December 23, 2008

Might we all be happier if we relied less on external validation?

Arjan Broere sent me this movie:

The movie is a lot of fun to watch. Does it make you think? The nice thing of stories is that you can distill your own meaning from them. What is your interpretation of its message? Is it that you have to smile a lot? Is it that you have to compliment everyone and let them know how great they are? Or is your interpretation different? Lane Hartwell has an interesting comment on the movie. She says on her blog:
Not to be too poetic about it, but I really do think we’d all be happier if we relied less on external validation. The movie is feel good and cute, but there is an underlying message. Hugh, the main character, gives others the validation they need, and, in return, he gets validated with making them smile. When he encounters Victoria, who won’t smile, it drastically affects him and his ability to function. Meanwhile, Victoria’s ability to feel good is affected by another outside source. It’s kind of a metaphor for the way we live in America and I see this all the time. People around me are constantly waiting for something or somebody outside themselves to change their moods. Much of it is consumed. It makes me happy for a couple of hours or even days when something remarkable happens or I get a compliment or I buy a lovely new Coach bag (my ‘junk’), but then I go back to my set-point again.
I think this is an interesting comment. It reminds me of this post about self-esteem: What's the deal with self esteem? This post explains the basic idea of the self esteem movement which is that in order to improve performance of people you have to first make them feel good about themselves. The idea behind this was: it is easier to function well if you feel good about your self. This idea sounded plausible but, as the post explains, it doesn't work (read this for background information). Researcher Carol Dweck has provided insight into why some compliments don't work and others do (read: PROCESS PRAISE more effective than TRAIT PRAISE). Her work shows how you can be appreciative without risking adverse effects. This article explains in details how to compliment effectively: Learning to compliment effectively. All of this reminds me of a post I wrote last year which I'll repost here:

In the solution-focused approach acknowledging the perspective of the other person is quite important. Insoo Kim Berg and Therese Steiner underlined the importance of acknowledgement when they wrote: "..all people want to be treated with respect, want to be valued and accepted, loved, and cherished, and made to feel they are making important contributions to society and that their wishes and desires are heard and respected." When you acknowledge the view and behavior of the other person he or she feels taken seriously which helps to create a better co-operation between the two of you instantly. Solutionist Bill O'Hanlon said the following about the powerful effect of acknowledging: "You really give them a sense that they've been heard; that their experiences have been acknowledged; that who they are has been valued and validated." Yet, when viewed from the opposite perspective (your own perspective) it seems wise to de-emphasize things like acknowledgement, recognition, praise, etc, a bit. Alfie Kohn, author of the thought-provoking book PUNISHED BY REWARDS, wrote: "Why is it important that excellence be recognized?" In his book, Kohn convincingly argues that material and immaterial rewards can distract a person from his task, diminish intrinsic motivation and impair relationships. If Kohn is right, and I think he is, focusing less on rewards and becoming less dependent on whether (or WHEN) you receive praise and acknowledgement may be wise. Many great artists and scientists from the past have only received full recognition after their death. Only their independence from recognition allowed them to go on and develop their work. Mmmm... what does this mean? I guess, in solution-focused practice, acknowledging and complimenting is done most effective when done in an implicit way. An implicit acknowledgement, recognition or compliment is a part of a question. It works like this. Instead of saying: "Well done, you did an excellent job!" you might ask: "How did you manage to accomplish this very hard task?" When you do it like this, what you say does not feel like a reward or praise. Because of that, there is less chance that the other person's motivation and the relationship between the two of you will be impaired. Rather, it activates the other person to actually think about his accomplishment and how he did it.

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