Jan Dennison

Fearless Values

Feb 5, 2015

Last week, I learned about Stereotype Threats, and I wrote a little bit about times I have experienced them. In review, researchers have found that times when a person is consciously aware of stereotypes surrounding one or more aspects of their identities as they relate to performance, the person is more likely to fulfill that stereotype than not. A common example is girls who are told they cannot do math often perform poorly on math, whereas girls who are not told that often don't.

XKCD comic about girls stereotyped as bad at mathSource

This week, we read about how researchers have also found a rather effective method that people can do to reduce the result of stereotype threats - self-affirmation. Researchers found that when people are feeling a stereotype threat about themselves, when they start being afraid that they are going to prove all those comments right about their gender/race/etc., actively redirecting those thoughts into a self-affirming reflection of their core values actually works against the threat.

Some of my core values (from the long list provided) include things like:

  • Personal development
    • Insight & Introspection
    • Knowledge
    • Growth
    • Challenge
  • Equality & Fairness
    • Compassion & Empathy
    • Honesty
  • Helping Society
    • Friendships & Community
  • Creativity
  • Balance

Self-affirmation essentially works by actively reflecting back on one or more of your values, and using that as motivation to break out of the stereotype. For example, if I feared that I wouldn't do well in Dev Bootcamp and might fail out, I could think back about how much I value personal growth and learning, and that would make me comfortable and more likely to perform well.

Just today I was listening to NPR's new podcast, Invisibilia, and as I was writing this was struck by the similarity of what I was writing and what I was hearing.

We are always, always, always telling stories to ourselves, about the situation we're in, and about other people. And that story becomes a reality for us. And that's the problem. ... just get out there and get rejected. Sometimes it's gonna get dirty, but that's okay. 'Cause you're gonna feel better afterward. You're gonna feel like, wow, I disobeyed my fear. Jason Comely, Invisibilia

If I don't face my fears, I won't be able to uphold those values. If I become the stereotype, I won't uphold those values. So now I have one tool in my belt to overcome those fears, and move towards the place I want to be.