Archive for the ‘Psychology’ Category

Public Speaking: When Running is Not an Option

In Psychology, Psychology of Success, Psychology Today, Public Speaking, Self talk, Success, Visualization on September 30, 2009 at 3:23 pm

public speaking - scared

By Bakari Akil II, Ph.D.

Roger’s palms are dripping, his breath is hurried and his heart feels as if it is thumping in his chest. He feels a sense of danger but doesn’t know what to do. He has a case of the ‘butterflies’ and it has his stomach tied in knots. Roger has heard of the term ‘knees knocking’ but now it has special significance. Running is not an option, neither is fighting, so what will Roger do and how can he lessen these feelings in the future?

These are some of the symptoms that people have to deal with when they have to speak to audiences. I know this because one of the courses I teach is public speaking and students privately and publicly share that they have these experiences all of the time.

Recently, after a class, I had a number of students approach my desk. It was about the usual; tardiness, missed assignments or to confide, inches away, that they had a communicable illness but felt they couldn’t miss any more classes. One student, however, actually wanted to discuss a topic dealing with public speaking. He glanced around sheepishly and then asked, “How do you deal with anxiety about speaking in public?”

It is a question that college students often ask, but the concern is common to all of us. So I would like to share some quick fixes as well mid to long-range solutions to lessening anxiety and improving your ability to speak in front of an audience.

Most Fear Isn’t Visible

Many people are nervous about public speaking because they believe that their body will betray them. They feel that cool and casual demeanor that we all tend to display when we are out and about will not stand up to public scrutiny. Well, a quick tip is that many of the indicators of fear cannot be detected by the naked eye. Shortness of breath, ‘knees knocking,’ increased hear rate, ‘butterflies,’ enlarged pupils and sweaty palms cannot be detected by an audience.

To a large degree the cracking of voices or shaking of hands can’t be seen either. When a student tells me their voice cracked during a speech I immediately ask the class if they heard it. I have never had a class say they have. As far as hands shaking is concerned, I advise people to keep papers out of their hands and rest them on the podium if they begin to shake so others will not be able to see it.


Nothing provides a quicker boost of confidence than being prepared to give a speech. Scouting out your audience in advance, writing your speech well before the delivery date and practicing it numerous times reduces an enormous amount of pre-speech jitters. Why? Because you know you’ve done everything in your power to be ready for the experience.

Positive Self-Talk and Visualization

Although the fear that most people have of public speaking isn’t serious enough for them to visit a psychologist that doesn’t mean that psychological theory can’t be used to reduce anxiety. Psychologists Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck were pioneers of cognitive therapy and both believed that you could talk yourself into a negative or depressive state with irrational logic. And with public speaking many people make themselves nervous through terrible reasoning.

What we say to ourselves matters. So when you know that you have to deliver a speech it is best to go ahead and begin to mentally prepare for your success. Think about times when you have successfully spoken before a group of people or a sizeable audience. Imagine how hard it would be to fail when you have prepared thoroughly. Ask yourself what is the worst that could happen and what could you do to counter it. If you feel that you are going to swallow constantly or develop dry mouth you could bring a bottle of water. If you think you will forget your speech you can reason that it would be hard to do if you have well prepared notes and prompts.

Additionally, visualize a successful and pleasant experience. Think about what would make your experience ideal and prepare and practice so that reality will match your internal visualization.

Systematic Desensitization

This last piece of advice requires a lot more effort but it is worth it for individuals who will have to speak to a lot of audiences in the future. If this is the case, it is best not to just wing it until you get the hang of it. Instead, you should be proactive. Join a class, group or organization that teaches public speaking.

Being involved in a class or group gives you the opportunity to gain repeated exposure to an audience in a positive and constructive environment. It allows you to gradually reduce anxiety and increase your skill set at the same time. In the classes that I teach students get at least 30 opportunities to come before a group and work on almost every aspect of public speaking. Within a few weeks the biological response commonly known as ‘fight or flight’ syndrome becomes manageable and within a few months anxiety and nervousness is not an issue at all.

