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Speed Dating put to the test

A guest post by Wray Herbert

Psychologists are very interested in first impressions, and in the nature of romantic attraction. What makes a date attractive, very quickly and in a romantic way? And what turns people off? Is falling in love just a subset of liking? It’s well known that we tend to like people who like us, and people who are generally friendly tend to be well liked. Does this hold for romantic attraction as well? Do amorous people attract the most attention? Or is it more appealing, as the old saw has it, to play “hard to get”?

A team of psychologists decided to explore some of these questions experimentally, and the tool they used for their research was—that’s right—speed dating. Paul Eastwick and Eli Finkel of Northwestern and Daniel Mochon and Dan Ariely of MIT had about 150 eligible men and women, about 20 years old, go on four-minute “dates” with about a dozen people of the opposite sex. For each of their dates, these men and women said thumbs-up or thumbs-down. But they also completed a set of questions, meant to take measure of both their romantic attraction and how much “chemistry" they experienced in each encounter. Finally, they asked everyone to answer this question about their dates: To what percentage of the other people here today will this person say “yes”? They wanted to see who was perceived as picky and who was, well, easy.

The scientists did allow those who were mutually attracted to one another to hook up again if they wanted to. That was not part of the experiment. It was just a nice thing to do. Then they crunched the data, and as they report in the April issue of the journal Psychological Science, the results were intriguing: If someone found just one of his or her dates especially attractive, but was not particularly interested in the others, the partner tended to reciprocate—with both desire and feelings of shared chemistry.

But if someone was indiscriminate, falling for everyone in the room, that was a big turnoff: Their dates felt neither sexual desire nor chemistry. These were also the people who were perceived as not at all picky—or, to put it another way, as desperate. And they were somehow broadcasting this attitude in these briefest of encounters.

The technical word for this is “loser.” But why, really, are these people sitting home alone on Saturday night? Why are amorous men and women unattractive? The scientists believe it goes beyond dating, and even beyond romantic attraction. People have a fundamental need to feel special and unique, they say, and this basic motivation may cut across all of our social interactions.

Other speed dating studies, by the way, have shown that people make up their minds about potential partners not in minutes but in seconds.
This means that Miranda (from Sex and the City) was probably wasting her time reinventing her resume. At that speed, that’s almost certainly not what Harris was sizing up.

For more insights into the quirks of human nature, visit We’re Only Human

Deconstructing 'Psychobabble'

I'm happy to be invited by Talia to post on her blog. As an introduction, here's an article that will give you some insight into my beliefs about the therapy process.

Deconstructing 'Psychobabble' and the Myths of the Psychotherapy Process

My clinician colleagues might look askance at the above title. Some would raise a condescending eyebrow. But my professional field, mental health counseling or psychotherapy, is plagued by the same barriers to clarity as the legal profession. We have all experienced legalese that required us to hire an attorney for interpretation. While important to have a language to communicate with members of our profession, I believe we do our patients a disservice when we “mystifying” the process of counseling by using psychobabble.

But what is my Diagnosis??

In over seventeen years of working with patients on their mental health, one of the greatest gifts I’ve given them is telling them that they are not “nuts” or “crazy.” OK, now my fellow therapists are cringing! But the reality is that that is often a patient’s biggest fear - they have begun to think of themselves as crazy. Normal people wouldn’t be having these symptoms or crazy thoughts! What serves to perpetuate this is the counseling field’s reliance on a medical diagnostic process. Mental health diagnoses are mostly categorized by “disorders.” And these diagnoses have made their way into popular culture - talk shows, magazines and blogs. For instance, the latest diagnosis du jour is bipolar disorder. I hear adolescents call each other “Bipolar!” as an epithet. In my professional experience, very few people in the general population truly suffer from bipolar disorder. All people, especially adolescents, experience mood swings. We have become too fond of categorizing each other in this way.

In my practice, I take time in an initial session with a patient to explain the diagnostic rationale. Since we often work within an insurance system that requires us to give patients a diagnosis to justify treatment and to receive reimbursement, it is a necessity. Unless a patient has definite signs and symptoms of, say, a depressive disorder, I almost always rely on a diagnostic category of “adjustment disorders.” Most of life’s stressors - problems in a primary relationship, work stress, health concerns, loss, etc. require some adjustment. It’s a normal life process to adapt to those stressors or learn effective ways to cope. People can readily understand this label and are less frightened or confused by it.

