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May 4, 2014

CEPEDA: Appealing to a sense of self

(Continued)

Can just this little adjustment make a significant impact on how those around us see themselves? It seems possible — and not just for children. Next time you need to persuade someone to join your working group, committee or board, remember to appeal to their sense of self instead of their mental scorecard of responsibility.

No one knows where the sense of self comes from — it’s obviously not as simple as picking it up from home, or all children would be carbon copies of their parents. The smartest minds in the study of intelligence and adaptability are deferring to some combination of nurture and nature, instead of leaning more heavily toward one or the other.

Yet, the importance of the nurture part of the equation cannot be overstated. In study after study, researchers have found that people who are conditioned to keep a specific goal in mind throughout their lives are likelier to get closer to reaching it than those who never have such a goal presented as a viable option.

Those running cutting-edge programs to push students who would be the first in their family to attend college find that they fare best when they get to the parents early in a student’s life. Presenting the specific goal of higher education to parents, in addition to ongoing resources and encouragement, makes college a real possibility -- if not an expectation -- for their children.

The opposite is also true. Kids who do not clearly envision a future for themselves can falter.

Alex Piquero, a professor of criminology at the University of Texas at Dallas, asked serious youth offenders “How long do you think you’ll live?” and then tracked their brushes with the law over the next seven years. He found that those who predicted they’d die young offended at very high rates and committed more serious offenses than those who believed they would live a long life.

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