Positive Psychology News Digest on Mappalicious | No. 40/2016

My favorite pieces covering Positive Psychology and adjacent from (roughly) the last seven days.

New York Magazine: A Smart Sense of Humor Helps People Survive Being Alive by Drake Baer


Bakadesuyo: This Is How To Unlock Meaning In Life: 4 Proven Secrets by Eric Barker


Greater Good Science Center: How to Teach Happiness at School by Ilona Boniwell


New York Times: Teaching Your Child Emotional Agility KJ Dell’Antonia


Harvard Business Reciew: How Microsoft Uses a Growth Mindset to Develop Leaders by Carol Dweck & Kathleen Hogan


Forbes: How To Train These Six Senses Of Happiness by Jessica Hagy


Psychology Today: The Subtle but Very Real Human Costs of Reorganizations by Victor Lipman


Psychology Today: The Science of Accomplishing Your Goals by Ralph Ryback


Psychology Today: The Top 3 Insights of Highly Innovative Leaders by Emma Seppälä


Creativity Post: You Can’t Clone Talent and Wisdom by Steve Tobak


Psychology Today: How Leaders Can Bring Calm to Chaotic Organizations by Ray Williams

Mappalicious - Positive Psychology news Digest

Positive Psychology News Digest on Mappalicious | No. 1/16

I´ve decided to start a new category of blog articles on Mappalicious. Once a week, I´m going to post a news digest listing the most interesting articles on Positive Psychology and adjacent from the past week. That’s it, clean and simple. So here we go…

 

Positive Psychology | News Digest | Mappalicious

So, you´ve got a Bucket List. But what about your Fuck-it List?

I-dont-have-a-bucket-list-I-have-a-fuck-it-listOver the last two years or so, bucket lists have become really popular – a lot of people shared theirs via Facebook etc. According to the Oxford Dictionary, a bucket list is a “number of experiences or achievements that a person hopes to have or accomplish during their lifetime”. It´s based on the term “to kick the bucket” as a synonym for dying. The term was popularized by a 2007 movie feat. Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. So basically, people write down on a list the places that they want to see, things they want to do, and goals the want to achieve. By now, there are specialized internet communities evolving around this topic.

And while I fully endorse goal-setting and following through with them (as long as they are self-concordant goals), having too many too aspirational goals can also be a burden in our life. That´s why I was pleased to stumble upon a sort of countertrend very recently:

The Fuck-it List

It´s a list (in this context) where you put all those things that once may have been on your bucket list – but then you’ve realized that you are too old (or rather: grown-up), too lazy, or simply too “different” compared to the time you put it on the list – to follow through with a specific goal.

With my own personal development, but also with some of my coaching clients, I´ve come to realize that old (outdated) goals can suck up a considerable part of a person´s (mental) energy – which than lacks in the process of pursuing current ones. People sometimes feel as a failure when they have to admit to themselves that they are never going to “climb that mountain” – or whatever it is that they´ve put on their bucket list.

But the truth is: we grow older and life moves on. It´s completely normal to have different priorities in different phases of our lives. When I became a father 2.5 years ago, this totally changed my priorities and my internal value system. And by all means, this also meant erasing some things from my bucket list and putting them on my fuck-it list.

But there doesn´t even have to be an incisive event such as becoming a parent. As I´ve said: sometimes, life just moves on. And if that is so, it can be a liberating experience to consciously let go of some of our childhood or teenage dreams. I´ve dreamt about becoming a professional athlete well into my twenties. But I wasn´t good enough (and probably too lazy as well). Still, goals like that can linger in the back of our heads (and dark corners of our hearts), causing trouble, in the form of regret, disappointment, anger, and most of all: putting energy where it would be desperately needed elsewhere.

Truth be told: when I decided to let go of my dream about becoming the next Boris Becker or Roger Federer, I did not just write it down on a piece of paper; I tried to find something more appreciative. If something truly significant and valuable like a childhood dream has been with you for most of your life, I advise you to “bid farewell” to that goal via a little ritual.

