3 Questions for Emily Esfahani Smith, Author of “The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters”

emily_esfahani_smithEmily Esfahani Smith is a writer and fellow Penn MAPP alum. She writes about culture, relationships, and psychology. Her writing has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, The Atlantic, and other publications. A few days ago her first book, The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters, was published. Today, she took some time to talk about her work on Mappalicious.

Emily, in your book, you propose there are four pillars of a meaningful life: belonging, purpose, transcendence, and storytelling. I´ve already come across the first three while studying Positive Psychology, the last one seems to be a very unique angle. So what´s the story with storytelling?

When people say their lives are meaningful, it’s because three conditions have been satisfied, according to psychologists—they feel their lives matter and have worth; they feel their lives are driven by a sense of purpose; and they believe their lives are coherent or comprehensible. Storytelling relates to that third prong of meaning, coherence. Storytelling is the act of taking our disparate experiences and weaving them into a whole. Rather than seeing their experiences as random or disconnected, people who feel their lives are meaningful see their experiences as part of a narrative that explains who they are and how they got to be that way. Another word for storytelling is sense-making—when we tell stories, we’re really trying to make sense of our experiences.

One of the people I interviewed for my book, for example, told me that experiencing adversity as a child ultimately made him a more compassionate person—that’s the story he tells about his adversity; that’s how he makes sense of it. But storytelling isn’t just about understanding ourselves more deeply, it’s also about understanding others. When we watch movies or read novels or listen to a friend’s story, we’re ultimately gaining more wisdom and perspective about what it means to be human.

power_meaning_esfahaniIn my day job, I´m heading a department in a multinational corporation. Therefore, I take special interest in the application of Positive Psychology in organizations. Do those four pillars you describe also apply to meaning in work – or are there additional aspects leaders should consider when thinking about their employees´ experience?

One of the most exciting trends of the last few decades has been the emergence of what I call “cultures of meaning” in institutions like corporations. Many companies are actively building cultures of meaning for their consumers and employees by relying on the four pillars of meaning.

A great example is the apparel brand Life Is Good, which sees its purpose as spreading hope and optimism around the world. It does this with its apparel, which has the words Life Is Good emblazoned on it. Many consumers have written to the company saying that its elevating message has helped them get through adversities and tragedies like cancer and losing loved ones. The leaders at Life Is Good have shared those stories with their employees, to show them that their work is making a positive impact on others. Life Is Good also has a non-profit arm that helps children facing adversities. When I spoke to several of the employees at the company—from a receptionist to a designer—they all told me that they are driven by the good that their company is doing in the world. So here, I see Life Is Good relying on the pillars of purpose and storytelling to create cultures of meaning.

It’s important for leaders to be aware of whether employees are experiencing their work as meaningful. Nothing engages or motivates employees quite like meaningful work—and research by Adam Grant suggests that doing meaningful work makes employees more productive, too (Adam´s interview on Mappalicious can be found here).

I feel my life is already pretty meaningful. I´m happily married and have two beautiful kids. Additionally, I can spend a lot of my time working on things I deeply care about and help other people. But I´m not so sure about the storytelling part. What are some steps I could take to enhance my experience of meaning in life via this pillar?

Storytelling requires reflection. I would recommend setting aside some time—maybe 15 minutes a day a few times a week—to either think or write about your life story. That may sound daunting or vague, but here are some specific things you can reflect on during that time.

1. Try dividing your life into chapters. How many chapters are there? What is the title or theme of each chapter? What makes each chapter unique? What chapters are yet to come? How many future chapters are there? What do you want the final chapter to say?

2. When you look back on your life, what were the turning points? What were the high points and the low points? How did those experiences change you? What did you learn from them? Are you still working to process them?

3. Reflect on the places in your life that played a formative role in your development—like where you grew up, perhaps, or where you went to college, or where you first met your husband or wife. While you’re thinking about these places, ask yourself: why were your experiences there so meaningful? How did they change you? What would your life have been life if you had grown up somewhere else or gone to a different school? What does it feel like being back in those places?

