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Motivate Yourself 111: What doesn't kill you makes you stronger

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Jessica Hartnett
Let me tell you about a psychology teacher named Jessica Hartnett.
In the autumn of 2007, at Northern Illinois University, Jessica started research into what's called Affective Forecasting. Which is about predicting how we will feel in the future about something that has just happened. Previous studies have shown that we tend to overestimate the influence of both positive and negative events.

Using what is called the PoMS, The Profile of Mood States, students who took part were simply ticking boxes on a computer program that asked them to rate how highly they felt a variety of emotions.
NIU Memorial

All started out fine until Valentines Day 2008 when one of the students at the University took 4 guns into school and shot 26 people, 5 of whom died, and then he killed himself.

The school was closed for a week and after a memorial was opened back up so that everyone could try to put their lives back together as best they could.

Jessica's research carried on for another 2 weeks, but because there had been an obvious change in everyone's circumstances, the original study had to be scrapped.
But it gave her a wonderful tool. A way of comparing how people feel before and then after a serious psychological trauma.
What she discovered is that, despite what had happened to them, everyone was surprisingly positive.
Let me tell you a little about the PoMS, The Profile of Mood States.

It goes through a 36-item scale that asks participants to rate, from 1 to 5, the extent to which they are currently experiencing a variety of different emotions that can be split into 6 subscales.

Depression
Vigor
Tension
Fatigue
Confusion
Anger


Here's what she found.
Average Before The Shooting:
Average Afterward:
Depression:
Vigor:
Tension:
Fatigue:
Confusion:
Anger:




1.48
2.2
1.51
2.12
1.68
1.43




1.52
2.11
1.51
2.17
1.79
1.7




The only slight shift is Anger, and then it's not even half a point!

Now, heres the really interesting part.
The following year they repeated the exercise with new students but asked the participants to fill it in twice. The second time they were asked to fill it in based on how they imagined they would feel if they had been a student at the time of the shooting.

What it showed is that they massively underestimated how emotionally strong they would be.
Their expectation of Depression and Confusion was double what the genuine scores were. Anger and Tension was predicted at even more than double and their expectation of vigour and fatigue was totally wrong too.
It seems we are not very good at predicting to what degree negative events would upset us.
In fact if you look at student attendance at that same University. The year of the shooting virtually no students dropped out of their course!
Yet everywhere else would routinely lose 15 percent of its students. Something at that University encouraged students to complete their studies, when they wouldn't normally have done so.

Friedrich Nietzsche
Knowing that Friedrich Nietzsche was right and his quote is actually more than just a cliché can allow us to let go of our fears of the future.

It turns out that it won't actually matter if we make the wrong decision with our degree, our job or our relationship. We will get over a bad situation quite quickly and become more reliant because of it.
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