Public speaking anxiety is real but so are the methods to reduce it.


Can TV Shows Increase Social Skills? – Revisiting “Everything Bad is Good for You”

In Intelligence, Psychology, Psychology of Success, Success on August 20, 2009 at 3:33 pm


By Bakari Akil II, Ph.D.

In an episode of Hawthorne, a show about a Chief Nursing Officer at the fictitious Trinity Richmond Hospital, the main character Christina (Jada Pinkett-Smith) is faced with a dilemma. In an effort to ‘save’ a close friend, that is suffering from stage four cancer, she convinces him to participate in a clinical trial for cancer patients who are at stage two. She is able to coerce the researcher conducting the trial to admit her friend but it results in disastrous consequences for others. As a result of her friend being accepted into the program another man who has a ‘greater’ chance for survival is forced out. The man happens to be a patient of the Head Surgeon of her hospital and the Head Surgeon is also Christina’s good friend. When she is confronted about her activities she is forced to decide who gets the spot.

What would you do?

These type of predicaments are now standard fare for many television shows. The characters are placed in scenarios that are nuanced, layered and can’t easily be resolved. Steven Johnson, in his book, Everything Bad is Good for You, argues that in many ways these new types of shows improve your social and emotional intelligences. He asserts that multiple plot lines, no clear delineation of hero and villain and unending story lines keeps the audiences engaged and in our efforts to understand or critique we improve our social skills.

Great examples of these shows are Friday Night Lights, Weeds, Californication, LostSurvivorPrison Break, 24 and Nurse Jackie. These programs force audiences to use their cognitive skills in ways past television shows could not. The levels of logic, intuition and pure common sense audiences must exercise while viewing these shows raises the term ‘armchair quarterback’ to a new level. Additionally, the often outlandish behavior of characters on both scripted and ‘partially scripted’ (reality) TV shows are hard to ignore and not make judgments about.

But, do shows like these really help us in meaningful ways? Can nursing students learn valuable lessons from watching Hawthorne or Nurse Jackie?

The power of such shows, Johnson states, is that viewers often empathize with the characters or at the least think about what they would do if they were faced with similar situations. Constant viewing of these shows provides the audiences with opportunities to broaden and enrich their social toolbox and to think about some of their own emotional issues.

Ultimately, these shows are just entertainment, but many explore issues pertaining to gender, race, ageism, violence, politics and a host of ordinary, everyday problems. At the least, Johnson offers that people gather to watch these shows and discuss them at school, work and on the Internet; which he claims further increases their analytic skills or at least provides a reason for social interaction.

Do I agree fully? No. — But at least when I’m watching a Numb3rs marathon on Netflix or Weeds on Showtime I can argue that I’m improving my social skills.

Hey Guys, I have recently been added as a blogger at Psychology Today (Magazine). Come check out my blog, Communication Central

Boot Camps and what matters most in Public Speaking

In Psychology, Psychology of Success, Public Speaking, Success on August 12, 2009 at 6:13 am

public speaking

By Bakari Akil II, Ph.D.

Most of the time the ‘meetings’ took place in the afternoon. As usual, I would be standing outside of a classroom or sitting in a lounge room waiting for the call to enter. Sometimes another candidate would be speaking before me and I would casually glance through the window in the door to see how the ‘crowd’ was reacting. As long as there was no laughter, I didn’t have anything to worry about.

In my quest to become a professor a major part of the interviewing process included presenting lectures to interviewing committees of up to 10 people. These lectures were usually followed by Q&A sessions to see if they liked me and to gauge how I would fit. Most sessions were friendly; some were not.

I’ll be honest with you. I never became nervous or anxious about giving those lectures even though I wore my Sunday’s best and wanted the jobs. Why? Well for five years previous to my search I had been teaching 2 to 3 courses a semester while earning my Ph.D. And although the committees chose the topics, the subjects were in a field I was thoroughly familiar with.

