Category Archives: Self-enhancement

How to Acknowledge our Biases


In this modern society, many people are developing a tendency to equate objectivity with better results. Consequently, many people now strive to attain an “objective” mind, utilizing only observable data, driven and guided by logic and reason, free from any personal biases. This goal is definitely one that’s worth attaining since it seems to meet the demands of present and possibly future society. However, what does it mean for a person to be free from personal biases? Is it truly achievable? And how can we do it? Here’s my thought.

There is sometimes the misconception that the way to attain an unbiased mind is to increase knowledge in the area one wants to avoid bias in. It is true that by knowing more about a subject we can be more aware of the biases that exist, but an unbiased or biased mind can only be reflected in our thinking, which in turn is reflected in our behavior and language. In order to do that, increasing self-awareness of our own minds and actions is necessary. It is only when we become aware of what we are thinking and doing, that we being to learn if we are being biased.

However, as we have seen in a multitude of psychology experiments, most people have the tendency of seeing themselves as unbiased. This can lead to a well-known phenomenon called confirmation bias, which is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses.

So what should we do? If the increase in knowledge can help, but tends to be trumped by our personal presumptions, then we can start by learning about ourselves from our friends, acquaintances, family, etc. This is not to implicate the role of our predisposition, but to identify a pattern in behavior and thought process. Getting past this step can help us acknowledge any propensities we possess towards certain kinds of biases. The next step is to learn to be more mindful of our behavior and thoughts as we go about our daily interactions and professional endeavours. Without striving to do better in this area, all other efforts would be in vain.

To answer the questions from the beginning: no, we will always have our biases – note that this is why we set the goal to become UNBIASED in the first place; to reduce personal biases, we must know what we tend to biased against (or for), acknowledge that we are under its influence, and then increase self-awareness of our actions and thoughts. To be free, or more appropriately, to loosen the grip of personal biases on ourselves, is to always know that we ARE biased, and always will be.

By: Ruihong Yuan

Ruihong is a graduate from University of Toronto with a major in Psychology and Physics. He is currently looking to gain either clinical or research experiences in psychology. His goal is to become a clinical psychologist with his own practice and research in order to help people improve their lives and explore the mysterious human mind.

 

How to use Difficult Situations to Strengthen our Character


Difficult situations are often seen as an obstacle in the way of our goals, but this does not always have to be the case. Instead of asking ourselves “why me?,” we can ask ourselves “how can this situation help me grow as a person?” or “how can this situation help me find the emotional tools that I need to face challenging situations in the future?” After facing difficulties, we often come out of them learning important bits of information about ourselves. In addition to adding a difficult situation to our “list of experiences”, we tend to learn vital characteristics, such as patience, gratitude, and self-control.

Patience prepares us for future challenges by helping us believe that difficulties will pass with time. A phrase that is often used is “just be patient”. My personal experiences have shown me that with patience in our hearts, difficult situations that were unthinkable start to feel somewhat bearable.

Gratitude is the appreciation of what we have. Gratitude is in our nature, but it often takes a difficult situation (or several difficult situations) to help us appreciate what we had before the difficulty and what we have after the difficulty has passed. I am not saying that we cannot appreciate what we have without being faced with difficult situations; rather, these difficult situations often serve as an eye-opener that directs our attention to the positive aspects of our lives.

Last but not least, self-control is the ability to control yourself across situations, especially difficult ones. After experiencing a difficult situation, we can sit with ourselves and think about what we did and what we thought about in that difficult situation. After this, it becomes easier for us to hold on to our actions that served us well and got us through the situation, and drop our actions that did not serve us well. This might help us feel more equipped to face future difficulties with more self-confidence. As a result, the lessons learned from our difficulties tend to build up and strengthen our character.

It is important to always remember that difficult situations are not for feeling sorry for ourselves, but for discovering aspects of ourselves that help us face future challenges, because we can.

By: Ghinwa El-Ariss

Ghinwa El-Ariss holds an Honors Bachelor of Science Degree in Psychology and Environmental Studies from the University of Toronto. She will be pursuing her Master of Science degree in Psychology at Trent University starting September 2017. She is passionate about Psychology and the Environment. She hopes that her blog posts help you learn a bit about her and her take on certain things. Most importantly, she hopes that you enjoyed what you read!

Creativity — Standing On the Shoulders of Giants

Creativity has always been one of those things that people assume you either have it or you don’t. Even though in more recent years people have been advocating for fostering creativity in individuals, creativity still strikes many as a gift that is fixed and born within This may prevent many people from seeking out creative tasks and activities, when in fact they can become creative by furthering their glance on the shoulders of the most creative minds in history.

Although certain personality traits do tend to correlate with elevated creative potentials, creativity may not be as fixed as people believe. We need to stop seeing it as a trait or quality and instead see it as a pattern of thought and behaviour. I am not asserting that I know the way of innovation, but in reading about some of the most creative minds in history, I noticed a pattern in how they achieved some of their glorious triumphs and brilliant ideas.

