Apple Core, Baltimore, Who’s Your Friend? #NASP2020

 

Camden

I’m in Baltimore this week for the annual meeting of the National Association of School Psychologists. Although I’m not a school psychologist, I’ve been invited the past 5+ years to offer workshops on “Tough Kids, Cool Counseling.” I’ve also had the good fortune of being invited to present professional workshops for state school psychology associations in California, Montana, Ohio, South Carolina, and Washington.

I’ve worked many different professional groups (clinical psychologists, mental health counselors, school counselors, teachers, childcare workers, and more). All of these groups are amazing, but every time I work with a group of school psychologists, I walk away thinking that maybe school psychologist are my favorite professional group of all.

Notice I said “maybe.” I don’t want to start an inter-disciplinary competition for my official endorsement.

NASP in Baltimore was typical NASP. An intense group of very smart people who are dedicated to the psychological and intellectual well-being of K-12 students everywhere. They swarm the exhibition hall looking for resources and at my workshop they asked incredibly good questions and made insightful comments.

To be honest (not a bad policy), maybe the fact that I got a standing ovation from 300+ school psychology attendees in Columbus, Ohio (after 6.5 hours of presenting) is part of the reason I love school psychologists. For minor league professionals like me, that’s about as good as it gets . . . and that was pretty fantastic.

The links that follow include my presentation powerpoints and handouts for my workshop sessions in Baltimore. If you were there, thanks for your commitment to improving the lives of children and teenagers. If not, I hope to see you next time around.

NASP Workshop I 2020 for Handout

NASP Workshop II Advanced 2020 for Handout

NASP 2020 Extra Handout Introductory

NASP 2020 Extra Handout Advanced

By the way, the next big gig is March 1 in Richmond, Virginia with the Virginia School Counselor Association . . . which is just another chance to spend some time with another fabulous group of very cool people.

 

The Day the GOP Died

Mad Bomb

There’s a new song on the internet. An appalling remake of an old song.  Aside from making me depressed when I’m working on happiness, listening to the new song reminded me of an old blog post I wrote in June, 2018. I used words and imagery from Don McLean’s American Pie to write of my disappointment with the GOP. Although I submitted this piece to a few news outlets, there was only one taker: Me. That makes sense because I almost always publish my own blog posts.

Skip this if you’re sick of political stuff.

The Day the GOP Died

By John Sommers-Flanagan, Ph.D.

A long, long time ago, the Grand Old Party stood for family values, moral standards, and apple pie. Now, with Trump as leader, it’s more like family torture, infidelity, and borscht.

Less long ago (Thursday, May 31, 2018), former House Speaker John Boehner quipped: “The Republican Party is kinda taking a nap somewhere.” Boehner was drinking a bloody Mary at the time, so maybe we shouldn’t blame him for not noticing that his former party’s nap has already lasted nearly two years.

Given there’s no chance the GOP will get woke, it’s time to say, “Bye, bye American GOP.”

The GOP was mortally wounded on a Super Tuesday back in September, 2016. In seven states, the Party of Lincoln voted to nominate Donald Trump for President. Sure, “Lying Ted” won a couple states and a few #NeverTrump folks were hanging on, but the die was cast, probably in some Trump casino, where the GOP’s mortal soul was traded for unlimited gaming opportunities. No longer was the GOP about marriage, civility, and moral virtue. Instead, along with Trump, so-called Republicans were embracing race over rights, disrespecting gold star families, degrading and sexualizing women, and undermining family values. And there was that White Nationalism thing. His crown stolen, Lincoln would have been apoplectic.

Resuscitation attempts failed. The Access Hollywood recording created a ripple of discontent and the gnashing of a tooth or two. But hey, it was locker room talk, and everyone knew who had the votes and who had the money. Jeff Flake and “Liddle Bob Corker” gave us hope, but our hope quickly gave way to calling respectful Black football players sons of bitches and making parents cry and children scream. Opposing Trump was too costly. Not only would there be hate mail, hate email, hate instant messages, and hate signs posted on your lawn, there would also be death threats, lost fundraising revenue, and lost elections. Republicans like balanced budgets. Opposing Trump did not pencil. #NotWorthIt. DJT would refuse to yield.

