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Category Archives: Psychology

Women, Protect Your Life: Read The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker

giftoffearEvery so often I come across a book (in this case, it was recommended by a friend) that is worth its weight in platinum. The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker is a dazzling presentation of extensively researched facts, many of them contrary to our popular notions, that provide bright insight into our culture’s epidemic of violence. More importantly, De Becker provides practical and essential guidance for those women who may be suffering from domestic abuse, stalking, or even pushy dates, and also for those who may be wondering whether or not they should stay in a problematic relationship. Mr. De Becker also explores the mystery of why some women stay with abusive men, and provides the insight that can motivate such psychologically trapped women to break free.

Although the subject is dark, Mr. De Becker writes in a respectful yet entertaining style, and even manages to adroitly and tastefully inject humor along the way. Using numerous can’t-put-down-the-book true stories to illustrate his points, De Becker captivates while he educates.

Writing a book is tough work, and as a successful businessman for many years, it is unlikely that Mr. De Becker needed the income. It is one of those books that appears to be a labor of love, with the author motivated by a desire to share his deep knowledge and experience in order to improve the safety of women. Towards the end of the book De Becker teaches us all, men and women alike, on how to avoid over-fearfulness while being alert to danger. An impressive balancing act, successfully accomplished.

-Ed Walker

Note: I do not accept compensation, direct or indirect, for any reviews posted in Engineering Thinking

 

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ET EXTRA: Provocative Novels For Engineering Thinkers

As can be seen in the sidebar on this blog, I have written some novels, the latest being Double Visions (containing the new short novel Purgatory and my prior novel Nexus).

The novels can be described as psychological mysteries with a touch of the twilight zone, and — the reason for mention here — they contain insights on human behavior from the ET perspective as discussed from time to time in this blog.

As an Engineering Thinking blog reader, it’s likely that you’re looking for more than predictable and superficial plots (fights, car chases, mindless special effects, stalker-of-the-day “thrillers,” etc.). If so, for some thought-provoking and entertaining fiction (according to some reviewers), please visit Journeys to the Edge of Reality.

Double Visions is initially available at CreateSpace and Amazon.

-Ed Walker

 

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Feedback, Delay, and Sullen Spouses

As discussed earlier (Feedback, Prices, and Sullen Spouses), feedback is an extremely valuable tool that is used extensively by engineers for all manner of applications to ensure accuracy. However, there’s a catch: feedback must be provided quickly, or it can provide the opposite of the desired result.

Let’s assume that you’re driving a car in the normal fashion, using its speedometer as feedback so that you can properly control your speed. Let’s also assume the speedometer is working properly, except that it’s very sluggish; i.e. there’s a time delay of two or three seconds until your car’s speed is displayed on the speedometer.

Let’s now assume that you’re zipping along and you notice that your speed is dropping, and you want to speed up. You press on the pedal and you feel the car surge a bit, but no, the speedometer (because of its delay) says that you haven’t picked up any speed (even though you have), so you push on the accelerator even harder. Therefore, because of the speedometer’s delay, you pushed the accelerator twice, whereas once would have been enough.

At the second push of the accelerometer, the speedometer finally registers the speed following your first push, indicating you are at the correct speed and everything is fine, but then the speedometer registers the speed from the second push, and you realize with horror that you are well over the speed limit. You immediately press on the brakes and you think you feel the car slow down, but no, the speedometer (because it hasn’t yet registered the slower speed) says you are still moving much too fast, so you press on the brakes some more. Therefore, because of the speedometer’s delay, you pressed the brakes twice, whereas once would have been enough.

After the second press of the brakes, the speedometer belatedly registers the speed following the first press, indicating that you are at the proper speed, but then the speedometer registers the second press, and you realize you have slowed down much too much, so you stomp on the accelerator…

…and your car continues to jerkily speed up and slow down, like a teenager first learning to drive an auto with a stick shift, until the police officer pulls you over and charges you with reckless driving.

Therefore, although the use of feedback achieves superior performance, feedback must be provided quickly. If there is too large of a delay then feedback will be interpreted incorrectly, which can cause a system to become wildly unstable and possibly even be damaged.

