Successful New Year’s Resolutions

by Jessica Jeffers

new-years-day-1892263_960_720Another holiday season has come and gone. The decorations are starting to come down, the gifts have been dispensed, and we are turning our attention towards a new year. For many people, that means it’s time to make New Year’s resolutions. Whether we want to lose weight, stop smoking, or start getting organized, January 1 is a popular time to start making changes in our lives and our behavior.

But now we’ve hit the mid-January slump. Unfortunately many people who make New Year’s resolutions give up on their goals before the month is even over. That doesn’t mean we’re doomed to fail, though. It just means we need to approach our resolutions with a game plan meant to encourage success. A 2002 article in the Journal of Clinical Psychology reported that resolvers with a concrete plan were much more likely to have succeeded in sticking to their resolutions at the six-month mark (Norcross et al, 2002).

Abigail Levrini and Frances Prevatt outline one such plan in their book Succeeding with Adult ADHD (2012). Though meant specifically to help adults with ADHD, the basic principles can be generalized to many people looking to make their own behavioral changes.

 

  1.  Set long-term goals

Goals should be measurable, time sensitive, and process-based. What does that mean? You have to be specific when identifying what it is you want to achieve. Your goal should be something that you can empirically demonstrate you have accomplished. But that’s not all. To stay on track, it’s important to give yourself a timeline to define the actions that you will take to reach the goal. It’s not enough to just say that you want to lose weight. Tell yourself “I want to lose 15 pounds by June 1 by going to the gym three times a week and replacing sweet snacks with veggies.”

 

  1.   Create weekly objectives

New-Year_Resolutions_listYou’re not going to reach your goals overnight. Making changes in your life takes time and patience. Get there by identifying steps along the way, so that you practice new behaviors until they become habits. If you want to train for a half marathon, create a schedule in which you start out running just a mile or two and gradually add a little more distance week by week.

 

  1.   Add rewards and consequences to increase motivation

It feels good to cross objectives off your list. But feeling good isn’t always enough to keep some people working steadily towards their resolutions. The concept of rewards and consequences is a basic psychological principle that can help. As you make progress, remember to treat yourself! If your weekly objective was to spend an hour at the gym, kick off those running shoes and catch up on your favorite TV show when you’re done. But remember to hold yourself accountable if you slip-up. These consequences don’t need to be big—if you decide to skip your workout on Wednesday, the consequence can be as simple as also skipping that grande latte on Thursday morning.

 

  1.   Use metacognition to discover what works

Metacognition is defined as the “awareness of one’s own cognitive processes, often involving a conscious attempt to control them” (VandenBos, 2015). In this context, it means thinking about the way you approach your goals, acknowledging what works, and identifying how you can change what doesn’t work. Levrini and Prevatt suggest tracking your progress by keeping a journal. As you notice patterns emerging, you can adjust your weekly objectives, rewards, or consequences accordingly.

 

Committing to long-term change can be difficult, but applying these psychological principles and making a plan can go a long way towards helping you succeed with your New Year’s resolutions.

 

References

Levrini, A., & Prevatt, F. F. (2012). Succeeding With Adult ADHD: Daily Strategies to Help You Achieve Your Goals and Manage Your Life. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.

Norcross, J.C., Mrykalo, M.S., & Blagys, M.D. (2002). Auld Lang Syne: Success Predictors, Change Processes, and Self-Reported Outcomes of New Year’s Resolvers and Nonresolvers. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 58(4), 397-405.

VandenBos, G. R. (Ed.). (2015). APA Dictionary of Psychology (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Autism and Language

RKelaher by Chris Kelaher

In recent decades the number of children being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has increased substantially. While the reason(s) for this increase and the best course of action are still in debate, there has been a considerable increase in public awareness of the condition, thanks in part to organizations such as Autism Speaks and the Autism Society, as well as institutions such as Autism Awareness Month.

language-autismSocial interaction deficit and language impairment are common characteristics of ASD. But the precise nature of this disorder’s impact on language development is not well understood. Innovative Investigations of Language in Autism Spectrum Disorder, a recent release from APA Books that is part of the Language and Human Lifespan Series, a collaboration between APA Books and DeGruyter Mouton, will help psychologists, linguists, sociologists, and neuroscientists better understand the complicated relationship between autism and language.