I’d like to add that storytelling is a pillar that takes work—sometimes we have to go over and over an experience hundreds of time before we can begin to make sense of it and understand how it fits into the broader arc of our lives. But it’s ultimately worth it, because that sense-making process brings us wisdom, resolution, and even a measure of peace.

Thank you, Emily, and best of luck with your book!

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For more info on Emily and her work, please check out her The Psychology Podcast, or recent features on The Psychology Podcast, Heleo and Virgin.

How to get Lucky at a TEDx Conference

After having approval by the TED organization, I´m finally and officially allowed to share with you the TEDx talk I gave in Bergen/Norway on October 4. I talked about the issue of luck – and how we all can bring more luck into our lives. So please excuse me if the article’s headline was a little misleading. No here´s the talk. I firmly intend to get a least 100.000 views – so please share it if you like. And below, you´ll find a complete transcript (more or less…) and the history behind it all. Enjoy!

So here´s the story before the story that´s also part of the story. I gave the talk on October 4 (Saturday) – and was invited to give the talk on Monday of that same week – because one of the speakers cancelled on short notice. The week was a regular work week, so my time for preparation and rehearsing was really, really short. Typically TED speakers have a couple of months to prepare and they get coaching to deliver their talk right on point. I´ve had nothing like that.

I had to conceptualize and write my talk, tweak it, and learn it all by myself in some 15 hours. And given these rather difficult circumstances, I´m actually pretty proud of myself – which is a rather un-German thing to do. Typically, when I give presentations, I do have a script or something like that. I prepare my charts and give the talk ad lib – which works out pretty well (based on the feedback I get).

But giving a TED talk is totally different from hosting a presentation in a board room. Basically, you cannot “let the charts do the talking”. You have to be a true storyteller. And in order to be able to do that, I decided to do something which I haven´t done since early high-school: leaning something by heart´. I wrote down what I wanted to say word by word – and then tried to memorize it all, sort of like an actor in a theater. That´s why I´m able to share the script with you right here.

I´ve watched my talk three times by now to evaluate my performance. And it’s really interesting to note where I stayed true to the script, where I forgot something, or put something in ad lib – and how that made the talk better (especially a little funnier) than intended (at least from my point of view).

So here´s the transcript. Enjoy – once again!

Intro Story

TEDx_Bergen_2A great storm came into a town and there was an emergency warning that the riverbanks would soon overflow and flood all the nearby homes. The officials ordered everyone to evacuate immediately. A faithful Christian man heard the warning and decided to stay, saying to himself, “I will trust God! God will send a miracle to save me.” The man´s neighbors came by his house and said: “We’re leaving and there is room for you in our car, please come with us!” But the man declined. “I have faith that God will save me.”

The flood rose higher into his living room and the man had to retreat to the second floor. A police motorboat came by and saw him at the window. “We will come up and rescue you!” they shouted. But the man refused once more, saying, “Go save someone else! I have faith that God will save me!”

Still the waters rose higher and higher and the man had to climb up to his rooftop. A helicopter spotted him and dropped a rope ladder. “Grab the ladder and we will pull you up!”, an officer screamed. But the man still refused, folding his arms tightly to his body. “No thank you! God will save me!”

Shortly after, the house broke up and the floodwaters swept the man away and he drowned. An instant later, the man knocked at the pearly gates, was let in, walked straight up to God and asked: “Hey Man, I put all of my faith in you. Why didn’t you come and save me?” And God said, “Geez, I´m so sorry about that. I really tried to save you. I sent you a car, a motorboat, a helicopter….

Main Part

Today, I want to talk to you about luck. Serendipity. Fortune. Originally, I wanted to name my talk “How to get lucky”. Thank God I´ve found out just early enough that this means something else entirely…

So instead, I´ll call it “How to be the architect of your own fortune”. Let´s have a look at that word: Fortune. It can be derived from the name Fortuna – and Fortuna was the Goddess of luck and fate in the Roman mythology. There she is. What you can clearly see: she is blindfolded. That means: she is impartial. She can bestow upon each of us good luck and fortune, but also disaster. The point is: she´s not supposed to care about the recipient. Instead, she is an agent of chance. She is a symbol for the unpredictability of life.

