Mar 08

Social Fitness: Special Tools to Boost Your Confidence

One of the things encouraged on Philip Zimbardo‘s site called The Heroic Imagination Project (HIP) is a Social Fitness Challenge, which comes out of the work of Lynne Henderson, Ph.D., Co-Director with Zimbardo of the Shyness Institute. Each of the 15 weekly suggestions for an activity starts with the following intro:

At HIP we believe in working on our Social Fitness through daily workouts. Just as a person exercises to condition their muscles and develop muscle memory, a person can do regular Social Fitness workouts to prepare themselves to act courageously, wisely, and compassionately in challenging social situations.

These various challenges can be much more useful than just encouraging your “inner hero” to emerge, however; they can actually help anyone who feels socially inhibited or awkward to learn to feel more comfortable with other people.

Below are each of the 15 suggestions in brief:

  1. Smile at 10 strangers to spread good will.
  2. Go out of your way to open the door/hold the door open for someone.
  3. Write down what you find interesting and valuable about a different person each day.
  4. Write down 3-5 things every day for which you are grateful.
  5. Give a sincere compliment to at least one person every day this week.
  6. Throughout the day, take short breaks to practice mindfulness through breath awareness. Be sure to sit comfortably and close your eyes.
  7. Practice asking for help.
  8. Help someone feel included in a group setting.
  9. Share your deepest values with someone.
  10. Have a conversation with someone you don’t usually talk to.
  11. Write a letter telling someone how much you appreciate him/her.
  12. Let someone else go first.
  13. On the way to and from work/school, use all five senses to take in information about your surroundings. Share what you notice with a friend.
  14. Listen carefully to someone without trying to solve his/her problem.
  15. Introduce yourself to someone in your neighborhood.

Curiosity piqued? Go to the Heroic Imagination Project website and start The Weekly Social Fitness Challenge.

Henderson, by the way, is the co-author with psychologist Paul Gilbert of The Compassionate Mind-Guide to Building Social Confidence: Using Compassion-Focused Therapy to Overcome Shyness and Social Anxiety (2011). “The program in this book helps you both accept your shyness as part of your personality and challenge your social anxiety when it keeps you from living the life you want.”

Zimbardo calls it “a must-read for everyone interested in the human condition—shy people and the rest of us, as well.”

Henderson’s co-author Gilbert developed the therapy model at the core of their book and is the sole writer of Compassion Focused Therapy (2010).

Dec 11

“The Time Paradox” and “Time Cure”

Time perspective is a term coined by psychology prof Philip Zimbardo. Do you know what yours is? Why would you care? According to the subtitle of The Time Paradox (2008) by Zimbardo and John Boyd, this is “The New Psychology of Time That Will Change Your Life.”

It’s not really just one paradox, but a series of them, however. Examples given on the website:

Paradox 1
Time is one of the most powerful influences on our thoughts, feelings, and actions, yet we are usually totally unaware of the effect of time in our lives.

Paradox 2
Each specific attitude toward time—or time perspective—is associated with numerous benefits, yet in excess each is associated with even greater costs.

Paradox 3
Individual attitudes toward time are learned through personal experience, yet collectively attitudes toward time influence national destinies.

Jane Collingwood writes in a Psych Central article about the five approaches to time perspective that Zimbardo has identified in The Time Paradox:

The ‘past-negative’ type. You focus on negative personal experiences that still have the power to upset you. This can lead to feelings of bitterness and regret.
The ‘past-positive’ type. You take a nostalgic view of the past, and stay in very close contact with your family. You tend to have happy relationships, but the downside is a cautious, ‘better safe than sorry’ approach which may hold you back.
The ‘present-hedonistic’ type. You are dominated by pleasure-seeking impulses, and are reluctant to postpone feeling good for the sake of greater gain later. You are popular but tend to have a less healthy lifestyle and take more risks.
The ‘present-fatalistic’ type. You aren’t enjoying the present but feel trapped in it, unable to change the inevitability of the future. This sense of powerlessness can lead to anxiety, depression and risk-taking.
The ‘future-focused’ type. You are highly ambitious, focused on goals, and big on making ‘to do’ lists. You tend to feel a nagging sense of urgency that can create stress for yourself and those around you. Your investment in the future can come at the cost of close relationships and recreation time.

Selected Quotes from The Time Paradox

Time perspective is the often nonconscious personal attitude that each of us holds toward time and the process whereby the continual flow of existence is bundled into time categories that help to give order, coherence, and meaning to our lives.

While no one can change events that occurred in the past, everyone can change attitudes and beliefs about them.

Yesterday was too early. Tomorrow will be too late. Today is the day of reckoning for each of us.

Einstein himself is reported to have said: When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute and it’s longer than any hour. That’s relativity.

Future-oriented people tend to be more successful professionally and academically, to eat well, to exercise regularly, and to schedule preventive doctor’s exams.

What’s Your Type?

Your type can be determined by taking Zimbardo’s time perspective inventory. Click here to answer the 61 questions and get your results.

The Time Cure: Overcoming PTSD with the New Psychology of Time Perspective Therapy by Philip Zimbardo, Richard Sword, and Rosemary Sword applies the concept of time perspective to therapy with trauma survivors. The therapy approach used by the Swords helps those who get stuck in the Past Negative/Present Fatalistic place to shift to a more healing time perspective, including both the “past positive” and a more positive future orientation.

From Amazon’s Q & A with the authors of The Time Cure:

Q. How is this different from other approaches to addressing PTSD?

A. Time Perspective Therapy takes into consideration not only a person’s past and present, but also their future. Many approaches to helping PTSD sufferers focus on a person’s history and how past events affect their thought processes. Through our practice we’ve found that constantly reliving that past trauma can have extremely negative effects on a PTSD sufferer—we call it ‘being stuck in the quicksand of the past.’ A person with PTSD is stuck between their traumatic past experience (what we call ‘past negatives’) and their hopeless present (what we call ‘present fatalism’). If they do think about the future, it’s usually negative. In TPT we focus on balancing a person’s past negatives with positive memories of the past; their present fatalism with some present hedonistic enjoyment; and we make plans for a bright, positive future.