Feedback must be quick

In the earlier post we talked about how a lack of feedback from a sullen spouse could contribute to a poor relationship. In a similar manner, feedback that is supplied after a long delay can make things worse, rather than better:

He: Please pass the salt.

She: No. I don’t like the way you spoke to me.

He: What? When?

She: The last time we were at this restaurant.

He (becoming angry): That was two months ago! What does that have to do with tonight?

The above is an example of how feedback, if it had been delivered quickly, could have served a constructive purpose. However, delayed feedback loses its proper context, and instead of being corrective, easily becomes destructive.

-Ed Walker

 

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Is Your Boss A Narcissist?

Narcissists, similar to sociopaths (i.e. those with antisocial personality disorder), can wreak havoc because most of us are not equipped to detect their deceptions. For a recent study, please check “Narcissists rise to the top because people mistake their confidence and authority for leadership qualities,” by Anna Edwards, 11 Aug 2011, Mail Online.

What do you do if your boss is a narcissist? If at all possible, find another job.

-Ed Walker

 

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Family Comes First: True or False?

Boldly Go Where Your Mind Has Not Gone Before: Challenge Your Assumptions! (Part 2)

Engineering Thinking requires that we challenge all assumptions, particularly those that seem to be obviously true. As mentioned before, such challenges may propel us toward conclusions that may, at first glance, seem weird, wacky, or nutty. Nonetheless, we must learn to go where the analysis takes us, so here we go:

In the area of personal relationships, an assumption that is rarely challenged is the one that says, loud and clear, “family comes first.”

Family Comes First: True or False?

The assumption behind “family comes first” is that we have a higher obligation to family members than we do to other folks. This would appear to be reasonable for nuclear parent-child families, where parents have a moral obligation to properly raise their children.

But what about more distant family connections, with cousins, aunts, uncles, and in-laws involved, or cases where the children are grown? Are there any instances where expending the time and effort on family matters may not be morally superior than spending time with others? Here are a few scenarios to ponder:

1. Your only child has grown, who unfortunately has not turned out to be a very pleasant person. You had an evening planned to go out with some rock-solid “non-family” friends you’ve known for twenty years. Your child suddenly drops by with a standard emergency. Should you cancel your outing with your friends?

2. Your family’s gatherings are full of strife, with excessive alcohol, bickering, and tension. Do you feel obligated to attend these family gatherings on every holiday?

3. Like many families, yours has become split by divorce. Do holiday gatherings become an ordeal where some relatives try to use guilt to force you into eliminating or minimizing the time spent with the other side of the family?

If one starts with the premise that true friends — those who appreciate you and consistently treat you with respect — are the definition of true family, you will find clear answers to the questions posed above.

Merry Christmas!

-Ed Walker


 

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Using Engineering Thinking To Solve Personal Problems

Boldly Go Where Your Mind Has Not Gone Before: Challenge Your Assumptions!

Consider this scenario: You have a close relationship with a fairly rational person, and you have an important personal issue you need to resolve. How to proceed?

In such cases we’veĀ  learned how different points of view branch from different assumptions (see “Put On Your Emotional Armor“). Therefore, before you even start to discuss the issue with the other party, a way to help improve the odds for agreement is to first review your own position. Dig down to the roots of your beliefs until you reach your baseline assumptions, and then boldly challenge them.

Example

Susan: The issue: Sam never wants to go to the opera, but I always go with him to his ball games. This bugs me.

Susan: My baseline assumption: Fair is fair. If I do something for Sam then he should do something for me.

Challenge: Do you dislike going to the ball games?

Susan: Um, no, they’re kind of fun.

Challenge: Does he insist that you go?

Susan: Um, no.

Challenge: Do you know how much Sam dislikes the opera?

Susan: Um, no. We’ve never discussed it. He just never wants to go. I think he might like it if he went and tried it.

Challenge: Does he object if you go by yourself to the opera?

Susan: Um, no.

Challenge: Are there other activities that you both enjoy doing?

Susan: Yes. We both like hanging out at the beach, and motor biking.

