14 Nuggets from Psychology Today’s "Essential Reads"

Helpful ideas from the headlines.

Posted Feb 25, 2021 | Reviewed by Kaja Perina

Vilsekogen, Flickr, CC 2.0
Source: Vilsekogen, Flickr, CC 2.0

Psychology Today's editors select a small percentage of its blog posts as "Essential Reads." Since the previous time I posted a group of nuggets from "Essential Reads," the editors have selected hundreds more.

I've now reviewed those to select 14 ideas that might especially appeal to readers of a blog called "How to Do Life." Each is followed by my comment.

How to Remember Stories

"When you hear a killer story,  . . . (right away), in the little notebook you always carry in your back pocket. (Right?) jot a note. . . Don’t (flesh it out)  for at least a week. Waiting helps you separate the wheat from the chaff.” 

I always carry a FlipNote with me. It's a convenient medium for taking notes: It fits in any pocket, its covers are aluminum so it doesn't get dog-eared, and you can't close it without reinserting its little pen, so you always have a pen handy. I leave the FlipNote on my wallet when I come home, which ensures I have it at the ready, not just for stories but for ideas and to-dos.

The Science of Flirting: Deciphering Subtle Signals

"(In the studies), real interest was discernible only if women kept giving signals over time. Later in the conversation, women who were interested tended to tilt their heads, use more hand gestures, and play with their clothing more. Men who were interested spent more time talking."

I wonder if men's increased talking is counterproductive. Most people want to be heard more than talked at.

Three Ways to Feel Better Right Now

"Researchers have demonstrated that just a few minutes of deep and slow breathing can significantly decrease feelings of anger, depression, tension, and even physical pain. There’s not much evidence that the specific program of deep and slow breathing matters—just pick one that is comfortable for you."

My clients and I have found that even a single slow, deep breath can be calming.

Breaking Bread Together Leads to Better Negotiation Outcomes

"Families, teams, and other social groups that eat together may fare better than groups that don't. Negotiations that take place via Zoom may be at a disadvantage because they can't be preceded by an in-person communal meal. Perhaps it is time to invent a new ritual that can be performed at a distance yet maintains the essential features of breaking bread together."

I'm seeing increasing number of breakfast, lunch, and dinner Zoom meetings. I've even seen one in which the convener drove her home-baked brownies to the five other participants' homes. Of course, they were all nearby.

Are You Lonely or ALonely

"ALonely people inherently desire more solitude than others do, and when it’s not connected with shyness or social anxiety, seeking time alone is a perfectly well-adjusted thing to do."

That is becoming more acceptable, in part thanks to fellow Psychology Today blogger Bella De Paulo's extensive research and writing on the viability, often the wisdom, of the largely solo life.

How to Build Happier Workplaces After the COVID Era

"For those who can work from home, a hybrid model that allows flexibility is ideal. Choosing a few days a week to work from home for tasks best suited to do so, while choosing to work from the office or being on the road for a few days to build social and intellectual capital can give the best of both worlds."

One size doesn't fit all. Some people are best working from home full-time, others never. Some work can be done remotely, other work cannot. Some people need a boss's watchful eye, others are better off independent. Some employees have a quiet home, others not. Flexibility should rule.

All Therapy Is Exposure Therapy

"Therapy involves a guided attempt to overcome avoidance. . .  (Most therapy that works) enacts the exposure process. To a non-trivial degree, all therapy is exposure therapy."

In some situations, avoidance may be wise. For example, is it always wise to focus on past trauma?

How to Recognize and Respond to a Fake Apology

"Notoriously bad ways to make amends:

A statement that contains a “but” (“I’m sorry, but…”) invalidates the apology.

Similarly, “if” (“I’m sorry if…”) suggests that your hurt may not have happened.

Vague wording (“for what happened”) fails to take personal responsibility.

Passive voice (“the mistake that you were affected by”) is squirming out of responsibility.

Too many words, explanations, and justifications crowd the picture."

I'd add  that it's not always wise to apologize for a wrongdoing, for example, if the recipient of the apology will use it to obtain excessive recompense or power. Let's say you said something insensitive. Assess whether your apology will make it more likely that your partner will keep bringing up your error as a way to gain power over you.

Why “Normal” People Intentionally Hurt Others

“Sadism, although uncommon generally, is more common than we think. . . We might excuse mean-spirited behavior as a joke when it might signal something more sinister. Accordingly, in choosing friends and romantic partners, we should examine manners as well as the underlying motivation.”

A single hurtful statement or act is more likely to be inadvertent, but a second and especially a third, may signal that it's wise to avoid the person.

Are There Really Multiple Intelligences?

That post's author, Jonathan Wai, quotes from Russell Warne’s new book, In the Know: 35 Myths About Human Intelligence: "One myth I address is that it is difficult to measure intelligence. The reality is that it is one of the easiest psychological traits to measure. Because intelligence is general, any task that requires some sort of cognitive effort will measure intelligence. Academic tests, short-term memory tasks, logic problems, pattern completion, and many, many other tasks can all measure intelligence."

Indeed, a rich literature supports that contention. For example, Greg Barnett, Senior Vice President of Science at Predictive Index, wrote that tests of cognitive ability are "among the best predictors of training success and job performance across all job levels and industries. People with higher scores on these tests tend to catch on quickly, figure things out on their own, and make sense of things in relatively short order."

Pseudoscientific Treatments for Addiction are Everywhere

"The precise nature of how naturopathy treats the underlying cause of addiction remains unclear and dependent on the often implausible theoretical rationale for the particular naturopathic treatment. One such treatment is homeopathy, which is a pseudoscientific, widely discredited, and unsafe approach to health, wherein the final product is typically just distilled water. Unfortunately, naturopathic treatments for addiction are widely promoted in popular media and alternative medicine circles."

That comports with the reporting in many scientific as well as popular publications, including  Consumer Reports.

Why No One Should Be Surprised at Politicians’ Scandals

"Psychological data indicate . . . there really is something about politicians that predisposes them to scandalous behavior, prevents them from owning up to it, understanding the hypocrisy of contradictory public statements, and caring about the mismatch between their public persona and their private activities. . . There are personality features that distinguish such people and keep them from realizing the effect of what they have done to others — narcissism, power motivation, high risk-taking, and a false self. Politicians are more likely than others to display them all."

That makes sense to me.

Why the Pursuit of Unanimous Beliefs Can Harm Us All

“If a person doesn't fall in line with the group’s beliefs or stances, individuals are called out or publicly shamed or, worse, threatened with physical harm. If none of these strategies work, they are canceled out entirely . . . “Many group members agree with the majority’s opinion just because they feel obligated to do so, or are unsure of their own opinion or even silently intimidated by the majority. The result is what psychologist Irving Janis has described as groupthink."

It's a timeless axiom that wise decisions, whether our own or made by leaders, emanate not from censoring or censuring unpopular views but from respectful consideration of the full marketplace of responsibly derived ideas.

Do Kids Really Misbehave for Attention?

"The attention-seeking hypothesis has been challenged. . .  Instead of giving your child a time-out when he gets out of control, for example, you give him a “time-in” by engaging with him in a warm and sympathetic way to help him learn how to cope when he gets upset. Instead of demonstrating your authority by enforcing limits and rules, you negotiate and reason toward a solution that works for everyone."

While that's a worthy aspiration, in many parents' busy lives, there won't always be time or patience for "engaging with him in a warm and sympathetic way." I do know that, as a child, I would have loved my parents to use such an approach, even intermittently.

I read this aloud on YouTube.