Getting Acquainted with Ourselves and Others

11

Getting Acquainted with Ourselves and Others

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The Bottom Line Face it, nobody owes you a living.

What you achieve or fail to achieve in your lifetime, is directly related to what you do, or fail to do.

No one chooses his parents or childhood, but you can choose your own direction.

Everyone has problems and obstacles to overcome, but that too is relative to each individual.

Nothing is carved in stone, you can change anything in your life, if you want to badly enough.

Excuses are for losers: Those who take responsibility for their actions are the real winners in life.

Winners meet life’s challenges head on, knowing there are no guarantees, and give all they’ve got.

And never think it’s too late or too early to begin. Time plays no favorites and will pass whether you act or not.

Take control of your life. Dare to dream and take risks . . . Compete.

Who’s in Control?

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108 Chapter 3 Who’s in Control?

Think about this “How am I ever going to stop smoking?” “I’ve tried hundreds of times to lose 15 pounds. I lose 5 pounds then gain back 10 pounds. How can I lose

weight and make sure that I can keep it off ?” “I need to study more. My grades aren’t too good. How can I get myself to sit down and study more?” “I would sure like to have more dates, I haven’t had a date for two months. How can I get more dates?”

“I’ve been married for three years and the relationship is not as exciting as it was before. What can I do to improve the relationship or is it time to get out?”

“My boss is always so critical. Why can’t she be more positive?”

Most of us have either asked one or more of these questions or we have heard many of our friends ask them. Now the question is “If I want to change, can I?” “Am I in control of my own behavior or is someone or something else in control of me?” “How can someone change?” As we all know, change is not easy.

B. F. Skinner (2002), a well known psychologist, has indicated in much of his writing that all of our behavior is controlled and that there is no such thing as “free will.” Do you agree? Th is is a philosophical question that people have been discussing for years. We will not attempt to answer this question in this book, but we will be referring to it, directly or indirectly, throughout the book.

Who is in control? You? Me? Someone else? Our environment? Psychologists have come up with a number of theories to explain how we can develop the capacity to control our own behavior and to develop the capacity to infl uence other people’s behavior. Many psychologists believe that learning theory is the answer to all our questions. Learning theory underlies all relationships—good, bad, happy, and sad ones.

Self-Control or External Control

Self-control is oft en considered the opposite of external control. In self- control, the individual sets his or her own standards for performance, and will then reward or punish themselves for meeting or not meeting these standards. On the other hand, in external control, someone else sets the standards and delivers or withholds the rewards or punishment.

Both Angie and Beth took a psychology test last Friday. Angie studied two hours every night for the last fi ve nights and it paid off for her, she received an “A” grade. Angie knows that she earned her grade; it took a lot of work. On the other hand, Beth only studied two hours total for her test and she also received an “A” for her grade. Beth knows how hard she really studied and that she was really lucky to receive such a good grade. How hard will Beth study for her next test? Who will be more motivated to study, Beth or Angie? Which person will be most likely to succeed in school and every day life?

PERCEIVED LOCUS OF CONTROL. People diff er markedly in their feelings about their capacity to control life situations. Some people feel that they are in control of their own destinies. Th eir general expectancy about what happens to them and what they achieve in life is due to their own abilities, attitudes, and actions. In contrast, other people see their lives as being beyond their control. Th ey believe that what happens to them is determined by external forces whether it is luck or fate, other people, “Mother Nature,” or the stars. According to psychologists, (Rotter 1990; Zukerman et al. 2004), these two types of people are said to be identifi ed as having either an internal or an external “locus of control.” Angie would be said to have an internal locus of control and Beth would have an external locus of control.

T he people that you choose to let infl uence you will

determine your life path, and the excuses that you succumb to will only serve to dilute the truth and hinder your growth as a person.

STEVE GILLILAND

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Internals perceive that their eff orts make a diff erence when they are facing a diffi cult situation, so they try to cope with it. Th ey take whatever action that seems appropriate to solve the problem.

Externals perceive that their eff orts will not make a diff erence, so natu- rally they do not attempt to cope with threatening situations.

