Our Deepest Fear is…

Mann_in_Alu_kleinWe commonly think there are a lot of people out there that battle with a kind of fear of failure. And for a good reason. I assume this definitely is a condition that keeps a lot of people from living up to their full potential, be it in education, sports, business, and even love.

But what fascinates me even more – and has triggered some of my research efforts – is another kind of fear, the fear of success (or fear of happiness, please see this post for more detail on the concept). I seriously don’t know how many people suffer from this, but my estimate is: a heck of a lot of our fellow human beings.

On that note, I was deeply moved to (re-)discover a poem that is often attributed to Nelson Mandela but that was written by Marianne Williamson.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness
That most frightens us.

We ask ourselves
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.

Your playing small
Does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking
So that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine,
As children do.
We were born to make manifest
The glory of God that is within us.

It’s not just in some of us;
It’s in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we’re liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.

The Art of Coaching: Making a Leap of Faith

I´ve just moved into a new home – and that means I also had to renovate my coaching office. The new office is slightly larger than my old one – so I had a little more wall space to fill. In a local gallery, I´ve found the picture you can see below. I knew I wanted to buy it right away. Though being rather calm and monotonous, I feel it conveys optimism, confidence, and exuberant strength.

A successful coaching process often involves making a leap of faith, seeing things in a new way, leaving something old behind – sometimes, without knowing exactly what will appear instead. Believing in one´s own strength and resources in crucial when pursuing this trajectory.

I hope the picture will inspire this kind of self-efficacy my clients…

Nico Rose - Positive Psychology

My Capstone: Introducing the Concept of Self-Permission to (Positive) Psychology

Yeah! It´s finally online. Over the last couple of weeks (and including reading and preliminary research, over the last 8 months) I´ve been working on my MAPP Capstone thesis. Now, it has been published in the Scholarly Commons section of Penn´s homepage. You can download the PDF for free here.

The title of my paper is: Introducing Self-Permission: Theoretical Framework and Proposed Assessment. Here´s the abstract:

The term self-permission refers to a belief about the self that a person can hold to a stronger or weaker extent. Self-permission, in short, is the answer an individual gives oneself when asking about their perceived allowance to reach overarching long-term objectives, such as having a fulfilling career or enjoying a lasting and gratifying relationship. At a broader level, the question is whether a person allows him or herself to lead a happy and rewarding life. This paper describes the concept of self-permission, explores its nomological network and possible antecedents and consequences, proposes a corresponding self-permission scale (SPS), and suggests a study for assessing 1) the psychometric properties of that scale, 2) its relationship with conjectured adjacent constructs, and 3) its relationship with psychological functioning. Considering how important it seems to be to most individuals to make the best out of their lives and to live up to a deeply felt sense of purpose, a better understanding of self-permission could significantly benefit the psychological well-being of many people who do not allow themselves to thrive.

If you are an expert in (Positive) Psychology research and theory, I´d love to have your feedback. I propose a new construct and a scale to measure it. I´ve tried to list all adjacent constructs and concepts I could find to “build” the nomological net (please see appendix in addition to the relevant section in the paper) – but I´m sure there´s lots of interesting stuff out there that I´ve missed and that could serve to deepen my understanding. So if there´s something I should definitely have a look at, please do tell me…

Introducing Self-Permission - Nico Rose

My 15+15 Minutes of Positive Psychology Fame in Lincoln, Nebraska…

What do you do when you´re – more or less out of the blue – invited to be interviewed about your take on Positive Psychology by a radio talk host in Lincoln, Nebraska? Obviously, you say yes and turn on Skype. That´s what I did when Nick Hernandez contacted me via Facebook this Monday. It wasn´t completely out of the blue as I know Nick from his regular contributions on the Positive Psychology group on Facebook. But I did not know that he regularly hosts a 30-minutes show by the name of Community Matters on KZUM.org – now I do.

Mostly, we talked about my take on belief systems, a topic that I also explore in my book License for Satisfaction. If you´d like to hear the show – I´ve uploaded it here.

