Benefits and Risks of Social Media

Children nowadays have a way of connecting and interacting continuously with friends. They use various electronic gadgets, play games with people from other countries, have live face-to-face conversations via Skype, etc. It’s hard to even imagine a childhood without the internet and social media.

In a study conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2015, 89% of teenagers reported using at least one social media site such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. At that time, the most popular was Facebook, with 71% of teens between the ages of 13 and 17 reported using it [1]. In a more recent study conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research in December of 2016, Instagram and Snapchat led, with about 75% of teens reported using them, while Facebook usage declined slightly to 66%. However, the use of social media in general was on the rise, as 94% of teens age 13-17 reported using them [2].

 

Benefits of Social Media

1. Making Social Connections

Social media provide a convenient way for children to connect with their peers and keep in touch with friends they already spend time with in the offline world. This mutual, constant availability can lead to the strengthening of these relationships – they have someone they can share their problems with and ask for advice, or just chat with if they’re feeling bored. Furthermore, they use social media to explore their interests and connect with their community, which helps them further develop existing relationships with like-minded peers. Researchers from the Netherlands found that children between the ages of 11 and 14 who use social media report a higher level of friendship quality. Even though this study focused on their version of Facebook, authors believe their findings can be generalized to users of other social media beyond the Netherlands [3].

Social media also makes it easier for children to make new friends, as they don’t have to deal with the stress that comes from meeting new people face-to-face. For example, they don’t have to worry about being faced with an awkward silence when they feel pressure to speak but aren’t quite sure what they should say next. Texting doesn’t always require an immediate response, so children with less confidence in their social skills can take the time to come up with an adequate answer and reply with less pressure than in a face-to-face situation. In a longitudinal study, researchers concluded that instant messaging increases the quality of existing friendships because adolescents feel less inhibited and disclose their inner thoughts and feelings to one another earlier on, which enhances the relationship [4].

One of the undisputable benefits of social media is the ability to overcome geographical barriers. Using social media to keep in touch with friends who live in a different city, state, or country is a great way of ensuring a relationship doesn’t suffer because of distance. Two kids from Argentina and Iceland can communicate online just as easily as two kids who live in the same neighborhood. And, social media can help bring together diverse groups of children. Having contact and communicating with children of a diverse cultural, ethnic, and religious background can be the key to developing tolerance and respect for different groups of people.

2. A Helpful Tool for Dealing with Problems

There are many ways in which children can communicate online while staying anonymous, i.e. joining Reddit. Shy children, who often feel socially awkward, might use this controlled environment to express themselves and speak their mind without the fear of negative offline consequences or of being stigmatized. This gradually leads to the development of higher self-esteem. On social media, it’s easier to find someone who’s got the same problems and with whom one can talk and be listened to. Reading about the experiences of children who are dealing with the same issues as you are is an invaluable basis for evaluating your own problems.

The internet in general is a place where children can easily access online information about their health concerns, or, for example, a proper diet. Health resources are increasingly available to youth online, but social media can provide even more health information, as users share medical information online with each other [5, 6]. Also, children with chronic illnesses can join supportive networks of people with similar conditions. People with diabetes, for example, often create online communities, which allows them to connect to one another and to members of the healthcare community [7].

3. A Useful Resource in Education

Students often use social media to share information about school assignments, as well as to organize their time in accordance with their homework. Facebook groups, for example, present a common mode of communication and for the exchange of ideas. There are even schools that embrace social media as a teaching tool and find that it’s a necessary resource in education. However, there are some disadvantages when it comes to using technology and social media in the context of education. If you want to learn more about that as well as how children can best use the internet for their educational benefit, you should take a look at our article on this topic.

 

Potential Risks of Social Media

1. Social Media Addiction

All those likes, comments, pictures, texts, etc. can be overwhelming for children. As previously noted, children can reap many benefits from social media, especially in the area of socialization. On the other hand, constantly being online and on-call for friends can inevitably lead to sleep deprivation, which can cause further problems. It’s important not to become dependent on quick replies and a blizzard of instant messaging. If children are spending all that time on social media they’re probably neglecting other commitments at home and school. This also leaves them with less time for those necessary and irreplaceable face-to-face interactions with others.

2. The Burden of Comparisons with  Idealized Depictions of Others

Despite the upside of having a large amount of information available online regarding health and other issues, there’s clearly a downside. Much of what children might see on social media is a calculated and idealized picture someone is trying to present. Most people don’t post photos of themselves on Instagram when they’re sad or angry. You usually only see happy moments, such as them enjoying a party, or going to the movies with lots of friends, which seems to suggest they have a perfect, worry-free life. When children see the idealized life someone they follow on social media appears to be leading, they might ask, “What am I doing wrong?” and “Why is my life not like that?”, and feel like failures.

Also, it’s worth mentioning that it’s not hard to stumble upon complete disinformation online regarding an issue that’s important to children. Sometimes it’s challenging for even the most experienced users to tell if a source is accurate or if there’s a hidden agenda behind the information.