Challenge: Your assumption for fairness seems to be that Sam should do something he doesn’t want to do for you, while you do things for him you like to do. Is your definition of “fair” really fair?

Susan: Well…

ET Observation: Humans spend a lot of time trying to control others, under the guise of “fairness” or “compromise.” Wouldn’t it be better to apply that energy to seeking activities that are mutually agreeable? After all, there is a whole universe of things to do out there, so why become obsessed about those few that one party doesn’t like?

-Ed Walker


 

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Update: An Engineer Writes A Novel

NEXUS receives “highly recommended” rating from Cindy Taylor, Allbooks Review. Read the full review here.

 

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ET EXTRA: Protecting Your Life: Depression And Pills

Today’s Shameful Behavior Award is presented to the antidepressant drug companies and the FDA.

The Literature section of the March 7 issue of the St. Petersburg Times contained a fascinating review (“Depression, Inc.” by Jonathan Rottenberg) of two books: Manufacturing Depression: The Secret History of a Modern Disease (by Gary Greenberg, a practicing therapist), and The Emperor’s New Drugs: Exploding the Antidepressant Myth (by Irving Kirsch, expert in statistics and clinical trial methodology).

The anti-depressant industry serves nearly 30 million Americans and provides income of 10 billion dollars a year to pharmaceutical firms. Both books question the honesty of this market, and — according to Rottenberg — do so in a thorough and entertaining manner.

For example, Greenberg attacks the subject from many angles — historical, scientific, clinical, and others — including enrolling in a clinical trial as a patient.

Kirsch points out that the drug companies, along with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which approves their drugs, operate in a deceptive manner. The FDA allows the drug companies to pick and choose which clinical trial results they wish to publish. As Rottenberg states, “If a drug company does 10 trials and only two support the efficacy of the drug, they can elect to publish only those two.”

Depression symptoms when severe can be debilitating and dangerous, and require the immediate help of a qualified health care professional. This help, according to both authors, should not solely require the ingestion of expensive little pills.

-Ed Walker

 

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ET EXTRA: Protecting Your Relationship: How To Fight Fair

Engineering Thinking Extra Is A Short Review Of A Current Hot Topic

CounselorBarbā„¢ (my wife) has recently posted “How to Fight Fair,” a list of helpful and practical (engineering-thinking-like) ground rules for arguments between couples. As Barb says, “Couples will argue, it’s natural, so now it becomes HOW you argue that is important.”

(The list was developed by Barb after consulting similar lists by Lambos, W.A., & Emener, W.G. (In press): Cognitive and Neuroscientific Aspects of Human Love: A Guide for Therapists and Researchers, Hauppauge, NY, Nova Science, Publisher; and Horton, Lee: Crumbling Commitment: Surviving a Marital Crisis.)

-Ed Walker

 

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My Spouse Is Too Moody: What Do I Do? (Part 2)

In the last post we learned that solving relationship problems is very dependent upon (a) framing the issue in a supportive manner, (b) admitting that we may be part of the problem, and (c) if necessary, being willing to seek couples counseling from a mental health professional.

There are other guidelines that can help as well. Let’s examine a common hazard that can complicate the process of resolving a relationship issue.

Seeking The Silver Bullet

When confronted with a problem, we humans like to find a single simple and direct solution. This includes that magic weight-loss pill (the one that requires no exercise and allows us to munch all the donuts we want), the drug that “keeps our diabetes under control,” a perfume or cologne that will attract the perfect mate, or a quick visit to a couples counselor, who in one session will tell us how to fix our relationship (the one that has been deteriorating over a period of years). No muss, no fuss, no interrupting our busy social lives, no hard choices or self-discipline required.

In reality, life is almost never that simple or easy. Although it makes sense to search for the magic bullet that will solve our problem (the Big Gorilla variable], it ‘s not realistic to expect to find it. Solving problems generally requires some hard work and tradeoffs.

Life Is Complex:
Don’t Expect Simple Answers
Do Expect To Work Hard, Be Patient, And Accept Tradeoffs

Tradeoffs are part of the important engineering principle of optimization. In a future post we’ll see how that principle can be applied to solving relationship issues.

Next Post:

Cause or Coincidence?

-Ed Walker