Aug 07

“StrengthsFinder 2.0” by Tom Rath: How It Can Help

A top seller in Amazon’s Psychology and Counseling category is Tom Rath‘s 2007 StrengthsFinder 2.0 from the Gallup organization. Among its readers have been many employees, in particular, who’ve either been encouraged to use this or have found it on their own.

How does this book, now 10 years old, keep going so strong? For one, it helps that its first incarnation (Now, Discover Your Strengths) with its Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment tool, was also a success.

For two, it makes big promises than many readers believe have been fulfilled. From the publisher: “Loaded with hundreds of strategies for applying your strengths, this new book and accompanying website will change the way you look at yourself–and the world around you–forever.”

Watch this brief video for an intro to StrengthsFinder 2.0:


The assessment is updated in the newer StrengthsFinder edition and when you get your results, says Rath, “instead of general descriptions of your top five talent themes, in 2.0, you get a talent profile so unique that you’re unlikely to share even a sentence with someone else.”

Click on this link—34 possible themes—to see what the possibilities are.

Some quotes from StrengthsFinder 2.0:

When we’re able to put most of our energy into developing our natural talents, extraordinary room for growth exists. So, a revision to the “You-can-be-anything-you-want-to-be” maxim might be more accurate: You cannot be anything you want to be—but you can be a lot more of who you already are.

If you spend your life trying to be good at everything, you will never be great at anything.

From the cradle to the cubicle, we devote more time to our shortcomings than to our strengths.

The most successful people start with dominant talent—and then add skills, knowledge, and practice to the mix. When they do this, the raw talent actually serves as a multiplier.

Talent (a natural way of thinking, feeling, or behaving) × Investment (time spent practicing, developing your skills, and building your knowledge base) = Strength (the ability to consistently provide near-perfect performance).

Julie Moore, Talent Insights, debunks a misconception about the StrengthsFinder not translating well to real-world usefulness versus career-only:

The good folks at Gallup have done a lot of polling and research. (That’s kinda what they’re known for.) They share in StrengthsFinder 2.0 that ‘people who have the opportunity to focus on their strengths every day are six times as likely to be engaged in their jobs and more than three times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life in general.’ 

In addition to employment, education, and “life in general,” many individuals who’ve appreciated StrengthsFinder comment that it can help regarding relationship issues.

The StrengthsFinder approach does have its detractors, though, and one important criticism is that it hasn’t been peer-reviewed, meaning those outside the scope of Gallup have not been able to study or challenge it scientifically.

Aug 04

July News: Mental Health Days and More

Another sampling of top mental health news from July:

I. Woman Takes Mental Health Day, the Internet Explodes (and Her Boss Had the Perfect 3-Sentence Response). Peter Economy, Inc.

Jena McGregor, Washington Post, called this “The Mental Health Email Shared ‘Round the World.”

A boss actually applauded an employee who informed colleagues she was taking some mental health days. Further explanation from McGregor:

Surveys by the American Psychological Association’s Center for Organizational Excellence show that less than half of Americans (44 percent) say they believe the climate in their organization supports well-being, and that nearly 20 percent of employees say the challenges of their jobs were harder to handle in the past month due to mental health issues such as depression or anxiety. For employers, says the center’s director, David Ballard, ‘the costs of untreated mental health issues, the lost productivity, is actually more costly than the treatment side because people are there at work but not functioning to full capacity.’

II. What We Finally Got Around to Learning at the Procrastination Research Conference. Heather Murphy, New York Times

A few of the things: numbers, a definition, and how to change.

