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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

PC Various*

Hello, Readers. Here are a few things on my mind since I last wrote:

Fun stuff. 

The college student came home for Thanksgiving, then rushed back to college so she could dye her hair blue. I would provide a photo, but I don’t think she would like that. Let’s just say that she has a lot of hair, so even a swath of blue is a lotta blue. 

Recently, I was in a crowded parking lot, waiting to leave. Cars were pouring in, so I backed up to make some room. Car one passed me, and the driver blew a kiss and waved. Car two passed by without acknowledgement. Car three passed by, and the driver gave me the finger. Why? Who knows. I had the satisfaction of believing she ended up behind me in line at the café we were both heading to.  At least I like to think so. Perhaps she went elsewhere. 

Self-Acknowledgement check in.

I cleaned my closet. No, I didn’t do it the Marie Kondo way. I did it my way. Of course, even though I haven’t read The Earthshaking Magic of Tidying Up, or whatever Marie Kondo’s book is called, I have been influenced by her. More than once, actually twice, I heard myself muttering, “Does this spark joy? Not exactly, but I’m keeping it.” So, take that, Kondo. 

And despite my knee-jerk, anti-Kondo stance, based on ignorance, let me point out, as so many knee-jerk responses are, since I haven’t read her book, I do fold my shirts the Konmarie way. I once watched a short video demonstration of her method and took it as mine. Here it is, FYI:

I delivered multiple bags of old clothes, shoes, and a Cuisinart to my favorite charity, Grassroot Givers in Albany. I renewed a book at the library, paid my overdue fines, and picked up several books on hold. And, I even went to the post office to return several items of clothing I ordered over the last few months. 

I'm telling you these things to remind you about self-acknowledgement. It's okay to acknowledge the little things you did even though they were boring or hard or a nuisance. In fact, it builds self-esteem. I am feeling so much better about myself now that I've written these things. That woman giving me the finger has all but vanished from my memory. 


Along the lines of answering the question, Is this worth doing when our country is in crisis? 

I listened to an interview with the Dean of Religious Life at the University of Southern California (USC), Varun Soni. He just happens to be the first Hindu head of religious life at an American university. During the conversation, he talked about college students over the last few years seeming to be in a state of emotional crisis. He finds that he has to talk to them a lot about the roots of their crises, and after the crisis passes, the idea he has to get them to examine is how to define success for themselves. 

That’s right. These kids get to school, and they have a particular idea of success as power, money, and prestige (PMP), or at least one of those things. Then they find out that perhaps they’re not the best in their class anymore. Or perhaps they don’t really want to do the thing they’ve been groomed to do. They have to redefine success. 

How do they do this? Well, according to Soni, they need to “ask the right questions.” These are questions such as, What is my purpose in life? What makes me happy? How can I be of service to others? 

The thing that resonated with me was that Soni skirted around a specific definition of success. He was not to be pinned down. Instead, for him, the redefinition was the asking of the questions. The asking and the answering of them. 

This seems like a good thing overall. Because part of the impetus of my quest to redefine success was the terrible sinking suspicion I had that asking those big questions, the meaning of life questions, was for weaklings. I felt cowed by the dominant culture and the prevailing notion of success as PMP. Those who believe in PMP tend to belittle those who look for more, for meaning, for flourishing, for purpose. And those who do look for those things tend to question their own sanity in a world dominated by PMP. 

Maybe I’m naive to look to the younger generation for salvation. So be it. They came of age under a different political administration. They are not going to unsee the first Black president. They are not going to unsee the LGBTQ movement. The 45,000 USC students are not going to unsee their Hindu chaplain. Some of them will be driven a little bonkers by these things, because that’s their family’s milieu. But some of them will be encouraged and inspired. Some of them will just move forward with a higher threshold of acceptance of differences among people. 

Maybe I am naive. I’ll take it. Hope is important.  

In a conversation with comedian Marc Maron on Maron’s WTF Podcast, comedian Judd Apatow impressed me. He’s famous for helping to create the TV show “Freaks and Geeks,” which was canceled after one season, but was seriously good, and whose stars have gone on to fame—James Franco, Linda Cardellini, Seth Rogan, and Jason Segal among them. Aside from “Freaks,” I’m not a huge Apatow fan, since his movies are puerile; they’re full of “boner jokes” (his description) and boy-men, yet I don’t hate them. He manages to ground them in truth. Furthermore, he employs Paul Rudd frequently. 