Do I have to come see you 3 times a week and lay on a couch??

The scene in a movie of a patient lying on a couch in a therapist’s office has become a cliché and one of the many misrepresentations in the media of the psychotherapy process. Many portrayals have us believing that every therapist is a bespectacled man with a goatee furrowing his brow and asking, “How does that make you feel?” I can honestly say that I’ve never asked a patient that question!

Because of some of these inaccurate depictions, it is important for the patient who is new to counseling to feel comfortable and have some understanding of the process. We are all more at ease if we have some knowledge of what is expected of us in new situations. It is perfectly acceptable to ask your therapist questions about the process - “How often will I see you?” “What will we talk about?” Any therapist who is unwilling to at least address your questions or who makes you feel uncomfortable is not doing his/her job.

Repression, Projection, Rationalization, oh my!

The terms I learned in graduate school to describe how the human psyche works are not very useful to the lay public. But they have made their way into the general public’s database. Who hasn’t turned on a talk show and heard a “talking head” counselor use the above buzzwords? If describing to a patient what is taking place in say, projection, is helpful to that patient’s understanding of their behaviors, I might use that word in a therapy session. When the patient is misplacing their anger or “projecting” that anger onto the wrong person, it might be helpful for them to understand the process. But just throwing around the jargon is not productive.

Obviously, there are times in counseling that explaining a patient’s subconscious processes isn’t helpful or warranted. Often this can result in the patient over thinking their role and can be counterproductive. But mystifying the process can be equally counterproductive.


The overall point is that the psychotherapy/counseling process should be accessible. Until quite recently, the subject of mental health counseling was taboo, shrouded in shame and secrecy. Thanks to the same media that often gets it wrong, the general public has a much clearer understanding of mental illness and counseling. It has become much more acceptable to seek counseling and to discuss it openly. My concern is that by using “psychobabble” and perpetuating myths about the process, we professionals continue to throw up barriers for people who need our services.

Introducing Nancy

I'd like to welcome a new contributor to the blog, Nancy K. LaFever, MSW, LISW, LICDC.

Nancy is based in the United States and has over 16 years of clinical experience working in settings that include outpatient substance abuse treatment, community mental health, behavioral healthcare insurance, schools and 10 years in private practice.

A Licensed Independent Social Worker and a Licensed Independent Chemical Dependency Counselor, her specialty area is substance abuse. However, she also works with adolescents, adults, couples and families to address depression, anxiety, job/school stress and relationship issues. Her practice approach is to assist clients to best utilize their strengths, problem-solve and achieve balance in their lives.

Her first post will be up soon on the subject 'Deconstructing Psychobabble'

Gretchen's Tips for Lasting Happiness

Gretchen RubinLast weekend I had the pleasure of interviewing the very happy Gretchen Rubin, a writer working on The Happiness Project — an account of the year she spent test-driving principles about how to be happy, from the wisdom of the ages to current scientific studies; from Aristotle to Ben Franklin to Martin Seligman. On her blog The Happiness Project, she reports her daily adventures on her way to becoming happier.

Rubin is a graduate of Yale Law School and was editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal. She was clerking for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor when she had the epiphany that she really wanted to be a writer.

Her bestselling Forty Ways To Look At Winston Churchill and Forty Ways To Look At JFK are succinct, provocative biographies. Power Money Fame Sex: A User’s Guide is biting social criticism in the form of a user’s manual. She also has three terrible novels safely locked in a desk drawer!

Raised in Kansas City, she lives in New York City with her husband and two young daughters. I asked her about her writing and The Happiness Project.

What prompted you to embark on The Happiness Project?
One rainy afternoon a few years ago, as I was staring out the window of a taxi, a realization jolted me so violently that I jumped in my seat. I suddenly saw that years were slipping by, and I was ignoring the great fundamentals of my life.

“What do I want?” I asked myself. “Well…I want to be happy.”
But I never thought about what made me happy, or how I might be happier, or even what it meant to be “happy.”

Forty Ways To Look At JFK I’d always vaguely expected to outgrow my limitations. One day, I’d magically stop twisting my hair, and wearing running shoes every day, and eating oatmeal for lunch and dinner. I’d remember my friends’ birthdays, I’d fix up our apartment, I wouldn’t let my daughter watch TV during breakfast. I’d read make more time for reading. I wouldn’t lose my temper any more, I’d spend more time laughing and having fun, I wouldn’t nag my husband, I wouldn’t be scared to drive.

