Category Archives: psychology

The 2 Mountains and the 4 Goals

I recently came across the concept of climbing The Second Mountain, via Optimize Philosophers Notes (check out my last post to know how to get access), about David Brooks book of the same title.

The concept is super simple, and yet profound. Haven’t read the book, but from what I have understood from the book summary, the achievers/actualizers among us, start by climbing the first mountain of success, happiness etc, which is what the society expects us to do, only to find the peak unsatisfying and wanting. That is when the journey to the second mountain starts. The peak here is about transcending or other-focused- bringing us joy, impact etc. The way to get to the second mountain is by fiercely committing ourselves- to family, a vocation, values/ philosophy or community.

This set me thinking. I have blogged extensively in the past about the four major goals of life (see for e.g. here, here and here). However, I believe I had been conflating the second mountain other-centered goals with first mountain self-centered goals and more focused or obsessed with the first mountain goals in general.

To recap, the life goals as delineated by me earlier were:

  1. Happiness (maximizing pleasure and ‘self’ focus)
  2. Morality/Integrity (living morally and ‘group’/community focus)
  3. Meaning (living authentically and ‘other’/ family focus)
  4. Success (making an impact and ‘task’/ work focus)

I would now like to conceptualize them slightly differently. The first mountain self directed goals, as per me, are :

  1. Happiness (pleasing self focus)
  2. Success (task/job focus)
  3. Integrity (authenticity /conscience focus )
  4. Meaning (fulfillment focus)

I want to contrast this with second mountain other directed goals, which as per me are:

  1. Joy (enjoying with others focus)
  2. Impact (making a difference/ calling focus)
  3. Morality (ethics/ altruism focus)
  4. Transcendence (beyond self focus)

I would like to relate the second mountain goals to following four types of commitments, as identified by Brooks, respectively:

  1. Joy – committing to family
  2. Impact– committing to vocation
  3. Morality – committing to community
  4. Transcendence – committing to values/ philosophy

And to be frank,I have been inspired by the ancient Hindu framework of four purusharthas or four major goals of life, which I believe is one sort of instantiation of the second mountain goals:

  • Kaam (the pleasure of giving pleasure) – Joyful union
  • Artha (the meaningful economic activity ) – on ground Impact
  • Dharma (the true moral nature) – Ethical duty
  • Moksha (liberation from trappings)- Ultimate Transcendence

Important to note the difference between happiness and joy; and also job/career vs calling. Similarly while someone may do good acts out of a desire to keep the conscience clean and retain a sense of integrity, better from morality standpoint is to be governed by what is good by itself and not how its making you feel. Bahgvad Gita sermon by Krishna elaborates on this point only – Arjun feeling bad on the battlefield, in anticipation of killing his family and friends, is exhorted to do what is right, and good for the community as a whole, and not what will make him feel right. Similarly , one has to look beyond finding meaning in life by living authentically, to coming to terms with absurdity of life and finding the existential courage to create a transcendent purpose. A buddha is self-enlightened; a boddhisatva keeps taking births out of compassion and is perhaps more liberated in my view.

I really would like to see empirical research done on 2 mountains concept and also on how the four major goals of life are related, but distinct. Also taking a cue from Hinduism, how happiness < success < integrity < meaning and Joy < Impact < Morality < Transcendence. I am intuitively reminded of Maslow’s hierarchy, with self transcendence at top, but not in the mood to expand it further. What is important is to move form theory to practice! So what goal are you committing to today?

Optimizing Your Life

Long time readers of this blog will know that I am enamored by psychology, especially that, which can be put to practical use. While I have developed some expertise in psychology, especially positive psychology, I have always been pondering whether I have been able to apply it equally well, and that too at scale.

As a matter of fact I left a very high paying (and satisfying) job in software industry to venture forth on my own as a strengths coach, working with professionals and students and am currently scaling that part of my life, poised to create massive impact. Living a self actualized and optimal life, that is causing ripples of positive impact, is a dream I aspire to.

Along the way, to practice more deeply what I preach, I have tried 365 days of gratitude journey for myself (which I discontinued after 3 months) and writing 90 days 90 sonnets challenge for myself – all in the hope that I will finally get over my limitation of not being consistent. If you have followed The Mouse Trap over the years, you would know that writing consistently has never been my forte.

All that is about to change! One person I have admired for his consistency (and quality) of output is Brian Johnson. Over the years I have kept track of how he has produced good quality content day in and day out. And I just enrolled into his Optimize Mastery Program (starting Jan 3rd) which he has made available for $300 (as opposed to regular price of $1000) along with an option to bring a friend for FREE. And I would recommend that you too sign up here. I really hope to become more consistent and make everyday of 2022 and beyond a masterpiece day. I’m sure that would reflect in the frequency of my blogging too.

