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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?


Thursday, September 14, 2017

Exercises for Grit: When Are You at Your Best?

Last week I did not write a blog post. You may ask why not, and I would tell you if I remembered. Something came up. Or went down. Something got in the way, directionally speaking. Or, perhaps I was just too tired. As I recall, the first part of the week was taken up with back to school shopping. There was rain involved. The rain led to me leaving the car’s lights on while in the mall, and returning to discover the battery had died. Again. I must have the last car without automatic lights in the entire United States. 

Fortunately, because I have been meditating regularly, or perhaps just because I’m more chill in my 50s, I did not get into a snit. I simply called AAA, and the 10th grader and I repaired to the Happy Cappuccino to wait. I will admit to feeling some dismay, and to having some level of willpower sapped by the previous hour spent pawing through racks of teenagers’ clothing, as evidenced by the gigantic chocolate chocolate chip muffin I devoured with the daughter. 

Because of the meditation, let us note, I was aware of what I was doing. Id est: comforting myself with food. Which worked. Success!

Today started out as one of those days, too. You know the days. You have your plan, and then the dog’s eye is oozing. Now you know your plan to write your blog post is going to go out the proverbial window because you have to take the dog to the vet. This story has a happy ending, though, so buckle up. Now, since this was the dog’s oozing eye and not my child’s, I went ahead to the gym. 

I know, I'm a mean dog mommy. The dog was acting just fine, people. If he had not been, this would have been a different story. 

When I got back, I checked the eye. Still oozing. But there was a little, half-inch long small, thin, twig-like thing on the dog’s face, under his eye. Near the ooze. So I removed the twigish thing and washed the area with a little water and applied a smidge of antibiotic ointment. Then I let a few hours pass and worked on my writing. Hours later, no ooze! And so I have a blog post for you this week.
Milo wants to get grit, too.

Now, over the weekend, I had the house to myself — PARTY! The husband was visiting his mother for her birthday, and the 10th grader was away for an orchestra retreat and needed to be picked up at a particular time on Sunday. Anyway, Friday night, I had my friend and neighbor E over. And we got to talking. She was feeling a bit down and directionless, as I mentioned. I, being a pill, started talking about Getting Grit, by Caroline Adams Miller (CAM).

So the subtitle of Getting Grit is “The Evidence-Based Approach to Cultivating Passion, Perseverance, and Purpose.” I went down one of those rabbit holes called philosophic introspection about the term “evidence-based approach,” but let’s not go there. It’s the three P’s I’m getting at. Perseverance, Passion, and Purpose. CAM’s definition of grit contains all three.

Perseverance we can all understand. Grit and its synonyms imply perseverance. Hanging on. But CAM doesn’t want us to hang on just for the sake of hanging on. Sometimes, in fact, we might need to quit. There are negative types of grit, she says. Among them are Stubborn Grit, the kind of grit that gets you up Mount Everest even if you’re not that well-prepared and costs the lives of Sherpas, and Faux Grit, claiming to have grit when actually you cheat, for having which she calls out Lance Armstrong (drugs and lies) and Donald Trump (lies and lies).

But we’re interested in authentic grit, and Authentic Grit has those three P’s. So, in the pursuit of grit, it’s important, says CAM, to identify and develop them. She has some writing exercises to help identify passions and purpose. I being a writer, and also a self-improvement junkie, read them over. The first is to write about when you are at your best. As in, describe “a time when all of your top five strengths were used in a transformational moment or a time in your life when you were ‘at your best.’” 


Readers, I read this instruction and went blank. Totally. Even though I had taken not one, not two, but three VIA quizzes to determine my top strengths. I just had no idea. Have I EVER used my top strengths all together in a transformational moment? 

