Developmental Bibliotherapy: Cultivating Core Confidence
Written by Judith Wakeman
“It came to me that I hadn’t known that I was less than I could have been until then, when I saw there was so much more of the world for me to be myself within.”
C. A. Fletcher (A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World)
How can we immunize young people against the disruptive force of mental illness?
Joseph Gold (2001)
Joseph Gold, in his book Read for your life makes the observation “It ought to be easy to go crazy during adolescence”. With the growing numbers of adolescents being diagnosed with mental health issues, Positive Psychology programs, often using Martin Seligman’s 24 Signature Strengths grouped under Wisdom and Knowledge, Courage, Humanity, Justice, Temperance and Transcendence, are amongst many that aim to maximize children’s potential as individuals. Other programs with similar aims use meditation, or concentrate on developing creativity, reducing technology, reengaging with nature, mindset teaching, and developing other life skills. There is no doubt that all of these can be effective and beneficial, but without constant refreshing, the benefit of these programs fades.
In contrast, the benefits of Developmental Bibliotherapy – which takes place in the classroom and is designed to help young people navigate their developmental years - can be reinvigorated throughout one’s life, simply by picking up the right book.
Cultivating Core Confidence with Books
Alexander Stajkovic’s theory of Core Confidence says that Confidence resides unseen in the core of an individual’s character, and is manifested in Hope, Self-efficacy, Resilience and Optimism. These distinct but interconnected elements can predict job satisfaction, job performance and, ultimately, satisfaction with life. Furthermore, Stajkovic believed that these elements can be cultivated in all of us.
I believe they can be cultivated in young people using Developmental Bibliotherapy.
"The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it."
J.M. Barrie (Peter Pan)
Albert Bandura’s research underpins all studies relating to Self-efficacy. In his words “Perceived self-efficacy refers to the belief in one’s agentive capabilities” – that is, one’s ability to produce a given level of attainment. Self-efficacy is related to but distinct from self-esteem, motivation and resilience.
Self-efficacy influences the goals that we choose for ourselves, because we learn and perform at levels consistent with our self-efficacy beliefs; Self-efficacy influences the confidence we have when we are learning new tasks; and Self-efficacy affects our Perception of our Ability, especially whether we believe that ability can be learned and developed, or we believe that ability is fixed.
Unsurprisingly, Bandura found that mastery of a skill is the most powerful way to build self-efficacy. Through mastery we see that skills can be acquired and as our self-efficacy increases we are encouraged to attempt still more new skills. He also found that influential people in our lives can also strengthen our self-efficacy with meaningful feedback, encouragement and support - our positive emotions and our confidence in our skills get a boost and we are motivated to greater efforts.
However Bandura also found that vicarious experience is second only to self-mastery in cultivating self-efficacy – watching or reading about people, especially role models, succeeding by their sustained effort raises our beliefs in our own abilities, much the same way that an outstanding team member can raise the achievements of less talented players in a team.
Vicarious experiences or Modelling, are the learning experiences so valuable in Developmental Bibliotherapy. As we are flooded with the thoughts and experiences of characters within the pages of a book our brain is gathering and processing those thoughts and experiences. Whether we are reading horror and suspense, romance or an autobiography, we share the emotions and triumphs of characters as if they were our own.
“Hope can be a powerful force. Maybe there's no actual magic in it, but when you know what you hope for most and hold it like a light within you, you can make things happen, almost like magic.” Laini Taylor, Daughter of Smoke & Bone
Hope has the power to heal afflictions and helps us endure times of great suffering. Hope has a very positive impact on health, academic achievement, athletic accomplishment, emotional health, personal meaning and our ability to cope with adversity.
Hopeful thinking is both a trait and a positive motivational state, and it is made up of Pathways (a person’s knowledge of ways to achieve a goal) and Agency (a person’s determination to achieve a certain goal).