Apatow and Maron discussed the difficulty of writing jokes in the current political climate. The difficulty and the necessity of it, and the struggle that causes. But what I especially liked was a little monologue Apatow gave about the psychological underpinning of a comic. It is the attempt to be sane and find happiness and peace. 

All comedians, he said, share the same journey: “We’re young. We have some difficult childhood situation. Comedy becomes a way to escape and be seen. Then we want to be successful to feel good about ourselves. Then we realize, oh, that doesn’t work. What does work, ultimately is love and connection and some higher purpose. Then we go for that, which is still difficult to attain.”  

He was talking about comedy, but he’s describing the evolving stages of self-actualization, or of maturity. My own search for success originated in that desire to be seen and to feel successful, and my definition has flexed and grown to incorporate the process of finding purpose, connection, and peace. I was in a group video conference call with several of my high school classmates yesterday, and I had this vision of a book my parents used to have called Passages, by Gail Sheehy. It was very Seventies book, and I never read it, but I was aware of it. It is about “predictable crises of adult life.” As I listened to my classmates, I thought about the passage we are making, all of us searching for what to do in the next phase of our lives. I guess what I’m saying is that I related to the drive for success being rooted in a desire to be seen and to feel good about ourselves. In other words, this is a journey from childhood to maturity, maturity being marked by the search for purpose. If you think you’ve heard this before, it’s true. This is Maslow in action, the drive towards self-actualization and self-transcendence. I think it’s natural to question whether one’s pursuits are sufficient to the needs of the time and adjusting them accordingly. Apatow is doing stand-up for which he mines his own life and psyche, and has been working on a documentary about Gary Shandling, and raising money for the ACLU to be participating in the world of politics. He continues to create. He goes on. Maron goes on. I go on. We continue because we can, and because we must, and because even the more frivolous-seeming creative pursuits have important underpinnings. And because, of course, without art, without frivolity, what is life? 

A point of business. More and more, Facebook has become a siloed experience. That means that my posts disappear into the stream. Facebook doesn’t deem me of high importance, about which fact I try to remain above being insulted. So, I encourage you—nay, implore you— to sign up on my blog to receive these posts via email. You can do it one of two ways. The first option is to sign up to receive posts every time I write them. 

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*PC Various, for those who like to know what titles mean, was an old Harvard College Library call number category. I used to work for the Harvard College Library. It was during the transition from card catalogs to automated circulation systems. It was during the dawn of bar codes on books. It was during the waning of the HCL cataloging system, when the HCL decided to join most every other library and embrace the Library of Congress system. (LC). 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Thing With Feathers at Thanksgiving 2017

The other evening, the 10th grader announced she had an English assignment on the symbolism in an Emily Dickinson poem. Which one, the husband and I asked. 

“Hope is the thing with feathers,” she said. This is the first line of the poem, since Emily Dickinson’s poems are numbered, not titled. And what a first line. 

As we were in high spirits and on our way out to dinner, I felt it incumbent on me to reply that at this moment, a moment in which I was driving because the husband was on call, a moment of darkness and chill, a November moment, “Hope” was the thing in faux shearling. 

I am allowed to make fun of my own name. 

Others, famous others, have done so. Alexander Pope, author of "The Rape of the Lock", an 18th Century English satire of courting and romance, if memory serves, wrote, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.” This sounds promising and optimistic; unfortunately, as an English major I know the second line of this couplet: “Man never is, but always to be blest.” That is, blessed. That is, hope is a state of frustration. 

I feel sure I’ve written about this before. The Latin root of hope means to expect or wait. To expect is to anticipate. Perhaps anticipation is a pleasant state, but it is a state of unfulfillment, and the sense of Pope’s lines, and the etymology of the word, back that up. Is there anything sadder than unfulfilled optimism? Is there anything sadder than always expecting a good result but never achieving it?

Of course there is. Crushed optimism. Crushed optimism and never even anticipating good is worse. 

So this is why, perhaps, Mrs. Bombadoodle chose this Emily Dickinson poem, poem number 314, according to the American Poetry Foundation, but also called poem number 254 by the Poetry Foundation. I’m sure there’s a story there, but I do not know it. I have two volumes of ED’s poems in the basement that I can search out. My point lies elsewhere. 

