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Home » All, Coaching, Happiness Exercises, Optimism, Pathway 3 "Meaning", Resilience, _1 Positive Experiences

Beyond Reframing: Other Avenues to Satisfaction

By on July 7, 2007 – 2:10 pm  14 Comments

Kathryn Britton, MAPP '06, former software engineer, is a coach working with professionals to increase well-being, energy, and meaning (Theano Coaching LLC). She teaches positive workplace concepts at the University of Maryland. She recently published a book,Smarts and Stamina, on using positive psychology principles to build strong health habits. Her blog is Positive Psychology Reflections. Full bio. Kathryn's articles are here.



How do we select an effective response to negative aspects of work — and life in general? Reframing — finding opportunity and benefit in apparently negative situations — is an important skill, but it’s not always the right skill. There are other options, such as leaving the situation or readjusting personal priorities that might work better.  This is the third in a series about turning work into a source of great satisfaction, meaning, and engagement.

In Quality of Life Therapy and Coaching, Mike Frisch suggests an organized way to sort through different possible responses to dissatisfactions. He uses the acronym – CASIO – to remember the five different pathways to becoming happier in a given situation: Circumstances, Attitudes, Standards and Goals, Importance, and Other Areas of Life. This is a very useful approach for evaluating a range of alternatives and finding effective solutions that weren’t immediately obvious.

Circumstance: Sometimes the right answer is to change the circumstances — leave an abusive marriage, find a job that has more opportunities to use one’s strengths, or work for a different supervisor. There are some circumstances that need not be endured. Here’s an example in my life. I worked under a software architect who had an almost military view that ideas flow down the hierarchy, never up, and I often didn’t agree with his ideas. After about a year of trying to be heard and becoming more and more frustrated, I left the project when I finally figured out he was not going to change and I was never going to be productive or happy in that relationship. I left with regret — it was a fascinating project with some great people. But I also felt a weight off my mind almost immediately.

Attitude: This is classic reframing. Are there other ways to look at the situation that leave us with a greater sense of personal control and opportunity? In last month’s article, I included some examples of reframing that came out of my work experiences, and we’ve being doing some live reframing on this site. Schneider uses the term fuzzy meaning to represent uncertainty in interpretation in contrast to fuzzy knowledge which is uncertainty in fact. I think of the attitude pathway as dealing effectively with fuzzy meaning . We have interpretative latitude, so we can choose interpretations that put us in the best positions to move forward.

Standards and Goals: A lot of unhappiness comes from comparing our actual situation to some internal standard and falling short. Other unhappiness comes from not having any goals to give shape to life. So another form of reframing is reconsidering our standards and goals. How well do they serve us? A parent is upset because a child withdraws from college temporarily, not having found any real interests. How important is the standard that a person go through college in 4 years and then be launched in adult life?

Chosen Horse

Chosen Horse

Perfectionists tend to miss their standards routinely. I‘ve done a lot of mentoring around the topic “good enough.” In a work situation, I‘ve found that people do best thinking in terms of a tradeoff between quality and investment. How much is it worth investing in further improvements in quality? Maybe we need to be thinking about the point of diminishing returns in our private lives as well. In terms of goals, I remember a teacher who used to ask us, “What gets you up on your chosen horse each morning?“ Realistic goals give balance and shape to life.

 

Importance: How important is the aspect of life that is making you unhappy? Can you boost your overall happiness by rearranging your priorities, for example, giving more weight to areas where you are satisfied and engaged and less to areas that make you miserable? It can be very helpful to emphasize areas of your life that you can control and that you find rewarding. For example, given a choice between an unpleasant job that has the potential for fast advancement and another less visible but more intrinsically enjoyable job, which lines up with your personal priorities? For some, advancement is important enough to make the temporary unpleasantness worthwhile. For others, advancement is less important than the day-to-day experience of work.

Other: Sometimes the most effective way to increase satisfaction is to turn focus away from an area that is making you unhappy and toward areas where satisfaction seems within reach. Rather than address a stressful or upsetting situation directly, you could invest energy in other areas of your life – family life or work life or community life or helping people or building competence in hobbies or … Experiencing greater satisfaction in another area of life can help one be resilient in an area of unhappiness.

For better overall quality of life, try using the CASIO mnemonic to consider a source of dissatisfaction from multiple viewpoints and pick the pathway — or pathways — that best fit you in the context of this situation.

References:

Frisch, M. B. (2006) Quality of Life Therapy: Applying a Life Satisfaction Approach to Positive Psychology and Cognitive Therapy. New Jersey: Wiley & Sons.

