So, Exams are looming or you’re right in the midst of them and saying it’s a stressful time is an understatement. We’ve got 8 quick and easy, proven tips to help you beat exam stress.
So, Exams are looming or you’re right in the midst of them and saying it’s a stressful time is an understatement. We’ve got 8 quick and easy, proven tips to help you beat exam stress.
Researchers in Athlone Institute of Technology found that the Pip can be used to measure peoples’ emotional responses while using virtual reality headsets .
The study, “An evaluation of Heart Rate and Electrodermal Activity as an Objective QoE Evaluation method for Immersive Virtual Reality Environments”, had participants hold the Pip while they either viewed a city on a normal computer screen or navigated their way around a city using a virtual reality (VR) headset. Afterwards, they asked participants to rate their experience of the city including how much they enjoyed the experience, how difficult they felt it was, how immersed they were in it and how comfortable or uncomfortable they were with the whole experience.
They found that electrodermal activity (EDA), as measured by the Pip, could distinguish between those who played the VR game and those who played on the computer screen. This indicates that the Pip was a marker of the users’ emotional responses to playing the VR game. They also found that the more difficult users found the game the more their EDA changed meaning that the Pip could show when people were experiencing something difficult, demanding or perhaps stressful.
The paper was presented at the 8th International Conference on Quality of Multimedia Experience (QoMEX 2016) June 2016, in Lisbon, Portugal.
The link to the study can be found here: goo.gl/hyLzgp
You hear about a new training course that will develop your skills.
Do you sign up? Why?
Psychologists have found that our goals can be categorized into four main types:
Mastery goals are those in which we want to master or become competent in something. Performance goals are those in which we want to show competency to other people, a boss for example. Approach means hoping to gain something while avoidance means wanting to avoid losing something. Let’s take four people: Sue, Bob, Ryan and Liz.
Sue signs up for a managerial training course because she wants to develop her managerial skills in order to become a better manager in work. She has a mastery approach goal.
Bob signs up because he wants to show his manager that he has good managerial skills and get a promotion. He has a performance approach goal. Ryan signs up because he is worried that his managerial skills aren’t up to scratch and he wants to improve his own capabilities. He has a mastery avoidance goal.
Liz signs up because she is worried that if she doesn’t sign up her own manager will think that she has poor managerial skills. She has a performance avoidance goal. Based on this information who do you think will be the most productive? On the one hand the promise of a promotion will incentivise Bob. On the other hand, anxiety around their performance will incentivise Ryan and Liz. But, as we wrote in our last blog, intrinsic motivation (a motivation inspired by internal factors like satisfaction in one’s work. Link here) is important in the workplace so Sue might be the most productive.
In 2013 two psychologists put this to the test. They assessed 1,441 employees over a 10 month period. They measured their intrinsic and extrinsic motivation the type of goals that they had and their work effort .
As you might expect, they found that people who are intrinsically motivated put in the most effort when they have a mastery approach goal. So Sue, who derives pleasure from doing work because she wants to be competent, will put the most effort into the course. Surprisingly, however, people who are extrinsically motivated, like Bob, actually put in the most effort when they have a mastery avoidance goal. Although Bob might be working towards a promotion he will actually be more motivated by the thought that his skills are lacking than by the promise of a promotion.
What does this all mean? Well it means that while external factors like promotions and pay-rises are welcome, and often deserved, the secret to real work ethic and productivity is to live up to your own internal standards. Often the internal sense of satisfaction that comes from learning a new skill or doing a job well is more rewarding than what anyone else could say to you. The next time you have a goal take a look at what type it is. If it’s purely performance-based take a second look and see if you can change it into a mastery one instead. It might just push you past the procrastination stage.
Why do you work?
Ok it may be an obvious question. The first answer that sprang to mind was probably financial.
But there are many ways to make money and you have chosen one specific way. So why do you do the work you do? Why do you do it on the inevitable days when it is boring? On the days when it is sunny outside? On the days when work really isn’t your top priority?
Here are some reasons that may or may not apply:
These 6 statements can be divided into two types of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic.