Back then, I wrote my dream on a piece of paper. Then, I put it into a small metal bowl. After that, I sat down on my porch, and took an hour or so to remember all the good things that came out of pursuing that goal: the tournaments I had won in my youth, the friends I had made, and simply all those countless hours of dedicated practice during most of my childhood – which surely have taught me a lot about diligence and resilience – therefore helping me to achieve whatever success I have now in my life as a business man and psychologist.

Then, I set fire to the paper, watched in burn down –  and finally scattered the ashes in the evening wind.

 

Picture Source

“To Thine Own Self Be True”: Self-Concordance and Healthy Goal-Striving

Self-Determination TheoryPeople have goals. In fact, that may be the defining element of our human nature. We´ve been called the “Knowing Man” (Homo sapiens), the “Learning Man” (Homo discens) and even the “Story-telling Man” (Homo narrans) – among lots of other things. In one of their latest works, Martin Seligman, spiritus rector of Positive Psychology, and Roy Baumeister posit that we are “Homo prospectus”: the “envisioning man” – precisely due to the fact that we are always “drawn by the future”. We are always “on to something”: places to go, people to meet, things to do. On a closer look, it is strikingly odd trying to imagine a (living and healthy) person that does not have any goals, however small they may be.  To that effect, we are also drawn by our future selves. There is always an upgrade, a “Me 2.0”. It may wait around the next corner or in a distant future – but again: it´s hard to imagine a person that has stopped trying to “become something else” (and most likely: something “better” – whatever that may be).

So, if goals and goal-striving play such an important part in all our lives: Why does it go wrong so often? Why do people lose their motivation while being on their way? Or, even more interesting: Why do they reach their goals and end up being disillusioned and unhappier than they were before? Some very valuable answers to these questions are provided by Self-Determination Theory (Ryan & Deci, 2000), and the Self-Concordance Model of (healthy) goal-striving (Sheldon & Elliot, 1999), an adjacent framework.

Self-Determination Theory* suggests there are four distinguishable levels of motivation, or more precisely: regulations of behavior: integrated, identified, introjected, and external. The level is determined by the degree of internalization of a specific goal – you might also say: how close it is to our “true selves”; and it´s also a way of describing the path from very little to full autonomy in the process of pursuing a goal.

  • External: When we are forced to do something or carry out an action only because of an external reward (“In it for the money…”).
  • Introjected: When we rely on external goals and standards of evaluation, trying (more or less fruitlessly) to “make them our own”: E.g., doing something in order to raise our own self-esteem.
  • Identified: When we really get to the point of making a once external goal “our own”. This involves willfully appreciating a goal so that it is accepted as personally important.
  • Integrated: When behavioral regulation is entirely assimilated with self and therefore included in a person’s self-evaluations and beliefs about personal needs.

Integrated motivation shares a lot of attributes with intrinsic motivation but is nonetheless classified as extrinsic – because the goal in question is still pursued for reasons extrinsic to the self, rather than the inherent enjoyment of the task.

Self-Concordance and healthy Goal-Striving

The Self-Concordance Model takes the above-mentioned insights one step further. Let´s have a look at the abstract of the first scientific article describing the theory:

The self-concordance of goals (i.e., their consistency with the person’s developing interests and core values) plays a dual role in the model. First, those pursuing self-concordant goals put more sustained effort into achieving those goals and thus are more likely to attain them. Second, those who attain self-concordant goals reap greater well-being benefits from their attainment. Attainment-to-well-being effects are mediated by need satisfaction, i.e., daily activity-based experiences of autonomy, competence, and relatedness that accumulate during the period of striving.

Self-ConcordanceSo the basic idea is pretty straight-forward: We exert more effort when pursuing goals that are “close to our heart” (contrary to mostly extrinsically regulated goals). More effort leads to progress and a higher likelihood of goal attainment. And in turn, reaching goals makes us happy. But that´s not the end of the story: When we choose to pursue self-concordant goals, the act of moving forward is satisfying in itself. Why is that the case? The theory posits that pursuing self-concordant goals is associated with satisfying three basic psychological needs: The needs for competence, autonomy, and relatedness.

