No Reservations & Psychology

by Ted Cascio

“Do we really want to travel in hermetically sealed popemobiles through the rural provinces of France, Mexico and the Far East, eating only in Hard Rock Cafes and McDonalds? Or do we want to eat without fear, tearing into the local stew, the humble taqueria’s mystery meat, the sincerely offered gift of a lightly grilled fish head? I know what I want. I want it all. I want to try everything once.”
– Anthony Bourdain

In case you’re unacquainted, let me introduce you to Anthony Bourdain, of Travel Channel’s No Reservations fame. He’s a really interesting guy who’s perhaps at his best when offering up reflections like this, though also, come to think of it, in his darker moments when, for instance, he’s eating an unwashed warthog rectum, stumbling around wasted from overconsumption of the local brew, and spitting vitriolic aspersions in all directions, at the same time. (Any rival chef, most notably Alice Waters – or “Pol Pot in a muumuu” according to Anthony – will want to wash the pieces of warthog rectum out of her hair immediately. Little cooking tip.) Rough around the edges Anthony may be, but there’s no denying his truly exceptional wit and electrifying charisma. He’s a bold provocateur moonlighting as a bombastic black-market philosopher…of food…and life.

And indeed he appears to have much to teach us. His books are best-sellers for a reason. They each not surprisingly have their culinary side, but they also expose us to Anthony’s exhilarating mental and emotional universe. Many wish they could be as brave, open-minded, and free-spirited as him. His TV show No Reservations represents a vision of what life could be like for us if only we were a little more willing to pursue the types of new, unfamiliar experiences to which he so fearlessly exposes himself.

Impetuosity like Anthony’s can be facilitated by many factors, both external and internal. If Wikipedia is to be believed, copious quantities of chemical assistance (e.g., heroine) have assisted him in the past. And we all see how much liquid courage he imbibes on camera. These are some of the external factors. But in addition to these we can also safely assume that Anthony is much more internally predisposed to seek new sensations than is the average person. This internal factor is stable and consistently in evidence, even when the drugs and alcohol have presumably lost their effect.

The psychological concept that best captures this side of Anthony’s personality is called openness to experience. Its structure, origin, and correlates have been extensively studied. Here’s a tiny little primer on this immensely important variable.

Openness to experience is one of the “Big Five” personality factors, which means that it’s one of five fundamental aspects of human personality. Most people are about average on this dimension, but some people, like Anthony, are quite high, while others are low and considered closed to experience. These are the conventional folks who prefer routine and tend to dislike modern art. They regard as aversive most things that are new or unfamiliar to them. Fairly consistent with stereotypes, the highest openness scores are found in New York, Oregon, Massachusetts, Washington, and California; the lowest in North Dakota, Wyoming, Alaska, Alabama, and Wisconsin (Rentfrow, Gosling, & Potter, 2008).

It has six facets which I’ll now list (and along which we’ll judge Anthony). 1. Fantasy – having a vivid imagination (check), 2. Aesthetics – appreciating art (check), 3. Feelings – having poignant emotional experiences (not sure), 4. Actions – pursuing new activities, places, and foods (double check), 5. Ideas – openness to new ideas (double check), and 6. Values – inclination to re-examine traditional values (double check). Based on this analysis, Anthony would probably score really high on openness. You can rate your friends in a slightly different manner. When you’re at one of their houses, look around and take note of a few things. If the décor is unconventional, you see books on a variety of topics, an eclectic music collection, and artwork displayed, your friend is likely to be high in openness (Gosling, 2008).

We can also look at openness in terms of its correlates. With what is openness associated? Some pretty good stuff, it turns out. It correlates positively with creativity, and some studies find the same link for certain forms of intelligence, like crystallized intelligence, and general intelligence. It’s also associated with lower ethnocentrism and right-wing authoritarianism. Hence, as you might expect, liberals generally score higher on openness than conservatives. Another shocker: openness is positively correlated with drug use, especially Assassin of Youth (a.k.a.,marijuana). (Yet another way in which Anthony embodies the openness archetype.)

