A 'Personal Cognition Analysis' : Loophole to Happiness
by Danielle Kelly

Personal Cognition Analysis
Danielle Kelly
Texas Woman’s University

Though majoring in psychology taught me the importance of resisting the temptation to operate on my default setting, taking this cognitive psychology course provided me with the necessary knowledge to combat the part of my nature that is self-righteous, short-tempered, and complacent. Before entering this cognitive psychology course, I had a rudimentary understanding of cognition. While I understood that emotions, beliefs, and prior experiences impact behavior, I did not have a working knowledge of the interactions occurring between the different layers of cognition. Moreover, I could not relay how these interactions specifically influence my behavior. To enhance the understanding of my nature and help me consolidate the information presented in the text and lecture, I assigned phrases from Loophole to Happiness to various cognitive psychology concepts. In addition to strengthening my understanding of how the various components of cognition impact my own behavior, employing phrases as retrieval cues allowed me to engage in introspection and personally interact with the material.

For embodied cognition, I associated the phrase “you are and are not in control” (Von Bolton, 2017).  Embodied cognition pertains to the phenomenon of bodily processes impacting cognition. Current emotions, thoughts, and assessments are impacted by the experience of stimuli in the physical world. The state of the body fundamentally influences decision-making, creativity, and use of language. To illustrate, as a form of offloading, I use pantomimes when I speak to help me articulate verbally. Moreover, when my blood sugar is low, I experience negative thoughts, exert a sour attitude, and inadequately appraise the difficulty of tasks on my to do list. Simply satisfying my dietary requirement enhances my mood and transforms my misinterpretations to better reflect reality. Additionally, the cleanliness of my environment impacts my happiness and ability to focus. Whenever I am forced into a cluttered or untidy environment, I experience heightened levels of anxiety and unrest. Furthermore, I am guilty of maintaining the illusion of control bias; I believe I can accomplish high load tasks when improperly nourished or in disarray. Though I like to think I have complete control over my behavior and quality of the work I produce, I share the control with the state of my body. The theory of embodied cognition engendered the understanding that what I tend to regard as objective reality is in fact subjective reality.

Considering our cognition fundamentally impacts what we visually perceive, I attached the phrase “everyone creates reality” to concepts pertaining to perception (Von Bolton, 2017). Humans experience the world using their body; this process effects the information perceived. Taking into consideration that an individual’s bodily processes influence the interpretation of reality, no two humans experience or perceive the world in the exact same way. The pure processing that occurs when information enters sensory receptors through bottom up perception creates reality. During development, the beliefs heard, behaviors observed, and events witnessed function to establish schemas and generate personal realities. Listening to my parent’s beliefs and studying their behaviors I created schemas and generated cognitions that aligned with their knowledge and opinions. This occurs because my understanding about what is involved in a particular experience is informed by the information I perceive myself and the knowledge imparted by the people in my environment. During top down processing, my schemas, emotions, current goals, prior knowledge, and embodiment work simultaneously with bottom up processing to impact my interpretation of reality. My interpretation of reality is influenced by previously established patterns and the presentation of new information. Considering everyone has their own previously established patterns, there are an infinite number of possible perceptions and interpretations of reality. When assuming my reality is an unbiased representation of my environment, I have failed to overcome my bias blind spot. To combat this bias, I strive to remember that perception is derived from individual schemas that differ immensely between individuals. Though reality is subjective, I can help others understand my point view by effectively communicating how I arrived at my perceptions.

In order to perceive the information presented in our environment, attention needs to be paid to the stimuli. When attention is not paid to the stimuli, it is impossible to an honest assessment and recollection of the information. Therefore, I paired the phrase “assess honestly” to information associated with attention (Von Bolton, 2017). Considering the brain is not equipped with attentional resources required to attend to every detail of their experience, humans divide their attention amongst the important information and ignore the irrelevant stimuli. Overtime, ignoring a previously neutral stimulus engenders stimulus devaluation, or an unfounded negative emotional association with the stimulus. Despite the limited and selective nature of attention, humans have the tendency to overestimate their ability to diligently attend to details and accurately remember events. This knowledge transformed the way I experience the world around me by encouraging me to remain present and exercise mindfulness during both engaging and mundane activities. Taking into consideration that information cannot be committed to memory if attention is not paid, the stakes for actively attending to the information in my environment is high. Honestly assessing the information in my environment requires me to acknowledge that my cognition is innately biased and flawed.