Led by developmental psychologist Letitia R. Naigles of the University of Connecticut, contributors to Innovative Investigations come from a range of fields. Examining both spoken and written domains of communication, they employ innovative techniques to explore the language-ASD relationship. Is the variability of language development and use seen in children with ASD the function of a specific language, so that some linguistic domains are more vulnerable to ASD than others? Or is the variability a function of the individual, such that some characteristics predispose those with ASD to have varying levels of difficulty with language? Naigles and her colleagues provide detailed information about language development, processing, and production among children diagnosed with ASD.

APA Books is no stranger to this topic. Related titles include 2014’s Autism Spectrum Disorder in Children and Adolescents: Evidence-Based Assessment and Intervention in Schools (edited by Lee Wilkinson) and V. Mark Durand’s Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Clinical Guide for General Practitioners (2014).

 

all-my-stripesMagination Press, APA’s children’s book imprint, published Russell’s World: A Story for Kids about Autism in 2011, and in 2015 Magination released All My Stripes: A Story for Children With Autism.

 

APA Videos on the topic include 2006’s Autism Spectrum Disorders, in which Dr. James A. Mulick demonstrates his approach to counseling children with autism and related disorders, such as Asperger’s. More recently, in 2015, APA Videos produced Parents of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, in which Durand (University of South Florida St. Petersburg) demonstrates his positive parenting approach to working with mothers and fathers of children who have been diagnosed with ASD.

 

Giving Thanks

by Chris KelaherRKelaher

As the fourth Thursday in November approaches, thoughts in the United States inevitably turn to Thanksgiving. (Canada beats us to the punch by marking Thanksgiving on the second Monday of October.) This national day of gratitude, whose roots trace back to a post-harvest feast shared by Pilgrims and Native Americans in 1621, was first pronounced a national holiday by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War and has long been a staple of American cultural life. The holiday conjures up images of turkey and stuffing, parades and pie, airport delays, Black Friday shopping, and endless football. But the real star of the feast is thankfulness, or gratitude. So, what exactly is gratitude, and what does in mean in a psychology context?  cornucopia2

Here is the definition presented in The APA Dictionary of Psychology (American Psychological Association, 2013):

Gratitude n. a sense of thankfulness and happiness in response to receiving a gift, either a tangible benefit (e.g., a present or favor) given by someone or a fortunate happenstance (e.g. a beautiful day).

It is only in relatively recent years that the concept gratitude has received much attention by psychology researchers, but it is now an area of growing attention, due at least in part to its prominent role in positive psychology. It also is an area of interest within subfields such as personality, religion and spirituality, and happiness studies, among others.

Using the search term “gratitude” in APA’s PsycNET database brings up 1,017 results, including 129 books or book chapters. For example, Robert D. Carlisle and Jon-Ann Tsang contributed a chapter on “The Virtues: Gratitude and Forgiveness” to 2013’s APA Handbook of Psychology, Religion, and Spirituality, edited by Kenneth Pargament. (See link below.) Tsang and Carlisle define gratitude in this way: ““a positive emotional reaction to the receipt of a benefit that is perceived to have resulted from the good intentions of another.”

  • Other recent books of interest to those who study gratitude include Philip C. Watkins’ Gratitude and the Good Life: Toward a Psychology of Appreciation (Springer, 2014) and Salman Akhtar’s Good Stuff: Courage, Resilience, Gratitude, Forgiveness, and Sacrifice (Jason Aronson, 2013.)

Several recent psychology books also include individual chapters devoted to the topic of gratitude. A partial sampling:

  • Anthony Ahrens, Courtney Forbes, and Michael Tirade contributed a “Gratitude” chapter to Guilford Press’ Handbook on Positive Emotions (2014).
  • Michael Furlong et al’s Handbook of Positive Psychology in the Schools 2ed includes the chapter “Gratitude in Schools: Benefits of Students and Schools” by Giaconda Bono, Jeffrey J. Froh, and Rafael Forrest.
  • 2014’s Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of Positive Psychology in Interventions (Acacia C. Parks and Stephen M. Schuler, eds.) includes a chapter on “Gratitude Interventions: A Review and Future Agenda,” by Tara Lamas, Jeffrey J. Froh, Robert A. Emmons, Anjali Mishra, and Giaconda Bono.