Later, the GOP voted that a generation lost in debt was preferable to confronting their friendship with the devil. Obsequious coveting of the naked emperor became de rigueur. Satanity laughed at tweets about pig’s blood, shitholes, and witch hunts. Fox News had spoken.

Even later, or perhaps earlier, there was Russian meddling, references to Rocket Man, and about 50 departures from the White House staff or cabinet. Going along, the GOP normalized talk about sex, presidential lies, and fantasized audio recordings. There were payments to porn stars, pay to play with China and Indonesia, and open theft of our national morality, with Trump metaphorically riding away in a taxpayer paid for golden golf-cart. The evangelicals were copiously ignoring the growing cracks in their church bells.

Mostly the GOP lay in a Boehner-nap, awakening only briefly for intermittent nips of bloody Marys and rye. A few free market optimists imagined the GOP was saving its strength for one last-ditch effort to #DumpTrump. But, right about then, because the three politicians I admired most were already dead anyway, the rest of the GOP joined them. The Republican Party, upon whom we could formerly count for at least a façade of morality, had its thousand points of light torn away like a Puerto Rican roof. Final confirmation of the GOP’s death occurred in July with continuing news from the Mexico border that made us shiver. John McCain’s angel was in a body cast, because he was “Dying anyway.”

The GOP, having given away its moral authority to speechless speakers, vapid veeps, and the money man, is no longer grand, no longer old, and no longer alive. The Party of Lincoln is dead. Let’s drive our Harleys to the coast and pray that the Party of Trump is short-lived.

*********************************

John Sommers-Flanagan is a clinical psychologist, professor of counselor education at the University of Montana, and author of eight books. The views expressed here are solely the views of John Sommers-Flanagan, and not representative of the University of Montana or Don McLean.

And here’s the youtube link for the new song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QQPeVJQaUSw

 

A Letter to My Happiness Class on Why I Called BS on the So-Called Law of Attraction

Adler Heart Brain

[This is a letter to my happiness class]

Hello Happy People,

When happiness class ends, sometimes I wish we could continue in conversation. You may not feel that way. You might be thinking, “Thank-you Universe! Class is finally over.” But as a long-time professor-type, on many days I wish we could keep on talking and learning. I know that it may not surprise you to hear that I’m feeling like I’ve got more to say:).

This week (Tuesday, February 11) was one of those days. Many of you made great comments and asked big questions. But, given that time is a pesky driver of everything, I/we couldn’t go as deep as we might have. Here’s an example of a question I loved, but that I felt I didn’t go deep enough with:

“Do you believe in the Law of Attraction?”

This is a fascinating question with deep and profound contemporary relevance. At the time, if you recall, I had dissed inspirational statements like, “If you can imagine it, you can achieve it. If you can dream it, you can become it” as “just bullshit.” Then, in response to the question of whether I believe in the so-called Law of Attraction, I said something like “I don’t completely disbelieve it” . . . and then pretended that I was in possession of a scientific mental calculator and said something like, “I believe things like imagining the positive can have a positive effect, but it might contribute about 3% of the variation to what happens to people in the future.”

Not surprisingly, upon reflection, I’m thinking that my use of the word “bullshit” and my overconfident estimation of “3% of the variation” deserve further explanation. Why? Because if I don’t back up what I say with at least a little science, then I’m doing no better than the folks who write wacky stuff like, “You can if you think you can.” In other words, how can you know if what I say isn’t “just bullshit” too?

At this point I’d like to express my apologies to Dr. Norman Vincent Peale for referring to one of his book titles as “wacky stuff.” However, in my defense, I read the book and I still can’t do whatever I think I can do . . . so there’s that . . . but that’s only a personal anecdote.

Okay. Back to science. Here’s why I said that positive thinking, as in the so-called “Law of Attraction” might account for only about 3% of the variation in life outcomes.

