Five intriguing thoughts from psychologist Andero Uusberg

Andero Uusberg. Image credit: Andres Tennus / UT

Andero Uusberg is a senior research fellow at the UT Institute of Psychology. Before starting this position in July of last year, Andero spent three years as a post-doc at Stanford. His research topics vary from regulation of emotions to time perception and mindfulness.

Andero Uusberg gave an extensive interview to Arter, a weekly supplement of Postimees, some months ago. Below is a summary of Andero’s most intriguing thoughts from this interview.

1. We try to remain in a state of flow

Even challenge-seekers move forward step by step; they don’t undertake to achieve the most difficult goal in the first place. Particularly difficult tasks don’t create interest, as chances to succeed are too low. Easy tasks don’t create interest either, as the challenge is too small. However, when the task is difficult but in accordance with abilities, the person gets into the optimum challenge zone.

The flow theory says that humans have intrinsic motivation to stay in this zone. At the same time, this optimum zone is shifting higher all the time, as practice makes the task easier.

2. Mindfulness helps to overcome emotions

Let’s imagine that someone stupidly misbehaves in traffic, and it drives you crazy. One option is to think who this stupid person was and what was wrong about him to behave this way. Another option is to focus on one’s emotions rather than the situation – notice that you are angry and try not to evaluate your emotion as good or bad. Avoiding evaluation helps to reduce emotional rumination about the situation.

There is a lot of evidence showing that different mindfulness practices work, but it is unclear why.

3. Divide a tedious task into steps

You will have a stronger will to fulfill your task if you divide it into steps. For instance, start by sweeping candy wrappers from the floor and continue by brushing off the dust from the window sill. When you are done, eat a candy as your prize.

Of course, it is a little silly for a grown-up person to reward oneself with a candy, just as you would reward a dog, but it really works. You can also use a symbolic reward, such as ticking off the job from your to-do list.

In the lab. Image credit: Ove Maidla / UT

4. Don’t let Facebook mislead you

Facebook may leave an impression that your friends are always at the airport, ready to fly to a great place for vacation! Naturally, the thing is that people post from airports and not their kitchen tables. In this way you get a unrepresentative picture of your friends’ lives that can raise negative emotions in you. This emotion is natural; it makes you ask why you aren’t doing so well. However, this emotion becomes problematic when “well” is defined through an unrepresentative filter.

In addition to social media, this unrealistic picture is formed by media, movies and television, as well as fiction and even fairy tales. The question is to what extent the real world and the reality shown to us are in harmony. If we read a lot of crime news, we get a feeling that our hometown is not safe. If media constantly shows pictures of very slim models, people’s understanding of a normal body changes.

5. Don’t be negative in the disguise of being honest

Emotion is a component of our life quality; it follows difference from the usual. If everybody is grave all the time, you don’t get sad about it. However, when an American comes here, she thinks that everybody is constantly angry here.

In the USA, it takes time to understand that Americans smile at everyone, not just you. The negative side of it is the lack of sincerity, since instead of being honest, the “everybody-is-friendly-all-the-time” approach is chosen, where criticism is hidden between the lines.

To sum it up, Estonian culture would benefit from a small dose of emotional hygiene – you don’t have to be negative in the disguise of being honest.

Inga Külmoja is an author and the editor of the UT Blog.

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