That is what the ancient Romans believed: Luck, whether good or bad, is something that happens to us. We cannot interfere. Some people are born under a lucky star – and some are not. But it turns out that this view about the world is most likely incorrect.

Today, I want to convince you that we all can – at least to a great extent – be the architects of our own fortune. We can change our stars. We can learn how to be lucky. In order to do so, I will draw on the work of a few great scientists, and I will draw on the wisdom of some ancient and some contemporary sages. And I will also illustrate some points based on my personal history.

But let me start with you guys…

Kronen Experiment

TEDx Bergen 2014 - Nico Rose - Kronen ExperimentHere in my hands I have a bill. It is a 100 Kronen bill and it´s worth roughly 15 US dollars. Now the question is: does somebody of you want to have this 100 Kronen bill? It is real. Who wants to have it? Please raise your hands…

Ok, so would somebody please stand up and come to stage and collect the bill? … OK, thank you – a big round of applause to our lucky winner.

So what happened? Why didn´t all of you take to the stage? What were you thinking? I guess it was something like: “Ahem…is he really…no…he´s not really…oh wait he really is…damn…too late.”

What did he do? He/she acted. He said: yes. Go for it. And that is already a big part of the mystery. I believe that luck favors those of us who act. Those that go out and do something. Those, that take a chance. There you have it: take a chance! Luck likes people who say: YES!

Nico´s TED History

Truth is: I´m a lucky guy. I am not on a TEDx stage for the first time. This is the second time. I spoke about how to “not get mad in a traffic jam” at a TEDx event in Cologne last year. But: I wasn´t invited to speak. I was a regular guest just like most of you are today. One of the speakers cancelled right on that day – but instead of extending the break, the organizers did something else: They addressed the audience and said: “OK, so we´re going to split up those 18 minutes by three: and if you feel like giving an impromptu 5-minute TEDx talk, write your name down on a piece of paper, put it on the speaker´s desk during the next break.

So I wrote my name down and put it on the desk. And lucky me: my name was drawn from the stack and I gave my little 5-minute TEDx talk – and it was a big success. There was definitely an element of luck in there. There were 10 or 12 slips of paper on the desk. So my chances were roughly at 30%. I was lucky, definitely.

But: To be invited to give an ad-lib Tedx talk takes more than being lucky. For example, you have to be there in the first place. You have to buy a ticket and show up. That´s straightforward – but nevertheless crucially important. And then, in this case, you have to express yourself. You have to be brave and optimistic and write your name on that slip of paper and tell the world what you have to offer. And then, when your name is acutally pulled from the stack, you have to say yes. You have to go for it. You have to be brave. Just like the fellow who now owns 100 Kronen more than 10 minutes ago.

But that´s not the whole story. In order to give an improvised TED talk, you also have to be prepared. You need to have knowledge and stories in the back of your head. You have to be ready. The books I´ve read, and the seminars I attended, the hundreds of TED talks I watched – all that helped me to be prepared when the opportunity arose. And there we have four essential building blocks for being the architect of your own fortune:

Prepare – be there – express – and say yes! Prepare – be there – express – and say yes!

Sounds good, does it? Let´s look at those four elements in detail

Louis Pasteur – Prepare

The scientist Louis Pasteur famously said: Chance favors the prepared mind. I think he stole that from Oprah Winfrey. Chance favors the prepared mind. Pasteur was referring to scientific discoveries when he proclaimed that – but isn´t that just a special case of being lucky? What he meant was: You have to be able to understand what you see when you see something. You have to be able to connect the dots, discover a pattern – and make sense of it. And this ability, in turn, is based on training, prior knowledge, expertise. That´s what why we tend to get luckier the more we learn and grow.