Th e diff erence in perceived locus of control is important for personal adjustment to the world. People who believe they can control events in their environment will respond to stress quite diff erently from those who believe the opposite. Rotter indicates that these attitudes are learned from experi- ence prior to the age of nineteen. If you discover that your eff orts are repeat- edly rewarded, you will believe that you will be able to exert control over your outcomes in the future. If you discover that your eff orts are to no avail, you will become resigned to the lack of control.

Are You an Internal or External?

What implications does research on the locus of control have for you? Th e most important point is that there is a link between your beliefs about locus of control and your behavior. If you believe your experi- ence is beyond your own control, you may expend less eff ort than you could. You may not try as hard as you are able, because you believe that your eff orts will not make a diff erence. You may satisfy yourself with poor performance, fi guring there is nothing you can do to improve the situation. Certainly some situations are more out of your control than others are, but your overall attitude about challenging situations will aff ect every aspect of your life.

ARE INTERNALS OR EXTERNALS MORE SUCCESSFUL? Internals seem to be more successful in more aspects of life than externals. Although an internal locus of control does not ensure success, those who believe they can infl uence the events in life tend to be the best life managers. Th is is true for several reasons. For one thing, these people are more likely to consider the possibility of doing something diff erently in their lives than people with an external orientation.

Internals are more curious than externals about ways to improve their lives. Th ey see that education and knowledge is personal power. Th ey are more likely to read about problem areas in their lives and attend work- shops and classes related to solving these problems. Internals are also better listeners than externals (Worchel et al. 2000). Th ey are more likely to ask questions, give others time to speak, and accurately interpret what others are saying. Internally-oriented individuals tend to get better grades and score higher on standardized academic tests than externals (Schultz and Schultz 2008).

Concerning relationships, internals tend to fare better than externals, especially considering the fact that internals tend to be better listeners and are more willing to work at improving their relationships. During stressful times in life, internals are more likely to seek social support than externals. Numerous studies have found that having an internal locus of control is associated with positive functioning and adjustment (Roden 2004). Take a look now at the following Consider this.

L uck is a matter of preparation meeting

opportunity.

OPRAH WINFREY

O God give us the grace to accept with serenity the

things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.

REINHOLD NIEBUHR THE SERENITY PRAYER, 1943

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Can you control events in your environment? Do you feel that you are in control in your environment?

F or the weak, it is impossible. For the fainthearted, it is

unknown. For the thoughtful and valiant, it is ideal.

VICTOR HUGO

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Perceived Control or Lack of Control

Jeff continues to call his girlfriend to fi nd out what he can do to get her back. He sends her gift s, pleads with her, etc., but his eff orts are to no avail. What- ever he does, does not seem to have any eff ect on her. He does not have any control over the situation.

Wanda seems to understand that she has no control over her boyfriend’s behavior, but she does have control over her own life. She accepts the fact that the relationship is over and she needs to get on with the rest of her life.

Outcome

Jeff develops a negative feeling about himself and his life. He sees himself as no good, not worthy, and that nobody will ever love him, so what is the use of living. He becomes depressed, passive and develops learned helplessness.

Wanda’s not happy with the situation, but realizes that she does not have any control over her boyfriend, so she looks to the future. She sets new goals and actively begins to work to achieve them (“Th ere are other fi sh in the sea”).

Who’s in Control?

We would defi ne Jeff as an “external” because he feels that he is not in control of his own destiny, that outside forces are determining his fate, and that what- ever eff ort he puts into it, will not make any diff erence.

Wanda would be defi ned as an “internal,” since she perceives herself as in control of her destiny and her success is dependent upon her eff orts and not on others. She also realizes that she does not have control over other people’s behavior.

Consider this . . . Consider this . . .

Internals and Externals

How Would You Respond in this Situation?

Event

Wanda’s boyfriend and Jeff’s girlfriend just announced to each of them that the relationship is over.

Cognitive Response

Jeff’s response: “What did I do wrong?” “What can I do to get her back?” “Why doesn’t she like me anymore?” “I’ll do anything for her.” “My whole life is ruined.”

Wanda’s response: “My boyfriend has sure been depressed lately,” “He sure has changed in the past few months,” “I really like him, but I could tell that things weren’t going well between us recently,” “I know it will be tough, but I know I can get along without him.”