My Ph.D. is in Mass Communication. So I’ve taught many courses with titles such as Mass Media & Society, Intro to Mass Media and New Communication Technologies.  However, there are two courses that I have taught more than any other. Those courses are Public Speaking and Oral and Interpersonal Communication.

People who take these courses often ask what do they need to do to become “good” public speakers. I don’t ‘sugar-coat’ my response. When it comes to public speaking, there’s no magic pill or secret formula. But there is a major tool that a person needs to become an effective public speaker.

And that is confidence.

If you don’t have it there is only one way to get it and that is by practicing in front of an audience. No other shortcut will do. Yes, there are plenty of books that tell you how to write a speech, craft a presentation or how to use self-hypnosis to convince yourself you are a great speaker. But all of that is secondary to being able to confidently deliver a message.

I’ve seen people react in ways you couldn’t imagine or make up in the years that I have taught these courses.  People cry, run out of rooms, turn all shades of red, shake uncontrollably and when they are really scared they don’t even bother to show up. Then there are those who manage not to self-destruct, but are so ill-at-ease they are unable to get anyone to pay attention to their message. They make their listeners extremely uncomfortable.

But there is major upside. I have seen these same people become solid public speakers by the end of the term. Shy and retiring people morph into class favorites by becoming confident enough to display sides of their personalities that only their families and significant others have been lucky enough to experience.

It may sound counterintuitive, but I am able to help students because I run my classes like a boot camp, albeit a fun one. Each class the students must come up front and speak for at least a minute, which is an eternity if you are afraid. At first they must come up in groups, then pairs and then by themselves. I have them create original poems, tell jokes, take turns at charades, tell us about an issue that is important to them, tell us where they want to be in 10 years and a host of other exercises.

In groups they must create and pitch a product or service, come up with a Public Service Announcement and participate in debates. They end up speaking in a multitude of contexts and experience a broad range of emotions while doing so. They also work in groups and build solid relationships with people they would normally never interact with. All of these exercises build confidence and it is displayed in their speeches.

Students learn to do things they never thought possible. They can hold people’s attention, make people laugh and learn that people will take them seriously. They also learn that they are interesting people and that other people are interesting if you take the time to get to know them. What is really happening is that they are learning to be comfortable in public and beginning to experience all of the benefits it brings.

I write all of this to get to this conclusion. If you are interested in improving your public speaking skills to advance in a job, career or organization, your best bet would be to join a group or sign up for a class where you can speak regularly. It is one of the quickest methods you can use to increase your social and emotional intelligences. Barring that, try to consistently place yourself in a position where you have to speak before others such as a club, group or organization.

You can always learn how to construct a speech from a book, but confidence to speak can only come from speaking before crowds.

Which You, Which Intelligence?

In 22703638, Brain, Daniel Goleman, Intelligence, Psychology, Psychology of Success, Success, TED Conference on August 5, 2009 at 6:31 pm


By Bakari Akil II, Ph.D.

Intelligence: a) ability to learn or understand from experience: ability to acquire and retain knowledge; mental ability  b) the ability to respond quickly and successfully to a new situation; use of the faculty of reason in solving problems, directing conduct c) measured success in using these abilities to perform certain tasks —- Webster’s New World Dictionary

From the title it seems as if I will be talking about probable universes or alternate realities. But I’m not. Instead I will be talking about an issue that is dear to us all. That is, what are our talents and how can we benefit from them?

Sir Ken Robinson, in an very entertaining address to the TED conference, stated that “schools kill creativity.” His main argument was that educators focus so much on reading, writing and arithmetic that other talents children have are left underdeveloped or completely ignored. This is an argument that has gained more weight with the increased shift to standardized testing from 2001 to 2008 in the United States.

Yet, not every child has an interest or motivation to excel in reading, writing and mathematics. Their interests lie elsewhere. This is where intelligence comes into the discussion. There are many academics who have argued that there are more than one type. Psychologist Daniel Goleman is one of them and has made a career of his promotion of social and emotional intelligence and how important they are to overall success in careers and relationships. Another is Howard Gardener whose promotion of multiple intelligences (MI) has helped create a movement of educators pushing for a more well rounded system of education that addresses the different ways in which people can express their intelligence.