But now, it dawned on me that I was already grown up—and I wasn’t living up to the level that I should expect of myself. If I wanted to be happier, I’d have to do some work.

“I need to think about this,” I reflected. “I should have a happiness project. Or maybe,” I thought, “I should write a book about a happiness project.” Eureka!

How would you describe yourself before starting the project?
Before I started this project, I was fairly happy and satisfied with my life. One thing that surprised me was that as soon as I started to think about how I could be happier, I realized how happy I was already. My appreciation for my life increased dramatically, once I examined it.

Have you ever been depressed?
I’ve certainly been “blue” many, many times, sometimes for quite a stretch of time, but I’ve never been clinically depressed.

In what ways have your attitudes, thoughts or beliefs changed during this project?
The key question I had when I started The Happiness Project was—does any advice actually work? Can you really make yourself happier? After all, the “set-point” theory holds that an individual’s level of happiness doesn’t fluctuate much, except very briefly. I was skeptical about the usefulness of a happiness project—but hopeful.

During the year, I tried dozens of different strategies to try to be happier. So, did it work? Did this effort actually make a difference in my relationships? Did it make any difference to my happiness?

Absolutely. I spent more time with the people I love; I made new friends; I had more fun. And apart from the direct benefit to my relationships, because I’m acting more loving, I feel more loving, and that in itself is a form of happiness.
So I’ve really become convinced that it’s possible to take steps that will make us happier.

What are your top five tips for lasting happiness?

  1. As basic as it is, you must get enough sleep, and you must exercise. Study after study backs up the importance of these elements to a happy life. So get out and take a walk, and turn off the light at a decent hour.
  2. Figure out ways to have fun. Have dinner with your friends, make time for hobbies.
  3. Act the way you wish you felt. If you’re feeling crabby, act loving. If you’re feeling tired, act energetic. If you’re feeling shy, act friendly. It really works!
  4. Get rid of things that make you feel annoyed or guilty. Make that appointment to get a skin cancer check, call your grandmother, replace a lightbulb, clean a closet, answer an old email.
  5. Whenever possible, connect with other people. Show up. Make plans. Join a group. Go to a party.

How important is money to happiness?
That’s a very complicated subject. But I believe that the answer, in a nutshell, is this: It depends.
  • It depends on what kind of person you are. (Do you have a passion for collecting art or for renting movies?)
  • It depends on how you spend your money. (Is your money buying cocaine or college?)
  • It depends on how much money you have relative to the people around you, and relative to your own experience. (Are you richer or poorer than most of your friends and family? do you have more or less than you did in the past?)

In general, money does help boost happiness, though that does not mean that mere possession of a fortune guarantees happiness.

What makes you happy?
My family. My friends. Reading and writing. Positive reinforcement of all kinds—I have a real craving for achievement, praise, etc. Exercise. Living in an orderly environment.

Who has been most influential in this journey?
For reasons that are obscure to me, I have been tremendously affected by the life and writing of St. Therese of Lisieux.

How did you go from being a clerk for the U.S. Supreme Court to being an author and social critic?
Power Money Fame SexI realized that I wanted to make this switch in 1995, when I was taking a lunchtime walk around the Supreme Court in Washington. I had fabulous legal credentials—Yale Law School, editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal, then clerking for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor—but in an instant, staring up at the Capitol dome, I realized what I really wanted to do: I wanted to write a book about power, money, fame, and sex. It took some time, but eventually I switched careers, moved to New York City, started writing, and five years later, the book Power Money Fame Sex hit the stores.

At the time, I thought I had a tough time getting my first book published, but now that I know more, I realize that I had a very easy time of it.

I have to ask about Power Money Fame Sex: A User's Guide. First, can you give a brief outline of the book?
It is an examination of power, money, fame, and sex – what steps people can follow to get power, money, fame, and sex. I think you could describe it as Machiavellian in tone.

Now I'm curious – what does this book say about the self-help industry and about people's ability to improve themselves and their lives?
To me, this book is really an examination of human nature. I wanted systematically to explore these worldly ambitions and understand the methods by which people pursued them. I’ve always loved the self-help format, so it was fun for me to plug my analysis into that structure.

