Use Gratitude to Detox Your Brain

Imagine you have a friend whose boyfriend is always tearing her down and continually telling her that she’s stupid, unable to cope, that nobody likes her and that she isn’t pretty enough. What would you say to your friend? Obviously you would tell her she should break up with her negative boyfriend, or at least that she should stop paying attention to his continual criticisms.

Even though that is the advice you would give someone else, we often choose to pay attention to an incessant negative monologue about ourselves. The monologue of negativity isn’t coming from another person but from our own brain. Instead of “breaking up” with our negative brain, we pay attention to it.

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Gratitude and Brain Fitness: What the Research Says

Every year neuroscientists and cognitive psychologists make more exciting discoveries about the health benefits of gratitude. The research is now clear that if you want to achieve high levels of physical and mental fitness, practicing gratitude is a good place to start.

Before sharing some of this research, it may be helpful to recap the ground we’ve already covered in our ongoing series about gratitude. 

Our earlier post How Peace of Mind is a Skill That Can Be Developed With Practice looked at six things anyone can do to achieve peace of mind. Step number 6 was to practice gratitude. I referred to research showing that when we choose to focus on all we have to be grateful for, this actually affects material changes in the brain, leading to a happier life and greater levels of mental peace. I built on this in my follow-up post, Gratitude and Your EPPP Prep (Peace of Mind Part 2), by considering the important role gratitude can play in managing stress, including the type of stress that is common among those preparing to take their psychology licensure exam (EPPP). Our post Gratitude as a Way of Seeing added to this understanding by considering why human beings have trouble being grateful for ordinary things. We explored ways to retrain your brain to “see” life in a way permeated with constant thankfulness. 

It’s time to build on these previous posts by going deeper into the research on the neurological, psychological and physiological benefits of gratitude. Continue reading

Develop a High-Performance Mindset

How can a person perform at peak capacity during times of stress? What is the foundation for self-confidence? Why do we often perform better when we’re practicing a skill vs. performing it under pressure? How can we get into a flow-state whereby we become completely engaged in present-moment tasks? What are the principles behind a high-performance mindset?

These are the types of questions we ask here at TSM as we help prepare psychology students for the high-stress licensure exam known as the EPPP. These are also the types of questions that musicians, athletes, public speakers and sports psychologists wrestle with every day.

Michael Gervais of the Seattle Seahawks talks about the way great performers use their minds to realize their full potential. Gervais, who has worked as a sports psychologist with some of the world’s best athletes, explains how the principles that help champions perform at peak capacity can actually assist all of us to perform better in the situations we face every day. This fascinating conversation shows that developing skills like mindfulness, positive self-talk and focused attention can make the difference between success and failure.  Because so much of what Gervais says is relevant to exam-anxiety, we encourage all psychology students to watch this video at least six months before sitting the EPPP.

Is Cupid a Good EPPP Study Partner?

Given the recent Valentine’s Day holiday and EPPP studying being ever-present, the question begs: does being in love affect productivity?

Psychology Today’s Robert Weiss, LCSW, CSAT-S, reveals some interesting research results in This is Your Brain on Love.

He points out that love has a greater effect on us than anything else because it’s affect is like that of drug use: Continue reading

Your Brain on Complaining and its Effect on EPPP Test Prep

If we’re honest, there are plenty of things we’d rather do than buckle down with EPPP test prep. Expressing annoyance or distaste at our obligations, what we begrudgingly acknowledge as complaining, can be a common factor in studying and our day-to-day lives in general. In fact, during the average conversation, we complain about once per minute.

You may find polarizing opinions on whether complaining is beneficial or detrimental, but our bodies physically suggest that complaining does more harm than good. Continue reading

EPPP Anxiety Part 2: The Power of Positive Breathing


In our previous post, ‘EPPP Anxiety Part 1: Anxiety and Your Brain,’ we looked at how to use focused meditative breathing to relieve anxiety, including the type of anxiety experienced by those preparing to take the EPPP. I promised to share research on how this type of meditation can actually increase the size of the brain, improve social skills, make it easier to achieve mental clarity and focus, in addition to increasing emotional intelligence, self-regulation and resilience.

Before jumping into this research, let’s review three reasons why slow breathing is so powerful for maintaining a positive orientation in the mind and body.

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EPPP Anxiety Part 1: Anxiety and Your Brain

Here at TSM we talk a lot about anxiety management, and with good reason. We are in the business of preparing psychology students to take the psychology licensure exam, known as the EPPP. This is one of the hardest exams a person can ever take, with 225 multiple-choice questions spanning topics everything from legal issues to psychopharmacology. It’s not unusual that those studying for this test experience high levels of stress and anxiety.

But even if you aren’t preparing to take the EPPP, we all need help managing anxiety. Ironically, it is often the people who need help with anxiety the most who are least aware of it, since anxiety has become such a way of life that it can start to feel normal.

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Mindfulness for Busy People

In our earlier post ‘Your Smart-Phone May be Harming Your Brain Without You Realizing‘, we shared some research on electronic distractions from Time Magazine’s Special Edition on Mindfulness. However, digital distractions were just one of the many topics covered in this issue. Time also brought together a team of reporters to share research on ways that mindfulness techniques (breathing, meditating, taking control of our hectic brains, etc) can increase our focus, effectiveness and physical health.

Here are a few more nuggets from the Time issue:

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Caffeine, Cognitive Function, and the EPPP

If you pair your morning EPPP study session with a cup of coffee, you could be protecting your brain from future harm depending on how much you consume.

Avid coffee and tea drinkers may be familiar with the immediate effects of caffeine such as increased focus and retention, increased alertness, and enhanced mood. Though caffeine should in no way be used as a tool to solve problems that can be fixed by sufficient amounts of sleep and exercise, when used appropriately, caffeine’s short term effects can have a positive impact on your EPPP studies. Despite other opinion on the benefits of decreased coffee consumption altogether, the coffee habit you may have developed could potentially be beneficial for your cognitive function long term.  Continue reading