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Resilience

Reassuring people can make them worry

in Editor Pick/Work Psychology by

I have a relative who described how he worried for several months leading up to his wedding. The actual wedding was no concern nor was the commitment. It was the wedding speech he dreaded.

He delivered the speech perfectly and breathed a sigh of relief.

I also have a colleague who complained about a sore foot. Although he had been doing a lot of extra walking, he naturally assumed he had a blood clot.

There was no blood clot or anything serious.

After experiencing trouble swallowing I started to worry that I had oesophageal cancer. Never mind the fact that this cancer affects only a tiny percentage of the population and they are usually older folk who smoke. Nevertheless, my brain told me that death was looming.

The tests came back negative.

Does reassuring people help?

In the face of these worries and concerns our natural tendency is to reassure others that everything is going to be ok.

Interestingly, at least in the health literature, individuals can end up worrying even more when they are reassured. Studies show, for example, that children who are reassured by their parents or nurses prior to having an injection end up becoming more distressed and worried.

It seems that individuals can feel as though something particularly awful is about to happen if you’re going to all that effort to prepare them for the worst.

No doubt many of us have felt that way prior to an event that makes us anxious. On our first day at a new job we might feel more anxious if our family members approach us with big smiles to wish us luck. You only wish someone luck if there is the prospect that things could go really badly.

How often do you wish someone luck before they go to the movies?

At work during organisational restructures and change we may appreciate and expect regular communication about what’s about to happen. This communication and management involvement is a textbook approach to managing change.

But what if this continuous reassurance leads people to think, ‘Why are they reassuring me so much? Should I be worried?’

Should you reassure yourself?

Humans are good at reassuring themselves in the absence of support. As children we learn to transfer the support and assurance of others into our minds so that we always have a virtual parent or friend to calm us down.

Therapy used to focus a lot on this positive self-talk as a means of helping individuals cope with the anxieties and stressors of life. If you had negative thoughts and worries you would be instructed to challenge the legitimacy of the concern.

‘Excuse me grey matter. Do you have any references to back up the claim that I will, indeed, die of a heart attack?’

But let’s look at how this can play out. Our mind worries. Our mind reassures. Our mind worries. Our mind reassures. The brain is flexible. Whatever logic you throw at yourself, it can create all kinds of concerns that you missed.

‘Hello, Nicholas, I know you are in the low risk group for heart failure and I know there’s no family history. But what if? What if?’

Cognitive Fusion

Experts in mindfulness give this tangle of thoughts a pretty futuristic sounding name, cognitive fusion.  All it really means is that you are engaging with your thoughts as if they were real.

Mindfulness teaches individuals to practice disengaging with their thoughts instead of challenging them.

It’s a bit like dealing with an argumentative peer or neighbour. You could invest a lot of energy and time debating with them to try to make them see reason only to find that they counter every one of your points and throw up several red herrings.

Instead, the best approach might be to simply disengage from the debate entirely.

6 reasons why being open to learning is your finest quality

in Editor Pick/Work Psychology by

There are billions of people on this planet and very few are really the best at what they do. The number one sportsperson in the world only holds that position for a brief period of time.

The highest paid and much loved actor can find themselves struggling on the small screen, trying to get in the limelight again. The top executive is only celebrated in prosperous times until it is time for fresh blood.

Each day, we have our own little triumphs and opportunities to shine. But many of us feel the need to promote our skills, experience and achievements at every opportunity. After all, if we don’t do it, who will?

This tendency to self-promote or to demonstrate our prowess is called a ‘performance-orientation’. I once worked with someone who was always quick to highlight their breadth of skills. They also liked to tell me the story of their childhood when they were identified as ‘gifted’ and put into a special program.

In other situations, the performance orientation isn’t so blatant. It can come in the form of someone resisting a good idea because it makes them feel inferior for not thinking of it themselves. It shows up when someone fails to listen because they are waiting to educate you about what they know.

But think back to those times you spoke to someone who genuinely paused to consider your view. Or maybe it was a moment where someone admitted to a group that they were unsure about what to do and were seeking some ideas. More often than not, you probably valued and respected them.

Think about the time you were truly engaged in what you were doing. It is often where you are learning something that intrigues or interests you. This is referred to as a learning orientation.

 

 

6 Key Benefits of a Learning Orientation

People like you. Yep, it’s funny that people tend to prefer your company when you are open to listening and learning as opposed to showing off your talents.

It improves cooperation. When groups adopt a learning orientation, they are not motivate to out-perform each other.

Improved resilience. If you always want to shine, this places a lot of pressure on you, including worries and doubts about what people think of you. If your goal is to learn, this is no longer such an issue.

Your attention improves. Because you are less concerned about impressing others, you can focus more attention to the task at hand and—ironically—enhance your performance.

Improved creativity. Individuals who adopt a performance orientation are generally more conservative because they want to maintain their persona in front of others. This closes their thinking to new or different ways of thinking. A learning orientation has the reverse effect.

You learn. Probably the most obvious benefit is that when you are open to learning, you may actually learn something that betters you as a person.
Now, if I was adopting a performance orientation, I might end this blog with ‘I hope you learned something’. Instead, I’ll close with remake more indicative of a learning orientation:

Please let me know what you think. Share your thoughts and challenge me.

Want fulfilment? Send your mind away

in Work Psychology by

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Some may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one.

Are you the type to reflect on the past? Do you think about where you’ll be in the future? Perhaps you’re more of a person who likes to propel the mind into hypothetical scenarios. I’m not sitting in an office. I’m sitting on a beach somewhere overseas. The person on the beach overseas is thinking what’d it would be like to be in an office…maybe not.

When we imagine these scenarios, we’re essentially sending our minds into a world that doesn’t exist. It’s the wonderful joy of abstraction that can help us pass the time on a crowded train or send us into despair as we contemplate our existence.

A recent series of studies shows that this ‘mental simulation’ might be the gateway to a more meaningful existence. Across several studies the researchers showed that people reported a greater sense of meaning when they were asked to contemplate the future or past in detail (also see blog on nostalgia).

In contrast, when they were asked to think of these points in time superficially, they didn’t feel the same sense of meaning. That is, the superficial recollections didn’t evoke vivid enough recollections. Interestingly, these effects were also found when participants were asked to imagine themselves in another location, suggesting that when we simply mentally simulate a scenario, we somehow feel as though life is more meaningful.

But it’s all well and good to feel like life is meaningful. Is meaning actually meaningful? The researchers suggest that when individuals feel as though life has purpose, they are also less depressed and anxious and their physical health can improve. There is also a sense of connectedness that could promote cooperation and teamwork (I’ve also posted a blog on the importance of meaning here).

Now ask yourself whether returning to your work feels like a meaningful exercise or if you’d prefer to contemplate these ideas further and propel your mind somewhere else.

Is Dr Duck stressed?

in Work Psychology by

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Referring to yourself in the third person may help you manage stress. During a stressful event, we can talk to ourselves—literally or in our thoughts—using phrases like ‘I need to get this done’, ‘almost there…’ etc.

Research suggests that if we instead refer to ourselves in the third person (e.g. ‘Nick needs to get this done’) we experience less stress. Referring to ourselves in the third person distances ourselves from the stressful event. That is, we are better at untangling ourselves from the situation and can observe and accept situations with greater objectivity.

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