Which begs the question: should we follow the example set by Anthony Bourdain, the enemy of conservative close-mindedness and religious for bearance, and the friend of all that is new, exciting, and stimulating? Given his checkered history with drugs and his somewhat vulgar disposition, should we regard him as a role model and be willing to, like him, “try anything once”?

As much as I might like to, I’m not going to attempt an answer here. “It depends” is probably the best anyone can do. However, if you’re certain that for you the answer is “yes,” and you’re wondering whether it’s possible to increase your level of openness, then the news for you is pretty good. Like most things, openness has a genetic component, but it also seems to be partly constructed, something we can change about ourselves if we really try. If you want to become less inhibited and narrow-minded, more like Anthony, the key is the situation. Put yourself in situations which facilitate openness. Try to meet and befriend other open people. Read books and watch TV shows like No Reservations that depict openness in positive ways. In no time at all, you’ll have tasted every type of unwashed rectum there is. And that, friend, is my sincerest and most fervent hope.

Ted Cascio is co-editor of “House & Psychology” (Wiley, available Spring 2011).

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Controlling Angry People

by John R. “Jack” Schafer, Ph.D.

Controlling Angry People

Anger is a powerful emotion. Remember back to the last time your friend, boss, or colleague became angry with something you said or did. How did you handle the situation? If you are like most people, you defended yourself and launched a counterattack. The verbal exchanges continued to the point where either you or your antagonist walked away vowing to never speak to the other person again. In more dangerous situations, what would you do if you came face-to-face with an angry person who wanted to harm you or someone you care for? Controlling angry people is challenging, but there are several effective anger management strategies you can use to avoid verbal confrontations and protect yourself or the people you love from angry people.

I developed these strategies during my 25 year career in law enforcement dealing with angry people on a daily basis. These techniques saved my life on several occasions. The strategies are simple, yet effective techniques to control angry people. However, as with all skills, mastery requires practice. Practicing on angry people is not practical, so I used BrainX to develop a free online training tutorial so you can practice these anger management techniques.

Fight/Flight Response

Anger triggers the fight/flight response, which mentally and physically prepares the body for survival. During the flight/flight response, the body automatically responds to a threat without conscious thought. As the threat increases, a person’s ability to reason diminishes. Angry people experience the same phenomenon because anger is a reaction to a real or perceived threat. Angry people talk and act without thinking. The level of cognitive impairment depends on the intensity of the anger. The more angry people become, the less likely they are to logically process information. Angry people are not open to solutions when they are angry because their ability to think clearly is impaired.

Fight/Flight Recovery

The body takes about 20 minutes to return to normal after a full fight/flight response. In other words, angry people need time to calm down before they can think clearly again. Angry people will not completely comprehend any explanations, solutions, or problem solving options until their body returns to normal again. Allowing for this refractory period is a critical part of any anger management strategy. The important thing to remember is that you must remain calm in the face of anger. If you remain calm, your cortex will send a signal to your limbic system to dampen the fight/flight response allowing you to develop well thought out survival strategies. When the fight/flight mechanism is fully engaged, it takes about 20 minutes to regain the ability to fully process information again. Therefore, the first strategy for breaking the Anger Cycle is “Never try to rationally engage angry people.” Anger must be vented before offering problem solving solutions.

Breaking the Anger Cycle

Breaking the anger cycle allows people to vent their anger and provides them with a course of action which they have a hard time refusing. Three component parts comprise breaking the Anger Cycle: empathic statements, venting, and presumptive statements.
Empathic Statements

Empathic statements capture a person’s verbal message, physical status, or emotional feeling, and using parallel language reflects that verbal message, physical status, or emotional feeling back to that person. The basic formula for constructing empathic statements is “So you…” This basic formula keeps the focus on the other person and away from you. We naturally tend to say something to the effect, “I understand how you feel.” The other person automatically thinks, “No, you don’t know how I feel because you are not me.” The unique features about empathic statements are they do not fuel anger, and you do not have to agree with the angry person, you merely reflect their message back to them. With practice, mastering the construction of empathic statements becomes second nature.

The following exchange between an angry customer and a sales manager demonstrates the basic empathic statement.

CUSTOMER: The salesperson just sat there talking on the telephone and ignored me.

SALES MANAGER: So you felt the salesperson ignored you when you needed help.

