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Proof Positive Articles

Proof Positive

Proof Positive is a regular feature on World of Psychology by Daniel Tomasulo, Ph.D., one of Psych Central's "Ask the Therapist" clinicians and author.

We Underestimate Our Changes: The End of History Illusion

Thursday, January 10th, 2013

We Underestimate Our Changes: The End of History IllusionIt’s like déjà vu all over again. ~Yogi Berra

Yep. That’s me in my fabulous Nehru tux getting ready for my prom date. I was about as spiffy then as spiffy could be. The tux was rented, but I had my regular Nehrus in the closet. They were next to my bell-bottoms, tie-dyes and 8-tracks.

What happened?

The Nehru went out of style around 11:55 p.m. the night of the prom and I had to hang on to my bell-bottoms and tie-dyes for about 30 years for them to come back around into fashion. The 8-tracks? They gave way to those newfangled cassettes.

How could I have been so wrong about the future of Nehrus and 8-tracks? Actually, when I think about it, I was wrong about a lot of things: The Afro perm I thought would look spectacular on me forever, the Beatles never breaking up, my best friend Kevin and I being pals for life, the Osborn 55-pound “portable” computer, and the 8-track tape player (which cost me a week’s salary) I had installed in my car. Naturally I thought my prom date would never change.

But in spite of my convictions at the time I was about as wrong as wrong could be. The good news is I am not alone.

Are You a Hero in Waiting?

Sunday, January 6th, 2013

Are You a Hero in Waiting?This is a true story.

Imagine that you are at a Wal-Mart around midnight. Dark parking lot. Little security and yet a number of random people wandering around. A man with a little boy thrown over his shoulder passes you. The little boy is screaming and kicking and crying and yelling for his mama.

The man slaps and spanks the boy and is telling him to shut up. He never uses the boy’s name. There is no woman near them and the man is moving faster. Also, imagine the boy is blond and the man has dark hair. Onlookers shake their heads but do nothing.

What would you do? Would you watch and not do anything? Or would you intervene? Social psychologists tell us there is a very good likelihood we will do nothing.

But this is the story of a woman, Pam, who did.

Hurricane Sandy: Gratitude, Empathy & Evolution

Thursday, January 3rd, 2013

Hurricane Sandy: Gratitude, Empathy & Evolution“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
~ John F. Kennedy

I live on the water at the Jersey shore and the reports about Hurricane Sandy were not to be taken lightly. I caught the last train out of Washington D.C. and headed back to the home. Everything on the dock had to be secured or removed and it was already raining.  From the Amtrak station I raced down the Garden State Parkway. 

The rain was relentless.

I went straight through the house to the back prepared to work in the rain to save my stuff.  I had only moved into my house months earlier, and since I travel a lot barely knew the neighbors.  The water was rapidly rising. Trees were already down and everyone had already been evacuated. The town was broadcasting a red alert. I had to get in and get out — fast.

I came in the front door and ran to the back to get out to the dock. But what I saw stopped me in my tracks. 

Gratitude Research Delivered: Diagnosis Day, Part Two

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

Gratitude Research Delivered: Diagnosis Day, Part TwoJen Cunningham Butler uses a highly proactive and inspiring approach in dealing with the anniversary of her cancer diagnosis. At once it was corrective and intuitive; courageous and simple; heartfelt and effective.  Jen prepares for the day by honoring her health and recovery. She actively demonstrates her gratitude toward the physicians, nurses  and support staff involved in her treatment. Her story is detailed in Part One.

Part One chronicles Butler’s ongoing effort to demonstrate gratitude to all those who helped during her treatment.  These are simple acts of gratitude such as writing notes, bringing a tray of goodies into the treatment center, and even lollipops to the parking attendants.

Although these offerings of gratitude are modest, these actions undid the anxiety of recalling the day, while activating a positive sense of self and affecting others.  Instead of anxiety and depression, she was able to instill joy, feelings of well-being, and hope — because some of the goodies were delivered personally to women currently undergoing radiation.

Diagnosis Day, Part One: A Lesson in Gratitude

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

Diagnosis Day, Part One:  A Lesson in GratitudeNo one wants to be told he or she has cancer.  The initial lack of control and feelings of helplessness are often traumatic experiences. The usual reactions are anger, depression and terror-laced anxiety.

While survival rates for many cancers have improved, there are quality of life issues following the diagnosis, including the emotional difficulty of coping with the anniversary date.  Survival rates are measured in 1-, 5- and 10-year markers.  This often creates an emotional conflict as the diagnosis date approaches.  Each year provides a measure both of success and trepidation.  Diagnosis day is when the war on cancer begins in your body.  It is sometimes shortened to military lingo for the day an attack or operation is launched: D-Day.

As with most traumas, people can tell you the vivid details of their diagnosis. They remember the time, what was said, what they did, and what they felt.  D-day is etched in their psyche, and as the anniversary date approaches, so does the anxiety.

But one woman, Jen Cunningham Butler, has done something different. In honor of breast cancer awareness month I wanted to tell you her story.

Jump for Joy Foundation Puts Childhood Obesity on the Ropes

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

Jump for Joy Foundation Puts Childhood Obesity on the Ropes“The physical and emotional health of an entire generation and the economic health and security of our nation is at stake.” 
~ First Lady Michelle Obama at the Let’s Move! launch on February 9, 2010

Frank Bruni was a fat kid.  He was also the New York Times food critic from 2004-2009 and the best-selling author of Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-Time Eater.  In his deeply moving memoir, he explains the problems and perils of being fat and the emotional struggle food caused him as a child and an adult.  He said he wanted to write his memoir to show  “what food could do to trip people up.”

