Skills I Wish I’d Learned

I really like what I do, so I don’t spend a lot of time regretting my educational and professional choices. That said, there are two major things I wish I’d done earlier in my career that I think would make me more successful (read: effective) today:

  1. Spent a semester or summer abroad. I’ve always loved languages, and have dabbled in several. For a while in graduate school, I even neared fluency in Spanish, being able to read full-on novels in a reasonable time span. But because I never spent an extended period of time relying on and experimenting with a language, I didn’t cement my knowledge. Not only does being multilingual open direct opportunities to work in other cultures, it also makes your cognitive structure more flexible and enhances creativity.
  2. Learned to program a website or a mobile app. Computer science was still a bit outside of the mainstream when I was in college so I never ventured into a class. I did teach myself some basic HTML (so I could have a rockin’ homepage with pics of my cats and my ear piercings), and that small skill is actually still useful today. I feel like I’d be a much more effective program designer if I were able to do at least some of the coding myself, if only to experiment with possibilities and communicate with software developers in more informed terms. I’m not even sure the programming language matters as much as developing some basic proficiency with technology.

Fortunately it’s not too late to pursue these skills, although it’s harder now than it would have been when I was a full-time student. I’m not sure I’ll ever have an opportunity to spend an extended period of time in another country speaking the language, given my full-time job and my full-time employed spouse. That doesn’t mean I can’t consume media in other languages, talk to native speakers, and travel. I’ve also really enjoyed using Duolingo to refresh basic grammar and vocabulary knowledge and to begin working on new languages.

Ditto on learning to program–given that I don’t seem to have natural talents in the area, it would be great if I could just add a class to my courseload, but nowadays I don’t have a courseload. I’ve been flirting with online educational tools to try to bridge the gap, although I haven’t found quite the right one for me yet. I tend to get frustrated when I’m not good at something and so most of my autodidactic attempts at programming end with frustration. Any suggestions of tools I could use to learn more programming would be much appreciated.

Slogging through Blogging

Blogging is hard, you guys!

When I started this site, I wanted to update several times per week. My vision was (still is) posts that mix the personal and the professional. I want to talk about my professional passions of motivating people and helping them to be healthier and happier, but in a personal way that reflects my experience and hobbies. At work, I don’t have the opportunity to get nearly as real about stuff. But at the same time, I don’t want this space to become so completely personal that it doesn’t reflect my professional identity.

It’s a difficult line to walk.

So, I’ve struggled to come up with topics to write about as frequently as I want to. It’s very tempting to make this more of an old-school blog (diary), and get chatty. It’s also weirdly tempting to get all Professor-like. I’m working on striking the right balance, so bear with me. And if you have ideas for things to write about around motivation, health, and happiness, please let me know!

The Power of Goals and Progress Tracking

After the Boston Marathon on Monday, the New York Times has a thought provoking analysis of marathon finish times. Theoretically, marathon finish times should be relatively evenly distributed around a mean. In particular, there’s no real reason why, say, a 3:29 finish should be more common than a 3:31. But it is.

Distribution of marathon finishing times courtesy of the New York Times, 4/22/14,
Distribution of marathon finishing times courtesy of the New York Times, 4/22/14,

I don’t think this clustering is really that weird. I think it’s a natural function of our common need for competence, and the way we use benchmarks and progress tracking to achieve goals. Continue reading The Power of Goals and Progress Tracking

Indulging in Self-Pity–Then Moving On

I’ve tried to be positive, but I’m just down in the dumps right now. Since I finished the marathon last month, my body’s really crashed. First I had the intense soreness that I think any marathon runner gets, followed by a cold, followed by the onset of spring allergies, and now capped with another bad cold. Basically, it’s been about six weeks since I could reliably breathe through my nose.

In the meantime, I am itching to get back to running and starting to get nervous about being well-prepared for my two spring/summer half-marathons. I watched the Boston Marathon yesterday as always, and while it was fantastic to see my city back in full force, it also made me feel sorry for myself that I’m still sniffling instead of sprinting. I was definitely feeling jealous of the marathon runners. (This is, not coincidentally, the time of year where I always resolve to join a charity team for next year’s Boston Marathon. So far I haven’t done it, but maybe 2015 is the year?)

My goals for the rest of this week are to try not to beat myself up so much for slacking off on the running, to get moving as much as I can without wearing myself out, and to try to kick this cold for good (which will undoubtedly involve self-indulgent naps and mugs of hot tea). I also resolve to get back to yoga, which I have severely neglected since LA. Yoga is so against my nature as an impatient fast mover, which is probably exactly why it’s so good for me. I miss it and my muscles feel the difference having not done much of it lately.

What are your short-term resolutions?

Looking forward in Boston

The May 2013 Boston Magazine cover depicting shoes of the marathon runners was sold as a poster to raise funds for the One Fund (
The May 2013 Boston Magazine cover depicting shoes of the marathon runners was sold as a poster to raise funds for the One Fund (

With the anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings past, and the Marathon itself upcoming, I thought it might be nice to post a link to a recent story that I found hopeful and forward-looking. The Boston Globe recently featured the Richard family, who lost their son and brother Martin. Their story reflects great loss but also great hope, and their resilience is inspiring.

Part 1

Part 2

I’m excited for Monday’s marathon. I’ll be volunteering Sunday at the race expo, and cheering on the runners Monday at my usual spot near the finish line. When the race ends successfully and peacefully, the people of Boston will have achieved an important milestone.

