Tag integrity

{ Testing Commitment Contracts } [Mis]Adventures in Motivation, Integrity & Anti-Charities …*

{ Testing Commitment Contracts } [Mis]Adventures in Motivation, Integrity & Anti-Charities ...* |rethinked.org

stickK.com homepage screen shot

Sometime last month, I read an article in the New York Times about StickK–an “online Commitment Store,” which helps you set and achieve your goals by enabling you to create a commitment contract with yourself.

The Commitment Contract concept is based on two well known principles of behavioral economics:

1.People don’t always do what they claim they want to do, and
2.Incentives get people to do things

[ …]

A Commitment Contract is a binding agreement you sign with yourself to ensure that you follow through with your intentions—and it does this by utilizing the psychological power of loss aversion and accountability to drive behavior change.
By asking our users to sign Commitment Contracts, stickK helps users define their goal (whatever it may be), acknowledge what it’ll take to accomplish it, and leverage the power of putting money on the line to turn that goal into a reality.

I was intrigued by the idea and since my last mostly self-devised motivation strategy (eating one (or several) donuts as a reward for each time I went running) had completely backfired and turned me into a bona fide sugar addict, I decided to give StickK a try. The service is very simple to use– you create an account on StickK.com; select a commitment; decide how much money you will pay each week if you fail to fulfill your commitment; select either a charity or anti-charity for your money to be donated to; add friends to your network of supporters and are given the option of nominating a referee to report your progress. A referee is someone who will report whether you have indeed fulfilled your commitment each week, but since I couldn’t think of who could reliably vouch for me, I opted to self-report on the honor system. Finally, you pick a day of the week to report whether you’ve met your goal for that reporting period and each week StickK sends you an email prompt to remind you to report your performance. That’s pretty much it, all that’s left is to actually go out and fulfill your commitment.

You can set as many commitments as you like but I decided to try this out with a single goal: to exercise three times a week. I like this goal, it’s achievable, has big payoffs for mental, emotional and physical well-being but it’s also one of those things that I tend to forgo when I feel stressed or overwhelmed by other commitments. I figured StickK would help me reframe this goal as a top priority and give me the little nudge I needed to transform this goal into a lifelong habit. I selected an anti-charity that I despise and set my weekly fee at $10. It’s not much, but the thought of giving so much as a penny to this organization makes my skin crawl with disgust.

It all went well for the first two weeks, and riding the high of new resolve, I fulfilled my weekly commitment with gusto. It all went well, until it didn’t, and I failed to meet my goal one particularly busy week. Sunday afternoon (my reporting day) arrived and I realized with horror that I had only exercised once that week. All those “tomorrows” on which I’d promised myself to exercise had flown by unnoticed and I hadn’t fulfilled my commitment. I considered exercising twice that day. And yes, I considered lying. What if I said I’d met my goal, and then promised myself to exercise six times next week and never again mess up? What would be worse? Lying or donating to this organization that stands so directly against what I believe in and value. This wouldn’t be a big lie, no one would be harmed by it and in fact no one would ever know that I lied, other than me. The problem with integrity, of course, is that you can’t opt out when doing the right thing is inconvenient. After having spent most of the day going over this, (time I probably could have used to exercise twice…however shady a strategy that may have been), I finally decided I wouldn’t lie on my report, it just felt too dishonest. And so I reported that I had failed and $10 went to that dreadful organization.

I felt guilty and disgusted with the idea that I had donated to this organization, and in an effort to assuage my guilt, I donated another $50 to the counter charity. Bringing my total that week for not exercising to $60 on top of my regular gym membership, plus about three hours of my Sunday trying to do mental (moral) gymnastics over how to resolve this issue, plus–and by far the heaviest cost–the sense that I had really let myself down. It wasn’t so much that I hadn’t fulfilled my commitment–I’m convinced exercise is good for me physically, mentally and emotionally and I hold it as a value, but I’m also not a fanatic about it and missing two work-outs is not catastrophic by any means. What made me feel really disappointed was the idea that I donated to this anti-charity even though avoiding that ‘punishment’ was really quite simple and only required exercising three times a week. Yet, that week, I somehow didn’t make what I value and believe in a priority, and as a result, I gave money to a cause I find abhorrent. It wasn’t the missed exercise, it was the ethical dissonance between what I believe in and my failure to act on it that I found crushing.

This all took place about three weeks ago, and I’m glad to report that since then, I have fulfilled—even exceeded—my commitment every single week. Whenever I try to find a way to talk myself out of exercising I Just remind myself how dreadful that Sunday felt and then I’m practically running to throw on my sneakers.