The sales manager captured the essence of the customer’s complaint and used similar language to reflect the same message back to the customer. The reflected message lets the customer know that the sales manager is concerned about the problem without adding fuel to the customer’s anger.

When the basic formula to construct empathic statements is mastered you can construct more sophisticated empathic statements by dropping the “So you..” To people who are not angry, empathic statement might seem patronizing, but this is not the case for two reasons. First, the angry people’s fight/flight response is engaged and they not logically processing information; they are on automatic response. Second, people naturally think that the others should listen to them and they do not see personalized attention as unusual.


Venting is a critical component to breaking the Anger Cycle because venting reduces frustration. Empathic statements portray the target of the anger as non-threatening, which reduces the impact of the angry person’s flight/fight response. Once angry people vent their frustrations, they become more open to solutions because they think more clearly when they are not angry. Venting is not a singular event, but, rather, a series of events. The initial venting is typically the strongest. This allows angry people to “burn off” most of their anger at the onset of the exchange. Subsequent venting becomes increasingly less intense, unless fuel is added to reignite the anger. This is especially true if angry people are allowed to expend most of their anger during the initial venting.

A natural pause occurs after each venting event. During this pause, you should construct an empathic statement. Since empathic statements encourage venting, the angry person will likely continue venting, although with less intensity. After the next natural pause, you should construct another empathic statement. You should continue constructing empathic statements until the customer’s anger is spent. The following example illustrates the combined use of empathic statements, and venting.

CUSTOMER: I didn’t appreciate the way that sales person treated me. She was so rude. She acted as if I wasn’t even in the store. (Anger)

SALES MANAGER: So you felt as if the sales person ignored you when you needed help. (Basic empathic statement)

CUSTOMER: Yeah, she was talking on the phone and trying to ring me up at the same. I didn’t want to hear about her social life. I wanted to make a purchase. (Venting)

SALES MANAGER: The salesperson should not have been talking on the telephone and ringing you up at the same time. (Sophisticated empathic statement)

CUSTOMER: When I talk to salespeople, I want their entire attention.

SALES MANAGER: Salespeople should be attentive to customers. (Sophisticated empathic statement)

CUSTOMER: Yeah. (Sigh)

Nonverbal gestures typically accompany the completion of the venting process. These nonverbal gestures include: slumping of the shoulders, deep exhaling, and sighs. These nonverbal gestures signal spent anger. At this point, you should introduce a presumptive statement.

Presumptive Statements

Presumptive statements direct the angry person to take a course of action that leads toward conflict resolution. Presumptive statements are constructed in such a fashion that angry people have difficulty not following the directed course of action. Constructing Presumptive Statements requires critical listening skills and practice. Notwithstanding, Presumptive Statements can be rejected. The following example demonstrates the acceptance of the presumptive statement.

CUSTOMER: I didn’t appreciate the way that sales person treated me. She was so rude. She acted as if I wasn’t even in the store. (Anger)

SALES MANAGER: So you felt as if the sales person ignored you when you needed help. (Basic empathic statement)

CUSTOMER: Yeah, she was talking on the phone and trying to ring me up at the same time. I don’t want to hear about her social life. I wanted to make a purchase. (Venting)

SALES MANAGER: The salesperson should not have been talking on the telephone and ringing you up at the same time. (Sophisticated empathic statement)

CUSTOMER: It’s common courtesy. (Sighing)

SALES MANAGER: I’m sorry you had a bad experience in our store. I will remind the salespeople that they are not suppose to be talking on the telephone during their shift. In fact, I want you to help us meet your shopping expectations by letting us know right away if you have any problems in the future. We rely on customer feedback to keep our high level of customer service. Would you be willing to do that for us? (Presumptive Statement)

CUSTOMER: Of course. I’ll let you know if anything like this happens again. Thank you. (Acceptance of the Presumptive Statement)

The customer would have difficulty not agreeing to the sales manager’s directed course of action because it addressed the source of the anger. The customer would sound insincere if she did not agree with the sales manager’s directed course of action. The presumptive statement in this instance presumes that the customer will continue to do business with the store. This ensures repeat business.

