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Diplomacy in Action

Chapter 3: Group Focus Session 1: Keeping in STEPP: Staying in Alignment


Group Size: Seminar group-8-12 students

Time Needed: 45 to 60 minutes

Physical Set up: Circle or conference table

Materials: Recording material, whiteboard or flip chart, student journals, Overhead transparencies of theories of Sternberg, Gardner, Goleman, and Csikszentmihalyi, and handout "Alexander's" Story.

Goal: To understand the factors that contribute to happiness and success in life. To understand stress may be caused by making choices that do not align to who we are and what we value.

Procedure: Meet & Greet Activity: Using "Talking Leather" technique ask students to complete the thought "Today would be a better day if ...." Record their comments on whiteboard or chart paper.

Discuss students' responses Ask them if they can see any underlying themes, such as feeling pressured, not getting enough sleep, wishing they had more time for things they valued. Using the transparency summaries, discuss what psychologists are saying about living a happy successful life. Distribute "Alexander's" story and discuss his case in terms of his choices and stressors. Divide class in groups based on each theorist discussed and have them simulate a meeting where these psychologists are called in to help Alexander. Each group will offer explanations and recommendations based on their theorist's point of view.

Follow up: Conclude by having group summarize session by creating a poster: five steps to leading a happy, successful life.

Reflection: Journal entry

 • Evaluate your life in terms of the five steps created by the group.

 • Write about a moment in your life when you are the happiest in if flow. What does it feel like? Are you fully in the moment? What is your stress level when you are in flow?

Robert Sternberg

is a psychologist at Yale University who has written extensively on what he calls successful intelligence.  He has studied people who have achieved their goals and has identified three critical elements.

     1. Successful people are aware of their strengths and talents.

     2. Successful people choose careers that align to these talents.

     3. Successful people find environments that value their talent.

Howard Gardner

a psychologist from Harvard has talked about different ways that people can be smart. Arguing against the idea that being smart only has to do with getting good grades in school especially in the areas of language arts and mathematics, Gardner posits that there are multiple intelligences, nine to be exact.

- Chief among them is what he calls the personal intelligences.
  Intra personal intelligence allows each of us to understand our own self.  It is a key ingredient in one's ability to make life-course decisions by accentuatlingindividual strengths.
       - Inter personal allows us to understand and influence others and allows us to know how to recognize and bring out the talents of others.
- People with particularly strong intra personal intelligence are prized in the business world because they can make optimal use of their talents, especially under rapidly changing conditions, and they know best how to mesh their talents with those of their coworkers. 

Daniel Goleman

- Introduced the concept of emotional intelligence when he published his now famous and well-read book Emotional Intelligence in 1995.
- Believes that the ability to manage our lives, to have healthy and fulfilling relationships, and to set and accomplish meaningful goals is far more important than intellectual intelligence.
- If we have high levels of emotional intelligence we would:
- Be self aware.
        We would know our own emotions and be able to recognize feelings as they occurred.  We would be able to discriminate between our feelings after having identified them.  In addition, we would be fully aware of our values and core beliefs and know the impact and effect of comprising these core components.  The self-control component requires full mastery of being in control of one's emotions.  We would be able to manage our moods and handle our feelings as they relate to the current situation.
- Be empathetic.
        We would be sensitive to others by recognizing their feelings.  We would be able to tune into the verbal and non verbal clues, the body language and the hidden signals of others so that we could act in their best interest.
- Be relationship managers. 
would develop expertise at forming and maintaining relationships. We would be able to handle interpersonal interactions, manage and resolve conflicts and be able to negotiate without compromising core beliefs or values.
Be self-motivated.
        We would be able to formulate and achieve our goals.  We would be capable of "gathering up" our feelings and directing them towards our goals, despite self doubt, inertia, and impulsiveness.  We would formulate a vision based on a strong personal philosophy.  In addition, we would be able to explain this vision with passion.  Mastery of this vision will allow us to know who we are and what we are compelled to do with our lives.  When our actions and words are consistent with this personal philosophy, we will feel a sense of authenticity.  Lack of adherence to values will lead to feelings of stress and discomfort. (Lynn, 2002)

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Csikszentmihalyi  is a developmental psychologist from the University of Chicago who explored in detail the nature of happiness and living the good life.  His best selling book entitled Flow, (1990) introduced his theory of happiness.

     - Most satisfied people were the ones who engaged in difficult or complex experiences that tapped physical or mental abilities. It could involve mountain climbing, reading, solving a math problem, or playing a piano piece in a concert. He felt that these kinds of activities could lead to a state of flow.

     - Flow is a state of total absorption that people feel when they are so completely involved in an activity that they lose track of time, are unaware of fatigue, hunger distractions or anything but the activity itself.  In a sense they are lost in the present.
     - The joy they get from the experience is totally intrinsic.  Worries disappear and anxiety is diminished.
     - "The secret to a happy life is to learn to get flow from as many of the things we have to do as possible."  Or learn to do what you love or love what you do.
Alexander: A case study of expectations out of alignment.

"Yes, I am planning for my future. I have given it a lot of thought. My first choice is Harvard University where I plan to major in business. Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania is my second choice. I am not sure about my back-up school yet. Because I know that this decision will be the most important decision of my life, I have given it considerable thought. I basically have no interest in business but my mother has convinced me that going to a school like Harvard and having a business major will open the doors of opportunity to me."

So spoke Alexander, a bright, articulate young man who was finishing his junior year at a prestigious international school. His grades were excellent, and he was enjoying his International Baccalaureate Diploma Program. His favorite course was the Theory of Knowledge. "I just love philosophy, especially when we discuss the meaning of life as seen in literature, poetry and even in systems of government. Each topic we study is so stimulating to me," he explained enthusiastically. "I would like nothing better than to become a philosophy professor someday!"

Unfortunately, Alexander's enthusiasm did not spill over to his career plans. He was somewhat dispassionately determined that it was the right thing to do. His career plan would not be allowed to match that which he loved and felt passionate about. When asked if he discussed his future goals with his counselor, he explained that the counselor thought that going to a prestigious school was a good thing but he told Alexander he needed to "beef up" his resume.

"My counselor told me that competitive universities require more than excellent grades and SAT scores. While the IB Diploma would give me a leg-up on many other candidates, I also needed to contribute some type of community service and make sure I had participated in enough sports. Boy did he stress me out with that dose of reality."

Alexander went on to explain how he became stressed. He loved being part of the mock trial team but it conflicted with swimming, the only sport where he felt comfortable. "I just didn't know what to do? I am still stressing on this one for next year. I am hoping some other options will come up where I can continue in the mock trial competition and still participate in some kind of sports. What kind of community service would do the trick? We had some options given to us at the school but none of them turned me on. I knew I needed to pick something. So I chose to be part of the environmental clean-up campaign here. It didn't thrill me but it didn't take much time or effort on my part. All these expectations!! Wow, I feel ill just thinking about this. I don't think adults understand how stressed we can get!!!"

Yes, Alexander was stressed and was becoming depressed as well. His expectations and the expectations that others had for him were not aligned. His talents, interests, and values did not support the choices he was making. His life was not in alignment with what he truly wanted to do. Rather he seemed willing to give in to what he and others thought he should do as opposed to doing what we heard from his inner voice.

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