News from Little Guru: Never ever give up! Excel, then celebrate your Victory!

When you´re attending a seminar on coaching, training, positive psychology, or ‘self-help’ in general, there´s this 90% likelihood that at a certain point, the facilitator will talk about learning. In order to ‘open up’ the minds of the participants, most workshop hosts will use the (in-)famous ‘baby analogy’. They will give a talk on how babies learn to walk: by getting up, falling down, getting up again, falling down again, getting up again, …., you get the picture.

The message is: babies are not afraid to fail. The ‘just do it’. Thing is: I´ve had at least 2.500 hours of different courses in the abovementioned areas over the last years – so I tend to get a little tired of hearing the same story all over again.
But:

Now I kind of received this live demonstration. Below you´ll find a video* of the Little Guru that my wife sent to me while I was at work. It (presumably) shows the first time ever that the Little Guru has managed to sit up all by himself. He tries once, falls down, tries again – and then he succeeds. Even more important: Little Guru not only shows persistence. He also takes his time to savor the victory…

This is a fast-paced life. We rush from task to task, meeting to meeting, job to job. Most of the time, there´s a lot of things that will go well along the way. Do we really take enough time to cherish what went well?

* Please excuse the vertical video syndrome.

If you can´t dream it, you can´t do it!

In a lot of self-help books (of the shallow kind…), you’ll get to read the sentence “If you can dream it, you can do it” – which supposedly has been coined by Walt Disney. I acknowledge that this saying is well-intentioned – yet well intentioned and well done are oftentimes light years apart. There are simply a lot of things which sometimes all of us, and often most of us, cannot do – no matter how strong we believe. However how hard you exercise, you will never run as fast as Usain Bolt. No matter how hard you study, you will never be as smart as Steven Hawking. No matter how hard you work, you´ll never create the next Apple, Google, or Microsoft. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. There is a Usain Bolt, there is a Stephen Hawking, and there are Jobs, Brin/Page, and Gates – but they are “singularities”. And no matter how many books sporting titles such as “The 10 Secrets to being like Steve Jobs” you´ll read – there´s a 99.999% likelihood of failure.

But I do not want to be a messenger of pessimism here. In fact, I do believe in the power of belief. It´s just that we have to turn things around in order to make it work. If you´d like to have science on your side, the saying should go like this:

If you can´t dream it, you can´t do it!

No man in this world can run a mile (1,609m) in less than four minutes. This has been an unwritten law during the first half of the 20th century. Innumerable athletes had tried to conquer the so-called miracle mile; some came close, but no one was able to beat that time. There even were physicians who claimed the human body per se is not capable of performing that feat.

However, impossibility did not know that somebody didn´t give a sh.t about impossibility: Roger Bannister, a young British athlete, just didn´t believe in the widespread doctrine. In a series of preparatory runs, he came closer and closer to reaching the impossible. Finally, at Oxford’s Iffley Road arena, on 6th May 1954, under rather bad external conditions, he finished the mile in 3:59.4 minutes – new world record.* You can watch a race between Bannister and his closest rival at that time, John Landy, a couple of weeks later here.

While this is very impressive in itself, it is not the point of the matter. The really fascinating fact is: Suddenly, by the end of 1954, a total of 36 athletes worldwide were able to beat that time. Now what has happened here? Was there a sudden advance in the training methods? Or the doping substances? I don´t believe that. Rather, I believe Roger Bannister has overthrown a collective self-fulfilling prophecy. He broke “the spell”, he crushed the mental blockade that had bedeviled his generation of fellow athletes.

Bannister had what psychologist like to call high self-efficacy, the specific belief in one’s ability to succeed in specific situations. High self-efficacy is associated with a wide array of positive outcomes, while a lack of self-efficacy is a good predictor for failure – irrespective of actual capabilities. Low self-efficacy is the psychological equivalent of “If you can´t dream it, you can´t do it”.

But no amount of self-efficacy will help us do what´s not doable.

* The current world record is held by Hicham El Guerrouj (3:43.13).

Dream_it

The Power of Mindfulness – or: the Bear´s Death List

BearThere´s a rumor in the forest: The bear has written a death list. Buzz spreads like a wildfire. Some of the animals who hear about it decide to go ask the bear about the list to soothe their uncertainty.
So, the fox goes to the bear and asks him about the list: ‘Hey bear, is it true that you have a death list?’
`Yeah.’ says the bear.
`Well… is my name on it?’
`Yeah, you’re on the list.’
The fox runs off terrified. A week later, he´s found dead next to a tree.
A few days pass. Finally, the stag plucks up some courage, comes by and asks the bear about the list.
`Hey bear, is it true that you wrote a death list?’ asks the stag.
`Yeah.’ says the bear.
‘And was the fox on that list?’
`Yes, he was.’
`Okay… so is my name on it?’
`Let me check… yeah, afraid so.’
And so the stag takes to his heels in horror. A few days later, he´s found dead by a river.
Another couple of days pass and the rabbit comes by and asks the bear about the list.
`Hey bear, is it true that you have a death list?’ asks the rabbit.
`Yeah.’ says the bear.
And was the fox on that list?’
`Yep.’
And was the stag on that list, too?’
‘Indeed, he was.’
`OK… so is my name on it?’
`Yeah, afraid so, you’re on there, too.’
So the rabbit ask:
`OK… couldn’t you… …you know… like… erase my name or something?’
And the bear says: `Sure, why not?’

Hippocrates: If you´re in a bad Mood, go for a Walk

I´m at the third onsite of the 2013/14 MAPP program. This onsite is special because it´s the MAPP Summit: were being joined by some 60 MAPP alumni from the first eight editions of the program. Also, we´re welcoming some very interesting guest speakers. We will be joined by Art Carey from the Philadelphia Enquirer, Charlie Scudamore, who is Vice Principal at Geelong Grammar School, Ellen Langer from Harvard – and John Ratey, also from Harvard.

Right now, John Ratey is giving a presentation on the beneficial effects of physical exercise on overall well-being. He had this really nice slide that draws on Hippocrates – and I just want to share it with you…

Hippocrates

Not the same! On being (un-)happy in the Past, Present, and Future

Are you happy? That´s a rather easy question to answer, don´t you think? Well, turns out it´s not that easy. Because it really makes a difference what you are thinking about while trying to answer this question. What are the standards you use while evaluating your ‘human condition’?

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In Positive Psychology, there are (at least) three different perspectives on this issue and they center on the timeframe that is used for evaluating one´s happiness. It is literally possible to be (un-)happy in the past, present, and future – and there´s considerable evidence that these perspectives are separate from each other (albeit closely related).

When talking about ‘happiness in the past’, we usually refer to the construct of satisfaction with life which is a global cognitive evaluation of one´s life (so far). To date, it is the most widely used measure of psychological well-being.*

When talking about ‘happiness in the present’, we usually refer to what you do when actually ask somebody “How do you feel (right now)?” How much positive or negative affect do you feel in this moment? In terms of measurement, the most widely used instrument is the so-called PANAS (Positive and Negative Affect Schedule).

And finally, there´s ‘happiness in the future’ which is concerned with our optimism. How happy do you expect to be at time X in the future?

Now the interesting thing is: all three aspects will to a certain extent determine how happy you are today. And they can be tackled and improved separately (but that´s not today´s story…)

For today: if you would like to find out how you´re doing in the past, present, and future, you can take tests at Martin Seligman´s homepage. They can be found (among others) in the menu questionnaires.

 

*I´ve also used that one in the study that my book is based on.

Foto credit: Pamela Moore – www.istockfoto.com