Category Archives: Personal Reflections

What’s Wrong with March Madness?

Being in the middle of March Madness is an excellent moment to step back to briefly reflect on the nature and function hype and hyperbole. Let’s start with a look at madness.

Madness is a 14th century term for insanity and insanity implies a break from reality. As such, March Madness is aptly named. For many (including me) March Madness is a good time to ignore reality, job productivity, and common sense. Filling out brackets and imagining that you might correctly pick every winner and win a billion dollars is a great example of taking a break from reality.

Below is a quick Q & A about some of the main things that are wrong (or insane) about March Madness

Question #1: Who will win the NCAA basketball tournament?

The winner of the NCAA tournament will be (surprise) the NCAA and all rich folks who stand to get richer based on their associations with the NCAA. This includes a certain wealthy man whom I’ll refer to as “he-who-will-not-be-named,” NCAA sponsors, CBS, and Vegas. It will also include one team with a rich coach who makes more than $2,000,000 a year and a roster of about 15 relatively poor guys who make hardly anything (but one or two of which will make bank next year). My point is that you shouldn’t confuse March Madness with a charity benefit. This tournament is designed to do that good old American thing of helping the rich get richer while the rest of us take a break from reality and experience entertainment.

Question #2: Who will be the losers?

Nearly everyone else will be the losers. Last year, Harvard Business Review estimated the cost of the NCAA tournament in losses to worker productivity to be from $175 million to $1 billion. There also will be 67 teams (not to mention the non-qualifiers) who will be admirably labelled losers. In addition, even the winners (players who have spent substantial time and effort working and playing together) will be generally uncompensated.

Question #3: Seriously, who should I bet on?

First thoughts on this: (a) Bet on the home team; (b) bet on the East coast; and (c) bet on the favorites (aka: the big names). Even though the NCAA tournament is played at neutral sites, like most things NCAA, this is only partly true. This year, we have Florida in Florida, Duke in Raleigh, NC, Wisconsin in Wisconsin, and Kansas in far off St. Louis, Missouri. Of course, this doesn’t always work out (think Duke), but it’s a good start. Also, NCAA basketball nearly always tilts Eastward. This is related to ESPN’s contractual preference for Eastern conferences (and efforts to ignore the left coast). Finally, come crunch time, the big name players and coaches will get the call (or non-call) from the officials. In the end, when it comes to NCAA basketball, the refs appear unable to help themselves from favoring the favorites.

Question #4: Who will be the winning coach?

When in doubt, it makes sense to tip your hat to whoever has the most resources. Consequently, consider what the following well-dressed coaches make annually (and compare it to what their players and college/university presidents and professors make) and then go with the resource rich . . . because this is America, where the rich are usually favored in the lottery of who gets richer.

  1. Duke (Mike Krzyzewski: $7+ million) – oops, lost already
  2. Louisville (Rick Pitino: About $5 million)
  3. Kansas (Bill Self: About $5 million)
  4. Michigan State (Tom Izzo: About $4 million)
  5. Florida (Billy Donovan (About $4 million)
  6. Ohio State (Thad Matta: About $3 million) – oops, lost already
  7. Indiana (Tom Crean: About $3 million) – oops, didn’t make the NCAAs
  8. Arizona (Sean Miller: About $2.5 million)
  9. Wisconsin (Bo Ryan: Over $2 million)
  10. Villanova (Jay Wright: Over $2 million) – oops, lost already.

Based on the preceding list, it looks to be a good year for the Big Ten. Or a bad year, if they spend all that money and come up with what I think they’ll come up with.

Question #5: Who will win the sportsmanship award?

Of course, there is NO sportsmanship award, but if there was one, I’d give it to all the players and coaches who display fabulous restraint despite exposure to stupefying heckling fans and enigmatic basketball officiating. They will rarely complain. They won’t storm the stands to try to shut the mouths of fans who should be arrested for what they say. They will just politely take all the crap aimed their direction. Seriously, the players are 18 to 23-year-olds and they show WAY more maturity than we should expect . . . which is why college basketball really needs to do something to protect them from the fans and the officials.