Gardner, in an article in the Scientific American,  A Multiplicity of Intelligences, describes 8 major intelligences. They are:

1. Linguistic (Linguist, Writer, Comedian)

2. Logical – Mathematical (Scientist, Engineer)

3. Musical (Musician, Songwriter, Singer)

4. Spatial (Architect, Interior Decorator)

5. Bodily-Kinesthetic (Wrestler, Tennis Player, Coach)

6. Interpersonal (Facilitator, Counselor, Educators)

7. Intrapersonal (Therapists, Psychologists, Communication Experts) and

8. Naturalist (Birdwatcher, Conservationists)

As readers well know, although most schools focus heavily on Linguistic and Logical-Mathematical Intelligences, many people make their living using the other six listed. In fact, many professions or jobs require a combination of two or more types of intelligence.

Academics such as Robinson, Goleman, Gardener and others argue that ignoring our intelligence in different areas is detrimental to our development. My own argument is that our world is enriched by our ability to enjoy sports and recreational pursuits; our ability to converse with others; and to create art, music and beautiful structures for us to enjoy.

Are you ignoring an intelligence that could impact our world and could bring you success?

What are your thoughts?

Nicholas Cage, Predicting the Future and why Problem Solving is not the key to Success

In Psychology, Psychology of Success, Success on July 28, 2009 at 7:41 pm


By Bakari Akil II, Ph.D.

Nicholas Cage has starred in two movies, Knowing and Next, where he played characters that could predict future events. In both cases, that ability hurt his characters more than it helped. —- However, the next person I want to discuss has also been privy to the future, but his talent has helped him and others enormously.

John Naisbitt, following his daily routine of buying a New York Times from his newspaper vendor, had an epiphany. As he looked around he noticed a lot of newspapers from other cities. He had a sudden thought. If you understood what was going on locally in all these places, then you would understand what was going on in the world. Not only that, but you could predict the future through trends, patterns and events.

Soon thereafter, he quit his IBM job and used his last check to fund a new company. This was in the 1960s. With the help of hired hands, they would comb through 160 newspapers each day and (along with other methods) they would predict what would happen in certain markets, industries or parts of the globe. His talents were so respected that he would go on to have as clients, U.S. presidents, government officials, industry leaders and CEOs. You may have heard of his book, Megatrends published in 1982, where he predicted our shift to an information economy, the focus on a global economy, the increasing role of technology in our lives and “participative democracy.”

In his most recent book Mindset, he provides a nuanced discussion on how he was able to be so successful in determining the ‘future’ without having a shred of psychic ability. 

“Future Embedded in the Present”

I won’t share his entire argument, but I will share some important points. Naisbitt constantly stated that the “future is embedded in the present” and “the seeds (of that future) are all around us.” He elaborated by saying that patterns, trends an present directions are being forecast all the time. But, you have to start developing the habit of looking at the big picture by focusing on many smaller pictures. A similar approach would be the way his organization studied 160 city and international newspapers each day to understand what new developments were just around the bend.

Knowing the Score

Naisbitt also asserted that many people keep up with all the happenings of issues but don’t really know the “score.” He used sports as an analogy to emphasize that in games we play, we keep clear records. If we see the results of a tennis match we can say with absolute “surety” what player won how many games in a set and sets in a match. However, if we try to understand an issue outside the realm of sports, many things become fuzzy. People say they win when they have lost and vice versa. Naisbitt discusses a term used by economists called “revealed preferences” where consumers tell you one thing, but behave differently when you observe their spending habits and purchases. Developing the ability to know the “score” is a talent that can help you measure real progress and can help in a number of ways. 

But what good is obtaining this type of information if you can’t do anything about it?

Well, one of Naisbitt’s final points is that “you don’t get results by solving problems, but by exploiting opportunities.” No, Naisbitt is not saying that we should ignore real issues that have to be addressed, he is stating that if you have a strong grasp on where something is headed you can capitalize by ‘setting up shop’ before everyone else. One of his quotes is, “Trends, like horses, are easier to ride in the direction they are going.” 