Back in the 1980s, I did my thesis and dissertation on personality and prediction. At the time I had four roommates and I felt I could predict their behaviors quite easily on the basis of their personalities. However, much to my surprise, I discovered that social psychology research didn’t support personality as a very good predictor of behavior. Turns out, personality only correlates with behavioral outcomes at about r = 0.3 or r = 0.4. You might think that sounds big, because you might think that r = 0.3 means 30%. But that’s not how it works. If you do the math and multiply the correlational coefficient by itself (as in 3 x 3 or 4 x 4) you get what statisticians call the coefficient of determination (in this case, 3 x 3 = 9% and 4 x 4 = 16%). The coefficient of determination is an error-filled effort to predict specific future events, as in, if your r = 0.3, then, if you know r, then you can be about 9% accurate in predicting an outcome.

Please note that everything is error-filled, including science, and including me and my shoot from the hip efforts at estimation and prediction. When I say error-filled, I’m not disrespecting science, I’m just acknowledging its limitations.

Okay. Back to the so-called Law of Attraction. In class I was calculating in my mind that if well-measured personality traits like extraversion or introversion only account for about 9-16% of the variation in behavioral outcomes, then the so-called Law (which I’m inclined to rename as the Hypothesis of Attraction) would likely account for significantly less variation . . . so I quickly did some mental math and “3%” popped out of my mouth. What I should have said is that humans are remarkably unpredictable and that personality barely predicts behavior and situations barely predict behavior and so when we hypothesize what might influence our future, we should be careful and underestimate, lest we appear foolishly overconfident, like many television pundits.

Somewhere around this time, someone asked if I thought the authors of books who advocated things like the law of attraction really believed in what they wrote or just wrote their books for profit. My response there was something like, “I don’t know. Maybe a bit of both.” To be perfectly honest—which I’m trying to be—one of my big concerns about things like the law of attraction is that they’re used to increase hope and expectations and typically come at a price. I don’t like the idea of people with profit-driven motives luring vulnerable people with big hopes into paying and then being disappointed. Sometimes I ask myself, “If someone has their life together so much that they discovered a secret to becoming wealthy by visualizing wealth, then they should already be so damn rich that they should just share their secret for free with everyone in an effort to improve people’s lives and the state of the planet!” The corollary to that thought is that if somebody says they’ve got a powerful secret AND THEY WANT TO CHARGE YOU FOR IT, my bullshit spidey sense sounds an alarm. Go ahead, call me suspicious and cynical.

Now. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big fan of positive thinking. A huge fan. I believe positive thinking can give you an edge, and I believe it can make you happier. But I also think life is deeper than that and multiple factors are involved in how our lives turn out. I don’t want to pretend I’ve got a secret that I can share with you that will result in you living happily ever after with all the money you ever wished for. On the other hand, I do want to encourage everyone to embrace as much as you can the positivity and gratitude and kindness and visions of your best self that we’re talking about and reading about for our happiness class. I want you to have that edge or advantage. I want you to harness that 3% (okay, maybe it could be 7%) and make your lives more like your hopes and dreams.

Later, another student asked how we can know if we’re just fooling ourselves with irrational positivity. Wow. What an amazing question. At the time, I said, we need to scrutinize ourselves and bounce our self-statements or beliefs off of other people—people whom we trust—so we can get feedback. One thing I’d add to what I said in class is that we should also gather scientific information to help us determine whether we’re off in the tulips or thinking rationally. Self-scrutiny, feedback from trusted others, and pursuit of science. . . I think that’s a pretty good recipe for lots of things. It reminds me of what Alfred Adler once wrote about love. . . something like, “Follow your heart, but don’t forget your brain!”

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. I hope your weekend is a fabulous mix of following your heart, and hanging onto the science.

John SF

Happiness Homework: Savor Now, Feel Better Later

Captain America

We all know how to savor chocolate or wine or the cheesecake that tastes like you’ve made it to heaven. When it comes to gustatory experiences, savoring is natural.