3. The Dangers of Disinhibition and Cyberbullying

Improper use of social media and a lack of restraint in online interactions can lead to the development of behavior patterns that aren’t commonly a part of life in the offline world. Anonymity is a two-edged sword. On one hand, it can help children overcome shyness and social anxiety, but it can also stimulate unwanted reactions, such as hostile or aggressive online behavior, potentially lead to cyberbullying. Bullying and cyberbullying have some elements in common, such as aggression, power imbalance, and the repetition of this type of behavior [8]. Researchers believe we should look at these two as distinct phenomena. Someone who is cyberbullying doesn’t have to be physically stronger than the victim, and usually doesn’t get to see the effect his or her behavior had on the victim. Another difference is in accessibility of the victim. Whereas bullying mostly happens at school, cyberbullying can be engaged in at any time and reach a much wider audience, which makes it potentially even more dangerous [8].

4. Invasion of Privacy

From the moment children start using social media and spending time on the internet, they start making a digital footprint. This can have ramifications for their future personal or professional life. One part of the problem is sharing too much information, which can be used by advertisers or third parties. About 90% of boys and girls share their real names and photos of themselves on social media. Most of them also share their birthdate, interests, city where they live, school name, etc. [9] We’re also witnessing people revealing personal information on Facebook posts, sharing their personal photos on Instagram daily, or indicating their political views on Twitter.

Besides the negative consequences of posting too much information about themselves online, potential threats for children also include security attacks such as hacking, malware, or even identity theft. A recent study by the Pew Research Center shows that internet users are able to answer fewer than half of the questions when asked about their knowledge of cybersecurity [10]. Although this research was conducted on adults, we have no reason to believe children would be any more informed. This makes children vulnerable to scams and invasions of privacy, especially if they didn’t get adequate education on these topics.

 

What Can Parents Do?

Let’s face it – most children nowadays can’t imagine life without the internet. As we’ve seen, social media is a helpful tool in many aspects of children’s lives, when used properly. On the other hand, if used recklessly, they can cause more harm than good. With this in mind, we’ll now go over a couple of practices that can help parents ensure their children use social media to their advantage.

– If your children are spending too much time on Facebook or another social media app, you should help them find some other activity to fill in their time. Try talking to them and seeing if they’re interested in taking up a hobby, or a sport.

– Try to set an example for your children and don’t use your cell phone too often. As a matter of fact, don’t use it at all in front of them, especially not for endlessly scrolling through social media, reading the news, etc. Use the free time you have together to connect and bond. Make a rule for everyone in your household – for example, that no one should use their phone during a meal or while having family time in the living room [11]. This will help them realize that the outside world is more important than the online one, and hopefully, they’ll understand that they aren’t going to miss anything important if they don’t reply to a text message right away.

Don’t invade their privacy! One study suggests it may not be the best strategy to intervene in your children’s use of social media [12]. A better approach for children’s online safety implies not necessarily intervening, but mediating their online behavior. For example, you should occasionally monitor the information they post online and talk to them about it, but you shouldn’t read their private conversations or use parental monitoring software to block content that contains online risks. If you merely reduce their exposure to online risks, they won’t be able to learn how to effectively cope with them. The suggested approach is to provide children with more autonomy to take risks, as well as for parents to take corrective action to mitigate those risks [12].

– Make sure you help your children learn not to evaluate themselves in comparison with an idealized image someone presented on social media. Let them know that they should be what they feel and think they should be, and not be driven by their perception of unrealistic depictions of others.

– You should suggest your children make their profiles private on social media such as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, so that their posts are only visible to their friends. Educate your children to cautiously and more securely access the online world. Think about enrolling them in one of the many interesting upcoming projects here at Nobel, such as the one concerned with teaching children about networking, firewalls, ports & internet security, etc.

 

References:

1. Lenhart, A., Duggan, M., Perrin, A., Stepler, R., Rainie, H., & Parker, K. (2015). Teens, social media & technology overview 2015 (pp. 04-09). Pew Research Center [Internet & American Life Project].

2. http://www.apnorc.org/projects/Pages/Instagram-and-Snapchat-are-Most-Popular-Social-Networks-for-Teens.aspx

3. Antheunis, M. L., Schouten, A. P., & Krahmer, E. (2016). The role of social networking sites in early adolescents’ social lives. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 36(3), 348-371.

4. Valkenburg, P. M., & Peter, J. (2009). The effects of instant messaging on the quality of adolescents’ existing friendships: A longitudinal study. Journal of Communication, 59(1), 79-97.

5. O’Keeffe, G. S., & Clarke-Pearson, K. (2011). The impact of social media on children, adolescents, and families. Pediatrics, 127(4), 800-804.

6. Moorhead, S. A., Hazlett, D. E., Harrison, L., Carroll, J. K., Irwin, A., & Hoving, C. (2013). A new dimension of health care: systematic review of the uses, benefits, and limitations of social media for health communication. Journal of medical Internet research, 15(4).

7. Cotter, A. P., Durant, N., Agne, A. A., & Cherrington, A. L. (2014). Internet interventions to support lifestyle modification for diabetes management: a systematic review of the evidence. Journal of Diabetes and its Complications, 28(2), 243-251.