To increase my attentional resources, I took the life changing advice from class and developed a mindfulness meditation practice. Considering mindfulness meditation encourages living in the present moment, I paired the phrase “address tomorrow, come back to now” to the concept of mindfulness (Von Bolton, 2017). Practicing mindfulness reduces my experience of negative emotions such as anxiety, depression, and contempt. Through increasing my self-compassion, mindfulness improves my psychological wellbeing and enhances my ability to effectively regulate my emotions. By reducing mind wandering, mindfulness increases my attention and allows me to attend to what is immediately occurring. Beyond improving attention resources, mindfulness increases working memory capacity.

Working memory involves the immediate conscious perceptual processing of the information presented and events occurring. Considering working memory capacity is impacted by health and self-care, I assigned the phrase “maximize well-being” to the information on working memory (Von Bolton, 2017). Factors that diminish cognitive resources include Sleep deprivation, emotional processing, and unsatisfied hunger or thirst. To enhance working memory, it is imperative to sleep for about eight hours each night, satisfy all dietary needs, and reframe emotions or cognitions to reinstate an auspicious mindset. Receiving appropriate amounts of sleep and adequate nutrition allows me to engage with my environment, live in the moment, and improves my ability to commit the memories attended to in working memory to long-term memory. Unfortunately, the human condition requires us to experience tragedy, endure hardships, and combat anxious and depressed emotional states. After experiencing a tragic or distressing event, it becomes increasingly difficult to maximize well-being and suppress the perseverating negative thoughts and emotions. In response to the rumination that occurs with worry and depression, working memory capacity decreases because sleep and self care decrease. In my experience, event or environment induced depression and anxiety requires professional assistance. For me, therapy facilitates a judgment frees environment to engage in catharsis and work on reframing previously held cognitions. When facing hardships this semester, I practiced designating fifteen minutes a day to acknowledge my fears and worries and process my emotions. I found this mindfulness technique to be significantly helpful and therapeutic. Moreover, I am pleased to report that it successfully improves my working memory capacity. To maintain an optimum level of functioning, I plan to continue a strict regimen of self-care in the future.

Maximizing working memory capacity is crucial to human development because our beliefs, emotions, prior knowledge and repertoire of behaviors is determined by the information we encode to our long-term memories. By connecting past knowledge and experience to present information, long-term memories influence our interpretation and synthesis of present information. Taking into consideration that memories are encoded and retrieved via multimodal codes, I assigned the phrase “consciousness is calculated” to concepts pertaining to long-term memory (Von Bolton, 2017). I regard consciousness as being calculated because my conscious assessment of my environment is impacted by my current emotional state. Failing to effectively reframe an emotion can wreak havoc on the quality of memories consolidated in the long-term. Additionally, the effect of mood congruency increases my propensity to retrieve information from my long-term memory that aligns with my current mood. To illustrate, when I am in a depressed mood I find it arduous to recall happy and positive memories. This cyclical mindset perpetuates the formation of more negative memories by coercing me to attend to negative stimuli as opposed to positive stimuli. When forming explicit memories, a depressed mindset guides my endogenous attention to attend to more depressing information. Attending to negative information promotes the consolidation of more semantic and episodic memories that are associated with negative emotions. Understanding the phenomenon of mood congruency allows me to exercise caution when interpreting details of an event. Learning this information encourages me to consolidate memories with the awareness that my interpretation of the memories details is biased my current emotion. Upon employing this knowledge, I have noticed a drastic increase in my own happiness. I believe this occurred because I started taking responsibility for the memories I create.

