Dr Tal Ben-Shahar – Harvard Open Courses 1504 – Positive Psychology 7

This session finishes up with the beliefs of self-fulfilling prophecy first and then explores how ‘focus’ creates reality. This is a very important session as it reveals how people’s emotions are affected by their own evaluations about the external world.

Tal summarises that to raise of base level of happiness is to cope due to three reasons: (1) self-perception theory (2) The pain that in our minds we associate with failure is far greater than the actual pain of failure when that comes. (3) learn to fail, or fail to learn, there is no other way to succeed.

Optimism is an interpretation style rather than a Pollyannish feeling-good kind of approach. Three techniques of being optimism are: (1) to take action (2) the power of imagination/visualisation (3) cognitive therapy.

Tal states 3Ms as the key traps that people often fall into and distort the reality: (1) Magnify – exaggerating something that happens – it’s an all or nothing approach, (2) Minimising – tunnel vision – ignoring the important things or things going well, (3) Making up or fabricating. Emotion reasoning – Emotion doesn’t necessarily capture reality. It’s my evaluation of reality. I think I have fallen into all three traps and often the third one is my weakness as I’m a very emotional person, likely sensitive too, but I often seek the evidences that bring my evaluations/thoughts.

The techniques we can use to get real is to practice and ask ourselves right questions, for example,

* Is my conclusion tied to reality?
* Is it rational?
* Am I ignoring something important?
* What other impotent evidences do I still need to take into consideration?
* What I am magnifying?
* What I am minimising?
* What is the big picture?

 
We co-create our reality. There are two archetypes of “focus”: the benefit-finder and the fault-finder. We are all on somewhere between the extreme benefit-finding and the extreme fault-finding. The key is how can we move a bit more from the fault-finding side towards the benefit-finding. The extreme fault-finder experiences resignation and learned helplessness. The benefit-finder focuses on what works.

Cognitive reconstruction is about learning to interpret things optimistically. Tal said “I don’t believe that things happen for the best. But I do believe that some people are able to make the best of things that happen.”

Tal reflects his own experience. He mentioned ADD. I had a quick look at ADD, which I have never noticed it before. It stands for Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (commonly referred to as ADD or ADHD). I did this test. The result is interesting, “you appear to have some symptoms consistent with a possible diagnosis of attention deficit disorder, but may not qualify for a diagnosis of ADD/ADHD.” I thought it’s normal that our mind is wandering and gets distracted so often. I thought I am a very concentrate person as often when I’m doing things I need to, I ignore the things happen around no matter it’s people’s talking, noises outside of the room, or a background music. Now, it seems not what I thought.

People and their work:

  • Albert Bandura – self-efficacy
  • Soren Kierkegaard – to cope with failure
  • Richard Heckman – prepare, prepare, prepare and then be spontaneous
  • Stephen Kosslyn – imagination for the brain is no difference to the reality for the brain
  • Martin Luther King’s speech I have a dream
  • Martin Seligman and Aaron T. Beck founders of the cognitive therapy approach – thoughts drive emotion. so change the thought, restore the sense of reality.
  • Karen Reivich – two weeks of cognitive therapy techniques
  • David Burns’ book The Feeling Good Handbook
  • Ed. Diener and Martin Seligman looked at the 10% of the happiest people – they recovered more promptly from hardship as a result of different interpretations.
  • Barbara Fredrickson – broaden and build phenomenon.
  • Ed. Diener – it appears that the way people perceive the world is much more important to happiness than objective circumstances.
  • Dan Millman’s book Way of the Peaceful Warrior
  • Henry David Thoreau – The fault-finder will find faults even in paradise.
  • Julian Bauer – The benefit-finder finds the miracle in the common.
  • Nathaniel Branden – to respect the reality.
  • William James – what we see the reality depends on the perspective into which we throw it.
  • Ann Harbison – crisis has the potential for growth
  • David Schnarch’s book Passionate Marriage
  • Warren Bennis and Robert Thomas’ book Geeks and Geezers
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