One out of five people, researchers have found, fall into a category they call chronic procrastinators or procs (rhymes with crocs). The proc consistently procrastinates consistently in multiple areas of his or her life — work, personal, financial, social — in ways that attendees describe as wreaking havoc, undermining goals and producing perpetual shame….
It is more complicated than ‘if you do it X number of times a week you’re a proc.’ But if you procrastinate ‘almost every day, at least half of the time you have work tasks,’ that is a solid hint that you qualify, said Julia Elen Haferkamp, a psychologist at the University of Münster in Germany…
Asked to summarize their advice to the procs of the world, most attendees offered a version of the following: Accept that changing will require learning to manage your thoughts and emotions more than figuring out how to manage your time. If it is a severe problem, consider working with a professional who understands procrastination. And for those who have A.D.H.D., the cycle of procrastination may operate differently than for those who do not.

III. Don’t Believe in God? Maybe You’ll Try U.F.O.s. Clay Routledge, New York Times

On an apparent need for many to have something to believe in:

…People who do not frequently attend church are twice as likely to believe in ghosts as those who are regular churchgoers. The less religious people are, the more likely they are to endorse empirically unsupported ideas about U.F.O.s, intelligent aliens monitoring the lives of humans and related conspiracies about a government cover-up of these phenomena.
An emerging body of research supports the thesis that these interests in nontraditional supernatural and paranormal phenomena are driven by the same cognitive processes and motives that inspire religion.

IV. The life-changing science of photographing your clutter, CNN

A take-off on Marie Kondo‘s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, the title of this article has to do with our collective resistance to unloading stuff. “We have an average of at least 50 unused items in our homes, including clothing, electronic devices and toys.”

What might help:

…In studies conducted online and in person, we found that participants reported that they would experience less identity loss from donating a cherished item if they had photographed it or preserved the memory of it some other way.
Initially, in an online study, we let our subjects choose how to handle this. Nearly two out of three opted for photography, by far the most popular method. The other most common techniques included creating a scrapbook page or making a video about it — the approach taken by 22 percent of our participants — and writing a note or making a journal entry — selected by 13 percent.

V. Eating Too Much Sugar Is Linked to Depression in Men, Poor Things. Lisa Ryan, Science of Us

Brief excerpt:

Good news for women: While added sugar is arguably unhealthy for everyone, and puts your physical health at risk, it turns out women can at least consume it without getting depressed. Tiny victories! But unfortunately for men, that’s not the case; a new study found that ingesting high quantities of added sugar makes men more likely to become depressed.

Aug 02

July News: Women, Children, Animals Edition

Some of the most interesting mental health news in July pertained to women, children, and animals:

I. What’s in It for Women? Vs. What’s in It for My Husband? Bella DePaulo, PhD, Psychology Today

Psychologist Bella DePaulo has written extensively on topics related to being single. An excerpt from her recent article comparing single women to married ones on the issue of politics:

Unmarried women, whether Black or White or Latina, think differently than married women in an important way, and that difference may help explain why single women vote reliably for Democrats and married women do not…

There are other important ways that married and unmarried women differ, such as the ways they think about traditional gender roles or gender discrimination, and whether they have children at home. The authors examined a half-dozen such differences, and none of them mattered for voting as much as the women’s beliefs about whether their own life outcomes were linked to those of other women’s.

II. In 100 Percent Unsurprising News, Working at Breastaurants Is Bad for Women’s Mental Health. Rachel Sugar, Grub Street

Hooters is one example of a “breastaurant,” lingo that was new to me, as was SOREs (see below excerpt). As Sugar notes, what’s not shocking at all is the “greater risk for anxiety and eating disorders” among women who work at such places.

While these problems aren’t specific to ‘sexually objectifying restaurant environments”’ (SOREs for short) — people, especially women, are objectified working at all kinds of restaurants, the study acknowledges — the researchers chose to focus on breastaurants, rather than restaurants in general, because ‘those types of restaurants are growing in popularity.’

III. The children most likely to be bullied by their own friends. Jacqueline Howard, CNN

In just-what-they-need kids’ news…

Two separate studies published in June support…that overweight or obese children are more likely to have ‘frenemies’ than non-overweight children…
Frenemies and weight-related bullying can have a negative impact not only on overweight children’s emotional health but on physical health, and it could lead to more weight gain for a child…

IV. Spanking Leads to Mental Health Problems, Study Shows. Dawn Jorgenson, Local 10

In another-study-with-a-predictable-outcome news:

Data gathered over a 50-year period shows the more children are spanked, the more likely they are to develop mental health problems.

