Is Your Smartphone Ruining Your Memory? Rise of Digital Amnesia

‘I can’t remember anything’ is a common complaint these days. But is it because we rely so heavily on our smartphones? And do the endless alerts and distractions stop us forming new memories? Last week, I missed a real-life meeting because I hadn’t set a reminder on my smartphone, leaving someone I’d never met before alone in a café. But on the same day, I remembered the name of the actor who played Will Smith’s aunt in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air in 1991 (Janet Hubert).

Memory is weird, unpredictable and, neuroscientifically, not yet entirely understood. When memory lapses like mine happen (which they do, a lot), it feels both easy and logical to blame the technology we’ve so recently adopted. Does having more memory in our pockets mean there’s less in our heads? Am I losing my ability to remember things – from appointments to what I was about to do next – because I expect my phone to do it for me? Before smartphones, our heads would have held a cache of phone numbers and our memories would contain a cognitive map, built up over time, which would allow us to navigate – for smartphone users, that is no longer true.

Our brains and our smartphones form a complex web of interactions: the smartphonification of life has been rising since the mid 2000s, but was accelerated by the pandemic, as was internet use in general. Prolonged periods of stress, isolation and exhaustion – common themes since March 2020 – are well known for their impact on memory. Of those surveyed by memory researcher Catherine Loveday in 2021, 80% felt that their memories were worse than before the pandemic. We are – still – shattered, not just by Covid-19, but also by the miserable national and global news cycle. Many of us self-soothe with distractions like social media.

Meanwhile, endless scrolling can, at times, create its own distress, and phone notifications and self interrupting to check for them, also seem to affect what, how and if we remember. So what happens when we outsource part of our memory to an external device? Does it enable us to squeeze more and more out of life, because we aren’t as reliant on our fallible brains to cue things up for us? Are we so reliant on smartphones that they will ultimately change how our memories work (sometimes called digital amnesia)? Or do we just occasionally miss stuff when we don’t remember the reminders?

Neuroscientists are divided. Chris Bird is professor of cognitive neuroscience in the School of Psychology at the University of Sussex and runs research by the Episodic Memory Group. “We have always offloaded things into external devices, like writing down notes, and that’s enabled us to have more complex lives,” he says. “I don’t have a problem with using external devices to augment our thought processes or memory processes. We’re doing it more, but that frees up time to concentrate, focus on and remember other things.” He thinks that the kind of things we use our phones to remember are, for most human brains, difficult to remember.

“I take a photo of my parking ticket so I know when it runs out, because it’s an arbitrary thing to remember. Our brains aren’t evolved to remember highly specific, one-off things. Before we had devices, you would have to make a quite an effort to remember the time you needed to be back at your car.” Professor Oliver Hardt, who studies the neurobiology of memory and forgetting at McGill University in Montreal, is much more cautious. “Once you stop using your memory it will get worse, which makes you use your devices even more,” he says. “We use them for everything.

If you go to a website for a recipe, you press a button and it sends the ingredient list to your smartphone. It’s very convenient, but convenience has a price. It’s good for you to do certain things in your head.” Hardt is not keen on our reliance on GPS. “We can predict that prolonged use of GPS likely will reduce grey matter density in the hippocampus. Reduced grey matter density in this brain area goes along with a variety of symptoms, such as increased risk for depression and other psychopathologies, but also certain forms of dementia.

GPS-based navigational systems don’t require you to form a complex geographic map. Instead, they just tell you orientations, like ‘Turn left at next light.’ These are very simple behavioural responses (here: turn left) at a certain stimulus (here: traffic light). These kinds of spatial behaviours do not engage the hippocampus very much, unlike those spatial strategies that require the knowledge of a geographic map, in which you can locate any point, coming from any direction and which requires [cognitively] complex computations.

When exploring the spatial capacities of people who have been using GPS for a very long time, they show impairments in spatial memory abilities that require the hippocampus. Map reading is hard and that’s why we give it away to devices so easily. But hard things are good for you, because they engage cognitive processes and brain structures that have other effects on your general cognitive functioning.”

Hardt doesn’t have data yet, but believes, “the cost of this might be an enormous increase in dementia. The less you use that mind of yours, the less you use the systems that are responsible for complicated things like episodic memories, or cognitive flexibility, the more likely it is to develop dementia. There are studies showing that, for example, it is really hard to get dementia when you are a university professor, and the reason is not that these people are smarter – it’s that until old age, they are habitually engaged in tasks that are very mentally demanding.”

(Other scientists disagree – Daniel Schacter, a Harvard psychologist who wrote the seminal Seven Sins Of Memory: How The Mind Forgets and Remembers, thinks effects from things like GPS are “task specific”, only.) While smartphones can obviously open up whole new vistas of knowledge, they can also drag us away from the present moment, like it’s a beautiful day, unexperienced because you’re head down, WhatsApping a meal or a conversation. When we’re not attending to an experience, we are less likely to recall it properly, and fewer recalled experiences could even limit our capacity to have new ideas and being creative.

As the renowned neuroscientist and memory researcher Wendy Suzuki recently put it on the Huberman Lab neuroscience podcast, “If we can’t remember what we’ve done, the information we’ve learned and the events of our lives, it changes us… [The part of the brain which remembers] really defines our personal histories. It defines who we are.” Catherine Price, science writer and author of How to Break Up With Your Phone, concurs. “What we pay attention to in the moment adds up to our life,” she says. “Our brains cannot multitask. We think we can. But any moment where multitasking seems successful, it’s because one of those tasks was not cognitively demanding, like you can fold laundry and listen to the radio.