Schneider, S. (2001).  In search of realistic optimism:  Meaning, knowledge, and warm fuzziness.  American Psychologist, 56(3), 250-263.


Image
Mounting a horse courtesy of jessicafm

14 Comments »

  • Jeff Dustin says:

    Kat,

    When I get a chance, I’ll write you a little commentary on this…I absolutely loved, ABSOLUTELY LOVED this piece more than words can say. I can’t wait discuss this further!

    JD

  • Jeff,
    Your recent question — which I haven’t had a chance to answer — was a good part of the inspiration for this article. So I am glad it hit the mark.

    Kathryn

  • Kathryn,
    Thanks for bringing this CASIO approach to life with your eloquence and great examples. I think we’re all so accustomed to thinking about reframing in certain ways that it’s helpful to be jolted with a new look at how to get great results in this area. Will watch this space with great interest —
    Caroline

  • Dear Kathryn,

    You are a heckuva writer. I couldn’t have said this better myself. CASIO can be used to solve or manage any problem when we are stuck. I loved how you pointed out its not all in our head, the psychologist’s error so often. sometimes our circumstances are impoverished or low in rewardingness and we are starving and must get out. one of my client’s called this barren place, “my personal Auschwitz” or hell.

    My approach tries to capture the best in positive psych and is empirically validated and touted by the leaders in our field–see http://www.qoltc.com for a class–QOLTC Academy– starting in September with superlative coach, Caroline Adams Miller and myself.

  • Jeff Dustin says:

    Michael and Kat,

    CASIO has already improved my quality of life and I’ve only been using it since Kathryn described it. I’d heard Michael on either Caroline’s webcasts or a positive coaching website and immediately it sparked my imagination.

    For me the S is very important. I often set what some call too high or unrealistic standards and goals. Merely readjusting and scaling down some of these expectations gives me a lot of breathing room.

    Also, I find fascinating that since the Happiness Equation Seligman presented in Authentic Happiness, (H)appiness = Set Range + Circumstances + Volitional acts, includes circumstances that the majority of interventions seems to be Voltional act based. A second very intriguing point was that I’ve read that Circumstances account for roughly 40 percent of your life satisfaction. If that is true, then interventions that promote motivation to chance your circumstances would be quite valuable.

    Thank both of you!

  • Senia says:

    Kathryn,

    I had read about CASIO before, and really like your description here because your summary of it really makes it stick in my head.

    It’s neat to think that THERE IS MORE THAN ONE WAY TO REFRAME! There are at least five ways to do so!

    I’m especially interested in Importance – sort of the idea of “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.” I liked in Tal Ben-Shahar’s book “Happier” when Tal writes one of his meditations about the value of happiness boosters. You can’t always have the ideal job or the ideal life, but sometimes, you can just ride it out by deciding that there is little importance here, and boosting happiness in other parts of your life.

    George Vaillant in “Aging Well” talks a lot about riding it out and sublimation – specifically, redirecting mental energies away from dark experiences towards something light like hobbies – as a powerful coping mechanism (which Sherri writes about here).

    Thanks – I’ll remember this casio approach.

    S.

  • Jeff Dustin says:

    Sherri and Company,

    I know that you’re also a fan of Howard Gardner. I’ve read his book Changing Minds and I’d enjoy hearing your ideas about changing minds. Persuasion or influence is extremely vital to not only social care givers like teachers but pretty much everyone. Where there is human interaction, influence has an impact.

    So my talking point is this, given that:

    A) People often engage in counterproductive or destructive ways (subjective, I know)

    –and–

    B) Often we want to change other’s behaviors for the long-term

    What does Positive Psychology have to offer in terms of Positive Influence? Stated differently, how can we effectively & ethically convince others and ourselves to eat our spinach, take our medicine, exericse more, eat fewer cookies, go to school, stop smoking and start volunteering or to do any pro-social good for you but aversive long-term task?

    A follow up question is: what makes approachable or pleasant things pleasing to one person but not to another, even an identical twin, anyway?

    Where can I find the PP guide to Positive Persuasion? I assume that PP coaches MUST have a very interesting response to this query and I welcome everyone’s opinions.

  • Hi, Jeff:

    So here is the big answer to your two statements:
    1) …“People often engage in counterproductive or destructive ways”

    Yes, but this is both values-laden– “Your ways are counterproductive according to my standards” as well as potentially objective—“Your failure to sleep for the past 48 hours has caused hallucinations.” The trick here is to be honest about what you hope to achieve as a result of the persuasion (or is it manipulation?).

    2) … “Often we want to change other’s behaviors for the long-term”

    I ask, “Why?” What is the desired outcome of this, and what makes the persuader the person to work toward the outcome?