Question #6: How can you make yourself even more insane?

The is simple: just read any of a bevy of sports message boards on the Internet. If you read these you’ll be exposed to perhaps the most inane and ridiculous commentary on the face of the planet. My advice: Just say no to reading the message (comment) boards. I’ve done it and nearly always instantly regret the effect it has on my mental health.

Question #7: Why all the upsets?

There will be upsets because there are always upsets and we know from decades of tightly controlled psychological research that the best predictor of the future is the past. We also know that the only thing people can really predict is the past . . . which is why I’ll be submitting my Billion dollar bracket right after the tourney ends.

The other reason we know there will be upsets is because most members of the NCAA selection committee can’t see very far past the three letters they’ve scrawled right next to their navels. These letters are R-P-I. You probably know that RPI stands for ratings percentage index. What you may not know is that the RPI is seriously flawed. I mean seriously. That’s why the 12 seeds nearly always beat the 5 seeds. And did anyone really think that UMASS was a 6 seed or Duke a 3 seed or Ohio State (5-4 in their last nine games) deserved a 6 seed? The RPI is a bogus statistical procedure that tends to help teams from BIG conferences with more money. Unfortunately, odds-makers at Vegas could do a better job at seeding the NCAA tournament than the selection committee.

Question #8: Why didn’t anyone win the Billion dollars

“He who will not be named” did a big promotion of temporary March insanity when he offered one Billion dollars for a perfect bracket. This was such a scam that. . . hahaha. . . you could almost hear the evil laugh. Like most scams, this was just a publicity stunt. You would have better odds of winning two back-to-back powerball lotteries with two single tickets than the Billion dollars of “He who won’t be named.” If you really thought you could win, then, although I’m generally against psychotropic medications, I would recommend Lithium. This is all really too bad because I used to respect the man I won’t be naming.

Okay. Let me end with an apology. I would have started with an apology but the great author Henry James said you should never start a letter with an apology. So here’s my closing apology: Sorry for going all negative. I love college basketball. I just hate the fans, the refs, the selection committee, and the unequal distribution of the wealth and glory. Besides, my bracket got busted, so I’m in an insanely bad mood.

Listening as Meditation on Psychotherapy.net

Listening in psychotherapy and counseling is partly art and partly science. This week I have the good fortune of having a blog piece I wrote on Listening as Meditation published at psychotherapy.net. You can access this blog piece — and other excellent psychotherapy.net blog pieces — at: http://www.psychotherapy.net/blog

Have an excellent and mindful Wednesday.

John SF

A Guest Blog Titled “Not Having the Answer is My Answer” by Tara Smart

Not Having the Answer is My Answer

By Tara Smart, Ed.S.

               I returned to graduate school in 2012 after living and working in the professional world for over a decade.  In fact, 12 years ago I graduated from the University of Montana with an Ed.S in School Psychology.  I had survived the onslaught of stress that graduate school threw at me the first time.  While working towards my Ed.S, friends and family often asked “What are you going to do when you graduate?” I always responded—with confidence—that I would be working as a school psychologist.  People often commented that the financial, mental, and emotional stress of graduate school would all be worth it, since I had a solid plan for the future.  Their affirming responses reassured me that I was suffering for a good cause and that it would all be worth it in the end.   I was nearly immune to the stress of everyday life, because I was already living in the future.