If you’re paying attention to your phone, you’re not paying attention to anything else. That might seem like a throwaway observation, but it’s actually deeply profound. Because you will only remember the things you pay attention to. If you’re not paying attention, you’re literally not going to have a memory of it to remember.”

The Cambridge neuroscientist Barbara Sahakian has evidence of this, too. “In an experiment in 2010, three different groups had to complete a reading task,” she says. “One group got instant messaging before it started, one got instant messaging during the task, and one got no instant messaging, and then there was a comprehension test. What they found was that the people getting instant messages couldn’t remember what they just read.”

Price is much more worried about what being perpetually distracted by our phones – termed “continual partial attention” by the tech expert Linda Stone – does to our memories than using their simpler functions. “I’m not getting distracted by my address book,” she says. And she doesn’t believe smartphones free us up to do more. “Let’s be real with ourselves: how many of us are using the time afforded us by our banking app to write poetry? We just passively consume crap on Instagram.” Price is from Philadelphia. “What would have happened if Benjamin Franklin had had Twitter?

Would he have been on Twitter all the time? Would he have made his inventions and breakthroughs? “I became really interested in whether the constant distractions caused by our devices might be impacting our ability to actually not just accumulate memories to begin with, but transfer them into long-term storage in a way that might impede our ability to think deep and interesting thoughts,” she says. “One of the things that impedes our brain’s ability to transfer memories from short- to long-term storage is distraction.

If you get distracted in the middle of it” – by a notification, or by the overwhelming urge to pick up your phone – “you’re not actually going to have the physical changes take place that are required to store that memory.” It’s impossible to know for sure, because no one measured our level of intellectual creativity before smartphones took off, but Price thinks smartphone over-use could be harming our ability to be insightful. “An insight is being able to connect two disparate things in your mind. But in order to have an insight and be creative, you have to have a lot of raw material in your brain, like you couldn’t cook a recipe if you didn’t have any ingredients:

You can’t have an insight if you don’t have the material in your brain, which really is long term memories.” (Her theory was backed by the 92-year-old Nobel prize-winning neuroscientist and biochemist Eric Kandel, who has studied how distraction affects memory – Price bumped into him on a train and grilled him about her idea. “I’ve got a selfie of me with a giant grin and Eric looking a bit confused.”) Psychologist professor Larry Rosen, co-author (with neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley) of The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World, also agrees: “Constant distractions make it difficult to encode information in memory.”

Smartphones are, of course, made to hijack our attention. “The apps that make money by taking our attention are designed to interrupt us,” says Price. “I think of notifications as interruptions because that’s what they’re doing.” For Oliver Hardt, phones exploit our biology. “A human is a very vulnerable animal and the only reason we are not extinct is that we have a superior brain: to avoid predation and find food, we have had to be really good at being attentive to our environment. Our attention can shift rapidly around and when it does, everything else that was being attended to stops, which is why we can’t multitask.

When we focus on something, it’s a survival mechanism: you’re in the savannah or the jungle and you hear a branch cracking, you give your total attention to that – which is useful, it causes a short stress reaction, a slight arousal, and activates the sympathetic nervous system. It optimises your cognitive abilities and sets the body up for fighting or flighting.” But it’s much less useful now. “Now, 30,000 years later, we’re here with that exact brain” and every phone notification we hear is a twig snapping in the forest, “simulating what was important to what we were: a frightened little animal.”

Smartphone use can even change the brain, according to the ongoing ABCD study which is tracking over 10,000 American children through to adulthood. “It started by examining 10-year-olds both with paper and pencil measures and an MRI, and one of their most interesting early results was that there was a relationship between tech use and cortical thinning,” says Larry Rosen, who studies social media, technology and the brain. “Young children who use more tech had a thinner cortex, which is supposed to happen at an older age.”

Cortical thinning is a normal part of growing up and then ageing, and in much later life can be associated with degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, as well as migraines. Obviously, the smartphone genie is out of the bottle and has run over the hills and far away. We need our smartphones to access offices, attend events, pay for travel and to function as tickets, passes and credit cards, as well as for emails, calls and messages. It’s very hard not to have one. If we’re worried about what they – or the apps on them – might be doing to our memories, what should we do?

Rosen discusses a number of tactics in his book. “My favourites are tech breaks,” he says, “where you start by doing whatever on your devices for one minute and then set an alarm for 15 minutes time. Silence your phone and place it upside down, but within your view as a stimulus to tell your brain that you will have another one-minute tech break after the 15-minute alarm. Continue until you adapt to 15 minutes focus time and then increase to 20. If you can get to 60 minutes of focus time with short tech breaks before and after, that’s a success.”

“If you think your memory and focus have got worse and you’re blaming things like your age, your job, or your kids, that might be true, but it’s also very likely due to the way you’re interacting with your devices,” says Price, who founded Screen/Life Balance to help people manage their phone use. As a science writer, she’s “very much into randomly controlled trials, but with phones, it’s actually more of a qualitative question about personally how it’s impacting you. And it’s really easy to do your own experiment and see if it makes a difference. It’s great to have scientific evidence.

But we can also intuitively know: if you practice keeping your phone away more and you notice that you feel calmer and you’re remembering more, then you’ve answered your own question.”