Imagine what you would say to yourself if your mate were to tell you today that your relationship is over.

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Chapter 3 Who’s in Control? 111

Again, how would you respond in this and other similar situations?

Are you an internal or an external?

PERSONAL CONTROL VERSUS LEARNED HELPLESSNESS. Helpless, oppressed people oft en perceive that control is external and this perception may deepen their feelings of resignation. Th is is what Martin Seligman (2006) and others found in experiments with both animals and humans. When dogs are strapped in a harness and given repeated shocks, with no opportunity to avoid them, they learn a sense of helplessness.

When later placed in a situation where they could escape the punishment by merely leaping a hurdle, they remained idle and without hope. In contrast, animals that escape shock in the fi rst situation learn personal control and eas- ily escape shock in the new situation. When people are faced with repeated traumatic events over which they have no control, they too, will come to feel helpless, hopeless, and depressed. You can see the importance of parents teaching their children to have the feeling of some control over their lives and their behavior.

IS YOUR LIFE OUT OF CONTROL? Learned helplessness is the passive behavior produced by the exposure to unavoidable aversive events. For example, in concentration camps, prisons, work environments, colleges, or nursing homes where people are given little control, they will experience a lowering of morale, a feeling of increased stress, depression, and a feeling of helplessness. Increasing control—allowing workers to have some participation in decision making, allowing inmates to make decisions when they want to watch TV or exercise, letting nursing home patients make choices about their environment—noticeably improves morale along with mental and physical health. Per- ceived control is vital to human functioning. Th us, for young and old alike, we should create an environment that enhances a sense of control and self-effi cacy (Aronson et al. 2006).

Are you an internal or an external ? Which of these do you want to be? Can you change your behavior? Who’s in control?

HOW CAN WE TAKE CONTROL? In the following paragraphs, we will give you some helpful hints on tak ing control of your life. In order to increase the probability of you developing an internal locus of control, you will want to work on the following items (Watson and Th arp 2006; Santrock 2006):

1. Considering changing aspects of your environment. Ask yourself some of the following questions: What types of people in my life contribute to my locus of control beliefs? What is it about school or my job that contributes to my belief that I am not in control of my life? How do my current friends, acquaintances, and other people in my life contribute to my locus of control? What can you do about these situations in order to take control of your life?

2. Try new activities rather than the usual safe and secure ways of doing things. Take some risks, do something diff erent, try a new restaurant,

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What is it about school or my job that contributes to my belief that I am not in control of my life?

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112 Chapter 3 Who’s in Control?

do not travel the same route home or to school each day, try new food, wear diff erent clothes, or anything that will help you break old habits. Externals have diffi culty trying something new and breaking old habits. Trying and enjoying something new will help you see that you can control aspects of your life.

3. Begin to assume more responsibility for tasks at home, work, and school. Volunteer to do things that you do not usually do. Join a committee, volunteer to help someone, off er to take responsibility for some tasks to be completed. Start slow and then keep adding on responsibilities. You will feel much better about yourself and see that you are in control.

Read Table 3.1 to decide whether you want to become an external or internal.

As you continue to read this chapter you will discover new ways to take control of your life. One of the ways that you will discover to take control of your own life is by developing a high level of self-effi cacy.

WHAT IS SELFEFFICACY? Self-Effi cacy is our belief about our ability to perform behaviors that should lead to expected outcomes. Believing that you can control your behaviors is fundamental to self-management. Individuals having high self-effi cacy for particular behaviors or skills are likely to work longer and try more strategies to develop these skills than those with low self-effi cacy (Bandura 2008). When self-effi cacy is high, we feel confi dent that we can execute the responses necessary to earn reinforcers. When self-effi cacy is low, we worry that the necessary responses may be beyond our abilities.

Perceptions of self-effi cacy are subjective and specifi c to diff erent kinds of tasks. For instance, you might feel extremely confi dent about your ability to handle diffi cult social situations, but very doubtful about your ability to handle academic challenges. Perceptions of self-effi cacy can infl uence which

Table 3.1 Characteristics of Externals and Internals EXTERNALS INTERNALS

More susceptible to depression. Not very susceptible to depression.

Not likely to vote in elections. More likely to vote and get involved in politics.

Not too likely to complete school, or college.

