Tomorrow's Academic Careers
The posting below outlines a set of principles as a possible means toward a personal philosophy that Albert Ellis called 'responsible hedonism.' It is from Chapter 8, Developing a Positive Lifestyle in the book, Building Self-Esteem with Adult Learners, by Denis Lawrence. Paul Chapman Publishing Ltd, A SAGE Publications Company, 6 Bonhill Street London EC2A 4PU. [www.sagepub.com/] © Copyright 2000 Denis Lawrence. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
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Tomorrow's Academic Careers
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Developing a Positive Lifestyle
In the first chapter of this book we discussed how people who fail in an important area of their lives feel failures generally. The Self-Esteem Enhancement Programme has tried to show that students with literacy difficulties do not necessarily need to lose confidence and demonstrate low self-esteem even though they may not yet have achieved a functional level of literacy. In this final chapter emphasis is placed on the need for a particular philosophy and a positive lifestyle as a further step towards maintaining self-esteem; it applies to both students and tutors.
Most people would agree that a major goal in life is the achievement of happiness. Unfortunately, it is difficult to set out consciously to achieve happiness. It is something that you either have or you don’t. It seems to be a consequence of the manner in which you conduct your life in general. In other words, it is a by-product of living. The confident, high self-esteem person is usually a happy person and has formulated a personal philosophy of what life is all about. For some this is a religious philosophy, although it need not be so. It seems that a major goal in life is the seeking of pleasure and the avoidance of pain, not only for ourselves but also for other people. Albert Ellis, referred to in the session on stress, calls this ‘responsible hedonism’. It does not mean seeking pleasure for its own sake but rather seeking pleasure which has no side-effects of pain, either to oneself or to others. For example, excessive alcohol consumption may be pleasurable in the short term but can have long-term undesirable consequences. Responsible hedonism implies the adoption of a caring, sharing attitude towards others as well as towards oneself.
It can be a salutary experience for most people to ask themselves if indeed they do have a philosophy of life. Some may find this an easy question to answer but for many it will be difficult and a new exercise in introspection. The following principles are suggested for consideration by both students and tutors as a possible means towards this philosophy of responsible hedonism.
The first of these principles is the need to set goals. This is important not just for the development of confidence; it is important in any area of mental health. It is the natural state of the human psyche to be motivated towards the future. Also, the human psyche, in its naturally healthy state, is always active in the same way as physiologically the nerve impulse is always active. The ideal state for the human being is not one of lying on a tropical beach somewhere for weeks on end, totally inactive, attractive as this may seem. The normal healthy state is to be planning for and moving towards some goal. Goals do not have to be dramatic, like sailing around the world single-handed – it could be the simple one of planning to plant flowers in the garden. But they do have to be realistic goals and have a definite purpose.
Some people worry because although they have goals they are unable to settle to them. They do not seem to lack energy but they tend to flit from one task to another and to procrastinate. There are two possible reasons for this. The first is that the goal may be too far away – as with the student who has not yet been able to begin to read or write but has a goal of completing a university degree. This illustrates the need for realistic goals and also for intermediate goals. In the example given the student should begin with the intermediate goal of completing a basic English course. The second reason for some people not being able to settle to their goals is because the goals may not be specific enough. They may have the admirable goal of achieving another academic qualification but have no definite plan or timescale for doing so.
In summary, goals have to realistic and specific, and may need to be placed into two categories – intermediate and long term. It is not enough to have vague ideas of what you want to do. Goals have to be planned and to be realistic. A good plan is to sit down and make a list of the main areas of interest in your life and to enter a definite goal beside each one. Generally these will be long-term goals. In addition, you should have short-term goals for the day ahead. It is recommended that you begin each day before you get out of bed by saying to yourself, ‘Plan for the day!’ Then you know what lies ahead and this knowledge will give you a comfortable feeling.
Developing your skills
The learning of a new skill or the further development of an old one is a sure confidence booster. The knowledge that you are able to perform well at a chosen activity or that you are able to master a particular skill gives you a feeling of confidence which can generalize to the whole personality. This is particularly the case if the skill is one that is valued by the people in your life whom you care about, or one that is valued by society in general. Psychotherapeutic programmes for the rehabilitation of the mentally ill often include the learning of a new skill for this reason.