I’m on a beach–and my boss gets the benefit

This post has been auto-scheduled to appear on my blog. I’m not here posting it, because I am on a beach (or possibly by the pool, in a cabana, or napping in a comfy hotel bed). And you know what? This is a good thing for my work and well-being. Some awesome vacation facts include:

This is how relaxed I want to be.
This is how relaxed I want to be.

For all of these reasons–plus my love of traveling–I just can’t understand all the Americans who don’t use their vacation days. I consider it my duty as a psychologist and an employee to use mine well. I hope you will too!

New on Wired Innovation Insights – Using Technology to Foster Self-Efficacy

Hey peeps, I have a new post up on Wired Innovation Insights this week called Using Technology to Coach: How to Foster User Self-Efficacy. In the post, I talk about how to structure the requests we make of our users to maximize the chance that they will follow through. I also talk about how the work of BJ Fogg and his team at the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford can inform your approach. Check it out!

If you've learned to play the piano, you've got some self-efficacy.
If you’ve learned to play the piano, you’ve got some self-efficacy.

Saying No

I’m not a huge tv watcher, but lately I’ve started watching the show The Good Wife. I’m only five years late to the party. The Good Wife stars Julianna Marguiles as Alicia Florrick, a lawyer returning to the work force after her husband is jailed for political misdeeds. It took me a while to realize it, but one of the reasons I like the show so much is that Alicia, despite being “the good wife” who stood beside her husband as he admitted corruption, is actually a strong female character. One of her best traits? Continue reading Saying No

Spinning by the Numbers: Harnessing a Need for Competence in the Quest for Fitness

When I was training for my marathon, it was pretty clear that I had to add in some form of cross-training. The bitter cold of last winter coupled with my reluctance to pony up for a gym membership led me to spinning, where you can buy classes a la carte. I reasoned that although the individual classes were expensive, I was still saving money over a gym membership I’d rarely use (and feel guilty about). Moreover, I know I’m more likely to follow through on a resolution to exercise if I’ve registered and paid for a specific class.

This morning I went to a 6 am spin class at Flywheel Boston with the lovely Melinda Sarkis. For those of you who know me, I am NOT a morning person, but as I said, registering and paying for a specific class seems to get my butt out the door.

One of the reasons I like Flywheel in particular is that they use something called a “Torq board.” Every bike is linked to a computer. You have a personal screen displaying your current level of resistance, your rotations per minute (RPM), and your “Torq,” which essentially a measure of the work you’ve expended so far. If you opt in, you can compete with others in the class and see your relative rankings on the Torq board at the front of the studio. For me, someone with a very high need for competence, this competition is incredibly motivating. It is not the most admirable thing about me, but I like nothing more than to beat other people in a competition.

My summary stats at Flywheel, and proof that my ranking this morning was due to my performance and not the competition.
My summary stats at Flywheel, and proof that my ranking this morning was due to my performance and not the competition.

But even aside from the competition, the personal metrics are really helpful to me. I think I work harder when I have subjective proof of my efforts. In other spin classes, I can sometimes catch myself rationalizing less effort. But the numbers on my screen don’t lie, so I have a much harder time fooling myself at Flywheel.

This morning I noticed I was doing more poorly than usual on the Torq board. Typically I find myself in 3rd or 4th place for the women (there are always a handful of really gung-ho ladies who take the top spots). This morning, I was struggling to maintain 7th place (although I am proud to say I eventually finished in 4th). I was wondering what was going on. Was it me? I’m not a morning person. I hadn’t eaten breakfast. My legs still feel a little tired from the marathon. Or was it something about the class? Are the people who show up for a 6 am spin class more motivated and/or fit?

Well, this is why I love data. After each class you can view your performance online, and see additional metrics like your mileage. What I discovered when I viewed mine was that I had a slightly below average performance (for me) this morning. So, I have to conclude that my struggles in this morning’s spin class were due to me and not to morning warriors. The good news? It means I have a better likelihood at dominating next time I get up for an a.m. session.

On Feeling Happier by Making Small Changes

I just recently read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin for a new book club I joined. On the surface, this is not the type of book I read. I am not a big one for self-help guides (probably because, as a psychologist, I’m fixated on all of the oversimplifications and omissions in these types of popular audience books). I also, sad to say, do not usually radiate positivity and optimism. Let’s just say people aren’t usually surprised I’m from Boston and I do pretty well in New York, too.

Another thing that makes me happy: Silly photos of my cats.

So I was surprised to find that the book quickly hooked me. Even more surprising, I actually took action and made some small changes in my life, before I had even finished the book. I made some hard choices about donating clothes I never wear, which both clogs my closet and fills me with unneeded regret about my appearance (and lack of cutting edge style). I took my kitchen knives for sharpening, an inexpensive task that for some reason daunted me but will restore the joy I find in cooking. I redoubled my efforts to find a wireless headset for when I work from home, so I’m no longer tethered to my desk during calls and longing for a chance to grab a glass of water or stretch my legs. Oh, and I got a manicure, which I always need because my nails look terrible–and never get, because my hands look terrible. Even aside from the effects of the changes, just doing these things made me feel good.

Not surprising, since taking action is a way of exercising one’s autonomy. I like the idea of willfully doing something just because I know it will bring me pleasure. I plan to do more of it.

I have lots more thoughts on The Happiness Project I’d like to share, but for now, I’ll leave you with the link to Gretchen Rubin’s site, where she provides toolkits to try a Happiness Project of your own.

Psychology for Health and Happiness