  • Competence: We desperately want to feel competent, at least in those areas of life that are of interest to us. Think of a small child that has just learned a new skill. Typically, it will use this capability over and over again – just for the fun of it.
  • Autonomy: We desperately want to feel in control of our lives, and being able to make our own decisions. Think of a small child that discovers it´s free will and enjoys to do so. The “Terrible Twos” are something parents should be proud of – even though it´s probably difficult to enjoy at that time.
  • Relatedness: We desperately want to feel close to other people (that are important in our lives), we want to feel accepted, and at best: loved. Think of a small child that seeks the comfort of his parents after some time of absence.

Basic Psychological NeedsAnd while I have been talking of small children to make a point: those needs are active in all of us to a varying degree. And it does not stop until the end of this life. Ask yourself:

Do I foster an environment that caters to the fulfillment of these needs with regards to the people I´m involved with?

Here´s some research:

So, these are the answers to the questions from the second paragraph of this article:

  • We experience lack of motivation and failure of self-regulation when we pursue goals that aren´t close enough to our true selves. We may get by for some time clinging to external rewards – but that´s never the “real McKoy
  • We do not cherish our victories when the goals we´ve pursued were never our own in the first place. In that case, “getting there” doesn´t feel sweet and rewarding, but rather stale and phony.

You can learn a lot about that last point from the final chapter of my book – which unfortunately is still only available in German…

*The circular image of SDT has been adapted from a diagram in the aforementioned article on SDT and coaching. An overview of  hundreds (literally…) of studies can be found here. Enjoy!

The James Bond Philosophy of Life – in 007 Chapters

007 LogoIf you´ve visited Mappalicious before, by now you will probably know who Esa Saarinen is – as I´ve written about his work several times. During his MAPP lecture in December 2013, he also initiated us to a slightly more informal area of his teachings: the 007 philosophy of life. Unfortunately, that day Wharton´s recording equipment didn´t work that well – so there´s no account of that lecture (and I´m a lazy note-taker…). Hence, I´ll give you my own – heavily Positive Psychology influenced – interpretation of his “theory”, mixed with the bits and pieces I do remember. As a philosopher, I think Esa would approve of this method. You can see the overview in the following picture:

Esa Saarinen - 007

Don’t get irritated

James Bond is always “cool” – at least that´s the impression he makes on other people. He focuses on the situation at hand and the overarching goal of his mission and never gets sidetracked, except for the occasional tête-à-tête – but even those often serve a purpose, e.g., irritating one of the evil guys. At the end of the day, this is a lesson about mindfulness.

Take immediate Action

Bond is not much of a planner. He makes up his mind and improvises a lot of his moves on the spot, relying on his wits and physical abilities. He knows that the life as a super agent is full of surprises and events that one cannot really prepare for. Therefore, he sticks to a few big goals and decides on the next-best move “then and there”.

Self Respect

James Bond never questions his abilities, he never falters or hesitates. While a real-life person cannot (and maybe shouldn’t…) be equipped with an equal level of self-confidence, this is probably a lesson about self-efficacy, the “power of believing you can”. Self-efficacy is the scientific version of Henry Ford´s aphorism: “Whether you think that you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right.”

Always carry a Secret Weapon

When in desperate straits, Bond always has one more trick up his sleeve, usually a tiny gadget given to him by the armorer “Q”. Seen through the lens of Positive Psychology, I think this part refers to the very unique set of signature strengths that we all have – and that we should rely on when to going gets tough. Additionally, it shows that other people matter. Even a lone wolf like Bond needs other people´s support at times.

Act with Style

James Bond understands that style is mostly about simplicity. Similar to the real-life George Clooney, he´s always dressed and groomed extremely well – which means they stick to time-tested essentials. The suit, the hairdo, the car, the handgun, the drink – they all seem to say: Don´t get carried away by fashion, don´t get lost in unnecessary details – no frills. This is also a lesson on efficiency: Bond knows that sticking to certain defaults is the most intelligent way of avoiding unnecessary decision-making – thereby saving up mental capacity for more precarious moments in life than choosing what to wear for dinner.