In Mindset, he points out that some things do change but most remain the same and that “almost all change is evolutionary, not revolutionary.” By understanding what is “constant” and what is capable of being changed (and at what pace) we may be  better able to take advantage of opportunities that could lead to massive success.

Who is Martin Seligman and what does he have to do with your Happiness?

In Psychology, Psychology of Success, Success on July 24, 2009 at 7:25 am

By Bakari Akil II, Ph.D.

Martin Seligman claims that when he used to fly on airplanes and a seat mate would ask what he did for a living, they would lean away when they found out he was a psychologist. That was over two decades ago. Now, Seligman says, when he tells people what his profession is they “lean forward.” 

What’s the reason behind the dramatic change?

Well, the history of psychology has been one that focused heavily on depression, neurosis and psychotic behavior. For a very long time Freudian psychoanalysis, based largely on unconscious sexual issues, the focus on schizophrenia, concerns on animal experimentation, etc., has affected the general public’s perception of psychology.

Besides, who wouldn’t be a little leery of someone they think could put them in a strait-jacket?

Seligman, who specialized in abnormal psychology, reversed course in the early 90s and decided to use his expertise in a different way. What if psychology could be used to improve the lives of the average person? Average being people whose daily lives aren’t crippled or constantly disrupted by their own neurotic or psychotic behavior. 

Seligman is credited with creating positive psychology. Which according to Lynda Warwick, Ph.D., focuses on human behavior that encompasses “well-being,” “happiness” and “being a functional member of society.” His book, “Authentic Happiness,” which discusses these concepts in detail, is what truly propelled him to fame. Seligman discovered that those who were tested as the happiest among us, the “very happy” as author Tom Butler-Bowdon describes it, socialize more than those who score in the average range for happiness or those considered depressed. 

Money, power, status and many of the things people believe the more they have, the happier they would be, are just not good predictors of how happy people are. The predictors of high levels of happiness in Seligman’s research were involvement with many groups and high levels of interaction with other people. Married couples report higher levels of happiness than those who are divorced or separated. Single people who have lots of social activity are happier than singles who are not very socially active, etc.

Disclaimer: Seligman, in a speech at the TED Conference notes that very high levels of happiness and high levels of social activity are “correlated” (positively) but social activity is not necessarily the cause of happiness.

That aside, I would say cultivating social relationships to increase (or maintain) happiness is worth a shot. There is no use having success if you can’t enjoy it.

Why Jed Clampett really moved to Beverly Hills and why Environment is the forerunner of Success

In Goal Setting, Malcolm Gladwell, Psychology, Psychology of Success, Success on July 18, 2009 at 4:15 am


By Bakari Akil II, Ph.D.

When Jed’s ‘kinfolk’ ordered him to “move away from here” it was for a very good reason. Although “here” was never really explained on the show, it was easy to tell that the Clampett’s had it rough by one line in the theme song; “A poor mountaineer, barely kept his family fed.” Mining, raising crops in poor soil, moonshining and working in the wood mills meant that people like the Clampett clan led a hardscrabble lifestyle. What did the Appalachian landscape have to offer the Clampett’s and their new found wealth? 

Richard Florida’s  book, Who’s your City?, describes in detail how where you choose to live affects social and educational opportunities, your level of employability and job industries you’ll be involved in. Essentially, what type of life you will lead. He asserts that being unafraid to move to another city or live abroad may be the ticket to success.


Because environment matters.

Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, was written with the intention of explaining that environment plays an enormous role in the life of the extremely successful. No, it is not the final predictor, but its influence cannot be denied. Of course he had to use the most successful of our species (i.e., celebrities, mega-CEOs, pro-athletes, etc.) to make his point, but what about the rest of us? Environment plays a huge role in our development as well. (Which of course was one of Gladwell’s points.) 

