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M. Jackson Group Update – February 2021 – The “Learning Styles” Myth

A collection of postings on a range of issues is available on our website (  This month’s post is again from Ken Pope’s listserv, where he kindly provides daily summaries of current articles in the field. 

Research Digest includes an article: “The “Learning Styles” Myth Is Still Prevalent Among Educators — And It Shows No Sign of Going Away” by Emily Reynold.

Here are some excerpts:

[begin excerpts]

The idea that people learn better when taught in a way that matches their specific “learning style” — auditory, kinesthetic, visual or some combination of the three — is widely considered a myth. 

Research has variously suggested that learners don’t actually benefit from their preferred style, that teachers and pupils have different ideas about what learning styles actually work for them, and that we have very little insight into how much we’re actually learning from various methods.

Despite this evidence, a large proportion of people — including the general public, educators and even those with a background in neuroscience — still believe in the myth. And a new review, published in Frontiers in Education, finds no signs of that changing.

The team looked at articles that focused on belief in learning styles published between 2009 and April 2020. Articles with participant groups that were not made up of educators or trainee educators were excluded from analysis, as were surveys that focused not on whether learning styles actually existed but on other opinions — whether they explain differences in achievement, for example. Data from over 15,000 educators were included in the analysis.Overall, 89.1% of participants believed that people learn better when instruction is matched to their learning styles. A total of 95.4% of trainee educators believed in learning styles — slightly higher than the 87.8% of qualified educators who showed similar beliefs. 

And despite more widespread debunking of the myth, both in academic publishing and the mainstream media, there was no significant decrease in belief in studies conducted more recently.

This had a real impact on how teachers worked: in the seven studies that measured use or planned use of learning style-matched teaching, 79.7% of educators said they used or intended to use matched teaching methods. 
Interventions designed to disavow educators of their belief in learning styles did seem to make some difference, however — in the four studies that utilised training for these purposes, belief decreased significantly, from 78.4% to 37.1%.

The myth of learning styles, it seems, is as pervasive as ever. 

Future research could also look at the consequences of learning style-matched teaching — does it actually matter if the myth is perpetuated, and does it have a serious impact on how people learn? 

Studying how training can educate teachers on the learning style myth could also help us understand how it spreads and why it sticks — and might help students get the most out of education at the same time.

[end excerpts]

Ken Pope

Pope & Vasquez: Ethics in Psychotherapy & Counseling: A Practical Guide, 5th Edition

Pope: Anti-Racism & Racism in Psychology as a Science, Discipline, & Profession: 57 Articles & Books (Citations + Summaries)
Pope: A Human Rights & Ethics Crisis Facing the World’s Largest Organization of Psychologists

“Still, a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”—”The Boxer” (1968), words and music by Paul Simon

M. Jackson Group Update – January 2021 – The Experience of Mental Health Problems

A collection of postings on a range of issues is available on our website (  This month’s post is from the British Psychological Society. 

FEATUREMENTAL HEALTHQUALITATIVEOctober 9, 2015What is it like to experience mental health problems?

We’ve rounded up some of the research we’ve covered over the years that’s explored what it’s like to live with mental health problems, from obsessive compulsive disorder to hearing voices. Psychologists call these kind of studies “qualitative research”, where the aim is not to put a score against particular symptoms, but to discover the first-hand perspective and experience of the people who take part, based on their own words. Such studies are often distressing to read, but their insights make a vital contribution to our understanding of the human condition.

Depression feels like a kind of emptiness

A recurring theme from interviews with seven people diagnosed with depression was their sense of depletion and emptiness, both bodily and in thinking about the past and future. “It’s like something’s gone inside me and swept my happiness away,” said one participant. “I feel like sometimes my life is on hold,” said another. Isolation was another key theme, as captured by this man’s description: “You get into a state I think mentally where, you’re just like out on an island … You can see from that island another shore and all these people are there, but there’s no way that you can get across [ ] or there is no way that you want to get across.” Writing in 2014, the researchers Jonathan Smith and John Rhodes said it was clear that all the interviewees had in common that they felt alone, empty and that they had no future.

Selective mutism does not feel like a choice
People with selective mutism can’t speak in certain situations even though there is nothing physically wrong with their vocal chords and they don’t have brain damage. Four people diagnosed with the condition were interviewed via Skype’s instant messenger interface. Their descriptions challenged the traditional idea that selective mutism is a choice. “It isn’t me,” said one participant. “I know who I am and I’m not shy or quiet, maybe that makes it harder. When I’m with my parents I can be myself but around everyone else it’s like it [selective mutism] takes over. I can get the words in my head but something won’t let me say them and the harder I try the more of a failure I feel like when I can’t.” The interviewees also revealed how the condition became self-fulfilling as people came to expect them to stay silent. And they talked about the extreme loneliness they experienced. “It’s like that scene from Scrooge where he looks through the window and he can see people having fun being together,” said one interviewee. “I’ll always be stuck outside looking in.”

To be a refugee with psychosis is to feel there is no future
The first-hand experience of refugees with symptoms of psychosis was documented for the first time in a heart-wrenching study published this year. Based on interviews with seven African refugees or asylum seekers, the researchers identified six main themes: bleak agitated immobility; trauma-related voices and visions (mostly the sounds or sights of lost relatives or attackers from the past); fear and mistrust; a sense of a broken self; the pain of losing everything; and the attraction of death. The last theme was captured by the words of 26-year-old Sando: “The worst part,” he said, “is I keep harming myself, … and you know knocking my head to the wall, kinda too much stuff in there, you know, I just want to open my head and finish with this.”

Some people have a love-hate relationship with their OCD
Based on their hour-long interviews with nine people diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, the researchers Helen Murphy and Ramesh Perera-Delcourt identified three main themes: “wanting to be normal and fit in”; “failing at life”; and “loving and hating OCD.” The first two themes were often related to the painful situations provoked by the interviewees’ compulsions. One man who house-shared described how he had to scrub the entire bathroom with powerful cleaning product for an hour every day before he could use it. But at the same time, the interviewees explained how they actually feared losing the crutch that the condition provides. “I wish I could do that [stop checking], I wish I could stop,” one man said, adding: “Well, not totally.”

Being labelled as “schizophrenic” feels hugely stigmatising but also unlocks much-needed treatment
In a 2014 study, seven patients diagnosed with schizophrenia described their dilemma: they needed the diagnosis to access treatment, but had also feared and avoided the label because of the stigma associated with it. The interviewees said they tried to hide their diagnosis from people, and they noted how mental health professionals used alternative words like “psychosis” as if aware of the stigma of schizophrenia. “People are always afraid of saying that word to me,” said said one woman, “… because it is a dirty word.” The interviewees also described the chasm between their clinician’s view of the illness as biological (a “chemical imbalance”) and the perspectives of other people in their lives. “My mother … all she said was ‘I told you, it’s because you’re psychic …,” said another interviewee. The researchers said more needs to be done to overcome delays in treatment caused by ill people’s fearful avoidance of a diagnosis.

For many people who self-harm, seeing their own blood makes them feel calm
Among 64 people who self-harm, recruited from a mass screening of 1,100 new psychology students, just over half said that the sight of their own blood was important to them. The most common explanation the students gave was that seeing their blood made them feel calm. Other explanations were that it “makes me feel real” and shows that “I did it right/deep enough”. Those students who highlighted the importance of seeing their blood tended to cut themselves more often than those who didn’t (a median of 30 times compared with 4 times) and they were more likely to say they self-harmed as a way of regulating their own emotions. Another study from 2013 asked self-harming teenagers to carry a digital device for two weeks, in which to record their motives for self-harming as they occurred. Just over half the sample reported self-harming to achieve a particular sensation, the most common being “satisfaction”, followed by “stimulation” and “pain”.

