The greater the gap between our version of reality and objective reality, the more significant our errors become

Apple that appears perfect in a mirror, because its rotten side faces away.
Apple that appears perfect in a mirror, because its rotten side faces away.
Image credit: Gustavo Muñoz Soriano.

Throughout his presidency, Donald Trump made it clear that his version of reality was robust enough to resist influence from any amount of hard “science” or factual claims. By selectively filtering out information that didn’t serve him, he created a reality that suited him better.

This ability to create a sugar-coated version of reality is common among narcissists. The fragile ego protects itself from painful truths by denying, suppressing, and twisting real-world information so it appears less threatening.

We tend to see reality in a way that fits with our beliefs. For a narcissist, this is a reality that reflects…


The discourse on dopamine fasting was taken to ridiculous extremes, but the underlying science was sound—and useful

A woman smiles with joy while eating a treat.
A woman smiles with joy while eating a treat.
Image credit: Drazen Zigic.

Dr. Cameron Sepah, assistant clinical professor at UCSF medical school, had no idea of the media attention his idea would attract when he chose the catchy name “dopamine fasting”.

He published an article aimed at helping people kick bad habits using principles from cognitive behavioral therapy. He proposed that “fasting” from rewarding but problematic behaviors, such as overeating, smartphone use, or playing video games, may help us get a handle on them. The “fasting” schedule could be a day a month, an evening a week, or whatever works for you.

By “dopamine fasting” regularly, he argued, we might learn to…


Liberate yourself from repetitive, unhelpful thought patterns in 5 steps

Cartoon of a cowboy riding a bucking brain.
Cartoon of a cowboy riding a bucking brain.
Image by the author

The human brain makes up just 2% of total body mass but consumes 20% of our energy supply. Whether we’re doing calculus, or relaxing in the bath, this figure only changes by a few percent. What is it doing at “rest” that requires so much energy?

Marcus Raichle, a neuroscientist at Washington University, was troubled by this finding. He wanted to know which parts of the brain were active during different tasks, so he’d have preferred a brain that did nothing at rest. Instead, he found a constantly busy brain with a “default mode”.

The brain regions involved became known…


Learned industriousness might make you value the effort more than the results

Illustration shows three men using different methods to move objects.
Illustration shows three men using different methods to move objects.
Image credit: Dmitry Rogatnev

After graduating high school I got a job working for an online travel agent. It was your typical call center job with lots of sitting, tea-drinking, sounding polite, and apologizing on behalf of the company.

We’d take calls from customers who were having trouble with the website, and sometimes they’d book with us over the phone. Managers would consider this a sale, and if we got enough of them we’d get a pat on the back.

Then one day it got interesting. The CEO announced that the employee with the most sales at the end of the month would win…


You were built to be challenged

Image credit: Roman Samborskyi

When you take a working dog, say a border collie, and place it into a life of luxurious leisure, you get a very neurotic canine. A life of cuddles on the couch, cozy shelter from harsh weather, and guaranteed meal times doesn’t lead to the mental stability you might expect. Instead, you get a restless, anxious, and apathetic dog whose genetically-ingrained desire is never fulfilled — the desire to work.

Humans are much like domesticated animals. Only we’ve domesticated ourselves. Divorced from the harsh outdoors, we’ve convinced ourselves that round-the-clock comfort is what we need, and it’s our human right…


Chaos is powerful, and we are just tired mortals who’ve had a hard week. Here’s why it’s worth it, and 6 ways to make tidying up a habit.

An organized workspace.
An organized workspace.
Image credit: Nikolay Tarashchenko

Working in psychiatry, I’ll sometimes visit a patient’s home if we have concerns about them. Walking in the front door I immediately get a sense of their mental state. Primarily, I assess for clutter.

If their house is tidy, I’ll have less concern about their ability to function. Tidying requires motivation, discipline, and careful decision-making of where items should go. If the house is a cluttered mess, it prompts further investigation.

Our mental state can affect how we manage our environment. When work or social commitments fill every waking minute, our living space may turn into a chaotic mess that…


Enhance learning, memory, and resilience to stress with these simple ways to introduce novelty and sensory stimuli

A couple cooking together in the kitchen.
A couple cooking together in the kitchen.
Image source: nd3000

In 1947, a Canadian neuroscience researcher named Donald Hebb made a discovery that may explain why COVID-19 restrictions are so unbearable. Hebb performed many of his studies on lab rats housed in small, solitary cages. Being a caring father, he’d bring some of the rats home for his kids to play with. These lucky rats not only got to have fun, but when Hebb was later testing them in the lab, he found they learned faster and scored higher in cognitive tests than the cage-restricted rats.

Later in the 1960s, researchers at UC Berkeley found that rats exposed to “enriched…


Understanding how algorithms manipulate our behavior and what to do about it

Photo: Yiu Yu Hoi/Getty Images

On my recent birthday, only four of my 711 Facebook “friends” wrote on my wall. It was tempting to assume that people scrolling their news feeds saw it was my birthday and thought “Nah, not interested.”

My rational brain, however, knew it wasn’t my friends who lacked basic decency, but the algorithms that ran their online social behavior. Being an occasional user of Facebook, the algorithm doesn’t freely grant me visibility to others — part-timers like me have to work for it. So I played ball and posted a photo of me enjoying my birthday. My motivations for doing this…


When personal development hinders our capacity for self-acceptance

Source

For most of my life I have alternated between an admired version of myself, and a version I would rather disown. I was never sure which one I truly was. In times of accomplishment, I was exactly who I wanted to be, yet in times of stagnation, I wished I could be someone else.

The cycles were always the same. They began with dissatisfaction with who I was and a rejection of the parts of myself I disliked. Then I invested my inner resources in personal development. As I moved closer to the admired self, I felt I had…


The evolution of time management in 5 stages and 3 epiphanies

Photo by coffeekai.

My life used to be a never-ending battle against the clock — one I would always lose. Every evening, I’d look up to find that clock face glaring back at me as I bowed my head in defeat.

The pressure of time pervades our lives on every level, but it serves a clear purpose: It gets us to work on time, motivates us to break personal records in the gym, and stops our cooking from turning into a charred mess. Deadlines can also improve productivity by increasing motivation to complete a task.

But feeling time-pressured can occupy the brain’s…

Dr. Adam Bell

Medical doctor with an interest in psychiatry. Seeking solutions for the human condition. Get my free ebook “How to Defeat the Bad Day” at: dradambell.com

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