Likely to complete high school, college, and graduate school.

Not too likely to change habits. Willing to take action to change bad habits.

Tend to be susceptible to anxiety. Not too susceptible to anxiety.

Does not adapt well to stress. Copes better with stress.

Gives up easily. Willing to continue trying in spite of failure, persistent.

Will not spend much time on a task. Willing to work on a task for a long time.

Does not like new challenges and does not handle them well.

Willing to meet new challenges and handles the pressure.

Tends to just let things happen and not too curious.

Will seek out information to help solve problems.

Does not earn as much money as an internal.

Tends to be more successful and earns more money.

Seligman 2006.

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Chapter 3 Who’s in Control? 113

challenges we tackle and how well we will perform them. Because people can think about their motivation and even their own thoughts, they can eff ect changes in themselves, persevere during tough times and do better at diffi cult tasks (Stajkovic and Luthans 1998).

GENDER AND SELFEFFICACY. Men and women deve- lop diff erently, both physiologically and socially. Th is diff erence aff ects their self-effi cacy. As children, girls are more likely than boys to play in small groups in which interpersonal awareness is more likely to be heightened. In contrast, boys are more likely than girls to play in large groups where opportunities for discus- sion are minimized. In addition, boys more than girls, may be encouraged to become involved in competitive, achievement-related activities (Cohn 1998). Research that has manipulated a person’s view of performance on various tasks shows that a person’s sense of self- effi cacy is related to the person’s fulfi llment of cultur- ally mandated, gender appropriate norms (Hockenbury and Hockenbury 2007). Men more than women focus on independence and distinctiveness; women more than men focus on interdependence and good relationships. From these diff erent focuses, both men and women derive a sense of self-effi cacy. Can you identify any culturally mandated gender appro- priate norms that have been expressed to you in your environment?

Increasing your self-effi cacy about behaviors you wish to change is very much tied to the recall of past successes. Th e more successes you recall, the more likely you are to believe that you can change other behaviors. On the other hand, recalling failures is very debilitating to self-effi cacy (Left on and Brannon 2007). Having a sense of self-effi cacy is important in taking the active approach to life for successful adjustment.

YOU CAN TAKE CONTROL! To realize your aims, you should try to exercise control over the events that aff ect your life (Bandura 2008). You have a strong incentive to act if you believe that control is possible—that your actions will be eff ective. Perceived self-effi cacy, or belief in your personal capabilities, regulates human functioning in three major ways:

1. Mood or aff ect: Th e amount of stress or depression a person is experiencing in threatening or diffi cult situations depends largely on how well they think they can cope in that situation. People with high self-effi cacy are able to relax, divert their attention, calm themselves, and seek support from friends, family, and others.

2. Motivational: Motivation will be stronger if individuals believe they can attain their goals and then adjust them based on their progress. People motivate themselves by forming beliefs about what they can do, anticipating likely outcomes, setting goals, and planning courses of action.

3. Cognitive: People with positive thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and high aspirations will have high self-effi cacy. Th ey will meet challenges and will believe they can overcome any challenge. Th ey guide their actions by visualizing successful outcomes instead of dwelling on personal defi ciencies or ways in which things might go wrong.

Y ou are where you are right now in your life because of

the choices you have made and actions you have taken. If you want to change your life, remem- ber that change starts with you.

JEFFREY KELLER

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Why do women tend to focus on interdependence and good relationships?

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114 Chapter 3 Who’s in Control?

Rate Your Self-Effi cacy Place a check mark in the column that best applies to you for each item: (1) not at all true, (2) barely true, (3) moderately true, and (4) exactly true.

Self-Rating Items 1 2 3 4

1. I can always manage to solve diffi cult problems if I try hard enough. ___ ___ ___ ___

2. If someone opposes me, I can fi nd the means and ways to get what I want. ___ ___ ___ ___

3. I am certain that I can accomplish my goals. ___ ___ ___ ___ 4. I am confi dent that I could deal effi ciently with unexpected

events. ___ ___ ___ ___ 5. Thanks to my resourcefulness, I can handle unforeseen

situations. ___ ___ ___ ___ 6. I can solve most problems if I invest the necessary effort. ___ ___ ___ ___ 7. I can remain calm when facing diffi culties because I can

rely on my coping abilities. ___ ___ ___ ___ 8. When I am confronted with a problem, I can fi nd several

solutions. ___ ___ ___ ___ 9. If I am in trouble, I can think of a solution. ___ ___ ___ ___

10. I can handle whatever comes my way. ___ ___ ___ ___

Total Score: _________

Scoring:

Total your score for the 10 items. Total scores can range from 10 to 40. The higher your score, the more general self-effi cacy you are likely to have.