Are you saying that achievement and success equates to personal emptiness?
For some people, success is an attempt to overcome personal emptiness. For others, success is enormously gratifying and fulfilling, and acts as a helpful goad.

How far do you think people can go in changing themselves?
It’s clear that about 50% of temperament is determined by genetics. Nevertheless, I do firmly believe – and science backs me up – that while each person’s range is different, we all push ourselves up or down by the actions we take. We can make ourselves happier by doing things like exercising, helping others, and seeing friends; we can make ourselves unhappier by staying up too late night after night; isolating ourselves; brooding on feelings of anger or irritation, etc.

6 Keys to Handling Stress

If you're feeling overwhelmed http://www.currentpsychiatry.com has six helpful tips for dealing with stress and trauma.

  1. Develop an active coping style and learn to face your fears
  2. Regular physical activity to improve your mood and resilience
  3. Embrace humour and use cognitive-behavioral strategies to increase optimism and develop a positive outlook
  4. Become more fulfilled by helping others and being true to your moral compass
  5. Develop supportive and nurturing friendships
  6. Learn to positively reframe negative events and eliminate distorted interpretations of events and situations in your life

Podcasting for Weight Loss

Anna Farmery is the founder of The Engaging Brand, a company that coaches individuals and companies on how improving motivation can boost your personal success and in terms of companies, bottom line results. She is 41 years old and a recognised speaker based in the North of England. Anna and a well known podcaster will be speaking at this year's Podcasting Expo in California.

I asked her how podcasting and blogging helped her make lifestyle changes and lose 35 pounds (16 kilos)

I started on 6 January 2007. I find it difficult to exercise too much as I have some knee and breathing problems so I have had to focus on eating well, and basically eating less calories then you are using. I am very focused, I have not had one treat in the time because I know that I could not stop at one treat. Over time I now don't even think about desserts, sweets... if I had to put it down to one thing then I would say the accountability which comes from blogging and podcasting the story.

How does having the support of other weight loss bloggers help?

I would not have lost this weight without working with Heather Gorringe who is another blogger and podcaster. We had commented on each others blog and then Heather asked if I wanted to join her on a diet. This was really strange dieting with someone that you had only met once! But through this blog and podcast I feel I have found a true friend for life. The best part of Middle Age Shed is that you have full accountability....you are making a very public commitment and we report our weight on the podcast each Saturday. The blogging keeps you focused each and every day.

What are podcasts and how do they help in your weight loss journey?

We weigh in and record the weigh in on a Saturday. On that show we also discuss how we are feeling and also support each other. The show is really a coffee morning - with no cakes! - for people to pop in and enjoy our banter. Although we do cover our emotions we like to laugh a lot and enjoy the journey. Midweek we post a show which often records an interview with our diet coach, or an interview with a listener, or when one of us needs re-motivating. The show is superb to keep you focused as you know that you are going to have to report your weight on the web and you don't want to embarrass yourself with a huge weight gain. I cannot think of a better diet partner as Heather is so open, incredibly funny and her energy motivates me more than anything else.

What do you say to yourself when you are tempted to overeat?

I focus on what I will look like once I have lost the weight. I see myself, enjoying myself, beautifully slim and say "What do you want Anna, that chocolate bar or that picture... which do you want more?" The answer is easy for me. I smile once I have put the chocolate bar down to reinforce the positive feeling inside of me. People often say they are amazed at my discipline, but I don't see it as discipline I see it as wanting to be slim more than having a short term treat.

Have you had issues with stress or emotional eating?

Yes, I do tend to eat more if I feel stressed. The way round this for me has been to increase my walking. When I walk I relax and get things back into perspective, it also burns calories so a win-win.

In what ways have your attitudes, thoughts or beliefs changed during this weight loss journey?

I have definitely enjoyed food more. I look forward to my meals and believe that enjoy the taste more, rather than just "getting it down my neck!" I have also learned to value myself more, I had let myself go and it had definitely knocked my confidence. Losing weight has improved my desire to socialise more, enjoy my clothes more and to think more positively about myself. I don't believe you NEED to be slim to be happy, but for me I have more confidence when I look in the mirror.

Have you eliminated any foods or food groups or do you still eat unhealthy foods in moderation?