8. Kowalski, R. M., Giumetti, G. W., Schroeder, A. N., & Lattanner, M. R. (2014). Bullying in the digital age: A critical review and meta-analysis of cyberbullying research among youth.

9. http://www.pewinternet.org/2013/05/21/what-teens-share-on-social-media/

10. http://www.pewinternet.org/2017/03/22/what-the-public-knows-about-cybersecurity/

11. https://childmind.org/article/how-using-social-media-affects-teenagers/

12. Wisniewski, P., Jia, H., Xu, H., Rosson, M. B., & Carroll, J. M. (2015, February). Preventative vs. reactive: How parental mediation influences teens’ social media privacy behaviors. In Proceedings of the 18th ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing (pp. 302-316). ACM.

How To Tame Your Fear Of Public Speaking

Have you ever experienced dry mouth, trembling, difficulty breathing, or your voice starting to shake during public speaking?

Racing heart, sweating, your face turning red?

Have you ever frozen in front of an audience?

These are some of the major symptoms of the Fear Of Public Speaking [1]. The body reacts to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival by releasing the hormone, adrenaline, which causes these symptoms. And in order to be able to overcome this fear it’s first necessary to understand it.

What is the fear of public speaking?

The fear of public speaking involves an overriding fear of being scrutinized or evaluated by others [2]. It may happen in the classroom, where a student hopes the teacher won’t call on him/her to answer a question. College students may avoid certain courses where speaking in front of the group is required or decide against certain careers for the same reason. Some students may even avoid social events they would like to attend.

The fear of public speaking is often linked with shyness, unwillingness to communicate, low self-esteem, and communication apprehension [3, 4] and these also frequently lead to avoidance of any situation that is perceived as a threat.

This all might sound scary, but there are many ways in which, with help, you can overcome your fear.

How to tame your fear

It’s okay to be a little nervous

Public speaking is a situation where most people feel anxiety. It’s a normal and common reaction, so remember – you’re not alone! Some people even believe that a little anxiety makes you a better speaker! Learn to accept it and use these tips to reduce the fear to a manageable level.

Prepare yourself

It’s important to be well prepared, so that you feel confident regarding the topic you’re going to be talking about in front of the audience.

Practice, practice, practice

The more you practice, the better you’re going to be! You can start by practicing in front of a mirror. Then, practice in front of friends or family, or someone you trust. You can even videotape or audiotape yourself, so you can have better insight in what to improve.

Use positive thinking

Visualizing speaking and the wanted outcome can reduce negative thoughts and some of the anxiety you feel about performing in front of an audience.

Slow down

Talking too fast can interfere with your breathing and lead to the sensation of running out of air, which could increase the fear. Choose a pace of speech that makes you comfortable and allows your audience to follow you.

Take deep breaths

To prevent the onset of any of the symptoms of public-speaking anxiety, take slow, deep, abdominal breaths before you stand up. This will calm you down and help even if you start feeling anxious during your speech.

Give yourself some credit

Perfect presentation doesn’t really exist, so concentrate on what you did well and remind yourself that a single unsuccessful speech does not automatically mean future speeches will be unsuccessful. Instead of worrying about your weaknesses, concentrate on your strengths.

Fear Of Public Speaking versus Public-Speaking Anxiety

Many people fear speaking in public or performing at events. However, some people suffer from public-speaking anxiety. If you’re afraid of speaking or performing in front of an audience, it doesn’t mean that you have a phobia. There’s a big difference between a fear and a phobia. A phobia is a fear that is excessive, persistent, and interfering. Public-speaking anxiety is a subset of social phobia, the fear of social situations. People who suffer from this have the symptoms we’ve described earlier, but they’re not able to manage and control their fear, so it causes problems in school and in social or professional settings. They tend to freeze in front of even a couple of people and suffer intense anxiety prior to, or even at the thought of, having to orally communicate with any group.

If your fear of public speaking is overwhelming, we recommend seeking the outside help of a coach or counselor, who can help you work through the fear and make your journey from fear to confidence a happy and successful one.

by Jelena Nedeljković

  1.  http://www.glossophobia.com
  2. Westwood, James D., ed. Medicine Meets Virtual Reality 02/10: Digital Upgrades, Applying Moore’s Law to Health. Vol. 85. IOS Press, 2002.
  3. Jovanovic, A. (2017, July 27) Retrieved from  https://nobelcoaching.com/shyness-in-child-development/
  4. Vevea, Nadene N., et al. “The only thing to fear is… public speaking?: Exploring predictors of communication in the public speaking classroom”. Journal of the Communication, Speech & Theatre Association of North Dakota 22 (2009), 1-8.

“New Year, New You” – the Nobel Way!

Don’t give up on your resolutions – Nobel can help you modify them to actually work!

New Year’s resolutions often start with the grand idea of perfecting something or making yourself perfect. We all know, though, that perfection isn’t a realistic, achievable goal, which is why many resolutions tend to be unsuccessful. Nobel Coaching & Tutoring truly knows how to help clients set goals, utilize strengths, and work to achieve success, so we’re offering some quick tips and insights on how you can get started.