Interpretation:

The items in this scale are designed to evaluate your general self-effi cacy—your belief that you can master your world and have positive outcomes in your life. Please note that the items are not tied to any specifi c situation. The higher your score, the more general self-effi cacy you are likely to have. If you scored 31 or higher, you likely have a reasonable strong sense of self-effi cacy. If you scored 20 or lower, you might want to think of ways that you can improve your self-effi cacy.

This measure has been used internationally for more than two decades. Researchers have found that it is linked to adaptation after life changes and is an indicator of quality of life at any point in time (Scholz et al. 2002).

Check This Out

Scale adapted from Santrock (2006).

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Chapter 3 Who’s in Control? 115

M ore than any other major personality trait, optimism is a matter of practice.

KATHLEEN MCGOWAN

Could it be possible that people have at least two ways of explaining defeats and various setbacks? Let us take a closer look.

Two Explanatory Styles

Optimism is defi ned as a generalized tendency to expect positive outcomes, while pessimism is defi ned as a general tendency to envision the future as unfavorable. To understand why someone becomes an optimist or a pessimist, it helps to understand what distinguishes them. Optimistic people tend to feel that bad things won’t last long and won’t aff ect other parts of life. Pessimists tend to believe one negative incident will last and undermine everything else in their lives.

Also important, researchers say, is the story you construct about why things happen—your explanatory style . Psychologist Martin Seligman (2006) suggests that people who have an optimistic explanatory style tend to use external, unstable, and specifi c explanations for negative events. People who have a pessimistic explanatory style use internal, stable, and global or pervasive explanations for negative events. For example, a person with an optimistic explanatory style who failed to get a desired job might attribute this misfortune to bad luck in the interview rather than to personal shortcomings. However, a person with a pessimistic explanatory style might attribute this misfortune to something negative or bad about themselves and pessimistic about their ability to handle other job interviews or chal- lenges in the future.

To pessimists, the “movie of life” is a documentary that has an unchange- able script. Optimists grab the story line and become directors. Th ey edit, refocus, and add color to concoct a brighter, happier picture. Th is hopeful, in-control attitude shields them from outside infl uences and inner emo- tional turmoil (Vaughan 2000). In a way, this sense of control distinguishes the “Little Engine Th at Could” from the “Woe is Me” types. Positive thinkers feel powerful. Negative thinkers, Seligman says, feel helpless because they have learned to believe they’re doomed, no matter what.

Are you an optimist or a pessimist? Do you look at the bright side and expect good things to happen, or do you tend to believe that if something can go wrong, it will? Let’s take a look at the two explanatory styles in action in the Pat and Otis scenario on the next page.

HEALTH, HAPPINESS AND SUCCESS. Studies show that optimists are better at coping with the distress associated with everything from menopause to heart surgery. Furthermore, scientists at UCLA discovered that optimists have more disease-fi ghting T cells. Not surprisingly, positive thinkers live longer. Mayo Clinic researchers recently compared the scores of a person- ality test taken by 839 men and women three decades ago with their subsequent mortality rates. Th ose who had a pessimistic explanatory style in their young years had a signifi cantly higher risk of dying than their opti- mistic peers (Newman 2001). Optimism as it relates to stress will be discussed in chapter eight.

Optimistic thinking tends to lead us to a more successful, happier, and healthier life.

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116 Chapter 3 Who’s in Control?