Anorexia starts out feeling like a solution but then takes over
“Anorexia became a friend,” said Natalie, one of 14 people recovering from anorexia who were interviewed as part of a study published in 2011. “When I was alone … I knew that at least I had A.” Eventually though, for Natalie and the others, anorexia became overpowering, almost like a separate entity which they had to fight against for control of their own mind. As Jon, another interviewee, put it: “It’s like there are two people in my head: the part that knows what needs to be done and the part of me that is trying to lead me astray. Ana [his nickname for anorexia] is the part that is leading me astray and dominates me.”

For some people, mirrors are addictive and imprisoning 
A diagnosis of Body Dysmorphic Disorder is made when someone has a disabling and distressing preoccupation with what they see as their perceived physical flaw or flaws. In upsetting interviews that were published this year, 11 people diagnosed with the condition described their complicated, troubling relationship with mirrors. One woman said she’d once stared into a mirror for 11 hours straight, searching for a perspective where she felt good enough about herself to be able to go out. Another interviewee, Jane, described mirrors as “f*cking bastards” and mirror gazing as a “form of self-harm”. The interviewees also described what they perceived as the ugliness of the person staring back at them. “I look like a monster,” said Hannah. Jenny said she is “truly hideous” and “repulsive”. Lucy said: “Everyone else, everyone is beautiful. I just feel that I am that one ugly person.”

People’s experiences of hearing voices vary hugely 
Last year, researchers analysed seven previous studies that had explored people’s first-hand experiences of hearing voices. Taken together, the most striking finding was that to hear voices that aren’t there is not a homogenous condition. While most people described attributing an identity to the voices, they differed in whether they saw the voices as separate from their own thoughts or not, and in whether they felt in control of the voices. Those who subscribed to a biomedical account, believing that their voices were caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, tended to feel less in control of their voices. Similarly, heard voices could interfere with social relationships, for example by making critical comments about friends or family. But voices could also play a beneficial role by reducing loneliness. “I have not got many friends … so the only thing I can stay very close to are the voices and I do stay very close to them,” said one interviewee.

Positive change is a gradual process that is realised suddenly
As well as asking people about their experiences of mental illness, psychologists also research what the process of recovery feels like. In 2007, researchers interviewed 18 women and 9 men diagnosed with conditions like depression and anxiety about their experiences of positive change during Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. “It was gradual but the realisation was sudden,” one interviewee said. Many of the participants could remember the exact moment: “I could actually hear it,” one said. Other themes in the clients’ descriptions of how change happened were: motivation and readiness (“I was desperate to get back to my old self”); tools and strategies (“It’s the changes in behaviour that I learned”); learning (“I would take a lot of stuff home to read about assertiveness”); interaction with the therapist (“…they don’t judge your character or think they know you”); changes to self-perception (“I am a strong person mentally”); and the relief of talking (“Let me get everything out, let me relieve myself of everything”).

further reading
What is mental illness?
World Mental Health Day 2015

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

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M. Jackson Group Update – December 2020 – Psychiatrist as Patient

A collection of postings on a range of issues is available on our website (  This month’s post is again from Ken Pope’s listserv, where he kindly provides daily summaries of current articles in the field. 

It is perhaps revealing that I went looking for something that might be kind of “nice” for the holidays and this is the closest I could find in my collection. I could not face posting another list of coping hints, although those certainly have a role. Please just don’t try this at home.

Psychiatric Services has scheduled an article for publication in a future issue: “My Benefits From Electroconvulsive Therapy—What a Psychiatrist Learned by Being a Patient.”
The author is Rebecca E. Barchas, MD.
Here are some excerpts:
[begin excerpts]

I always thought of myself as a good psychiatrist, actually a very good psychiatrist. I saw much improvement in almost all of my patients and could control each person’s symptoms with psychopharmacological medications and with psychotherapy, which I loved to do. I never had to refer more than about 1% of my large patient population to hospitals, even though some of my patients were very ill. I could maintain treatment on an outpatient basis, and, in my 34 years of private practice, I never had a patient commit suicide. 

Now I am 71 years old and have been retired 8 years. Yet I realize now that despite having been a board-certified psychiatrist and a Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, I was ignorant about something very important—the full range of patients who could receive the broad spectrum of benefits from electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). 

I rarely referred patients for ECT and always thought of it as a last resort. I was not sufficiently knowledgeable of the benefits of ECT until I myself was the beneficiary.

My husband died in the fall of 2019 after struggling for 9 years with progressive mental and physical decline from Parkinson’s disease. 
During those last 2–3 years, I developed symptoms of clinical depression, which became quite severe and were disturbing to both of us. I never felt suicidal, but I became extremely indecisive and lost my joie de vivre, my ability to experience pleasure, and my motivation; most important, I lost my resilience. Everything took such effort. 

I tried three antidepressants, but I could not tolerate their adverse effects and quit them before they could have conferred any benefit. I felt very discouraged and disheartened, especially when my primary care physician told me that my psychiatric symptoms were above and beyond his level of knowledge or training and that he did not have a clue how to help me. It made me feel that something was terribly wrong with me. 

Despite good insights from psychotherapy, I knew deep inside that my depression was not really getting better, but finally it improved for a few months. Nonetheless, my symptoms returned and got progressively worse during the last few months of my husband’s life. 

This time, no matter how good the insights were from psychotherapy, my depression only went downhill, especially after my husband’s death, and my cognition became so adversely affected that I developed irrational thoughts.

One of my sisters-in-law did some research and finally learned that Sheppard Pratt Hospital in Baltimore had one of the finest psychiatric units in the country. When she and my brother flew across the country to drive me to Baltimore to be admitted, I offered no resistance.

I was assigned to a wonderful psychiatrist who, after a thorough initial evaluation, recommended I get ECT. I was indignant at his suggestion because none of the five doctors I had previously consulted who knew that I was depressed had ever suggested I needed ECT. And I certainly was too impaired myself to recognize that I needed ECT. 

I was scared by the suggestion because I knew very little about the treatment, despite my training and despite my many continuing medical education courses in which ECT would inevitably be mentioned but never emphasized. I had thought it should be reserved just for the absolute sickest of the sick—which I did not consider myself to be. But my psychiatrist said in a very reassuring voice that it would certainly turn my symptoms around faster than anything else and that I needed to trust him because he would not have recommended it if he did not genuinely believe it would help me. Finally, after many days of resistance, I signed the consent form to undergo ECT.

It took only three ECT treatments to totally turn around my depression and to stop whatever irrational thoughts had developed.

I was more sensitive to the ECT treatment, resulting in seizures induced by the treatment that were longer than the seizure lengths typically achieved with ECT. This greater sensitivity had the advantage of making each treatment maximally effective in improving my mood but had the disadvantage of causing more post-ECT disorientation (i.e., when asked where I was, I would say “Tucson” instead of Baltimore).

But my orientation improved each day, and the confusion finally disappeared completely. I have no memory of the actual ECT treatment because a general anesthetic and a short-acting benzodiazepine had suppressed any memories during the treatment. I never felt the seizure and had no later discomfort from it.

On awakening from the general anesthetic, I was wheeled back to the psychiatric unit, whereupon I could eat a meal that had been delayed until after the treatment because of the general anesthesia.