But how often do people when starting a project or who are in the midst of their development evaluate if they have the proper environment to achieve the outcome they seek? We may have the ambition, drive, heart, skill and potential required to succeed but not the environmental settings that would make it a reality. 

Long before Gladwell, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (chick-sent-me-hi) talked about the environment’s affect on success. Author Tom Butler-Bowden, quotes Csikszentmihalyi as saying people are “a link in the chain, a phase in the process.” In other words, no person’s achievement stands ‘alone.’ In his book, Creativity, Mihaly interviewed over 90 people, ranging from famous musicians to obscure scientific Nobel Prize winners. He asserted that their success was a combination of many elements; “environment and culture” being two of them.

We have all seen documentaries that demonstrate that there has to be an infrastructure in place before there can be success. But, it’s pretty easy in hindsight to discover the environmental factors that led to another person becoming a superstar or standout. How much planning is devoted to setting up the proper environment, before we begin, in our own lives may be a greater concern?

‘Environment’ is only the tip of the iceberg! Check out over 100 innovative ideas on success in Dr. Akil’s new book SUPER YOU! 101 Ways to Maximize your Potential on Amazon or Lulu. You can also download a free chapter on your Kindle or iPhone at Amazon.

Beat the Competition: Practice when you Sleep!

In Brain, Goal Setting, Neurons, Psychology, Psychology of Success, Sports Psychology, Success on July 12, 2009 at 6:48 pm


By Bakari Akil II, Ph.D.

Let’s say there are two piano players, Jim and Bob. In their individual lessons their instructor, Leslie, tells them a position is opening up in their city’s orchestra. Who gets it will be based on 5 songs they must play before judges. She gives them the sheet music for the competition and sends them on their way.

At this moment they are equal in skill and ability and neither Jim nor Bob has ever practiced the songs they are given. They dive with equal fervor into their preparation. Unknowingly, both adopt the same training regimen and practice an equal amount of time. However, this is where their similarities end. Jim and Bob are two very different people in one key area. Jim has always been very disciplined about going to bed early and insuring that he gets 8 hrs of sleep. Bob is a night owl and stays up late watching TV and reading books.  He usually gets 5 hrs of sleep each night.

However, if Jim and Bob’s training methods and length of training are exactly the same why is it more likely that Jim would perform better at the competition than Bob?

According to, “Your Brain: The Missing Manual,” Bob is missing out on a precious benefit gained during sleep that would boost his piano playing ability.  That precious gift is the brain reviewing the previous day’s activities and increasing the ability for Bob to perform those actions better the next time he tries them.

As we practice any activity neural pathways are created that help the brain to remember how to perform the action at a later date. Each time we perform a particular task the pathways become a stronger series of networks that can help us get the job done.  This apparently happens even when we’re sleeping.

So by sleeping three more hours Bob would perform just as well as Jim?

Most likely.

But there’s a catch to improving performance by sleeping. It has to occur during the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) phase of sleep. That is one of four stages of sleep we cycle through throughout the night. It is also the deepest level of sleep. If Bob does not cycle through the REM stages then he can’t reap the benefits.

The author of “Your Brain,’ Matthew MacDonald, cites two studies, one involving rats and the other humans that demonstrate the effectiveness of REM sleep in improving our ability to conduct tasks we perform during the day. In a study (2001), rats who had “electrodes implanted” in their brains were sent through a series of mazes. Their neuronal activity was “recorded.” When the rats later fell into REM sleep those same neurons fired in the same way as if they were running the mazes.

Another experiment, conducted by Robert Strickgold (Harvard Medical School) in 2000, was where human subjects were asked to play Tetris for 7 hours a day. Participants were observed while sleeping and awakened during their REM cycles. Many of the test subjects were indeed dreaming of playing Tetris (17 of 27). MacDonald goes on to say that in these types of studies, subjects who are prevented from going into REM sleep do not perform as well as others who are allowed REM sleep when learning “new tasks.”

Sometimes succeeding in something boils down to small advantages. We can only practice for so long or in so many ways. If I can gain an edge through a relaxing deep sleep, someone please, hand me a pillow.

