Monday, February 9, 2015

Developing a hardy mindset . . .

Not “learned helplessness” . . . “As I have listened to . . . individuals who feel trapped and stressed, unable to muster the energy to facilitate change, I think about Martin Seligman's research related to the concept of ‘learned helplessness,’ a concept which basically captures the belief that ‘regardless of what I do nothing really will change, so why even put in any effort to change.’ Once a feeling of learned helplessness begins to dominate one's mindset, most difficult situations elicit feelings of resignation, defeatism, and stress.” [Stressed Out or Stress Hardy (?), Robert Brooks, Ph.D.,]

And he goes on to explain: “Yet, in contrast there are other individuals, faced with seemingly similar situations, who remain more optimistic and more positive and as a result are able to solve problems with greater effectiveness . . . One approach that I have found particularly helpful is based on the research of Suzanne Kobasa and her colleagues. Kobasa defined three characteristics of what she called the "hardy personality." Individuals who possessed these characteristics experienced and responded to stressful events in a much healthier and more effective way than those who did not demonstrate these personality characteristics. I prefer to refer to these characteristics of a "stress hardy" person as features of a mindset, a mindset that defines the way in which we understand and approach all aspects of our life . . .

“Why cast this concept of ‘stress hardiness’ in the framework of a mindset? The reason I do so is my strong belief that mindsets can be changed, that they do not have to remain fixed ideas that are cast in stone. I realize that many people have held on to certain self-defeating ideas for years, but with insight, courage, and support these ideas can be changed. I call the components of ‘stress hardiness’ as outlined by Kobasa the ‘3 C's’ since the first letter of each of the words of the mindset begins with the letter C . . .

“Commitment. Challenge. Control. Kobasa described commitment as being involved rather than alienated from aspects of one's life. When commitment is present, individuals have a sense of purpose and meaning for why they are doing what they are doing. When we have a purpose, when we are guided by a vision, when we never lose sight of why we are doing what we are doing, an energy and passion are triggered that give meaning to our lives and lessen the impact of stress.

“Challenge is based on the belief that change is a constant in one’s life. Successful people tend to see change as challenges to confront and master rather than as stress to avoid. They do not deny problems, but instead appreciate that change is an opportunity for self-reflection and growth. It is interesting to note that in the Chinese language, the same word symbolizes both ‘crisis’ and ‘opportunity.’ While opportunity is housed in many difficult situations, in my consultation and therapy activities I have witnessed countless individuals who react to these situations with dread, who would rather remain frozen in a ‘comfort zone’ even if that zone brings them little satisfaction or joy.

“Since the word ‘control’ may be incorrectly interpreted as ‘controlling’ others, I typically refer to this third ‘C’ as ‘personal control.’ The feeling of control or ownership is at the root of almost every theory of effectiveness and motivation. When individuals possess this third ‘C’ they tend to focus their energy on those events that they have control over rather than on situations beyond their control. They believe that they are active participants in plotting the course of their own destiny, of solving problems and making decisions about their own life, of wasting little time worrying about things that are beyond their influence. People become more stressed when they attempt to alter uncontrollable circumstances, often feeling that they are hitting their heads against the wall. When individuals delineate a clear plan of reasonable action for situations that they can alter, their stress lessens. Even when their actions do not lead to success, they at least feel a sense of accomplishment in knowing that they have not passively sat back and, in addition, they are likely to adopt the view that they can learn from what went wrong.”

Let’s bring the concepts of “learned helplessness” and the “hardy mindset” to the present, and more precisely where we are as a people and a nation – e.g., we lag behind our more successful Asian neighbors. We know that our ability to attract foreign investments compared to Thailand, for example, is handicapped. That gap translates to a weakness in technology, innovation and competitiveness, among others, and thus our inability to market our products beyond our shores like they do.

I’m writing this in Bangkok and it isn’t like we’re poised to reduce their lead in accumulated FDIs, which stands at almost 6 times ours . . . when we read something like, “Before investing in PH, Japan firms raise nagging issues,” Amy R. Remo, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 7th Feb 2015. “[T]hey continue to stress the need for the government to address pressing concerns, such as lack of adequate infrastructure and high power costs, which are necessary to create a more conducive environment for trade.”

At the recent Ayala-UP School of Economics forum on the state of the economy, NEDA Secretary Arsenio Balisacan put together an excellent SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis. In other words, instead of simply dwelling on the positives of the economy, he covered the negatives as well and did it in a very balanced fashion that both of them were crystal clear. Ergo: following the techniques of “force field analysis,” [] we can now focus on driving the elements where there is demonstrated momentum; and likewise prioritize and bridge major gaps in the economy where they exist. Focus, momentum, prioritize, major gaps . . . are the operative words.

Why is it important to step up to the plate . . . of where we are? It is . . . if we want to develop a “hardy mindset” . . .  and not perpetuate “learned helplessness.”

Here is a news report to illustrate. “2014 FDI likely breached $6-B mark, says Domingo,” Louella D. Desiderio, The Philippine Star, 4th Feb 2015. “Given the country’s positive economic conditions, Domingo said the Philippines is ripe for another credit rating upgrade, particularly from Fitch Ratings . . . Domingo said he intends to discuss the country’s gains as well as know about Fitch Ratings’ concerns which prevent the debt watcher from giving the country another upgrade, during an upcoming meeting with the credit rating agency. ‘What are there other concerns? I want to know that…so that if it can be corrected, then we will do that,’ he said.”

Because they gave upgrades before, it doesn’t follow that they would again in future if we don’t address the structural weaknesses of the economy – which they highlighted in earlier reports. And we cannot keep glossing over these weaknesses given their enormity. And those who do are doing a disservice. They are rubbing it in to half of the population that say they are hungry and poor. We may be cash rich and are sitting on a pot of international reserves but that is a function of OFW remittances . . . not investment and most certainly not an ecosystem with the requisite building blocks – of infrastructure, strategic industries and an efficient and productive and innovative and competitive total system.

No question we feel compassion for our people. But then again, we also recognize that we have “no personal control” over Capitol Hill. In other words, we understand the uncertainty of the request we are making yet out of learned helplessness, we still had to do it?

If we trace and examine how our neighbors – starting with Japan and then the Asian Tigers and China – developed a purposeful game plan to move their nations from poverty to plenty, would we get a glimpse and distinguish a “hardy mindset” from “learned helplessness”? 

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