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January 27, 2015

Carol Dweck - Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

Getting better at preventing negative situations

Making progress in direction of desired situations isn't the only legitimate goal that people may have. What is also important in life is to prevent undesired things from happening. As a matter of coincidence the subject of anorexia nervosa came up a few times in conversations I had, last week. On one of those occasions an interesting question came up which I will try to summarize here. Clients with anorexia nervosa sometimes get treated in specialized clinics. What I have learned is that in some cases, when the treatment is completed and hospitalization can be terminated, clients are sent home with a prevention plan. The purpose of this prevention plan is to help clients retain their weight and to prevent a relapse. The question which I was asked is whether it is wise to work with a prevention plan in which a negative goal formulation is used, in the sense that something bad has to be prevented. The person asking me this wondered whether it isn't better to work with a positively formulated goal in which something desirable is built and the focus is on achieving growth?

January 26, 2015

Is there already a beginning of success?

How we define our situation influences our motivation to accomplish our goals. In particular the question whether there is already a beginning of the success you are seeking is important. 

Many times I have mentioned on this site that making progress in meaningful work is very motivating. Not only actual progress can motivate, so does perceived progress. That this perception can even be based on an illusion was demonstrated by an experiment conducted by Columbia University researchers Kivetz et al. (2006). Participants in this experiment were customers in a coffee shop at the Columbia University campus. In the experiment participants received a stamp card. For each cup of coffee they bought they received a stamp. After 10 stamps they had earned a free cup of coffee plus a baked good. There were two kinds of stamp cards (see below). 

January 25, 2015

Eyes closed during a coaching session?

An important part of progress-focused coaching is that clients remember past successes. These are situations which they have experienced in the past in which they have, to some extent, managed to accomplish what they are now trying to accomplish. Past successes nearly always exist. No matter how difficult the situation or goal of clients may be, it is very likely that they will have experienced a situation in the past which was somewhat similar to their current situation in which they have done things that have worked and that may be useful again in some way.  That past successes can be found nearly always does not mean that they can always be found quickly or easily. Because we cannot be permanently aware of  all our previous experiences these past successes may be hidden away deeply in our memory. This means that we may have to dig up these past successes from some far away corner of our memory.

Autonomy support predicts goal internalization, progress and persistence

Goal Internalization and Persistence as a Function of Autonomous and Directive Forms of Goal Support
Richard Koestner,Theodore A. Powers, Marina Milyavskaya, Noémie Carbonneau and Nora Hope1 (2014)

Abstract: Two prospective studies examined the relations of autonomy support and directive support to goal internalization and goal persistence over a year. Study 1 examined the role of support and internalization in semester-long goals set by college students and whether the goals were reset in the following semester. Study 2 examined semester-long goals and long-term developmental goals. Study 1 showed that autonomy support was not only significantly associated with greater internalization and goal success in the fall semester, but it was also significantly associated with actually resetting and subsequently succeeding at goals that one had failed to reach. Study 2 showed that autonomy support was significantly associated with progress for short-term goals over the semester, whereas directive support was unrelated to progress. For long-term goals, autonomy support was significantly related to greater internalization of goals and to greater goal satisfaction, whereas directive support was significantly negatively related to these outcomes. These studies point to the beneficial effects of autonomy support on goal internalization and resilient persistence. The effects of directive support (null vs. negative) were moderated by the timeline of the goals.

January 21, 2015

Do you feel guilty while you are doing what works?

Occasionally, I come across the strange phenomenon that people know that something works but still experience a diffidence about actually doing it. This diffidence has to do with a certain sense of guilt. Hmm... knowing that something works but not doing it because you feel guilty about doing it? Sounds strange, doesn't it? I'll give an example. Recently, I have written a few articles about how beneficial physical exercise is for people. I mainly talking about how healthy walking is. An example is my review of Erik Scherder's book. I have received many positive responses to this article. Last week, however, I talked to someone about this topic and this woman said: " I do believe that walking is good for you and I even recommend it to other people! But I don't do it myself. When I walk during my lunch break I feel guilty. I am very Calvinistic about these things. I feel like I am not working hard enough when I am taking a walk in the middle of the day."

January 20, 2015

The plus behind your own minus

Making negative remarks in conversations usually does not work too well.  When, as a manager, you start the conversation by pointing out in detail what the employee has done wrong you risk that the other person will become defensive. And when you have a disagreement with someone and start to criticize this person there is big chance that you will be criticized right back. When people are confronted with negative expressions like criticism they often become tense and reply negatively. In the brain it can be observed that when people are confronted with negative conversational behaviors, cortisol is produced which makes us more defensive and less nuanced. Your negativity provokes negativity in the other person. Put differently, if you give the other person a minus, he is likely to give you a minus in return.

January 19, 2015

Wu-wei: conscious practice and spontaneous performance

Participants in our training courses sometimes say that they want to learn apply progress-focused techniques in a fluent and natural way. They usually add that they want to learn to not have to think so consciously about their questions and responses. They want their conversations to go smoothly and want to feel like they're effortlessly doing the right thing. In response to such questions I sometimes give the example of someone who is watching a competent pianist play a beautiful piece by a wonderful composer, say Chopin. The person is watching the pianist and and enjoys the performance. The performance is fluent and appears effortless. Inspired, the spectator contacts a piano teacher to take lessons. He or she thinks: I want to learn to play like that, too. What a pleasure that must be! Then, the lessons start and the person finds out that playing the piano is not easy. Simple tunes with one hand aren't easy, let alone when the second hand is supposed to join.

January 8, 2015

'How the body knows its mind' by Sian Beilock

University of Chicago psychologist Sian Beilock has written a very interesting new book, "How the body knows its mind". In the book she explains that an old and still popular idea, the dualist view that body and mind are largely separate entities, is mistaken. She argues that this idea is not only invalid, it is also bad for your health.

The body is not just a shell or a device carrying out instructions from the brain. As the author explains in the book, whatever we do from the neck down has a great impact on what happens from the neck up. Because of this, our bodies have great power in shaping the development of our minds.

January 5, 2015

Physical activity and brain health

Erik Scherder is a Dutch neuropsychologist who has recently written a book called Laat je hersenen niet zitten. A literal translation of the title would be something like Don't let you brain sit down but what it actually means is something like Don't neglect your brain. As far as I know, the book has not yet been translated into English.

The book is about the great importance of physical activity for our brain health. That physical activity is important for keeping your body healthy should not come as a surprise. But what may be a surprise is that it is also quite important for the healthy development and functioning of the brain.

December 25, 2014

The world keeps making progress

The new radio advertisement of UNICEF in my country says: "The world is on fire. But children did not light it." I believe that UNICEF is a great organization but I dislike that they use the phrase "the world is on fire".

There is, of course, much suffering in the world and there are gruesome things going on. It seems like the daily news is filled with stories about war, terrorism, and crime. But if the daily news is the only thing you depend on, the world always looks like a powder keg. And while I think it is useful and necessary for the news to pay attention to the horrors of the world, there is another way of looking at reality which is also important.

December 11, 2014

Two concerns about mindfulness meditation

Let me start off by stating that mindfulness and mindfulness meditation deserve our attention. There is a great deal of empirical evidence that shows that mindfulness and mindfulness meditation can be beneficial in multiple ways (read this and this for more information). Having said that I'd now like to express two concerns.

8 Principles in progress-focused change

Progress-focused principles and techniques are not only useful in individual conversations and team facilitation processes but also in facilitating organizational change. Here are a few principles I propose for organizational change.
  1. Share decision making / work as participatively as possible: change is acceptable when people feel that they can (at least partly) influence or even determine what the change is and how it is shaped.