Psych & Life Changes

The need for intellectual humility

The National Week of Conversation recently ended, and though I didn’t get a chance to participate in the local events, I liked its purpose: to promote robust and civil discussions.

I started thinking about the qualities that make for good conversation and for strong communication more generally. Intellectual humility immediately came to mind.

Humility often gets associated with weakness and degradation. It’s confused with humiliation and poorly understood as a virtue. But it’s critical for intellectual, moral, and psychological growth, for honesty inquiry, and for communicating in good faith.


Are you focusing too much on willpower?

People often beat themselves up for not having enough willpower. But what good does that actually do?

A lot of times, it’s a cop-out. You engage in some degree of self-flagellation (“I’m so weak! I don’t exercise, and I procrastinate on all my work!”), but once that’s out of the way, nothing changes. Maybe you feel a little more ineffectual or unhappy, but that’s it.

What is willpower anyway? There’s an assumption that it’s an independent force in the mind. Tweak it somehow, and the New Year’s resolutions you’ve already abandoned will become possibilities.

But what affects willpower, and is it even the main driving force behind change? It probably isn’t productive to think about change as simply a matter of willpower. There are other issues to consider – patterns of behavior, thoughts, and feelings that have locked you into your current life.


Job Skills for the Future – and the Psychological Resilience We’ll Need

There are many reasons people feel off-kilter these days. The shifting, churning job landscape is one of them.

A number of jobs threaten to become obsolete or at least shrink in number. Other jobs will come about, but we can’t fully anticipate what they’ll be. Still, people are trying to make informed guesses about the necessary skills for future job success.

What will the jobs of the future demand?

I recently came across this article from Singularity Hub: “7 Critical Skills For the Jobs of the Future.”

First off, I’m going to highlight “effective oral and written communication.” Yes, absolutely. You need to communicate ideas effectively, explain things with clarity, and keep people interested in what you do.

Other skills (or traits) on the list are valuable too, like critical thinking, imagination, initiative, and the ability to analyze information.

One line, however, started making me uneasy. Under “agility and adaptability,” the article states:

We may have to learn skills and mindsets on demand and set aside ones that are no longer required.

To be a lifelong learner is an excellent attitude. It’s important to stay up-to-date in your field and to remain curious about the world and well-informed. Even if you aren’t an expert in a specific area, having some basic literacy in it, some understanding of the foundational principles, is beneficial. And of course, it’s important not to become too stuck or narrow in your thinking. Re-examining ideas and leaving space for doubt and reflection are an important part of growth. I don’t discourage any of that.

What makes me uneasy is the idea of reinventing oneself “on demand,” at the drop of a hat. On demand, you adopt not only a new skill, but a new mindset. What does a “new mindset” mean? How quickly, and how deeply, can you really change in a short amount of time?

Let’s not overlook the psychological effects

Workers of the future sometimes get described the way a computer would. Just keep upgrading their operating system and updating their software. If they’re low on entrepreneurship, install that program in them. They won’t crash (one hopes).

Other times, the descriptions rely on marketing terminology. To keep up and survive disruptions, people need to “rebrand” themselves. They don’t have a temperament and a developmental trajectory they’ve taken through life. They have a tagline.

Seriously, what are the psychological costs of regularly needing to reinvent yourself? People are capable of flexibility. They’re able to adapt. But they have limits too. They can’t be everything, and they can’t change everything. If the changes are dizzying, how do they cope?

What does reinvention even amount to? Again, I’m not talking about becoming a lifelong learner or reevaluating what you think or know. That’s difficult enough for most people to stick to consistently. I’m talking about the possibility of quickly changing values, uprooting yourself from communities, severing attachments, living as a floating, flickering entity with little depth. In all seriousness, we need to better understand what “adaptability” would mean to people. When they have little time to change, heal, or develop wisdom, what are they left with?

The list of skills, or traits, for jobs of the future should definitely include psychological resilience. People will need to find non-destructive ways to cope with instability and rapid changes. How to go about doing this? I’m not sure yet, but it will be critical to understand the psychological stressors and help people figure this out.

– Hila

The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz: Three Important Topics

The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz recounts some of the author’s insights from years of working as a psychologist. One theme the book explores is people’s tendency to coast, unthinking, through life. The consequences include damaged relationships, professional failure and various acts of self-sabotage.

The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz

Here I’ll highlight three of the book’s topics. Each of them is connected to the theme of living without much awareness or personal regard.

20 Online Stress Management Resources


Unhealthy levels of stress increase the chances of disease, psychological problems and poor quality of life. If you’re struggling with excessive stress, you’ll hopefully find some helpful sites among these online stress management resources.

Some of these resources help with short-term relaxation or distraction; others promote habits and strategies for managing stress long-term.


26 reasons you won’t be finishing your to-do list

Finishing your to-do list might not be easy. Here are 26 reasons why:

1) You’re experiencing serious doubts about your abilities and effectiveness.

2) Somewhere, there’s a Law & Order: SVU marathon.

3) You keep adding to the list as the day goes on.