According to a study conducted at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Michigan, even though most Americans don’t recognize spanking as abusive behavior, it has been linked to aggression, anti-social behavior and cognitive difficulties….

V. Therapy animals are everywhere. Proof that they help is not. Karin Brulliard, Washington Post

…The trend, which has accelerated hugely since its initial stirrings a few decades ago, is underpinned by a widespread belief that interaction with animals can reduce distress — whether it happens over brief caresses at the airport or in long-term relationships at home. Certainly, the groups offering up pets think this, as do some mental health professionals. But the popular embrace of pets as furry therapists is causing growing discomfort among some researchers in the field, who say it has raced far ahead of scientific evidence…

On the other hand, scientific evidence isn’t everything. Sometimes you just know something helps.

(And on the other other hand—sorry, but this is reportedly true—sometimes a service animal is actually just the beloved pet of someone faking a mental health problem for selfish purposes.)

Jul 31

Goldwater Rule Is Challenged But Still Active

It’s recently been reported (Stat News) that members of a “psychiatry group” were informed via email that the Goldwater Rule may not have to stand firm in these troubling times: “We don’t want to prohibit our members from using their knowledge responsibly.” In other words, if so inclined, go ahead and speak openly about your views regarding the president’s state of mind.

The group in question, however, was not the creator of the Rule, the American Psychiatric Association (APA), but the American Psychoanalytic Association (APsaA), a much smaller body (3500 members versus 37,000) who represent all mental health disciplines, not just psychiatry.

A clarification from APsaA (per Mark Joyella, Forbes) included the following:

…(O)ur leadership did not encourage members to defy the ‘Goldwater Rule’ which is a part of the ethics code of a different mental health organization, the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

Rather, it articulated a distinct ethics position that represents the viewpoint of psychoanalysts…(W)e feel that our concepts and understanding are applicable and valuable to understanding a wide range of human behaviors and cultural phenomenon.

Whether or not this leads to hearing from more mental health professionals about Trump remains to be seen. But it’s not as though the Goldwater Rule hasn’t been bent or broken by many already, and as Jesse Singal, Science of Us, notes, it seems no one’s ever been punished for doing so.

This has led to an unfortunate situation in which the only psychiatrists truly gagged by the rule are those who are conscientious enough to follow it in the first place. This probably skews the sample of psychiatrists willing to comment on Trump’s mental health so that it’s mostly those with relatively extreme opinions — that Trump is a clear and present danger to the republic, or that even bringing up the potential that he has mental-health problems is staggeringly out of bounds — taking part in the conversation.

“A more diverse range of voices would make that conversation more intelligent and less hysterical,” Singal argues. Perhaps the Goldwater Rule is a detriment. “Overall, given how emotionally charged the debate over Donald Trump’s strange, frequently abusive behavior is, it would be useful to have more expert voices participating — the benefits clearly outweigh the costs. The psychiatric establishment should follow the American Psychoanalytic Association’s defiant lead and retire the Goldwater Rule altogether.”

On the other hand, rebuts Susan MatthewsSlate“The Goldwater Rule Is Irrelevant”:

Singal is right about revoking the rule, but he’s wrong about why. Whether or not psychiatrists agree that Trump is a bad fit for the position of president of the United States is totally irrelevant to whether Trump gets to be president. The question around whether a diagnosis means anything now centers not on whether it will sway voters but on whether it could be used to implement the 25th Amendment, which asserts that the president can be removed from his position if he is deemed ‘unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.’ Goldwater Rule or no, it is extremely unlikely that the 25th Amendment will be invoked, with or without a ‘real’ diagnosis, because it is not whether Trump has NPD that matters—it is whether those in power will stand up to him, and the answer to this is a resounding no