Woody Allen – Be there

TEDx Bergen 2014 - Nico Rose - Show upLet´s turn our attention to a slightly more modern sage: Mr. Woody Allen. He´s often quoted as follows: “80 percent of success in life is showing up.” And I think he´s absolutely right. We have to go places, meet people, we have to be curious. Be present. Be open. Be mindful. Luck seldom happens to us when at home alone. Luck mostly comes to us in the form of other people. Luck favors those that go out and mingle. If you don´t buy a ticket to a TEDx event, there´s no way you can step in when one of the speakers cancels. If you don´t apply for the job of your dreams, you´re definitely not going to get it. If you don´t talk to the beautiful stranger, you won´t get lucky – there, now I said it. We tend to get luckier the more curious and open we are.

Richard Wiseman – Express

Now let´s also look at some science: Richard Wiseman is a British psychology professor who is known for his unconventional research ideas. About 10 years ago, he´s published a book by the name of “The Luck Factor” – and a lot of what I tell you today is based on his work. He´s got a lot more to say on the topic – but let´s just look at a sentence from the summary section:

Luck is not a magical ability or a gift from the gods. Instead, it is a state of mind – a way of thinking and behaving.

One thing he found is: Lucky people are not really luckier, they just try harder. They display more Grit, as Penn Professor Angela Duckworth would frame it. Another important behavior is: expressing yourself. And let others express themselves. Show the world what you´ve got to give. Let them know. And listen to what others have to say and to give. Be open. present. Be mindful.

Richard Branson – Say yes

And finally: Say yes! Over the last weeks, I frequently stumbled upon this quote by Sir Richard Branson – and I´m sure he´s knows something about being lucky. The quote goes:

If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!”

TEDx Bergen 2014 - Nico Rose - Richard WisemanAnd that – once again – has a lot to do with the talk I´m giving right now. Actually, I was invited to give this talk just 5 days ago. I met one of the organizers, Tjorben, in Berlin in June. And we met again 10 days ago in London. We had dinner together and he told me how he´s working on the final preparations for this TEDx event. And I said jokingly: “Oh, that´s great. If you do it again next year, you can invite me as a speaker.”

5 days ago, he texted me via Facebook: One of the speakers had cancelled. And he asked me if I would be able to come to Bergen today to speak to you. Now here´s what a proper German should have said:

“Oh, Norway? This Saturday? That´s tough. You know, I have to do the grocery shopping on Saturday, and then there´s soccer on TV…and it´s a really long trip. Hmm. But I said yes. I´m lucky. Truth be told: First, I asked my wife for permission: But then I said yes. Yes is such a beautiful word. Let´s conclude: We tend to get luckier the more we say yes instead of no!

Steven Johnson – The Adjacent Possible

Let´s look at some more science: A couple of years ago, I bought this brilliant book at an airport: Steven Johnson´s “Where good Ideas come from”. In a nutshell, it´s a book about creativity and innovation – and why great ideas mostly do not happen anytime, anywhere, and to anyone.

A core concept of the book is the principle of the “Adjacent Possible” – which Johnson borrowed from evolutional biologist Stuart Kauffman. The idea at the core can be put like this: The adjacent possible is a yet unrealized state – or rather a multitude of unrealized states – of some entity. An adjacent possible is a potential state in the near future that may or may not be realized. But there are always constraints with regard to what is possible. An example from biology: in a world where there are only monads – one cell beings– the adjacent being cannot be a dinosaur. Life cannot jump from one cell to dinosaur directly. But jumping from one cell to two cells – that´s an adjacent possible. Then cell clusters, that turn to into more complex structures – and then, after lots and lots of adjacent possibles, you may get your dinosaur at the end of the day.

Johnson transferred this principle to the world of ideas and innovation. He´s able to show that innovation also moves along the path of the adjacent possible. You couldn´t have the first car without the invention of the wheel, oil refining, and the combustion engine. And you´d have to know about all of these things.

