What is Mental Toughness?

Following the second Springboard work and personal development programme for women session, it’s good to find the Academi Wales website, and read the two useful booklets:

We have an automatic network in our brains for the negative, the ancient parts of our brains evolved over millions of years to respond to threats without thought or delay. We have no similar system for the positive and opportunities in life…

It suggested us to use 3:1 at work, which means to “give three pieces of positive feedback to every piece of negative feedback” based on Losada Ratio. I don’t know how accurate the tip is. But I think we do need to make effort to increase positive communications.

The concept of 7+/-2 was noted by George Miller in Psychological Review in 1956.

The basic formula is:

happiness = set point (50%) + voluntary actions (intentional activities 40%) + conditions(circumstances 10%)

I tried the test to learn my positivity ratio (set point) on the Positivity website owned by Prof Barbara Fredrickson. It actually tests a ratio at that moment you test it. It’s not a general resault.

Four C’s of Cloughs model – Commitment, Control, Challenge and Confidence suggests that Mental Toughness is a combination of resilience and confidence. I found two videos:



This is a Chinese book that was recommended by my sister. Luckily I found the original English book “Scarcity: why having too little means so much” written by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir in our library.

I immediately enjoyed reading it as there are so many examples I can link to easily. I kind of see why I have made decisions in certain circumstance, and why I feel busy and can’t finish things I planned to do on the day. Although I have applied some good methods to make life smooth and simple, this book explains why sometimes I still go into the trap.

This is a talk from the authors.

On page 174-175, it mentioned a “financial education” class designed by economist Antoinette Schoar and her coauthors. This is a video that presents their work.

New terms from psychology

Recently I came across some new psychology terms which I never thought about before. We all experience fear about something to some level. Fear protects us from danger. However phobias have little to do with danger. It’s good to learn the terms which indicate the fear of something to extreme.

The fear of darkness.

Fear of open spaces or of being in crowded, public places like markets. Fear of leaving a safe place.

An abnormal fear of having conversations during dinner, banquets or dinner parties.

An abnormal and persistent fear of work.

Fear of long words.

An exaggerated, inexplicable, and illogical fear being without a mobile device, power source, or service area.

The fear of emotional attachment; fear of being in, or falling in love.

The pathological fear of objects with irregular patterns of holes, such as beehives, ant hills and lotus seed heads.

See more:

the phobia list

Phobias Slideshow: What Are You Afraid Of?

The research studies about mental disorder

Last October, I tweeted the news I heard in that morning, and questioned where the statement of “1/4 of us suffer mental disorder in our lifetime” was from?

By reading more on the Mind website (the mental health charity for England and Wales), I found lots of helpful information, however, I was still curious about who did the research and how did they conclude that statement.

I’m pleased to find the evidence in the book I’m reading – The How of Happiness by Dr Sonja Lyubomirsky.

On page 35,  it said “In the UK it is estimated that one in four women and one in ten men will suffer depression during their lifetime.


The references on pages 327-328 show the original publications.

IMG_20150126_205828 (2)

Work on my 40% intentional activities

I am happy to find the book The How of Happiness from our library. A very powerful science book. Using the author Sonja Lyubomirsky’s words,

… the first ‘how-to-become-happier’ book authored by someone who has actually conducted research revealing how people can achieve a greater sense of happiness in their lives.

The following quote is from an article by the same author. It confirms that we can change our intentional activities towards become happier. See Layous, K., & Lyubomirsky, S. (in press). The how, who, what, when, and why of happiness: Mechanisms underlying the success of positive interventions. In J. Gruber & J. Moscowitz (Eds.), The light and dark side of positive emotions. New York: Oxford University Press.

The last decade of research has not only established that happiness can be increased through intentional activity, but has begun to parse the details of the how, who, what, when, and why of this important process.

Also, a lecture given by Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky is on YouTube.

Dr Tal Ben-Shahar – Harvard Open Courses 1504 – Positive Psychology 23

This is the last session of the Harvard Open Course 1504. It’s a summary of the whole course and a wonderful and touching collection of random students’ personal reflection from this course.

