Monthly Archives: December 2007

Reading a great story

Lady Knight CoverSince Christmas day, I’ve been re-reading Tamora Pierce’s young-adult fantasy series, Protector of the Small. The story, which takes place in a fantasy kingdom, describes the adventures of a young girl, Keladry, going through knight training, from page to squire to ordeal to knighthood to first quest, against the opposition of many people who do not believe women should become knights.

(Side note: The series has a new cover design, which I don’t like quite as much as the old.)

I have read the entire series of 4 books several times, always with great pleasure even though now I always know how things will turn out. They are in my collection of courage resources, things that help me take heart and take big steps.

When I read them, I am reminded that:

  • Excellence comes from effort on effort, conditioning, persistence, and a big heart.
  • Reality includes people who are bullies. They are never easy to deal with.
  • Fairness is not guaranteed to anyone.
  • Many important things in life have nothing to do with entitlement.
  • Generosity of spirit brings new challenges in the short term. Sometimes it must be its own reward; other times it pays back unexpectedly.

Last spring, I wrote about Albert Bandura and the power of stories. He talks about stories as a much-needed social diffusion mechanism to achieve widespread adoption of what we learn in positive psychology. Bandura working with Miguel Sabido creates serial TV and radio dramas, powerful stories with three types of characters: “Positive role models whose behavior results in good things, negative role models whose behavior has adverse effects, and transitional models who start out negatively but turn into positive role models by the end.”

I think good stories create a yearning for virtue along with a sense that it’s possible. I hold Keladry in my head as a exemplar of endurance, self-control, and effort, as well as of generosity, imagination, and honor.

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Filed under Extraordinary people, Positive Children's Canon, Stories, Strengths

Reflections on 2007, a year of great personal change

2007 was a year of big changes.

I finished up a 30 year career in computer science, including 4 years in software engineering research for the United States Navy and 26 years at IBM.

Then I set out on my own as a coach, workgroup advisor, speaker, and writer.

It’s very strange to go from being one of 350,000 employees to being one of one. Corporate maze running is no longer an important skill. I can’t assume there are other people to take care of things for me, such as marketing. Back in the big corporation, we software developers tended to assume marketing required entirely different skills from ours to create hype and sizzle. But now I see marketing is much more basic. People have to know about your services before they can hire them. Period. Do I believe I can give value? You betcha. So now it’s up to me to connect with people I can benefit. How beautifully uncomfortable that is! What a lot of learning I’m doing.

I love owning my time every day and having my commute be a short walk down the hallway. I do have to remind myself to stop work and use my evenings to rest and regroup. There’s always so much left to do, but it will still be there to do in the morning.

In 2007, I focused on the things people can do themselves to increase job satisfaction. That doesn’t mean denying the negative aspects of their jobs. I don’t like whitewashing over negative facts. But there are many things that people can do – in spite of those negative aspects – to make work life better.

I also went to three outstanding conferences this year.

One was the Appreciative Inquiry conference, also called Symphony of Strengths. Appreciative Inquiry is a process for transformative change that starts by exploring the positive core of an organization. What are the root causes of its successes? What are the strengths of its people? I love the statement that focusing on problems drains the energy for change right out of people. It reminds me of the nickname we had for the people who can always see why things won’t work: keepers of the nightmare. Change is uncomfortable!

Another was the Gallup Global Well-being Forum. I presented a poster on some of my job satisfaction work, which I hope to get published as a paper in 2008. I also heard Scott Sherman speak about Social Action that works. In his dissertation research on social action movements, he stumbled on some of the same ideas that underlie positive psychology.

Another was the International Coaching Federation conference. I heard great keynote speeches and witnessed masterful demonstrations of coaching. I was inspired by Julio Ollala’s discussion of coaches helping people move beyond denial or depression to personal responsibility and hope in the face of the big challenges of our time. That gave me ideas for an article on sustainability.

I am writing, studying, speaking, coaching, advising, and living positive psychology to the best of my ability. I am experiencing the state of discomfort that comes with times of great opportunity.

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Filed under Coaching, Job Satisfaction

Growth Mindsets and Marriage

Mindset CoverA friend asked me what positive psychology can tell us about marriage. When I went digging around through my notes and books, one of the things I found was Carol Dweck’s chapter, Relationships: Mindsets in Love (or Not) in her book, Mindsets: The new psychology of success.

Dweck argues that people tend to have either fixed mindsets or growth mindsets about their lives. Someone with a fixed mindset believes his or her qualities are fixed and life is about discovering what already is. You are either smart or you’re not, and failure means you are not. Someone with a growth mindset believes human qualities can be cultivated through effort. Getting something wrong doesn’t mean failure, it means learning. She cites Alfred Binet, who clearly didn’t think IQ was a fixed quantity:

With practice, training, and above all, method, we manage to increase our attention, our memory, our judgment, and literally to become more intelligent than we were before.

So what does this have to do with marriage? Dweck describes two fixed mindset attitudes that get in the way of having a happy marriage:

Fixed Mindset Attitude 1. If you have to work at it, it wasn’t meant to be.

This made me laugh, because I remember people telling me before I got married that you have to work at marriage – and I couldn’t understand what they meant. After nearly 27 years, I know exactly what they mean. It’s a dance of self-expression, observation, and adjustment where the happiness is in that slightly off-balance state of relying on and being surprised by each other. Dweck quotes John Gottman, a foremost relationship researcher:

Every marriage demands an effort to keep it on the right track; there is a constant tension … between the forces that hold you together and those that can tear you apart.

Fixed Mindset Attitude 2. Problems indicate character flaws.

Whoo, what a tarpit that can be! If you believe a problem indicates a fixed character flaw in the other person, then how can you hope for a workable compromise that suits you both?

Mindsets are changeable. People who recognize the limitations of fixed mindsets can learn how to adopt growth mindsets. Marriage is a challenge that thrives on two people both being willing and eager to grow – and to let the other grow.

Check out Nick Hall’s article, Brainset – Neuroscience examines Carol Dweck’s Theory if you want to explore further.

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Filed under Life satisfaction, Marriage, Positive Interventions