This time around, my rendezvous with graduate school is a completely different experience.  I’m now in my second year in the Counselor Education and Supervision Department at the University of Montana, and I fumble over my words every time the question about my future plan gets asked.  And it gets asked quite frequently. Initially I hoped that, over time, my answer would evolve and then flow smoothly from my mouth.  I have come to realize, however, that there is and will be no flow.  I simply don’t know the answer. Instead of receiving affirmation, I watch people’s faces scrunch up and a concerned smile cross their lips.  Their heads tilt and although they utter words of encouragement, their body language shouts that I’m a pitiful soul locked in the dungeons of graduate school purgatory for what seems like no good reason.  This mixed message makes me uncomfortable, so I try to minimize the stress of the situation by reassuring others that I’m okay and that I’ll figure out the answer eventually.

But underneath my reassurance to them, and to me, questions linger: Why do I even feel the need to have an answer to this question?  Why does a confident answer assure others, and more importantly, why do I need it as reassurance for myself? It occurred to me while listening to a mortgage commercial on the radio, that modern society often focuses on looking to the future.  Buying a house, long term care insurance, and retirement planning all promise us that if we make sacrifices today, then we can live a perfect life in the future.  The planned future is always bright and full of potential.  The future—although it obviously hasn’t happened yet, somehow compensates me for painful decisions in the present.  If I don’t like my job, I just look at my retirement account and tell myself to keep on plugging away, because there will happiness at the end of this work rainbow.  For me, in the past, the future was a pretty decent place to live, until I realized I was missing out on the present.

The present is jumping on the trampoline with my boys. That moment is filled with laughter and love. The present is going to Lolo for Sunday dinner with grandparents. It’s typing this blog at the computer with my cat purring on my lap. The present isn’t just hopes and dreams, it is reality.  It’s not always as grand and fantastic as an imagined future, but it’s always real.  I can touch, smell, and experience it. Now, I’ve decided I like the present, even though it’s still a struggle for me to remain here.

Intentionally deciding to remain in the present has implications for how I handle myself. It means I don’t need an answer to the question. It means I’m not failing when I don’t have an answer.  It just means I don’t know yet.

Not knowing yet is different than never knowing.  I trust the present to guide me to the future.  I trust the present to bring me happiness and wisdom. Before, I was good at answering questions about the future because I was good at living in the future.  I wasn’t able to enjoy the present moment. But now I’m living in the present and trusting myself that my future will evolve exactly as it needs to based on how I live each and every day.

When I realized that my discomfort and inability to answer the question was a reflection of an enhanced ability and comfort to stay in the present, my shoulders relaxed and I let out a deep sigh of relief.  I don’t need to know what I’m going to do when I’m done with graduate school, again.  I can enjoy this moment, this day, and this journey. Not having an answer to the question doesn’t mean, as I’d feared, that I’ve foolishly entered graduate school and will waste time and money since there’s no solid plan for the future.  In fact, it has helped me understand that my plan for the future is to live in the present each day because this is a journey that’s worth savoring.

 

What You Missed in Cincinnati

For me, the hardest thing about presenting professional workshops is time management. I want participants to comment, but how can I plan in advance for exactly how long their comments will be? Even worse, how can I accurately estimate the length of my own impromptu moments? It seems obvious that there’s a need for spontaneity. I don’t want to cut off potentially valuable comments from participants . . . and I don’t want to cut off my own creative musings either. Clearly, the clock is my workshop enemy.

For example, how could I know in advance that I would suddenly feel compelled to share a personal dream of mine with 85 of my new Cincinnati counselor friends? Never before had I shared with a workshop audience that 45 years-ago I dreamt I was Felix-the-Cat and then while crossing the road (as Felix), I got hit by a car . . . and died.

But then I woke up and have kept on living.

I like to think that particular disclosure is a perfectly normal thing to do when you’ve got a group of professional counselors to listen to you.

The point was to bust the myth that some teenage client have (and will talk about in counseling) that if they dream they die, it is prophetic and means they’ll die soon in real life also.

And beyond my personal dream disclosure, how would I know that one of the participants would have such passion that he would accept an invitation to come up to the microphone and share a physical relaxation technique that he uses with elementary school students.