  • Prioritize: Be mindful of what you actually want or need to achieve and prioritize two or three realistic and measurable goals.
  • Set short-term targets for long-term goals: Define what can be tracked in manageable, short-term periods that could help you reach a long-term goal.
  • Accountability: Use your resources to help you work on your trackable short-term goals (calendars, reminders, loved ones, personal trainers, Nobel Coaches, etc.).

So, let’s see where you should start!

Setting S.M.A.R.T. goals

Have you ever created a long list of New Year’s resolutions, adding one wish after another, full of motivation and confidence, only to give it all up as your motivation starts declining and your goals start to seem unattainable?

To prevent that from happening, each and every goal you decide on should be created based on the above catchy abbreviation, that stands for: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. [2] We’ll now go through the most popular New Year’s resolutions for 2018, see what they’re missing, and turn them into more easily achievable goals!

The three most common resolutions for this year are:

  • Eat healthier
  • Get more exercise
  • Save (more) money. [1]

But since Nobel Coaching is dedicated to students’ academic success, here we’ll add another, very common one:

  • Do better in school

Let’s start with the first thing from the S.MA.R.T. template and try to make these goals more specific.

Specifying your goal

Although “eat healthier” is a very positive goal to strive for, this definition allows for a lot of cheating! You need to define what eating healthier means for you and be as specific as possible. [2] Does it mean eating at least one vegetable a day? Does it mean no chips and soda? If you don’t define it, you could make yourself believe one vegetable and two sodas a day constitute a good diet, and once you don’t see any results, it would be easy for you to give up. But if your goal is clearly defined, you’ll be much more motivated to go on.

So, instead of making “eat healthier” your goal, let’s say “cut out chips and soda”, or “instead of sweets, eat fruit for dessert”, or “no eating after 8:00 p.m.”, or – why not all three of these combined?

Instead of  “get more exercise” (you could convince yourself that walking for just a few minutes constitutes that!), you should set a clear goal, such as “exercise three times a week at the gym” or “jog for half an hour three mornings a week”. Notice that it’s important to specify even the place or time; the more specific your goal, the easier it will be for you to make it a habit.

“Save more money” could turn into a specific monthly sum that you want to save, depending on your salary. Even if it seems like only a small amount for you, be sure to specify it! You’ll still save more money that way than if you give up after a month or two!

Finally, “do better in school” also lacks precision. So instead, you could put “go from a C to a B student”, or even better – “Go from C’s to B’s in these three courses”. Then you can choose two or three courses you’re currently having trouble with, and decide to focus on those first.

Measurable goals

You can see that most of our goals have numbers in them, which allows for them to be measurable. [2] If you only say “get more exercise”, there’s nothing to stop you from exercising only once every ten days. But if you say you’ll exercise three times a week, it will be harder for you to skip a day! In order to set goals that are even more measurable, you can separate them into short-term and long-term goals, but be patient: while you could achieve short-term goals fairly quickly, getting to the long-term goal will take more time. Make sure not to give up and not to change the long-term goal in the middle of the time-frame you’ve created!

For example, both “instead of sweets, eat fruit for dessert” and “no chips and soda” could amount to the goal of  “eating two portions of fruit and vegetables every day”, while “save more money each month” can be a stepping stone towards a specific sum you want to save altogether. When it comes to grades, your long-term goal could be a fixed GPA; getting to your B’s and A’s could be just a start towards this goal!

Attainable goals

Reading this, you might start thinking: “Jogging only three times a week? I can do much better than that!” And although one day you will be able to surpass these temporary goals, starting too big too soon more often than not results in disappointment. This will cause you to drop all your motivation and stop trying altogether, and we don’t want that! Once you’ve achieved your current goals, there’s nothing stopping you – you can set more goals and make them bigger!

But for the very beginning, they should be more easily achievable, to make sure you don’t lose your motivation and the will to achieve them. This is why we said “jog only three times a week“ instead of “jog daily”; similarly, make sure to take your financial situation into account when making plans concerning your savings. Regarding your grades, although going from C’s to A’s sounds wonderful, don’t push yourself too hard. Going up a whole grade is something to be proud of, so start with B’s first. Once you’re there, feel free to find new goals for yourself. [2]

Relevant goals

Although we want you to succeed, we don’t want you to put as little effort into your goals as possible. Your goals should be your actual goals, and not just something made up to keep your spirits high while you’re actually not accomplishing much. For example, if you rarely eat sweets and are eating a healthy diet, putting “no more sweets” on your list means you’re crowding out other, more important goals. If you’re a student, these important, relevant goals could be “go from C to B in five of my classes” or “pass all of my tests this year with at least 80%”.

