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The Pursuit of Mindfulness

“It is not the man who has little, but the man who craves more, that is poor” – Seneca

Integrated into our everyday lives are ideas of how we can6a00e554eecbdf88330120a7ad5e67970b-500wiachieve happiness – buy the next best car, gain a huge promotion, find your ideal partner… We are rarely made to feel content in our own skin and current state. Sadly, we have become accustomed to this; we see it everywhere and many of us recognise how such messages, particularly those in the media, buy into our feelings of dissatisfaction and insecurity. Living in such an environment, how can we ever believe enough is enough? 

Psychologists Brickman and Campbell first coined the term ‘hedonic adaptation’ in 1971. They suggest each person has a ‘set point’ of happiness18nat_married which remains constant until we experience sudden highs or downfalls. For instance, when receiving an exam grade, one might initially feel intense happiness or disappointment that will eventually return to that set point. The same goes in the context of a romantic relationship: we fall in love ecstatically, and over time reach a state of equilibrium that makes us think, “is this it?” – a thought which characterises many break-ups.

demandeuphoria_6642Positive Psychology research has looked into the idea of a ‘hedonic treadmill’ – a permanent cycle of desire fuelled by dissatisfaction. Particularly in an environment where things like money and success are highly valued, once you’re on that treadmill, you don’t want to simply feel content. You want all your hard work to pay off with feelings of ecstasy and triumph; you sacrifice the present moment in the hope that it will bring you greater satisfaction in the future. In this way, many people obtain motivation as it serves a path for ambitions. However, it can lead to anxious or depressive states in cases where people devote themselves to unattainable goals or feel a lack of appreciation for what is already within their reach.

To help combat this negative cycle, a great body of recent research points to the value of mindfulness – focusing awareness on the present moment and all its encompassing sensations. In doing so, we can free ourselves from our attachment to the past and the future and find satisfaction in the present. Mindfulness has been found to significantly improve symptoms of mental disorders like anxiety, depression and ADHD. There are some excellent blog articles that write more in depth on mindfulness techniques, such as here, here and here.

On the other hand, research has shown that our happiness levels are not always determined by the environment we are in; they are 50% heritable in our genes. In addition to this, it is found that not everyone is hedonically neutral – we all have differing set points meaning we feel pleasure differently. For example, people with depression can experience anhedonia – a total inability to feel pleasure. Some research suggests that hedonic set points can be raised using new antidepressant compounds that are currently being investigated.

Psychological research has thrown light on how our desires can lead to dissatisfaction, and provides interventions that can be used to reframe negative mind-sets. If you have any experience with subjects I have mentioned or have any ideas or questions, please comment or send me a message.

 

Works Cited

Brickman, P., & Campbell, D. T. (1971). Hedonic relativism and planning the good society. Adaptation-level theory, 287-305.

Eysenck, H. J., & Eysenck, M. W. (1994). Happiness: Facts and myths. Psychology Press.

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Self-Efficacy: Turning Doubt into Drive

 An efficacious attitude works as a driving force – an individual with a strong sense of efficacy is more likely to become self-motivated, committed and assured in the face of a challenge. With high self-efficacy, one can attempt goals and conquer stress more readily, and as a result, experience better wellbeing. On the contrary, those who have doubts about their own abilities ruminate on personal flaws, slacken efforts and lose faith in the face of failure – a mind-set that in the long run can act as a brake on one’s ambitions and increase proneness to mental illness. But how does one develop self-efficacy? Is it something that can be moulded and strengthened to the level we want it to be?

Efficacy beliefs shape the course of our lives – what goals we choose to pursue, how much we commit to those goals and how much effort we put into given endeavours. Our everyday realities are filled with obstacles, frustrations and limitations. However, it is not the difficulties we face that influence our strength and wellbeing, but the beliefs we hold about them. Our beliefs determine how much stress we experience when confronting challenges, and how long it takes before we give up altogether. We must, therefore, develop a robust sense of self-worth to sustain the enduring effort needed to flourish.

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Psychologist Albert Bandura, known primarily for his research on behavioural modelling, suggests we can improve our self-efficacy, ironically, through failure. After all, if people only experience straightforward successes, it becomes an expectation that makes them far more vulnerable when things don’t go as planned. Therefore, if one comes to realise their self-worth and capability through sustained effort in overcoming adversity, they can emerge with more resilience rather than disheartenment. He discovered this during his research on fear arousal, where he saw the mediating effect that strong self-efficacy had on phobics, war veterans and hurricane survivors in overcoming incapacitating trauma.

“In order to succeed, people need a sense of self-efficacy, to struggle together with resilience to meet the inevitable obstacles and inequities of life” – Albert Bandura

A second way in which Bandura suggests we can shape our efficacy beliefs is through second-hand experiences provided by social role models. When we see people similar to ourselves accomplish goals, we can foster our own beliefs that we too have it in us to master similar challenges. With this in mind, we can see others’ achievements not as unattainable comparisons, but as an inspirational framework to guide our own aspirations and plans of action we set ourselves. So, instead of becoming envious and measuring our success through triumphs over others, we can do so through focusing on our own self-improvement and sharing encouragement.

Finally, because our self-efficacy can vary as a function of our physical and mental state, it can be difficult to approach a task that arouses a sense of debility or anxiety. Some people experience a nervous state as an added driving force to their motivation, whereas others view it as a sign to remove themselves from the situation as quickly as possible. This can be a particularly tough thought pattern to eradicate in the moment, but through a structured process of identifying, eliminating and replacing maladaptive or irrational thoughts and behaviours (such as through cognitive behavioural therapy), we can transform what holds us back into a force that pushes us forward. For example, we can break down large challenges into smaller, more manageable steps.

Demetri-Martin_tumblr_lo9k5j8SE31qhtggqo1_500.jpgBandura offers some useful suggestions for how we can manage our own levels of self-efficacy – a skill that can motivate us to change ineffective attitudes and behaviours that might be holding us back. However, these are not limited to themselves – there are a range of other methods to be explored if these do not fit for you or every aspect of life. If you have any ideas or have had personal experience trying the above strategies or any others, please comment or message me with your thoughts and suggestions.

 

Works Cited

Bandura, A. (1994). Self‐efficacy. John Wiley & Sons, Inc..

Bandura, A., & Adams, N. E. (1977). Analysis of self-efficacy theory of behavioral change. Cognitive therapy and research, 1(4), 287-310.

Bandura, A. (2005). The primacy of self‐regulation in health promotion. Applied Psychology, 54(2), 245-254.

Benight, C.C. & Bandura, A. (2004). Social cognitive theory of post-traumatic recovery: The role of perceived self-efficacy. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 42 (10), 1129–1148

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