Tag Archive | psychology

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown

Overview: Each day we face a barrage of images and ideas—from society and the media—telling us who we should be. We are led to believe that if we look perfect, live perfect, and do everything perfectly, we’d no longer struggle with feelings of inadequacy. Ironically, it’s the pursuit of perfection that fuels the message ‘never good enough.’

In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown, Ph.D., L.M.S.W., the leading expert on shame, reveals that it is actually ourimperfections and vulnerabilities that connect us to one another as human beings andmake us who we are. We are naturally drawn to those we view asauthentic, real, and down-to-earth. It makes sense, then, that weshould stop reaching for something ‘better’ and, instead, strive tobe who we are, fully owning every aspect of ourselves.

This fresh 52-week guide can be read as a year-long program of WholeHearted living or by topic – whatever is the most meaningful for each reader. Brown engages our hearts, minds, and spirits in finding the beauty of authenticity and evolving our self-perceptions through fifteen guideposts that emerged from her latest groundbreaking research.

 Each guidepost is illustrated with essays, stories, inspiring quotes, meditations, and dynamic creative exercises designed to help us develop the skills to accept our vulnerabilities with compassion and practice loving-kindness toward ourselves and others.

My thoughts: When I started reading this book, I thought, This is great! It’s really interesting. Then I got to the guide posts…

This book is not a self-help book. It’s more about reflection, and you won’t find any definite “steps” to help yourself. You’ll just get ideas about issues in your life. Brown brings up issues in life that we need to talk about: shame, people-pleasing, and self-depreciation, among others. However, I don’t like the way she does it.

She talks about great things! What’s not to like? Well…I don’t like her approach. She mentions things about her research, and that’s a good point of the book. However, she always relates it back to her experiences and herself. She has all this research at the tip of her fingers, and she doesn’t rely on it to carry the book through. I expected to see more testimonials from other people because she had talked to other people, and those people influenced her thought process and life. If it influenced her, then why didn’t she share it with us so we can be inspired, too? I know there are restrictions on research, such that the researcher can’t share confidential data of participants, but I think she could’ve used testimonials from participants who consented to her writing about their experiences since she was just releasing research data and not the participants’ identifying information. In my opinion, the book is very weak just relying on her life stories. Reading about her life made me want to throw my hands in the air and just sigh exasperatedly. If I really wanted to know that much about her life, then I’d read a biography. I think this book would’ve worked much better as a memoir rather than a reflection “self-help” book.

The absolute number one thing that bothers me about this book is in Guide-post 7, page 103: “I had decided to go part-time at the university, and her dad was going to a four-day workweek.” Whoa, there! Back up. Who can afford that? And I don’t mean we can’t afford to let the achievements go. I mean, who can financially afford to cut down on work? Most people I know can’t. Unfortunately, the book is filled with stories like this, like when she went to the mall with her daughter and felt uncomfortable because dress-up women looked at her funny. Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Back up. You can afford to go to the mall to buy make-up? Most people I know just buy it for a cheaper price at drug stores. That’s also another reason why I think it’s bad that the book is filled with her life stories. She has a certain way of life and a certain culture. Other people don’t share that culture, and so sometimes, it’s hard to relate to her and take the concepts seriously. It gets especially annoying when she tells the reader that spirituality doesn’t necessarily mean a relationship with God, but then she proceeds to talk about how God affects her life. It really made me wonder how does someone live Wholeheartedly without God? That’s not a question she answers.

The other biggest issue that I had was the guide post with the slashes around page 114. Asking the question, “What do you do?” is a social cue that means, “Tell me about your job that you do to make most of your money,” not “Tell me your whole life story.” Slashes are not appropriate. They’re bulky and inconvenient to read and just add pointless information that I never wanted to know. Yes, you have the right to own up to everything that you are, but most people in society do not care. That’s something you share with friends and not acquaintances because friends do care.

Some of the concepts were explained very vaguely. As a psychology major, I understand that definitions are hard to come by in research literature because there’s a lot of debate surrounding topics. Therefore, I understand why some of her terms, like power, were barely explained. However, to have a full experience of shame, power, and hope and figure out how they connect, it would’ve been nice to have more concrete definitions. I don’t agree with everything she says, but that’s good because at least she’s making me think and form my own ideas.

Another huge set back is that the book seems to be geared towards more privileged type A personalities. I’m more of a laid back type B personality, and sometimes I thought that Ms. Brown was just a little too serious and uptight for me. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying she’s stuck up. I’m just saying her methods of making lists don’t work for me. It would’ve been nice if she could’ve offered more advice than just writing lists and purposely planning things. All this digging deep was driving me insane. I’d rather just accept it and let that be the end of it.

Overall, this book is probably a good conversation starter for book clubs. However, the amount of impact it has on your life depends more on your culture and how you interpret Brown’s writing. For a type B person like me who prefers to think and then accept and let go of what’s bothering me, this book’s advice wouldn’t be my go-to guide for dealing with shame. This book has a lot of potential, but it just needs a different focus.