The relevance of the goals also means that your list of resolutions shouldn’t be a mile long – decide on two or three most important long-term goals and once you’ve achieved those, you can add others to the list! [2]

Time-bound goals

Now, what do we mean exactly when we talk about short-term and long-term goals? Short-term goals are simply your stepping stones towards long-term goals. Long-term goals tend to be more specific and measurable. “Going from C’s to B’s in these three courses” would be a short-term goal, while “reach a 4.5 GPA” would be a long-term one. Make sure to give your short-term goals a time limit; this makes it easier to achieve your long-term goal (which should also have a time limit!) more easily and quickly. For example, your short-term goal could be to save “this much” the first month, “this much” the next –  and so on until you reach your long-term financial goal. [2]

To make sure these goals are met, you should use all the resources available to you that could help you track and achieve your short-term goals. This applies to all the groups and individuals who could be helpful: for example, you can join a gym and find a personal trainer, team up with your friends when it comes to jogging or studying, or contact us at Nobel Coaching & Tutoring and decide on a plan together!

But as you embark on this journey, remember one more thing… Don’t tell everyone about your big resolutions! You can share them with your family and one or two close friends, but that should be it. If you go around telling everyone you plan to start jogging or studying two times a day, you’re tricking your brain into thinking you’re actually doing it. This is because the reward centers in our brains are activated by both words and actions, so your brain will essentially be rewarding you just for talking about your big decisions!

So, make S.M.A.R.T. resolutions, use all the resources at your disposal, and your motivation will be sure to stay with you all the way through!

by Jelena Jegdić

References:

  1. https://www.statista.com/chart/12386/the-most-common-new-years-resolutions-for-2018/
  2. https://www.smartsheet.com/blog/essential-guide-writing-smart-goals

Cultivating a Sense of Gratitude

Gratitude is the emotion we experience when we notice and appreciate gifts that have been given to us in our lives. These gifts are frequently thoughtful things others do for us, but they can really be anything that makes us stop and say, “I am so grateful for this!” You can appreciate the gifts of nature, be grateful for feeling good today, or just for being alive!

But gratitude is often overlooked in the fast-paced world of today. It’s easy to get lost in the hassles of our everyday lives and never pause to look at the big picture and realize there’s a lot to be grateful for. And although gratitude is an emotion, it can, through time, grow into a positive personal ethic. If we feel gratitude as an emotion, we feel it only briefly and not necessarily often. But if we integrate it into our value system, it becomes part of us and we feel it more often and more deeply.

However, that requires persistence and hard work, but we’re here to help! Today, you’ll learn about all the positive outcomes of gratitude, as well as how you can practice it to become a happier and healthier person.

Psychological benefits

Gratitude can be beneficial for our mental health in many different ways. First and foremost, it’s a good stepping stone for combatting – and preventing – depression and anxiety. [4] People who suffer from mild depression have said that when they feel as though they’re sinking, being grateful helps them feel they can survive and swim instead.

But besides that, gratitude can simply make us feel happier, more enthusiastic, and more optimistic about our present and our future as well. [3] People who tend to focus on all the gifts they’ve been given also tend to experience negative emotions like envy, sadness, or bitterness, less than those who focus on their problems. [3] This isn’t to say all our problems should be completely overlooked and expected to solve themselves; rather, we should start by being grateful for what we still have, before proceeding to work on the issues we’re facing.

Finally, gratitude is a very adaptive feeling when it comes to facing stressful situations. People who often feel grateful say they feel calmer and less stressed when it comes to difficult situations, compared to those who don’t practice gratefulness that often.

Interpersonal benefits

As we mentioned before, gratitude is often related to other people in our lives. Although we may feel grateful for life itself, we tend to appreciate the people we have in our lives and everything they are giving us wholeheartedly – all their help, love, and care. When we feel grateful about that, we start feeling loved and cared for, which further leads to us trusting other people and wanting to preserve our existing relationships, or even build new ones. [2]

Some say that gratefulness is the core of altruism. [2] If we feel other people have been kind to us and if we appreciate it, we’re more likely to help them out when needed, even if it can sometimes come at the short-term expense of ourselves. Through gratitude, we learn to let go of our fears of being hurt or used, and we start feeling good if we help others, just as we feel good when they help us.

Physical benefits

You may have now realized that gratitude can have mental benefits, but can you believe it also helps you be physically healthier? And it’s not just self-reports, either.  If you start feeling grateful often, people close to you are bound to start noticing both mental and physical differences in you. There are cyclical physical benefits to the immune system: gratefulness helps lower stress, which lowers blood pressure, too; having more balance in your body means your immune system will be stronger and thus you’ll be getting sick less often; being sick less often decreases your psychological anxiety, which lets you sleep better. Finally, all of this helps you look better and have more energy, which is very helpful if you’re having trouble convincing yourself to exercise. Of course, exercising helps the body, too. And it all starts with gratitude! [4] [3]

We can be very focused on what we don’t have – so much so that we forget about the things we do have. But after hearing of all the benefits gratefulness can give us, the question remains – how do we cultivate a sense of gratitude? How do we internalize it, instead of it being an emotion we tend to feel only once a year during Thanksgiving?

One thing you can do is keep a journal. [4] Writing in it every day might be a bit too much – you could get so used to writing gifts down that you start feeling indifferent towards them. Instead, write in it once or twice a week, or as often as you feel like – everybody is different when it comes to that.