Optimism is also a remarkable predictor of achievement and resilience. For example, studies have found that optimistic life insurance agents sell more insurance than pessimistic agents, and optimistic Olympic-level swimmers recover from defeat and later swim even faster, whereas pessimistic swim- mers, following defeat, get slower (Seligman 2006). When faced with serious problems—such as deciding about a risky operation, coping with traumatic events, or overcoming drug abuse or alcoholism—optimists tend to focus on what they can do rather than on how they feel. Th ey keep their sense of humor, plan for the future, and reinterpret the situation in a positive light. For example, what would be the diff erence in how an optimist and a pessimist would have responded to the collapse of the World Trade Center Buildings in 2001? Or even Hurricane Ike in 2008?

Optimists, by defi nition, expect to eventually recover from adversity, and they expect to be successful at whatever they do, so they work much harder to reach their goals than pessimists do. Th us, another self-fulfi lling prophecy is created. S uzanne Segerstrom, a University of Kentucky psychologist, indicates that optimism leads to increased well-being because it leads you to engage actively in life, not because of a miracle happy juice that optimists have and pessimists don’t (Neimark 2007).

Pat Pessimist and Otis Optimist were invited to a social function. Both are single and looking for a date. Pat sees an attractive person across the room and decides to approach the person and introduce himself and see where it could lead. As he approaches her, she notices him approaching and immediately looks the other direction. Pat immediately interprets this as rejection and thus turns away and goes to the bar for a drink. Otis notices a diff erent female and approaches her. She sees him coming toward her and she immediately turns away and begins a conversation with another person. Otis decides that she must not want to meet him and he heads to the bar. If you were in this situation what would you say and do? Let’s see what Pat and Otis did. Pat Pessimist: I guess I’ll just have a couple more drinks and then go home and watch TV alone. (Aft er rejection, becomes passive and withdraws) Otis Optimist: Wait a minute, there’s another good looking one over there, why not try her. (Aft er rejection, persevere, don’t stop trying) Pat Pessimist: Women just don’t seem to be interested in me. I don’t know what to say, and they don’t like the way I dress. It must be my hair. (Global, pervasive explanation) Otis Optimist: I bet she’s engaged anyway. She’s probably shy and not too interesting. (Specifi c explanation) Pat Pessimist: I just have to accept the fact, I am boring and not very attractive, why would she want to talk to me. (Stable, permanent explanation) Otis Optimist: I should have ironed my shirt, I just don’t look too good today. (Unstable, temporary explanation) Pat Pessimist: She must have seen me when I spilled my drink and thinks I’m clumsy. (Internal explanation; Pessimists blame themselves) Otis Optimist: She must have a problem. (External explanation; Optimists blame other people or external circumstances) Are you an Otis or a Pat?

Are You an Optimist or a Pessimist?

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Chapter 3 Who’s in Control? 117

Optimistic thinking tends to lead us to a more successful, happier, and healthier life. According to Seligman (2006), people can train themselves to make optimistic explanations by the following three steps: 1) think about situations of adversity (being turned down for a date, doing poorly on a test, losing a sports competition) 2) consider the way you normally explain these events, and if it is pessimistic (Nobody likes me, I’m not very smart, I really choked in the game), then 3) dispute these explanations by looking closely at the facts (She probably had plans with her family, I need to spend more time studying, my opponent played a great game). Practice this exercise over and over again. You may fi nd that changing pessimistic explanatory style is like breaking a bad habit.

Th e recipe for well being requires neither positive nor negative thinking alone, but a mix of ample optimism to provide hope, a dash of pessimism to prevent complacency, and enough realism to discriminate those things we can control from those we cannot (Myers 1993).

How did you become an internal or external? Where did your high level or low level of self-effi cacy come from? How did you learn to become a pessimist or optimist? How can you take control of your life? Th ese are not easy questions to answer. In order to understand yourself better and to discover diff erent ways to improve your life, psychologists have developed many diff erent theories. Many of these theories evolve from or revolve around learning theory.

Social Learning Theory

Albert Bandura is one of several behaviorists who have added a cognitive fl avor to learning theory. Bandura points out that humans obviously are conscious, thinking, and feeling beings. He feels that some psychologists like B. F. Skinner ignore these cognitive processes. An important aspect of social learning theory that may have an important impact on our lives

Risk—The Key to Change To laugh is to risk appearing a fool. To weep is to risk appearing sentimental. To reach out for another is to risk involvement. To expose feelings is to risk exposing your true self. To place your ideas, your dreams, before a crowd is to risk their loss. To love is to risk not being loved in return. To live is to risk dying. To hope is to risk failure. But risks must be taken, because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing. The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, and is nothing. They may avoid suffering and sorrow, but they cannot learn, feel, change, grow, love, or live. Chained by their attitude, they are a slave. They have forfeited their freedom. Only a person who risks is free.