Once my symptoms of clinical depression disappeared, which they did very rapidly, I could take pleasure in life, regaining my joie de vivre, my high level of motivation, and my ability to make decisions, and I once again had my resilience back. I no longer felt overwhelmed and could accomplish whatever I needed to do. What a difference a change in brain chemistry made!

The positive experience made me think that maybe I could do some good by writing this article and by recognizing that perhaps ECT is underutilized and should be considered more frequently as a treatment option than it usually is. After all, I now reap only the benefits of ECT and have no adverse effects at all. And for that I am very fortunate, because I had the best possible outcome. I realize that for too many people—for both patients who might be candidates for ECT and the doctors treating them—ignorance about the benefits of ECT and a persistent stigma may cause them to oppose the treatment. Even doctors who do not themselves “do ECT” or are not psychiatrists should have at least some basic understanding of the procedure and the types of patients who could benefit. When such a patient presents in their practice, they would then know to refer him or her to a more qualified specialist for evaluation for ECT. The patient will need a thorough discussion with the specialist so that the patient can gain a genuine understanding of both the benefits and risks of ECT and can be a partner with the physician in a shared decision-making process to decide on what might be the optimal treatment. Whenever a procedure is less mysterious, it is more acceptable. Mostly, stigma about any disease or any treatment occurs out of ignorance. For any of us, accurate knowledge and dialogue are essential in replacing the obstacles of fear and stigma. Even I, a doctor, desperately needed that thorough dialogue when I was in the role of being the patient. It enabled me, after several days of deliberation, to finally be willing to consent to ECT, a procedure that truly gave me my life back!

I would like to add that even when a doctor might feel a wall of resistance in discussions with a patient highly ambivalent about any treatment option, including ECT, the patient might become more understanding and accepting over time. With each day of more discussion, of more information being absorbed, and of more seeds being planted in the patient’s mind, arguments that might have been flatly rejected initially might become more understandable and acceptable to the patient several days later. I was given supplemental articles that were helpful for me to read and reach a decision. Some excellent websites educate patients about ECT, including

Because everything we learn helps to refine questions we can ask our treating physicians, we as patients become more empowered by this learning process to make the right decisions for ourselves.
[end excerpts]
TO OBTAIN A COPY OF THE ARTICLE: Contact info for reprint requests and questions or other correspondence about this article:
Ken Pope

Pope & Vasquez: Ethics in Psychotherapy & Counseling: A Practical Guide, 5th Edition

Pope: Anti-Racism & Racism in Psychology as a Science, Discipline, & Profession: 57 Articles & Books (Citations + Summaries)
Pope: A Human Rights & Ethics Crisis Facing the World’s Largest Organization of Psychologists
“Confidence, like art, never comes from having all the answers; it comes from being open to all the questions.”—E. G. Stevens

M. Jackson Group Update – November 2020 – Stress Relief Tips

A collection of postings on a range of issues is available on our website (  This month’s post is again from Ken Pope’s listserv, where he kindly provides daily summaries of current articles in the field. 

The following is just in time for the US election, but gives a number of tips that are generally good for dealing with overwhelm.  His post is as follows:
The New York Times includes an article: “Stress Relief Tips to Relieve Election Anxiety” by Tara Parker-Pope.

Here are some excerpts:

[begin excerpts]
In a year of unprecedented stress, the nation collectively appears to be heading toward peak anxiety this week. People are sharing stories of stress eating, clearing their calendars (who could sit through a Zoom meeting during a time like this?) and threatening to stay in bed for a week.


“We’ve had this unending momentum of a steady stream of stuff just going wrong since the beginning of March,” said the Rev. angel Kyodo williams, a meditation teacher and author of the book “Radical Dharma.” “The groundlessness that people feel is not really something the human body was meant to sustain over long periods of time.”

While there’s nothing you can do to speed election results or a coronavirus vaccine, you do have the power to take care of yourself. Neuroscientists, psychologists and meditation experts offered advice about the big and small things you can do to calm down. Here are 10 things you can try to release anxiety, gain perspective and gird yourself for whatever comes next.

Interrupt yourself

As you feel your anxiety level rising, try to practice “self interruption.” Go for a walk. Call a friend. Run an errand. Just move your body and become aware of your breathing.
“Interrupt yourself so you can shift your state,” said Ms. Williams. “Get your attention on something else. Focus on something that is beautiful. Get up. Move your body and really shift your position. I think people really need to move away from wherever it is they are and break the momentum.”

Focus on your feet

When you feel your stress level rising, try this quick calming exercise from Dr. Judson A. Brewer, director of research and innovation at the Mindfulness Center at Brown University:Take a moment to focus on your feet. You can do this standing or sitting, with your feet on the ground. How do they feel? Are they warm or cold? Are they tingly? Moist or dry? Wiggle your toes. Feel the soles of your feet. Feel your heels connecting with your shoes and the ground beneath you.“It’s a different way to ground yourself,” said Dr. Brewer. “Anxiety tends to be in your chest and throat. Your feet are as peripheral as you get from your anxiety zones.”

Move for 3 minutes

It just takes a short burst of exercise — three minutes to be exact — to improve your mood, said Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University whose latest book is “The Joy of Movement.” Do jumping jacks. Stand and box. Do wall push-ups. Dance.
“If you give me three minutes, it works, as long as you’re moving your body in ways that feel good to you,” said Dr. McGonigal, who suggests picking an inspiring song to get you moving. 

Tackle a home project

Get rid of clutter, make a scrapbook, get a new comforter, hang artwork.
“It’s not frivolous to do something like declutter, organize or look around your space and think about how to make it a supportive place for you or anyone else you live with. It’s one of the ways we imagine a positive future,” said Dr. McGonigal, whose TedTalk on stress has been viewed nearly 24 million times. 

Try five-finger breathing

This simple practice is easy to remember and is often taught to children to help them calm themselves in times of high stress. (I tried this the other day in the dentist chair, and it helped a lot!) Dr. Brewer has created a video explaining the technique, which works by engaging multiple senses at the same time and crowding out those worrying thoughts.Step 1. Hold your hand in front of you, fingers spread.Step 2. Using your index finger on the opposite hand, start tracing the outline of your extended hand, starting at the wrist, moving up the pinkie finger.Step 3. As you trace up your pinkie, breathe in. As you trace down your pinkie, breathe out. Trace up your ring finger and breathe in. Trace down your ring finger and breathe out.Step 4. Continue finger by finger until you’ve traced your entire hand. Now reverse the process and trace from your thumb back to your pinkie, making sure to inhale as you trace up, and exhale as you trace down.

Connect with nature

Spend time outside. Watch birds. Wander amid the trees. Take a fresh look at the vistas and objects around you during an “awe walk.” 
Recent research shows that consciously taking in the wonders of nature amplifies the mental health benefits of walking.
Numerous studies support the notion that spending time in nature and walking on quiet, tree-lined paths can result in meaningful improvements to mental health, and even physical changes to the brain. Nature walkers have “quieter” brains: scans show less blood flow to the part of the brain associated with rumination. 
Some research shows that even looking at pictures of nature can improve your mood. 

Rediscover your diaphragm

Many of us are vertical breathers: When we breathe, our shoulders rise and fall, and we’re not engaging our diaphragm. To better relax, learn to be a horizontal breather. Inhale and push your belly out, which means you’re using your diaphragm. Exhale and your middle relaxes.