Examples on record include the man who had been afraid to meet people because of imagined inferiority. He quickly overcame his problem once he had learned to play tennis. Children who learn to swim seem to gain in confidence overnight. The skill learned need not, of course, be a physical one. Confidence will come just as quickly, as outlined in the previous chapters, from learning how to develop personal skills in general.
Becoming an expert
It is an inescapable truth that the world needs experts. Whether this is a reflection of the kind of world we live in or a natural human need is debatable, but people seem to want to believe in experts. The expert is admired and revered. So if you are able to develop a talent in some direction and it becomes known to others it usually has the effect of enhancing your self-esteem and so increasing your level of confidence. The fascinating thing is that in order for this to happen you do not need to be an expert in the true sense of the word. The need for people to believe in experts is so widespread that merely the fact of being able to do something which others around you cannot do is enough to attract admiration. Even just showing interest in a particular topic and talking about it can have the same effect. If this is a topic the other person knows nothing about they will assume you know even more about it than you actually do and give you respect. It is easy to acquire a reputation in this way. The interesting thing is that when other people give you this respect for being, as they think, an expert, this in turn is motivating and usually has the effect of causing you to find out more on the subject, so before long you do actually become an expert!
Life can be very serious indeed as most of us find out sooner or later. There are many reasons for this and there are times when most of us find ourselves taking a serious view of life; indeed often it is appropriate that we do so. It is hard not to be serious when you have a problem and for people who lack confidence life is rarely humorous. Lacking confidence is a serious matter. However, it is important to separate their confidence problem from their attitude to life in general. This means making a conscious effort to set out to have fun! Having fun is a characteristic of all living creatures. This is more in evidence during the early years of life, but the need to play remains dormant in all of us throughout life. Most people channel this into some kind of sport or recreation as adults and many of us retain a sense of fun from childhood which gives expression in everyday life.
The main point is that it seems to be human nature to want to play but this need can so easily be repressed, especially as we go through life and encounter various problems. This is what tends to happen to those who lack confidence. So when considering your lifestyle and whether it is conducive to happiness, ask yourself what you do to have fun. If the answer is nothing then it is imperative that you do something about it. Try to engage your partner or a good friend in a search for regular recreation where you can let your hair down. Physical activities are ideal for this but not all of us are physically inclined. For other people even a visit to the cinema now and again could be a suitable alternative. It does not matter what pursuit you choose so long as it is geared to fun and it is one with which you feel comfortable. Also, try to see that there is often a funny side to life; even your own lack of confidence can be funny if you adopt the right attitude. The secret is to use the ‘self-talk’ described earlier and say to yourself, ‘I do have a funny face when I am worried.’ This can often do the trick and cause you to relax. A famous philosopher once said that the mark of the mature person is an ability to laugh at yourself. This is a true sense of humor. And above all never hold back laughter. If you feel like laughing do so even if you think it may not be approved of. Recent research shows that one minute of sustained laughter can be as effective as ten minutes of aerobic activity in releasing those endorphins which are conducive towards feelings of relaxation and contentment.
The following quote by the philosopher Gratzalin is apt:
Everything done with laughter helps us to be human. It can be used to express an unending variety of emotions. It is based on guilt-free release of aggression, and any release perhaps makes us a little better and more capable of understanding one another, ourselves and life.
The need for students to develop their self-esteem has been the main theme of this book. The need for tutors to develop their own self-esteem together with their communication skills has been highlighted. It was argued that the enhancement of student self-esteem is dependent on the development of these skills in the tutor, as it is the quality of the tutor-student relationship that is the key to self-esteem advancement. Self-esteem enhancement exercises have been outlined as a supplement to this relationship, relying on the quality of the relationship for their effectiveness.
The final task for tutors is to communicate to their students that enhancing self-esteem is an active process and dependent on their own efforts. There will be no change without effort and their commitment to change. This means having to be prepared to face themselves and their problems. This can be an uncomfortable process, as it is always easier to go along with present inadequacies than make the effort to change. This is where the tutor’s influence is paramount. Students need a tutor who can present to them a high self-esteem model and provide for them an accepting, trusting relationship. The rewards for both tutor and student will always be worth the effort.