Adapted from Living, Loving and Learning (Leo Buscaglia 1982).

A n optimist is the one who sees an opportunity in every diffi culty. A pessimist is one who sees a diffi culty in every opportunity.

L.P. JACKS

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is observational learning —the fact that much of personality is learned in social situations through interactions with and observations of other people, including family members (Mischel and Shoda 1998; Mischel 2004).

OBSERVATIONAL LEARNING. Th is occurs when an individual’s behavior is infl uenced by the observation of others, who are called models. Observa- tional learning requires that you pay attention to someone who is signifi cant to you, a parent, or a friend, etc. You observe their behavior and understand its consequences, and then store this information in your memory.

Some role-models are more infl uential than others. Children and adults tend to imitate people they like and respect more so than people they do not. We also are especially prone to imitate the behavior of people that we consider attractive or powerful, such as rock stars, movie stars, sports heroes, or politicians. It is a bit scary to discover that we are also more likely to model aft er the individual who is the most aggressive, especially if that aggression leads to positive reinforcement. If you observe your mother yelling at your father in order to get him to do something, and he does do it, you are more likely to yell at someone the next time you want something. Prior to that experience, you most likely would have not yelled at someone in order to get your way. A fi ve-year old boy goes to the store with a seven-year old. Th e older boy picks up a candy bar and does not pay for it and on the way home shares it with his friend. Did he get positive reinforcement for stealing? What is the likelihood of the younger boy attempting to pocket a candy bar the next time he goes to the store? What we learn through modeling is not always positive. Th at is why our parents keep saying, “Do what I say, not what I do.”

According to social learning theory , modeling has a great impact on personality development. Children learn to be assertive, conscientious, self- suffi cient, aggressive, fearful, and so forth by observing others behaving in these ways.

Many of you are familiar with the cartoon TV program called Th e Simpsons. Matt Groening, the creator, decided it would be funny if the Simpson’s eight-year-old daughter Lisa played the baritone sax. Do you think this would have an infl uence on the audience of this program? Sure enough, across the country little girls began imitating Lisa. Cynthia Sikes, a saxophone teacher in New York, told the New York Times (January 14, 1996) that when the show started, I got an infl ux of girls coming up to me saying, “I want to play the saxophone because Lisa Simpson plays the saxophone.” Groening says his mail regularly includes photos of girls holding up their saxophones. Can you think of other ways that the media has infl uenced your behavior?

What are some of the other theories of learning that may have an impact on my relationships? You will now get a chance to understand how learning theory applies to you and your life.

How Does Learning Theory Infl uence Your Life?

When you do something you enjoy, what is the likelihood that you will do it again?

If you try something and fail at it, what are the chances that you will attempt it again?

If you ask someone out for a date fi ve times and the answer is “NO” each time, are you going to ask again?

W hat a child doesn’t receive he can seldom later give. P. D. JAMES

C hildren need models more than they need critics. JOSEPH JOUBERT PENSEES, 1842

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If you make a comment to a member of the opposite sex who responds by slapping you, will you make that comment next time?

If someone you do not know very well embarrasses you in front of a large group, are you going to avoid that person in the future?

If you drink something that tastes good, will you drink it again? You hate green peas because you were forced to eat them as a kid. Do you

eat them now? All of these situations can be explained by learning theory. In order to understand learning theory, we need to defi ne the term

learning. Learning is defi ned in psychology as a relatively permanent change in behavior as a result of experience or practice (Gardner 2002).

Before you can begin the process of learning, you have to pay attention. Are you aware of all the diff erent types of stimuli that get your attention?

What Gets Your Attention?

