It has been a little while since I last wrote a post (OK, a long while). Sorry for the extended hiatus. I was recently accepted into an honors degree in Psychology and in order to graduate before I am old and grey, I took on some extra subjects. A lot of study and not a lot of sleep going on, but in any case, I have been bursting with ideas for posts. I thought I would put in a quick one for your reading pleasure. The topic: accepting vs. expecting bad luck.
A friend of mine, Ashleigh, has been having a bit of a hard time. Things have been going a little pear shaped and getting a bit too much for her. Unfortunately for my friend, this is somewhat of a recurring theme in her life. In any case, we chatted one night about life, love and the universe, and Ashleigh decided to justify her predicament by saying that bad periods in life should be expected. Things HAVE to go wrong at some point and we should not be surprised when they do.
Well, I do not know about that. I would be the first person to concede that life is a rollercoaster (especially my life!). It has its ups and downs, and you cannot truly appreciate the good things if nothing bad ever happens. But there is a huge difference between accepting bad things and expecting them.
This is how I distinguish between them:
Ashleigh is a great friend, and I love her dearly, but she expects bad things to happen … and they do! Not because she is clumsy or particularly unlucky. She simply believes that bad things should happen. I am not sure whether this creates bad luck or not, but I do know that it draws her attention more firmly when bad things happen. She has created an identity for herself, in which she is an “unlucky person”.
On the flipside, I recently put in an application to be a mentor at my university. Unfortunately, I received a notice saying I had not been selected. You will be glad to know I did not take it too hard. My not getting accepted meant I got to have a short break before I began the summer semester. But it irked a little, and I suddenly realized that often in situations like this, where I need to put myself forward for a position, I do so wholeheartedly with the feeling that I could do the job well and I deserve the position. I never find myself thinking of the 50 or so other people who also apply or the reasons why I might not be selected. I do not think that I deserved the bad luck, or that it should have happened.
I learned a little about this in my second year of psychology. One of the lectures in Social Psychology was about self-esteem. The lecturer told us of a study in which people did an activity and then received (completely unrelated) feedback, which was either positive or negative. As you would expect, those people who had high self-esteem preferred to receive positive feedback. That makes sense, right? But the people who had low self-esteem preferred to get negative feedback! This process is called “Self Verification”. We basically try to maintain whatever level of self-esteem we already have.
So what happened when people who had high self-esteem got negative feedback? Well, they did something called “Self Affirmation”. Instead of dwelling on the negative feedback, they said, “OK, I might have done badly on this task, but I’m very good at <other things>”. These people have a buffering system which protects their self-esteem. They focus on the good things. And this is great! These people have a better immune system, they are more persistent and they are more likely to succeed.
So how does all this apply?
At my house, we (my siblings and I) are very fortunate. We have been raised to believe that even if there can only be one person who is accepted into a course or program, only one person who can win a competition or only one person who can get a job, nothing says that one person cannot be us. We happily put ourselves forward for everything from school captain elections, musicals and plays to competitions, jobs and university programs.
I know what you are thinking. What if we are not good enough for that job, that course or that competition? The answer is simple. Our parents have created a self-fulfilling prophecy. We think we will be successful, so we attract opportunities in which we will succeed, or that will help us succeed later on. We sign up for courses, we talk to people, we go to classes, we practice our instruments. In essence, because we believe that GOOD things should happen to us, we make it so.
You might be thinking that, still, no one can always be successful, and you would be right. We are not always first, nor are we always accepted into that program or selected for that job. Yet, instead of thinking, “How unlucky am I? Bad things always happen to me!” we think, “Oh, what a bad day, but I’m a good person and something good will come along instead (or even out) of this”.
And who do we have to thank? Mom and Dad!
Self-verification is not something that young children do. When they want something, they go for it. As we get older, we become aware of the people around us and of how we compare to them. If we have a heap of self-esteem-boosting experiences from our childhood, by the time we reach the age of self-awareness, as they say here in Australia, “the world’s your oyster”.
So special thanks go to Mom and Dad for that pile of positive experiences J
Until next time,