Infographic: Carol Dweck and the Growth Mindset

Now, I´m aware that this infographic (created by Nigel Holmes) has been around for a while – but then, there´s probably some 6,999,000,000 people on this planet who have not seen it as of yet – so I´m doing an important job here. 😉

The Growth Mindset – based on Carol Dweck

Growth Mindset

You are allowed to be both a Masterpiece and a Work in Progress, simultaneously.

This quote brilliantly summarizes a mindset that I´ve been struggling with all the way up to my 30s. I´m definitely the “achiever type” person and into self-optimization, I want to be increasingly productive, get better at what I do, expand my outreach, and so on. I guess that is what drew me towards Positive Psychology in the first place. But this can be a pretty tough and unforgiving lifestyle – until it is balanced with a fair amount of self-compassion, and the ability to accept, appreciate, and enjoy what´s already there. I´m on my way…

Masterpiece - Progress

Happiness lies in the Joy of Achievement and the Thrill of creative Effort.

There are literally hundreds of quotes and definitions on “the happy life”. I find that a lot of them point towards the quieter, more modest forms of happiness, such as practicing gratitude – being content with what we have. 

But there are others sides to happiness – those can be found in the letter A of Martin Seligman’s PERMA definition of the good life. Therefore, I was thrilled to stumble upon this quote by former POTUS Franklin D. Roosevelt. Enjoy!


My favorite Subject in School? Happiness, of course!

If you are lucky, Positive Psychology will be coming to a school near you soon. Positive Education as part of Positive Psychology seems to be really taking off at this point in time. There is an early article by Seligman et al. (Positive education: positive psychology and classroom interventions) – but just recently, the International Positive Education Network (IPEN) was launched. According to its website, the goal of IPEN is

to bring together teachers, parents, academics, students, schools, colleges, universities, charities, companies and governments to promote positive education. Our goals are to support collaboration, change education practice and reform government policy.

On the question “Why Positive Education?” the website states:

Positive education challenges the current paradigm of education, which values academic attainment above all other goals. Drawing on classical ideals, we believe that the DNA of education is a double helix with intertwined strands of equal importance:



  1. The fulfillment of intellectual potential through the learning of the best that has been thought and known.
  2. The development of character strengths and well-being, which are intrinsically valuable and contribute to a variety of positive life outcomes.

For quite a long time, Geelong Grammar School in Australia has been the hallmark of applied Positive Education. But more schools shall follow soon. Even in Germany – which typically does not pick up Positive Psychology topics that fast – has seen some Positive Education initiatives as early as 2007. We have a movement called Schulfach Glück (“School Subject Happiness”) which is backed by the “Fritz-Schubert-Institute”. They bring a positive curriculum especially to primary schools, helping teachers to teach topics to their classes such as joy and motivation, curiosity and courage, and mindfulness and respect.

By now, Fritz Schubert has authored three books on this initiative. The effectiveness of the program was recently evaluated in a study comparing classes who completed the curriculum to control groups. The treatment groups displayed higher subjective well-being and self-esteem at the end of the school year. The research article is written in German, but there´s an English abstract:

Applying a quasi-experimental pre-posttest design, we examined the effectiveness of a new teaching unit called school subject happiness. The investigation took place at two vocational schools that had established this subject in the school year 2010/11. Effects of one school year of instruction in the school subject happiness on students´ well-being, self-esteem, and self-efficacy are reported. In addition, a moderation effect of the personality traits emotional stability and extraversion was investigated. A total of 106 vocational school students who belonged either to the treatment or the control group participated in the study. At the beginning and at the end of the school year 2010/11, all students completed questionnaires. Beneficial effects were found for affective components of subjective well-being and self-esteem. Furthermore, the effects on self-esteem and cognitive components of well-being were moderated by emotional stability. Students who reported higher emotional stability benefited more from the new teaching unit. For self-efficacy no effect was found. The results are interpreted as partial effectiveness of the program.

Grit and Flow as alternating Stages on the Road to Achievement?

The MAPP program is a fulltime program – but combines onsite classes with long-distance learning periods. Part of the distance learning comprises a lot of reading (Who would have thought of that…) and writing essays about a wide array of positive psychology topics. I´ve decided to post some of those essays here on Mappalicious. Surely, they´re not the be-all and end-all of academic writing. But then again, it would also be a pity to bury them in the depths of my laptop. So here we go…

Grit and Flow as alternating Stages on the Road to Achievement?

Seligman (2011) posits that engagement, for instance, by regularly entering into a state of Flow (Csikszentmihalyi & LeFevre, 1989), and seeking and realizing achievement (Wiegand & Geller, 2005) on and off the job are two constitutive elements of well-being. These concepts are represented by the letters E and A in the acronym PERMA, Seligman´s current outline of positive psychology. Csikszentmihalyi (1990) characterizes Flow as a state of optimal experience. The most important features of Flow are effortless attention, absence of time awareness, and absence of emotion. Seemingly contradictory, Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews, and Kelly (2007) posit that Grit, characterized as a passion and persistence for long-term goals and the associated exercise of self-control (Duckworth & Seligman, 2005), are key predictors of sustainable achievement. In this paper, I will argue that experiencing Flow and exerting Grit may be alternating stages on the same road to accomplishment – much in the same way that in- and exhaling are interchanging phases of the process of breathing.