What you should do is create a list of things you’re grateful for – family, friends, a wonderful day, that great new song you heard – anything that makes you happy. Simply think of all the things you have that are not really a default in life, as well as things you didn’t even have until recently.

Another useful thing you can do is help your community. You can volunteer or donate to the less fortunate.  Getting a sense of other people’s misfortunes and feeling you are helping someone makes you feel more grateful for the things you have in your own life. [4]

Finally, a simple meditation practice can help open your mind and make more room for gratitude. [4] Each person has their own preferences, and gratitude works best if they choose the practice that fits them best. So choose yours and ask yourself – What am I grateful for?

by Jelena Jegdić

 

References:

  1. Bartlett, M., & DeSteno, D. (2004). Gratitude and Prosocial Behavior. Psychological Science 17(4):319-25.
  2. Emmons, R., & Stern, R. (2013). Gratitude as a Psychotherapeutic Intervention. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 69(8):846-55
  3. Emmons, R., & McCullough, M. (2003). Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, No. 2, 377–389
  4. Sheldon, K. & Lyubomirsky, S. (2006). How to Increase and Sustain Positive Emotion: The Effects of Expressing Gratitude and Visualizing Best Possible Selves. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 1(2): 73–82

The Growth Mindset – The Power Of Yet

One of the more talked-about topics in psychology and especially in educational psychology is Carol Dweck’s idea of the “growth mindset”, a concept she discusses in her book Mindset: The new psychology of success. Growth mindset isn’t something that Dweck invented and is now teaching us all how to attain. It is a distinctive trait she observed in people who are happier and more successful, which led her to seek ways to help develop and nurture it in people who do not share this predisposition.

So what actually is growth mindset?

While working as a young researcher, Dweck noticed that some children face challenges in a much more “positive” way than others. They would say things like “Oh, I love a challenge” or “I expected this to be informative”, instead of having tragic and catastrophic thoughts when faced with difficulties. Dweck coined the term “fixed mindset” for children who shrink before obstacles, and “growth mindset” for those who seek challenges and become even more engaged when faced with obstacles. Of course, these two mindsets apply to us all, and it is important to note that whereas we can’t have a growth mindset in every area of our lives, we sure can try to develop it.

To show what growth mindset really is, let’s try to contrast it further with the fixed mindset. People with a fixed mindset think that their characteristics are carved in stone and can never be changed. They firmly believe that intelligence, creativity, and personality are things we are born with and can hardly be something we develop. People with a growth mindset believe we can cultivate these characteristics through effort and that the process of cultivating them is more important than the actual outcome. A fixed mindset, on the other hand, wants results right away and doesn’t care as much about the process as it does about the outcome. Of course, Dweck doesn’t deny that people differ from the get-go, but she claims that we can all “change and grow through application and experience” (Dweck, 2006).

Another thing that differentiates these two mindsets is how they perceive and react to failure. People with a fixed mindset are more likely to believe they can fail and that by doing so their abilities will be questioned. Just the act of hitting obstacles would prove to them that they aren’t capable of overcoming them. People with a growth mindset, on the other hand, don’t really see failure as on option – obstacles are just perceived as opportunities to improve and learn, and by being faced with them and, generally something new, we get smarter.

Dweck illustrates this difference further with an interesting remark about language and how we use it to rate success. She mentions how saying “not yet” to students instead of saying they failed a class is a much better way to show them that even if they have difficulties overcoming something now, the time will come when they will succeed if they continue tackling the obstacle from different angles. The use of “yet” shows that there is a learning curve, and points to the process, not the outcome. This also tells children that they aren’t being taught to learn simply for grades, but for their future and it encourages them to dream big and think about what they want to do with their lives, instead of on focusing only on what they are currently achieving in school.

This entire idea of the power of yet and growth mindset isn’t just something Dweck came up with and wrote overnight. She (and many others) actually did research and showed time and time again that if a growth mindset is encouraged, children earn better grades and achieve better results than they did before – even better than some of their peers from much more affluent schools, which shows that growth mindset is a great path to achieving a more equal education system.
This research illustrates two important facts about growth mindset: it does work and it can be developed. It is not something we are born with.

What is a false growth mindset?

Before we dive into the exciting topic of how a growth mindset can be developed, we need to do some myth-busting. As with any other trending topic in education, it is hard nowadays to avoid the words “have to”, “need to”, and “all” when reading about growth mindset. It is often declared that we should all have to develop growth mindsets because they are just so much better, which ignores the principle behind the concept. Firstly, a growth mindset isn’t something you can just achieve overnight. It takes a lot of work and develops over time. Secondly, it isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card you can use whenever you’re faced with difficulty. Dweck points out that we are a mixture of both growth mindset and fixed mindset, and at different times and in different areas of our lives either one can predominate.

Another point she makes is that people often claim they have a growth mindset when they actually don’t or use the concept of a fixed mindset to excuse why someone is failing when the only failure is actually not providing the context in which a growth mindset can be achieved. It is also easy to think that simply by encouraging children and praising their effort, we are developing their growth mindsets. It’s a bit more complicated than that – it is not just about praising, it is about praising the right way.

So how is a growth mindset developed?