Write down two things that are particularly personally meaningful and/or interesting for you.
My immediate thought:

  • Allow ourselves to be human
  • Grateful, appreciation
  • ABCs – Affect, Behaviour, Cognition
  • 3Ms – Magnify, Minimising, Making up
  • 3 Rules in a relationship

Write down two commitments or behaviour changes you make.
My immediate thought:

  • Do more exercise – cycling every day
  • Write down gratefulness every day

Courage is not about without fear, it’s about having fear but still go ahead.

Happiness is the ultimate currency. It’s not about having a high versus low expectations, it’s about having right versus wrong expectations.

The core of change is to introduce behaviour change now.

People and their work:

  • Carl Rogers said “what is the most personal is the most general.”
  • Oliver Wendell Holmes – simplicity and complexity
  • Peter Drucker said “Don’t call me to tell me how wonderful it was. Call me and tell me what you are doing differently.”

Dr Tal Ben-Shahar – Harvard Open Courses 1504 – Positive Psychology 22

This session continues on the topic of self-esteem.

It is nature that we all have some components of the three self-esteem types. If we want to completely get ride of the dependent self-esteem, we actually are fighting with nature. It does take time to reach the third level self-esteem.

Why do we need to study independent self-esteem? Because it brings benefits as below:

  • better moral behaviours
  • better cognitive performance
  • higher level of happiness

Self-esteem is simply an attitude. It’s the attitude I have toward to the self. 

In relation to the ABC change model (Affect, Behaviour, Cognition), changing Behaviour is the most effective approach to change.

How do we enhance self-esteem?

  • behave like those people who are having high independent self-esteem. It’s important for us to have a role model, change behaviour and over time achieve the attitude.
  • pursue the things that you are interested in and have the experience of flowing.
  • take action
  • humble behaviour
  • have time to reflect on ourselves
  • integrity exercise – journalling, ask yourself “Am I just say thing to be impressed rather than to be authentic? Am I having the little lies?”

People and their work:

  • Warren Bennis – leadership, “I was not always this way.
  • Abranham Maslow – I couldn’t find people who were below the age of 45 were self-actualised. Even self-actualised people still have dependent self-esteem and independent self-esteem.
  • David Schnarch – studied how it’s in 50s and 60s that the individuals become differentiated and where the highest potential for passion is within a relationship.
  • Michael H. Kernis – 1995, stated the concept of self-esteem stability. People with low stable self-esteem were more likely to be hostile; people with more stable self-esteem were more likely to be generous and benevolent.
  • Tal’s research found that dependent self-esteem is highly correlated to instability of self-esteem and independent self-esteem is highly correlated to stability of self-esteem. He also found that narcissism is connected actually to high dependent self-esteem. High independent self-esteem people are more likely to be generous and benevolent.
  • Daniel Gilbert’s work on cognitive dizziness
  • Tim Kasser’s work on time affluence
  • Stanley Milgram’s experiment (Milgram experiment) – 63% of percentages of participants went above 350 volt, which is beyond the level where the person was not even heard any more.
  • George Loewenstein coined the concept hot-cold empathy gap
  • Nathaniel Branden – integrity and to be honest to yourself
  • Bella DePaulo’s research on lying and her research shows that basically everyone lies. People lie in average 3 times a day.
  • Melissa Christino wrote in her thesis “Your true potential lies way way down in the depths of your soul, in the pit of your stomach, past your knowledge, beyond your nervousness, and buried under your fears and anxieties.”As hidden as it may be, it is still there I know it’s there because I felt it before and I know it’s there in others too because I seen others perform miracles. There is a faint glow of unparalleled potential in all of us and when we find it – it shines.”

Dr Tal Ben-Shahar – Harvard Open Courses 1504 – Positive Psychology 21

This session goes back the topic of relationship and moves on to the topic of self-esteem.

How can we cope with conflict in relationship?

  • Asking positive question – What am I grateful for in my partner?
  • Asking positive question – What is wonderful about our relationship? What’s working?
  • Communicating about positive events (win-win)

When Tal talked about a feeling of “low self-esteem” and “punish by success”, I was surprised that I had the exact feeling before! However, I never really quested why because I thought I have a high level of requirements for myself. This session is so important for me to understand it.