Enjoy distractions

Give your mind a break by watching this cat comfort a nervous dog, or check out the jellyfish cam at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. You’ll find more fun diversions on our new interactive Election Distractor, including a digital stress ball, a virtual emotional support dog and Donald J. McNeil Jr., the Times’s infectious disease reporter, giving you optimistic news about the coronavirus vaccine.

Unleash the aromatics

Take a lavender foot bath, burn a scented candle or spritz the air with orange aromatherapy. It’s only a temporary reprieve, but it just might help get you through election night.
A study of 141 pregnant women found that rubbing or soaking feet with lavender cream significantly reduced anxiety, stress and depression. Another study of 200 dental patients found that orange or lavender aromatherapy helped them relax before treatment. Lavender baths lower cortisol levels in infants. Even antidepressants work better when combined with lavender therapy.
Why does aromatherapy, particularly lavender, appear to have a calming effect? Some research suggests that lavender reaches odor-sensitive neurons in the nose that send signals to the parts of the brain related to wakefulness and awareness.

Accept the present moment

Accepting the result of the election doesn’t mean giving up if things don’t go your way. In fact, you’ll be more effective at pursuing change if you accept the situation. “Our anxiety comes from the desire to have things be different,” said Ms. Williams. “There’s going to be the day after the election. And the day after that. We need to be present to what is, regardless of the outcome you want.”
Thinking about history and those who have faced seemingly insurmountable hardship in the past can help you gain perspective, accept current events and make plans to pursue change.
“My ancestors had to prepare themselves, over and over again, for moving toward a freedom that was nowhere in sight,” said Ms. Williams, referring to Black Americans. 
“We prepare for life as it unfolds, not our ideal image of it. That is, literally, the only path forward.”
[end excerpts]
Ken Pope

Pope & Vasquez: Ethics in Psychotherapy & Counseling: A Practical Guide, 5th Edition

Pope: Anti-Racism & Racism in Psychology as a Science, Discipline, & Profession: 57 Articles & Books (Citations + Summaries)
Pope: A Human Rights & Ethics Crisis Facing the World’s Largest Organization of Psychologists
Sometimes courage is the quiet voiceat the end of the day saying,“I will try again tomorrow.”—Mary Ann Radmacher

M. Jackson Group Update – October 2020 – 12 Tips for Happiness at Work

A collection of postings on a range of issues is available on our website (  This month’s post is again from Ken Pope’s listserv, where he kindly provides daily summaries of current articles in the field.  His post is as follows:

The following article is addressed to those in medicine but can be adapted to most of us in other fields.

MedPage Today includes an article: “How to Be the Two-Billionth Most Important Person Who Ever Live—Vinay Prasad’s 12 tips for perfect happiness in medicine” by Vinay Prasad, MD, MPH.

Here’s the author note: “Vinay Prasad, MD, MPH, is a hematologist-oncologist and associate professor of medicine at the University of California San Francisco, and author of Malignant: How Bad Policy and Evidence Harm People With Cancer.

Here are some excerpts:

[begin excerpts]

Work-life balance is elusive and everywhere. A Google search returns 1 billion results, but everyone complains they don’t have it. 


I wish to offer 12 theses on the thorny issue.

1. Your value as a person is not linked to your career. It sounds obvious, but it’s easy to mix up. While it is wonderful to take pride in your work, and medicine naturally begins to define your identity, your value is not wedded to your job. Promotions and accolades don’t make you a better partner, child, parent, or friend, and in the end, these matter most.

2. Things you don’t want to do matter less than you think. Whether you are a practicing physician, a research scientist, or a bit of both, there are undoubtedly things you do not want to do, but feel obliged to. Attending a kill-me-now meeting, or writing a review article for the Journal No One Reads. Often, a senior person in your department asked you to do something that makes you cringe, and you feel you can’t say no. The truth is you can. People will forget faster than you imagine because others do not think about you as much as you believe they do (the universal truth of life). Corollary: If you are the boss, don’t ask people to do painful things unless they are necessary. If you get asked to write a review article for a journal no one reads, just say no — don’t delegate it to an underling.

3. Extra money is rarely worth it.
There may, occasionally, be opportunities to make a little extra. Stay late or cover the weekend, and pick up a few extra bucks. A small honorarium to participate in a Saturday event. Money to take an extra overnight shift. These are almost never “worth it” in the long run. They rob you of downtime and the additional money is usually not enough to change anything about your life. You may pay back your loans 0.00001% faster, or have 0.00001% more in your bank account when you die.

4. It’s OK to make a career change. If you are deeply unhappy and frustrated at work, the right answer may be to do something else with your life. A busy private practice can burn you out, despite a nice paycheck. Academic life is full of politics and struggles, and the truth, which is the thing you are supposedly pursuing, may start to seem like an afterthought. It is OK to say: this isn’t for me. I am going to change. It is OK to quit — ideally in a blaze of glory — and do something else. 


5. Some places are no good and will never be good. There are warning signs to identify no-good places that will never be good. Most folks who work there are chronically unhappy or don’t have good things to say. There is a mass exodus, which I define as more than one-fourth of people in the institution having left in a year. Leaders brag about new hires, but are silent about losing existing staff. Good people — nationally known, externally successful people — leave, and are not enticed to stay. Bad leaders spend most of their time solidifying their position, and watch as Rome crumbles. Whenever I speak to a colleague of mine who left a “sinking ship,” there is always initial discomfort — it’s hard to relocate or start anew — but gradually there is elation, and folks wonder why they didn’t leave years before.

6. If it is truly important, they will email twice. Don’t get me wrong. I aspire to be polite and punctual and responsive by email, but the truth is, inevitably, we all fall short. Don’t beat yourself up. If it is really important, the sender will email twice. 


7. No need to answer emails after hours. A new law in France guarantees the right to not be obliged to respond to work after hours. Americans love to mock European attitudes favoring short work weeks and long vacations, but perhaps we could learn from their deliberate attempts to ensure life is full of joy and pleasure.

8. Most advances will happen without you. It is hard to hear the bitter truth that 99.99999% of us are replaceable at work, but none of us are replaceable at home. Even those of us who work on cutting-edge discoveries (or delude ourselves that we do) would do well to note that most advances in science are forced moves. It is likely in a 10- or 5- or 2-year period of time that someone working in the field will make the discovery. You, i.e., the flesh and blood that comprises your body, is rarely necessary for even Nobel Prize-winning discoveries. If you went to happy hour every Friday at 4 p.m., the discovery would still happen, probably at nearly the same time, and most likely it won’t win the Nobel.

9. If you achieve everything you want you will be the 2,245,234,235th most important person who lived; if you fail at everything you will be the 2,245,234,236th most important. Sometimes, it is valuable to view the world from the vantage of all of human history. There are few great people, whom I define as those who changed the course of civilization, for better or worse. 


10. Don’t compare yourself to your peers. No one took your opportunity. Recently, I was speaking to a college-bound senior. He lamented that he did not get into his top-rank school, and noted that a classmate was selected. “He took my spot,” he mused. I think his statement is both technically inaccurate, and practically unhelpful. It’s technically inaccurate in the sense that college admissions is a national process, and schools are not saving a spot for any particular high school, where one student’s admission directly pushes out a classmate. Instead, the competition is national. The comment is practically unhelpful because time spent thinking of yourself as a victim is time that could be used for productively living your life.