Thanks to these researchers and others like them, we are developing a much better understanding of gratitude. It has benefits on both ends—for people who receive thanks or appreciation, of course, but also for those expressing thanks. For example, Carlisle and Tsang tell us that “gratitude provides information

about the value, cost, intentionality, and role-independent nature of a benefit from another person.” It promotes pro-social behavior, and researchers have also identified links between gratitude and other positive traits or circumstances, such as life satisfaction, happiness, optimism, empathy, and hope.

 

In the words of Robert Emmons, a leader in the field and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Positive Psychology, “Gratitude works. It has the power to heal, to energize, and to change lives.” So go forth, be grateful, and enjoy your Thanksgiving.

 

You can read more about the benefits of gratitude via the links below.

http://www.apa.org/pubs/books/4311506.aspx

http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2015/04/grateful-heart.aspx

http://www.apa.org/science/about/psa/2012/01/research-gratitude.aspx

http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2012/08/health-benefits.aspx

 

 

 

 

 

Living With Fear: Terror Management Theory

by Trish Mathis

Recently, I was riding to work on a commuter train when I noticed a briefcase on a seat nearby, unattended. I set my book on my lap and glanced around, but the item didn’t seem to belong to anybody. Although it looked innocuous lying there, I knew better. The many safety warnings about unattended baggage I’d heard broadcast over the station platforms and in airport concourses since 9/11 all buzzed in my ears simultaneously. It must be a bomb.

briefcaseIt suddenly felt very hot and I struggled out of my coat, frantically looking for the conductor. I bit my lip and resisted the urge to get up and run into the next train car. My right leg jiggled up and down seemingly of its own accord and I shifted to the edge of my seat, wondering what to do as the breath caught in my throat. I closed my eyes and hoped that everything would be fine, that we would all make it safely through the morning grind.

Just then, a man stepped into my car from the next one, walked down the aisle, and sat in the seat with the briefcase. He clicked it open, removed a folder, and calmly began reading the pages inside. As my surge of adrenaline drained away, I felt very foolish. Of course there was no bomb. That person probably just had to use the train’s restroom, and who takes a briefcase in there?

Where did my fear come from? According to the APA Dictionary of Psychology, terror management theory (TMT) proposes that “control of death anxiety is the primary function of society and the main motivation in human behavior. Accordingly, awareness of the inevitability of death motivates people to maintain faith in the absolute validity of the beliefs and values that give their lives meaning….” This model explains why we react the way we do to the threat of death and describes how this reaction influences our thoughts, emotions, and actions. Introduced in 1984 by social psychologists Jeff Greenberg, Sheldon Solomon, and Tom Pyszczynski, TMT has become a prominent part of their research. They have published widely on the subject, notably including the APA title In the Wake of 9/11: The Psychology of Terror. (Also check out The Psychology of Hate and Understanding Terrorism: Psychosocial Roots, Consequences, and Interventions.)

psych-of-terrorAlthough death anxiety can be activated by even the most mundane daily events and moments, TMT is also useful for understanding the fears generated by our current sociopolitical climate. We constantly hear media reports about ISIS, see threatening videos splashed across the Internet, and watch news footage of innocent civilians killed by bombs in Spain or shot by gunmen in Paris. Remember the anthrax attacks perpetrated through the U.S. mail in Washington, DC, several years ago? Do you still experience the occasional twinge of apprehension when opening an unexpected letter or package? We can’t help but worry that we might be the next victim.

And so perhaps we decide not to attend a crowded sporting event one day. We cancel a long-anticipated trip the next. We glare suspiciously at strangers on the streets. Yet simultaneously, we proudly hang American flags from our front porches and we donate to charities. Indeed, as Greenberg et al. noted in the introduction of their most recent book The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life, “the fear of death is one of the primary driving forces of human action.” At the end of the day, we use our traditions, beliefs, and values to give our lives meaning and thus obscure the anxiety created by our awareness of the possibility of death.