By:

Source: Is your smartphone ruining your memory? A special report on the rise of ‘digital amnesia’ | Memory | The Guardian

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Women are Far Less Financially Prepared For Retirement Than Men

Many women aren’t financially prepared for retirement, according to a recent report from TransAmerica. Men have about twice as much money saved for retirement ($118,000) than women do ($57,000). Of concern, nearly a quarter (24%) of women currently have less than $10,000 saved for retirement, compared to just 14% of men.

Seventy-nine percent of men are confident in their ability to fully retire with a comfortable lifestyle, compared to just 64% of women. Both men and women think that they’ll need to have saved $500,000 in order to retire comfortably. A third (33%) of women do not have any retirement strategy at all, which is significantly more than the 18% of men. Women are also far less likely than men to be currently saving for retirement, at 77% and 86%, respectively.

Financial preparedness for retirement, women vs. men

Despite the fact that the vast majority of both men and women worry that Social Security will run out before they retire, 27% of women and 17% of men expect to rely on Social Security payments as their primary source of income during retirement.Keep reading to learn the challenges women face when saving for retirement, as well as how women can better financially prepare to retire. If you’re searching for ways to improve your financial situation ahead of retirement, visit Credible to compare a variety of financial products from debt consolidation loans to high-yield savings accounts.

Women face unique challenges when preparing for retirement

There are a number of obstacles that women must overcome when saving money for retirement — starting with the gender wage gap, according to Stacy J. Miller, a Tampa, Fla.-based certified financial planner (CFP). Women typically earn less money than men, which results in lower retirement savings.

Miller said that because “women are often the caretakers in the family,” they may have to leave the workforce to care for children and aging parents. Missing periods of work can result in lower earnings over time and “fewer opportunities for pay raises and promotions.”Most woman caregivers have had to make work adjustments, such as missing days of work (36%), working an alternative schedule (28%), reducing their hours (27%) and even quitting their jobs (10%), TransAmerica reports.

Work adjustments due to caregiving, men vs. women

“Additionally, women statistically live longer than men, and therefore their retirement portfolio would need to be larger than men to last longer,” Miller said. Without proper financial planning and adequate retirement savings, some retirees may become reliant on credit card spending to cover basic expenses. If you’re struggling to pay down high-interest credit card balances, you may be able to save money through debt consolidation. You can learn more about credit card consolidation on Credible to determine if this is the right financial strategy for you.

How women can better prepare for retirement

If you’re one of the many women with an insufficient retirement nest egg, there’s still time to save. Consider these tips from female financial advisors on how women can be more financially prepared for retirement:

Maximize your retirement contributions

Both working women and self-employed caretakers should find a way to contribute the maximum amount to retirement plans, according to Kimberly Foss, a CFP in Roseville, Calif. — “especially in older women’s peak earning years, which often occur as they are nearing retirement.” In 2022, employees can defer up to $20,500 of their annual income into their workplace retirement plan or 401(k). The current contribution limit across all individual retirement accounts (IRAs) is $6,000 per year.

Women who are near retirement age should take advantage of catch-up provisions to grow their account balances, Foss said. This allows individuals ages 50 and up to contribute an additional $6,500 annually to their 401(k) plans and an added $1,000 to their traditional IRAs and Roth IRAs.

Allocate your investments

Besides maximizing their contributions, women should also consider their how their retirement investments are allocated, according to Joyce Streithorst, a CFP in Melville, N.Y. “Default investments make an impact on one’s long-term growth and returns,” Streithorst said. “Lifecycle or target date funds can help provide an allocation to equities and fixed income to attempt to align risk to your age and anticipated retirement year.”

Retirement savings accounts are typically invested in bonds as well as the stock market in the form of index funds and mutual funds. Investment allocations range between conservative, moderately conservative and moderate, depending on the risk tolerance. An investor’s retirement portfolio will typically vary based on market conditions. Since consumers have their own unique financial goals and obligations, it’s important to determine the right asset allocation strategy for your needs.

Reach out to a financial advisor

TransAmerica reports that while 43% of men use a financial advisor to help them manage their savings and investments, just 34% of women do. This could be due to a lack of female advisors, said Tess Zigo, a CFP in Palm Harbor, Fla.

“Because we don’t see many women in finance and as financial advisors, it doesn’t feel approachable or accessible,” Zigo said. “Many women feel more comfortable working with someone relatable.”Retirement planning can at times be overwhelming, so you might consider enlisting a professional to help guide you through the process. You can search for advisory services in your area on the CFP website.

And if you’re searching for the right financial products to set yourself up for success in retirement, it’s important to shop around. You can visit Credible to compare interest rates on everything from personal loans to mortgages for free without impacting your credit score.

Source: Women are far less financially prepared for retirement than men: TransAmerica study | Fox Business

Critics by : Mallika Mitra

For women, the salary gap they face in their working years eventually turns into a retirement savings gap. Only about 6 in 10 women have a plan to keep them from outliving their savings once they retire, according to a recent study by Nationwide Advisory Solutions. Among men, it’s more than 3 out of 4.

The firm polled about 1,021 financial advisors and 824 investors in February and March. “We’re in an industry that is inherently addressing the issues of men,” said Kristi Rodriguez, leader of the Nationwide Retirement Institute at Columbus, Ohio-based Nationwide. “We have to instill confidence in female investors.”