If you need a little nudge to keep you committed to your long-term goals, I’d definitely encourage you to give StickK a try. Have you tried it? What did you think? Let me know …*

Learn to Identify, Cultivate & Deploy Your Unique Character Strengths to Live A Full & Authentic Life …*

Learn to Identify, Cultivate & Deploy Your Unique Character Strengths to Live A Full & Authentic Life ...*  | rethinked.org

“Herein is my formulation of the good life: Using your signature strengths every day in the main realms of your life to bring abundant gratification and authentic happiness.” -Martin Seligman, 161

Last week we looked at the idea set forth by Martin Seligman in Authentic Happiness, that engaging in experiences that produce flow may be a way to build psychological capital. You might recall that achieving flow depends on several factors, key among which, the matching of a challenge to engage your unique and personal strengths. Today, let’s look at what Positive Psychology has to say about these strengths –how we identify, cultivate and exercise them.

CREATING A TAXONOMY OF CHARACTER STRENGTHS 

Given the importance of deploying one’s character strengths in as many situations as possible throughout life to live fully and authentically, Seligman identified the need to create a comprehensive taxonomy of good character. He assembled a team and together they started poring through hundred of ancient texts from various times and cultures -“we read Aristotle and Plato, Aquinas and Augustine, the Old Testament and the Talmud, Confucius, Buddha, Lao-Tze, Bushido (the samurai code), the Koran, Benjamin Franklin, and the Upanishads–some two hundred virtue catalogues in all.” (132) What they found were some ubiquitous virtues, valued across time and culture. These virtues, of which there are six, are: wisdom and knowledge; courage; love and humanity; justice; temperance; spirituality and transcendence. (133) Seligman and his team use the word ubiquitous rather than universal because there are some rare exceptions.

It is true that very rare exceptions can be found; the Ik, for example, do not appear to value kindness. Hence we call the strengths ubiquitous rather than universal and it is important that examples of the anthropological veto (“Well, the Ik don’t have it”) are rare and glaring. This means that quite a few of the strengths endorsed by contemporary Americans are not on our list: good looks, wealth, competitiveness, self-esteem, celebrity, uniqueness and the like. These strengths are certainly worthy of study, but they are not my immediate priority. My motive for this criterion is that I want my formulations of the good life to apply just as well to Japanese and to Iranians as to Americans. (140)

Of course, all of these virtues can mean many different things to different people and there are many ways of achieving them. Since Positive Psychology is based on empirical and scientific study, Seligman and his team had to push further and establish a system by which to identify the measurable and acquirable routes one takes to achieve the virtues–the strengths of character.

To be a virtuous person is to display, by acts of will, all or at least most of the six ubiquitous virtues: wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance and transcendence. There are several distinct routes to each of these six. For example, one can display the virtue of justice by acts of good citizenship, fairness, loyalty and teamwork, or humane leadership. I call these routes strengths, and unlike the abstract virtues, each of these strengths is measurable and acquirable. (137)

SOME COMPONENTS OF STRENGTHS

The first step then in creating a taxonomy of good character is to define the characteristics of the strengths. Seligman starts by highlighting the difference between strengths and talents:

Strengths, such as integrity, valor, originality, and kindness, are not the same thing as talents, such as perfect pitch, facial beauty, or lighting-fast sprinting speed. They are both topics of Positive Psychology and while they have many similarities, one clear difference is that strengths are moral traits, while talents are nonmoral. In addition, although the line is fuzzy, talents generally are not as buildable as strengths. True, you can improve your time in the hundred-meter dash by raising your rump higher in the starting position, you can wear makeup that makes you look prettier, or you can listen to a great deal of classical music and learn to guess the pitch correctly more often. I believe that these are only small improvements, though, augmenting a talent that already exists. Valor, originality, fairness and kindness, in contrast, can be built on even frail foundations, and I believe that with enough practice, persistence, good teaching and dedication, they can take root and flourish. (134)

Strengths are voluntary and involve choices about when to use them and whether to keep building them, but also whether to acquire them in the first place. Meanwhile, talents are relatively automatic, involve some choices, but only of those of whether to burnish it and where to employ it. Seligman then highlights eight additional criterion by which to identify strengths:

  1. Strengths are traits (137)
  2. Strengths are valued in their own right (137)
  3. Strengths are what parents wish for their newborns (137)
  4. Onlookers of strengths being displayed are often elevated and inspired rather than envious or jealous (138)
  5. The culture supports strengths by providing institutions, rituals, role models, parables, maxims and children’s stories. (138)
  6. Role models and paragons in the culture compellingly illustrate a strength or virtue. (138)
  7. Some of the strengths have prodigies, youngsters who display them early on and amazingly well. (138)
  8. Conversely, there exist idiots (from the Greek, for not socialized) with respect to a strength. (139)
  9. The strengths are ubiquitous. (139)

EXERCISE: IDENTIFY YOUR HIGHEST, WEAKEST & SIGNATURE STRENGTHS

My favorite positive “intervention” is merely to ask you to take the VIA Strengths Survey, then think about which of these strengths are the ones you own and how you might use them every day. Quite astonishingly, your own ingenuity and your desire to lead the good life often take over from there, even if I step aside. (137) 

Head over to the Authentic Happiness website and under the tab labeled “Questionnaires” you will find the VIA Survey of Character Strengths. You will need to create an account on the website and there is a fee to take the test, I did it and thought it was worth it. You will receive a 30 page detailed report of your character strengths in rank order. You will also learn about the benefits of each of your signature strengths, ways to cultivate them and avoid the pitfalls of mismanaging your aptitudes. 