Developing a growth mindset is a complex process, but it is not unattainable and can actually serve as a great first obstacle on which to practice our mindsets.

The main point that Dweck makes is that a growth mindset is developed through praise, but not the usual after-the-fact praise which focuses on outcomes, but the praise that focuses on the process of learning. This isn’t about blanketing children in praise for any of their efforts, but about praising the strategies they used and the entire process that leads to outcomes. A simple example of this would be saying “I love how you tried all these different strategies while solving this problem until you got it” instead of saying “Great job. I knew you’d get it, you are smart!”

That example showcases another point that Dweck makes; we should praise the process, not the abilities. Praising abilities encourages the fixed mindset that these things are set in stone, which definitely doesn’t promote change or development. Rather, it makes children think that what they can do is what they can do and the same applies for what they can’t do.

Another reason why Dweck insists “it is not the outcome, it is the effort that counts” is ineffective is because it lets students believe that if they try hard enough, they will succeed no matter their strategies. In effect, it can bring them to repeat the same futile strategies over and over again. On the other hand, insisting on the process or the use of multiple strategies until the obstacle is overcome, and praising that effort, teaches them that they need to change their strategies in order solve the problem. It also shows them they can use all the resources available and ask for help when they need it.

And finally, Dweck points out that even failure should be addressed as something that enhances learning. We can ask children “What is this teaching us? What should we do next?” instead of either praising the effort or protecting them by saying things like “Don’t worry, not everyone can be good in everything. You are not the only one that failed.” In both cases, we are developing a fixed mindset and letting children know that we believe they can’t do better, while a switch in mindsets would help them achieve so much more and help them in their future lives.

If you are already thinking of implementing these ideas while raising your child, there is more encouraging news. The growth mindset isn’t something we can start developing only in early childhood, Dweck says it is never too late for change, so why not try it on yourself, too, and see how it goes.

Resources:

  1. Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House.
  2. Dweck, C. S. (2012). Mindset: How you can fulfill your potential. Constable & Robinson Limited.
  3. Dweck, C. S. (2014). Developing a Growth Mindset.
  4. Dweck, C. S. (2016). What Having a “Growth Mindset” Actually Means.
  5. Gross-Loh, C. (2016). How Praise Became a Consolation Prize.
  6. Romero, C. (2015). What We Know About Growth Mindset from Scientific Research.

COME TO THE DARK SIDE, WE HAVE EMOTIONS

By Anja Anđelković & Dunja Stojkovic

“Stay positive” and “cheer up” are among the most common phrases of our time, as if it’s now socially unacceptable and “wrong” to feel any other emotions but joy, happiness, and gratitude for what we already have. Showing up for work a bit cranky these days for whatever reason can instantly give you the reputation for being a grumpy, demotivating person, and being in a bad mood for a couple of days can have even more serious effects. The pressure isn’t only to hide certain emotions, but not to feel them at all. We have planners, posters, and even pillowcases with messages such “smile and the world will smile back at you” or “think positive!”, and as if this weren’t enough, there are people reminding us that some feelings are just not worth paying attention to or, for that matter, not feeling at all. This attitude isn’t only annoying to those of us tired of hearing such things, but it can be frustrating and dangerous. Bottling up emotions isn’t necessarily the greatest thing to do for our mental health.

ALL EMOTIONS ARE CREATED EQUAL

To find out why we even have these feelings that are now deemed inappropriate, let’s look into why we have them and how they have survived over time.

It is thought that there is only a limited number of basic, universally recognized human emotions and scholars still argue about the exact number, but the most common classification identifies six: anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise [1]. If you examine these closely, you will notice that only one of them, happiness, is exclusively pleasant, while surprise can go both ways. So when we try to ignore unpleasant feelings, we’re basically trying to ignore a whole bunch of our basic emotions and we deprive ourselves of a common human experience. These emotions don’t exist just to aggravate us; they were essential to our evolutionary development and helped ensure our survival as a species. They have purpose and meaning. Emotions help us adapt to problems instinctively, and they serve as instant motivators for our behavior. For example, without the emotion of disgust, we would constantly drink spoiled milk or eat rotten food. Other than that, they color our memories and make them easier to access and serve as a driving force for our future behavior: we try to maintain pleasant emotions and avoid unpleasant ones. This doesn’t mean bottling them up and pretending they don’t exist, but rather trying not to get into too many situations that might give rise to them: we felt disgusted while tasting spoiled milk, so we try very hard to avoid feeling that emotion ever again [5]. Of course, it is impossible to avoid all unpleasant emotions as life is full of loss, problems, downfalls, and missed opportunities, so the key is to understand the reason why we’re feeling a certain way and learn how to deal with those feelings.

Other than their function in aiding our survival as species and helping us adapt to new situations, emotions play a huge role in our communication with others. As we interact with other people, emotions serve as signals for how we are feeling, what our intentions are, the relationship we have with the person we’re talking to, and so on. By being this signal, they evoke reactions from others which, in turn, serve as triggers for behavior [5].