And I believe that´s also why some people are luckier than others. By going out and learning, and talking to people, and saying yes, they enlarge their personal sphere of the adjacent possible. They create an extended space of possibility. They make possible what for other people is absolutely impossible. Prepare – be there – express – and say yes!

Esa – Systems of Holding Back

Let me take this idea to another level – especially the “saying yes” part. The question is: Can we all together turn the world into a luckier place? Yes, we can. Enter Esa Saarinen. Esa is one of Finland´s most eminent philosophers – and he surely looks like one, don´t you think? I had the honor of being taught by him at the University of Pennsylvania shortly before Christmas. Together with a co-worker, Esa has developed a framework he calls “Systems Intelligence”.

A core concept in Systems Intelligence is the idea of Systems of Holding Back. More precisely: Systems of Holding Back in Return and in Advance. Again, the idea is very simple at the core – I´ll give you an example: Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl and wants to tell her. But he´s afraid she could say no. So he remains silent. Meanwhile girl also loves boy. But she´s frightened as well. So she also remains silent – and they never become a couple. End of story.

That is a small system of holding back in return and advance. The tragic thing is: This happens every day. Everywhere. Not only with lovers. But also friends, family, co-workers, political parties, governments, and nations. We want to make a contribution. We want to give. We want to do good. But we are afraid. So we hold back. And by collectively holding back we create the “systems of holding back” that make “holding back” even more likely in the future. It is a downward spiral.

Outro

Each of us has to pro-actively counter these systems: So please ask yourself:

  • What are you holding back, and what is the contribution you could make? Today, and in the future?
  • When are you saying “no” when you could and should really say “yes”?
  • How could you bring more luck into your life and that of others?

Prepare, be there, express, and say yes!

Thank you!

TEDx Bergen 2014 - Nico Rose - Team

 

Foto credits

Bibliophilia: How Reading and Writing can Save our Soul

MAPP 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…

Library - Mind - Hospital

I´ve visited the center of the earth. I´ve travelled 20.000 leagues under the sea. And I´ve toured around the world in 80 days. Three times, actually. And most of that journeying happened while sitting in the bathtub of my parent´s home. When I was a kid, I used to be a semi-professional tennis player. Upon returning home after long weekends of tournaments, I would head straight to my parent´s bathroom and into the bathtub – to stay there for hours and hours, until my skin would be all shriveled. Most of the times, my companion (and therefore, first literary love) would be Jules Verne, or rather, those heavy editions with linen covers of Verne´s most famous novels that my grandpa gave to my father – and my father to me. Ever since that time, I have been an enthusiastic reader. My taste in books changed, obviously. In came Stephen King, Jostein Gaarder, Nick Hornby, Douglas Adams, and even Joanne K. Rowlings Harry Potter, among others. And out they went again. For several years now, I have been reading non-fiction for the most part. But the pleasure of reading remains. For me, it is an act of uttermost hedonic value. But that is not what this essay is all about. Instead, I will try to convey how literature informs our understanding of (psychological) well-being, and how reading and writing can have a therapeutic effect and build psychological acumen and resiliency.

In the Beginning was the Word

There are many descriptions and analogies for the unique quality of the human race. Common wisdom from biology holds that we are “homo sapiens (sapiens)”, the knowing (or discerning) man (Semino, Passarino, Oefner, Lin, Arbuzova, Beckman, …, & Underhill, 2000). But that is by far not the only description for the “pride of creation”. There are researchers who argue the most important feature that distinguishes man from his mammalian ancestors is our ability to create, remember, and narrate stories – that we are “homo narrans”: the story-telling men (Niles, 1999). Through the narration of stories, man used to recollect and still does recollect his own history, interprets it, and transfers it to the future generation(s), thereby shaping Hegel´s “world spirit” that strives to recognize itself (Hegel, 1822).