Find out 101 more ways you can ‘beat the competition’ 🙂 in Dr. Akil’s groundbreaking new book SUPER YOU! 101 Ways to Maximize your Potential on Amazon or Lulu. You can also download a free chapter on your Kindle or iPhone at Amazon.

How Navy Seals Increased Passing Rates and My Random Army Experience

In Brain, Goal Setting, Psychology, Psychology of Success, Self talk, Sports Psychology, Success, Visualization on July 7, 2009 at 6:25 am
Navy Seal Training

Navy Seal Training

By Bakari Akil II, Ph.D.

It was 10 PM, pitch black and I was in the middle of the woods in North Carolina. My job was simple. I had to erect a 30 foot antennae that would be used to gather radio transmissions so our artillery platoon could conduct fire missions. I had been dropped off by a Humvee along with another soldier in another platoon.  We were all alone. He had the same mission but had to set up his antennae about 100 yards from mine.

It was the beginning of many such missions my unit conducted as ‘practice’ in the Army. In the snow, in the rain, in the summer heat we practiced the science of artillery. At least half of the year, every year, we spent in the woods in 3 to 7 day chunks. I thought my stint as a Cannon Fire Direction Specialist  (13-E) would be indoors in a command center like the one in the 1980s classic, War Games, starring Matthew Broderick. At least that is what my recruiter told me.


I was mere yards from the gun line, had to dig foxholes, pull guard duty, man the M-60 and listen to the artillery rounds fired up close and personal throughout the day and night. Luckily, I never had to go to war. I served during a relative time of peace (1993-95).

So,– why did we spend so much time living in the woods, firing live rounds, going through the motions? Why were 2 twenty year olds trusted to set up communications for 2 platoons (100 men) and to guide them into their new base in the woods for the next few days?

Well, we had to do this under as realistic conditions as possible so if we were called to war we would be able to perform our jobs with confidence and without thinking about it. Many of my fellow soldiers had served in the first Iraq War and they continuously relayed how serious warfare was and how we needed to be prepared. Our training reflected that mentality. But the ‘practice makes perfect’  approach isn’t always enough.

Which brings me to the Navy Seals. I will admit that training to become a combat soldier is tough. But becoming an elite soldier such as a Navy Seal or Ranger is even tougher. These guys are not only regular soldiers they also go through further training to become masters of terrain and conditions and to handle situations in hostile territories as a small group or on their own. Their training has to be super intense in order to have soldiers who can actually carry out their missions.

Hence, they had an extremely low passing rate for trainees. According to  The Brain, a show featured on The History Channel, out of 140 recruits (average/each cycle) only 36 would make it. However, they noticed that they were losing a number of good recruits not because they couldn’t phsyically hack it, but because they had a mental block. It was in one key area; the water. The Navy Seals have a drill in a pool where recruits have to remain under water for 20 minutes. They are equipped with oxygen tanks for air. All they have to do is stay under water without coming up. Seems simple enough.

Well there’s a catch. The recruits are constantly harassed by their instructors who rip off their masks, tie their (air) lines in knots and conduct other general forms of harrassment. The recruit’s job is to not panic; wait until the attack is over; calmly fix the problem while remaining under water and then wait for the next attack. At the end of the 20 minutes the recruit will be required to kiss the floor of the pool and then will be brought up by the drill instructor.

But the opposite often happens. Soldiers do panic and even with 4 chances to pass (at different times in the program) many never make it. So the Navy Seals turned to psychology. Using a four step process they increased the passage rates in their program. What did they do? They emphasized what psychologists and communication academics have been advocating for years:

Goal Setting    –    Mental Rehearsal    –    Self Talk    –    Arousal Control

With goal setting the recruits were taught to set goals in extremely short chunks. For instance, one former Navy Seal discussed how he set goals such as making it to lunch, then dinner. With mental rehearsal they were taught to visualize themselves succeeding in their activities and going through the motions. As far as self talk is concerned, the experts in The Brain documentary made the claim that we say 300 to 1000 words to ourselves a minute.  By speaking positively to themselves the soldiers could “override fears coming from the amygdala, a part of the brain that helps us deal with fear.  And finally, with arousal control the recruits were taught how to breathe to help mitigate the crippling emotions and fears that some of their tasks encouraged.