Women face unique challenges when saving for retirement. For one, they live longer than men — on average by six to eight years, according to the World Health Organization. They’re also subject to higher health-care costs. A woman retiring at age 65 in 2019 is likely to pay around $150,000 in health-care costs throughout retirement, while the number drops to $135,000 for men, according to an annual analysis by Fidelity Investments released earlier this year.

Women also tend to spend more time away from work to care for children. Once they return, they can fall behind in rank and miss out on opportunities for promotion. This “motherhood penalty” costs women $16,000 a year in lost wages, according to an analysis of Census data by the nonprofit advocacy organization National Women’s Law Center in 2018. Financial advisors must address these obstacles and ensure women feel comfortable discussing these challenges.

“You can find an advisor that meet the needs of both you and your spouse,” Rodriguez said. “But what is important is to find someone who creates that environment to make you feel welcome.”

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Why Your Idea of Influencer Marketing is Outdated

While influencer marketing has become a mainstay for marketers, this doesn’t mean that marketers should start getting comfortable. As social apps start to integrate more creative functions to suit their users’ needs, an increasing number of users have started to become creators in their own right.

Anyone with a smartphone can create content, but those that create unique, high-quality content have risen to join the ranks of top influencers.

However, marketers often only consider partnering with ‘traditional’ influencers — influential tastemakers that usually have a large following. While these individuals may not necessarily create posts of high quality, their ability to leverage their fans makes them attractive to marketers seeking to promote their brand.

While creators can become influential and influencers do often create their own content, they aren’t one and the same. Marketers shouldn’t make the mistake of conflating them. Here’s why:

Influencers and content creators have different impacts on their audiences

Marketers increasingly understand the need to shift from ‘vanity’ metrics such as ‘likes’ towards engagement metrics such as ‘views’ and ‘impressions’. This also means that influencer marketing isn’t used just for the purpose of attracting eyeballs. Brands must engage the individuals that best suit their campaign objectives and KPIs.

For example, a beauty brand looking to raise brand awareness might engage a beauty influencer to create a sponsored post, then track impressions on their posts, or audience growth on their social media.

A YouTuber that uses the same products as part of a morning routine video or beauty challenge, on the other hand, can generate interest in your product that leads to greater click-throughs to your product page.

The main difference is that influencers act as an amplification channel for your content or product, driving awareness through reach, which can generate sales with the right target group.

Content creators, on the other hand, incorporate your product into their own content styles — be it beauty routines, funny challenges, or breathtaking photographs. These creators may not have a large following, but often have loyal audiences that are already interested in the form of content they produce. As such, they score greater points for relatability.

Think of influencer marketing as a form of brand partnership

Gone are the days when influencers are willing to plug your brand or product in exchange for free goods or cash. Influencers now hold greater accountability to their followers, meaning that it is imperative for them to be honest about sponsorships and create more authentic content.

According to Campaign, some factors that determine if a user decides to follow an influencer include how “real” their content is, how well-intentioned their posts are, and whether or not the content or products they endorse are in keeping with their usual style.

This means that influencers are likely to be more selective with the brands that they choose to work with. An influencer such as Liv Lo (@livlogolding), for example, builds her personal brand around her sustainable lifestyle and the use of environmentally-friendly, organic products. Liv Lo features cruelty-free skincare brands on her Instagram page and isn’t shy about criticising brands that aren’t as supportive of environmental initiatives.Instagram post Liv Lo

Top influencers hold even greater prestige and control. Apart from being awarded ‘verified’ badges on platforms such as YouTube or Instagram that cement their status as top dog, high-profile influencers are being provided exclusive features that allow them to directly drive social commerce.

Last year, Snapchat invited 5 top influencers to gain access to their in-app store function, allowing these influencers to sell their merchandise straight from the app. Instagram’s Creator profile, which was initially beta-tested on a small group of users, now allows influencers and creators to have more flexible profile controls, access to a dashboard of performance metrics, and the ability to create shoppable posts.

Creators are also being recognised for their influence. Events like VidCon celebrate the unique achievements of video creators and educate brands on how they should navigate the changing influencer landscape.

It’s clear that marketers can no longer expect to mould an influencer to their needs. Instead, marketers must learn to accept that influencers and creators are their own mini-brand. A successful partnership, therefore, depends on aligning the needs and values of both parties.

In order to find the right partners, use Meltwater’s Influencer Marketing Software or Klear’s Influencer Discovery Platform. We help you to find influencers based on your audience’s demographic as well as your target market, industry, or topic. Their fans are already familiar with brands in your industry, ensuring that your content effectively targets the right audience.

Just like celebrity endorsements, influencer partnerships work well in the long-term

Influencer marketing should not involve too many one-off partnerships. As consumers seek out relatable, authentic content, “momentary endorsements” become less attractive to most brands and influencers. After all, consumers place less trust in influencers who readily promote a variety of brands.

Marketers should strive to create long-term partnerships with the influencers that they engage. While long-term partnerships generally reflect well on both the brand and its partner, these partnerships also help both parties solidify their fanbase.

Influencers who work with brands on a longer-term basis can leverage a variety of posts that better reflect their relationship with the brand over time. For example, an influencer is likely to attend events hosted by the brand, speak about related social issues, and review the brand’s products. If an influencer praises the brand’s offerings, their fans are more likely to believe them.