If the person’s anger has not been completely vented or fuel was intentionally or unintentionally added to the anger, the likelihood increases that the presumptive statement would be rejected. In the next example, the customer rejected the Presumptive Statement.

CUSTOMER: I didn’t appreciate the way that sales person treated me. She was so rude. She acted as if I wasn’t even in the store. (Anger)

SALES MANAGER: So you felt as if the sales person ignored you when you needed help. (Empathic statement)

CUSTOMER: Yeah, she was talking on the phone and trying to ring me up at the same time. I don’t want to hear about her social life. I wanted to make a purchase. (Venting)

SALES MANAGER: So you think the salesperson should not have been talking on the telephone and ringing you up at the same time. (Empathic statement)

CUSTOMER: Of course I do.

SALES MANAGER: I’m sorry you had a bad experience in our store. I will tell the salespeople not to text while they are working. In fact, I want you to help us meet your shopping expectations by letting us know right away if you have any problems in the future. We rely on customer feedback to keep our high level of customer service. Would you be willing to do that for us? (Presumptive Statement)

CUSTOMER: Nobody ever listens to customers any more. (Rejection of the Presumptive Statement)

The customer rejected the Presumptive Statement even though the sales manager listened to the customer’s complaint and offered a solution. The customer did not listen to the sales manager because her flight/fight mechanism was still engaged. The salespeople should reenter the Anger Cycle by constructing another empathic statement. A second Presumptive Statement should be attempted when the customer once again displays cues that indicate spent anger. Sales people should not pursue a resolution until the customer accepts the Presumptive Statement. The acceptance of the Presumptive Statement indicates spent anger and the customer will be more open to a resolution. A paper titled Controlling Angry Customers presents additional strategies to control angry customers and encourage good will and repeat business.

The techniques presented are simple, yet effective methods to control angry people. Mastering these techniques allow you to maintain control of verbally charged exchanges or prevent verbal assaults from spiraling out of control. These techniques also provide a directed course of action to resolve the conflict while, at the same time, maintain full control of your emotions and behaviors.

Source Article: Psychology Today

Fear of Success

by Susanne Babbel, Ph.D., MFT

“Why are some people afraid to succeed but not to fail? Why are some more afraid of failure? How can one learn to embrace these two fears? What is the difference between them?”

A young Canadian woman wrote to me recently with these inquiries. I thought they were excellent questions, and decided to share my thoughts and findings here.

We are all so complex, and the way we react to situations and anticipate results is based on many physiological and psychological factors. So many, in fact, that it can be difficult to generalize why different personality types might handle success versus failure in such drastically polarized ways.

As a psychologist specializing in trauma and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) I’ve had firsthand experience coaching clients whose past experience feeds their current fear of success. For them, the excitement of success feels uncomfortably close to the feeling of arousal they experienced when subjected to a traumatic event or multiple events. (This feeling of arousal can be linked to sexuality, in certain cases where trauma has been experienced in that realm, but that is not always the case.) People who have experienced trauma may associate the excitement of success with the same physiological reactions as trauma. They avoid subjecting themselves to excitement-inducing circumstances, which causes them to be almost phobic about success.

There is another layer to the fear of success. Many of us have been conditioned to believe that the road to success involves risks such as “getting one’s hopes up” – which threatens to lead to disappointment. And many of us-especially if we’ve been subject to verbal abuse-have been told we were losers our whole lives, in one way or another. We have internalized that feedback and feel that we don’t deserve success. Even those of us who were not abused or otherwise traumatized often associate success with uncomfortable things such as competition and its evil twin, envy.

In order to have a healthy relationship with success (and it’s flip side, failure, or disappointment), the first step is to learn to differentiate between feelings of excitement and a “trauma reaction.”

Here is an easy exercise:

  1. Recall an event where you were successful or excited when you were younger, and notice what you are feeling and sensing in your memory. Stay with the sensation of for 5 minutes. 
  2. Recall an event where you were successful and excited recently in your life, and notice what you are feeling and sensing. Stay with this sensation of for 5 minutes.
  3. Now tap into the sensation of a memory of an overwhelming situation. I suggest not to start with a truly traumatic event, at least not without a therapist’s support. Start with something only moderately disturbing to you. 
  4. Now, go back to visualizing your success story. Do you notice a difference?