I do not have a real sweet tooth, my downfall is cheese and savoury food. I know to grate my cheese rather than take a huge slice! And I eat a lot slower to enjoy the taste. I have also used savoury to give myself a treat rather than it be a stable part of my diet.

What is the reasoning behind establishing Widow's Quest?

Grief is something that affects us all at some time in our lives and I wanted to reach out and support other people who were suffering from depression, loneliness etc. I wanted to not only post about the feelings but write in a way that helps people and gives people hope that there is happiness out there. I have a burning desire to help people, it is in my makeup and Widow's Quest is a way of giving back to a world that has been very good to me.

What changes have you noticed other than weight loss?

It sounds strange but the most important difference has been mobility. Getting in and out of cars, climbing stairs, turning over in bed...I hadn't realised how much my weight was preventing my everyday movement. The other area as I mentioned before has been my self-confidence, I feel better about myself and more confident going out and socialising.

Top 5 tips for making lifestyle changes?

  1. Have a clear picture in your mind of what success will look like...keep it at the forefront especially when faced with temptation
  2. Involve your friends and explain what you are trying to achieve and ask for their support
  3. In terms of eating, reduce your plate size. I have exchanged my very large dinner plate with a small plate, this has been a huge factor
  4. Celebrate your progress along the way. Heather is wonderful she praises me all the time which provides motivation for the following week
  5. Don't see it as giving things up but gaining a new life.

What do you think is the biggest mistake people make when attempting to lose weight?

They don't listen to Middle Age Shed! Seriously, I think they punish themselves too much and forget to enjoy the journey. I break down my total weight loss into manageable 3 lbs chunks and celebrate each "chunk" of 3lbs that I lose...this way I feel the achievement all the time

You can visit any of Anna's blogs and podcasts for more information:
The Engaging Brand with podcast for business leaders and managers
Widow’s Quest for dealing with loss and grief
Podcast Freq - podcasting for the non geek
Middle Age Shed for those who want to diet and change their lives
Women in Podcasting to encourage women to get more involved in social media
Mabel and Harry a motivational business story each day

Links between insomnia and mood

An interesting interview with David N. Neubauer, M.D, associate director of the Johns Hopkins Sleep Disorders Center
When surveying people who are depressed, we find that 80% experience sleeplessness, and it’s not only the classic early-morning awakening associated with depression, but rather all the possibilities, including difficulty falling asleep and middle-of-the-night awakenings.

Data indicate that insomnia is just as common among people with anxiety disorders as people with depressive disorders. It is an equally strong link.

Read more about the links between insomnia and depression

Dieting results in loss of time but not weight

There's soul destroying news for would-be dieters from Traci Mann, UCLA associate professor of psychology.

Will you lose weight and keep it off if you diet? No, probably not, UCLA researchers report in the April issue of American Psychologist, the journal of the American Psychological Association.

You can initially lose 5 to 10 percent of your weight on any number of diets, but then the weight comes back,
said Traci Mann, lead author of the study. "We found that the majority of people regained all the weight, plus more. Sustained weight loss was found only in a small minority of participants, while complete weight regain was found in the majority. Diets do not lead to sustained weight loss or health benefits for the majority of people."

Mann and her co-authors conducted the most comprehensive and rigorous analysis of diet studies, analyzing 31 long-term studies.

"What happens to people on diets in the long run?" Mann asked. "Would they have been better off to not go on a diet at all? We decided to dig up and analyze every study that followed people on diets for two to five years.
We concluded most of them would have been better off not going on the diet at all. Their weight would be pretty much the same, and their bodies would not suffer the wear and tear from losing weight and gaining it all back.

People on diets typically lose 5 to 10 percent of their starting weight in the first six months, the researchers found. However, at least one-third to two-thirds of people on diets regain more weight than they lost within four or five years, and the true number may well be significantly higher, they said.

"Although the findings reported give a bleak picture of the effectiveness of diets, there are reasons why the actual effectiveness of diets is even worse," Mann said.

Mann said that certain factors biased the diet studies to make them appear more effective than they really were. For one, many participants self-reported their weight by phone or mail rather than having their weight measured on a scale by an impartial source. Also, the studies have very low follow-up rates — eight of the studies had follow-up rates lower than 50 percent, and those who responded may not have been representative of the entire group, since people who gain back large amounts of weight are generally unlikely to show up for follow-up tests, Mann said.