Prior to learning the complex process of memory consolidation, I was guilty of claiming cognitive superiority and overestimating the accuracy of my memories. To solidify my awareness of the constructive and fallible nature of memory, I paired the phrase “look at you” with information regarding memory errors (Von Bolton, 2017). After absorbing the information on memory errors, I am now aware that my inherently deficient attentional resources produce incomplete and inaccurate memories. Though deep processing of information allows for a better comprehension and retention, there will always be details left unattended. Before learning the fallibility of my memory, I subscribed to the self-serving bias that I have an outstanding episodic memory that is free of error. My self-serving bias reinforced my falsely committed memories by prompting me to feel confident in the accuracy of my memories. Regardless of how well I believe I attend to the stimuli in my environment, my memories are still reconfigured by suggestion. Using my schemas and scripts, I subconsciously construct memories to reflect my on previously held conceptions of what information is present during certain events. Gaining insight to the constructive nature of memory informed me that human memory is limited in its abilities and prone to error. Memories are susceptible to error because memories are composed of information pertaining to the initial event and all of the information acquired after. The videos that enhanced my understanding of long-term memory and memory errors include the 60-minute special and the Ted Talk that explains why eyewitnesses testify incorrectly.

My favorite long-term memory activity was the video on the power of counterfactual thinking. For the concept of counterfactual thinking, I applied the phrase “reflect, move on” (Von Bolton, 2017).  I chose this phrase because using counterfactual thinking enables me to cautiously examine my shortcomings to learn the intended lesson with out ruminating on my failures. When engaging in counterfactual thinking, I consider the details of past events and contemplate disparate outcomes for the event by imagining how the event could have occurred differently. Taking the time to reflect on what I can do differently permits me to move on to the future with the confidence to apply the lessons I learned. When I actively utilize counterfactual thinking to process information, I notice an increase in my ability to think analytically, behave creatively, and solve problems prudently. Using counterfactual thinking to establish my sense of purpose in life, informs me how to conduct myself in everyday life to better fulfill my responsibilities and accomplish my goals. Furthermore, engaging in counterfactual thinking motivates me to take an active role in the stories I concoct about others and myself. Before learning the powerful benefits of counterfactual thinking, I assumed partaking in any form of rumination would induce negative feelings of an anxiety and depression. Contrary to my previous assumption, the rumination occurring in counterfactual thinking is constructive and a useful tool in the battle against thoughts of inadequacy or worry. The introspection occurring during counterfactual thinking generates meaning in my life by encouraging me to reflect on how I reacted in response to novel information or a new experience. Reflecting on the outcome of a response allows me to construct a conscious record of my personal interpretation. Understanding the origins of my personal point of view enables me to acknowledge and resist my nature to create biases influenced by long-term memory, such as hindsight bias, outcome bias, and memory bias. To enhance the effects of counterfactual thinking, I use the expressive writing technique. The cathartic effect I experience from physically writing my reflection of my internal state reduces anxiety and improves sleep quality.

Understanding that both body language and verbal language work together to subconsciously influence my emotions, thoughts, and behaviors empowers me to exert more awareness over my body positioning and language use. After participating in the language activities, I became aware of my tendency to remain quiet and make myself smaller when I am in environments where I have little authority, such as school. Furthermore, I realized that I have the tendency to occupy more space and speak up when I am the authority figure in the environment. For example, I utilize a deeper tone, stand straighter, puff out my chest, and refrain from crossing my arms. Considering that my body language and verbal language impacts the way others assess my abilities and personality, I attached the phrase “calibrate vocabulary” to the concepts presented on language (Von Bolton, 2017). This phrase reminds of the importance of staying present when communicating with others. My ability to articulate and utilize syntax correctly impacts others ability to understand the information I am relaying. For example, when I am teaching yoga, it is imperative that I enunciate every phoneme in order to properly communicate pose cues. If I fail to pronounce every phoneme, then the directions in my cues will not resonate with my students.

In my opinion, the phrase “we are animals” best encompasses my take away from this cognitive psychology course (Von Bolton, 2017). During the course of the semester, I used the concepts and the simple philosophies in Loophole to Happiness to examine my preconceived notions, previous life experiences, ingrained beliefs, long held apprehensions, subconscious cognitions, and unrealized faults. Though this class informed me that I am riddled with faults and prone to being wrong, I was able to realize that examining the faults in my human nature strengthens my potential by expanding my understanding of how to counteract my shortcomings. Now that I understand that my cognitive processes are responsible for my calculation of consciousness, it is my responsibility to actively resist the temptation to operate on my default setting. More importantly, I understand that transforming my cognitions and optimizing my mental health requires rolling introspection of my personal behavioral patterns and biases.

Von Bolton, W. (2017). Loophole to Happiness: A 585 word philosophy.