Extrinsic motivation is the type of motivation that comes from getting external rewards . Someone who is extrinsically motivated will be most likely to be motived to work by a prestigious job title, by financial incentive or by praise from other people. Statements 2, 4 and 5 above are examples of extrinsic motivation.
Intrinsic motivation is the type of motivation that comes from within . Someone who is intrinsically motivated is more likely to be motivated by the work itself, by the internal satisfaction that comes from succeeding at a task and by a sense that they are achieving something. Statements 1, 3 and 6 above are examples of intrinsic motivation.
Some people are very strongly extrinsically or intrinsically motivated. Most people tend to have a mix but may lean slightly more towards one or the other.
But why does your motivation type matter?
Well countless studies have shown that intrinsic motivation predicts well-being, particularly in the workplace. One recent study found that high job demands, role ambiguity and conflict in the workplace are, naturally, associated with greater psychological distress. Different people feel different levels of distress. This study found that the level depended on each individual’s extrinsic or intrinsic motivation. Those who were purely extrinsically motivated experienced much greater distress when faced with stress at work. Those who were more intrinsically motivated, however, were protected somewhat from the demands of their job, perhaps because of their tendency to see demands as challenges that will be engaging to solve and worthwhile to overcome .
It’s ok to match your motivation to the task at hand but if you find that your only ever motivation is extrinsic you may want to take another look at why you do what you do. The vast majority of jobs have at least one intrinsically rewarding element. Finding out what that is for you may help you to get through those boring, stressful and sunny days.
Failure can be good for you. This is not easy to read if a relationship has just ended or your business has just collapsed. And of course, it would be better if these things had not happened. But failure, from time to time, is inevitable and, depending on how we respond to it – it can have an upside. Here’s why.
Our brains have two primary mindsets that underpin our whole lives – one is called the approach mindset and the other the avoidance mindset. The approach mindset is linked to our brain’s reward network – the feel-good “pleasure centre” that switches on when we anticipate good things – success, sugar, sex – that are rewarding to us. This is the go-getting, forward-looking, goal-seeking, reward-relishing circuit of the brain that is closely linked to the brain’s chemical messenger dopamine .
The avoidance network, on the other hand is linked to our fear of punishment – of foreseeing risk and bad things happening. It is linked to the fight or flight chemical messenger of the brain, noradrenaline/norepinephrine. To get through life, these two circuits have to be in approximate balance – too much reward seeking and we become blind to risk and can end up crashing spectacularly, as happened in the financial crisis of 2007/8.
Most of the time, for most people, they are in rough balance, which is how the brain likes it, because these two circuits are in competition with each other in the brain – they inhibit each other and in a healthy situation, you get an amiable peace treaty between the two.
But when we fail, the avoidance network gets a boost and the approach network a beating. And when it has the upper hand, the avoidance network not only makes us more anxious and lower in mood, it also makes us more likely to remember past failures and past bad times, and makes it harder for us to anticipate future good times.
But there can be some hidden blessings for you in this state of avoidance and failure which you can harness if you let yourself. Here are some of them:
Emotionally resilient people tend to think differently to those who are more vulnerable. In particular, they respond differently to failure.
Imagine that big sale you were on the point of closing falls through at the last minute. How do you feel? – Bad – maybe even terrible. That’s understandable. You put in all of that work and it’s for nothing. Now you are worried about your manager’s response and maybe even about your job.
Feeling bad when you fail is normal and emotionally tough people feel this just as much as emotionally vulnerable people. So what’s the difference? The difference lies in how you understand the causes of failure – and to what you attribute it.
Let’s take two people – Sam and Helen, each of whose deals has fallen at the last hurdle. Both are upset when they hear the news and spend the day brooding on what happened.
Sam thinks “I should never have got into sales – I knew I wasn’t cut out for it – I’m not a good negotiator, I can’t close the deal. I am a failure – I don’t know how I’m going to make a living.”
Helen thinks: “I really messed up there – what an idiot! I nearly had it – it was that last email he sent, if only I had said yes to that last condition – but I thought I had him. And then there were those economic figures in the news that morning – that spooked him, I know.”
A week later, Sam is morose and anxious while Helen is back to her bouncy, optimistic and confident self. Why? Because Sam has a tendency to use an explanatory style that dooms him to feel low and anxious in the face of failure.