But storytelling is almost never done for sheer fun of it, or for objectively reporting was has been before. Telling stories, be it in traditional oral style, in print, or some audio-visual presentation mode, almost always has some instructive, some prescriptive quality to it. Whoever creates or narrates the story oftentimes wants to instill a change in the recipient, wants him to know or even be something else when the story is over. This educational facet of storytelling can be traced all the way through the literary history, from Homer´s “Iliad” and “Odyssey” and Aesop´s fables, to early religious accounts such as the “Upanishads” and the Bible, to medieval works such as Dante´s “Divine Comedy”, Shakespeare´s works of drama (e.g., “Hamlet”), to the early (e.g. Goethe´s “Wilhelm Meister´s Apprenticeship”) and later (e.g. Dickens´s “Great Expectations”) “Bildungsroman” – all the way up to 20th century masterpieces such as de Saint-Exupéry “Little Prince” and New Age classics along the lines of Bach´s “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” or Coelho´s “Alchemist”.

Oftentimes, this educational element is conveyed by carefully depicting the protagonists´ lifestyles – in order to then confront the recipient with the outcomes of these modes of existence. By way of example, both Leo Tolstoy´s “The Death of Ivan Ilych” (1886/2010) and Willa Cather´s “Neighbour Rosicky” (1932/2010) try to educate the reader (among other things) on the value of and human need for close relationships. While Cather portrays the distinctly positive outcomes of understanding that “no man is an island”, Tolstoy´s narrative describes Ivan Ilyich as a human being that literally dies of social and emotional isolation. So, while both stories do not contain any “how-to advice” such as modern self-help books, it remains unequivocal that they try to convey some underlying and implicit understanding of human well-being, that they represent a prescription for “a life well-lived”.

It´s never too late to have a good Childhood*

A special and utmost important kind of story is the story that we tell about ourselves – to ourselves and other people. On that note, psychotherapy has long since discovered the importance of stories and story-telling. It´s not for nothing Freud´s Psychoanalysis is frequently referred to as a “talking cure”. More and more evidence emerges for the notion that being able to convey a coherent and meaningful account of one´s life is a fundamental building block of psychological well-being (Baerger & McAdams 1999). This idea is not only part of the academic literature, but also an important element of pop culture such as the “connecting the dots” element in Steve Jobs´ hugely popular Stanford Commencement Address (2005).

By now, there exists a multitude of ways that stories and storytelling are consciously imbedded into the psychotherapeutic process. By way of example, the branch of “Narrative Therapy” (Monk, Winslade, Crockett, & Epston, 1997) distinctly focuses on those (life) stories that a client brings into the therapeutic setting. Taking on another angle, Cinematherapy (Sharp, Smith, & Cole, 2002) and Bibliotherapy (Cuijpers, 1997) use the potential healing power of existing works of literature, poetry, and film to sow the seed for desirable changes in clients´ mental models and, subsequently, behavioral patterns. Taking on a more active approach, Writing Therapy (Pizarro, 2004) offers relief for patients suffering from severe stress and psychological trauma through the act of writing one´s own account of those stressful events. While the raw facts, the objective events that happened in the past, cannot be altered any more, it is very much possible to change once rational and emotional perception of that same past. It is absolutely possible to “come to terms” with one´s life history, e.g., by consciously creating mental distance to it, by altering its emotional valence, or retroactively finding a deeper meaning in what happened to us earlier (Pennebaker, 1997). Especially the act of discovering a heightened sense of meaning and purpose in life – which is a sign of post-traumatic growth (Tedeschi & Calhoun, 2004) – seems to have very beneficial on our psychological well-being (Singer, 2004).

But the favorable outcomes of writing are not limited to the stories of our past. Some psychologists, especially in the emerging field of Positive Psychology (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000), stress the importance of (possible) future events for our well-being. Seligman, Railton, Baumeister, and Sripada (2013) describe the human species as beings that are drawn by the future rather than being driven by the past. As such, actively engaging in the creation of a desirable future is a sign of optimal psychological functioning. On that note, positive psychologists have tried to create interventions that help to consciously facilitate the process of optimistic prospection. One of these interventions is based on visualizing and writing about one´s “best possible self” – where subjects are instructed to “imagine yourself in the future, after everything has gone as well as it possibly could” (Sheldon & Lyubomirsky, 2006, p. 77). Doing this regularly has shown to boost satisfaction with life and an optimistic mindset, among other things – even beyond the time of actively carrying out the exercise.

