June 30, 2015

Is there such a thing as civilization?

Is there such a things as civilization? Or is what we call civilization an illusion and would we be wiser to return to our natural state? 

A central theme in the discourse about progress was the difference between the views of the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) and the French philosopher (from Swiss origin) Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778). Hobbes view people as naturally cruel and violent, in other words as bad. In his book Leviathan, he explained that the solution for this problem is a monarchy or other form of government which represents the will of the people and has the monopoly on violence.  He saw civilization as a way of curbing people's badness.

June 24, 2015

No progress-warranty

Making progress in what is important to us is very motivating. I am referring both to individual progress, progress in your own life, and collective progress, progress at the level of groups and societies. What can be a problem is that progress is not always easy to see. When we do not pay close attention we can easily overlook it. Also, it is not always clear whether we should interpret a development as progress. There is, I think, an inherent reason why progress can be hard to see. By making progress we may encounter new situations which pose higher demands on us. Those higher demands, we can perceive as signs of decline or regress instead of progress.

June 18, 2015

Activating a student

I came across a beautiful example of activating a student in a progress-focused manner. 

Tina teaches high school students in a special boarding school. During the brief period (usually several months) in which these students are at the boarding school they work independently on their subjects most of the time and whenever they need some help or explanation Tina and their colleagues provide it to them. Of course, every now and then the students also have to take tests. Tina frequently uses progress-focused principles and techniques such as growth mindset interventions and autonomy supportive interventions. Every day, she writes brief observation/reflection diary entries, both for her own purpose and to inform her colleagues about what happened on that day. I have read and remembered one of the recent entries in that diary. I went something like this.

June 15, 2015

7 Skeptical comments about neuroplasticity

On this website, I have written several enthusiastic posts about neuroplasticity (for example, see this, this, this, this, and this). According to Wikipedia, neuroplasticity refers to changes in neural pathways and synapses due to changes in behavior, environment, neural processes, thinking, and emotions - as well as to changes resulting from bodily injury. Because I believe that it is wise, when learning, to alternate between an attitude of receptiveness and enthusiasm and an attitude of skepticism and criticism, it seemed like a good idea to explore some critical voices about (publications on) neuroplasticity. I'll do this on the basis of a few authors who have expressed themselves rather skeptically (and, in some cases, cynically) about the use of the concept of neuroplasticity or publications about neuroplasticity.

Working in solitude on very ambitious goals

New research suggests how people may work in solitude on very ambitious goals and feel good about it. 

Some famous artists and scientists from the past must have set extraordinary ambitious goals for themselves and must have worked for extremely long periods of time in solitude on their work and discoveries. For example, it is known that Isaac Newton, generally viewed as one of the greatest scientific geniuses of all time, who was highly productive as well, spend many years working in relative solitude. I have sometimes wondered how such people have managed to accomplish such things and to what extent they experienced gratification about their life style. I came across two articles by Thuy-vy Nguyen which give a clue about how some people are able to lead and bear such lives.

The real lesson from the Stanford prison experiment?

Which lesson can we draw from the Stanford prison experiment? 

The Stanford prison experiment, designed and conducted by Philip Zimbardo in 1971, is one of the most famous experiments in psychology. In the basement of Stanford University an imitation of a prison was built. Students who participated in the study were randomly assigned the role of prisoner or guard. Zimbardo himself also participated in the experiment in the role of superintendent. The standard interpretation of the findings of the study is something like: after a while prisoners started to behave helplessly and submissively while guards started behaving cruel and abusively. The experiment was stopped after a student who conducted interviews in the imitation prison objected to the cruelty of what was happening.

June 8, 2015

Feedback in Three Steps

© 2003, Coert Visser

As a manager you have just led a meeting. John brought forward a proposal to implement a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. He did this convincingly and enthusiastically but seemed to leave very little room for his colleagues Michael and Peter to respond. You want to talk to John about this...but how?

June 4, 2015

The plus behind the minus: which questions can you ask?

Several years ago, I introduced the technique of 'finding the plus behind the minus'. The basic I idea behind it is that when people express themselves negatively (through a complaint, a reproach, or criticism) there is always something positive behind that negative expression. That positive thing is something which they find valuable or important, a value, a principle, a goal, of whatever you want to call it. Briefly, the technique comes down to searching for that plus behind the minus. In our progress-focused training programs we frequently practice this technique with our participants, especially in cases which deal with resistance of conflicts. When you are trying to help people in a conflict situation to express the plus behind their minus this has several benefits. First, they themselves find it helpful and pleasant to be able to explain more clearly what their preferred situation is. Second, it will be more acceptable and clear for the other person or people involved in the conflict to understand what the positive intentions are behind someone's initially negative behavior. For them, it will be much easier to respond to these positive formulations than to the initial formulations which were negative.

June 2, 2015

Mindset and personality

I often meet people who think that personality is hardly malleable. They think that personality is something which you have been given by your genes and early life experiences and that who you are in essence is not or hardly changeable. Some time ago I wrote Changing your personality in which I argued that personality is more malleable than we have long thought. Also, I mentioned a few studies which seem to confirm this belief. But you could ask yourself: what does it matter whether or not you believe that personality is malleable? I think it matters a lot and I came across an article which seems to support that belief:

June 1, 2015

The basement metaphor: finding past successes in the basement of our brain

One of the important parts of the progress-focused approach is to make visible what has worked in the past. Progress-focused coaches, for example, ask their clients questions about their past successes. When those clients find examples of past successes they generally become more positive and optimistic. Furthermore, they often come up with some ideas about how they might take a step forward. This might sound a bit strange. Why would something which has worked before not be visible right away? Why should you make an effort to make it visible? You have already experienced it, haven't you? And it was a positive experience. Why wouldn't you remember it, anyway? 

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