. Exercise helps us grow and fortifies brain cells in regions like the hippocampus and frontal lobe—areas that govern how we learn, remember, and process information.

MN: Mainstream medical advice regarding exercise is 30 to 45 minutes of moderate exercise five or six days a week. Plus, a few minutes an hour of even stair-walking or housecleaning is wise. As they say, sitting is the new smoking.

From Noam Shpancer’s Is Willpower the New Self-Esteem?

In sum, surrounding yourself with cookies and counting on your willpower to prevent you from indulging is not your best strategy in the long term. Good planning (take a homemade snack for the road so you’re not yearning for cookies), good habits (take the route home that doesn’t pass by the cookie store), and arranging the environment in helpful ways (don’t keep a cookie jar in your lap) will beat straight-up willpower every time.

MN: The converse is also wise: Make desirables easy to get: carrots and salsa rather than cake at eye-level in the fridge. Put that report you should read on your desk.

From Aaron Ben-Zeev’s “Now or Never” or “Love You Forever”

Accept the temporary nature of love—as of life—but still try to establish meaningful love, incorporating both momentary, exhilarating experiences and ongoing, meaningful development.

MN: That makes sense to me, yet I came away from reading the article feeling glad that my wife Barbara and I have chosen, despite our real differences, to love each other monogamously forever.

From Amy Morin’s Does Online Therapy Work?

Research consistently shows that online treatment can be very effective for many mental health issues. Here are the results of a few studies:

A 2014 study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that online treatment was just as effective as face-to-face treatment for depression.

A 2018 study published in the Journal of Psychological Disorders found that online cognitive behavioral therapy is, "effective, acceptable, and practical health care." The study found the online cognitive behavioral therapy was equally as effective as face-to-face treatment for major depression, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder.

A 2014 study published in Behaviour Research and Therapy found that online cognitive behavioral therapy was effective in treating anxiety disorders. Treatment was cost-effective and the positive improvements were sustained at the one-year follow-up.

From Cody Kommers’ Why Seeing a Therapist Isn’t Always the Right Choice

There are quite a few ways to take an active role in working through the kinds of difficulties that we all at one point or another will face. Therapy is one of them. Reading books is another, especially if you can find books that have helped people you know get through similar situations.

MN: A usually more time-effective approach to bibliotherapy than reading books is reading articles found in a Google search. Articles appearing near the top of search results tend to be the most linked-to, and thus widely perceived as useful.

From Jonathan Stevens’ It’s Time To Change How We Talk About Addiction Disorders

Instead of using language that focuses on the “problem,” use language that focuses on treatment, remission, and recovery from a chronic disease... In one research study, individuals in recovery... preferred recovery-focused labels such as “recurrence of use,” “person with a substance use disorder,” “recovering person,” and “person in long-term recovery.”

MN: That intervention seems logical, research-supported, respectful of the individual, and has no side effects.

From Albert Rothenberg’s, Are Brilliance and Genius Associated with Disturbance?

I have carried out research interviews with more than 110 literary and art prizewinners and 45 Nobel laureates in physics, chemistry, medicine, and physiology... there has been no serious mental illness among them.

MN: I can’t resist including something from one of my Essential Reads. This is from 24 Rules of Thumb for a Better Life

The traffic light rule. In your utterance’s first 30 seconds, your light is green. In the second 30, it’s yellow—the person may be starting to think you've said enough. At the one-minute mark, you usually should shut up or ask a question.

Accept or leave. Changing someone else's foundational characteristic is even harder than changing your own—ask any psychotherapist. Perhaps after providing a bit of feedback that fails to help, you’re usually wise to accept your friend or romantic partner’s weakness... or leave. Trying to "fix" a person is a risky proposition.

Suppress and distract. Yes, sometimes a personal problem requires psychotherapy and/or drugs. But often, it’s wiser to suppress unwanted thoughts and distract yourself by doing something more constructive or pleasurable. Therapy, especially that which focuses on past trauma tends to build the memory neurons associated with the problem or past negative experience. In contrast, suppress and distract tends to atrophy those neurons, thus making you happier.

Is there a better use of my time?  Using that rule of thumb before making even minor decisions can make a big difference in your life.

I read this aloud on YouTube.