Funny thing, savoring successes, beautiful scenery, a poem you hear on the radio, and other potentially positive life experiences often (but not always) feels less natural. That’s too bad, because researchers have repeatedly found that taking a moment to savor the moment in the midst of a busy day can increase happiness and decrease depression. We should try to remember to savor more often.

For this week the plan is for you to pick one savoring assignment from a menu of research-based savoring activities (below). Each of these activities has research support; doing any of them might make you feel significantly more happiness or less depression. Here are your options:

  • Engage in mutual reminiscence. Mutual reminiscence happens when you get together with someone and intentionally pull up and talk about fun, positive, or meaningful memories. I was with my dad last week and did a bit of this and it was nice. Now I have memories of us remembering our shared positive memories.
  • Make a list of positive memories. After making the list, transport yourself to reminisce on one of the memories. You can do this one by yourself. Retrieve the memory. Play it back in your mind. Explore it. Feel it. Let your brain elaborate on the details.
  • Celebrate good news longer than you would. This is easy. You need to track/observe for a positive message or news in your life that feels good. Then, let your mind linger on it. Notice how you feel. What parts of the news are especially meaningful and pleasant to you? Extend and celebrate the good news.
  • Notice and observe beauty. This activity is mostly visual, but you can listen for beautiful sounds too. Let yourself see color, patterns, and nuanced beauty in nature or in art. Linger with that visual and let its pleasant effects be in your eyes, brain, and body. Notice and feel those sensations and thoughts.

As usual, write a short report to Dan and me about your experiences and put it in the appropriate Moodle bin. This report doesn’t need to be long—unless writing it is a pleasant experience for you—in which case, you can linger and write longer.

Happiness Homework: Your Best Possible Self

Art Heart

You all already know about optimism and pessimism.

Some people see the glass half full. Others see the glass half empty. Still others, just drink and savor the water, without getting hung up on how much is in the glass. Obviously, there are many other responses, because some people spill the water, others find a permanent water source, and others skip the water and drink the wine or pop open a beer.

Reducing people to two personality types never works, but it never gets old either. Your activity this week is what we call an optimism activity. It’s called the Best Possible Self activity and it’s supposed to crank up your sense of optimism. That’s cool, because generally speaking, optimism is a good thing. Here’s what the researchers say about the Best Possible Self (BPS) activity.

[The following is summarized from Layous, Nelson, and Lyubomirsky, 2012]. Writing about your BPS (also seen as a representation of your goals) shows long-term health benefits, increases life satisfaction, increases positive affect, increases optimism, and improves overall sense of well-being. Laura King, a professor at U of Missouri-Columbia developed the BPS activity.

King’s BPS activity was a little more extensive than what I’m recommending below. Here’s the assignment:

  • Spend 10 minutes a day for four consecutive days writing a narrative description of your “best possible future self.”
  • Pick a point in the future – write about what you’ll be doing/thinking then – and these things need to capture a vision of you being “your best” successful self or of having accomplished your life goals.
  • You can upload all your writing or just a summary into Moodle for Dan or me to read.

Being a counseling and psychotherapy theories buff, I should mention that this fantastic assignment is very similar to the Adlerian “Future Autobiography.” Adler was way ahead of everyone on everything, so I’m not surprised that he was thinking of this first. Undoubtedly, Adler saw the glass half full, sipped and savored his share, and then shared it with his community. We should all be more like Adler.

Happiness Homework: Week 4 — Thought Monitoring

Goldilocks and Bears

Active Learning Assignment 6 – Thought Monitoring

Humans are thinking beings. You can try arguing the opposite, but that would require thinking.

Sometime around 1637, René Descartes said it this way,

“Cogito, ergo sum.”

The English translation,

“I think, therefore I am.”

Cool stuff.

After several decades of studying psychological theory, I’m finally ready to make my own fancy Cartesian philosophical statement about human thinking. It’s less succinct than Descartes, because, well, I’m not Descartes. Here we go. First, in Latin (because even though I only typed the words into the Google Latin translator, using Latin makes me sound smarter).

“Cogito ergo sum ego possit cogitare et in tempore angustiae triumphi.”