This simple four step process increased their passing rates from 25 percent to 33 percent, which is excellent in a rigorous program as theirs. This just demonstrates that achieving success doesn’t always have to be a difficult process. A few minor changes and tweaks may be all that is needed.

For an outstanding number of ways to increase performance, check out Dr. Akil’s exciting new book SUPER YOU! 101 Ways to Maximize your Potential on Amazon or Lulu. You can also download a free chapter on your Kindle or iPhone at Amazon.

Likert-type Scales and how a Questionnaire can improve our Lives

In Psychology, Psychology of Success, Success on July 2, 2009 at 3:21 pm


By Bakari Akil II, Ph.D.

If you’ve ever been to a mall, you may have been involved in the following scenario.  A person with a clipboard has locked their eyes on you. They shout out a pleasantry followed by a plea to fill out their survey. “It will take just a moment,” they say as they move in your direction. You look down, speed up and shift lanes. If you had a football, you’d probably score. 

Mall marketers aside, questionnaires don’t always have to be for the benefit of social science or a scientific endeavor. They can also benefit our lives. Let me explain.

Sometimes we may have a feeling that our life isn’t quite where we would like it to be. However, we might not be able to pinpoint the source of our dissatisfaction. All we know is that our level of happiness and enjoyment of life isn’t quite right.

A good way to pinpoint this dissatisfaction so we can begin to effectively deal with it is to create a Life Ratings Scale.

Put simply, a Life Ratings Scale  (created by this author) requires you to create a list of all areas in your life that you consider important to having a life of quality and enjoyment. Next using a Likert-type scale  from 0 to 5, with 0 as extremely unsatisfied and 5 being very satisfied, you rate each of the categories.

By using this technique you can gain a very clear picture of where your areas of dissatisfaction lay. Then you can begin to come up with ways to address them.

A sample Life Ratings Scale can be:

Family Life    0    1    2    3    4    5

Health           0    1    2    3    4    5

Finance         0    1    2    3    4    5

Spiritual        0    1    2    3    4    5  (or Religious)

Emotional     0    1    2    3    4    5

Job/Career    0    1    2    3    4    5

Hobby          0    1    2    3    4    5

Friends         0    1    2    3    4    5

Home           0    1    2    3    4    5

City              0    1    2    3    4    5

(Some categories in my own personal Life Ratings Scale are: Writing, Reading and Research.)

Once you create your most important categories and rate them you can further break them down to isolate key areas you would like to target.

For instance, “Finance” could be broken down into:

Income            0    1    2    3    4    5  (Passive)

Income            0    1    2    3    4    5  (Salary)

Savings            0    1    2    3    4    5

Investments     0    1    2    3    4    5

Checking          0    1    2    3    4    5


The category “Health” could be broken down into

Weight             0    1    2    3    4    5

Muscularity      0    1    2    3    4    5

Diet                 0    1    2    3    4    5

Exercise          0    1    2    3    4    5

By clearly defining regions of dissatisfaction in your life and then isolating exactly what ails you, you can then create a program or make the changes necessary to improve your enjoyment of life. Periodic checks (every month, 3 months, 6 months or year) using the same techniques can let you see your progress.

I created this process for my usage and it helps me to maintain my own current level of happiness. It is a wonderful tool to help you make any adjustments you feel necessary in your life and I recommend it to all.

Happy Ratings…

 (Life Ratings Scale was created by and is the copyright of Bakari Akil II, Ph.D.)

Discover other quick, but very useful ways to improve your life. Check out Dr. Akil’s exciting new book SUPER YOU! 101 Ways to Maximize your Potential on Amazon or Lulu. You can also download a free chapter on your Kindle or iPhone at Amazon.