We cultivate hope by visualising multiple pathways towards our goal, by maintaining our motivation towards achieving that goal and by believing in our power to achieve our goal.
“There is a saying in Tibetan, 'Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.'
No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful experience is, if we lose our hope, that's our real disaster.” ― Dalai Lama XIV
But before we begin to cultivate hope, we must be able to identify our dreams; and dreams emerge once we recognize those things we value in ourselves, our relationships and our environment.
Literature can guide the reader through self-reflection, helping us to identify our values and decide what is important to us. As we share the hopes and disappointments of fictional characters facing obstacles in their fictional quest, we learn to be flexible and adaptable, we visualize alternative strategies towards our own quests, we learn that setbacks and detours are obstacles to be overcome; and we begin to imagine our own paths and dreams.
“The idea of a happy ending is a very powerful thing. Living in a world without hope would be very bleak indeed”. Josh Dallas (Once Upon a Time)
We accompany characters as they make mistakes and choices, forge relationships and face dangers. In this way we learn to predict, to envisage alternative actions and to consider “what if” outcomes. As we follow, and sometime identify with, the fictional character pursuing their goal, we learn to forgive the mistakes and transgressions they make, we understand and suspend judgement, and we develop empathy and compassion.
"What day is it?” asked Pooh.
“It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.
“My favorite day,” said Pooh."
— A.A. Milne
Optimism is a form of positive thinking that includes the belief that we are responsible for our own happiness and that more good things will continue to happen to us in the future. But this belief must be realistic if optimism is to have a positive effect on our core confidence. We must appreciate the positive aspects of a situation without ignoring the negative, and we must aspire and hope for positive outcomes and work towards them without assuming that those outcomes are a foregone conclusion.
Optimism affects our personal growth, our sense of purpose in work, our relations with others, our pride in our accomplishments, and our general level of happiness and life satisfaction. Optimism may contribute to motivation, but while there is little empirical evidence to suggest optimism benefits performance, optimistic students are less susceptible to stress, loneliness and depression, and less likely to drop out. It is also interesting to note that optimists are more likely to have a healthy lifestyle.
Literature helps to cultivate our optimism by helping us escape the bounds of our environment, our settings and our influencers, stimulating our imagination and enabling us to organise our own experiences while in the process of deciphering someone else’s. Fiction helps us to rehumanise a world which is often dominated by an unresponsive technology; it rejuvenates our humanity by awakening the possibility of alternative ideas; and it helps us to adapt to the rapid advance of change.
"It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society".
Resilience is the ability to persevere and adapt when things go awry, to overcome the obstacles of childhood, to take responsibility for creating the future we want, to steer us through everyday adversities and tribulations, to endure and find our way back from major setbacks, and to reach out to new experiences and challenges.
Resilience transforms hardship into challenge, failure into success, helplessness into power, victims into survivors and allows survivors to thrive.
Resilience comes when we believe that we have the power to control the events in our life and to change the things that need changing, and that belief is accurate. Resilience is not a trait that one either has or does not have; resilience is a state that involves behaviours, thoughts and actions, and it can be learned and developed.
Resilient individuals seek connections, and they accept help and try to help others. Resilient individuals accept change, and view change as a path to growth. Resilient individuals can recognise and articulate feelings, needs and viewpoints and are open to the opinions of others. Resilient people stay curious about their world, and about the past and the future, and they are reflective and mindful of their own and others’ thoughts and emotions. Resilient people maintain a positive self-image and a sense of perspective. Resilient people are see obstacles as ambitious but attainable tasks, and they stay focused on achieving them, maintaining motivation and seeking positive feelings from small successes. Resilient people enjoy learning new skills and use creative experiences to bolster their wellbeing. Resilient people derive meaning from failure and do not feel shame when they do not succeed.
Resilient individuals maintain perspective in the face of a crisis, regarding it as a milestone, a chance to improve, to change strategies and regroup.