You may be struggling with some other issue; maybe you need help with other areas of your life, maybe you need to get your sleep routine or eating routine settled. Do check out what would be covered in the Optimize Mastery class here (scroll down for syllabus outline).

What’s more, if you think this is something you are not ready for or willing to invest in, you can sign up for Optimize premium lifetime membership for FREE here. There are no catches; no credit cards required etc etc . 600 + Personal-growth books, summarized as PhilosopherNotes, 101 classes and byte sized +1 videos, all around achieving personal mastery. Do check it out here.

Brian’s credo has been moving from Theory to Practice to Mastery and I am so looking forward to moving up the value chain. The Optimize Mastery program is a 300 day program scientifically proven to help you be the best version of yourself. Sonja Lyubomirsky’s lab was involved in its validation.

So what are you waiting for? You can sign up for the $300 Optimize Coach/Mastery program here and the FREE Optimize premium program here.

Full disclosure: These are affiliate links and I will get a commission if you sign up, but if you are a long term reader of The Mouse Trap you will know that I have rarely promoted a product/service (including my own:-) ) here and wont do it if I wasn’t convinced it would benefit my readers.

The Mouse Trap is not Retiring (and remains available on old domain)

Update: With generous help from Rob Capili, I have switched my hosting service provider and The Mouse Trap blog remain available at Accordingly, references to the blog has been deleted from below to avoid confusion. The original post follows with slight modification.

The posts on The Mouse Trap are my life’s work- for a long time I derived my identity as a psychology blogger- however that phase of my life is sort of coming to an end, or at least pausing for a while. I have been more and more inconsistent when it comes to blogging. I am moving to a new host. The new blog may or may not have new posts, but it will serve as an archival home to my earlier psychology blog. I would encourage those who are old timers to bookmark the new blog, just in case I do write on it again…

I had recently deleted my twitter account too; I am still available on Facebook and the new The Mouse Trap posts will still be available on the old TheMouseTrapBlog Facebook page. I will try migrating the feedburner feed also to new blog. For those who might drop in the process my apologies in advance. For the rest who continue to remain associated, I remain forever indebted- they made The Mouse trap on of the top 100 science blogs in the world at its Prime and me personally as top 100 psychologists (though I don’t qualify as a psychologist) on twitter lists by say BPS. In a textbook on citation, one of the Mouse trap blog posts link was chosen as an example of how blogs should be cited- I apologize to the authors as they will probably need to revise or end up with a broken link.

I have got a lot of love as the blog author and made wonderful connections and friends in the process, so its with a slightly heavy heart that I decided to do this transition. The Mouse Trap was never commercially viable but still I kept financing it , because it was never about the money. However, with my current blog hosting provider, I’m unable to renew my hosting account due to technical reasons and that has prompted me to rethink and reevaluate and come to this alternate arrangement. I know I will lose a lot of search traffic, and I’m truly sorry for the 200/300 daily users who visit the mouse trap using organic search- as they may suddenly lose that source of information/ knowledge/ hopefully wisdom. If anyone knows how I can redirect search traffic to the new blog that would be awesome.

Take care and by for now!

Shaping Psychology: A book review

‘Shaping Psychology: Perspectives on Legacy, Controversy and the Future of the Field’ is a book by Tomasz Witkowiski and aims to do a review of the field of psychology by interviewing prominent psychologists that have had a seminal influence on the field. The 15 interviewees included in the book include such diverse stalwarts as Daniel Kahneman (behavioral psychology), Naom Chomsky (linguistics) and Michael Posner (neuroscience of attention etc).

The fact that the list included some of my favorite people like Joseph LeDoux (a mutual friend on twitter/FB), Roy Baumeister (whose master class on self control I was fortunate to attend courtesy Ben/MentorCaoch) and Robert Sternberg was enough to pique my interest. Inclusion of others whose work I was already familiar with like Elizabeth Loftus, Robert Plomin, Susan Blackamore and Jerome Kagan was enough to convince me that the selection is not only wide ranging but also authoritative.

I was eager to learn about other featured psychologists including Brian Nosek whose work on Open Science I was familiar with, but also people like Erica Burman, Carol Tavris, Vikram Patel and Scott Lillienfeld which were somewhat stranger to me (despite being fascinated by psychology for so long). And I must say I was rewarded adequately, for I found the interview with Vikram Patel utterly fascinating and providing me with a different perspective and odes of inspiration.