Brands that embark on long-term partnerships may also benefit from the influencer’s follower circles. These audiences are likely to relate the influencer with the brand and thus confer a sense of trust towards the products that they endorse. This also means that audiences are likely to feel a greater emotional connection with the brand, leading to more sticky customers.

Content creators, too, are valuable partners. Brands that make creators their partners can turn the artists’ style or content form into a part of their brand identity. This is especially true for organisations that manage recurring events.

Arts House Limited, for example, manages the Aliwal Arts Centre, which organises the annual Aliwal Urban Arts Festival. While the lineup for each year differs, the Urban Arts Festival consistently showcases local street dance crews and musicians. The festival has become synonymous with local street culture, while the Arts Centre has become the go-to venue for local indie dance and theatre shows.

Brands like Arts House Limited show a keen understanding of their own appeal and their audience’s interests. Likewise, brands that seek to effectively engage influencers as long-term partners must create campaigns that appeal to their key audiences.

Meltwater’s Audience Insight reports allow you to understand the communities that drive conversations on your social media channels. Our tool helps you to discover your audience’s consumption habits, analyse shifts in their demographic, and identify key influencers within these groups. You can then use these insights to determine the trends and topics that resonate with your audience.

To move ahead, brands must shake off old conventions

Now that we’ve highlighted the reasons why marketers should understand the value of both traditional influencers and content creators, it’s imperative that they formulate an influencer marketing strategy that includes both facets.

As the social media landscape continues to change and include newer apps, functions, and trends that steal the headlines, social media marketers too must adapt to make sure that they stay ahead of the curve.

By: Violet Zhang

Source: Why Your Idea of Influencer Marketing is Outdated

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How To Learn The Trick of Confidence

Dr Nate Zinsser, a top US army psychologist renowned for helping lieutenants and officers build their confidence, is giving me a talking-to. We’ve been discussing highly disciplined writers who sit at their desks at 9am each day, no matter the circumstances, and assertively punch out stories. “I definitely don’t do that,” I say, remarking that I envy their confidence to sit and deliver. An aggressive perfectionist streak combined with niggling impostor syndrome insecurities mean I need conditions to be just-so in order to have faith that I’ll produce anything decent. Zinsser blanches.

“The statement ‘I don’t do that’ is a decision you’re making about yourself,” he says, speaking over video call from his office at the US Military Academy in upstate New York; behind him there’s a whiteboard, ornamental Japanese swords and photos of athletes he’s counselled, including the Olympic-medal-winning US men’s bobsled team.

“A constructive shift in your thinking would be the idea that, ‘Whether or not I got the right amount of sleep the night before or had a good breakfast, once 9 o’clock strikes, I am at my desk, lights on, ready to go – and I’m producing good stuff,’” he says. “That’s a belief about yourself that you can de-li-be-rate-ly cultivate,” he adds, stretching out each syllable in “deliberately” so there can be no question that in this matter, as in all self-confidence-related issues, change lies with me.

Delivered with a gentle assuredness, rather than barked across the screen, it’s not the tone you might expect from a man who for 27 years has directed the academy’s performance psychology programme. Indeed, the only thing about him that screams “army” is his black jacket, which has the word emblazoned in capitals across its front.

With his snow-white beard and softly yawning New Jersey twang, the 67-year-old has a calm, almost paternalistic presence. His brand of optimism is far more reserved than the full-throttle enthusiasm often associated with self-help gurus. “We don’t live in a world of sunshine and lollipops,” as he puts it. “We live in a real world of deadlines, sweat, blisters and muscle fatigue, and we have to look at what is a constructive way to think in those situations.”

In addition to his army duties, in his private practice Zinsser has worked with a glittering roster of clients, including neurosurgeons, congressional candidates, ballerinas, writers and star athletes, such as two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Eli Manning. Whether their arena is the surgical table or the running track, they come to him for gamechanging advice on how to dispel those pesky naysaying voices in their head so that they can deliver knockout performances under pressure. And now he’s distilled his knowledge into a book, The Confident Mind: A Battle-Tested Guide to Unshakable Performance.

I’m hoping to glean some tips from the famed confidence-whisperer. While hardly a quivering mess, I do have a habit of second-guessing myself in parts of my professional – and social – life. And the thought of public speaking sends me into a cold sweat. The chance to smooth out the chinks in my self-belief armour and come away with a quarterback’s swagger is tempting to say the least.

But is it realistic? We tend to view confidence as a magical elixir that’s only available to Olympic sprinters, CEOs and other creatures blessed with rare talent, puffed-out chests and Colgate-white teeth (plus, the odd blustering buffoon). For most of us, being an adult means having a PhD in our multitude of shortcomings, foibles and crippling insecurities. And while I can improve my fitness with a Peloton, and my inner calm with meditation, surely I can’t just learn how to think highly of myself, can I? How to be unflappable under pressure? How to believe – with a surety that overrides any lingering doubts – that I can be good at anything?

In his poised, methodical way, Zinsser is here to tell me that, if I doggedly commit to altering the story I tell myself about myself, then yes: yes I can.

First, some housekeeping: Zinsser wants to straighten out some common misconceptions around confidence – starting with how we define it. Although we tend to think of it as a sense of belief in one’s own ability, he finds this unhelpful because it neglects a crucial fact: we are hardwired to perform skills unconsciously. When we’re in the zone – whether during a tennis match, maths exam or violin concerto – we’re not critically assessing each movement but operating in a free-flowing state.

