Pillars of Promise, Foundations of Gratitude

By Donald Officer

Human beings are by nature, forward-looking. We are built to be tuned to the future. Of course, attending to the immediate present is a large part of what we do, but much of our present activity is connected to a trajectory running into the future. – Andrew MacLeod, Prospection 

Last July at the Fifth Biennial Congress of the International Positive Psychology Association (IPPA) founder Martin Seligman expressed his gratitude at being able to pioneer four game changing new ideas in the discipline: Learned Helplessness, Evolutionary Psychology, Positive Psychology and Prospective Psychology.

Of these, the fourth has sparked his interest most recently. Moving from a recognized deficit through adaptation to optimism are necessary steps on the path to recognizing ourselves as successful beings. However, the ability to assess what we face in the future is paramount.  The 2016 book, Homo Prospectus in which Seligman is the lead author, is a work of interdisciplinary collaboration. In Homo Prospectus, Seligman shares authorship with philosopher Peter Railton, leading willpower authority, social psychologist Roy Baumeister and brain mechanism scientist Chandra Sripada. Together, they identify four distinct ways of thinking that guide us to purposeful choice.

You may have heard of the first two pillars which came into public awareness over the past decade. In Thinking, Fast and Slow Daniel Kahneman awakened non-academic readers to what we once assumed was routine decision making. But we are not just guided by either reason or impulse. Some answers to our problems come reflexively, seemingly magically. That’s thinking fast. Reasoned decisions require focused systematic effort or at minimum, more time on inputs. We resort to this methodical approach when the magic doesn’t show up. That’s thinking slow.

But prospection presents two more drivers of equal importance. You might ask, if we’ve got the two-stroke fast or slow model, why jump to four pistons? Because they’re there and very handy. Piston number three is imagination: loosely structured or streamed, jumping ahead or gently meandering, it sponges up the 49% of our waking hours devoted to mental free play. Like sleep, imagination consolidates our thinking and recharges our neural circuitry. Yet free form speculation also drives our brains forward, sometimes in leaps like the rapid-fire answers of practiced, long term memory or the turnkey biological firmware of fast thinking.

By contrast, the fourth driver or piston of prospection is one we rely on more as we become better socialized. This last mode is a shared tool We would exhaust ourselves in no time if we did not carry a bundle of quick access, socially acquired templates in our brains. What if we had to reinvent all the most basic living procedures society provides through instruction or by example? Of course, with this pillar, as with the other three, there is also a downside that comes with overuse. Automatic reversion to social norms without reflection induces disengaged conformism, stifling freedom, creativity, reason and panoramic awareness.

When you count your blessings, and see the spark of joy in others, you also see why balance matters in choosing among the four prospection styles. Which one to employ in the moment? As noted in our previous post, we make less than perfect choices. We have blind spots. Intuitions or deliberations are as defective as memories, imaginary constructions or cultural interpretations.

Fortunately, experience teaches, but so does the grateful leadership mindset and sharing our appreciation of character strengths. Never discount the context setting value of acknowledgment and gratitude. Ask yourself, “What is the most generous, appreciative approach?”  That’s usually the right one by all four prospective measures. And oh yes, be sure to acknowledge your own self-worth while you’re at it!

What role does gratitude play in your life? Gratitude Connection monthly and International Institute of Learning Vice-President, Judith Umlas in her acclaimed books, Grateful Leadership, Using the Power of Acknowledgment to Engage All Your People and Achieve Superior Results and The Power of Acknowledgment will help you see the possibilities.