While thinking about the failed deal, Sam attributed the cause to himself – he made it personal. Helen, while taking some of the blame, also considered that the morning’s bad economic figures had played a part: an external not a personal factor.
Sam considered that the failed deal was because of something wrong with him, and therefore something that is permanent. For Helen, the cause of her failure was temporary –with hindsight she realises that she made a mistake in how she responded to the client’s last email.
Finally, for Sam the failed deal was caused by something pervasive in his life. To Helen, the failure was specific to this situation, and had nothing to say about her in general.
No wonder that a week later, Sam was anxious and low while Helen was bouncy and positive. Sam had thought himself into a situation where the failure was personal, permanent and pervasive – leaving little hope for his future success. To Helen, the failure was external, temporary and specific – she was ready for the next challenge.
So here’s the good news – thoughts are just thoughts and we can learn to change how we think about failure. If we do that, we will become more emotionally resilient and probably even more successful.
In the last blog we met Joe, a heavy smoker who has just reached the 4th stage of change in trying to quit (see link here).
Joe has moved through the stages of Precontemplation, Contemplation, Preparation and now he’s at Action. This is the stage at which he has actively quit smoking and plans to stay that way.
But this is also the danger stage.
This is the stage at which Joe will get the most recognition from friends and family for quitting. But he will also have to face a number of pitfalls. For example, he might have quit smoking at home but will he be able to keep that up when out with friends? He might have stopped smoking when he is happy but what about when something goes wrong at work and he needs a stress reliever
This is where understanding yourself, and foreseeing the battles that your future self is likely to face, is important. In good news, there is something to help.
The Volitional Help Sheet is a sheet divided into two. The left column is headed ‘Situations’ and it is filled with a list of times in which you may be tempted to smoke in the form of ‘If I am tempted to smoke …’
For example, one may be ‘If I am tempted to smoke at a bar or pub having a drink’. Another may be, ‘If I am tempted to smoke when I wake up in the morning and face a tough day’.
The column on the right is headed ‘Solutions’ and completes the sentences with a list of alternatives to smoking when facing the situations on the left.
For example, ‘If I am tempted to smoke at a bar or pub having a drink’ may be completed by ‘Then I will recall information people have given me on the benefits of quitting smoking’. ‘If I am tempted to smoke when I wake up in the morning and face a tough day’ may be completed by ‘Then I will make sure I am rewarded if I don’t smoke.’
Research has shown that smokers who are given one of these sheets and are asked to draw lines from the ‘if’ situations to the ‘then’ statements are much more likely to give up than those who aren’t or than those who don’t receive a sheet . What’s more, these types of cheat sheets have also been shown to help people reduce alcohol consumption, increase physical activity and any number of other healthy behaviours that are difficult to implement [2-4].
So if you find yourself sitting on the couch dreaming of a future you why not take a blank page, make a plan and write a help sheet to help you through the tough times. The final stage of the model of change is Maintenance which you reach when you have successfully changed for 6 months or more. Now wouldn’t that be a future you your present self could be proud of?
“Present you, meet future you: a healthier, wealthier, happier, smarter version of you”.
We spend a lot of time thinking about the future and about our future selves. More often than not, we envision our future selves as a better version of our current selves because of some change that we are going to make. Sure, we may be sitting on the couch now but our future self will be out running 5 miles after work. Sure, we may be smoking now but our future self will have given up and saved a pile of money in the process.
Health psychologists have long recognised that there is a gap between our ‘intentions’ and our ‘actions’. While we may ‘intend’ to exercise more, the ‘action’ of actually getting out and exercising regularly is much harder to pull off.
So how do we get from sitting on the couch envisioning our future fit selves to pulling on the running gear?
One way may be to predict, and plan for, our failures in advance.
Psychologists have developed a set of steps that most people go through before making a lasting change. This is called the Transtheoretical Model [1,2].
Take Joe, a heavy smoker for the last 10 years. Joe doesn’t have any intention of quitting smoking. He is in what is called the ‘Precontemplation’ Stage. But, if Joe was to quit, the steps he would go through over the next few years may look something like this:
This is the danger zone.
