Author Archives: Alison

Does rewarding good grades with money work?

“Mastery” — Tiger Woods by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

When money is used to reward children for activities that should have inherent value, they tend to lose interest in the activity as well as long-term motivation. Also, monetary reward can reduce creativity and encourage unethical behavior such as cheating.

There is an exception. When a task is repetitive, boring and doesn’t require creativity, such as pulling weeds or vacuuming, then paying money can increase productivity (although paying for chores is another topic.)

Giving a child money for good grades reduces the child’s sense of achievement and ownership. Money becomes the motivation — not learning, meeting the challenges of school, or improving oneself.

Three Elements to Motivation

In his book “Drive,” Daniel Pink shows that there are three primary elements to motivation in all but the most repetitious monotonous work: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

1. Autonomy: Allowing people maximal autonomy in figuring out how, when and with whom to accomplish their work increases inventiveness and performance.

2. Mastery: Mastery is approached through engagement, effort and practice.

3. Purpose: Inspiration is personally acquired; it can’t be supplied by other people, though it can be diminished. When people find a purpose greater than their own self-interest, their drive intensifies.

When your child gets good grades, the learning and the grades themselves are generally reward enough. Much of the purpose of schoolwork is to teach a child how to plan, analyze, and think creatively. Schoolwork also teaches two of the most important keys to a fulfilling and happy life:

– the ability to delay gratification and

– the ability to tolerate frustration.

Schoolwork should convey knowledge and encourage children to set goals and achieve them. The inherent appeal of learning and achieving goals are undermined when the purpose of schoolwork becomes making money. In contrast, achieving good grades without being paid for them allows children to have ownership over their accomplishments and to feel pride in their own autonomy.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

*Recommended : Daniel H. Pink’s “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.”

Read “Inspire vs. Pushing: ‘Why don’t you just believe in yourself!'”

One Creative Way to Conquer Fear of Rejection or Failure

“Swing” — Ernie Els by Mimi Stuart
Live the Life you Desire

I failed my way to success.

~Thomas Edison

People often lack the courage to take initiative because they fear failure or rejection. Yet to pursue friendships, romantic relationships, and work aspirations, we need to face potential failure and rejection without being constricted by the choke-hold of trepidation.

When you go out and pursue something you want, you are going to be rejected and make mistakes. You might as well expect rejection and mistakes and learn to handle them better.

In Coach John Wooden’s second to last game, UCLA was down 2 points with a few seconds to go. After the game, a reporter asked him why he chose to set up a play for Richard Washington. He replied,

Because he’s not afraid to make a mistake. He thinks he’s a pretty good shooter—and he is—but if he misses he’ll think, “Well, you can’t make them all.” He won’t be devastated. Therefore, he’s harnessed his fears. The others might be thinking, “I’ve got to make it.” If that’s their thinking, they’ll be fearful about missing. I didn’t want that.

Rejection Therapy

How do we harness our fear?

In a desire to desensitize himself from the pain of rejection and overcome his fear, entrepreneur Jia Jiang developed his own so-called “Rejection Therapy.” For 100 days, he set forth to make one rejection attempt a day, making sure his requests were legal, ethical, physically safe, and likely to be rejected.

For instance, he asked to borrow $100 from a stranger, he asked for a burger re-fill, he asked to play soccer in someone’s backyard, and he asked to dance with his waitress. Not only did he stop dreading rejection, he learned that if he accepted rejection gracefully or asked “Why” or “Why not?”, often the rejection had nothing to do with him, or it would turn into acceptance. What surprised him most was that he was not rejected 42 times out of 100, despite his weird requests.

We are all human. So rather than worrying about being perfect, we can embrace the opportunity to learn from our blunders and miscalculations. Accepting that we are going to get rejected and make mistakes can free us to move forward in a more relaxed and confident way and to live our journey more fully rather than agonize about reaching or failing to reach the destination.

Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.

~William Shakespeare

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Reference: Jia Jiang’s Tedtalk

Narcissism Part 5: How to Deal with a Narcissist.