I bought this book from Amazon for about $10 with free shipping and handling.

How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer

Overview: The first book to use the unexpected discoveries of neuroscience to help us make the best decisions

Since Plato, philosophers have described the decision-making process as either rational or emotional: we carefully deliberate, or we “blink” and go with our gut. But as scientists break open the mind’s black box with the latest tools of neuroscience, they’re discovering that this is not how the mind works. Our best decisions are a finely tuned blend of both feeling and reason—and the precise mix depends on the situation. When buying a house, for example, it’s best to let our unconscious mull over the many variables. But when we’re picking a stock, intuition often leads us astray. The trick is to determine when to use the different parts of the brain, and to do this, we need to think harder (and smarter) about how we think.

Jonah Lehrer arms us with the tools we need, drawing on cutting-edge research as well as the real-world experiences of a wide range of “deciders”—from airplane pilots and hedge fund investors to serial killers and poker players.

Lehrer shows how people are taking advantage of the new science to make better television shows, win more football games, and improve military intelligence. His goal is to answer two questions that are of interest to just about anyone, from CEOs to firefighters: How does the human mind make decisions? And how can we make those decisions better?

My thoughts: This book was very taxing to read since it took me forever to get through and my brain kept shouting, “NO!” at every scientific inconsistency.

Writing style wise, the book is captivating. Lehrer uses lots of stories to connect the psychological ideas with real-life. He’s a great storyteller. It’s easy to read, and very entertaining. I would’ve rated this book higher if it wasn’t for his bad science. If you’re not a big science person and would just like to enlighten yourself about decision-making, this may be a good book for you.

Now, to explain the taxing of the book and my brain’s reaction. I’m a psychology major, so I know many of the concepts that Lehrer is talking about. My brain just wants to facepalm itself every time he introduces a new idea. He takes an idea and then stretches it beyond its max, such that the idea is no longer valid. Let’s take the missile example. The man chose to signal an alert even though the enemy missile looked the same as an ally ship. Why? Lehrer claims it’s his emotions. The truth is, it’s the connections in his brain that has formed overtime from practice-and not emotions-that allow the man to make the right decision. Yes, it’s mostly unconscious, but the fact is it’s not an emotional decision. We don’t have the technology to probe the unconscious to know if it’s an emotion or not, but we do know neural connections influence unconscious decisions.

Let’s take another example: chapter 7 “The Brain is an Argument.” In this, Lehrer basically describes what social psychologists call the Confirmation Bias, but he never calls it that. It’s a phenomenon due to the way the brain is structured and not an emotional response. Emotions may be a symptom of Confirmation Bias, but it’s not the reason why people always support what they think is right. Many psychologists think that people use Confirmation Bias to increase their confidence and increase their confidence of their level of survival since theoretically you’re more likely to survive if you’re not experiencing a threat.

What’s funnier is that Lehrer says what every good scientist says, “Correlation does not equal causation,” yet he takes correlations and makes them into causation to support his ideas. He’s using the Confirmation Bias, not emotional reasoning.

I’m not sure what his definition of emotion is. It’s not clearly defined. He quotes it as physiological symptoms (sweating, heartrate), as neurotransmitters (dopamine), and as neural structures in the brain (amygdala), as intuition or just some “feeling?” He doesn’t fully explain how all of these aspects are connected, basically just claiming that we’re unconscious of it all. However, we can explain a good bit of our emotions (we know failing a task will make us feel miserable), so I don’t think all of his claims are valid. The biggest problem with this book is that most of the research he quotes is still under investigation. We don’t know enough about the unconscious and intuition to be able to say, “Yes, this is how emotions work.” There are so many variables in humans that science hasn’t been able to clearly classify emotions with strict definitions. To say that we can decide with “feelings” is preposterous because that word could mean so many different things. Sometimes, these “feelings” aren’t just feelings, but our brain making connections that we aren’t thinking about because we’re not practicing meta-cognition (thinking about our thinking).

To sum up his book in a more scientific way, we make decisions using experience from past events (connections between neurons formed due to learning and practice), meta-cognition, and neurotransmitters activating certain regions in our brains. None of these things fully explain emotions unless you think emotions are all biological and have no other components. However, emotions and decisions are more complex than what he claims.

I found this book in my college library.

The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter – and How to Make the Most of Them Now by Meg Jay

Overview: Our “thirty-is-the-new-twenty” culture tells us the twentysomething years don’t matter. Some say they are a second adolescence.Others call them an emerging adulthood. Dr. Meg Jay, a clinical psychologist, argues that twentysomethings have been caught in a swirl of hype and misinformation, much of which has trivialized what is actually the most defining decade of adulthood.
Drawing from a decade of work with hundreds of twentysomething clients and students, THE DEFINING DECADE weaves the latest science of the twentysomething years with behind-closed-doors stories from twentysomethings themselves. The result is a provocative read that provides the tools necessary to make the most of your twenties, and shows us how work, relationships, personality, social networks, identity, and even the brain can change more during this decade than at any other time in adulthood-“if” we use the time wisely.
THE DEFINING DECADE is a smart, compassionate and constructive book about the years we cannot afford to miss.