This is the stage of change at which Joe is most likely to change forever and also most likely to fail. Why? Because stopping smoking hasn’t yet become a habit.
Joe finds it relatively easy not to smoke when he is at home on a Sunday night with his family but what about when he is in the pub with friends? Or during a stressful day at work? There are a lot of pitfalls in this stage that Joe has to overcome. Thankfully, research has shown one way to help and we discuss this in our next blog.
A new project, a long report, a goal for the future: these are all daunting prospects at the start. How on earth do you sit down to start that 10,000 word report? Or where do you begin in your end-of-year goal to change a long-standing management practice? The key is breaking it down into manageable chunks.
We all like to be rewarded for our efforts. In fact being rewarded for effort is the basis of all learning, from being potty trained as a child to getting a promotion in work. As children when we learn a new skill or complete a chore we are usually rewarded for it. Unfortunately in adulthood the frequency of these rewards is reduced meaning we have to motivate ourselves to complete long or arduous tasks for a future, sometimes unforeseeable, reward. This is why we need to break down tasks into smaller parts.
Take out a sheet of paper and write your big goal at the top. Then write down the steps you need to achieve that goal. Try to keep the steps small enough that they don’t seem daunting when you look at them individually. For example, the first step in changing a long-standing management practice may be ‘Read current protocol’; the second step may be ‘Arrange meeting with HR to discuss strengths and limitations of current protocol’ and so on. Now comes the fun part. Write down what rewards you will give yourself for completing each of these tasks but make the types of rewards different. For example, you might have rewards in the categories of social (engaging with friends or colleagues), consumption (a sweet treat or a hot drink), activity (a walk, an exercise class, listening to a podcast) and any others that you think of. Write down what reward you will give yourself for each task that you complete. Here’s a tip though: the key is to mix up the categories of rewards so you are aiming for a different one each time. A recent study found that people were more motivated to work on a project when they knew they would receive different types of rewards for every task they completed .
We’re simple beings at the end of the day. That 10,000 word report as a fully-fledged adult isn’t really much more difficult than being potty trained was for your younger self. Break big tasks down into management chunks and reward yourself for each part. Soon you’ll find yourself with a completed project saying ‘well that wasn’t so hard now, was it?’
Have you ever looked back through rose-tinted glasses? What about blue-tinted specs? Ok so it may not be a common phrase but it should be. In this blog we explain why.
We all view the world through a lens that colours what we see and how we interpret it. This lens is formed by our personalities, past experiences and our mood. We wrote before about confirmation bias (link to blog here) which is the tendency to pay attention to information that confirms our viewpoint and ignore information that disconfirms it. Another bias that we fall foul of is paying attention to information that fits our current mood. This is called an attentional bias.
Your current mood is a powerful force that drives your attention towards things that match it. If you feel sad your attention is more likely to be drawn to sad things. This has been shown in many controlled research studies in which people are made to feel either happy or sad and then tested for their memory or attention towards happy or sad things. For example, one set of researchers asked happy or sad participants to do a computer task in which they counted balls moving around a screen. Unbeknownst to participants at the start of the study, halfway through the task the researchers turned one ball into either a happy or a sad face. When asked afterwards if they had noticed this the people who had felt sad while doing the task were only likely to notice the face if it was sad, they didn’t even notice that a face had appeared if it was a happy face . This was a laboratory task but think about what this means in a real-life context. If you are feeling blue you may be less likely to notice a happy scene occurring right in front of you and may be more likely to focus on something sad that matches your own mood. This type of bias even affects our memories. Another group of researchers found that when people look at a list of words when they’re feeling down they will be more likely to remember words that have negative connotations than positive . This type of bias can lead to a negative cycle in which the worse you feel, the more your attention is drawn towards things that will make you feel sad and the more sad this will make you feel. This type of attentional bias is particularly problematic in disorders such as depression .
So how do we swap the blue specs for rose ones? It’s not always easy and depends on circumstance but positive mood can drive our attention towards positive things. Kick start the process by doing something nice for yourself, for someone else or by consciously drawing your attention towards something positive. A boost in mood will help you to focus on other things that are rewarding helping you to keep giving yourself little positive boosts that will help you to step out of the negative cycle and take off those blue-tinted specs .