Each interview/psychologist is one chapter in the book. The chapter starts with a very brief profile of the psychologists work (and here I think Tomsaz could have done better) followed by an edited transcript of Tomasz’s interview with the psychologist. If you are already familiar with the work of the psychologists then some of the questions and answers make more sense as compared to when you have little knowledge of psychologists background / research interests. There are some questions that he asks almost all of them in way or the other- including advice for young psychologists joining the field, role models they would suggest to them, what they think is their major accomplishments, and what they see the future of the field.

The above are usual questions you would expect in an interview; what sets this book apart is also some relentless questioning around the replication crisis in psychology, or say the relevance of AI to the field in coming years. And it is here you see a divergence in views; When he asks Roy Baumeister about replication crisis, esp in light of the fact that ego depletion has also been questioned despite 100s of studies around it, one gets interesting insights when Roy admits that at one time p-hacking was actually an accepted practice amongst psychologists in the not so recent past. On the other hand, the interview with Brian Nosek provided another insight that current trend for more power and larger samples has tilted the filed towards self -reports and M-Turk samples at the cost of small sized studies that measure say behaviors.

Lest it sound as if the book is all about dull methodological debates/ controversies, it spans other controversies too like false memory/ eye witness testimony research of Loftus, or the allegations of social Darwinism/ eugenics against Plomin to the controversial concept/ theory of memetics.

Some of the chosen psychologists have a bent toward skepticism and it is apparent Tomasz is a skeptic too. Some of the chapters like the one on Erica Burman were clearly beyond my capacity and went over my head- still scratching my head to understand ‘child as a method’ concept. Others like the chapter on Vikram Patel were god send – bringing much clarity to issues of global mental health about which I am quite passionate.

The chapters also reflected , to an extent, the featured psychologist’s personality. Some were drab and to the point, while other more humane and humble in their tone. It definitely provided a window not only on the subject of psychology but also on some of the key players who have shaped it and are continuing to shape it.

I would readily recommend this book to anyone interested in, and slightly familiar with, the field of psychology and who cares about its future and is interested in its recent influences. It would be time well spent.

Full Disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of this book for review.

Self at the Intersection of Drives and Norms

Self is the apparently unified entity that has conscious awareness of one’s actions and experiences- it is both an agent who is acting in the world willfully and an entity that is absorbing experiences passively.

By some accounts self is socially constructed- it is to be found in the web of relationships and consensual meaning and attributions. By other accounts self is innate and unfolds over developmental time frame.

To me there are at least two aspects of the self- we are born with a hodgepodge of inner drives and instincts, and over the developmental period learn to control or regulate those instincts in the service of our future self. We intuitively construct a continuous self that will exist in future too and for whose sake we need to regulate our drives and instincts so as to maximize benefits to our overall continuous self.

For this to really succeed, we need to bring the inner drives and instincts to conscious awareness, and once we are aware of what is driving us, we can then take a conscious call of whether to continue giving expression to that urge and rive or to retrain and regulate it. The efforts are thus to make unconscious material conscious and accessible. One can think of this as controlling the id.

The other aspect of self is that due to socialization we are exposed to various norms and expectations of the society and being a social creature are supposed to honor those norms/ implicit contracts. Initially this takes the form of conscious adherence to group norms as deviation from these could be deadly for survival. A social self develops that is sensitive to these nuances and regulates its behavior accordingly. Slowly however a better alternative is to internalize these social norms and make them unconscious or part of ones habitual repertoire. The movement here is from explicit conscious awareness to implicit unconscious internalization. A movement from social roles to personal responsibility. On can think of this as being controlled by the superego.

While at one frontier the self is being squeezed from promiscuous inner drives expression (where we give expression to all our inner urges ) to more responsible inner drive suppression (when the inner drives do not serve the future self ) , constantly moving the unconscious inner cauldron into conscious awareness; on the other side the self is being squeezed from conforming and complying to all social norms to a more value guided selective internalization, constantly moving the conscious to unconscious.

Thus while the self itself is mostly conscious it is constantly balancing between allowing expression to drives versus self-regulating them and also between complying with social conditioning versus self-surrendering to values that it holds dear. Both the processes of self regulation / self determination and internalization/ self-surrendering are important in having a solid and functional sense of self. The former can also be conceived of as a drive towards autonomy while the latter a drive towards homonomy.

If all our behavior was instinct or inner drive driven, we wouldn’t really need to invent something like a self – however as we do regulate our impulses and behavior we need to posit a self that is in charge. Similarity, if all we did was as per a social script, role playing what society expects us to , we wont have a need for self; precisely because we internalize selectively as per our value system, we need to posit a self who wants to act in concordance with itself.