Now, in English.

“I think therefore I am able to think myself into trouble or triumph.”

Inevitably, the more we think, the more we’re able to create personal misery. Alternatively, as we know all too well from political or romantic or employment or online relationships, we humans are also quite capable of rationalizing behaviors and describing ourselves in ways that makes us feel and sound better than we are in reality. We easily and naturally think our way toward trouble and triumph.

One popular contemporary term that speaks to miserable and unhelpful thinking is “overthinking.” Overthinking refers to excessive analysis around actions or decision-making. Overthinking is usually considered a less-than-optimal style that sometimes leads to paralysis by analysis.

Unfortunately, although life is better when we avoid overthinking, “underthinking” (although it hasn’t caught on), is equally bad. Underthinking results in impulsive and thoughtless behaviors and decisions.

As if life wasn’t already hard enough, like Goldilocks, now we have to avoid overthinking and underthinking, and find just the right amount of thinking.

All this brings us to our current happiness assignment.

  1. Using the six-column model demonstrated in class (on Feb 4), track the relationships between your situational triggers, thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. One or two examples is sufficient.
  2. Write one paragraph about anything you learned about how your thoughts and behaviors affect your emotions (for the better or for the worse).
  3. Come to the lab on Thursday (Feb 6) ready to discuss anything you may have discovered about how your thoughts and behaviors affect your emotions.

Just in case you need it, here’s a longer description of how to do the six-column technique: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2014/02/18/how-to-use-the-six-column-cbt-technique/

Good luck and may the happiness be with you.

Four Questions to Help Keep Your Focus on the Positive

Brain Image

Everyone agrees that the human brain is amazing. Perhaps the most amazing quality of human brains is the ability to shift focus. In an instant and at will, you can shift your focus from a current life conundrum, to the big toe on your left foot, to your dreams for the future, and to a memory from 1st grade. You can explore all these things—at least superficially—and then move on to the meaning of existence and the possibility of life on Mars all in less than one minute. In fact, as you were reading this, I’ll bet you were able to touch on all those thoughts.

Although shifting attention can feel random, it’s a power that most of us should learn to use more intentionally.

We’re using several methods for helping students intentionally harness their attentional focus in the Art and Science of Happiness course at the University of Montana. One method involves homework. Another method involves in-class and happiness lab activities. A third method (and the one featured here), is intentional and regular use of self-reflection. To accomplish this, we ask students to answer four reflection questions every two weeks.

Here are the questions, along with a small sampling of anonymized student responses:

  1. Over the past two weeks, what lecture content stood out to you as most important to you in your life?
  • “The sleep lecture and what you can do to sleep better, and what causes nightmares and night terrors”
  • “Happiness doesn’t have to ALWAYS be present in order to be happy.”
  • “I really enjoyed the lecture about the three steps to cure nightmares.”
  1. Over the past two weeks, what classroom or lab activities do you recall as most important to you in your life?
  • “All of them have been influential . . . and hope to continue these assignments into the future.”
  • “Having a happy song playing at the beginning of class is such a great way to start class.”
  • “The hand-pushing activity about how we should go into a situation with a plan.”
  1. Over the past two weeks, what positive changes have you noticed in yourself or in your life?
  • “After doing the 3 good things activity at night I felt relaxed and in a better mood.”
  • “I’m working on my sleep schedule which has felt good.”
  • “I found the sleeping tips to be really helpful in my own life and help me to improve my sleep.”
  1. Over the past two weeks, what activities, interactions, or thoughts have you experienced (outside of class) that were especially meaningful to you?
  • “Finding something inspirational.”
  • “More positive outlook on life.”
  • “I experienced being able to change my thoughts on a negative day by looking at three good things and able to remember that even on bad days there are still good things to remember.”

As I look over the students’ responses to these questions and the homework assignments, I feel like I’m catching some positive psychology contagion. I’m grateful to be able to teach this course and inspired by the students’ efforts to apply positive psychology principles to their lives.

The place to click if you want to learn about psychotherapy, counseling, or whatever John SF is thinking about.