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7 Ideas in Psychology That Must Die: Scientific Theories That Are Blocking Progress

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ideas in psychology


Over the course of human history our collective knowledge is continuously changing shape and growing. We know more today than we did 100 years ago, and we knew more 100 years ago than we did 1,000 years ago.

From generation to generation, we discover more and more of the truth. This is due to the beauty of language, culture, science, and being able to pass knowledge between each other.

As we discover more of what’s true, we also discover more of what’s not true. Misunderstandings, myths, and lies. Everyone used to believe the Earth was flat and was the center of the universe. Common knowledge changes as we learn new things.

What we thought was “true” yesterday may not be what we find to be “true” tomorrow. This is why we should always be open to questioning our ideas and changing them in the face of new evidence.

In the new book This Idea Must Die, different scientists, philosophers, journalists, and professors share their view of a particular idea or theory that they think needs to be done away with.

While the book covers many subjects including biology, physics, economics, and sociology, in this article I’ll focus on 7 ideas in psychology that need to die.

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Rewriting the Story of Your Life: A Process of Self-Exploration Through Writing

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When we look back on our lives, we often aren’t watching a perfect recording of what has happened to us.

Instead, our brains are creating a story. Certain memories immediately stand out to us more than others, then our brains find meaning in those memories and transform them into a coherent narrative of events.

Our brains are “meaning-generating” machines. We don’t just observe our world, but we add meaning to it. We can’t help but look back on our past and think, “This happened in my life because of X, and then that led me to Y.”

We all tell ourselves these stories whether we realize it or not. Some people try to take conscious control of these stories through cognitive therapy, where individuals work on finding new meaning in their past, present, and future.

There’s a great book that just came out called Step Out of Your Story which teaches you step-by-step writing exercises you can do to reframe your stories and find new meaning and insight in them.

It shares really interesting exercises in introspection, and provides a practical way for you to dive deeper into your story and begin taking conscious control over it. The book includes a healthy combination of both “cognitive therapy” and “writing therapy.”

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Reconnecting With Your Body After Trauma

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Our emotional experiences often have a physical component to them.

When we’re nervous, we may feel a churning in our stomachs. When we’re disappointed, we may feel our hearts sink. And when we’re embarrassed, we may feel our faces flush.

Our emotions don’t just exist in our minds, but also in our bodies. This is why it’s difficult to rationalize your emotions away, because they usually exist at a visceral level that is beyond thoughts or words.

In The Body Keeps the Score the Dutch psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk does an excellent job describing how this physical component to our emotions plays a huge role in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Part of the reason our emotions have a physical component is because they are often coupled with a desire to take action. When we feel afraid and threatened, there’s a natural instinct to “fight or flight.”

However, during traumatic experiences, individuals are often completely trapped and helpless. They are victims of forces beyond their control. So their nervous systems kick into overdrive, but there is no way to act on these feelings. They are just stuck.

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The “Everything Counts” Mindset to Exercise: How to Reframe Your Perspective on Health

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For those of us who have never been very health-focused throughout our lives, it can be very difficult to build a new healthier lifestyle.

We often see exercise as a “chore” that needs to be done. We try out new routines and diets because we think they are what we should do to “lose weight,” or to “look better,” or to “live longer.”

But while these are good goals to have, they usually aren’t very motivating.

Why? Because they are based on external factors (“we exercise because society says it’s good”), rather than internal factors (“we exercise because we like it and it makes us feel good.”)

Imagine how much easier it would be to build a healthier lifestyle if you genuinely enjoyed the physical activities you participated in?

This is one of the major themes in the new book No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness by behavioral psychologist Michelle Segar.

In this article, I’ll describe the key ideas mentioned in the book and how these have transformed my own health-related habits.

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What Can Psychopaths Teach Us About Success?

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When we think of “psychopaths” our minds usually jump to serial killers, terrorists, and pathological manipulators.

However, according to The Wisdom of Psychopaths, this only describes a small part of the picture. Today, psychologists are beginning to see “psychopathy” as a spectrum that we all lie on to some degree.

At extreme levels, psychopathy can lead to a lot of antisocial and destructive behaviors; but in moderate levels, it can actually come with interesting advantages.

For example, psychopaths tend to be very focused, ambitious, and confident when it comes to achieving their goals. A person who has very low levels of psychopathy probably isn’t very good at standing up for themselves and what they believe in.

According to psychiatrist Kevin Dutton, one key difference between “clinical psychopaths” and “functional psychopaths” is that the functional ones know the right context to exhibit their psychopathic characteristics.

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