“Roar of the Raptor” by Mimi Stuart©

Don’t Trust a Narcissist

Avoid seeking a trusting intimate relationship with a narcissist. If you decide to enjoy the narcissist’s charm and charisma, do not get carried away into trusting him or her with inner secrets. Do not set yourself up for betrayal and hurt by having confidence in his or her loyalty. Do not let your feelings of self-worth depend on a narcissist’s love, actions or behavior.

Speak to the Narcissist’s Self-interest

It is generally helpful in a relationship to express your feelings or needs. But if you are dealing with a true narcissist, do not expect empathy and understanding. You will be more effective in communicating with a narcissist when you show how certain actions or behavior might benefit him or her.

Don’t Disagree

Beware of disagreeing with or contradicting narcissists. They behave as though they are strong and confident but they are easily offended. They do not want to be viewed as inadequate. If you confront their weaknesses, they may become vengeful and punishing. Keep your discussion focused on practical goals rather than personal accountability.

Be on your Guard

Narcissists hide their own flaws and project problems on to other people. Beware of allowing them to blame you for too much. If you are doing business with a narcissist, keep a paper trail. In marriage or divorce, hire a good attorney.

Separating from Narcissistic Parents

It is sad to be raised by narcissistic parents, because they view their children as extensions of their own false self-image they present to the world. If the child disagrees with a narcissistic parent, that parent becomes hostile and volatile. If the child does not embrace the family image or the image the parent projects onto the child, the narcissistic parent rejects or loses interest in the child. It is helpful not to take this personally, but rather to see that the parent’s callousness and preoccupation with family image are caused by his or her own low self-esteem.

Don’t hope for Change

It takes a lot of motivation for anyone to change. Unfortunately, narcissists rarely have the desire to change because they don’t think they need to, as they are not self-reflective. Their underlying problem is a weak sense of self. Thus, they focus on developing a strong outer shell consisting of their image. They rarely seek counseling, but if they do go, they tend to manipulate the situation in order to look good rather than become self-aware to improve their lives.

If you are in relationship with a narcissist, it is helpful to recognize their traits in order to protect yourself. You can then choose when to encourage the narcissist’s self-image, when to fortify your sense of humor, and when to avoid dealing with him or her all together.

Avoid being Narcissistic

Note that it is natural and healthy for a child to go through a narcissistic stage. Even as adults, most of us still have some mild narcissistic tendencies. So while it feels good to be praised and complimented, we should beware of becoming dependent on others for their validation, admiration, and approval to boost our feelings of self-worth. Psychological dependence on others comes at a cost. Thus, it is important to be reflective to make sure we are considering and balancing our own self-interest with the wellbeing of others.

There is a big difference, however, between being simply insecure or self-centered and having the condition of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. If you are self-reflective enough to even wonder whether you are a narcissist, let alone read a psychology blog, it is highly unlikely that you are!

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read Narcissism Part 1: Symptoms

Read “Dealing with the narcissist.”

References: “Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders.”

When is “distancing” beneficial to your relationship, and when is it harmful?

“Romance of Flight” by Mimi Stuart ©

There are times when “distancing” — seeking more space between partners — is the best thing you can do for the relationship, and there are times when it is harmful. Ideally, there is a balance between distance and togetherness, that is, between being self-contained and sharing thoughts and feelings. Too much of either separateness or connection will cause relationship problems.

Usually people who resist distancing are the ones who need to learn to become more self-contained, and those who crave distance would benefit from learning to balance their need for connection with independence.

When too much connection is harmful and distancing is beneficial

In general, people who are needy and eager to pursue connection may have one or more of the following characteristics:

• they need a lot of attention, approval, or validation,

• they express their thoughts and opinions without discretion, either complaining too much or making perpetual observations even if tedious or uninteresting,

• they are afraid to do things alone—e.g., to see friends or family, pursue interests and hobbies, etc., or

• they don’t have control over their emotions, and tend to express too many negative emotions to their partner.

When people focus too much on getting their needs met by another person, the relationship becomes fused, boundaries dissolve, and anxiety becomes increasingly infectious. The assumption of people who tend to fuse emotionally is that others are responsible for their own well-being. Such expectations increase pressure, anxiety, and disappointment, because people ultimately cannot provide well-being to another person without diminishing that person’s selfhood and independence.

When two people focus on getting their own needs met and become more independent, their relationship tends to flourish and become more reciprocal.