While corresponding with the young Canadian woman, I asked her to do look up bodily response to fear and excitement and let me know what she found. This is what she wrote back:

“I was looking up how the body responds to fear, and it said that when we sense fear the brain transmits signals and our nervous system kicks, in causing our breathing to quicken, our heart race to increase… we become sweaty, and we run on instinct. When we get excited or enthusiastic, doesn’t our nervous system work the same way?”

I assured her that, yes, the physical reactions to stress and to excitement are very similar. So, when we experience a traumatic event—such as a car accident or a school bullying incident—our body associates the fear we experience with the same physiological feelings we get while excited. Once we have been through enough trauma, we start to avoid those types of situations that trigger memories of fear. For this reason, trauma victims can tend to avoid excitement, and that can lead them to avoid success.

I work with trauma victims to get past their fears and associations and help them embrace and follow the path to success and healthy recovery.

More underage drinkers end up in ER on New Year’s

By Michelle Healy, USA TODAY

Alcohol-related New Year’s celebrations send an alarmingly high number of young people to hospital emergency rooms, says a report out today.

In 2009, 1,980 hospital emergency department visits involved underage drinking, according to the report from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). That’s nearly four times the daily average number of emergency department visits for drinking-related visits by people under 21, the report says. It’s two to three times the number of visits recorded on other “party” holidays, namely Fourth of July weekend (942) and Memorial Day weekend (676)

The study looked at all alcohol-related ER visits, but it did not specify whether they involved traffic accidents, alcohol poisoning or other issues.

The huge rise of drinking-related incidents on New Year’s “should startle us. It should wake us up,” says Peter Delany, director of SAMHSA’s Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, which did the analysis.

Though any underage alcohol consumption is cause for concern, drinking can also increase the likelihood of other risky behaviors, Delany says.

The findings are in line with other research showing more alcohol-related problems over the winter holidays, SAMHSA says.

Two to three times more people die in alcohol-related vehicle crashes during that time than during comparable periods the rest of the year, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says. And 40% of traffic fatalities during winter holidays involved an alcohol-impaired driver, compared with 28% for other dates in December.

Fueling the underage drinking problem, especially at this time of the year, is “a combination of greater access to alcohol, less parental oversight and mixed messages” about celebrating with alcohol, Delany says.

Young people are told “don’t drink, don’t do that, but in every third commercial in recent weeks, we see something linked to alcohol and drinking,” he says.

And there’s also the issue of “what kind of message parents may give,” Delany adds. “Maybe they’re drinking a lot. Kids see that it’s OK.”

What is needed is a long-term message “that underage drinking is not OK,” he says. “But adolescents don’t do well with ‘Just say no.’ We have to find ways to help young people make good decisions.”

Procrastination and the Perfectionism Myth

by Dr. Piers Steel

Do you have high standards? Do you expect a lot from yourself, day-in and day-out? Do you love it when life is organized and orderly? Do you try to do your best at everything you do? There is a word for people like you: perfectionists. You worry over life’s details, anxious to make every event just so. And you might like to know that some believe that your perfectionism is the root cause of procrastination.

But does perfectionism really cause procrastination? Lots of people think so. It’s a neat theory you’ll often hear repeated around the water cooler. There’s just one problem with it: it’s wrong. Research shows that perfectionists actually procrastinate less than other people, not more.

According to the myth, procrastination is caused by anxiety in one of its myriad forms. Sigmund Freud, for example, thought it was due to death anxiety-we delay because we live in fear of life’s ultimate deadline. In particular, the anxiety produced by perfectionists supposedly induces procrastination. We delay because of our fear of failure, anxious about living up to sky-high standards. Shame on your aspirations to do better!

So how did anxiety and procrastination get all mixed up together? There is a relationship, just not the one you hear about. Most people are indeed apprehensive as the deadline looms, especially if they haven’t left themselves enough time. People can almost become paralyzed over the work they left themselves for tomorrow, knowing that they should act but remaining immobile with anxiety. But this is an expression of having procrastinated, not a cause of procrastination. For anxiety to cause procrastination the two have to be connected, that is, anxiety-prone people have to put things off more than others. But according to analysis of about a hundred studies involving tens of thousands of participants, anxiety produces a negligible amount of procrastination at best-and even that tiny amount disappears completely after you take into account other personality characteristics, especially impulsiveness.

