Posts Tagged counterfactual thinking

The alternative self

203/365 by Brandi Eszlinger

She doesn’t look a bit like Gwyneth Paltrow

A few years ago I went to see Our House the musical based on the songs of Madness. The music was good. The choreography was good too. But what I really liked was the story, which was quite imaginative for a jukebox musical.

It tells the story of Joe Casey, who does something stupid to impress a girl and then faces a choice: stay and risk getting arrested or run away. At this point the the storyline splits in two, following the consequences of these options and the different versions of Joe that emerge as a result.

The idea of exploring alternative versions of ourselves and finding out what we could have become if we had made different choices is very appealing in fiction. Sliding Doors, It’s a Wonderful Life, Melinda and Melinda and many others.

I recently came across a paper which nicely mashes up two of my favourite themes: counterfactual thinking and identity development into the concept of alternative selves. It explores the impact of these alternative selves on our sense of identity.

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A matter of perspective

MIstakes Were Made (but not my me)

Can you justify yourself if you don't read this?

Over on Careers Debate we are having an interesting discussion about narrative approaches to career coaching/counselling.

Coincidentally, I’ve just finished reading a fascinating book which looks at how we reconstruct our memories and perceptions in order to keep them consistent with our self image.

In Mistakes Were Made (but not by me), Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson explore the various ways in which we delude ourselves in order to maintain a favoured self-perception. They discuss how this desire to avoid cognitive dissonance leads to extremes of self-justification in all areas of life. They provide examples from the realms of politics (obviously!), international relations, law enforcement, psychology, alien abductions, scientific research and marriage guidance.

It is an interesting book, if somewhat depressing. Personally, I think it should be compulsory reading for any politician or business leader. There is enough thought-provoking material in here to sustain several heated discussions. However, one particular set of research studies caught my attention because of their potential link to narrative work with individuals.

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Dwindle, dwindle little STAR

Star in a web

Catch a falling STAR

The STAR model is ubiquitous. Almost every application form and interview presentation contains the acronym: Situation, Task,  Actions, Result. Some graduate recruiters even instruct candidates to follow this model in their application form answers.

It’s tried and tested…and I don’t like it.

Don’t get me wrong. I would rather that a candidate uses STAR than nothing. Any structure is better than no structure. But I’m not sure that STAR is the best possible structure.

Partly, I will admit, I am just being awkward and iconoclastic (I impressed myself with that word!). I have a default tendency to question and challenge anything that is well established and widely accepted without criticism.

However, I do have a couple of reasons, one pragmatic and one theoretical, why I think STAR isn’t the best possible model to be recommending.
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What might have been

Wistful thinking

If only...

What if…?

Everyone has moments when they wonder about what would have happened if only they had… got that A grade rather than a B… stuck with the guitar practice… summoned up the courage to ask out that person they admired in secret…

Of course, such musing doesn’t have to be regretful. ‘Imagine if we hadn’t sat next to each other on the train, we might never have got together?’ ‘What if I had gone through with my decision not to look at the job ads that day?’ Thinking like this usually provokes feelings of relief and self-congratulation.

We seem to be drawn to such speculation about things we cannot change and possibilities that no longer exist.

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