11. When you love what you do, it isn’t work. The opposite of being willing to decline some things you don’t want to do is to acknowledge the sheer pleasure it is to be paid to do some of the things that you do. In the course of human civilization, it is a rare pleasure to wed doing something that you might otherwise do anyway with earning a living for doing it. Thinking about this, and trying to maximize it in your life, may help achieve the elusive balance.

12. Spend less time wanting to be known, and more time having something to say. The Moby Dick of academic medicine is wanting to be known — to be praised, invited, and respected. Folks go to great lengths to achieve this, including the popular technique of obsequious flattery.


Improve yourself internally. Figure out what you have to say. What you believe in. Read more, talk less. If and when you have something to say, say it, and if it doesn’t come, then relax. Authenticity can be spotted from an airplane. We all want to escape the person who aspires to be known, but we can’t get enough of people who have something to say.

[end excerpts]

Ken Pope

Pope: Anti-Racism & Racism in Psychology as a Science, Discipline, & Profession: 57 Articles & Books (Citations + Summaries)
Pope & Vasquez: Ethics in Psychotherapy & Counseling: A Practical Guide, 5th Edition

Pope: A Human Rights & Ethics Crisis Facing the World’s Largest Organization of Psychologists
NOTE: As with any of these Psychology News List messages, please feel free to forward this message to any list or individuals who might be interested.  Thanks!

“We must picture hell as a state where everyone is perpetually concerned about his own dignity and advancement, where everyone has a grievance, and where everyone lives with the deadly serious passions of envy, self-importance, and resentment.”—C.S. Lewis (1898-1963), The Screwtape Letters (1942)
“You have reached the pinnacle of success as soon as you become uninterested in money, compliments, or publicity.”—Thomas Wolfe, novelist (1900-1938)

M. Jackson Group Update – September 2020 – The Personal Benefits of Kindness

A collection of postings on a range of issues is available on our website (  This month’s post is again from Ken Pope’s listserv, where he kindly provides daily summaries of current articles in the field.  His post is as follows:

The Wall Street Journal includes an article: “Why Being Kind Helps You, Too—Especially Now; Research links kindness to a wealth of physical and emotional benefits. And it’s an excellent coping skill for the Covid-19 era” by Elizabeth Bernstein.

Here are some excerpts:

[begin excerpts]

Want to feel better? Be kind.

It’s a good thing to make another person feel good. But being kind—doing something to help someone else—can help you, too. Research links kindness to a wealth of physical and emotional benefits. Studies show that when people are kind, they have lower levels of stress hormones and their fight-or-flight response calms down. They’re less depressed, less lonely and happier. They have better cardiovascular health and live longer. They may be physically stronger. They’re more popular. And a soon-to-be published study found that they may even be considered better looking.

Being kind is an excellent coping skill for the Covid-19 era. In a time of isolation, kindness fosters connection to others. It helps provide purpose and meaning to our life, allowing us to put our values into practice. And it diminishes our negative thoughts.

 “Our attention isn’t something that is infinitely expansive,” says Emiliana Simon-Thomas, science director of the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley. “What we are feeling at any given moment is related to what we are doing, so if we are behaving kindly, that experience will occupy our emotion.”

Psychologists call kindness altruism and talk of two types: reciprocal (you help someone because it will benefit you in some way—like giving money to get a tax break) and pure (you have no expectation of reward). Humans evolved to do both. We’re not the biggest, strongest or fastest animal in the kingdom, so we needed to band together to survive. “The key to our success is not the survival of the fittest,” says Jamil Zaki, a neuroscientist and associate psychology professor at Stanford. “It’s survival of the friendliest.” 

Of course some people are kinder than others—specifically, people born with the personality trait of empathy. Yet, nature accounts for just half of our propensity to be kind, says Dr. Zaki. The rest is nurture—we learn it from our parents, our family and our community. And we can also teach ourselves. “Kindness is a skill we can strengthen, much as we would build a muscle,” says Dr. Zaki, who is the author of “The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World.”

Kindness can even change your brain, says Stephanie Preston, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan who studies the neural basis for empathy and altruism. When we’re kind, a part of the reward system called the nucleus accumbens activates—our brain responds the same way it would if we ate a piece of chocolate cake. In addition, when we see the response of the recipient of our kindness—when the person thanks us or smiles back—our brain releases oxytocin, the feel-good bonding hormone. This oxytocin boost makes the pleasure of the experience more lasting. 
It feels so good that the brain craves more. “It’s an upward spiral—your brain learns it’s rewarding, so it motivates you to do it again,” Dr. Preston says.

Are certain acts of kindness better than others? Yes. If you want to reap the personal benefits, “you need to be sincere,” says Sara Konrath, a psychologist and associate professor at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, where she runs a research lab that studies empathy and altruism. 

It also helps to expect good results. A study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology in 2019 showed people who believed that kindness is good for them showed a greater increase in positive emotions, satisfaction with life and feelings of connection with others—as well as a greater decrease in negative emotions—than those who did not.

How can you be kind even when you may not feel like it? Make it a habit. Take stock of how you behave day to day. Are you trusting and generous? Or defensive and hostile? “Kindness is a lifestyle,” says Dr. Konrath.

Start by being kind to yourself—you’re going to burn out if you help everyone else and neglect your own needs. Remember that little acts add up: a smile, a phone call to a lonely friend, letting someone have the parking space. Understand the difference between being kind and being nice—kindness is genuinely helping or caring about someone; niceness is being polite. Don’t forget your loved ones. Kindness is not just for strangers.

And if there’s no opportunity to be kind at the moment, recall a time when you were generous or helpful. Research suggests that remembering past acts of kindness can also increase your well-being


In reporting this column, I heard from many people who are trying to be extra kind since the pandemic started. They are taking meals to elderly neighbors, then watering their plants; mentoring teenagers stuck at home; leaving bigger tips for restaurant staff; stopping to let other drivers into traffic more often. 

Deirdre Moran posts a joke each day on the phone pole in front of her house in South Brunswick, N.J. Many are “cringeworthy,” she says. (“Can a frog jump as high as an average tent? Of course! A tent can’t jump.”) But Ms. Moran, who teaches at a local school, has seen neighbors take pictures of the jokes and once received a note reminding her that she forgot to post a new one that day.

Kat Vellos and her partner exchange gifts with their older neighbors, leaving gingerbread cookies, lemon blueberry cake and homemade granola on the fence between their homes. They’ve received lemons, herbs and tomatoes from their neighbors’ garden, an extra bag of flour, and a bouquet of flowers in return. “There are innumerable ways to share moments of connection even when you can’t get together in person,” says Ms. Vellos, a digital product designer in Berkeley, Calif.

Mary Gossman keeps a cooler of cold water and a basket of snacks at her front door for mail and delivery people. Photo: Mary Gossman

Mary Gossman keeps a table outside her front door with a cooler full of cold water and a basket of snacks for the mail and delivery people. She sometimes pays for the meal of the person behind her in line at fast-food restaurants and gives gift cards to cashiers at the grocery store. “There are so many things we can do—they don’t all have to be grand gestures,” says the retired office manager from Homestead, Fla.


Want to Be Kinder? Here’s How.

Make it a habit. Earmark time in your schedule to help someone else. Volunteer. Donate. Call a friend. Bake for a neighbor.

Lower the bar. Kindness doesn’t have to be a big deal. Practice being kind each time you go out—smile at people and say hello. Text a friend who is struggling. Take out a neighbor’s garbage. “It can take a minute and cost nothing to change someone’s day,” says Jamil Zaki, associate psychology professor at Stanford.