As best as we can figure, task anxiety will just as likely get you to start early as to start late. That is, worrying about a deadline will make you procrastinate more if you are impulsive, the sort of person to whom avoiding a dreaded task or blocking it from your awareness makes perfect sense from a short-term perspective. If you aren’t impulsive, anxiety is a cue that you should get cracking-and, as a result, you actually start earlier. The real culprit is impulsiveness, not anxiety. (But you can’t be expected to discern this effect through personal reflection; relying only on your own experiences, you will never know that anxiety decreases procrastination for many others.)

The myth that perfectionism creates procrastination makes even less sense. What traits do you associate with procrastination? A) Being messy and disorganized or B) Being neat and orderly? If you choose option A, good for you; you are right. Perfectionists best fit description B, being neat and orderly, and unsurprisingly, they don’t tend to procrastinate. The research-from Robert Slaney, who developed the Almost Perfect Scale to measure perfectionism, to my own meta-analytical research article, The Nature of Procrastination– shows this clearly.

For example, there is a recent article by Dr. Caplan from Anadolu University entitled: “Relationship among Perfectionism, Academic Procrastination and Life Satisfaction of University Students.” Dr. Caplan takes a fine-grained approach to studying perfectionism, breaking perfectionists down into three strains: other-oriented, socially prescribed, and self-oriented. Only the last of these, self-oriented perfectionism, includes the features we typically associate with perfectionism, i.e., having high personal standards and being rather critical if you don’t meet them.

Dr. Caplan reconfirmed what has been found many times before, that “Other-oriented and socially-prescribed perfectionism traits did not predict academic procrastination” and “self-oriented perfectionism and academic procrastination are negatively correlated,” that is, an increase in one is associated with a reduction in the other. In short, perfectionists tend to procrastinate the same or less than other people, not more. Of course, there are still some people who are both procrastinators and perfectionists, but not as many as there are procrastinators who are non-perfectionists (or perhaps, imperfectionists?). Odds are, you don’t even believe that perfectionism causes dilly-dallying yourself. Across several surveys, only 7 percent of procrastinators blamed their sloppy habits on perfectionism.

So how did this myth come about? Why did we ever think the two traits were connected? The December 24th issue of the Globe & Mail provides a relevant excerpt from my book, The Procrastination Equation. Here’s a summary.

The confusion comes from an unexpected source. As noted above, procrastinators themselves do not blame their delaying on perfectionism; instead, this misinformation comes from clinicians and counselors. Perfectionists who procrastinate are more likely to seek help from such professionals, creating a self-selection phenomenon that gives the illusion that the two traits are linked. Clinicians tend to see a lot of perfectionist procrastinators because non-perfectionist procrastinators (and, for that matter, non-procrastinating perfectionists) are less likely to seek professional help. You see, perfectionists are more motivated to do something about their dilly-dallying because, by their very nature, they are more likely to feel worse about putting things off. Consequently, it is not perfectionism per se that is the problem but the discrepancy between high standards and less-than-stellar performance.

Since diagnosis typically precedes treatment, understanding the real reasons behind procrastination is critical to stopping it. If we feel certain that perfectionism causes procrastination, then our cures will confidently head off in the wrong direction. This isn’t to say perfectionism and fear of failure aren’t important in their own right-each has the potential to become crippling. It is just that they aren’t important here, with regards to procrastination. But we do know what is.

The research shows that there are three major, empirically confirmed, causes of procrastination: expectancy, value and impulsiveness. I will tackle each one individually in the upcoming weeks. During the meanwhile, I want to hear from the perfectionists out there and how much you procrastinate. You can take this short quiz on Facebook to measure your level of procrastination. Are you a garden variety dilly-dallier or do you have “tomorrow” tattooed across your back? I’m interested to know which group is the most vocal-the perfectionists who procrastinate or the ones that don’t procrastinate much at all.