Apparently food can do a lot to trip you up.  Being obese can have a devastating impact on life. A child born in this century has a one in three chance of developing diabetes and an alarmingly high percentage will suffer obesity-related conditions such as cancer, asthma, high blood pressure and heart disease.  Those numbers go up dramatically in the Hispanic and African-American communities:  Right now 40 percent of these children are overweight or obese.

With these statistics, is it any wonder that Michelle Obama would introduce Let’s Move to combat childhood obesity?

Lance Armstrong: Cognitive Dissonance as a Hero’s Journey Ends

Saturday, August 25th, 2012

Lance Armstrong: Cognitive Dissonance as a Hero's Journey Ends“I refuse to participate in a process that is so one-sided and unfair.”
~Lance Armstrong

The stun of learning that Lance Armstrong will be stripped of his seven titles for doping by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency was the first time in more than a decade I can remember crying after hearing a news broadcast.  The last time was on the morning of 9/11.

Without a doubt Lance Armstrong was my hero.  A genuine, certified hero. 

No one in the history of the sport of cycling has won seven titles at the Tour de France, beat cancer, and became a beacon of hope for patients.  His legacy was a source of inspiration for millions. 

But in spite of his fundraising and being a cancer survivor-turned-spokesperson, he is no longer my hero. 

What Do You Know about Being Happy? The Positive Psychology Quiz

Saturday, May 5th, 2012

What Do You Know about Being Happy? The Positive Psychology QuizIt would be hard to open a popular magazine or psychology journal these days without finding some reference to a new advance in positive psychology. 

The research is pouring in from all over the globe indicating that sustainable ways to shift our thinking and perception toward a more optimistic perspective of life has amazing health and well-being benefits — not the least of which include a longer, healthier, and more productive life.

Here are six questions about some of the findings that may intrigue you and test your knowledge. The good news?  You can’t fail a positive psychology quiz!  Use this as a guide to learn more about the developing field. Or, if you got them all right, you know how good it is to be kind — so get out there and help someone!

Mindfulness and the Military: Does Self-Acceptance Help Veterans?

Monday, March 26th, 2012

Mindfulness and the Military: Does Self-Acceptance Help Veterans?“The seed of suffering in you may be strong, but don’t wait until you have no more suffering before allowing yourself to be happy.” 
~Thich Nhat Hanh

 “You have to make the mind run the body.”
~General George S. Patton Jr.

A recently published article in the Journal of Clinical Psychology by Kearney, McDermott, Malte, Martinez, and Simpson (2012) may have broad implications for veterans suffering with symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). 

These researchers demonstrated that engagement in mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) showed significant improvements after six months in reducing soldiers’ symptoms of PTSD, depression, behavioral activation (the ability to engage in activities to achieve a goal in spite of aversive symptoms), and self-acceptance. 

Requiem for PowerPoint: Prezi Zooms In

Friday, February 17th, 2012

Requiem for PowerPoint: Prezi Zooms InLast October I saw a Prezi presentation by a colleague of mine.  The material in the presentation was stellar, but it nearly took a back seat to the dazzling, engaging and, yes, spellbinding mechanics of Prezi.  It is a new zoom-style presentation platform that makes PowerPoint look like a moped up against a Ferrari.

And it is free.

Like anything worthwhile, there is a learning curve that needs to be dealt with, but it is worth the time and trouble to learn it.  Since December, every presentation I have done has been Prezi-based, and literally every person I have shared it with was eager to learn how to do his or her own.

It was developed by Adam Somlai-Fischer, a Hungarian architect, as a tool to help with visualization.  But instead he has developed one of the more interesting storytelling devices yet created.  It follows the speaker with a visual narrative of the material.  True to the developer’s mission to “make sharing ideas more interesting,” this presentation tool does just that.  What it does is give the user complete freedom to exploit the visual experience by using a zoom feature. The techies among you will recognize this as a Zooming User Interface, cloud-based SaaS, (Software as a Service) presentation delivery model.

The Happiness Advantage: An Interview with Shawn Achor

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

The Happiness Advantage: An Interview with Shawn Achor“When massive, seemingly soulless corporations recognize that the happiness of the workforce is a great predictor of long-term sustainable success, then you’ll see the societal tip occur.” ~Shawn Achor

Shawn Achor spent over a decade living, researching, and lecturing at Harvard University, and has been involved in one of the largest studies of happiness and potential at Harvard and others at companies like UBS and KPMG.  He brings a truly unique perspective of applying positive psychology to the business world.

In 1998 Martin Seligman, then president of the American Psychological Association, set a new direction for the discipline:  Positive psychology. What has followed is an unprecedented publication of robust research and applied interventions.  In 2000, Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow:  The Psychology of Optimal Experience, published an article in the American Psychologist that anchored positive psychology as an evidence–based practice.

Since then the positive psychology movement has boomed.  Founded with the intention of building thriving individuals, families, and communities, proponents of the discipline can be found in popular and academic publications, working with an array of corporate entities, and teaching on college campuses throughout the world. There are even graduate degrees in positive psychology.

The Year in Gratitude: Introducing the Virtual Gratitude Visit

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

The Year in Gratitude: Introducing the Virtual Gratitude Visit“You have to take risks. We will only understand the miracle of life fully when we allow the unexpected to happen.” — Paulo Coelho

Each year is a transition.  We let go of relationships, connections to places, jobs and ways of being.  But this opens us to new people, new associations and different ways of relating.  Through death or circumstance or choice we move away from those we loved, or cared for, or knew: The unknown, the surprise, the unexpected takes their place.  This is life.

Too often the losses weigh us down with a centrifugal sadness that keeps us pinned to the passing.  Our energy is invested in the mourning, often for longer than what may be healthy or helpful.

But the loss we experience is directly proportional to the joy and love and engagement we’ve had.  We feel the pain because we knew the joy.  So the grieving must honor the connection as well.

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