Like happiness, we shouldn’t ask the question “Am I happy or unhappy?”, we should ask “How can I become happier?” Self-esteem is often misunderstood. The question we should ask is not “Do I have high or low self-esteem?” but rather “How can I enhance my self-esteem?”

Self-esteem is defined by Nathaniel Branden as “the disposition to experience oneself as competent to cope with the basic challenges of life and as worthy of happiness.” Both competency and worthiness are essential in self-esteem.

Self-esteem is not a product of empty reinforcement. Only praise no matter what to children won’t help their self-esteem in a long run. It actually reduces their motivation to work, makes them unrealistic, and makes them less happy than they potentially could have been.

Pseudo self-esteem is the pretence of self-efficacy and self-respect without the reality.
Self-esteem is founded in the reality, in actual performance, actual success, in actual practices. It’s a product of hard work.

Self-esteem is not associated with success, not associated with social status, and not associated with money. Tal has done in-depth research on the paradox of self-esteem based on Jane Loevinger’s work and presented an epigenetic model as following:

  • The first level of self-esteem – dependent self-esteem
  • The second level of self-esteem – independent self-esteem, not contingent on others
  • The third – sense of self
The worthiness The competency
Dependent self-esteem Constant evaluation of what other people think of me
Determined by others
Look for constant approval
Compare oneself to others
Independent self-esteem Evaluate oneself according to one’s own standards
Determined by own evaluation
Looking for beautiful enemies to improve self
Not compare one to others, but compare to oneself;
Pursuing self-concordant goals
Unconditional self-esteem Not contingent
Confident enough to not involve in evaluation
Is not “don’t care”

Everyone has some dependent self-esteem, some components of independent self-esteem, and some components of unconditional self-esteem. The question is of degree and the model is epigenetic.

Interesting research findings:

  • Sometimes people who associate too much self-esteem are arrogance, conceit, and narcissism.

People and their work:

  • Ralph Waldo Emerson’s article on friendship in 1841.
  • Robert M. Pirsig’s book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values
  • Shelly Gable – positive psychology and relationship
  • Jane Elsner, Barbara Heilman and Amanda Horn –  2×2 matrices of communication and relationship: passive active; destructive  constructive
  • Albert Bandura, Germain Duclos, Stanley Coopersmith, Nathaniel Branden – definition of self-esteem
  • John Carlton – two important character of the most successful people: asking questions and believe themselves.
  • Daniel Goleman – emotional intelligence
  • Nathaniel Branden – self-esteem anxiety, six practices for the cultivation of self-esteem (integrity, conscious, self-acceptance, self-responsibility, self-assertiveness, purpose)
  • Richard L. Bednar and Scott R. Peterson – self-esteem as a core of underlying course, paradox of self-esteem
  • Roy Baumeister – self-esteem and narcissism
  • William James, Charles Cooley, George Mead – dependent self-esteem
  • Nathaniel Branden, Abranham Maslow, Carl Rogers – independent self-esteem
  • Maltimore Devano – dependent self-esteem
  • David Schnarch, Abranham Maslow – unconditional self-esteem

Dr Tal Ben-Shahar – Harvard Open Courses 1504 – Positive Psychology 20

This session is about humour presented by Shawn Achor. A full lecture video is here.

Shawn has a different teaching style from Tal’s. He speaks much faster but the content making people laugh.

I often think people who are humorous are genetically funny. Actually, we can use the Beta press to change the way that we actually view our environment so it’s actually adaptive for us and we learn to be humorous.

The sympathetic nervous system (which makes us energetic) and the parasympathetic nervous system (which makes us clam) work together to make us react to the world. The soprano effect, called by Shaw, is the chronic activation of the sympathetic nervous system. Humour is like mindfulness and meditation, activates the sympathetic nervous system.

Laughing itself is both medicine and exercise.

Humour increases pain tolerance and reduces pressure. It is a luxury.

Humour is extremely contagious because we are actually hardwired for empathy for other people and the mirror neurons in our brain begin to active when we see other people laughing.

Humour is a signal of cognitive fitness.

Humour can make us transfer things that we thought were negative or bad or upsetting in the past.