My point is that we need the unironic view of hope that Dickinson offers in her poem. Right now we need it. It’s the dark time of the year. It’s a dark time for our country. We are heading into Thanksgiving, though, a generally excellent holiday (setting aside the whole Pilgrim and Native American genocide thing and thinking about the inclusive and grateful iteration of the meaning of the holiday). We need to let our feathered things sing. If Emily Dickinson is to be trusted, our feathered things are singing, even in the storm, regardless of our intent. The undaunted “little Bird” will weather the storm. All it asks is nothing. It just keeps singing. We are wired to hope, and it must be for a reason. I trust it will carry us through, proving just enough fuel to keep us working towards a better, more equitable country. In fact, according to the dictionary, an archaic meaning of the word is trustShe’s singing now. I hear her. 

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Annals of Successful Parenting: Writing

The 10th grader is annoyed with her English teacher, Mrs. Bombadoodle. Annoyed is perhaps too mild a descriptor. She’s been fulminating against Mrs. Bombadoodle. Mrs. B is requiring from her a five paragraph essay of 800 words, comparing and contrasting The Odyssey and The Wizard of Oz (the movie). She’s been complaining about how she can never write only eight hundred words and how unreasonable that is. And she can’t get started. She had to write one paragraph for homework the other night. Then she has the weekend to finish the draft of the essay. Then she will have to rewrite it and hand it in. This job feels impossible to her. 

This is one of those parenting moments when my desire to be Supportive Parent runs alongside my Beleagured Writer. Supportive Parent would listen and say, “Oh my. My, my. You can do it.” Beleagured Writer would say, “Uh, yeah. That’s called drafting, revising, and editing. That’s called writing.” Educators call this “the writing process.” They would, wouldn't they? 

It just so happens I am reading Draft No. 4 by John McPhee, which is about writing. Honestly, I have been mostly a fiction writer, and John McPhee is a famous nonfiction essayist whose work has been often in the New Yorker. By which I mean, in a roundabout, indirect, and therefore perhaps poorly executed way, to say that I haven't read all of his work. However, he is a professor of writing, and he's written a book about his writing process. I have been struggling with my writing, and when I struggle, I dip into inspiration via other writers’ books on writing. The eponymous essay has a great section on writer’s block and self-doubt. In short, the message is that he suffers from it, mostly during the time when he’s trying to write the first draft. Best of all, for this Beleagured Writer, he says that anyone who doesn’t is not to be trusted. I would insert a quotation here, but I’m writing from an undisclosed location apart from my book. Namely, from my father’s apartment. Furthermore, I smell like rancid body lotion, which is not pleasant. While packing, I tossed into my suitcase a hotel bottle from my stash. Apparently, it turned. 

McPhee also says that writing is all about revising. This is my truth, too. Once something is on the page, it is much less frightening and daunting to work with. But getting started. Oh my word. 

And then he has a great passage about trying to write and not being able to, and so writing Dear Mom, and then complaining all about what you’re trying to write but can’t. And then cutting out the “Dear Mom”.

That made me laugh, because he wrote it funny, and it is funny and well-written. Also, it reminded me of probably the best writing advice I got in college. Perhaps ironically, this advice came not from a professor, but from a classmate in my dorm, Darlene. One day, I was whinging about having trouble starting a paper, and Darlene, who was from some place in South America, and had creamy skin and soft brown eyes and hair with bangs that fell over her eybrows, and long limbs and delicate fingers, but whom I had never thought of as any kind of writer, said to me that she just wrote her papers in the first person. “What?” I gasped. I had never considered anything so informal, schooled as I had been in the thesis, supporting statements, conclusion five paragraph essay format. The ten commandments of school essays. First person and flow and informality in an academic paper? What about topic sentence, quotations, and references? 

“There aren’t as many “I’s” as you think,” she told me. “You can just take them out afterwards.” 

Darlene wore pleated jeans. They were fashionable back then. We agreed that our desert island makeup would be mascara, definitely. Darlene had a handsome boyfriend named Peter, who also had dark hair and eyes. I believe they got married. 

When a professor later told me I wrote well and my essays had a nice intuitive flow, it was because of Darlene. 

As for which part of me wins the race with the 10th Grader, Supportive Parent or Beleagured Writer, let’s just say I offered the comment that being forced to write with limits can be helpful.