At first glance, even though both concepts are perceived as pathways to achievement, Flow and Grit do have characteristics that seem to be somewhat incompatible. Grit is theorized as a stable character trait that does not require an immediate positive feedback loop. Individuals high in Grit are capable of sustaining determination and motivation over long periods despite experiences with failure and adversity (Duckworth et al., 2007). Their passion for long-term objectives is the principal factor that provides the energy required to keep on track amidst challenges and set-backs. Using one´s Grit may be gratifying in the end because it helps us to reach long-term goals – but is doesn´t necessarily have to feel good while still being “on the way”. Often, using Grit is the opposite of the characteristic of effortlessness. In fact, it can lead people to “torture” themselves for the “greater good”.

On the other hand, Flow is a state that is “easy” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). While it is important to have feelings of potential control and mastery in order to experience Flow, it does not feel like it is necessary to exert control – things seem to take care of themselves. In fact, most people report that feeling nothing at all is a typical characteristic of being “in the Flow”. Positive feelings only come after the task at hand is done. In addition, experiencing Flow is dependent on regular task-related feedback. It is attained most easily when a person´s skills and the challenge at hand are of equal magnitude.

I propose that the relationship of skill level and the difficulty of the task at hand may be the connection between both concepts. Flow is typically depicted as the optimal level between boredom and anxiety:

Flow Channel

Figure 1. The Flow channel (adapted from Csikszentmihalyi, 1990, p. 70).

It seems likely that gritty persons are typically capable of overcoming the anxiety of facing challenges that seem too difficult at first. They perceive obstacles as challenges, and by conquering these challenges, the continuously expand their skill level. This, in turn, will enable them to potentially experience Flow in more difficult situations in the future. Thereby, the gratifying experience of Flow may be the reward for having pushed one´s boundaries just a little further.

To close this essay with an analogy: in my opinion, the relationship between Grit and Flow resembles the interplay of Yin and Yang in Taoism. Yin is the female, soft, or yielding principle. It can be likened to being in Flow. It´s letting go without losing control, it´s doing without doing. On the other hand, exerting Grit can be likened to Yang: it´s the male, hard, or penetrating principle. It´s holding on to preserve control, it´s doing by taking action. These principles seem to be contradictory – but in fact, they are complementary.


Csikszentmihalyi, M., & LeFevre, J. (1989). Optimal experience in work and leisure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 56(5), 815-822.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper-Perennial.
Duckworth, A. L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M. D., & Kelly, D. R. (2007). Grit: perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(6), 1087-1101.
Duckworth, A. L., & Seligman, M. E. (2005). Self-discipline outdoes IQ in predicting academic performance of adolescents. Psychological Science, 16(12), 939-944.
Seligman, M. E. (2011). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. New York: Free Press.
Wiegand, D. M., & Geller, E. S. (2005). Connecting positive psychology and organizational behavior management: Achievement motivation and the power of positive reinforcement. Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, 24(1-2), 3-25.



Just found out that I wasn´t the first person on planet Earth to have the brilliant abovementioned thoughts (What was I thinking anyway…). Here´s a very instructive blog post along similar lines by the name of Grand Unified Theory of Mastery.

Was Socrates a happy Man? And if he lived today – would he be a Blogger?

Socrates - Louvre

By Eric Gaba (CC-BY-SA-2.0) via Wikimedia Commons

The topic for the afternoon of the last day of MAPP immersion week was the trial that eventually lead to the death sentence of Socrates, arguably one of the most important philosophers of all time. There are some hints in the Apology, Plato´s account of the trial, that allude to the idea that Socrates ‘chose’ to be sentenced to death – in the sense that he could have gotten away with a significantly milder punishment, if had chosen to display a different demeanor. Yet, he stayed true to his own self (being a philosopher, asking lots of probing questions, and thereby being the ‘pain in the ass’ of most of his fellow citizens), which provoked the judges and most his fellow Athenians (“Men of Athens, I honor and love you; but I shall obey God rather than you, and while I have life and strength I shall never cease from the practice and teaching of philosophy…”). Supposedly, there were some politically motivated reasons for his death sentence as well – but that is another story.

James Pawelski, Director of the MAPP program asked us an interesting question: was Socrates a ‘happy’ man? Obviously, it´s not possible to ask him any more – but the Apology contains some hints on that topic: when investigating the text for displays of PERMA, Martin Seligman´s definition of the elements of flourishing: Positive emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Achievement. While it is not clear if Socrates experienced a lot of positive affect (P), it is save to say that he displayed a high level pertaining to the remaining four elements: He obviously had something which he deeply cared about and regularly was immersed in, e.g., teaching his students (E). He also had a wife and three children, as well as his students and followers that admired and valued him (R). Socrates definitely experienced a sense of meaning in his life. He felt that it was his noble duty to be a philosopher and oftentimes spoke of his inner daimon that protected and/or guided him. And finally, we are still able to read about his deeds today – which obviously is not true for most of the other men of his time (A). Bottom line: While we cannot be sure about the ‘P’, there was definitely a lot of ‘ERMA’ in his life.

Let us rest the case here. But what about the other question? Would he be a blogger today? First, I assume, it is helpful to know how this rather strange question came into being. Unlike James, I am a psychologist and coach by training, not a philosopher. So I asked him about the psychological contract between Socrates and his fellow Athenians. While he had a lot of students that would actively seek him out, he supposedly also used his Socratic Method (basically: asking someone lots of questions until he finds the right answer by himself) on a lot people that really did not want to be bothered by him. James answered analogously, that Socrates probably would not want to be named a ‘patron of the coaching business’ – but that today, he might be a kind of (political) blogger. He would try to be the thorn in the side of the leading political class, exposing their flaws and misconceptions.

Once again, we cannot ask him anymore – but I kind of like that thought…