Be kind to yourself. “If you try to be kind to others while being cruel to yourself, you will burn out,” Dr. Zaki says.

Make small talk. In a time of isolation, this can brighten someone’s day. Say hello. Remark on the shared experience. (“Crazy weather we’re having.”) “Just acknowledging another person’s common humanity is an act of kindness,” says Emiliana Simon-Thomas, science director of the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley.

Change it up. Research shows that doing a variety of kind acts makes you happier, says Sara Konrath, an associate professor at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

Remember your loved ones. Kindness isn’t just for strangers. When you’re kind to the people you live with, “everyone reports being in a better mood and having more positive emotions,” says Stephanie Preston, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan. 

Look for role models. Emulate them.

Don’t get discouraged. Sometimes other people don’t respond in kind. This doesn’t mean they didn’t appreciate your effort. Remind yourself of another time it went well. Keep going.

Recall previous acts of kindness. Research suggests that remembering past acts of kindness also increases your well-being.

Teach your children. Model kind behavior.

Recognize others’ kindnesses. Thank them. Share on social media. It’s easy to pay attention to people who are loud and mean. Elevate the voices of people who are quiet and caring. “When we make kindness visible, we also make it contagious,” Stanford’s Dr. Zaki says.

[end excerpts]

Ken Pope

Pope: Anti-Racism & Racism in Psychology as a Science, Discipline, & Profession: 57 Articles & Books (Citations + Summaries)
Pope & Vasquez: Ethics in Psychotherapy & Counseling: A Practical Guide, 5th Edition

Pope: A Human Rights & Ethics Crisis Facing the World’s Largest Organization of Psychologists
NOTE: As with any of these Psychology News List messages, please feel free to forward this message to any list or individuals who might be interested.  Thanks!

“I expect to pass through this world but once; any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow-creature, let me do it now; let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”–Stephen Grellett (1773-1855), though often attributed to a another, more famous Quaker, William Penn

M. Jackson Group Update – July 2020 – Dealing with Bullies

A collection of postings on a range of issues is available on our website (  This month’s post is again from Ken Pope’s listserv, where he kindly provides daily summaries of current articles in the field.  His post is as follows:

The Wall Street Journal includes an article: “Why It Seems Like Bullies Are Everywhere—and How to Stop Them—Bullies try to intimidate people they see as weak or vulnerable. Here’s how to respond” by Elizabeth Bernstein.
Here are some excerpts:

[begin excerpts]
People tried to push each other around before the pandemic. But lately it seems as if the bullies are taking over. Constant fear and anxiety fuel anger. 
The move of many of our interactions online means we are having less face-to-face communication; psychologists have long known that this decreases empathy, while anonymity—or the illusion of it—makes it easier to misbehave. 

And in a time of deep polarization, the tone of public discourse has grown more antagonistic.

A bully is someone who tries to intimidate another person, often repeatedly, whom he or she sees as weak or vulnerable. According to psychologists, bullies have four personality traits—called the Dark Tetrad—that often occur together: Machiavellianism, which is a tendency to calculatedly manipulate others for your own good; psychopathy, an attribute that includes a lack of empathy and a willingness to take risks; sadism, the propensity to derive pleasure from inflicting pain on someone else; and narcissism, an obsession with self and feeling that you are better than other people.

When we think of narcissism, we think of the extreme—someone loud, blustery and grandiose, who feels superior to others and needs constant admiration. These folks typically have narcissistic personality disorder, which is a formal diagnosis in the primary handbook for diagnosing mental disorders, the DSM-5. Yet, narcissism—an excessive interest in oneself and sense of entitlement—occurs on a spectrum, and most of us have some, says Brad Bushman, a professor of communication at the Ohio State University in Columbus, who studies narcissism and aggression. Have you ever rushed into an open spot in a busy parking lot before someone else can grab it? That’s narcissism.

In a yet-to-be-published review of 26 studies on bullying, with almost 17,000 participants, Dr. Bushman and his Ph.D. student, Sophie Kjaervik, found that the more narcissism a person has, the more likely he or she is to be a bully. People who have relatively high levels of narcissism are 20% more likely to bully than those with low levels, the analysis showed.

This is because people who are very narcissistic display a trio of behaviors called the Triple E: exploitation, entitlement and empathy impairment, according to Craig Malkin, a clinical psychologist, lecturer at Harvard Medical School and author of “Rethinking Narcissism.” They exploit others, doing whatever it takes to feel special. They feel entitled, acting as if the world owes them and should bend to their will. And they lack empathy, often becoming so fixated on the need to feel special that they stop caring about the feelings of others.

These people don’t want to be told what to do. When someone tries, they lash out. “They’re trying to shore up their sense of importance,” Dr. Malkin says. “Bullies are motivated by fear—fear of feeling insecure, fear of being unconfident, fear of being exposed.” 

How should you respond to a bully?

First, determine whether you are safe. If not, call security or the police. Document the bully’s behavior. This will help if you need evidence, and it will keep you from doubting yourself.

Do not engage. “The only winning move is not to play the game,” says Laurie Helgoe, a clinical psychologist and author of a book about narcissism called “Fragile Bully.” Engaging will encourage the bully, who will respond to feeling threatened by attacking more, she says.

Don’t let the bully take up space in your head. Try to limit how much you think or talk about the person to others. Block the bully on social media. “You’re establishing a boundary,” says Dr. Helgoe, an associate professor at Ross University School of Medicine in Bridgetown, Barbados. “You aren’t going to let the bully take over your life.”

Accept that you’re not going to change the person. Don’t blame yourself and don’t personalize the behavior. “You’re just the one in their line of fire at the moment,” says Ramani Durvasula, a clinical psychologist, professor of psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, and author of “Don’t You Know Who I Am? How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement and Incivility.”

Imagine your reaction. Do you want to tell the bully off? Pummel him senseless? Picture all of it, including the look on the bully’s face. Just don’t act on any of this, says Dr. Malkin.

If you must respond—if the bullying is ongoing and destructive—make sure you offer a meaningful consequence. You’ll probably need an authority—the police, a human resources department, a lawyer—to do this. “Consequences shape behavior,” says Dr. Durvasula. 

And remember what my grandmother, who grew up on a farm in Minnesota, taught me: “Don’t get in the mud with pigs. The pigs love it. And you just get dirty.”
[end excerpts]

Ken Pope

Pope: Anti-Racism & Racism in Psychology as a Science, Discipline, & Profession: 57 Articles & Books (Citations + Summaries)
Pope & Vasquez: Ethics in Psychotherapy & Counseling: A Practical Guide, 5th Edition

Pope: A Human Rights & Ethics Crisis Facing the World’s Largest Organization of Psychologists
“A person who is brutally honest enjoys the brutality quite as much as the honesty.  Possibly more.”—R. J. Needham

M. Jackson Group Update – June 2020 – New Experiences and Happiness

A collection of postings on a range of issues is available on our website (  This month’s post is again from Ken Pope’s listserv, where he kindly provides daily summaries of current articles in the field.  His post is as follows:

New York University issued the following news release:

New and diverse experiences linked to enhanced happiness 

New and diverse experiences are linked to enhanced happiness, and this relationship is associated with greater correlation of brain activity, new research has found. The results, which appear in the journal Nature Neuroscience, reveal a previously unknown connection between our daily physical environments and our sense of well-being.

“Our results suggest that people feel happier when they have more variety in their daily routines — when they go to novel places and have a wider array of experiences,” explains Catherine Hartley, an assistant professor in New York University’s Department of Psychology and one of the paper’s co-authors. 