I added, “It’s all about revision,” which was not what she wanted to hear. So it made me feel better to learn from John McPhee that he told his daughters the same thing. It is all about revision.

And where I am I with my book’s revision? I’m at the stage of avoidance. John McPhee also cops to it in his book, thanks God (as my sister the psychoanalyst says). And he told his daughter to put her draft away for a little while and then go back to it. That is what I told the 10th Grader. She listened, although I must admit that she had already decided to take a break. “These things need to sit for a while,” I said. She was halfway up the stairs by then. 

They need to marinate. I believe in steeping, the subconscious, the unconscious. I believe, as John McPhee says in his book, that while I’m not writing, the work is still percolating in the background, maybe even working itself out. 

And I said it first. 

At least in my life. 

The tenth grader turned in 900 words. We shall see how strict Mrs. Bombadoodle is. Writing is about rules, as so much of life is, and also about knowing when and how to break them. 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Annals of Successful Parenting: Humility

I’m going to come right out and say that this past week I hit a low. I was humbled. A good friend’s mother died, and instead of being able to help her out by picking up her son from school, I was at the vet with our fancy dog. As it happened, what I thought was a matter of some urgency, namely ticks on the belly that I was unable to remove, was something else. 

So, the back story on this is that the husband and I left the 10th grader home over the weekend, while we went to visit the college student for her 19th birthday. Said college student had arranged sufficient buffers between herself and us that our presence on her birthday was acceptable to her. The 10th grader had PSATs to take and the Homecoming dance to attend, so being the freewheeling parents we are, we left her to her own devices. 

Actually, she was well-armed with emergency phone numbers, and had a friend to go to the dance with, who would come and sleep over with her to keep her company. I knew my neighbor, E, would let me know if there was some kind of wild party happening. So all was in hand.

She said, not at all defensively. 

We took the college student to lunch, and then dropped her off at her college and spent the evening with our Yankee friends. Sunday morning, we walked around the lake on campus and fed the college student again. While we were heading home, the 10th grader discovered a tick on the dog’s head and texted us. We were able to guide her through the tick’s removal via speakerphone, while driving on the Mass Pike, thus confirming her interest in becoming a veterinarian. Then, the next day, frolicking in the the yard, I saw these inflamed spots on the dog's belly. Ticks. More ticks. And clearly Deer ticks, vectors of horrid disease, judging by their size and color. So I tried to remove them. With tweezers. With a special tick-removal spoon. I am very good at removing ticks, usually. But these suckers were not budging. And the dog was whining. So to the vet. 

Where I learned that these were not what I feared.

“These are nipples,” said the vet. 

Nipples! I thought of the tweezers.

“And these are skin tags.” 

Skin tags! I thought of the tweezers again. 

The vet looked at me. I thought, My, this veterinarian is young. 

“This happens more often than you might think, so don’t feel bad,” she said. 

Don’t feel bad! I thought of the tweezers. I tried to remove my dog’s skin tags and nipples with my Tweezerman tweezers. Those are serious tweezers. 

I mean, really, I know about the dog’s nipples. I have seen the dog’s nipples many times. So how could this have happened? I ask myself this more often than is probably healthy. Fortunately, our fancy dog isn’t long on memory and he has moved on. I can only attribute this lapse to the category 5 cold that was collecting in my head. A category 5 cold that moved in and blocked out a great deal. Certainly my powers of reason and my knowledge of dog anatomy. 

So I hunkered down and watched many episodes of “Lady Dynamite.” I’m not sure I recommend the show, so don’t blame me if you don’t like it. And now I feel better. 

Speaking of attempting to remove my dog’s nipples, I’ve been thinking about humility. Humility and success. In one of our recent accountability conference calls, my friends C and E and I were talking about self-promotion. I’m terrible at self-promotion. I can hardly convince myself to post my blog posts. And every week I wonder if I dare bother people on my mailing list with yet another blog post, whose only dubious (if any) benefit might be to reassure the reader that she has never done anything as dumb as trying to remove her dog’s nipples with tweezers. Anyway, at some point in our conversation about self-promotion, C said she was sick of self-promotion. She was going back to humility. It had always worked for her in the past. This made me think of the list of positive character traits I posted on the fridge a few years ago. It’s still there. Humility is one of them. 