These are just two samples of the sort of thing you missed because you weren’t in Cincinnati at the Schiff Center on the Xavier University campus yesterday.

But you also missed the start of the workshop where I decided on the spot that it was just the right time and place for me to open the workshop with a story of the most embarrassing moment in my life. It struck me as an awesome idea at the time . . . and it really was the most embarrassing moment of my life . . . until a few hours later when I shared my Felix-the-Cat dream.

There are always bigger mountains to climb.

You also missed meeting my incredibly gracious hosts from the Greater Cincinnati Counseling Association including, Butch Losey (who’s the most humble and understated guy who should be famous I’ve ever met), Kay Russ (who’s right up there with the most responsible person I’ve ever met), and Brent Richardson (who is as irreverent and insightful as ever), and Robert Wubbolding (who may be on his way to Casablanca to do a week long choice theory/reality therapy workshop by the time I post this and yet took eight hours out of his life to attend the workshop anyway).

So that’s just a little taste of what you missed in Cincinnati.

I’ll bet you wish you were there. I know I’m glad I was.

Why Evolution is a Bad Explanation for Human Behavior

Nearly every day I hear, read, or see the latest news story about how the human brain is hard-wired to make all humans act in one particular way or another. These stories annoy me because:

  1. They emphasize that all humans are the same and ignore the fact that we’re all unique and, to a large degree, unpredictable.
  2. They imply that humans are unlikely to change or deviate from one another.
  3. They repeatedly claim we’re all hard-wired despite the fact that the human brain has NO WIRES.

Even worse, at the bottom of most of these “Your brain is hard-wired” stories is a mythical evolutionary explanation. This annoys me even more . . . because when it comes to everyday human behavior, evolution makes for very bad explanations. But if you’re listening to what pundits and scientists say in the media, you’d be inclined to believe the opposite of what’s really true about humans.

For mysterious reasons, many scientists—especially evolutionary scientists—want to put humans in a box. They suggest and imply and assert that human behavior is predictable. But the truth is that—apart from breathing—there are very few predictable human behaviors. As decades of controlled psychological experiments have shown, even under laboratory conditions where little choice is possible, scientific predictions typically account for no more that 30-40% of the variation in human behavior. This means that humans are 60-70% unpredictable . . . even under highly controlled conditions.

Aside from being mostly wrong, simple evolutionary and biological explanations for human behavior also often are translated into messages that are generally unhealthy for society. Let’s take one big example.

An especially popular media and science topic is male sexual behavior. The argument usually goes like this: Over millions of years males have become hardwired to be attracted to fertility and novelty in sexual partners. This is because . . . the argument continues . . . males seek to perpetuate their gene-pool. This is why, they say, males are attracted to younger females who exhibit signs of reproductive health. This also explains why males—especially young males—are driven to have sex with multiple female partners.

Given current U.S. social problems—think sexual assault and high divorce rates—it makes little sense to promote the mostly false ideas that males seek sexual novelty to perpetuate their gene pool. This information is unhelpful to women who want safe and stable relationships with men and it’s unhelpful to the majority of men who—in contradiction to evolutionary theory—want safe and monogamous intimate relationships with women (or other men).

Most of the time, most males engage in sexual behavior that’s not at all designed to spread their seed or perpetuate their gene pool. Young men are often strongly motivated to NOT get their girlfriends pregnant. Recent data indicate that many young men are NOT especially interested in engaging in indiscriminate sexual behavior.

Even in a 2011 research study at Syracuse University, 333 undergraduate males apparently hadn’t gotten the memo about being hardwired to want sex with novel partners. When asked, whether they could “. . . imagine themselves enjoying casual sex” these young men showed an average response that was largely in the “undecided” range. Think about that: males from 18-22 years-old at Syracuse University couldn’t really decide if they might enjoy casual sex. This is good news. And it’s not consistent with evolutionary-based myths about contemporary young men.