Community Matters - KZUM

 

 

Mappsterview No. 2: Jer Clifton, part-time Hero and Bringer of “Universal Assessments”

I´m in the ninth cohort of the Master of Applied Positive Program at Penn. Consequently, there are tons of brilliant MAPP Alumni out there that have very fascinating stories to tell: about their experience with the program, about Positive Psychology in general – and about themselves of course. I really want to hear those stories. That´s why I started to do Mappsterviews* with my predecessors.

 

Mappsterview No. 2 features Jer Clifton who was in MAPP 8, just as Emilia Lahti. If I remember correctly, he´s been the very first person ever to react to my blog. He´s just been admitted as a Ph.D. student at Penn – congrats on that one, Jer!

Jer Clifton

My wife and I hiking in Prince William Forest near where we currently live in Washington, DC.

Please introduce yourself briefly

I am an extroverted stutterer, an American raised in Taiwan, a philosopher trapped in a community organizer’s body, and my wife is awesome. Recently, I realized that philosophical ideas that I have been toying with for about a decade are empirically verifiable, and I have the amazing opportunity to find out full-time.

What did you do before MAPP?

I love applied nerdiness. While studying philosophy and history in college, the abstraction overdose drove me to join the local fire department. After graduation, I followed my girlfriend to Buffalo, New York, became a community organizer with AmeriCorps, and then a Housing Director at a small non-profit. My expertise became community-led neighborhood revitalization at the individual block level. I got to co-create a theory of neighborhood revitalization with local gangsters, a local professor, a New York State Supreme Court judge, and even a Nobel Prize winner got involved. We married (my girlfriend, not the Nobel Prize winner) and decided she should do grad school first. I joined the CEO’s office at Habitat for Humanity International as a strategic planner, finishing a national planning process in Sri Lanka days before my MAPP year started in 2012.

What got you interested in Positive Psychology?

During college I wrote a book that demonstrated (perhaps only to me) that the world was in FACT a good, worthwhile, and beautiful place. “Strange,” I thought, “isn’t the world kind of a shit-hole?” So I started systematically exploring all that was right with existence. For instance, I spent 20 minutes every day reflecting on what was right about the world. And it changed me. Instead of a war zone to be endured, I began to see it as a beautiful place to be explored. My well-being skyrocketed.

“What!?” I balked, “Isn’t philosophy supposed to make you depressed?” Mystified, on the last day of class my last year in college, having never taken a psych class, I walked into the office of the head of the psych department and said, “I want to study wellbeing.” He told me about MAPP and Marty (Seligman). That was in 2007. I’ve wanted to go ever since.

I´ve been reading your blog once in a while. In the bio page you mention that you stutter. Has Positive Psychology been of any use with that?

In a word, no. Nor would I expect it to be. Alas, Positive Psychology, a mere subject of scientific inquiry, does not cure all ills. Still, going through MAPP and studying Positive Psychology helped me find my calling and new inner-calm has coincided with a small but observable decline in stuttering. But of course, plenty of stutterers stutter despite obvious inspiration. My experience means nothing for stutterers generally, but certainly I’m excited to stutter a bit less. Thanks for asking about this. I do consider myself a life-long stutterer and care about stuttering issues. In fact, it’s why I go by “Jer” and not “Jeremy” as I stutter on my name. For those interested, I’ve written a bit about this, including a blog post entitled A Stutterer’s Take on the ‘King’s Speech’. Also check out Katherine Preston’s book Out With It.

Another thing I found on your blog: What is this about you being a hero?

Hah! I was famous for about two weeks in 2011 when I pulled a guy off subway tracks in Atlanta, Georgia who was in contact with the electrified third rail and in the process I got a little shocked, too. It was a crazy experience! Police told me that I saved the man’s life and could have easily been killed. What made it a media event was a bystander posted a video on Youtube. The story went somewhat viral and local and national media got interested. It was nuts! My favorite interview was on Fox & Friends with Steve Doocey just because I totally took control of the conversation and ran with it! Good times.

You have written your MAPP Capstone thesis on the subject of Universal Assessments (UAs). What is that all about?