1. They engage frequently. From the lives of the geniuses I’ve read about, they all immerse themselves in their work on a daily basis. Depending on what area they’re in, they may have different ways of working, but they never stopped thinking about or doing their work. Perhaps this is why they tend to get inspirations from practically everything around them.

2. They utilize history. In reading some of Carl Jung’s writings about artists and their works, I’m convinced that inspiration is only possible with the help of either education or experience or both. The more you know about a topic and the more you think about it, the more connections are being built and the more efficient you are in processing relevant information. This may make it easier for them to draw parallels between daily happenings and their work in progress.

3. They cast an extensive net. Their information comes from a vast range of different sources. This also helps with the fact that they think cross-disciplinarily, so to speak. These creative minds seem to be naturals when it comes to borrowing ideas from other disciplines that don’t seem relevant to their primary work. This is only possible if they have learned about multiple subjects or they have a rich life experience, or both. These ideas manifest themselves in all kinds of forms throughout their creative work.

4. They play around with the problem. One of the most common conceptions of creativity is the ability to find an unusual solution to a problem. Many people get stuck on the solution part of the task and when they can’t find one, give up altogether. However, the most creative minds don’t usually bother too much with finding the right solution. Instead, they seem to be most concerned about the questions they ask, which are often followed with “eureka” moments after being able to redefine a problem. For example, Einstein had the inspiration for his general theory of relativity when he transformed the problem of gravity into a problem of acceleration (in his theory these two are equivalent). So maybe the problem with us not-so-creative people is not to jump outside of the box, but to stop thinking of it as a box.

These were some of the common patterns I observed among the most creative minds. Of course there are other traits that underlie each of these behaviours and thinking patterns, but the above points help paint a rough sketch of a creative mind. Becoming more creative is certainly feasible. By taking a glance on the shoulders of creative giants, let’s hope we now all have the courage to stride as one ourselves.

By: Ruihong Yuan

Ruihong is a graduate from University of Toronto with a major in Psychology and Physics. He is currently looking to gain either clinical or research experiences in psychology. His goal is to become a clinical psychologist with his own practice and research in order to help people improve their lives and explore the mysterious human mind.

Is Self-enhancement a Positive Thing?

Self-enhancement is pivotal to our mental health. It is defined as “the desire to maintain and preserve positive feelings about ourselves.” Self-enhancement is closely related to the idea of self-esteem and self-worth, in which maximizing positive ideas about ourselves is an important cognitive process. The classic “Self-Serving Bias” is the tendency for people to view themselves as better than average by attributing good events to our own credit and bad events to external factors. Whether we like it or not, when we are faced with moments where we experience failure and disappointment, such as getting a low grade on a test, not getting promoted, or even simply having a bad fight with your friend, we become very focused on appraising the situation in a favorable light. This is because we are all motivated to view ourselves in a positive light. Below is a list of strategies that we employ to continuously maintain this positive outlook.

1. Downward Comparison. This is when you compare yourself to someone who did worse than you. For example, when you get a C on your test, you take comfort in knowing that there are people who failed the exam.

2. Upward Comparison. This is when you avoid those who did better than you. For example, you might avoid talking to people who received an A on the exam because, as a comparison, your C does not look so great.

3. Compensatory Self-enhancement. This is when you acknowledge that you’ve done badly on a given task, but remind yourself that you have other valuable skills. For example, if you do not get your promotion, you may think to yourself: “at least I have a really great social life,” which, in your mind, might make up for the promotion you did not get.

4. Discounting. This is when you reduce the perceived importance of the domain in which you have performed poorly. A classic example of this is when people claim they “do not care because it does not mean anything.”

5. External Attribution. This is when you blame somebody else or something else for your poor performance. For example, perhaps you may think about how your professor or supervisor was a terrible communicator and therefore it only makes sense that you did not perform so well on the task at hand.

6. Bask in the Reflected Glory. This is very common when you think about people who get very enthusiastic about their favorite sports team. For example, you may be disappointed about something, but then remember your favorite team won and all of a sudden you feel a sense of success and pride.

When our positive self-view is challenged, we are all guilty of exercising a combination of these six common strategies. Although it is very normal for us to self-enhance, and usually the lack thereof can easily lead to depression and anxiety, it is important to note that it is not the answer to all of our disappointments in life. As a matter of fact, several research findings suggest that an excessive amount of self-enhancement is received by others as deceitful and egotistical, and can also be a leeway to narcissism (i.e., a mental health disorder that is characteristic of a grandiose concept of oneself). Although self-enhancement is a good mechanism to help us maintain a positive perspective, it should only be employed short-term. In order to prevent us from feeling a discrepancy between our enhanced self and real self, we must eventually address the issue at hand by analyzing what to improve upon and accepting that occasional failures are a part of life.

By: Stella Hyesoo Pock

Stella is a recent graduate from the University of Toronto with a double major degree in Psychology and Neuroscience. She is currently working on three projects that focus on maternal mental health at the Mothering Transitions Lab at the University of Toronto under Dr. Cindy-Lee Dennis. She has various research experiences that range from postpartum depression to LGBTQ members with schizophrenia. She is dedicated to help those who are afflicted with mental disorders.