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What two techniques can help you stay cool under pressure?

Stashed in: #lifehacks, #health, Cool, Optimism, Influence!, Stress, Emotion, Decisions, Brain, Awesome, New Yorker, Psychology!, Heart, @gladwell

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Suppressing emotions can backfire:

Via Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long:

Gross found that people who tried to suppress a negative emotional experience failed to do so. While they thought they looked fine outwardly, inwardly their limbic system was just as aroused as without suppression, and in some cases, even more aroused. Kevin Ochsner, at Columbia, repeated these findings using an fMRI. Trying not to feel something doesn’t work, and in some cases even backfires.

Two techniques that do work: labeling and reappraisal.

1) Labeling:

To reduce arousal, you need to use just a few words to describe an emotion, and ideally use symbolic language, which means using indirect metaphors, metrics, and simplifications of your experience. This requires you to activate your prefrontal cortex, which reduces the arousal in the limbic system. Here’s the bottom line: describe an emotion in just a word or two, and it helps reduce the emotion. Open up a dialogue about an emotion, though, and you tend to increase it.

2) Reappraisal:

In one of Ochsner’s reappraisal experiments, participants are shown a photo of people crying outside a church, which naturally makes participants feel sad. They are then asked to imagine the scene is a wedding, that people are crying tears of joy. At the moment that participants change their appraisal of the event, their emotional response changes, and Ochsner is there to capture what is going on in their brain using an fMRI. As Ochsner explains, “Our emotional responses ultimately flow out of our appraisals of the world, and if we can shift those appraisals, we shift our emotional responses.”


Optimists may be people who have embedded an automatic positive reappraisal to life’s knocks. Optimists dampen their over-arousal before it kicks in, always looking at the bright side before a nagging doubt takes over.

Using reappraisal you can turn anxiety into excitement.

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That's the best explanation of why optimism works that I've ever seen.

Optimists label and re-appraise automatically. Or maybe it's a habit they've developed?

Really interesting, thanks for posting. I've tagged to book to read later. This whole thread of brain research as a result of fMRI results is fascinating.

Other authors picking up on related topics include Malcolm Gladwell's New Yorker article about the difference between Choking and Panicking. (Short version: in most cases, it's probably better to panic and let the limbic mind take over.) See:

I'll confess to also enjoy the now-disgraced Jonah Lehrer's How We Decide... but that's a separate discussion

And now I'm reading Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman who refers to the Limbic brain as System 1 and the prefrontal cortex as System 2.

Keep 'em coming. I've finally learned to hold my heart rate down and not tremble when I'm nervous, but it's a process. A little bit of contextualization has certainly helped me. Thanks for the brain stash.

The brain stash is awesome, Barbara.

Tell me more about "How We Decide"...

Ah, yes, well, funny thing about that. So, Jonah Lehrer was a very promising young science writer with a few books to his name and a regular gig with the New Yorker. Then, he was busted for making stuff up for his most recent book, Imagine: How Creativity Works. The background story was in this NYTimes blog:

So, that's what makes him "the disgraced" Jonah Lehrer. I'll confess to having been fascinated by his stuff and amazed by the irony of his having been caught with making stuff up for a book on creativity.

How We Decide was one of his first books back in 2009. You'll find the NYTimes review here, though I think I'd first heard about it on Terry Gross' Fresh Air:

Good stuff....

He's still so young, just 31. I hope he'll be able to find a way to reconstruct his career. He's obviously a talented story teller. Apparently a little more story telling than journalism, though.

Wow, all this at 31?! Amazing!

What the main thing you learned from "How We Decide"?

Hm... yeah. The 31 thing also makes the fall from grace especially tragic. I have a feeling he will return with a new story to tell. How We Decide was probably the book that started me on the whole exploration of popular science writing on the workings of the brain based on fMRI machines.

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