“The opposite is also likely true: positive feelings may drive people to seek out these rewarding experiences more frequently.”

“Collectively, this and other studies show the beneficial consequences of environmental enrichment across species, demonstrating a connection between real-world exposure to fresh and varied experiences and increases in positive emotions,” adds co-author Aaron Heller, an assistant professor in the University of Miami’s Department of Psychology.

The researchers, who conducted the study prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, recognize that current public-health guidelines and restrictions pose limits on movement. However, they note that even small changes that introduce greater variability into the physical or mental routine — such as exercising at home, going on a walk around the block, and taking a different route to the grocery store or pharmacy — may potentially yield similar beneficial effects.

In the Nature Neuroscience paper, the researchers investigated the following question: Is diversity in humans’ daily experiences associated with more positive emotional states?

To do so, they conducted GPS tracking of participants in New York and Miami for three to four months, asking subjects by text message to report about their positive and negative emotional state during this period.

The results showed that on days when people had more variability in their physical location — visiting more locations in a day and spending proportionately equitable time across these locations — they reported feeling more positive: “happy,” “excited,” “strong,” “relaxed,” and/or “attentive.”

The scientists then sought to determine if this link between exploration and positive emotion had a connection to brain activity.

To do this, about half of the subjects returned to a laboratory and underwent MRI scans.

The MRI results showed that people for whom this effect was the strongest — those whose exposure to diverse experiences was more strongly associated with positive feeling (“affect”) — exhibited greater correlation between brain activity in the hippocampus and the striatum. These are brain regions that are associated, respectively, with the processing of novelty and reward — beneficial or subjectively positive experiences.

“These results suggest a reciprocal link between the novel and diverse experiences we have during our daily exploration of our physical environments and our subjective sense of well-being,” observes Hartley, who also has appointments at NYU’s Center for Neural Science and NYU Langone Health Neuroscience Institute.

Ken Pope

Pope & Vasquez: Ethics in Psychotherapy & Counseling: A Practical Guide, 5th Edition

Pope: A Human Rights & Ethics Crisis Facing the World’s Largest Organization of Psychologists
Pope: Telepsychology & Internet-Based Therapy—20 Sets of Professional Guidelines, Links to State Laws, & 58 Recent Articles
“The journey of discovery begins not with new vistas but with having new eyes with which to behold them.”—Proust

M. Jackson Group Update – May 2020 – Editing Your Writing II

A collection of postings on a range of issues is available on our website (  This month’s post is again from Ken Pope’s listserv, where he kindly provides daily summaries of current articles in the field.  His post is as follows:
There was such a favorable response to my recent post “How to Edit Your Own Writing: Writing Is Hard, but Don’t Overlook the Difficulty—and Importance—of Editing Your Own Work Before Letting Others See It. Here’s How,” I thought I’d circulate a few others on practical steps to better writing.
Here’s the second in that group: “3 Ways to Make Your Writing Clearer” by Jane Rosenzweig in Harvard Business Review.
Here’s the author note: “Jane Rosenzweigis the Director of the Writing Center at Harvard University. She holds a B.A. from Yale University, an M.Litt. from Oxford, and an M.F.A in fiction writing from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She has been a staff editor at the Atlantic Monthly and a member of the fiction staff at the New Yorker.
Here are some excerpts:
[begin excerpts]
If you’re like many of the writers I work with, you may be squandering precious minutes before your deadline making relatively minor sentence-level edits — changing a word here, cutting a word there (and then putting it back). You should certainly spell-check and proofread every document before you click submit. 
When you’re pressed for time — which, let’s face it, is most of the time — you’ll get the best results if you prioritize edits that will sharpen your message. Instead of spending those last five minutes obsessing over a single sentence, try focusing on the big picture with these three strategies:
1. Cut the “since the dawn of time” opening and get right to the point. 
Consider this opening paragraph to a budget memo:
Budgets are generally complicated and difficult to create because of the number of stakeholders that must be satisfied in a variety of situations. We do not have infinite resources, nor can we please everyone all the time. We must think strategically. When we consider the pros and cons of increasing spending on digital marketing, things get even more complicated. Since the data does not support increasing digital marketing, after careful review, I have concluded that we should focus on growing our sales team. 
Everything in this paragraph before “since the data” is a “since the dawn of time” opening because it might as well say “Since the dawn of time people have been having thoughts about budgets. Here is a general and not very illuminating overview of those thoughts. When I have sufficiently bored you, I will share my specific thoughts about this topic with you.” While writing “since the dawn of time” sentences may help you get to your main point while drafting a document, those sentences actually end up obscuring your point. Here, the point comes in the last sentence:
After careful review, I have concluded that we should grow our sales team.
In most cases, your readers don’t need to hear every thought anyone has ever had about your topic. They need to know what they should think about the topic right now. 
When you lead with your main point, you focus your reader’s attention where it belongs. 
Keep only the background information that’s important to your message, and cut the rest.
2. Turn those descriptive topic sentences into topic sentences that make claims.
The first or “topic” sentence of a paragraph tells readers what to expect in the rest of the paragraph. Consider the difference between these two topic sentences:
Descriptive topic sentence: I met with the client on Thursday.
Claim topic sentence: After meeting with the client on Thursday, I recommend rethinking our pitch.
While the descriptive version offers potentially useful information (a meeting occurred, it happened on Thursday), readers won’t know yet why these facts matter. On the other hand, the claim version of the sentence immediately focuses a reader’s attention: the meeting on Thursday matters because something that occurred in that meeting caused you to change your mind about the pitch. Now I know what I’m getting in that paragraph: I’m going to find out what we should do about the pitch and why. And you know what you have to deliver.
But what if you actually just want to describe something — a meeting, a conversation, a product? Even in those cases, your topic sentence should tell your readers where to focus their attention. Consider these two sentences that could begin a paragraph describing a client meeting:
Descriptive topic sentence: I met with the client at his office in Boston.
Claim topic sentence: My meeting with the client focused primarily on plans for future growth.
Both sentences prepare readers for a discussion of the client meeting. But after reading the descriptive version, readers only know that the meeting occurred in Boston. In contrast, the claim version clearly establishes that the meeting yielded plans for future growth. 
When you begin a paragraph with a claim, you teach readers what to expect — and you remind yourself what the rest of the paragraph should deliver. If you make a habit of writing claim-based topic sentences, you’ll have less editing to do in the future.
3. Make sure people are doing things in your sentences, unless you don’t want them to be doing things.
Consider the difference between these two sentences:
All managers should approve and submit expense reports by Friday at noon.
Expense reports should be approved and submitted by Friday at noon.
In the first sentence, we know who should do what: Managers should do the approving and submitting. In the second sentence, we know that two actions must occur, but we’re not clear on who should do what. Should the managers approve the reports but leave the submitting to team members? Or are the managers responsible for both steps? 
You may have learned somewhere along the line that you should always use active verbs — and you could certainly solve any confusion about the chain of command for expense reports by employing active voice. 
Next time you finish a document with a few minutes to spare, try these three strategies first. If you get in the habit of using them, you should find you won’t need to do as much last-minute editing in the future.
[end excerpts]
“Sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going…I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry.  You have always written before and you will write now.  All you have to do is write one true sentence.  Write the truest sentence that you know.”
—Ernest Hemmingway (1899-1961)

M. Jackson Group Update – April 2020 – Editing Your Writing

A collection of postings on a range of issues is available on our website (  This month’s post is again from Ken Pope’s listserv, where he kindly provides daily summaries of current articles in the field.  His post is as follows:
The New York Times includes an article: “How to Edit Your Own Writing: Writing is hard, but don’t overlook the difficulty — and the importance — of editing your own work before letting others see it. Here’s how” by Harry Guinness.
Here are some excerpts:
[begin excerpts]
The secret to good writing is good editing. It’s what separates hastily written, randomly punctuated, incoherent rants from learned polemics and op-eds, and cringe-worthy fan fiction from a critically acclaimed novel. 
Here’s how to start editing your own work.