"Several studies indicate that dieting is actually a consistent predictor of future weight gain," said Janet Tomiyama, a UCLA graduate student of psychology and co-author of the study. One study found that both men and women who participated in formal weight-loss programs gained significantly more weight over a two-year period than those who had not participated in a weight-loss program, she said.

Another study, which examined a variety of lifestyle factors and their relationship to changes in weight in more than 19,000 healthy older men over a four-year period, found that "one of the best predictors of weight gain over the four years was having lost weight on a diet at some point during the years before the study started," Tomiyama said. In several studies, people in control groups who did not diet were not that much worse off — and in many cases were better off — than those who did diet, she said.

If dieting doesn't work, what does?

"Eating in moderation is a good idea for everybody, and so is regular exercise," Mann said. "That is not what we looked at in this study. Exercise may well be the key factor leading to sustained weight loss. Studies consistently find that people who reported the most exercise also had the most weight loss."

Diet studies of less than two years are too short to show whether dieters have regained the weight they lost, Mann said.

"Even when you follow dieters four years, they're still regaining weight," she said.

One study of dieting obese patients followed them for varying lengths of time. Among those who were followed for fewer than two years, 23 percent gained back more weight than they had lost, while of those who were followed for at least two years, 83 percent gained back more weight than they had lost, Mann said. One study found that 50 percent of dieters weighed more than 11 pounds over their starting weight five years after the diet, she said.

Evidence suggests that repeatedly losing and gaining weight is linked to cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes and altered immune function. Mann and Tomiyama recommend that more research be conducted on the health effects of losing and gaining weight, noting that scientists do not fully understand how such weight cycling leads to adverse health effects.

Mann notes that her mother has tried different diets, and has not succeeded in keeping the weight off. "My mother has been on diets and says what we are saying is obvious," she said.

While the researchers analyzed 31 dieting studies, they have not evaluated specific diets.

Medicare raised the issue of whether obesity is an illness, deleting the words "Obesity is not considered an illness" from its coverage regulations in 2004. The move may open the door for Medicare to consider funding treatments for obesity, Mann noted.

"Diets are not effective in treating obesity," said Mann. "We are recommending that Medicare should not fund weight-loss programs as a treatment for obesity. The benefits of dieting are too small and the potential harm is too large for dieting to be recommended as a safe, effective treatment for obesity."

From 1980 to 2000, the percentage of Americans who were obese more than doubled, from 15 percent to 31 percent of the population, Mann noted.

A social psychologist, Mann, taught a UCLA graduate seminar on the psychology of eating four years ago. She and her students continued the research when the course ended. Mann's co-authors are Erika Westling, Ann-Marie Lew, Barbra Samuels and Jason Chatman.
"We asked what evidence is there that dieting works in the long term, and found that the evidence shows the opposite" Tomiyama said.

The research was partially supported by the National Institute of Mental Health.

In future research, Mann is interested in studying whether a combination of diet and exercise is more effective than exercise alone. Let's hope the news is better when those results are published.

Book Review : Sanity Savers

Billed as Tips for Women to Live a Balanced Life Sanity Savers is a collaboration between Dr Dale Vicky Atkins and Barbara Scala. The book does have a lot of helpful tips but the index could be improved to help stressed out people find what they're looking for before they go "insane" and toss the book at the wall.

Dr Dale, is a popular psychologist and media commentator and appears regularly on NBC's The Today Show. According to Dr Dale the Five S's of Sanity are:

  1. Self - maintain a healthy Self
  2. Support from people you care about and who care about you
  3. Surroundings that you connect with and allow you to feel peaceful and grounded
  4. Stimulation including living a life with purpose
  5. Savor including having fun and gratitude

Barbara Scala describes herself as a Life Transition and Divorce Coach. I had to look these terms up. There are lots of coaches but this is the first time I've heard of a Life Transition and Divorce Coach. Barbara offers help with career and lifestyle changes as well as dealing with divorce.

According to her website
One on one personal life coaching with Barbara Scala helps you work through your blockers, create your future and attain your goals.
Sanity Savers contains 312 tips - one for each day of the week, plus an extra tip for the weekend. The tips aren't presented in any particular order but the authors suggest that any advice that isn't relevant to you may be useful to your sister, best friend or mother.