Once you have taken the survey, Seligman’s next exercise is to evaluate your results–do the strengths the survey identified feel authentic to you?

Typically you will have five or fewer scores of 9 or 10, and these are your highest strengths, at least as your reported them. […] You will also have several low scores in the 4 (or lower) to 6 range, and these are your weaknesses.

Look at the list of your top five strengths. Most of these will feel authentic to you, but one or two of them may not be the real you. My strengths on this test were love of learning, perseverance, leadership, originality, and spirituality. Four of these feel like the real me, but leadership is not one. I can lead quite adequately if I am forced to, but it isn’t a strength that I own. When I use it, I feel drained, I count the hours until it is done, and I am delighted when the task is over and I’m back with my family.

I believe that each person possesses several signature strengths. These are strengths of character that a person self-consciously owns, celebrates, and (if he or she can arrange life successfully) exercises every day in work, love, play and parenting. Take your list of top strengths, and for each one ask if any of these criteria apply:

  • A sense of ownership and authenticity (“This is the real me”)
  • A feeling of excitement while displaying it, particularly at first
  • A rapid learning curve as the strength is first practiced
  • Continuous learning of new ways to enact the strength
  • A sense of yearning to find ways to use it
  • A feeling of inevitability in using the strength (“Try and stop me”)
  • Invigorating rather than exhaustion while using the strength
  • The creation and pursuit of personal projects that revolve around it.
  • Joy, zest, enthusiasm, even ecstasy while using it.

If one or more of these apply to your top strengths, they are signature strengths. Use them as frequently as you can and in as many settings. If none of the signature criteria apply to one or two of your strengths, they may not be the aptitudes you want to deploy in work, love, play, and parenting. (160)

THE VIRTUES & CHARACTER STRENGTHS – A BRIEF OVERVIEW

{ WISDOM & KNOWLEDGE }

The first virtue cluster is wisdom. I have arranged the six routes to displaying wisdom and its necessary antecedent, knowledge, from the most developmentally basic (curiosity) up to the most mature (perspective). (140) 

  • Curiosity / Interest in the world
  • Love of Learning
  • Judgement / Critical Thinking / Open-Mindedness
  • Ingenuity / Originality / Practical Intelligence / Street Smarts
  • Social Intelligence / Personal Intelligence / Emotional Intelligence
  • Perspective

{ COURAGE }

The strengths that make up courage reflect the open-eyed exercise of will toward the worthy ends that are not certain of attainment. To qualify as courage, such acts must be done in the face of strong adversity. This virtue is universally admired, and every culture has heroes who exemplify this virtue. I include valor, perseverance, and integrity as three ubiquitous routes to this virtue. (145)

  • Valor & Bravery
  • Perseverance / Industry / Diligence
  • Integrity / Genuineness / Honesty

{ HUMANITY & LOVE }

The strengths here are displayed in positive social interaction with other people: friends, acquaintances, family members and also strangers. (148)

  • Kindness & Generosity
  • Loving & Allowing Oneself to Be Loved

{ JUSTICE }

These strengths show up in civic activities. They go beyond your one-on-one relationships to how you relate to larger groups, such as your family, your community, the nation, and the world. (149)

  • Citizenship / Duty / Teamwork / Loyalty
  • Fairness & Equity
  • Leadership

{ TEMPERANCE } 

As a core virtue, temperance refers to the appropriate and moderate expression of your appetites and wants. The temperate person does not suppress motives, but waits for opportunities to satisfy them so that harm in not done to self or others. (152)

  • Self-Control
  • Prudence / Discretion / Caution
  • Humility & Modesty

TRANSCENDENCE

I use “transcendence” for the final cluster of strengths. This term is not popular throughout history—“spirituality” is the label of choice—but I wanted to avoid confusion between one of the specific strengths, spirituality, with the nonreligious strengths in this cluster, like enthusiasm and gratitude. By transcendence, I mean emotional strengths that reach outside and beyond you to connect you to something larger and more permanent: to other people, to the future, to evolution, to the divine, or to the universe. (154)

  • Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence
  • Gratitude
  • Hope / Optimism / Future-Mindedness
  • Spirituality / Sense of Purpose / Faith / Religiousness
  • Forgiveness & Mercy
  • Playfulness & Humor
  • Zest / Passion / Enthusiasm

Source: Seligman, Martin. Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology To Realize Your Potential For Lasting Fulfillment. New York: Free Press, 2002. Print.