To draw to a close, I´d like to cite Joseph Campbell, the famous mythologist who discovered that most well-known stories follow a very similar pattern, the so-called “Monomyth” (“The Hero´s Journey” in the pop culture). Campbell once said in an interview: “We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.” Campbell´s monomyth theory posits that compelling stories can typically be structured into twelve different stages (Lang & Trimble, 1988). In stage eight, the hero is supposed to find a magic elixir that will help him to overcome his enemies and bring long-desired changes to the world from which he originally came. Personally, I hope that Positive Psychology will be mine…

References

Andrews, D. H., Hull, T. D., & Donahue, J. A. (2009). Storytelling as an instructional method: Definitions and research questions. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-based Learning, 3(2), 6-23.

Sharp, C., Smith, J. V., & Cole, A. (2002). Cinematherapy: Metaphorically promoting therapeutic change. Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 15(3), 269-276.

Baerger, D. R., & McAdams, D. P. (1999). Life story coherence and its relation to psychological well-being. Narrative Inquiry, 9(1), 69-96.

Cather, W. (2010). Neighbor Rosicky. In Obscure destinies (pp. 1-38). Oxford, UK: Oxford City Press. (Original work published in 1932).

Cuijpers, P. (1997). Bibliotherapy in unipolar depression: A meta-analysis. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 28(2), 139-147.

Hegel, G. W. F. (1822). The philosophy of history. New York: Dover Publications.

Jobs, S. (2005). Stanford Commencement Address, retrieved from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UF8uR6Z6KLc

Lang, J. S., & Trimble, P. (1988). Whatever happened to the Man of Tomorrow? An examination of the American monomyth and the comic book superhero. Journal of Popular Culture, 22(3), 157-173.

Monk, G.,Winslade, J., Crockett, K., & Epston, D. (Eds.). (1997). Narrative therapy in practice: The archaeology of hope. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Niles, J. D. (1999). Homo narrans. The poetics and anthropology of oral literature. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Pennebaker, J. W. (1997). Writing about emotional experiences as a therapeutic process. Psychological Science, 8(3), 162-166.

Pizarro, J. (2004). The efficacy of art and writing therapy: Increasing positive mental health outcomes and participant retention after exposure to traumatic experience. Art Therapy, 21(1), 5-12.

Seligman, M. E., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist, 55(1), 5-14.

Seligman, M. E., Railton, P., Baumeister, R. F., & Sripada, C. (2013). Navigating into the future or driven by the past. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 8(2), 119-141.

Semino, O., Passarino, G., Oefner, P. J., Lin, A. A., Arbuzova, S., Beckman, L. E., … & Underhill, P. A. (2000). The genetic legacy of paleolithic homo sapiens sapiens in extant Europeans: AY chromosome perspective. Science, 290(5494), 1155-1159.

Sheldon, K. M., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2006). How to increase and sustain positive emotion: The effects of expressing gratitude and visualizing best possible selves. Journal of Positive Psychology, 1(2), 73-82.

Singer, J. A. (2004). Narrative identity and meaning making across the adult lifespan: An introduction. Journal of Personality, 72(3), 437-460.

Tedeschi, R. G., & Calhoun, L. G. (2004). Posttraumatic Growth: Conceptual Foundations and Empirical Evidence. Psychological Inquiry, 15(1), 1-18.

Tolstoy, L. (2010). The death of Ivan Ilych. New York: SoHo Books. (Original work published in 1886).

Vaughan, S. C. (1997). The talking cure: the science behind psychotherapy. New York: Putnam and Sons.

*That phrase is most commonly attributed to Novelist Tom Robbins.

Header picture taken from the Facebook fan page of Random House, Inc.