“If you’re hung up with the mechanics, and trying to think about what you’re doing as you’re doing it, you access a whole lot of neural pathways that tie you up,” he says. He defines confidence, then, as having “the sense of certainty about your ability that allows you to do something without thinking about it: that allows you to execute more or less unconsciously.”

Being in this state makes success possible, not guaranteed. It won’t conceal a lack of ability, but it will enable you to go into a performance thinking: “I’ve got this money in my wallet and now I can spend it – let’s see if I’ve got enough,” he says. Without confidence, we’ll never know how good – how talented, how skilled – an individual really is.

Zinsser doesn’t particularly see confidence as a product of genetics. Nor is it necessarily linked to competence. Sure, we idolize superstar athletes whose talent and bravado seem to go hand-in-hand, but he comes across just as many gifted people lacking self-belief. “The unfortunate fact I have seen is that our actual competence is higher than our degree of confidence in it,” he says, speaking about the population generally. “It’s the conclusion you draw about yourself from experiences of success [that breeds confidence],” he says. “Unless you make those conclusions, the actual success that you have might not do you any good.”

He believes confidence is cultivated during childhood – “how you were encouraged as a young person to think about yourself” – and cites as an example King Richard, the recent biopic showing Richard Williams constantly telling his daughters Serena and Venus that they were destined to become the world’s best tennis players.

Can anyone become more confident or is it only attainable for certain individuals? He pauses for a few beats, chewing over his words. “I think it’s quite possible for anyone to develop a greater sense of certainty,” he says, eventually. “Some people might have to overcome more baggage from their past than others, but I’m quite a believer in that kind of human potential.”

In any event, there’s no such thing as “a confident person”; it’s more that you’re confident in a particular skill or situation (and even within a skill, you’ll feel better about some things than others). Case in point: Eli Manning. The former NFL superstar, who twice led the New York Giants to Super Bowl triumphs, “was very confident in his ability to throw certain balls and reach certain defences, but he did not like to stand up and talk in front of a crowd,” says Zinsser. “I’m convinced that’s the case for all of us: I don’t think there’s anybody who’s confident across the board.”

“Have you ever produced good work in suboptimal conditions?” asks Zinsser rhetorically. We’re back to helping me forge a bulletproof writing mindset. “I would think so,” he continues, “otherwise, you wouldn’t be in the job you’re in. So what you need to be reinforcing, a story that you need to tell yourself about yourself, is: ‘I work well, despite distractions. I work well, in almost any condition. My editor can count on me to deliver quality work, even when things are chaotic around me.’”

This rather simple reframing of how I view myself feels pretty significant. And I put it into immediate practice: in a meta situation, I’m writing this article from a cramped plane seat en route to Australia, a series of pre-flight texts from my editor demanding reassurance that I will be able to deliver words by the deadline still warming my phone. With each blood-curdling wail from a baby in a nearby bassinet, I repeat my new mantra about myself with an increasingly feverish vigour.

Yet there’s much more to be done. Zinsser likens confidence to a mental “bank account” that we must constantly top up with valuable deposits. That includes mining our memories for instances of when we have done things well. After each training session, or day at work, we should devote about five minutes to reflecting on things we have accomplished and committing them to our “internal hard drive”. No victory is too small for inclusion. (He also notes that it’s worth spending time looking ahead and envisioning, in realistic HD-film quality, the dreams you most desire.)

This can apply to whatever knee-knocking situation is keeping you up. Plagued with impostor-syndrome thoughts of not being qualified to do your job? “I’d tell you to give me the whole of your résumé,” says Zinsser. “We’re so good at overlooking the skills that we have cultivated, the effort that we have put in to develop ourselves to the point where we are indeed employable and competent. Look for some of the reasons that you are indeed the genuine person for the job.”

His book contains countless tactics for keeping that bank account fat by recasting how you think about your missteps. Some are sourced from Martin Seligman, the father of “positive psychology”. These acknowledge that you will have negative thoughts and will make mistakes, but you can effectively see them off by viewing them as “temporary (“It’s just this one time”), limited (“It’s just in this one place”) and non-representative (“that’s not the truth about me”).

There are physical techniques, too: keeping your shoulders slightly back and eyes straight ahead will improve your posture, while focusing on breathing during a performance can be a powerful way to bring a feeling of control and yank you into the present moment. (Note that none of these require you to obnoxiously strut about like The Wolf of Wall Street.)

The most extreme example of selective thinking, the “shooter’s mentality” pursued by Golden State Warriors basketballer Stephen Curry, involves treating missed shots as temporary and as an omen that you’re about to experience a return to fortune (“I’m bound to make the next one”), while viewing successes as permanent (“Now I’m on a roll”).

One nagging thought I had while reading these passages: building confidence often requires you to ignore logic. This took me back to the late 2000s when, as a tennis-obsessed teen who travelled around Australia competing in tournaments, my on-court confidence was fragile at best. If my warmup went badly, I was convinced the whole match would be a disaster.

And I couldn’t get my head into the game if I had assessed, pre-encounter, that my opponent was better than me – smoother technique, bigger shots, flashy overseas academy training. In those instances, I was defeated before the match started. As often happens when we enter a situation devoid of confidence, it became a self-fulling prophecy.

If someone had told me about the shooter’s mentality, which Zinsser calls a “thermonuclear psychological weapon”, I would’ve said: “Great, but how am I actually meant to believe these things?” To cast aside all reason and buy into a fantasyland where errors lead to success and success also leads to success?

