5 Things We've Learned From Our Colleagues Lately

Experts share their favorite recent tips and strategies.

Posted Oct 05, 2018

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I'm fascinated by which psychological strategies experts use in their own lives.  To this end, I thought I'd ask some of my Psychology Today colleagues about tips or inspiration they'd read lately that they were personally using.

Here's what they said:

From Toni Bernhard, JD:

"About a week ago, I clicked on a Psychology Today article by Arash Emamzadeh. I’d been intrigued by the title: 'How to Improve Your Memory in Less than 15 Minutes.' Who wouldn’t like to do that?!

Emamzadeh reports on the results of a study conducted at the University of Mississippi. The 'how to' is simple: engage in about 15 minutes of moderate to strenuous exercise before undertaking a task that involves learning or memorization (whether it be studying for an exam or learning lyrics to a song). 

I’m not able to engage in extended aerobic exercise due to chronic illness, but I can walk my dog at a moderate pace for 15 minutes. And now I will before I sit down to learn something new."

From Barb Markway, PhD.

"Do Nothing. I've really been enjoying listening to Dr. Seth Gillihan's new psychology podcast, Think Act Be. In a recent discussion of insomnia, I had an 'a-ha' moment when his guest, Dr. Michael Perlis, said the best thing to do for acute insomnia is 'nothing.' Like many people, I sometimes have difficulty sleeping, and then I worry about not sleeping, and then I try to 'catch up' on my sleep by napping and going to bed extra early the next night. But what happens when I try to make up for the lost sleep? My sleep schedule gets out of whack and then I’m back to not sleeping and a vicious cycle develops. Dr. Perlis said it will be 'the hardest nothing you ever do,' but your body will reset itself naturally if you allow it to. This is a good metaphor for so many things. Sometimes I go into 'fix-it' mode too quickly when perhaps letting things be would be a better approach. Since listening to the advice on Dr. Gillihan's podcast, I have used the phrase 'do nothing' to keep from getting into a loop of worry. It has been enormously freeing, and I've been sleeping better!"

From Seth Gillihan, PhD (creator of the aforementioned podcast as well his PT blog):

(Seth generously said his insight came from my work)

"All of us have blind spots—psychotherapists as much as anyone—and I've found the writing of Alice Boyes very helpful in identifying some of mine. One of the biggest eye-openers for me was starting to recognize what she calls 'hidden drains on your time and energy.' I'm finding these everywhere now, and it's been so satisfying to address them. For example, for years I would write a grocery list from scratch every week, which involved thinking about what we might need, copying items from the whiteboard on the refrigerator, and looking back through old lists in my notebook. Not uncommonly I would forget something we needed if it was an item we only purchase a few times a year. And yet, it never occurred to me to put a different system in place.  When I read her book The Healthy Mind Toolkit, I was struck by the idea of master lists, and created a checklist for grocery shopping that has all the common items we buy. Now I simply keep it on the side of the fridge, marking the items we've run out of. It's a silly example in a way, and yet these kinds of tweaks mean less frustration and wasted time, which has a positive effect on my mood and my interactions with my family."

From Susan Newman, PhD:

"I often return to Susan K. Perry, PhD’s PT post, '7 Suggestions to Help You Find Writerly Flow: Advice.' Within the insights and approaches—all different—I find a suggestion or motivation to move me from stuck to tackling the task at hand…or simply to keep me working.  Two of my favorites are:

  • Novelist Martin Amis told Dr. Perry, 'You're never going to retire. You get so addicted to living your life on two levels—the written and the lived—that you'd go completely nuts if it ended. You know, left with mere life.'

  • From Peter Hedges, a novelist, screenwriter, and film director, 'Writing is hard, it's a job, a lot of times it's discouraging, and sometimes you could yank out all your hair. But when all is said and done, it's fun.'"

From me, Alice Boyes, PhD:

I recently got an advance copy of Dr. Barb Markway's new book about self-confidence (with co-author Celia Ampel).  Barb is my go-to person when I want to read something warm and nurturing.  There are many useful tidbits in the book, and these were two that were new to me:

  • She mentions making a list of your strengths and defines strengths as "skills you enjoy using regardless of the task."  I hadn't heard this conceptualization before and it got me thinking about how I'd define my strengths if I looked at it that way.
  • She explains that "The Latin roots of confidence mean 'with trust.' Acting with trust usually means you’re not completely certain of what you’re doing—you’re taking a leap of faith."  This resonated with me because I often need to remind myself that success only requires moments of courage (e.g., to push the button on decisions) and not constant courage.  It'll be a useful reminder when I need to push forward with an action or decision, and I wasn't aware of it before reading it in her book.

Take Home Messages

  • Even with all the strategies we experts already know, we still pick up new ideas and tips from self-help material, whether that's blog articles, podcasts, or books.
  • Very simple strategies can be as impactful as complex ones.
  • When we read advice, we think about the specific ways it might apply to us, and how we could use that strategy to shape our behavior, emotions, and thoughts.
  • Remembering advice when you're in the midst of a situation in which that advice would be useful can be tricky, but it gets easier with practice.  The examples show that this is something that, as experts, we're good at.   You too can get better at this through lots of practice!