In the same study, 300+ Syracuse University women reported—in direct contradiction to evolutionary theory—that they had been engaging in casual sexual encounters at approximately the same rate as the males.

And so next time you hear or read or view a media story about how millions of years of evolution explains why human males or females behave one way or another, remember that many immediate conditions can and do override evolutionary-based predictions. Evolution is a generality that may or may not apply to a single organism living in the 21st century. Evolution does not trump choice. And that’s the point: Your choices tomorrow will have much more to do with the situations you’re facing today (and that you’re anticipating tomorrow) than they’ll have to do with yesterday.

Raising Boys in the 21st Century

As some of you may already know, yesterday I had a blog piece posted on the American Counseling Association website. The piece was titled, “Boys will be Boys . . . Unless we teach them something Better.” Check it out here, if you like: http://www.counseling.org/news/blog

There’s also much more helpful information on “raising boys” on the internet. One example is this featured blog on the Good Men Project website: “How We Can Improve Sex Ed for Boys.” Here’s the link for that: http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/the-good-life-how-we-can-improve-sex-ed-for-boys/

I hope you’re all doing well in the run-up (as the Brits would say) to some major holiday activity.

John SF

 

A New Book from Pamela Hays

You may not have heard of Pamela Hays, but you should know about her work and so I’m posting a short comment here.

Pamela Hays, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and author of my favorite multicultural counseling book: Cultural Complexities in Practice: Assessment, Diagnosis and Therapy. She has several other books out and what I like best about them is that she takes complex issues and makes them clear and easy to understand; not an easy task.

Below is some information about her latest book . . . which is hot off the press. The title is: Creating Well-Being: Four Steps to a Happier, Healthier Life.

If you know me, you know that I’m sometimes critical of work in the field of counseling and psychotherapy . . . and don’t worry, I’ll re-embrace my more critical self in my next couple blogs. However, for now I’m focusing on the positive and focusing on the positive includes focusing on Dr. Pamela Hays and so here’s the information about her latest book!

Pamela’s book is currently available directly from the publisher (American Psychological Association) http://www.apa.org/pubs/books/4441020.aspx, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and some independent book stores. The book combines the latest info on happiness and well-being with CBT tools (including mindfulness practices) to get on the wellness path.

And now here’s a description of the book.

Texts. Emails. Errands. Endless to-do lists. Even if we’re keeping up, are we truly enjoying our lives? Remedies like a day at the beach may bring short-term relief, but what brings the lasting changes that help us be our best selves? Pamela Hays has written this book to help you take control and fulfill your dreams. Full of fun exercises and real-life examples, the book shares a tried and true approach that is easy to understand, learn, and accomplish. Get started by taking stock of your personal strengths. Learn to realistically assess problems and connect each to a solution. Become aware of the thought traps that hold you back. Take action on the problems that can be changed, and manage your emotions when problems are beyond your control. Based on the author’s 20+ years of experience and sound psychological principles and research, this book will help you cultivate a lasting talent for self-care and well-being.

Pamela A. Hays, PhD

Pages: 221

Item #: 4441020

ISBN: 978-1-4338-1573-7

List Price: $19.95

Publication Date: October 2013

Format: Softcover

About the author:
Pamela A. Hays is the author of Addressing Cultural Complexities in Practice: Assessment, Diagnosis and Therapy; and Connecting Across Cultures: The Helper’s Toolkit; and co-editor of Culturally Responsive Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. A DVD of her work has been produced by the American Psychological Association as part of their expert therapist series, entitled Culturally Responsive Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy in Practice. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Hawaii, served as a National Institute of Mental Health Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Rochester School of Medicine, and from 1989-2000 worked as a core faculty member in the graduate program at Antioch University, Seattle. She currently maintains a private practice in Soldotna, Alaska, works part-time for The Kenaitze Tribe’s Nakenu Family Center, and conducts workshops internationally. She can be reached through her website at www.drpamelahays.com