    In coaching, we call the relationship “co-active” and we “co-create”. That means that the client has to want to change and comes to the coach knowing this cannot be doen alone. In your mind when you posed these questions, who is being coached? Is the person able to resist persuasion? Work toward persuasion?

    The Clifton Strengthsfinder has a talent called “Woo”—for winning others over. That sounds like persuasion. What is it made up of? To test for it there had to be an objective construct.

    TTFN–

    :-) Sherri

  • Jeff Dustin says:

    I can’t resist curiously exploring these motivational issues…its an addiction I suppose.

    Here’s a concrete, tangible example. My wife is highly qualified to be an elementary guidance counselor and finally she has achieved an offer of employment…5 1/2 hours away from our home. This leads to greater expense in terms of money and moving and emotional expense because we have to move away from family and friends. Thus, to make my goal more specific: How do we structure an interview to obtain a realistically optimal chance for success, in this case obtaining a job. Stated a bit more directly, how do we improve our odds of getting hired. Yes, I’ve read Senia’s can-opener v. paper-clip article, but unfortunately we already implement that. It is the first meetings with the Superintendents that we strike out in. The most common response is: “We went for someone with more experience”.

    Is it manipulation or persuasion, is there truly an objective difference or is that question merely in the eye of the beholder? At this point, I would settle for either.

    The specific discussion I desire: how do we persuade people on first contact? What are the environmental and interpersonal skills that enhance the odds of getting a job in that face to face meeting, when you have limited data about the persuadee?

  • Jeff,
    It sounds like your wife creates an impression of inexperience that probably makes her interviewers deaf to her accomplishments.

    When I took my first job in my mid twenties, one of my assignments was to teach Navy officers some techniques for technology transfer. I felt that I didn’t get taken as seriously as other instructors. Someone videotaped the classes, and when I looked later, I realized that my appearance probably made them all think of their daughters — I was very young and dressed like it. After that I paid more attention to packaging myself when I presented to strangers. I have mentored people with incredible talents who are very small and/or have very high-pitched voices and/or speak so softly that people can easily ignore them. They have more difficulty being taken seriously than your average guy. I’ve even recommended voice training.

    Also, is there a way she could turn her level of experience into an advantage? Could she pre-empt the “want more experience” judgment by bringing up her level of experience in the interview conversation and explaining why she has an advantage (energy, more up-to-date training, …) and addressing what they fear she doesn’t have by giving evidence of her past effectiveness. If she seems really new to the field, they may be thinking about her the way people think about new car models the first year they come out. THat is, let somebody else work out the kinks.

    Just some possibilities.
    K

  • Jeff Dustin says:

    Kat,
    WOW! Great observations! My wife is 5 feet tall, looks about 15 years old (she’s 30) and whenever we go to restaurants her extremely fast paced & high pitched voice is mistaken for Gaelic.

    All I can say is YES, YES,YES to every point you made.
    She’s got to present herself more effectively. Her ratio of successful job obtainment to failed job attainment is about 1 in 5, which is of course excellent, but she gets so dejected and worried about our finances when she strikes out that it makes life at home complicated to say the least.

    Kat, If I could afford you as a coach, I’d hire you in a New York Minute. If there is any way I can expand your influence in this world as a coach, let me know.

  • When I was studying German, we had an expression “Danke fur die Blume!” literally translated as “Thank you for the flowers” but really meaning “What a nice compliment.”

    One more thought: looking young may be an advantage in the actual job — that is, working with children. Is there some way she could bring this up in her interviews and make the point that it is an advantage in the actual job performance?

    Kathryn

  • Jeff Dustin says:

    Sure, I suppose she could incorporate that into the job interviews. What is happening, however, is that say a portion of these jobs are merely conducting “Fake Interviews”. They already have in mind a candidate and have settled and are going through the motions of an interview. How can I support this with proof? In about 3 of the interviews, since we live in Small Town, USA, there have been inside people that have reported that this is true. That’s 3 of 10 strikeouts before she starts out.

    In 2 more of the interviews she succeeded in persuading the principals but when she arrived at the superintendent level she striked out. running total -5 of 10.

    Finally, the last four were an eclectic mishmash of results. One was politically motivated in that the interviewer hated the co-interviewer and said as much. She merely would not recommend someone who the other interviewer liked. Two said her short few years of experience were inadequate. Finally, one actually said no because, according to a School Board member, they thought a man would be better for the job, I KID YOU NOT!

    That brings us to -9 of 10. Fortunately she has a tentative offer in the works. We had to move almost to Canada to get it, but I am very pleased for us. Sempy Gumby!

  • Jeff Dustin says:

    oops Semper Gumby

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