I haven’t been able to post recently because school is literally kicking my ass with work. This is turning out to be my hardest semester yet.
I’ve recently realized that I want to study success, and that my next few projects will focus on the science of success.

First though, what is success? Everyone defines it differently, so what overarching definition can I place on this important aspect of life?

more to come

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How To Become An Expert

What separates a world-class concert pianist from your aunt Jane who’s been playing for 15 years? Where is the divide between an expert oncologist who can catch lung cancer 95 % of the time, and a rookie who only averages a 50% success rate?

Similar to “get rich quick” schemes, there are plenty of programs out there that claim they can help you become an expert. Some claim they have the key, while others boast their “knowledge” of the steps it takes to become an expert.

I do not claim that becoming an expert in any field is easy, but I will tell you that it is a hell of a lot simpler than you might think. So what is the big secret? Research has consistently showed that expertise can be achieved by practicing for 10,000 hours. This may seem like an overwhelming number, but if it were easy, everyone would do it. Setting aside 5 hours a day, 6 days a week, could lead a person to be an expert in a little over 8 years.

So how many experts are there in our country? tons actually. We send our children to school for at least 5 hours a day, 5 days a week for 12 years; this puts them just above the 10k hour rule. Add in homework and one can assume that most successful high school seniors are experts, at the very least, at reading.

As I said before, becoming an expert by no means is easy, but by understanding the 10k hour rule we now have something to strive for. A seemingly impossible task is all of a sudden in our reach. All one needs to do is set enough time aside, and stay focused on the dream.

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Secrets In Our Sleep – The Truth Behind Dream Analysis

“Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before” -Edgar Allan Poe

As I’ve mentioned tons of times already, analyzing dreams is how I became interested in psychology. I know what some of you are thinking, “Analyzing dreams is pop psych not actual psychology”, but you are wrong, and I’ll show you why.

Someone new to reading dreams will most likely do what I did and buy a book like Cloud Nine: A Dreamer’s Dictionary. Although your intentions are good, this is a great way to be led astray. If you go to Barns and Nobel, you will find shelves filled with books trying to help you “decode your dreams”. Unfortunately a lot of these books take a very spiritual spin on analysis; they are often dictionaries that contain common dream symbols that try to help you figure out what the universe is telling you. Now, I am not saying that dreams cannot be spiritual creations, or your link to another world, but I am a psychologist and I will tell you what I know about dream analysis from a psychological point of view.

Step 1: Disregard any books you might have on dream analysis.

I started becoming good at analyzing dreams after realizing that the books offered some good insight, but were hit or miss when I tried looking up symbols. Furthermore many of the explained symbols found in these books are very general (like horoscopes) and thus seem right but really don’t help much. Everyone has some fear of death, dreams are usually more specific.

Step 2: Know the person you’re analyzing

You won’t get anywhere if you don’t know enough about the dreamer. When it comes to dreams, very few things are universal. If they have a dream about a clown, you need to know what clowns mean to them. Are they scared of clowns? Was their uncle a clown? Does someone in their life wear too much makeup? All these things are relevant, so if you don’t know enough about the particular person you need to ask enough questions before you can even begin to analyze them.

Step 3: Stay relative

Dreams are a way for our minds to unwind, to think about what has happened to us recently and to connect it to our past. A great place to start is to connect dream elements with recent events. However, don’t limit yourself to just what has happened recently because elements of our subconscious are also present in our dreams, and they can go as far back as our memory allows.

Step 4: Pay attention to detail

Everything in a dream is there for a reason, some are more important than others, but everything none the less has a purpose. Try to focus on a handful of elements that the dreamer seems to talk about most (no matter how seemingly insignificant) and try to draw connections between them and current events.

Other than these 4 tips, keep in mind that almost everything in a dream is a symbol and needs to be “figured out” before true meaning can arise. A person may dream about being chased by a saber toothed tiger, does this mean that he has a fear of large cats? maybe. But it is more likely that the act of being chased is more significant, what is he running from? What in his life could be metaphorically chasing him around? Why is he so desperate to escape?

If I run across some interesting dreams I’ll post them and their analysis relatively soon.

Good luck! and always feel free to email me with questions.

Photo Credit: svilen001

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The Book That Got All The Wheels Turning

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I first became interested in psychology by analyzing dreams (post coming soon). Everything changed once I got my hands on a copy of Malcolm Gladwell‘s Blink.

Gladwell is not a psychologist, but he is the best at explaining complicated concepts and drawing links between psychology, economics, fashion and much more.

