Dana Arakawa, MAPP '06, is a PhD candidate in social psychology at the University of Hawaii. Before venturing into psychology, Dana graduated with honors from Georgetown University with a B.S. in International Economics, and spent a year in Buenos Aires, Argentina as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. Her research has appeared in the Gallup Management Journal and International Coaching Psychology Review, as well as in publications in Latin America. Full bio. Dana's articles are here.
My experiences in Buenos Aires thus far have been speaking to me with a persistent message: “Dana, be proactive and self-motivated!” This message has sometimes come in a whisper, and this time when I failed to hear its subtle call, it built up into a shout. Through a series of miscommunications, my supervisor was upset at me, and the cause of the situation predominately lay in my then-underdeveloped ability to be proactive and self-motivated.
I sat with my friend Dominica in a café, telling her about this problem. I could feel my energy draining as I recounted the details of the situation, getting lost in feelings of anger and disappointment. As I look back on it now, I was starting to feel pessimistic, which can become a slippery slope to hopelessness. As Seligman defines pessimism, my negative thoughts were taking on the tune of “me, always, everything” as I sat there ruminating on my perceived inability to be proactive and self-motivated in any situation (which I can see now just isn’t true!).
Organization as the Skill of Proactivity
Just as I finished the last detail of the story, Dominica whipped out her planner and notebook, and commenced a whirl of list-making, prioritizing, and date-setting. We isolated my tasks, we set deadlines, we created ways for me to be held accountable for my projects. And as I sat there with things written out in front of me, I noticed how much better I felt. My pessimism had been alchemized into optimism, my energy was back, and I felt empowered again.
There’s something amazing about the way that getting organized can help us to feel empowered and focused. This phenomenon has translated into an industry of organization, both of physical and mental space. Day-planners (both ‘old-fashioned’ and newer electronic means), container stores, and even the ancient art of feng-shui could be described as a way of manipulating our space to positive effect. The act of organizing is a powerful tool to regain a sense of control, opening the door and creating space for proactivity and self-motivation to flourish. For example, a long-ago study of college women found that both resume writing and goal-setting helped the women sense more locus of control, and regain an ability to be in charge of their lives.
Is Organization a Character Strength?
I marveled at my list-making friend, a paragon of organization. I recognized that her natural inclination to promptly set about putting things into order was a very powerful coping strategy that circumvented further pessimism. Organization comes naturally to Domenica, but it’s a skill I’m steadily learning, with the awareness that it promotes better performance and productivity.
Another friend, Margaret Greenberg, comes to mind as a paragon of organization, for which I’ve always admired her. Organization is definitely akin to what Margaret calls the strength of “getting it out the door.” Whatever you choose to call it, we all know and have been inspired by people who seem extra productive, positive, and proactive. I’d like to know how many of these high-performing, highly productive people are NOT organized.
Beatty, G.J. & Gardner, D.C. (1979). Goal Setting and Resume Writing as a Locus of Control Change Technique with College Women, College Student Journal, 13(4), 315-318.