My thoughts: I like the overall message of the book: Your life, even at your twenties, means something, so make the best of it. I fully believe that people, no matter what their age should not waste away their life by partying all the time and practicing bad habits. Goofing off every now and then is perfectly fine, but making a career out of it is pointless unless you get paid for it and you find it fulfilling. Therefore, this review may be a bit biased.

With the basic message out of the way, I do think the audience is limited to people who have access to resources and opportunities, mainly the middle class and upper class. I think the same basic message is viable for all classes, but people of lower classes who don’t have access to internships or college may have a harder time connecting with Jay’s clients.

Jay backs up all her claims with psychological research that most college students learn in basic psych. While having Jay repeat the same information I’ve already learned is kinda boring, it is interesting to see how she applies the research. I’ve read a few reviews and comments on her articles and books, and basically, they complain that her book is too conservative and that she claims causation instead or correlation. I don’t think she’s that conservative or confusing causation with correlation. She uses caution and subtle sentences in explaining the difference, but that’s how I would expect every psychologist/psychiatrist to react. Her book centers on research and experience in her practice, not on ideology or politics. The major problems people have with her book are probably more due to a limited research/experience with those certain situations rather than her general principles.

By adding her clinical experiences, she means to illustrate the research and her ideas in real life, which works. However, some people may not realize that case studies are specific instances in which it works a certain way for one person. Things may go differently for someone else. That’s why when reading her case studies of people, you have to be careful to understand the general idea and not concentrate too much on the details. I know that seems kind of backwards since a case study focuses on specific details and it’s not valid to use generalizations from one case study to another, but for the sake of understanding her argument, I suggest you break that scientific rule and go with the flow. She’s using the case studies as examples and not scientific proof.

I do think that Jay did a better job on the work issues of her book and that’s the section I find more accessible than any other section. However, her other discussions of topics have validity, especially the fertility subject. Some people may not have kids, so they can breeze over the section if they wish, but I think she spends a lot of time talking about fertility is because it’s something couples need to talk about: if they want kids, when they want them, possible fertility problems–I think it’s important for every couple to talk about even if they don’t want kids just in case birth control fails or an accident happens. I also fully agree with her on being in good relationships all the time and not staying with someone who’s a deadbeat. Humans are creatures of habit and someone may get stuck in a bad cycle of relationships if he or she is not picky about whom he or she dates.

My only real issue with the book is that it’s too future oriented. Yes, it’s important to plan for upcoming events, but at the same time, if you’re not enjoying your life now or you’re so stressed about the future, you can’t realize what’s in front of you and something’s not quite right. I wish Jay would’ve spent a bit more time talking about the past, present, and future, but she didn’t really connect them too much. She sort of blames twentysomethings for being too present oriented, which is funny ’cause I’m twenty and think she’s too future oriented to the point where she forgets to tell people to enjoy their current situations. I think her book would have a better tone if she said something along the lines of, “Hanging out is nice and it’s important to treasure your friends, but don’t forget you still have future goals to achieve. To achieve them, you need to make sure you’re taking steps in that direction earlier in your life rather than later.”

Another issue I have with this book is saying how bad off thirtysomething and fortysomething people are. They’re not all bad off. We can learn from older people’s mistakes, but I don’t think they should be berated for choosing to do things later in life. Sometimes things work out and sometimes they don’t. However, by using poor decisions of older people, Jay is emphasizing her point that it’s better to start planning when you’re young, which I kind of agree with. She crosses a line sometimes when she speaks about her older clients. I know she’s trying to point out how later decisions affected them, but at the same time, it comes close to almost wagging her finger at them when they’ve already suffered enough.

Sometimes, Jay’s writing feels like a mother/aunt/teacher who can just give you a look and you know you’re doing something wrong. I don’t necessarily feel like it’s condescending, but it does make me wonder and ask questions about my life. Based on other psychology books I’ve read, I know her advice is relative based on the situation, but it’s strong advice. If you get anything out of the book, I think it should be this: Your life matters, so make the most of it by taking deliberate actions earlier than later, especially in the direction that you may want to go in. Decisions need to be made because they do impact your future. If you just let life happen to you, it may not be all that fun.

Her advice seems to go against what most people say nowadays, such as, “You have time for that later,” “Marriage and babies are for older people,” “You’re only 23. You don’t need a serious relationship or career,” and so on. However, I really do believe that we need to put aside these sayings that give “freedom” to twentysomethings and instead use Jay’s advice and give them “responsibility for their lives.” I want responsibility, so I’m shrugging off anyone who tells me I have time to wait. I’m taking time by the horns and taking action in the direction I want.

I bought this book from Amazon for $14.05 without taxes or a shipping and handling cost.