Blink is all about the snap judgments we all subconsciously make. How can an expert tell a piece of art is fake within seconds of viewing it? How is racism processed in our minds? Can we trust our gut instincts? All these questions are not only answered but linked together by Gladwell.

Anyone who is even remotely interested in psychology (especially social psych) will not be able to put this book down. Gladwell outlines many of the most interesting studies ever conducted and really shows how it all applies to everyday life.


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Cognitive Dissonance – How We Are Really Good At Lying To Our Selves

Humans like consistency, and when something comes along that challenges that consistency, they freak out.

This is most clearly seem by a study conducted by Leon Festinger and Merrill Carlsmith. Participants entered the experiment with the idea that the study was on performance, little did they know what they were getting into. Placed in front of a wooden structure, participants were told to turn 48 wooden pegs a quarter turn clockwise. Once finished, they were told to repeat the process all over again. After the participants were sufficiently bored to death, they were allowed to stop.

After the experiment, each participant was approached by the experimenter. He asked that they spoke to the next participant (who was an actor working for the experiment) and tell them that the experiment was enjoyable. Some were paid $1 to lie and others $20 ( keep in mind this was the 50’s so it was more like $8 and $150 by today’s standards)

After telling their lie, participants were asked to rate how interesting they found the task, the results were very interesting. Those who were paid  $20 rated the task as very boring, however those who were paid $1 actually rated the experiment as somewhat interesting! why?

We can all agree that turning wooden pegs clockwise is mind numbingly boring, the inconsistency comes from the lie. Those paid $20 felt that they were given enough money for lying. Those who were only given $1 did not feel that they were given enough money to tell such lies, therefore they themselves must be lairs. Most people don’t consider themselves to be liars, and thus this causes anxiety; to combat this, participants subconsciously convinced themselves that they were not lying, but actually enjoyed the task! This is called cognitive dissonance.

This can be seen all the time in the real world. Ask a smoker why he or she smokes. Some will tell you they are self destructive, is this true? Perhaps they know that they are hurting themselves by smoking, yet they still smoke for whatever the reason. There is an inconsistency between smoking and not wanting to hurt oneself, so they convince themselves that they are self destructive.

There are many things we hold true that are only created to diminish our cognitive dissonance.

Photo Credit: ilco

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How I See It

This gallery contains 4 photos.

My semester just started Tuesday and I already am losing track of the days =(. Here are some pictures I’ve taken over the years. Let me know what you think.

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The Video Game of Life

Whether you are an avid video gamer, a compulsive Facebooker, or none of the above, Jesse Schell’s talk on how technology will soon affect our lives is both inspiring and utterly terrifying.

The easiest way to hook technology and psychology together is to think about Pavlov’s experiments with dogs (Because I couldn’t resist and because it’s a good learning tool, here’s  a small video game on conditioned responses).

Think about credit cards, flying in airplanes, and only grabbing coffee from one vendor. What do they all have in common? They all offer points, and they all give us rewards for choosing them over comparators.

Thinking of life as a nothing more than seeking out rewards and avoiding punishments is a very simple way to view it all, none the less, these ideas do pang at our very core. Think back to the last time you received a good grade in school, how nice it felt to earn that high mark; how nice it is to get a check every two weeks for your hard work at your job? The same idea applies to coffee, you buy one cup and they give you a card with the numbers 1 through 5 on it. Every time you go back to that coffee stand they stamp a cute little coffee cup over the next number. After five cups, your sixth one is free.

Of course, this is just a way to get you to buy more coffee, getting that sixth one free is enough incentive to buy the first five right? It’s not that simple, and the card they give you plays a crucial role in all this. Every time you buy a new cup of coffee, you track your progress, and getting a little closer feels good. When you have only one more stamp to go, you almost make excuses to buy that last cup, to complete your task of filling a card with stamps. It feels good and it drives our behavior.

Video games have utilized these techniques for years. Small observable victories lead to larger victories. Compile enough large victories and you have “beaten the game”, which many know, can be one of the most satisfying feelings of accomplishment. People are starting to catch on, diets and many other beneficial programs are now structured this way.

But this post is not about the positive. As seen in the video above, technology is evolving so rapidly, that we may soon have sensors everywhere. Soon it will be feasible for our insurance companies to give us “bones points” every time we take the stairs instead of the elevator. We may one day get rewarded for carpooling 5 times in a row instead of individually driving to work. If these actions are ever put into place, they will greatly shape the way we behave. Some argue that it will lead us to live better, healthier lives, however I fear that constantly having incentives looming over our head will make us mindlessly subservient to whoever holds the power to control the reward.

Image Credits

Coffee Card

The Nintendo: mattc3004

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