Culture, of course, has always played a huge part in how these functions of emotions are manifested [5]. We still hear people saying how boys shouldn’t cry or how girls should never show anger. These tired old sayings are perfect examples of stereotyping but they also show us how our culture influences our emotional expression and decides which emotions are ideal to have and which aren’t. It might sound as if we are slaves to our cultural background and that isn’t far from the truth but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We couldn’t live in groups without any norms and expectations; the problem is when those expectations become extreme and harmful. For instance, it wouldn’t be possible to live in harmony in a world where everyone expressed their anger in destructive ways, going around vandalizing their neighborhoods but expecting people never to express or even feel anger at all is also harmful and has serious consequences for each one of us.

NEGATIVE CAN BE POSITIVE

When learning mathematics, children find the “two negatives make a positive” concept useful. With emotions, you don’t even need two negatives to make something useful. Just as negative numbers are also real numbers, “negative” emotions are real emotions and it is not only acceptable but natural, to feel them [2]. Therefore, we need to learn how to embrace these unpleasant emotions as a natural and vital part of human experience. In fact, the classification of emotions as positive and negative is completely unnecessary and misleading. Emotions can be useful or not, but there is no reason to divide them into those “good to have” and those we should avoid at all cost.

How exactly are unpleasant emotions natural and useful when they not only make us feel bad but also make others look at us in a different light? Firstly, if we stripped our lives of any unpleasant emotion, we would be basically canceling out a big part of our emotional spectrum. If you think: “Oh well, I don’t mind canceling something out as long as it makes me feel good”, think again. It is practically impossible to live without any distress, so when we think we’re canceling emotions out we are more likely just suppressing them, and it has been proven that when we conceal distress we feel emotionally worse in the long run and end up being less effective and productive [4]. Conversely, accepting and acknowledging the intricacy and complexity of our emotions can prove to be a path to good mental health [7].

So far we’ve established that unpleasant emotions are a natural part of human experience and had an important evolutionary function, but you may still be wondering how useful they are now. It is important to understand that unpleasant emotions coexist with pleasant ones, and both serve as signals of where we are in life and where we should be headed [7]. They are also the principal motivators for change. If we work hard enough to suppress these emotions, we’ll never do anything to rectify the very situation that is causing our dissatisfaction, because we rationalize “why to mess with a winning formula?” or we are actually too scared to change the status quo [2]. This doesn’t only apply to individuals – emotions can be incentives for much bigger changes. Just think of all the people protesting around the world because of various injustices and how they probably felt before they decided to take action.

There are also more specific ways in which unpleasant emotions can be useful. For instance, anxiety can make us problem-solve more quickly in situations where there is a risk of danger and guilt can make us more responsible and help build our moral values [4]. Of course, the key is not to get too carried away with these emotions, since that is when they can become unhealthy. The same goes for sadness: it is natural to feel sad about all sorts of things or to grieve after a loss, but it is when sadness becomes a permanent state of mind without any apparent cause, that it can become harmful.

WHAT TO DO WITH ALL THESE FEELINGS

Instead of always bottling up and trying to ignore unpleasant feelings, it would be smart to first try to acknowledge how you feel without trying to rectify things instantly and stay positive. This isn’t only a useful way to evaluate where you are emotionally, but it will prevent those unpleasant emotions from intensifying. Trying to suppress emotions forcefully can exacerbate and complicate them in the long run [6]. While working on this step, keep in mind that these feelings are natural and nothing to be ashamed of.

While being aware of unpleasant emotions is a great start and it is sometimes enough to acknowledge it and let it pass, it is also important not to fall into the trap of dwelling on these feelings and drowning in those thoughts without trying to solve the cause of the problem [3]. In order to detangle your emotions, it can be helpful to start journaling. It’s a great way to self-reflect and gain some insight into your problem from a different perspective, as things often seem different when they are put down on paper [7]. Another way to shift your perspective is by confiding in someone else, whether it be your partner or a close friend.

If you still feel down and aren’t sure how to deal with your emotions or the circumstances that are causing them, keep in mind that there is no shame in asking for professional help and that by doing so you are actually helping yourself and making a huge step in the right direction. Talking with someone we trust can help us learn how to acknowledge and express all of our emotions without feeling like the world around us is crumbling and it can be a great way to learn how to cope with all our emotions, as we’ve learned it is impossible to avoid them altogether.

References:

  1. Burton, N. (January 7, 2016). What Are Basic Emotions.
  2. Costa, D. (September 28, 2017). The Benefits of Negative Emotions: 3 Keys to Wellbeing.
  3. David, S. (September 6, 2016). Why You Should Embrace Your Darker Emotions.
  4. Gregoire, C. (November 11, 2014). The Importance of Negative Emotions.
  5. Hwang, H. & Matsumoto, D. (2017). Functions of Emotions. In R. Biswas-Diener & E. Diener (Eds), Noba textbook series: Psychology. Champaign, IL: DEF publishers. DOI:nobaproject.com
  6. Newcomer, L. (March 27, 2015). Why Positive Thinking Doesn’t Always Work.
  7. Rodriguez, T. (May 1, 2013). Negative Emotions Are Key to Well-Being.