Each of the tips are short, ranging from approximately 150 to 500 words, and broken down further into helpful sub-headings.

For example, under the section 'well-being' is the tip 'Fitting Into Those Jeans'. The authors suggest that
Getting yourself in shape is not about forfeiting weekend pizza parties with family and friends or going on crash diets, but maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
They then recommend that you portion your portions, stop eating like a caveman (or woman for the politically correct), dress for success and feed your starvation.

A selection of topics chosen at random include:
  • Buying your own home as a single woman
  • Living with chronic pain
  • Pressure to find the perfect mate
  • Teaching kids manners by being polite
  • Retired without driving each other crazy
  • Relationship tune-up
  • Being taken advantage of by people who work for you
  • Learning that your child is gay
  • Loving people whose choices disturb you

The Verdict:
While Sanity Savers is easy to read the topics are too short to be of much help. The format would be better described as ideas to meditate on or a quick reference book. Most of the ideas in the book are sound but the brief presentation makes the advice appear trite.

Personally I didn't find the book useful. It appears to be geared towards women with children or women who aren't happy. Despite this I couldn't find anything in the index under the topic depression.

I found myself flicking through the book to find ideas that might be helpful for me personally. I have stress in my life but I had difficulty matching my situations to the book. The index is poor and it is extremely difficult to find the exact topic you seek unless you happen to stumble upon that page.

Thanks to HarperCollins and BlogHer for providing this book as part of their Virtual Book Tour #6.

Are our fears learned or innate?

Can we control our fears?
A pair of almond-sized brain bits called the amygdala has been considered pretty much solely responsible for the learning and expression of conditioned fears. This certainly matches the general feeling that fear is a fundamental business resistant to rational control. But is it oversimplified?

Genes Found to Quit Smoking

Physicians may some day have a new tool for tailoring smoking cessation treatments to a patient's individual genetic makeup.

Researchers from Duke University Medical Center and the National Institute on Drug Abuse scanned the entire genetic makeup, or genome, of smokers and found that variants in 221 genes distinguished smokers who were successful in quitting from those who were not.

"The long-term hope is that identifying these genetic variables in smokers will help us determine which type of treatment would be most effective," said Jed Rose, Ph.D., director of Duke's Center for Nicotine and Smoking Cessation Research. "Knowing a smoker's genetic makeup could indicate how intensely they need to be treated. People who are having trouble quitting because of their genes might need more treatment to overcome their addiction."

The results of the research were published online April 2, 2007, in the journal BMC Genetics. The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health and Philip Morris USA Inc.

"We now have further evidence that there is a biological basis not only for addiction, but for a smoker's ability to successfully beat the addiction," said George Uhl, Ph.D., a neurologist and neuroscientist in the Molecular Neurobiology Branch of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Uhl's laboratory performed the genetic screening. "It is becoming clear that there is both a biological and an environmental basis to addiction and the ability to quit. Those involved in getting smokers to quit must pay attention to both factors."

The researchers screened 520,000 individual genes taken from blood samples of smokers and nonsmokers. When they compared the genes of smokers with those who had successfully given up the habit, they found clusters of positive results in 221 gene variants present only in the successful quitters.

Uhl said that researchers know the function of 187 of the 221 genes they identified, while the functions of the remaining variants are still to be determined.

"We also found that at least 30 of the genes that we had previously identified as playing roles in dependence to other drugs also contribute to nicotine dependence," Uhl said. "These findings lend further support to the idea that nicotine dependence shares some common genetic vulnerabilities with addictions to other legal and illegal substances."

Some of the specific genes identified might provide insights into why some people appear to have a susceptibility to addiction and why others are more successful in their attempts to quit.

"For example, one of the genes identified controls the production of adhesion molecules, which are crucial in guiding connections between individual nerve cells," Rose said. "Smokers whose nerve cell connections aren't working properly may be more vulnerable to addiction and may face a tougher time quitting. These findings open up new possibilities in finding specific targets for treatment."

Other identified genes play a role in controlling how people respond to stress. Uhl pointed out that one of the genes controls the production of a protein that is important in guiding learning processes in the brain.

The researchers are planning additional studies to try to correlate this new genetic information with how smokers actually respond to the many forms of cessation treatments.

Other members of the team, all from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, were Qing-Roong Liu, Tomas Drgon, Catherine Johnson and Donna Walther.