Synchronously, I happened to be rereading Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography. I came upon the chapter in which he describes how he developed a list of virtues for himself. Along with each virtue, he created “Precepts” for maintaining them. Many of these precepts have stuck with us, because not only were they essential molecules of wisdom, but also he wrote them such that they stuck as aphorisms. For example, his number one virtue is Temperance. The precepts under temperance are, “Eat not to dulness. Drink not to elevation.” 
Then, to help ingrain these virtues in himself, he devised his famous virtues chart. At least I think it’s famous. Is it? Have you heard of it? He set up this chart in a notebook, devoting a page to each virtue. On each page, he put the virtue at the top, then a chart with the days of the week across the top and the list of virtues (abbreviated to first initial) down the side. “I determined to give a Week’s strict Attention to each of the Virtues successively. Thus in the first Week my great Guard was to avoid every the least Offence against Temperance, leaving the other Virtues to their ordinary Chance, only marking every Evening the faults of the Day.” So each night he would mark by any of his virtues that he failed to uphold, with a goal of having no marks all week along the line of the virtue he had chosen as the focus that week. By running through his set of virtues several times in a year, he hoped to succeed in having no marks at all to indicate failings by the end. 
This is all very admirable, and accounts for Benjamin Franklin being hailed as the original American self-help guru. But what was amusing was that originally, he had come up with twelve virtues. It was the suggestion of “a Quaker Friend having kindly inform’d me that I was generally thought proud,” that caused him to add a thirteenth virtue, humility.*
You didn't ask, but in case you were wondering, I think he should have added a fourteenth virtue: Generosity. After reading Jill Lepore’s fascinating Book of Ages about Benjamin’s sister,  who struggled financially her entire life, I was left wondering why her wealthy big brother didn’t give her more money. How hard could it have been? So, he's not perfect. And perhaps lack of generosity is worse than trying to tweeze the nipples off of your dog. 
But I digress. I agree with his Quaker friend about humility. Caroline Adams Miller talks about the importance of humility in developing grit in her book. "People who are humble are open to self-improvement and are willing to seek out feedback to become better," she says. So I guess that Benjy Franklin did have it. You might as well have it, too. Because one way or another, we all get humbled. It might hurt less if we can embrace it. 
I know, I used this photo before, but Milo didn't want to show his nipples. 

*Precept: Imitate Jesus and Socrates. 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Tips from a Master Coach: Self-Esteem and Success

Hi Readers. Want to try an exercise with me? I spoke to a professional coach yesterday. Her name is Fran Fisher, and I found her via the website Caroline Adams Miller referred me to, the International Coach Federation. Fran mostly coaches coaches these days, but she did spend some time with me and offered me some interesting tidbits. One of them is this exercise in what she calls self-acknowledgement. 

Now, my ears pricked up at the term, self-acknowledgement, because, in case you missed it, I’ve been examining what makes me feel successful and passing that information to you, in hope that you will find it helpful, or at least entertaining. 

And one element is feeling recognized. This is fundamental to feeling successful. Sad as it may seem to admit this, I need it. And heck, you need it, too. As good old Dale Carnegie, of How to Win Friends and Influence People says,“The desire for a feeling of importance is one of the chief distinguishing differences between mankind and the animals.” 

Mankind with animal-mankind combo made by mankind


And the Martha Stewart of Happiness, Gretchen Rubin, talks about the need for “gold stars.” As in, “I spent twenty minutes talking to this pest named Hope and now she refers to me as the Martha Stewart of Happiness. I deserve a gold star.” 

So, gold stars. Importance. Recognition. Feeling recognized. Acknowledged is a good word, too. These are part of Permission, one of the planks in my scaffolding of success. 

Now, I have a teensie problem with self-esteem. I don’t know if you’ve noticed it. I hope you haven’t. I’m going to pretend you don’t know and are now reading this, mouth agape in shock. “Hope has a problem with self-esteem? Surely not! She is a pillar of confidence and self-regard. Absolutely!”

Well, there you have it. My self-esteem is sometimes low. It’s really not a pillar. More like a—oh, I don’t know. A speck. And it does get buffeted by the tides of life.

Oh, my word, I have capsized over my clichés. My point is that I mentioned to Fran Fischer the coach that I have some problems with self-esteem. As in locating it, and when I do manage to locate it, hanging onto it. So she recommended this self-acknowledgement exercise. Which made good sense to me. After all, we can’t always be expecting those moments of recognition, those gold stars from others. Others have their own troubles and don’t always have time for the amount of shoring up that, speaking just for myself here, I need. 