Understand that what you write first is a draft

It doesn’t matter how good you think you are as a writer — the first words you put on the page are a first draft. Writing is thinking: It’s rare that you’ll know exactly what you’re going to say before you say it. At the end, you need, at the very least, to go back through the draft, tidy everything up and make sure the introduction you wrote at the start matches what you eventually said.
My former writing teacher, the essayist and cartoonist Timothy Kreider, explained revision to me: “One of my favorite phrases is l’esprit d’escalier, ‘the spirit of the staircase’ — meaning that experience of realizing, too late, what the perfect thing to have said at the party, in a conversation or argument or flirtation would have been.  Writing offers us one of the rare chances in life at a do-over: to get it right and say what we meant this time.  To the extent writers are able to appear any smarter or wittier than readers, it’s only because they’ve cheated by taking so much time to think up what they meant to say and refining it over days or weeks or, yes, even years, until they’ve said it as clearly and elegantly as they can.”
The time you put into editing, reworking and refining turns your first draft into a second — and then into a third and, if you keep at it, eventually something great.  The biggest mistake you can make as a writer is to assume that what you wrote the first time through was good enough.
Now, let’s look at how to do the actual editing.

Watch for common errors

Most writing mistakes are depressingly common; good writers just get better at catching them before they hit the page.  If you’re serious about improving your writing, I recommend you read “The Elements of Style” by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, a how-to guide on writing good, clear English and avoiding the most common mistakes.  “Politics and the English Language” by George Orwell is also worth studying if you want to avoid “ugly and inaccurate” writing.
Some of the things you’ll learn to watch for (and that I have to fix all the time in my own writing) are:
Overuse of jargon and business speak. Horrible jargon like “utilize,” “endeavor” or “communicate” — instead of “use,” “try” or “chat” — creep in when people (myself included) are trying to sound smart.  It’s the kind of writing that Orwell railed against in his essay.  All this sort of writing does is obscure the point you want to make behind false intellectualism.  As Orwell said, “Never use a long word when a short one will do.”
Clichés. Clichés are as common as mud but at least getting rid of them is low-hanging fruit.  If you’re not sure whether something is a cliché, it’s better to just avoid it.  
Clichés are stale phrases that have lost their impact and novelty through overuse.  At some point, “The grass is always greener on the other side” was a witty observation, but it’s a cliché now.  Again, Orwell said it well: “Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.”  Oh, and memes very quickly become clichés — be warned.
The passive voice. In most cases, the subject of the sentence should be the person or thing taking action, not the thing being acted on.  For example, “This article was written by Harry” is written in the passive voice because the subject (“this article”) is the thing being acted on.  The equivalent active construction would be: “Harry wrote this article.”  Prose written in the passive voice tends to have an aloofness and passivity to it, which is why it’s generally better to write an active sentence.
Rambling. When you’re not quite sure what you want to say, it’s easy to ramble around a point, phrasing it in three or four different ways and then, instead of cutting them down to a single concise sentence, slapping all four together into a clunky, unclear paragraph.  A single direct sentence is almost always better than four that tease around a point.

Give your work some space

When you write something, you get very close to it.  It’s almost impossible to have the distance to edit properly straight away.  Instead, you need to step away and come back later with fresh eyes.  The longer you can leave a draft before editing it, the better. 
I have some essays I go back to every few months for another pass — they’re still not done yet.  For most things, though, somewhere from half an hour to two days is enough of a break that you can then edit well.  Even 10 minutes will do in a pinch for things like emails.
And when you sit down to edit, read your work out loud.
By forcing yourself to speak the words, rather than just scanning them on a computer screen, you’ll catch more problems and get a better feel for how everything flows.  If you stumble over something, your reader will probably stumble over it, too. 
Some writers even print out their drafts and make edits with a red pen while they read them aloud.

Cut, cut, cut

Overwriting is a bigger problem than underwriting.  It’s much more likely you’ve written too much than too little.  It’s a lot easier to throw words at a problem than to take the time to find the right ones.  As Blaise Pascal, a 17th-century writer and scientist (no, not Mark Twain) wrote in a letter, “I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.”
The rule for most writers is, “If in doubt, cut it.”  The Pulitzer Prize-winning writer John McPhee has called the process “writing by omission.”  Novelist Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (and not William Faulkner) exhorted, “In writing you must kill all your darlings.”  
This is true at every level: If a word isn’t necessary in a sentence, cut it; if a sentence isn’t necessary in a paragraph, cut it; and if a paragraph isn’t necessary, cut it, too.
Go through what you’ve written and look for the bits you can cut without affecting the whole — and cut them.  It will tighten the work and make everything you’re trying to say clearer.

Spend the most time on the beginning

The beginning of anything you write is the most important part.  If you can’t catch someone’s attention at the start, you won’t have a chance to hold it later.  Whether you’re writing a novel or an email, you should spend a disproportionate amount of time working on the first few sentences, paragraphs or pages.  

Pay attention to structure

The structure is what your writing hangs on.  It doesn’t matter how perfectly the individual sentences are phrased if the whole thing is a nonsensical mess.  For emails and other short things, the old college favorite of a topic sentence followed by supporting paragraphs and a conclusion is hard to get wrong.  Just make sure you consider your intended audience.  A series of long, unrelenting paragraphs will discourage people from reading.  Break things up into concise points and, where necessary, insert subheads — as there are in this article.  If I’d written this without them, you would just be looking at a stark wall of text. 
For longer pieces, structure is something you’ll need to put a lot of work into.  Stream of consciousness writing rarely reads well and you generally don’t have the option to break up everything into short segments with subheads.  Narratives need to flow and arguments need to build.  You have to think about what you’re trying to say in each chapter, section or paragraph, and consider whether it’s working — or if that part would be better placed elsewhere.  It’s normal (and even desirable) that the structure of your work will change drastically between drafts; it’s a sign that you’re developing the piece as a whole, rather than just fixing the small problems.
A lot of the time when something you’ve written “just doesn’t work” for people, the structure is to blame.  They might not be able to put the problems into words, but they can feel something’s off.

Use all the resources you can

While you might not be lucky enough to have access to an editor (Hey, Alan!), there are services that can help.
Grammarly is a writing assistant that flags common writing, spelling and grammatical errors; it’s great for catching simple mistakes and cleaning up drafts of your work.
 A good thesaurus (or even is also essential for finding just the right word. 
And don’t neglect a second pair of eyes: Ask relatives and friends to read over your work.  They might catch some things you missed and can tell you when something is amiss.
Editing your work is at least as important as writing it in the first place.  The tweaking, revisiting and revising is what takes something that could be good — and makes it good. 
[end excerpts]
“I don’t mind that you think slowly but I do mind that you are publishing faster than you think.”
—Wolfgang Pauli, a pioneer of quantum physics, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics, having been nominated by Albert Einstein (1900-1958)
John Pullyblank, Ph.D., R.Psych. (#946)
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