4) There are pins to pin and tweets to tweet.

5) Writing the to-do list has given you enough of a sense of accomplishment.

6) You’ve come down with the flu. Or something flu-ish.

7) There’s a new episode of Orange Is the New Black, Game of Thrones, Top Bitch-Slapping Housewife Chefs of Bravo, etc. or an old episode of Law & Order that you sort of forgot the ending to.

8) Writing the to-do list has exhausted you.

9) You’ve begun to wonder if anything you do matters.

10) You’ve misplaced your to-do list, perhaps intentionally.

11) You didn’t get started on your to-do list until the afternoon, and by that point it already seemed too late in the day to start being productive, so you gave up.

12) Your to-do list was written with the assumption that you don’t need to eat, sleep, or go to the bathroom.

13) You look forward to berating yourself at the end of the day for not living up to your own standards.

14) Nothing on your to-do list is remotely enjoyable.

15) You never delegate to anyone.

16) You can’t bring yourself to say ‘no’ to anyone.

17) Your to-do list was written with the assumption that you’re more intelligent, strong, efficient, and/or persistent than you actually are.

18) It’s important that you commit at least one act of self-sabotage a day.

19) You’re frequently in the grip of a delicious daydream.

20) You often stop to smell the roses, inhale the magnolia blossoms, caress the daffodils, fondle the forsythias…

21) You will fail – you fear it, you know it, you can’t bear to see it happen.

22) Everything you do needs to be perfect, nothing short of perfect.

23) Your cat naps last three or more hours.

24) Your kids, spouse, relatives, romantic partner, not-so-romantic partner, friends, neighbors, pets, teachers, students, employers, colleagues, irate customers suck time out of your day like nobody’s business.

25) You’re on hold with a credit card company or Internet Service Provider.

26) You keep a to-do list but question the need for finishing it. As long as you get to the important stuff, that’s all that matters. And if you don’t get to the important stuff, well, there’s always tomorrow. (You hope.)

Do any of these sound familiar?

– Hila

The Best Gift You Can Give Yourself This Year: Self-Awareness

It probably won’t come as any surprise to you, but most people don’t keep their New Year’s resolutions (close to 80% of people, in some studies). Less than a month has gone by since New Year’s Day, and already there will be people who lapsed.

The mindset of making resolutions, and the futility people feel, is of course a delight to businesses and advertisers (check out this neat cartoon contrasting pre-Christmas ads with those that pop up afterwards). So what are resolutions good for if they so often do nothing but making us shill out money on products and services we’ll rarely use? Why do they fail?

I think it’s because they’re so often made with a lack of awareness. If you really want to improve your life, the best gift you can give yourself is self-awareness. This means doing your best to actually keep track of what you do and figure out why you do it.

How can awareness help?

  • Many resolutions are abstract. You say, “I’ll get in shape.” (Ok, how?) “I’ll go to the gym.” (When?) “I don’t know… after work maybe.” (How often?) “Four, five times a week?” (Every week?) “Shut up.” In all seriousness, you have to work out the specifics. This doesn’t mean that you have to rigidly stick to whatever plan you come up with – things will probably change, and you’ll need to make adjustments. All it means is that, in advance, you try to work out the practicalities, come up with backup plans, and anticipate what can hold you back and how to work around it.
  • Many people make resolutions without being aware of why they’re making them. The fact that it’s New Year’s can put you in the mood to improve, but that won’t be enough to keep you going. Why is it you want to make a specific resolution? Why is it important to you?
  • Many resolutions are framed in such a way that you set yourself up to fail. People set unrealistic, rigid goals, then feel discouraged when they fall short of them. There’s also an all-or-nothing approach to resolutions that makes people feel like they’re constantly failing (“If I don’t manage to write X amount of pages a day or do X amount of minutes of exercise a day, then I give up completely.”) Lapses are treated as excuses to beat yourself up and go back to doing exactly what you’ve always done, which may be unsatisfying but is at least comfortable. There’s no need to see resolutions as summary judgments of your worth or tests that assign you a fixed score. Change is a lifelong process, and there will be better days and worse days.
  • Many people don’t keep track of their behaviors. When you try to change yourself, you’re working against long-standing habits of thought and behavior. These have a powerful pull. If you don’t keep track of your own behavior, you’ll usually find yourself falling into the same rut as before. Instead of looking at your resolutions through the binary of ‘complete success’ or ‘complete failure,’ just keep track on a regular basis of what you do. For instance, if your goal is to be more productive at work, keep track of how many pages you write per day, or how much time it takes you to do some specific task; if your aim is to control your temper more, keep track of when you snap. You’ll probably notice patterns – maybe during times when you’re struggling, there’s something else going on (some stress in your life, such as lack of sleep or a fight with a family member). You’ll also notice if you start falling into the way you used to do things, and you’ll be in a better position to change what you do. These changes can be made incrementally, and they don’t need to be perfect.

Self-reflection and awareness don’t depend on New Year’s or any other day of the year. Start now, start slowly, and remember that you’re human.