Psychological capacities as applied to real life

I just spent 12 minutes engaged in something I found profoundly beautiful. It was also a teaching moment. Usually, I write about ideas associated with business and careers. However, after I watched this brief video about Alice, I thought it was worth digressing and sharing Alice with you. Alice will be 107 years old this month and she plays piano every day. She explains that “music is her life,” and has a penchant for Beethoven (“He is miracle,” she exclaims). Alice was fortunate to find her passion early in life and became a well-known concert pianist in Prague in the 1940s.

Watch even 5 minutes of this video and it will be apparent that Alice is a happy person. “I love people; I’m interested in the life of other people,” she explains. Later she shares, “Every day we’re here is beautiful.” Further, she explains, that she never hates, instead sharing the wisdom accumulated over so many years, “Hatred brings only hatred.” What you may be surprised to learn is that Alice is the world’s oldest Holocaust survivor; her musical talent helped save her life and the life of her son.  For me, her story is expansive. Watching this video, I noticed that Alice employs what Fred Luthans (2002) referred to as four psychological capacities (PsyCap): Optimism, Resilience, Self-efficacy and Hope.

I have written about these four capacities in relation to Positive Organizational Behavior in a previous blog post. Yet the teachable moment occurred when I realized that Alice embodies how these capacities can play a significant role in someone’s life outside the workplace. Alice was born with an optimistic disposition. “I was born with a very good optimism,” she claims. However, she also displays an optimistic style, as defined by Luthans and his colleagues: those with the capacity of optimism consider the causes and consequences of positive and negative events before celebrating success and externalizing failures. This capacity likely played a role in Alice’s life as a concert pianist prior to WWII and during her time in the concentration camp. Self-efficacy refers to trusting one’s abilities to complete a task successfully. Certainly, Alice used this capacity as she performed! Resiliency is the ability to be flexible and adaptive in situations of change and uncertainty and to rebound from adversities. It can be said that not only did Alice (and her son) survive the concentration camp, but she was able to rebound and thrive in her life following those years. The last capacity (but not least) is hope. Based on C.R. Snyder’s theory of hope, it is developed through a sense of empowerment to achieve goals and through the development of pathways that allow for contingencies when encountering obstacles. Alice assures us that for her, music provided hope.

Think about times in your life when you are able to use these four elements of PsyCap. While much has been written about them in relation to the workplace, I bet there have been moments outside of work when all four capacities helped you through a difficult time or provided the momentum needed to move forward in your life on an unknown path. Take note of these times and recognize these capacities are available to you now and in the future.