When is distancing harmful

If you feel hurt, angry, or resentful toward your partner, you might need a little time to calm down (to withdraw or seek distance) to figure out if you need to talk to your partner, let the situation slide, or take some sort of action. Hopefully, you will only need a few minutes to sort it out. In more serious situations you may need more time, or you may even need to talk to someone outside the relationship to get help.

Make sure, however, to avoid distancing when it is motivated by a desire to punish, to manipulate, or to avoid conflict.

• Distancing to punish

Beware of using distancing in a punitive way. If you withdraw to punish your partner, you will only further exacerbate the negative relationship dynamic. Your aim should be to understand and respect each other, not to hurt each other.

• Distancing to manipulate

Beware of distancing as a means to manipulate your partner. Causing your partner to fear abandonment may get your partner’s attention, but it will damage the relationship in the long run. Controlling someone through their emotions creates resentment and prevents open, honest communication.

• Distancing to avoid conflict

If your fear of your partner’s reactions causes you to become distant, you deny yourself the opportunity to develop true intimacy, which requires honesty, trust, and openness. Don’t shy away from expressing your feelings and desires but do so respectfully and be ready to listen and discuss.

In conclusion, appropriate self-containment is an important ingredient of a healthy relationship but it’s important to avoid using distance as a way to hurt or manipulate your partner, to avoid conflict, or to get attention. Learn to balance your emotional independence with candid, caring connection.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Handling Criticism:
“Don’t criticize me. This is the way I’ve always done it!”

"Why Not?" — Einstein by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

If you do anything interesting in life, you are bound to be criticized. It is best to handle criticism without becoming defensive or taking it personally.

Consider the Critic’s Underlying Motivation

When you understand the motivation behind the criticism, it is easier to respond appropriately without becoming defensive. People criticize for various reasons, positive and negative:

1. To help you avoid making a mistake.
2. To connect with you.
3. To share a good idea that may improve on what you are doing.
4. To feel worthwhile.
5. To feel superior because they are jealous or feel inadequate.
6. To find fault because they feel threatened.
7. To vent irritability.

Depending on the motivation, you can handle the criticism differently. For example, if someone wants to share a good idea, it might be worthwhile to engage in a conversation with that person about his or her ideas.

For those who want to connect with you or to feel worthwhile, you don’t need a long discussion on why their criticism is not helpful. A simple “Thanks for your idea” may be adequate, and then change the subject to something of more interest to you.

If someone feels jealous or threatened by you, you can thank the critic and disengage.

You might respond to someone who is simply irritable by asking, “You seem upset. Is there something going one in your life?”

Consider the Criticism

Regardless of the critic’s motivation, the criticism itself might carry some validity. So ask yourself if there is something to be learned by it. Focus only on what is helpful. Disregard the rest. You show confidence when you consider other people’s ideas.

Surprise the critic by thanking him or her for the criticism. If you agree with the criticism, let the critic know how helpful he or she has been. If not, respond honestly with your reasoning. Critical people are often grateful that they are listened to. They may be accustomed to people becoming defensive and ignoring their ideas.

The man who is anybody and who does anything is surely going to be criticized, vilified, and misunderstood. This is part of the penalty for greatness, and every man understands, too, that it is no proof of greatness.

~Elbert Hubbard

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “Defensiveness: “What do you mean by that? You’re always attacking me!””

“Stop nagging me about watching the game!”

“Sweetness” Walter Payton by Mimi Stuart ©

While some sacrifices need to be made in any relationship, giving up what you truly enjoy will only lead to resentment. It won’t enhance the passion and vitality between the two of you.

Make sure you find a balance between spending quality time together and pursuing your own passions. Your relationship will flourish if each person supports the other in pursuing their interests, while also making an effort to come together to enjoy each other on a regular basis.

Yet don’t expect you or your partner to behave perfectly. If your partner becomes controlling, be civil while expressing how important your own interests are to you. For example,

“Please don’t ask me to give up something that I truly enjoy. I’d like to watch the game without feeling guilty about it. But I really want to do something with you later when the game’s over.”

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Related article: “Were you out on the golf course again? I’ve been here alone all afternoon.”