Of course, some of us are more successful at this than others. Fortunately, the theory’s originators offer some strategies for how to deal more productively with the anxiety potential threats produce. These include maintaining close connections with others, gathering information to understand an event, and enhancing self-esteem. Perhaps you’ve tried these ideas in some form or another, and perhaps like me, you have a specific approach you find most helpful.

So the next time I see unattended baggage during my commute, maybe I’ll panic again as the prospect of my own mortality slams into focus. But then I’ll remind myself that my response is a natural, inevitable part of being human. When the immediate danger passes, I can return to the sanctuary offered by routine: the book I’m reading on the train, the susurration of passenger conversation around me, and the normalcy of going to work to do something I consider worthwhile.

 

References

Moghaddam, F. M., & Marsella, A. J. (2004). Understanding terrorism: Psychosocial roots, consequences, and intervention. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Pyszczynski, T., Solomon, S., & Greenberg, J. (2003). In the wake of 9/11: The psychology of terror. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Solomon, S., Greenberg, J., & Pyszczynski, T. (2015). The worm at the core: On the role of death in life. New York, NY: Random House.

Sternberg, R. J. (2005). The psychology of hate. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

VandenBos, G. R. (Ed.). (2015). APA dictionary of psychology (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

After Labor Day: Back to the Grind?

by Kristen Knight

The movement to recognize Labor Day started in the late 1880s as a way to honor the achievements of American workers. Today, many employees simply look forward to a three-day weekend, one that unofficially marks the end of summer with barbecues and last strolls on the beach. But we can also use the occasion to reflect on our work and workplaces as the year rolls towards a close.

psych-healthy-workplaceNews stories, studies, and personal anecdotes highlight our frantic schedules, inability to “unplug,” and other unsettling aspects of modern work life.  Researchers agree that satisfying work is one of the crucial ingredients to a happy, healthy life.  But what really makes work satisfying, and what makes a workplace healthy? How do we find or help create those alternatives to the grind?

APA’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program—part of the Center for Organizational Excellence—is a public education initiative designed to educate the employer community about the link between employee well-being and organizational performance.  Each year, APA bestows its Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award on companies that foster employee health and well-being in a variety of ways.  The program inspired the 2016 book, The Psychologically Healthy Workplace: Building a Win-Win Environment for Organizations and Employees, which focuses on employee involvement, work-life balance, employee growth and development, employee recognition, and health and safety.

purpose-and-meaning-workWe employees spend many, if not most, of our waking hours at work during the course of a week—and yet many of us don’t feel fulfilled at our jobs.  In Purpose and Meaning in the Workplace (2013), experts investigate how meaningful work can be fostered and sustained.  Justin M. Berg, Jane E. Dutton, and Amy Wrzesniewski explore the concept of job crafting—described as “the process of employees redefining and reimagining their job designs in personally meaningful ways”—in Chapter 4 of this book. As the authors point out, meaningfulness is one factor associated with work-related benefits such as increased job satisfaction and performance.  And that does sound like a win for both employers and employees.

Other sources

Eisenberger, R., & Stinglhamber, F. (2011). Perceived organizational support: Fostering enthusiastic and productive employees. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. http://www.apa.org/pubs/books/4316128.aspx

Quick, J. C., Wright, T. A., Adkins, J. A., Nelson, D. L., & Quick J. D. (2013). Preventive stress management in organizations (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. http://www.apa.org/pubs/books/4317292.aspx

 

References 

American Psychological Association Center for Organizational Excellence: https://www.apaexcellence.org/

Berg, J. M., Dutton, J. E., & Wrzesniewski, A. (2013). Job crafting and meaningful work. In B. J. Dik, Z. S. Byrne, & M. F. Steger (Eds.).  Purpose and meaning in the workplace (pp. 81–104). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/14183-005

Grawitch, M., & Ballard, D. (Eds.). (2016). The psychologically healthy workplace: Building a win–win environment for organizations and employees. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. http://www.apa.org/pubs/books/4318134.aspx

United States Department of Labor. (n.d.). History of Labor Day. Retrieved from https://www.dol.gov/general/laborday/history