Resilient people in literature inspire us. Fictional characters help us develop our own resilience as we see their own resilience developing through the choices and responses they make. We see that resilience is something that we cultivate, not something we are born with, and that sometimes resilience requires immediate action, but most often it does not. We see that resilience involves a realistic evaluation of a situation to identify which factors are within our power to change, and we build on past experiences to judge whether our attempts to change a situation are possible, or change our past thinking so we can view the world more accurately. We learn to look for alternative solutions, to be less reactive to our emotions, and to respond better when adversity strikes.
"So many people will tell you ”no”, and you need to find something you believe in so hard that you just smile and tell them ”watch me”. Learn to take rejection as motivation to prove people wrong. Be unstoppable. Refuse to give up, no matter what. It’s the best skill you can ever learn." — Charlotte Eriksson
The dangers of excess
It must be noted that it is possible to have too much of these elements of core confidence:
· Too much Self efficacy can make us over confident and we neglect our training, we believe we have nothing left to learn, or we reject new ideas and suggestions.
· Too much Hope can anesthetise us, keeping us passive when we should be motivated into action.
· Too much Optimism can shroud us in illusions and irrational beliefs, or cause us to waste energy on unattainable goals.
· Too much Resilience can make us overly tolerant of adversity, or make us resigned and apathetic in the face of danger.
Hope, Resilience, Self-efficacy and Optimism amalgamate to form Core Confidence, so interdependent that when one is out of balance, the others will fail alongside it or fall behind - either way core confidence is diminished.
But Hope, Optimism, Resilience and Self-efficacy are states, meaning that our Core confidence can be depleted as well as cultivated. So it is far better to have too much than too little.
Developmental Bibliotherapy and Core Confidence
“I was seeing the world through the lens of the books I had read about it” Griz in A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World by C. A. Fletcher
When children read about ordinary people achieving extraordinary successes, they come to realize that the brain is flexible and adaptable, and that intelligence, like confidence, can be also be developed – they adopt a “growth mindset”.
By ignoring the potential of books in the development of Core Confidence in young people we are depriving them of the opportunity to develop this most vital aspect of their being.
Joseph Gold (1998) describes the beneficial power of fiction thus:
“Fiction extracts the reader from their immersion in personal confusion and decontextualizes them to permit the reformation of responses … using narrative to engage the reader emotionally while generating new and newly arranged information so that cognitive shift can take place. The results of this are improved problem solving skills, a greater sense of normality, a breakup of rigid and confusing cognitive frameworks, improved socialization and increased self-actualization.”
And, in his words again:
“Unless we change our educational bias we will produce more and more “educated” technocrats, well equipped to destroy the planet and ignorant of the nature of the loss.”
Implementing Developmental Bibliotherapy in schools has the advantages over other all programs in that it can be infinitely tailored to meet the needs of almost any student, can be practiced anywhere at any time, can be practiced alone or in a group, can be practiced at any age, can be self-directed, is a lifelong skill and the resources necessary to implement Developmental Bibliotherapy are already abundant in most schools.
I’d love for you to come and meet me during my PD seminar presentation at the Education Show, 30 and 31 August 2019 at the MCEC.
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Stajkovic, Alex. “Alex Stajkovic Confidence and Performance Talk.” YouTube, 13 May 2016, youtu.be/cXoR3gDn-18. Accessed 9 Aug. 2019.
Stajkovic, Alexander D. “Development of a Core Confidence-Higher Order Construct.” Journal of Applied Psychology, vol. 91, no. 6, 2006, pp. 1208–1224, pdfs.semanticscholar.org/62ba/365df6fd08e951869d1a29a6272e290008a6.pdf, 10.1037/0021-9010.91.6.1208. Accessed 9 Aug. 2019.
Zakrzewski, Vicki. “How to Help Students Develop Hope.” Greater Good, 2012, greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_to_help_students_develop_hope. Accessed 9 Aug. 2019.