Tired of meaningless rattled-down Introductions? Try “Serious Introductions”

You probably know this thing: it´s the first day of a seminar or the beginning of some business meeting. The host suggests everybody introduce her- or himself to the other attendees (more or less succinct). Following the common social script, most of the times people will now take turns and give an account of their education, job histories, and – on a good day – their personal status. From my own experience I have to admit: I tend to forget most of the information instantaneously – except for the rare occasion when there´s some shared background with another person.

So why not do it a little differently? I have to admit this may not be the best of ideas on each and every occasion – but then I can imagine a lot of place where this feels really appropriate.

A Serious Introduction

A serious introduction consists of telling a meaningful story about a specific moment in our lives. It could be a moment that is just very important to us, or a moment that shows us at our best, thereby displaying our unique blend of character strengths. To quote my lovely MAPP classmate Patricia De La Torre: It’s a fantastic way to learn about somebody else and to instantly connect with them in the non-cheasiest way possible. So here we go…

This is September 9, 2010. I have a glass of champagne in my hands and feel a one-of-a-kind combination of exaltation and relief. My dress shirt is soaked with sweat from the room temperature of more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit – and from the 30-minute lecture I have given a couple of minutes ago. The first supervisor of my doctoral thesis at European Business School Oestrich-Winkel, has just pronounced I will be awarded the doctoral degree in business sciences with the best possible grade, “summa cum laude”. Now this evaluation consists of the grade for my thesis, which accounts for 70 percent of the total grade; and the grade for the disputation which has just taken place – which accounts for the remaining 30%. My thesis had been graded in-between the top marks – and in order to receive the overall “summa cum laude”, the disputation would have to be an absolute top-notch performance.

Let´s go back in time for a week…

During that final week before my disputation, I did something very unusual: I practiced. In fact, I practiced my ass off. I am used to lecturing regularly, either at conferences, or at the business school where I teach – which has given me a lot of confidence in that matter over the years. I typically will prepare my PowerPoint slides some days before due date alright – but I never ever really think about what to say in advance, let alone learn something by heart. That often results in entertaining but hopelessly overlong lectures. But for once, it had to be different. There are very strict regulations pertaining to the disputation process. You have exactly 30 minutes to convince the doctoral committee of your research, not one minute more, not one minute less.

So I practiced – and I learned my text by heart.

As usual, I prepared my slides. In the morning seven days before the disputation, I practiced for the first time – and went over 45 minutes. I practiced again in the afternoon, talking a little faster, and still went well over 40 minutes. So I cut out one of the slides, practiced again in the evening and finished at 38 minutes. I practiced again before going to bed and stopped at 37 minutes.

For the upcoming six days, I practiced four times a day, once in the morning, once in the afternoon, once in the evening and once before going to bed. I cut out further slides but never made in less than 33 minutes – until the day of the disputation.

I had thrown out another slide spontaneously in the morning and was a little nervous, but clearly not too nervous. I was wearing a tailor-made suit – and my wife, my parents, my parents-in-law and some of my best friends joined the audience to witness the culmination point of a strenuous 5-year period of my life.

Due to practicing hard (I believe), I was at my best that day. Speaking quite clearly, convincingly, seemingly without much effort, and most of all: according to the rules of this extraordinary occasion. I hit the mark in 30 minutes sharp.

Now all this accounts for the exaltation. But what about the relief?

The truth is: joining that doctoral program was – at least from a certain point of view – one of the worst decisions of my life. I´d had lost interest in my research topic during the first year. I felt out of place and out of tune with myself for most of the time. I knew this doctoral thesis was leading neither me (nor someone else) anyhere. I wanted to quit at least once a year but my parents managed to convince me to go on over and over again.

Now it is over. I made it. And I made it worthwhile.

Nico Rose - Disputation

Savoring the Positive Moments in our Lives…

In my non-MAPP-student life, I´m (also) an HR guy. Specifically, I work in employer branding and recruiting. HR somehow has got a bad rep – a lot of people will say it´s (one of) the most boring functions in management. Well … I definitely do not agree. And here´s one of the reasons why…