If I’m being honest it sounds slightly delusional, I tell Zinsser now.

It is, he replies. But the way to wholeheartedly believe in it is to practice it, repeating these mantras, memories and mental tricks until the story they tell becomes “your dominant way of thinking about yourself in that context”, he says. “It’s got to become your dominant habit of thinking about yourself – just like you brush your teeth every morning and night – if you want it to materialize in a challenging atmosphere.

You can’t just turn it on. It has to be already in you.” He can’t say how long this could take: for some clients it’s happened after only a few sessions, while for others it has taken six months of conscientious observance before it became endemic to their thinking.

In case confidence wasn’t slippery enough, once you have gained it, the struggle continues. “We’re all imperfect beings and, no matter how many times you practise that second serve, occasionally you’re going to mess it up,” says Zinsser. Confidence is more delicate than a handblown vase. Acquiring some of it “doesn’t mean you’re going to have it for ever. It can easily be knocked down. You’re going to have to wake up again tomorrow and rebuild it.”

Talk of confidence has been around for as long as humans have been going into battle. Zinsser’s book opens with a quote from the legendary Chinese general Sun Tzu who, in his fifth-century BC treatise The Art of War, declared: “Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.”

Yet now, perhaps more than ever, individuals need to embrace self-assured thinking. Modern society is, at best, “very ambivalent” about confidence and is not about to puff us up, says Zinsser. Growing up, we’re taught that a soupçon of it is good; any more and we risk becoming smug or arrogant and therefore unlikable. Zinsser believes the biggest hurdle to striving for greater confidence is “the misguided impression that if I become certain about myself, I will somehow become lazy and complacent and I will lose my fire and motivation to improve,” he says. “Boy, is that a big misconception.”

As part of our education and socialisation, we’re taught to focus on fixing imperfections and mistakes, marking every facet of our lives with red pens. “There is a curious tendency in our modern world to over-identify with our shortcomings and even define ourselves by our mistakes, presumed limitations, and all the things we can’t yet do,” writes Zinsser. While he admits that there’s a time for being a harsh critic, “there’s also just as much value in being one’s best friend”.

Social media hasn’t helped the cause. “The 24/7, nonstop barrage of messages are always putting these somewhat false images in front of us: ‘Look at me, at this place, enjoying this wonderful day and this fabulous drink,” he says. “It tends to make us think, ‘Well, gee, I’m not in a beautiful location with a beautiful someone enjoying a beautiful drink. What’s wrong with me?’”

Are we less confident than previous generations? There’s another long, reflective pause from Zinsser. In the 1950s and 1960s, he says, “There was a whole generation or two of folks who really grew up believing, ‘Things can be better, I can have a great life, I can succeed. Today, with the generation that’s grown up online, I’m not sure there’s the same general level of optimism,” he says. “My sense is that maybe we’re not quite as confident and optimistic now.”

All the more reason to get to work on that movie about your life in which you’re the charming protagonist who completes everything – real feats from your past and wishlist goals alike – at a remarkable level. It takes dedication to stream this flick in your mind each night, sure, but it makes all that other hard work you’ve done – the backhand drills, the weekend reading, the university degrees, the blood and sweat – worthwhile by putting your head in the game come crunch time.

Zinsser calls it the cherry on top. “It’s the decision to say: ‘I’ve done the work. I know what I know. I’m going to deliver now. I am enough.’”

The Confident Mind: A Battle-Tested Guide to Unshakable Performance by Dr Nate Zinsser is published on 27 January by Cornerstone Press at £14.99. Buy it for £13.04 at guardianbookshop.com

By: Jamie Waters

Source: How to learn the trick of confidence | Health & wellbeing | The Guardian

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An Omicron Surges Spark Chain Reactions That Strain US Hospitals Everywhere

America’s hospitals and their workforces have reached and exceeded their breaking points in the last two years — and another surge of Covid-19 is already underway.

Earlier this month, with a new wave of Covid-19 cases looking likely after the omicron variant was identified, Rhode Island emergency doctors wrote their state leaders to warn that any new surge of patients would “lead to collapse of the state health care system.” In Kansas, patients in rural hospitals have been stuck in the ER for days while they wait for a transfer to a larger hospital with the capacity and resources to care for them.

With the fast-spreading omicron variant now upon us, some of the rhetoric around the pandemic has changed. Government officials, starting with President Joe Biden, are pointedly differentiating between the risks for vaccinated and unvaccinated people. This could create the perception that some places face more of a risk than others: Perhaps omicron will threaten rural communities (where vaccination rates are lowest) and their health systems, but perhaps more vaccinated cities and their hospitals will be better off.

Such thinking would be misguided. As convoluted and sometimes siloed as the US health system may seem at times, it is still a system. Patients transfer between facilities based on capacity or clinical need. If rural hospitals are shipping seriously ill patients to their urban neighbors, which already tend to run close to capacity even in normal times, a rural Covid-19 crisis could quickly become a crisis for everybody.

One hospital being overwhelmed isn’t a one-hospital problem, it’s an every-hospital problem. Even if your community is not awash with Covid-19 or if most people are vaccinated, a major outbreak in your broader region, plus all the other patients hospitals are treating in normal times, could easily fill your hospital, too. That makes it harder for the health system to treat you if you come to the ER with heart attack symptoms or appendicitis or any acute medical emergency.