What If Instead of Prioritizing the Relief of Suffering We Also Focused On the Understanding & Building of Happiness?

In times of trouble, does the understanding and alleviating of suffering trump the understanding and building of happiness? I think not. People who are impoverished, depressed, or suicidal care about much more than just the relief of their suffering. These persons care–sometimes desperately–about virtue, about purpose, about integrity, and about meaning.” -Martin Seligman, Authentic Happiness

I am currently in the discovery phase of the Positive Psychology cycle of my rethinked*annex project–reading the books and getting a deeper sense of the discipline. There is a lot of information to unpack, so this is the first of several posts in the coming week about what exactly Positive Psychology is, how it came to be, and what type of impact it might provide. I am deeply excited by the potential of an empirical science that attempts to help us thrive and live meaningful, joyful and fulfilling lives. Positive Psychology was made even more special once I discovered that it started as a wonderful “what if?” and as a challenge to the status quo. In his book, Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman walks his readers through his thought process leading up to his founding Positive Psychology as an official field of study in 1998. Noting that “psychology has badly neglected the positive side of life” and that, “For every one hundred journal articles on sadness, there is just one on happiness,” he decided to do something about it.

{ QUESTIONING THE STATUS QUO } 

THE PROBLEM – 

For the last half century psychology has been consumed with a single topic only–mental illness–and has done fairly well with it. Psychologists can now measure such once fuzzy concepts as depression, schizophrenia, and alcoholism with considerable precision. We now know a good deal about how these troubles develop across the life span, and about their genetics, their biochemistry, and their psychological causes. Best of all, we have learned how to relieve these disorders. By my last count, fourteen out of the several dozen major illnesses could be effectively treated (and two of them cured) with medication and specific forms of psychotherapy. But this progress has come at a high cost. Relieving the states that make life miserable, it seems has made building the states that make life worth living less of a priority. But people want more than just to correct their weaknesses. They want lives imbued with meaning, and not just to fidget until they die. Lying awake at night, you probably ponder, as I have, how to go from plus two to plus seven in your life, not just how to go from minus five to minus three and feel a little less miserable day by day. 

THE SOLUTION – 

My most grandiose aim […] is to correct the imbalance by propelling the field of psychology into supplementing its hard-won knowledge about suffering and mental illness with a great deal more knowledge about positive emotion, as well as about personal strengths and virtues.

{ DEFINITION } 

So what exactly is positive psychology? Seligman defines it thus:

Positive psychology has three pillars: First is the study of positive emotions. Second is the study of the positive traits, foremost among them the strengths and virtues, but also the “abilities” such as intelligence and athleticism. Third is the study of the positive institutions, such as democracy, strong families and free inquiry that support the virtues, which in turn support the positive emotions.

I will unpack and get into more details about how Seligman classifies positive emotions, positive traits and positive institutions in next week’s post.

{ REFLACTION } 

This week, I am beginning Tal Ben-Shahar’s Even Happier: A Gratitude Journal For Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment, which is the companion workbook/playbook to Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment and which is a way to put into practice some of the findings and insights from Positive Psychology:

Engaging in reflection and action –what I have called “ReflAction”–brings theory to life. I have adopted the practice of reflaction in my academic classes and public workshops, and I recommend that all teachers and students in any field who are concerned with real learning do the same. 

What a splendid term reflaction is, and it so brilliantly captures what I am attempting to do through the rethinked*annex project. The playbook is divided into 52 chapters, one for each week, and grouped around various themes (see my picture of the table of contents below.) This week’s theme is “Being Grateful.”

Ben-Shahar starts by giving a brief overview of the findings of Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough’s studies on gratitude, which demonstrated that “putting aside a minute or two every day to express gratitude for one’s life has far-reaching consequences:”

Compared with the control group, the grateful group not only became more appreciative of life in general but also enjoyed higher levels of well-being and positive emotions: they felt happier, more determined, more energetic, and more optimistic. They were also more generous and more likely to offer support to others. Finally, those who expressed gratitude also slept better, exercised more, and experienced fewer symptoms of physical illness. 

He then recommends a daily gratitude exercise to be completed every day:

Each day this week, write down at least five things for which you are grateful. The key when doing this exercise is to remain mindful, not to take this exercise for granted. One way of remaining mindful is by visualizing or reexperiencing whatever it is that you are writing down. For example, as you write down “parents,” see them in your imagination; if you write down “conversation with partner,” try to reexperience the same feelings you had while conversing with your partner. 

What If Instead of Prioritizing the Relief of Suffering We Also Focused On the Understanding & Building of Happiness? | rethinked.org

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