Six ways of increasing your humorous level:

  • Writing Journals – write the things that make you laugh over the day, think the things funny and change the shape of it and reform the pattern in your brain.
  • Watching funny people – because of mirror neurons, you actually pick up the rhythm from them.
  • TQP (the Two Question Process) – repeating to ask the two questions to yourself “why am I so funny?”, “Why nobody recognise this?”
  • The permission to be subhuman.
  • The variety is absolutely the spice of life. The more you can change up the pattern you are doing, the more you see the potentials in your environment.
  • The Tetris Effect.
 Interesting research findings:
  • On eResources – 97:3 ratio of research on negative factors to humour research.
  • Medical School Syndrome – the way we study the world around of us actually change the lens through which we view the world
  • The Tetris Effect – It makes player see the Tetris shapes when they are not playing the game. Shaw called it as a cognitive afterimage.
  • 10 to 15 minutes of laughing is enough to burn the amount of calories of a medium size block of chocolate.
  • Our mammalian brains are actually hardwired for variety.

People and their work:

  • Three people in the area of humour research: Sigmund Freud, Henri Bergson and Shaw Achor.
  • Sigmund Freud’s book Jokes and Their Relation to The Unconscious. He argues that homour is way that allows for id impulses come out. Humour is a psychological release.
  • Henri Bergson argues that humour is the point in which we correct somebody when we slip or fall off the human developmental trajectory. Humour is a social “corractive”.
  • Shaw Achor believes that humour is a mindful lens through which we view the world. Humour is a cognitive lens.
  • Richard Wiseman’s book The Luck Factor
  • Barbara Fraley’s research on humorous and encounters
  • Eric R. Bressler studied the difference between men and women in terms of humour
  • John Gottman’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Dr Tal Ben-Shahar – Harvard Open Courses 1504 – Positive Psychology 19

This session is about love and relationship.

I like this session especially as it taught me to understand an unsuccessful relationship and to learn what makes relationship thrive. It took me longer to complete this session comparing to other sessions as I needed a break each time when Tal said something that touched me.

What makes a relationship thrive?

  • working hard (When we have the finding mindset, it threatens our schema. We need to have cultivating mindset, it’s malleable mindset that will help us work on hardship)
  • what makes the relationship unique is not finding that right person; it’s cultivating that one chosen relationship. It’s by virtue of working together, of being together,  of spending time together, of dedicating one another.
  • having mutually meaningful goals and working together.
  • active love and rituals
  • making that shift from the desire to be validated to the desire to be known – we need to open-up ourselves, for instance our weakness, our insecurity – express rather than impress.
  • allowing for conflict in a relationship
  • happy relationship, love is in the details
  • healthy communication
  • keep the conflict/dispute private
  • positive perception

The Golden rule: Do not do unto to others what you would not have done unto yourself.
The Platinum rule: Do not do unto yourself what you would not have done unto others.
The Tritium rule: Do not do unto those who close to you what you would not have done unto those who are not so close to you.

Interesting research findings:

  • Behaviour management research shows that healthy teams have cognitive conflict (focusing on the person’s behaviour, thoughts or ideas) rather than affective conflict (focusing on the person, the emotion, or who they are).
  • Women generally are better at fights than men. It has a physiological reason for it. When men feel attacked or threatened or disapproved, they have more physiological respond to it, they avoid it and switch off.

People and their work:

  • David Schnarch and John Gottman
  • Carol Dweck – fixed and malleable mindset
  • Muzafer Sherif – argued that Gordon Allport’s work “contact hypothesis” in 1930s was not enough and couldn’t resolve the conflict.
  • David Schnarch’s book Passionate Marriage
  • Parker Palmer’s book The Courage to Teach
  • John Gottman – one right relationship in all relationships is that they all have conflicts. In average, they have one conflict for each five positive interactions
  • John Gottman’s study on gay couples – different to different sex couples, when they have conflicts, they touch, hug or make a smoothing way of reducing the conflicts.
  • Sandra Murray’s term “positive illusions”. Tal disagreed the use of the world “illusions”. For him, it’s real and a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  • Brad Little’s term “illusory grow “