The true significance of the current mission will become clear later in the Bahamas

I think this point has a lot to do with the “connecting the dots”-part of Steve Job´s Stanford Commencement speech. Life can only be lived forward, but the sense-making happens looking backward. Hence, we have to embark on the journey without necessarily knowing where it will end – or what it all means. We have to get moving. Anyway. Otherwise, we won´t even make it to the Bahamas.

In Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Now, this may be the most important part – even though it doesn´t seem that straightforward. I guess that´s why Esa saved it for last. Even though James Bond seems like a cynical, ruthless, and at times even nihilistic person – he´s definitely not. He´s an agent in Her Majesty´s Secret Service: he fights for the safety of his country and “the free world” in general; he´s not in it for himself. That is his true higher purpose. In his lectures, Esa often refers to this part of our lives as “finding the Queen”: We all have to find a queen we can and want to serve. We´re not on this world only for ourselves. Until we´ve understood this crucial point, we´re only living half a life.

Esa has more in common with 007 than he probably wished for

There´s is a pretty incredible twist to the aforementioned deliberations: About three months after his lecture in Philadelphia, Esa was stabbed with a knive by a presumably mentally deranged young man when being on his way to a lecture in Helsinki. He sustained a wound on his hand when trying to fight off the assailant and another, more severe, to his abdomen before the attacker could be overpowered. By now, Esa has fully recovered and the young man is on trial for his deeds. Esa has lived through this ordeal with admirable equanimity and does not even demand a punishment for the aggressor.

Below, you´ll find the full recording of his glorious return to the lectern in Helsinki. The lecture is in Finnish but has English subtitles.

Are you short on Willpower and Self-Regulation? These Apps can help You…

Good Habit MakerIf you are like most people, willpower and self-regulation may not exactly be among your top strengths. E.g., for most of us, self-regulation is located pretty close to the bottom of the list when filling in the VIA questionnaire on 24 character strengths – which is based on Seligman´s and Peterson´s book Character Strengths and Virtues.

But then, breaking or making habits is one of the most important tasks when trying to succeed at a personal change project. So lo and behold! There´s help on the way. In earlier days, people would tie a knot in their handkerchiefs to help them remember things. These days, people don´t use handkerchiefs that much – but most of us do have a smartphone (or two…). And of course, there´s lots of apps around that strive on the fact that our spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.

Balanced AppHere, I´d like to introduce you to three app that I´ve started using at the onset of the year:

On New Year´s Eve, I´ve decided I´d like to become a “nicer” person this year. It´s not that I´m an asshole right now – I just thought I could put a little extra effort in it. Probably a “side effect” of being in the MAPP program…

OK. The Good Habit Maker is a nice little (free) app that does only one thing: at pre-selected intervals over the day, it’ll push one sentence to your smartphone´s screen, e.g. your personal change mantra. Helps a lot to bring your mind back to what you want to achieve during busy schedules.

Grid Diary AppThe app Balanced is a little more refined, it´s a sort of task manager. You can enter specific tasks that you want to accomplish, and the quantities/intervals you intend to fulfill (e.g., “watch a TED talk once a week”). The app will then continuously remind you to complete those tasks until they are done. It also keeps track of you levels of completion and timeliness. There´s a demo version that is limited to a small number of tasks – the full version comes at $ 2.99.

And finally, the Grid Diary: as the name suggests, it´s a nice and clean diary app. The useful twist: you can pre-select (or enter your own…) specific questions. So instead of having to think about what to write each and every evening, the app will make you respond to the prompts that you specifically chose to be given. By way of example, I use it as a gratitude journal, which is one of the pre-eminent interventions in Positive Psychology. It´s free but offers some in-app purchases.

Enjoy! Keep it going! And for some extra energy, power up your Sisu!