What is this exercise? It is very simple. It is to keep a little list going throughout your day, preferably a hand-written one, but if you prefer to use the computer, make it with fun fonts and colors so that you’ll pay attention to what you’re putting on it. And what you’re putting on it is about ten (10) instances when you did something you feel good about. Little things. Such as being a good listener for a friend, or holding the door open for someone, or skipping the second helping of dessert, or following through on an annoying phone call. Whatever it is, capture it and write it down. 

This is different than a gratitude journal, Fran says. Gratitude is very popular. I am all for gratitude. Gratitude can certainly lift my spirits. Noting what is going well, noting what one appreciates boosts the mood. I often think of two things for which I am grateful before I get out of bed in the morning, and it puts me in a good frame of mind. It’s always helpful to remember to appreciate what you have. However, this exercise is different. This is self-recognition, self-appreciation. And the point of writing this stuff down is to etch into your head moments when you actually meet your expectations for yourself. You behave in line with what is important to you. By taking the time to write it down, you use kinesthetics and somatization to make it sink in.  

Here’s what Fran says. She has adapted this from something developed by MMS Institute (

How to write your self-acknowledgements:

ï Make them short
ï Use verbs/ sentences and feeling words whenever possible
ï Remember the little things... so many things happen in a day... that can be recorded
ï Find ten... even if they seem simple or stupid
ï Feel them as you write them - bring them back in your mind's eye
ï Elaborate on the ones you have written after you have your ten, (if you want to express more)
ï Include meetings/ events/ to-dos/ mails/ calls/ out of the blue occurrences -  magical moments
ï Keep them next to your bed so you can review them before you sleep
ï Write them in your own handwriting or make pc entries but make them special (i.e. add color) no cut and paste!!!

ï If you get stuck, send them to a friend for support - have fun with them

Why Self-Acknowledgements Work:

  • Seeing it in front of me – on paper – that something meaningful has happened
  • Experiencing the positive events that happened today; in my head, in my heart and again as I write them down
  • Seeing/hearing them internally; the experience is being stored so I can revisit it at any time
  • Recording my emotional well-being through the weeks; the entries are a vivid timeline
  • Choosing a moment where I was winning and build on that same moment. Pin-pointing the times where I feel lost/go off track and am able to work towards getting back on center 
  • Helping remind myself of the times when all was going well; Bringing these positive experiences back simply by reading them
  • Creating a list of 10 positive experiences/events every day; because every day there are things that work for me
  • Shining the light on the positive and not dramatizing the negative
  • Choosing to give up inner critic thinking 
  • Proving to myself that life works
  • Validating evidence of my self-worth

The point of writing them is that you re-experience them. You think about it. You have the kinesthetic experience of writing about it. You feel it again in your body. I’m going to infer from what Fran said, that this will help build self-esteem. Self-esteem is a sense of self-worth. It’s how you feel about yourself as a person with value. Noting instances where you acted, or didn’t act, in ways that you feel good about has got to help that feeling. 

I’m going to give it a try. You can, too. 

*                 *                 *                  *                    *

Okay, so I wrote that yesterday. Today, I have this to report:

I acknowledge that I buckled down and called the gas company about a leak the energy audit guy discovered last week, instead of putting it off again. 

That was easier than I thought. Only 9 more to go. Unfortunately, it’s already well into the afternoon. I don’t know how much more I’ll find. 

If you enjoyed this post, please leave me a comment. Please feel free to share it with your friends on social media.  

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Self-Efficacy and Success

Hello, Readers. Last week, I had a wonderful conversation with Caroline Adams Miller (CAM) of Getting Grit, which I look forward to sharing with you in detail soon. Today, I’ll share a snippet that I particularly enjoyed. I particularly enjoyed it, I must admit, because it supported one of my planks of success, the importance of like-minded others to success.

In her book, CAM writes, “How can anyone say they are self-made.” We spoke about the importance of Mastermind groups to help people define, act on, and be accountable for their goals. So I told her that I considered this one of the essential planks in my scaffolding of success, the plank of loving mirrors or like minded others to help us succeed. I told her I had felt this was important, but I had come across the term loving mirrors in a very poppy pop-psychology book, so I wasn’t sure it was an officially sanctioned Term of Usage.

