More Arrows for Our Quiver
November 15, 2021 ~ Written by: W.B. “Bud” Kirchner
Approx. Read Time: 9 Minutes
I have lost track of how many times I have thought (and written) that I was ‘coming to the end’ of my “COVID series”. As depressing as that may be – as I look back on initiatives to date, perhaps there has been a ‘silver lining’ in that we have had ample reason to become more familiar with coping mechanisms (arrows) and positive states of mind (targets).
This article will deal with the former – the latter will be focused on in another upcoming article.
Just to be clear, this is not about a new technique, but rather an unprecedented scale and structure study by Brian Resnick (#1) that has confirmed the effectiveness of a technique that has been used in therapy for quite some time. It is summarized from the Resnick paper as follows:
Cognitive appraisal refers to the personal interpretation of a situation that ultimately influences the extent to which the situation is perceived as stressful.
Cognitive reappraisal is defined as changing the way one thinks about a situation and thus changing its emotional impact. This involves thinking about what seems to be certain about a situation and then developing a more balanced thought based on the facts only. Finding something to be grateful about in a challenging situation is a type of positive reappraisal.
In other words, cognitive reappraisal involves recognizing the negative pattern of your thoughts and modifying the pattern to one that is more effective. Changing the course of your thoughts, or how you’re making sense of things, can in turn change the course of your emotions which can modify your reactions. (#2)
What is most striking in this story is how cognitive reappraisal was tested at an unprecedented scale as described below by Resnick (#1):
“Recently, hundreds of researchers in 87 countries published the results of the largest cognitive reappraisal study to date in Nature Human Behavior. They were asking a simple question: Could they make people feel better about the pandemic, if only for one moment in time, by teaching reappraisals? The study, which amassed data on more than 20,000 participants, came back with a resounding answer: yes.”
“The new study validates the concept of reappraisal. But it also suggests that it could potentially be feasible to deploy as a large-scale global health intervention.”
Some additional context:
- “The peer-reviewed paper in Nature Human Behavior is the most recent project from the Psychological Science Accelerator, a group of hundreds of researchers who combine their resources to pull off psychological studies with massive participant pools and an unusually rigorous methodology.”
- “The reason why we choose cognitive reappraisal is because it has been the most widely studied and well-understood strategy,” as Ke Wang, the Harvard Kennedy School doctoral student who first proposed this massive project explains. It’s also a strategy that people don’t always use spontaneously on their own: It helps to be taught.”
Moving quickly past the study background/results – we want to know how/why it works.
Kateri McRae, a University of Denver psychologist who studies emotion and who was not involved in this study states: “Cognitive reappraisal works because there’s a link between our thoughts and our feelings. A lot of times, our feelings are preceded by certain thoughts. So, when we shift our thoughts, that can precipitate a change in our emotions.”
“I think there’s a really delicate balance between acknowledging the reality, allowing people to sometimes sit with negativity, but also realizing that positive interpretations of things are possible,” McRae says.
In other words, in its simplest form, it’s about intervening when thoughts become distressing and before they become actions.
The following information is largely summarized from Interoception: the hidden sense that shapes wellbeing by David Robson (#2):
- First, some definitions. Interoception includes all the signals from your internal organs, including your cardiovascular system, your lungs, your gut, your bladder and your kidneys. “There’s a constant communication dialogue between the brain and the viscera,” says Prof Manos Tsakiris, a psychologist at Royal Holloway, University of London.
- There’s growing evidence that signals sent from our internal organs to the brain play a major role in regulating emotions and fending off anxiety and depression.
- Interoception may be less well known than the “outward facing” senses such as sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell.
- Interoception can help determine our capacity to regulate our emotions, and our subsequent susceptibility to mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.
Again – I reiterate the work of Robson (#2):
- This idea stems from the pioneering work of Professor Antonio Damasio at the University of Southern California (whose work I have described in previous Business Brain Model articles) in the 1990s. He proposed that emotional events begin with non-conscious changes in bodily states, called “somatic markers”. When you see an angry dog, for instance, your muscles tense or your heart begins to race. This physiological reaction occurs before you are even aware of the emotion, and it is only when the brain detects this alteration to the body’s internal state, through interoception, that we actually experience the feeling and allow it to shape our behavior. Without the back-and-forth between the brain and the body, the feelings of happiness, sadness or excitement wouldn’t exist.
(As a quick aside – the bibliography contains a previous article that focused on the work of Damasio.)
- “Researchers and clinicians are recognizing interoception as a key mechanism to mental and physical health, where also understanding our body’s signals helps us understand and regulate emotional and physical states,” says Dr. Helen Weng at the University of California San Francisco.
Continuing with the salient points from Robson (#2):
- Prof Hugo Critchley at Brighton and Sussex Medical School points out that poor interoceptive awareness can also lead to the sense of “depersonalization” and dissociation, which are early symptoms of psychosis and may be a precursor of their delusions. Interoception helps us to form our most basic sense of self, he says – and it seems to be askew in these patients.
- “It improved people’s ability to recognize and ‘de-catastrophize’ their physiological experiences,” Critchley says.
- Regular workouts may change the nature of the signals that your brain receives. “If you’re deconditioned from a lack of exercise, you’re more likely to experience symptoms that you might associate with anxiety.”
- As you get fitter, however, and organs such as the heart become more adept at dealing with strain, your body will show a more resilient response to changing circumstances.
- Strength training has proven useful as a supplementary activity.
- Interoception, it seems, is one of our most important senses. And by paying a little bit more attention to the signals it sends you, you may be healthier in body and mind.
If you are more adept at accurately detecting your bodily signals, you will be able to form more nuanced interpretations of your feelings about a situation. As a result, it should help you to make wiser choices about the best ways to respond.
My current plan is to follow this article with some “new” thoughts on what should be the “target” (state of mind) for these and previous arrows.
- Brian Resnick – What an enormous global study can tell us about feeling better during the pandemic
- David Robson – Interoception: the hidden sense that shapes wellbeing
Relevant Business Brain Model articles:
- Our View of the World is Misleading Part 1: Implications for Personal Integrity and Fiduciary Responsibilities
- Our View of the World is Misleading Part 2: Implications for Personal Integrity and Fiduciary Responsibilities
About the Author: W.B. “Bud” Kirchner is a serial entrepreneur and philanthropist with more than 50 years of business success. He is not a scientist or an academic but he does have a diversified exposure to neuroscience, psychology and related cognitive sciences. Generally speaking, the ideas he expresses here are business-angled expansions of other people’s ideas, so when possible, he will link to the original reference.