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Accomplishment/Achievement: The A in Positive Psychology

May 31, 2021 08:00AM ● By Ann C. Reeves
In this series, we’ll hear from Ann C. Reeves about aspects of
Positive Psychology. This month, she continues with the “A”
of the Positive Psychology acronym, PERMA-V.

Positive Psychology (PP) is the scientific study of optimal human functioning, and its research encompassing neurobehavioral, cognitive behavioral and physiological science. The acronym used in PP is PERMA-V. A stands for Achievement or Accomplishment, another doorway to achieve greater positivity, wholeness and deep contentment. While accomplishment and achievement are synonyms, there are subtle differences, so both terms are included. Accomplishment includes the concepts of skill, talent and completion—perhaps a more internal process than Achievement, where success may be more external.

Can you remember a time when you feel you accomplished something? It may be as easy as cleaning out an old, cluttered closet, deciding to go to graduate school or losing those 20 pounds. Accomplishment and Achievement are often private matters—no one needs to know what we have achieved except for us, to feel good about ourselves. It is also true that public achievement is an ego booster, but not necessary to gain some positivity.

Researchers Edward Deci and Richard Ryan developed the self-determination theory, positing that intrinsic motivation to achieve is dependent on three basic needs: autonomy, competence and relatedness. Locus of control is a term that refers to the degree to which an individual feels a sense of agency in regard to their life.

An internal locus of control is the belief that whatever we do has a direct effect on the outcomes in our life. Success and failure results from our own actions, so that when we fail, we try to improve. An external locus of control is the belief that forces outside us affect our choices and our future. Thus, when something doesn’t work out, they tend to blame others rather than look at their own behavior. Persons with an internal locus of control have been found to develop greater cognitive flexibility, more creativity, an enhanced depth of processing, added positivity and greater physical and psychological well-being.

These beliefs can be related to our upbringing and social environment. Three conditions in parenting style are seen to encourage autonomy, and therefore self-determination, in our children. These styles are: providing choices in everyday life, offering informational feedback rather than criticism as a disciplinary technique and promoting a feeling of unconditional relatedness without disapproval, in order to encourage safe exploration by the child.

Parenting that produces decision-making through control, power and guilt undermines true self-determination and autonomy. Motivation is weakened when parents threaten negative consequences rather than asking a child to consider what other behaviors they might have tried. A child’s sense of intrinsic autonomy is enhanced when their performance is evaluated in a descriptive manner such as “I saw you working so hard,” “Look at the interesting way you drew that part,” or “You did it!” Evaluations of behavior or some kind of effort as either “good” or “bad” undermines autonomy.

Self-esteem is not the same as self-efficacy. The former is about feeling good about oneself, often influenced by the presence or lack of praise by teachers and parents. Self-efficacy is more adaptive to ultimately gaining a sense of accomplishment. One can think, “I feel good about my strengths. I know I can do this with hard work.” Such beliefs are related to another topic in positive psychology—a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. Accompanied by a growth mindset, self-efficacy has been found to be positively correlated with the achievement of goals, feelings of well-being and effective problem solving. The lack of experiencing self-efficacy is positively correlated to increased depression and anxiety.

But who doesn’t struggle with maintaining personal goals? Much is written about goals and objectives, and positive psychology wisdom posits that if goals are consistent with one’s values, there is more satisfaction than if goals are arbitrary. A helpful way to determine one’s values is through The Values in Action Institute, found at AuthenticHappiness.sas.upenn.edu. Failure to meet our goals is often related to an impulsive, haphazard and sometimes unrealistic declaration of intent.

SMART goals, devised by Peter Drucker, can be a helpful guide. This theory posits that in order to be attainable, a goal needs to be Specific. This means well-defined and clear to everyone. M is for Measurable. One must devise criteria that defines exactly when the goal has been achieved or how far away from completion it is. A is Agreed upon and Attainable. If anyone else is involved in this goal, all agree what the goal should be. R stands for Realistic. Any goal must be within reach given the skills, resources and time available. T is for Timely. It is helpful to establish a timeframe and an end-point. If there is a long-term goal, it helps to break it into several shorter ones, as short-term, micro-goals are most attainable.

There are several ways to enhance goal-setting. One important way is to set primers. These are things that we place in our external environment to help us to remember to do what we say we want to do—unconscious or conscious cues that are paired together to create behavioral change. They include to-do lists, Post-it notes, inspirational sayings put up on the bathroom mirror or using buddies to remind us. The effect of primers on creating change or meeting goals has been studied and found to have a positive effect on employee performance.

Visualization is another kind of primer. Actively imagining or visualizing our success on our goal encourages positive results, and this intervention is used frequently in sports psychology to enhance success. Those who enjoy being artistic can create a vision board, where they either write, draw or construct collages on a piece of stiff cardboard or wood, using priming words or images, cutouts from magazines or original artwork to manifest that which we want to embody in our life. Listening to special songs that have meaning, TED Talks or podcasts that inspire us can also serve as primers.

When we want to accomplish something large or small, positive psychology offers numerous tools to enhance our toolkit and prevent us from sabotaging the very goals we are seeking.

Ann C. Reeves, Psy.D is a Licensed Psychologist in Wilton. Connect at 203-451-6208, [email protected] or AnnReevesPsychology.com.

Read the last article in this PERMA-V series, focusing on the V for Vitality, in the July issue.

Ann C. Reeves, Psy. D, CAPP

Dr. Reeves blends traditional psychotherapy with holistic practices, helping clients through difficult patches in their lives. With training in positive psychology, mindfulness-based stre... Read More » 


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