A similar extension can be made about our understating of the world. The world exists (in our minds) at the intersection of experimenting and theorizing. We manipulate in the foreground to either learn about the world, or to operate upon it for our purposes. The idea is to control the environment. Each such interaction is a mini experiment either confirming or nonconforming our model of the world. Here we show a task focus and are more focused on a specific aspect / part of the world.

We also understand the data gathered by either assimilating and making sense of that data using existing schemas; or when we are not able to make sense, we overhaul our schemas by accommodating new information. In the former case we are on lookout for patterns that match our models and in the second case we are on lookout for detecting new patterns (and models) altogether. Familiarity detection and novelty detection being the mechanisms of note here. Here we are concerned with the overall context or the background or the gestalt.

Lastly one can note that while self -regulation aspect of self is closely related to autonomy need of SDT, self-surrendering aspect of self is related to relatedness need of SDT. Similarly, experimenting mode of world interactions, is related to mastery/ competence need of SDT while theorizing mode is related to meaning/contribution need of SDT, as extended by me.

What else do you think makes up the self? Or is it just a balance between self -regulation and internalization? Do share your thoughts and atart a conversation!

Perseverance : filmy style!

I am on a mission to create Bollywood as well as Hollywood playlists for all the 24 VIA strengths and also make a list of Hindi and English movies related to that strength theme. I recently started working on Gratitude and one my dear friends Vivek Mohile asked if I can share whatever I have compiled till now?

This is an amazing intiative Sandeep. As a Strengths Coach I would love to explore your collection and see how it is an additional dimension that can help people better connect with their Strengths— ViM (Vivek Mohile) (@vivekmohile100) July 6, 2019

So I decided to share this work in progress more widely, starting with the strength of Grit/Perseverance. My gratitude to all my Facebook and Twitter friends who have contributed to this collection. My hope is that The Mouse Trap readers will join them in recommending some more great stuff.

So here is English Songs playlist in no particular order for Grit:

First off, my favorite which I used to listen to while preparing for IIT JEE back in the 90’s. Never Say Die by Cliff Richrad

Next, Fight Song by Rachel Platten:

Next up, Greatest by Sia

And then, Eye of the Tiger by Survivor

Next I would like to list the egnlish movies with grit or perseverance with the theme.

  • The Shawshank Redemption
  • The terminal
  • Life is beautiful
  • The pursuit of Happyness
  • The Martian
  • Alive
  • 127 hours
  • Gattaca

Now lets get into some Bollywood mood. Here are some songs inspiring grit:

Soorma Anthem:

Chak De India:

Chale chalo (Lagaan):

Mitwa (Lagaan)

Besabriyaan (M.S. Dhoni)

Ziddi Dil (Mary Kom)

Zinda (Bhaag Milkha Bhaag):

Bhaag Milkha Bhaag title song

Dangal Title track:

Kar har maidan fateh (Sanju):

Yun hi chala chal (Swades):

Sapnon se bhare naina (luck by chance):

Tu naa jaane aas paas hai khuda (anjaan anjaani):

Jo jeeta wahi sikandar title track:

Yeh Safar (1942 a love story):

Yeh honsla (dor):

Lakshya title track:

Ruk jaan nahin (Imtihaan):

Jeevan se na haar o jeenewale (Door ka rahi):

Zindage ki yahi reet hai (Mr India):

Zindagi har kadam ek nayi jung hai (meri jung):

And now for Hindi gritty movies list:

  • M.S. Dhoni
  • Mary Kom
  • Bhaag Milkha Bhaag
  • Soorma
  • Chak De
  • Maanjhi
  • Bajrangi Bhaijaan

Of course I am compiling many other things too like real life exemplars or paragons of strengths and would love to hear form you about them as well as which are your go-to songs and movies when you want to get determination back?

The Formula for Success and Happiness

Successful people are not necessarily happy and happy people are not necessarily successful.  There are always trade-offs involved in life and depending on our priorities, we may want to become better at being more successful or happier, or lead lives that are more moral or more meaningful. I’m not saying that you cant have it all, or that these things are necessarily opposed to each other, but it pays to be aware that these are four distinct major goals or ways of living a life and one needs to be more mindful of what goals one is aspiring for.

Though the four major goals of life are proposed to be Happiness, Success, Meaning and Morality , we will focus on the first two goals of Happiness and Success only today.

