Confidence (from School of Life)

I’m going to pick up next with my suggestions for trying some quick self-help ideas for managing depression. But I wanted to share a very short, useful video that I’ve just discovered and enjoyed on the subject of confidence. It comes from a YouTube channel put out by an organization called The School of Life, founded by philosopher and author Alain de Botton. (Who just did a great interview on Tim Ferriss’s podcast channel.) The “School of Life” is devoted to “developing emotional intelligence,” which of course would include many of the concepts that are very relevant to all forms of “high performance self help,” including overcoming depression, anxiety and other painful conditions.

It would also be related to the idea of developing one’s “social intelligence,” or that “superpower” of knowing how to live with and deal effectively with relationships, people and so on. Which I wrote about a few years ago in the Social IQ book (below).

(BTW, I don’t get anything from anybody for mentioning these guys’ stuff, if you’re worried. Though there is one exception: if a million people were to buy a digital or (if you can find any — they’re out of print) paper copy of my book The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Enhancing Your Social IQ, it might pay for a lunch or two. Those are here.)


How Ben Franklin Raised His Social IQ and So Founded America

A Smart Guy with Poor Social Skills 

The young man was prodigiously smart. In fact, he was one of the brightest guys that had ever lived in his town, and he was establishing himself as a successful businessman and community leader. But all was not well in his social life. At some point, his awareness that he was the brightest guy on the block seems to have “gone to his head.” Finally, he confessed, a friend “informed me that I was generally thought proud; that my pride showed itself frequently in conversation; that I was not content with being in the right when discussing any point, but was overbearing and rather insolent; of which he convinced me by mentioning several instances.”

Clearly, all this showing off, letting people know how smart he was, and making sure he trounced them in every argument, must have felt good to this young man. But it was starting to undermine his success, both socially, and probably in his business as well. Frankly, the guy sounds like a pain! Who would want to deal with him?

But all was not lost. The young man decided to apply himself to presenting a more humble side to others, and practiced this for a very long period of his life. Ultimately, his ability to deal with other people became one of the great sources of his success.

Recognize the dude? You’re right if you guessed that this was Benjamin Franklin. As a young man, he took on the task of changing how he interacted with others. Through hard work and a system for self-improvement, Franklin became more socially intelligent.

In fact, due in part to his matured social intelligence, Franklin became one of the most successful leaders of early America. His charm, wit, and grasp of very complicated social situations led to great success during his years as a diplomat to France during the American Revolution. He “won the hearts and minds” of the French people and the very “socially astute” French court. Franklin was thus able to persuade the court to offer financial and military help to the young United States. Historians agree that if it weren’t for Franklin’s highly developed social intelligence, our country might never have won its independence!

Ben Franklin’s Surefire SI Improvers 

When he decided to improve his social skills, Ben Franklin went about the job in a systematic way. (He described it all in his Autobiography.) He made a list of the most important “virtues” that he wanted to improve in himself, and listed them on a weekly calendar. Not all of his virtues had to do with social functioning, because he also added things like Frugality and Industry. However, a number of his 13 virtues did have a great deal to do with social functioning, such as Sincerity, Silence, and Humility.

His method was simple, and one which you can certainly copy. (He wanted you to copy it, in fact!) He wrote his “virtues” down the left margin of a sheet of paper, and across the top put a column for each of the seven days of the week. Each week, he would concentrate on one particular virtue. Franklin would think about that virtue, and devote special attention to improving on it. At the end of the day he would put a mark for each time he violated that virtue. Over a year, he would cycle through each of his 13 virtues four times (e.g., spending four weeks of the year on each virtue.)

The result was that he was more aware of, and constantly working to improve on, the areas that were important to him.

You wouldn’t need to adopt Ben’s list of virtues to adopt his method. In fact, the best approach is to decide what SI areas you need to develop or improve, and to begin to track a few key things that you would like to change in yourself.

The legend of Franklin’s self-improvement success has inspired many people, from the early 1800s to the present. Modern psychologists would agree with the soundness of Franklin’s ideas for making changes in your behavior.

(Excerpted from The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Enhancing Your Social IQ; copyright 2008, Greg Korgeski)

Getting oriented

Once upon a time, psychologists were supposed to keep their mouths shut.  It was an era of mysteries, confusion, a time of just emerging from the dark, murky world of ghosts and mysterious maladies, and for a time the only torch lighting the day out of the dark cavern was the work of Sigmund Freud.  Which was actually a huge improvement over the options which came before him, when depressed persons had the options of suffering or becoming novelists or drinking themselves to death.

But over time, Freud’s idea that people often need basically a good listener who doesn’t jump in with all sorts of unwanted advice, became distorted.  Shrinks started to believe that doing things like actually giving someone advice was a bad thing.  This went to absurd links — perhaps peaking when prominent psychologists move to revoke the membership from the American Psychological Association of one of the pioneering psychologists of the self-help field, Dr. Joyce Brothers, just because she answered people’s questions and tried to help in a more active way than mumbling “uh huh” every twenty minutes.

Eventually, common sense prevailed.  Building not just on the discoveries (which strictly speaking, weren’t all bad) of the European masters like Freud, we began to apply the findings of a more modern science to our understanding of the human mind, human relationships, and even to how our minds and bodies affect each other.

It’s been nearly a century and a half since the first psychology laboratories were established (by Wilhelm Wundt in Leipzig, and William James at Harvard), and in that time whole libraries have grown up to contain our findings.  In the spirit of a true “Renaissance” (a rebirth or rediscovery of knowledge), we can now benefit from the best thinkers of ancient Greece and Rome, the philosophers and novelists and spiritual pioneers of the past 3000+ years, but most especially, from the discoveries and innovations of modern behavioral, cognitive behavioral, and neuropsychological researchers and practitioners.

Whether it’s how to keep your brain functioning through the lifespan, to protect and ehnahce your physical functioning or athletic performance, how to understand and connect effectively with others, how to reduce a depression or a phobia, or how to manage your career, there is a huge amount of information out there to help you.

In my work, I meet daily with people teetering on the edge of permanent disability (my clinical practice is mostly doing psychological evaluations and consulting with agencies and with businesses and organizations.)  Often, people have been relying on rather passive, antique methods of coping, such as hoping the latest medication from their primary physician will somehow “kick in,” or maybe just relying on alcohol or drugs to ease the pain of living.  But seldom do people have even the vaguest familiarity with highly effective psychological/behavioral ways to reduce chronic pain, to cope with a depressed mood, to cope with a severe phobia that keeps them housebound, or to be more effective in their career, business, marriage, or parenting skills.

I’ve wanted to set up a blog about phobias, which I’m supposed to do to let folks know about my phobia book. (I have one on the topic of social intelligence.)  But I’ve been writing some stuff on depression and other topics, and have ideas for a variety of other books and writing projects with similar themes of “you can take control of your own psychological functioning, at least some of the time.” (I’m actually a kind of “how to manage your life” nerd.)  So instead of doing scattered blogs, I’m doing a single one now, merging some other material here.

Because to a large extent, you can approach a depression, weight loss, interpersonal skills at work, anxiety control, flirting, or “getting things done” in very much the same way.  If you become an expert in managing one part of your behavior and life, you can use most of the same tools for the other areas as well.

That’s what I want to share with you in this blog.