You are concentrating on reading a book and the phone rings. What do you do? A person enters the room that you perceive as being attractive. Do you notice that person? What gets your attention? Before you can learn something, you have to pay attention to it. Attention is the most important aspect of learning because we have to pay attention to something before we can respond. Another aspect of attention that may surprise you is that you can only pay attention to one thing at a time. You cannot watch TV and study at the same time. Again, to what do you pay attention? We fi nd that there are three kinds of stimuli that attract our attention. Th ey are novel stimuli, signifi cant stimuli, and confl icting stimuli. We fi nd that these three diff erent kinds of stimuli are not only important to learning, but also vital to our relationships with others.

NOVEL STIMULI. We tend to pay attention to people, places, or things that are new, diff erent, unique, or original. You tend to pay more attention to the student who is new to your school than a student who has been going to your school for the past few years. When reading the newspaper, you tend to notice an advertisement that is in color more than in black and white, because the color ad is unique. Th e person with a mohawk haircut will generally be noticed before someone with a “normal” hairstyle. A person wearing the latest in fashionware will tend to get more attention than someone wearing last year’s style of clothing. Why? Because it is unique, diff erent, or novel. Th e more familiar we become with the “new” person, the “unique” hairstyle, or the “latest” fashionware, the less we are apt to pay attention. We tend to begin to take them for granted. When you begin to date someone, you tend to give the individual a lot of special attention, but what happens aft er you have been dating that same individual for years? Many times you fi nd that you begin to habituate or get bored with that individual when the novelty wears off and you no longer pay as much attention to him or her.

What else gets your attention?

SIGNIFICANT STIMULI. So, you like to listen to music? Do you like ice cream? Are you interested in sex? Do you like money? If your answer to all of these

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questions is yes, then all of these things are signifi cant to you and you will pay attention to them. If you are a teacher and want to get your students to learn, you better make sure the material is signifi cant to your students. Otherwise, you may fi nd it diffi cult to keep your student’s attention. You need to make the material relate directly to your students’ needs, wants, interests, and desires, and if you do this, you will be surprised to discover that your students are paying attention and learning.

HOW IMPORTANT IS THIS IN A RELATIONSHIP? When you fi rst start dating someone, do you consider your date’s needs, wants, interests, and desires when

deciding where to go and what to do? If you do, you will fi nd that your date will respond more positively to you, and you both will be much happier. If you send your mate fl owers for the fi rst time and he or she likes them, will you receive more attention? Are the fl owers signifi cant? Are the fl owers novel? Since they are both novel and signifi cant, they should increase the atten- tion paid to you by your friend. You reinforce your mate, and your mate reinforces you. It tends to make life more interesting to you and your friends.

If you want a relationship to continue on a positive basis over a long period of time, you must make sure that you provide novel and signifi cant stimuli in the relationship—otherwise the relationship will become stale and boring. Th is is why that old saying is appro- priate here, Th e grass always looks greener on the other

side of the fence. You wonder why your boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, or wife is always looking at members of the opposite sex? You wonder why students are not paying attention to the teacher? Could it be that the other people are novel and maybe even more signifi cant?

CONFLICTING STIMULI. What if we were to tell you that, “All of your behavior is controlled!”; “Th ere is no ‘God’!”; “It is all right to steal!”; and “It’s okay to cheat on your spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend?” Are these statements in con- fl ict with any of your beliefs?

We have discovered that you will not only pay attention to novel and signifi cant stimuli, but also to anything that is in confl ict with your values, needs, or morals. It has been found that in many relationships the only time that two people pay attention to one another is when they are in confl ict— arguing, fi ghting, etc. We do not recommend this form of stimuli in order to get attention because it can create more problems than it solves. If this is the only time you fi nd that you and your partner pay attention to one another, you might want to change this by seeking counseling, reading a good self-help book, or changing your behavior in order to provide more novel or signifi cant stimuli in your relationships.

With all the technology and equipment we have today and with all the activities available to us, many of us still get tired of just sitting around. We get bored with life.

MAKE LIFE MORE EXCITING! We all seek change in our lives. Kids get bored, teenagers get bored, and adults get bored. If you take your kids to the zoo every Saturday, eventually they will not enjoy going any longer. If you take your date to the movie every Friday night, it just is not as exciting as it used to be. You have your favorite dessert, a hot fudge brownie sundae, every night

T he quality, not the longevity, of one’s life is what is

important.

MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.

Do you get bored in relationships after the novelty wears off?

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