Well, as soon as I described this term to her, CAM said, “Oh, that’s Self-Efficacy Theory” by Albert Bandura. She suggested I listen to an interview he gave recently on a podcast , and so I did.

Who is Albert Bandura and where has he been all my life, you ask? Well, he’s my father’s age, ninety-two, and so, he’s actually been here. Since 1925. While he lives in the US, and taught most recently at Stanford, he hails from Canada. Of course. He came to the US decades ago, however, and he has been ever since doing psychology. and racking up star points in the firmament of psychology. People claim he’s up there in importance with Freud, Jung, and Adler.

Who knew? CAM knew, for one. And now we all do.

What first made Bandura famous was his social learning theory that human behavior is transactional. In other words, motivations don’t all come from within, which was what the prevailing Freudian (libido) and Adlerian (power) view of psychology was when he began to study. We are influenced by our environment, by other people, and by what is in our heads, and we influence those things. The experience is transactional. It is what he called triadic.

This reminds me of an incident with the plumber the other week. The husband tried to snake the tub drain, but to no avail. So I called the plumber. You know plumbers. They charge you $100 to step over the threshold, and it goes up from there.

Well, the plumber arrived. We chatted for a few moments. He was particularly talkative. School, kids, dogs all came up. Then he mentioned that he liked my bumper sticker. 

He said, “Now I’m not going to get political, but I just want to say I hate those nasty bumper stickers.”

I agreed. I said, “I don’t mind a positive bumper sticker, but a negative, hostile one - no thanks.”

He said, “Yeah. I mean, maybe you don’t like the guy, but he’s the President, so you know.”

I said (to myself), Oh, he voted for He Who Shall Not Be Named. Out loud I said, “The negativity is just not helpful.”

Then the plumber spent a good twenty minutes snaking the tub. I spent a good twenty minutes scrolling through my social media feeds and otherwise being feckless.  When I heard him come downstairs, I returned to the front hall with my checkbook. He was halfway out the door.

“All done,” he said. He waved his hand at the checkbook. “Don’t worry about it. It was such a small job.”

Now, I’m not saying this was social learning theory in action, but I suspect that something in the environment (my bumper sticker) changed the equation with the plumber. So maybe that’s exactly what I am saying.

The idea behind self-efficacy theory is that self-efficacy is what allows us to succeed. This is a tautology as I have written it. Efficacy is the ability to make an effect, to make things happen. Self-efficacy is the ability to do that for yourself. It’s the ability to move with agency through life toward one’s goals.  According to Albert Bandura, there are four pillars of self-efficacy. Two of them rely on input from other people. They are as follows:

  • Mastery Experiences
  • Social Modeling
  • Social Persuasion
  • Physiological States

Mastery experiences are things we learn, obstacles we overcome, goals we achieve, skills we acquire. They are directly responsible for self-efficacy, because they are accomplishments. They are indirectly responsible for it by building confidence.

Physiological states are what goes on in our brains. Thoughts, feelings, brain workings. 

Social modeling is about observing role models succeed and thereby being motivated. It’s also about learning by watching. There’s one kind of need for help from others. 

Social persuasion is likely the source of Noah St. John’s term loving mirrors. It’s the idea that one’s environment affects one, and environment includes other people. Other people who believe in you, have confidence in you, can help you overcome doubt and fear when facing challenges.

So there you have it, official word from on high in the world of psychology. Success comes with help from other people. It turns out this is not just my wishful thinking, kumbaya crap, or some kind of purple, womanist pseudo-psychology.

CAM also brought up something called the Michelangelo Phenomenon*.  This is another Term of Usage that relates to the importance of input from others. The idea is that our close relationships with others sculpt us. You know, because Michelangelo was a sculptor.

Now, this phenomenon is not the commonly noted one that partners over time come to look like one another. Nor is it about how dog owners and their dogs often bear some similarities in appearance. 

Our eyes are different colors, but something about the hair, don't you think?

This is about internal shaping. It’s about how, when we have partners that help us towards our ideals, we have increased ability to achieve them. Likewise, if people close to us tear us down, rather than support us, we are more likely to fall short of those ideals. There are a lot of reasons behind this, including the fact that moods are contagious. But another key is that when others think confidently about us, we can take that confidence they have in us and apply it to ourselves.

So, check around you. Who are your loving mirrors? Who is sculpting you? And how are you sculpting those close to you?