But nix the Goldwater Rule anyway, she adds, in order to improve general discourse regarding mental health. Mental illness alone, after all, doesn’t necessarily prevent good leadership. “And as many psychiatrists have in fact already argued, Trump’s true deficiencies center not around his possible mental impairments but around his potential and capacity for evil. To blame that on a mental disorder lets Trump off easy and does a disservice to those actually struggling with mental illness.”
Jul 28

Use of Emoji: Their Cyberpsychology and Value

Essentially, emojis are doing what the tone of voice does on the telephone and what expressions and gestures do in face-to-face communication. Courtney Seiter, “The Psychology of Emojis” (The Next Web)

Several experts have been weighing in on the use of emoji. Why are they so popular? (Do I have to use them?) What do they accomplish? Do they make our writing lazy? Or do they make it clearer?

In addition, will the animated The Emoji Movie, opening today, answer any of these questions? Does it matter that the just-out reviews are a heavy:

Maybe it’s wiser to turn to more studious resources. For instance, The Emoji Code: The Linguistics Behind Smiley Faces and Scaredy Cats by cognitive linguist Vyvyan EvansAs he’s written in a Psychology Today post:

Recent research suggests that as much as 70% of the world’s daily emoji usage relate directly to emotional expression: smiling faces, sad faces and love hearts, of various stripes…They enable us to punctuate the otherwise emotionally arid landscape of text with personal expression, which helps enrich the texture of the message, enabling us to communicate and elicit empathy—a central requirement of effective communication…

In essence, Evans is all for emoji and believes they represent the world’s first universal language. (I always thought we had that in music 🎶).

Another researcher, cyberpsychologist Linda Kaye, points out (Vice) that emoji are actually similar to our use of hand gestures (👍), yet more thought out than most real-world types of nonverbal communication:

If you’re interacting with somebody and you smile, in most cases that wasn’t intentional. You just naturally smiled because of what they or you were saying. But if you’re putting a smiley face at the end of a text message or Facebook comment, you don’t do that without careful consideration. You might pause and think, ‘Is this appropriate? Is this going to be misconstrued? Are they going to think I’m a bit of a douchebag?’ You think about that smile in ways you wouldn’t out in the real world. It becomes a conscious, premeditated process rather than a reflexive, unconscious response. We could feasibly get to a point someday where that isn’t the case, where emojis become more automatic.

In the meantime, though, one problematic issue noted by Vyv Evans (per Douglas Heaven, New Scientist) is the accuracy—or not—of getting a proper read (📖) on others’ emoji:

…(E)mojis are [not] always easy to interpret. Many have acquired insider meanings. How emojis look also differs between devices, which can have serious consequences. Several people have been arrested for sending messages with emojis judged to be threatening. In one US case, 17-year-old Osiris Aristy was charged under antiterrorism laws for a Facebook post in which gun emojis were placed next to a police officer emoji. A grand jury refused to take the matter further.

Monica A. Riordan, PhD, Psychology Today, argues, however, that we can make emoji work for us and that they’re “perfectly suited to be tools” (🛠) of our close relationships’ “emotion work”:

Not only are they able to convey a great deal, but the meaning is whatever the receiver wants it to be. Thus, rather than taking the risk of saying the wrong thing, my husband simply texts a heart emoji instead. Because I want my husband to be supportive of me, I choose to interpret the heart emoji in a positive way. Thus the communication is successful; our relationship is preserved. It does not really matter whether I correctly interpreted exactly what he meant when he sent the emoji.

❣️ ❣️ ❣️

What kind of people use emoji anyway? Meera Senthilingam, CNN, gleaned the following from Kaye’s research:

One key finding was that the people using them tend to be more agreeable in nature…
Another factor her team identified was that people who commonly used emoji were more socially receptive and empathetic, making them more approachable…

So, make friends with an emoji user today?