Success, at times is measured by how much you earn, or how wealthy you are. Some of this may be due to luck , some due to bases and some inherited and this sort of success will not interest us much here. The success I am talking about is doing good work in any domain- maybe path-breaking creative work that changes the domain itself. At a smaller scale it could be measured be measured by how effective you are at work or how productive your output is. The point I am trying to make is my definition of success does not necessarily mean being recognized for that success (by the field), but it is necessarily domain specific.

Lets take an example, a child who sings pretty well and may even be composing music at an early age is successful in the domain of music, though she might not be earning anything from it. To take another example Van Gogh who sold only one painting in his entire career was pretty successful as a painter though probably less so as a salesman!

So what fuels success? Some usual suspects are inborn talent, passion for the domain and sheer hard work. Long debates have raged over whether talent is overrated, or deliberate practice and 10,000 hours are unduly glorified, or whether grit , which consists of passion and perseverance for long term goals, has been unnecessarily and per-maturely hyped. Add to the mix concepts like rage to master, which some have mused is just the same as grit, but purportedly more under genetic garb; or growth mindset which in the first place enables people to work hard in face of difficulties, and you have a lot of candidate mechanisms vying for attention.

IMHO, the debate about which ingredients are needed to make a success recipe are now well established what people are squabbling about is what proportion of which ingredient is to be added and is  responsible for the final taste.

Taking recourse and inspiration form my ABCD model, I believe the formula for Success looks like:

Success= Talent (A, more innate) + Hard Work/ Deliberate Practice/ 10,000 hrs (B , under intentional control)  + Grit/ Rage to Master (D, motivational drive) + Growth Mindset ( C, a way of approaching mastery)

Now, remember that success is domain specific, so in some domains Talent may be the driving factor while in others Hard Work  or Grit or having a Growth Mindset may be much more important. In either case, for those who have set their primary goal as that of being successful, my advise would be to invest on all four components and stop worrying as to which is more important or what contributes what amount to the final successful outcome. Get passionate about something, hopefully some area in which you have some talent or ability,  put in 10,000 or more hours of hard work and believe that your abilities in the domain can grow with hard work.

After coming up with this simple formula for Success, I could see parallels with Happiness and how to achieve it. To recap , work by Sonja and her colleagues has shown that happiness is partly determined by genetics (set point), partly by circumstances and partly by intentional activities and mindset. Another fact to remember is that character strengths are considered one pillar of being happy in the eudiamonic sense.

Thus, Happiness or Flourishing can be attributed to use of character strengths (which are sort of stable and internal), or to use of positive interventions and positive habits (like writing 3 good things or doing 3 kind acts etc) or it ma   y be attributed to the drive to equanimity or remaining self regulated and resilient despite whatever is happening or it may be attributed to an abundance mindset where helping someone or sharing resources does not lead to zero sum outcomes, but leads to positive externalities.

Again, drawing parallel to the Success equation, this formula for Happiness becomes:

Happiness = Character Strengths ( A, more innate) + Good Habits/intentional activities/ positive interventions (B, under control) + Equanimity/ self-regulation/ emotional resilience (d, motivation for stability) + Abundance Mindset (C, way of approaching happiness)

Again, just like Talent in Success may refer to musical talent or sports talent or academic talent , Character strengths in Happiness formula may refer to any of the 24 VIA strengths. To be truly happy, one will need to find what strengths one has and maybe sharpen them using interventions and self regulation directed for development of that strength. However, while a lot of empirical work has been done with respect to the success formula teasing out the relative contributions, similar work needs to happen for Happiness formula too.

And of course, we have to find formulas for Meaning and Morality but that would be an occasion for a future post. Suffice to say that Benefit mindset will figure there.

Does knowing these formulas help you get greater clarity in your pursuit of success/ happiness?  Which one would you chose if you had to make a trade-off and why?

Rubber hand illusion and other videos from WatchKnow

Today I discovered a  new educational video portal,WatchKnow, that aggregates educational videos in categories. The psychology category has about 14 or so videos and one video that caught my fancy was a video by New Scientist that demonstrates the Rubber Hand illusion.

This becomes pertinent in light of a post today by Mind Hacks about new research that showed that rubber hand illusion can be induced in amputee, for a robotic arm, and the effcet is the same rubber hand illusion extended.

Another series of videos I liked were BBC‘ Horizon series on Memory, where I found for the first time that  Memory was correlated with self-recognition (mirror test) in children.

The part 2 and part 3 of the above clip are about a memento style John , who cannot form memories adequately and an eternal sunshine of the spotless mind type lady who needs to get her PTSD memories erased.

There are more available at the source, so go have a look!

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