Quite literally, everything. Scientists have looked at how various beliefs affect life. These studied beliefs concern many things, but typically center around the self, other people, and one’s immediate situation.  “Universal Assessment” is my fancy term for overall judgments of existence as a whole – indeed beliefs about everything. In general, is the world good or bad? Is it malleable, or impossible to change? Our answers may bring us to dismiss exceptions and count supporting observations as “true” to the underlying reality, which would cyclically reinforce that UA.  For instance, if you think the world is boring, you may be more likely to be bored, which will make you think that the world is boring. UAs, in short, could generate expectancy about everything that exists and thus impact the content of our lives.

I’m not talking about attitudes or dispositions. UAs are beliefs, and, moreover, beliefs that we might not even know we have.  In my capstone (the full doc can be boring, you may want to check out a 3-page non-academic summary), I found out that especially little attention has been paid to UAs likely to lead to the “good life”, like strengths and positive emotion. So I conducted a methodical exercise that ultimately identified thirteen pairs of beliefs about the world as a whole, many of which have not been studied.

Universal Assessments

This list is far from complete. Long term, I want to identify all the UAs that play an important causal role in human life and understand their effects. If we find that certain UAs lead to wellbeing (as it seemingly did for me), we are going to create interventions that we can scale up. It’s your average “change-the-world-with-a-cool-idea” scenario.

Jer Clifton

I made this shirt for my girlfriend in college almost 10 years ago. It’s come to encapsulate the UA concept and my personal mission. However, keep in mind that believing that the world is beautiful has not yet been studied. We don’t know its effects.

So how can I assess which UAs are “at work” inside of me?

In short, you can’t. Currently, only a handful of UAs have been studied and no comprehensive UA assessment exists. Of course, you could track down an academic and get their tool for a particular UA, but yeah, nothing is that accessible. Martin Seligman and I hope to change that! I am moving to Philadelphia in April to work on this very question (just signed a lease yesterday). We want to identify all major UAs that humans hold and eventually create a single widely available comprehensive assessment tool that anyone can use online to identify their UA profile.

What would you suggest if I were to find a UA that severely limits my potential for e.g., joy or personal development?

As it turns out, when the ancient Greeks first emerged from the cave of prehistory, the first question they asked themselves was: “What sort of world is this?” Heraclitus, for instance, thought that the world was defined by change, and this made him sad, because home, indeed any familiarity, was an illusion. He was called the “weeping philosopher.” Heraclitus, or yourself if you come to hold a debilitating UA, have at least two basic options.

First, you can be a philomath, a “lover of knowledge.” In this option, consequences be damned. The truth is all that matters. I have great respect for this approach, and naturally tend to be a philomath myself. I also agree with C.S. Lewis when he says, “The love of knowledge is a kind of madness.” Second, you can be a philosopher, a lover of wisdom. In this option, you balance any assertion of “truth” with how the very act of assertion affects your life and the life of loved ones.

In my view, any UA is massively underdetermined by the empirical evidence and we have no hope of computing such vast datasets. For instance, is the sum total of human suffering greater than the sum total of human affection? Who knows! Utility may be of more importance if there is no truth to be discovered.  My perhaps foolish hope, however, is that what is useful to believe also can be true..

Carol Dweck at Stanford has found that merely exposing people to an implicit belief (a belief that they did not know they had) gives the individual the power of a conscious choice. They can change it. So far, I am not aware of any interventions that have been done specifically for the purpose of changing UAs, but the one’s that I am designing all revolve around a simple premise: expose yourself to those aspects of the world most conducive to the view of the world that you wish to believe. In other words, create a syllabus for yourself to understand the world’s “true nature” and teach/indoctrinate/civilize yourself like professors and teachers have been doing with students for centuries. Engage in self-formation.

You´re an assistant instructor in MAPP 9 now and have given me a really bad grade on that integration paper in January. What was that for? Just kidding… If somebody wants to “get started” with Positive Psychology: which resources (books, websites etc.) would you recommend?

Hah! All you needed was a swift kick in the butt. 🙂 You rocked it the next time. As for resources, there’s a Positive Psychology Top 10 FAQ on Positive Psychology on my blog. I would start by reading that summary and then take the only free psychometrically valid strengths test in the world.

 

Thank you, Jer, for this Mappsterview! I´d like to close with a quote from German scientist and philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz: “If there were no best among all possible worlds, God would not have created one.”

* If you are a MAPP alumnus and would like to have your story featured here – please go ahead and shoot me an e-mail!

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