Already, because of existing staffing shortages, rural hospitals are finding it difficult to find room for their patients at larger hospital systems. With omicron spreading rapidly, increasing the number of patients seeking care while sidelining health workers who have to quarantine, systemic overload may not be far off.

“When you have a Covid patient who needs ICU care, those hospitals are turning away patients,” Carrie Saia, CEO of Holton Community Hospital, located in a town of 3,000 people about 90 minutes east of the Kansas City metropolitan area, told me earlier this month. “We’re sending our patients farther away. Not because they’re full, they’re just out of staff.”

At earlier points in the crisis, large hospitals would limit transfers from smaller facilities in order to preserve their capacity to treat the most seriously ill patients. As a new wave driven by the omicron variant takes off, that could happen again.

As Karen Joynt Maddox, a practicing cardiologist and associate professor of medicine at Washington University in St. Louis, told me in August: “During Covid surges, we were told to limit transfers only to patients who had needs that could not be met at their current hospital (i.e. decline transfers because the family requested it, but equal services available at both places) because that was the only way we could make sure that we did have the ability to accept patients that only we (or another major referral center) could handle.”

The feedback loop works in reverse as well. Recently, the HCA hospital in Conroe, Texas, about 40 miles north of Houston, was dealing with such a staffing shortage in its emergency department that the facility temporarily asked ambulances to bypass it because the ED couldn’t handle any more patients, according to a spokesperson. Suddenly, hospitals in the heart of Houston were seeing an unexpected surge of patients who needed emergency care, causing long wait times at their facilities.

America’s hospitals are all in this together. So what can we do quickly to relieve the burden for all of our hospitals and prevent unnecessary deaths?

How we can all help hospitals handle a surge in omicron patients

Last week, the Biden White House detailed a new plan for helping hospitals handle the coming surge of Covid-19 patients. They are deploying emergency medical personnel to six states: Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Arizona, New Hampshire, and Vermont. They are also planning to deploy another 1,000 military doctors and nurses in January and February, as well as ordering FEMA to work with states to add hospital beds. The White House also said it had 100,000 ventilators in the federal stockpile that could be deployed as needed.

Those policies could certainly help to alleviate the pressure on hospitals in places facing particularly acute crises. But the truth is, they can only do so much. US hospitals cannot suddenly grow the staff and physical capacity to handle another enormous surge of Covid-19 patients.

Infected medical workers add to the strain on hospitals. Hospitals have seen a spike in nurses and doctors testing positive; by late December, the El Centro Regional Medical Center, about two hours east of San Diego near the US-Mexico border, was seeing 5 to 10 percent of its staff either infected or being tested for exposure at any given time, according to CEO Adolphe Edward. Other hospitals have told me they are also seeing a growing number of workers test positive, which requires them to stop working and isolate.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently revised its isolation protocols for health care workers who test positive for Covid-19, shortening the standard isolation period from 10 days to 7 (if accompanied by a negative test). But that still takes doctors and nurses out of commission for several days if they contract the virus. (On Monday, the CDC released new guidelines for the general public stating that those who test positive can stop isolating after five days if they do not have symptoms.)

“You can send all the ventilators you want,” Roberta Schwartz, executive vice president at Houston Methodist Hospital, told me. “I have no one to staff them.”

Nearly 99 percent of rural hospitals said in a survey released in November they were experiencing a staffing shortage; 96 percent of them said they were having the most difficulty finding nurses. According to a September study commissioned by the American Hospital Association, the average cost of labor expenses for each discharged patient has grown by 14 percent in 2021 — even as the number of full-time employees has dropped by 4 percent.

“The only things I can think of could not be accomplished in two weeks,” Peter Viccellio, associate chief medical officer at Stony Brook University Hospital in New York, said. “We have a severe staffing shortage everywhere, and it’s not going to go away. It existed before Covid, and Covid just exacerbated it.”

Some policy changes — smoothing schedules that better distribute surgeries (and therefore patient volume) throughout the day or week, earlier discharges or more weekend discharges — could help. “But this won’t happen without a mandate,” Viccellio said.

“We won’t prevent future catastrophes because of a very simple reason. It requires that we think of the future and plan for it,” he added. “You can see how that’s working out. We can’t frigging plan for one month from now.”

More money from the federal government could also allow hospitals to beef up their staffing, said Beth Feldpush, senior vice president of policy and advocacy at America’s Essential Hospitals, which represents critical access facilities. But all of these policies targeted directly to hospitals may only help at the margins. The American health system’s capacity is what it is — the time to act was long ago. Instead, the US health care system is behind many of its wealthy peers in the number of practicing medical staff in its hospitals.

So the quickest and surest action to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed is actually to prevent people from needing to go to the hospital with Covid-19 in the first place, hospital leaders said. Get vaccinated — with three doses. Wear masks indoors in public places. Test before you see people who don’t live in your house.

Following the pandemic playbook can make a difference for hospitals bracing for another grim winter in this pandemic.

“The more we can help keep the public protected, the more we can keep our workers here,” Schwartz said, “and lessen the burden of this.”

Dylan Scott

I grew up in Ohio, lived in Las Vegas for a year and moved to Washington in 2011. I cover health care and other domestic policy. You’ll probably see me tweeting about Cleveland sports or the last movie I watched.

Source: An omicron Covid-19 surge anywhere can strain US hospitals everywhere

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