The brain acts through habitual action and goal-directed action. It is important to be able to switch back and forth between these types of actions: For example, if our brains operated only on goal-directed action, we would have to think about the process of driving home every day, following a set of directions, or concentrating on basic tasks each time we do them. Instead, our mental auto pilot switch kicks on. These are the good habits.
These days, there seem to be an almost limitless number of reasons to feel stress, from finances, supporting a family, and work (or lack thereof), to social pressures, competition from online social media, loneliness, the current political landscape, and the online comments section of any type of media. We have developed many ways to cope with this stress—and usually, coping involves a type of reward, such as a treat, either with food or with shopping.
Anyone who has taken even a 10th grade literature course has come across a Shakespeare soliloquy at some point. Richard III goes through the list of all the reasons for his discontentment then boldly declares he will be a villain. There are seven soliloquies in Hamlet in which he walks himself through more possibilities than a Rube Goldberg Machine. And the Macbeths talk to themselves through everything they do.
It seems as though lately it’s difficult to avoid hearing about narcissism—one has only to turn on any coverage of this unique Presidential cycle to be exposed to any number of armchair diagnoses, mostly involving a particular candidate who is a proverbial poster child for this topic. But are such assessments throwaway observations, or do they reveal something deeper about the current direction of society in its valuation of certain narcissistic traits? And is narcissism a trait that signals power and good leadership?
Loneliness, dissatisfaction with your job, physique, finances, overwhelming feelings of inferiority—these are the hallmarks of sabotaging self-doubt, as I discussed in a previous column. These aren’t unique to modern society, as literature abounds with examples of jealousy and low self-esteem (see Jane Austen for any number of examples).
The beginning of the year is a reminder to take stock of all the ways we can improve on what we do and ways in which we can make positive changes. Most of us want improved well-being, and often this comes from maintaining a positive outlook. However, it can be difficult when so much of our time is spent at work, which is why it is paramount to create a positive work environment.