Fortunately--or actually, as you will see, unfortunately-- I did have an opportunity to use some strengths recently. I wasn’t going to write about this, but then the other night, as I said, I was hanging out with my friend and neighbor, E, having some prosecco. And she was sounding a little down and blah about life and so I was telling her about these exercises to develop purpose and passion and I described the one I just described for you. And you know what? E had the exact same reaction to that prompt that I did. Or at least in essence. I think her exact reaction was to flop backwards on the couch and say, “My god. I have NO idea.” 

Her reaction made me feel better about my reaction, but also I wanted to make us feel better so I described the second exercise, which is definitely more appealing. I was going to say easier, but really, it’s not easy. It is more appealing though. And it is to write about your best possible self. You spend 20 minutes a day for three days writing about “life ten years from now as if everything has gone as well as possible.” There are lots of questions you can consider to write this answer. And of course, the point of it is not empty daydreaming. The point is not to be Walter Mitty. The point is to stimulate your imagination and rev up your sense of passion. AND THEN you have to use mental contrasting to set goals now to achieve the things you want ten years from now. You know, develop your purpose. So, all in all, not easy. Grit required. 

But anyway, we did not engage in that exercise. We had another glass of prosecco, and then E told me she was a little disappointed not to read in my blog about what happened to her a couple of weeks ago. 

As I said, I was not going to mention it, but since she brought it up, I am now. I hate for E to be disappointed, after all. 

This post is getting so long. If I were Charles Dickens, I would sign off now, with a cliffhanger that you would have to tune into next week the resolution of which to discover. (That was an awkward sentence, wasn’t it? It is grammatical, though.)
No ooze!

Anyway, what happened is that the afternoon of the eclipse, I got a phone call from my friend and neighbor E. She started out sounding fine. “I need to ask a favor of you,” she said. She said she had been stung by a wasp a few minutes ago. “And I’m kind of itchy,” she said. “And I’m starting to feel…….” At which point her voice went funny. And I said, “OHMYGODI’LLBERIGHTTHERE!” Apparently, I yelled to the soon-to-be 10th grader that E sounded weird, and I stopped by my bag, grabbed my epipen (generic brand*) and ran across the street. Her front door was open and I ran right in and found her on the kitchen floor, her daughter beside her. E was woozy and bleeding under her lip. She looked grey, except for the hives on her body. Of course my instinct was to remain as calm as humanly possible because her daughter was right there, but I was freaking out. E was conscious, and she struggled to sit up when I came in. I wasn’t sure if I should use the epipen or not, but I decided it was better to use it (was told by paramedics that was the right thing to do, FYI). In fact, I have never used it, even though I carry it because I am allergic to bee stings.

Now, for a middle-aged person to try to read the directions on a small object she is holding in her hands when her hands are shaking like egg beaters is quite the challenge, but I managed to get all of the caps and safeties and whatnot off the dang thing and then put it against her thigh, as trained by my allergist, and pressed on the proper end and heard the click as the needle extended. And then I had her daughter call 911 and give the phone to me. And then we made sure E lay back down and got an icepack for her cut and a pillow for her head and I answered the dispatcher’s questions and flagged down the ambulance and took notes for the EMTs and reassured her daughter she would be fine and helped collect her things to take to the hospital and so forth. Everything turned out fine, and now E has her own epinephrine injector. 

That was then, and now here was E on my couch, drinking prosecco with me. I could easily have not been home when she called that afternoon. I could easily not have thought to bring my epipen. However, I was and I did. Furthermore, I managed to respond with clarity appropriately in an emergency. I may have saved a life. So I have to say, it did occur to me that perhaps that disaster was a transformational moment when I was at my best, even though perhaps I would like my best not to include as much adrenaline, terror, and peril as it did. 

* When I called my doctor a couple of days later to get a new prescription for an epinephrine injector, I told the nurse that the generic had been really hard to use, and I requested the name brand Epipen. I’m pretty sure that’s what led to the insurer to cover it. I spoke up about the difficulty I had using the generic. I have the new Epipen now, and I’ve made sure the husband and the tenth grader know how to use it.

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