Are you a Fableweaver?

Sour Grapes

You would be sour too if you lived in such a crowded space.

Have you heard of the term “sour grapes”?

It came from one of Aesop’s Fables, which always had a simple and powerful message lightly hidden in a story about animals. It was a very effective and memorable method of storytelling (and that could be another discussion all by itself). One of my favourites was the Fox and the Grapes. A fox sees some grapes high up in a tree, can’t figure out how to get them, so he decides they must have been sour and that he never really wanted them anyways. This is where the term “sour grapes” originates.

The fox really did want the grapes, he just couldn’t live with the fact that he either wasn’t smart or skilled enough to get to them, or that he will go grapeless and unfulfilled. Aesop wasn’t the only one weaving fables. The fox created one too – that the grapes were not worth his effort.

This story is a shining example of the concept of cognitive dissonance. This concept explains the stories that we tell ourselves, and how we justify our actions in the face of conflicting values or information. This is one of the largest drivers of human behaviour and thinking. To me, it can explain more in the world than any other single psychological or sociological concept. Our minds are designed to confirm what we already know, protect us from feeling like we’re wrong and to avoid carrying two opposing views.

So we develop our own fables to make us feel better. The title of this post is a trick question – we are all Fableweavers! We are built for it. Most of it happens subconsciously, so we don’t even realize we’re doing it. In the case of a fox in deep denial about his desire for delicious fruit, there’s no real harm done.

However, these stories we tell ourselves might create situations where we dodge accountability, ignore evidence of real problems, or are prevented from achieving our best – because we’re not being honest with ourselves.

Let’s apply this to a scenario in the charitable fundraising world:

Statement 1: Our organization values our relationship with donors
Statement 2: If our donors feel valued, they will continue to give
Statement 3: We are losing 30% of our existing donors each year, and the sector average is 10%
Conclusion: Something really isn’t right here. Maybe our donors aren’t feeling valued.

If you don’t draw the conclusion that something is wrong (which you really should given those numbers!), it might be because you are telling yourself one of these many possible fables:

  • Our donors are happy, it’s just a tough economy so we’re going to lose a lot of them no matter what
  • We’re not actually losing 30% overall if you factor in the new ones that come in
  • The ones that are leaving were going to leave anyway and there was nothing we could do
  • Donors feel valued, but there are other things out of our control going wrong
  • Other charities are using gimmicks to keep their donors, which we don’t believe in doing

  • Cognitive dissonance is very powerful at masking parts of reality. All of these stories could prevent you or your organization from taking the action you need to make things better. In the case above, for example, talking to your donors to see how they feel, and then implementing strategies to serve them better. Without acknowledgement of what is wrong, you will likely keep doing the same thing.

    Here are some ways you can deal with cognitive dissonance:

  • Acknowledge that you are a Fableweaver – Simply being aware that this thought process happens, and understanding how it affects your behaviour can help pull some of the subconscious thinking to the front of your mind.
  • Give yourself regular reality checks – Continually challenge yourself when you feel like you have made up your mind about something. Maybe your mind has laid a false stake in the ground.
  • Don’t ignore real problems – Acknowledging the issues is the first step leading to great change. Telling yourself a story and ignoring issues can make small issues into bigger ones.
  • Recognize that others are Fableweavers too – When you recognize that others are doing this, you can put yourself in their shoes and attempt to figure out what they are telling themselves to justify their actions, and act accordingly.

  • Cognitive dissonance can be self-protective, and it’s not always a bad thing – we don’t want to become paralyzed thinking about all of the ways our actions or our organization’s actions don’t always match our values. As human beings, we are all walking contradictions! What is important is being honest with ourselves, especially when it really counts.

    Go get those grapes – they are as sweet as ever!

    Constant Questions: What examples do you have of stories you have told yourself? Looking back, how might you have handled a situation differently if you knew the stories you created in your mind? How could you make cognitive dissonance work in your favour? Do foxes actually eat grapes? (Sidenote: I checked, and they do.) Have you read the Grapes of Wrath? (Sidenote 2: It has nothing to do with grapes.)


    2 simple and powerful New Year’s resolutions

    Funny but unfortunately, true.

    Funny but unfortunately, true.

    How many of you amazing people out there set New Year’s resolutions?

    Follow-up question one week into the year: How many of you have already fallen off, let go or given up on at least one of them?

    Before you start beating yourself up, you are not alone! As little as 8% of people are successful in achieving their resolutions. These are good, honest, decent folk who I’m sure have other goals in life that they smash regularly. The difference? Those other goals were well-thought out and very specific.

    When resolutions start to break, for many of us, our minds wander to thoughts that we don’t have enough willpower or self-discipline, and we foster general self-doubt. There is definitely willpower at play in achieving your resolutions, but that is only part of the puzzle. Sometimes the issue is with the way that the goal was set in the first place. Many well-intentioned and enthusiastic keeners give in to the power and pressure of the New Year’s Resolution Propaganda Machine and quickly set goals which are destined to be an uphill battle.

    There isn't actually a New Year's Resolution Propaganda Machine, but if there was, I think it would look like this.

    Artist’s rendition of the New Year’s Resolution Propaganda Machine.

    Here are some proven ideas on setting better goals and what you can do to stick to them:

  • Frame your goal in the positive. At the risk of offending English teachers across the world with a blatant double-negative: You can’t “not” do something, you can only do something.
  • Stop trying and just do. The word “try” is toxic for goals. You have already allowed the idea of not achieving your goal to creep into your mind.
  • Be specific. If you’re vague, you’ll have no way of knowing that you’ve succeeded.
  • Don’t take on the world on the first day. A series of small changes towards a larger goal trumps an attempt to make one massive change all at once.
  • Put your goals out to the world. People who explicitly state their resolutions are up to 10 times likelier to achieve them than those who don’t. Express them to yourself and to others around you to hold you accountable.
  • Automate and create habits. The less you have to fight the mental battle to stick to your resolutions, the better. Do anything you can to create built-in, regular, non-negotiable routines in your day or week, and then it’s harder to talk your way out of doing what you need to do. Also, after a few weeks, doing anything regularly helps in forming a habit, and you are on your way to more long-term change!

  • So a goal like “I will try to stop avoiding going to the gym more often” goes through the super goal turbocharger process and ends up as a much mighter “I will work out at the gym or run for 30 minutes, 3 times a week in 2013.” Ideally, you’ve also told your family, friends, co-workers, Twitter, Pinterest and the neighbour’s German Shepherd, Brutus, to help you stay in line.

    Here are just 2 simple goals that I feel are realistic for all of us. To avoid that pesky goal ambiguity that kills goals before they start, I have offered a very specific and measurable challenge for you.

    Smile more

  • Smiling biologically makes you feel better – the facial feedback hypothesis says smiling isn’t just the byproduct of feeling good, but by smiling, you will feel good. It’s part of the wiring of our brains.
  • Smile even when you’re on the phone – the person on the other end will feel it.
  • It’s contagious. You can trigger happiness in people up to 3 degrees of separation away.
  • You can live longer. Baseball players smiling in their baseball cards in 1952 lived 7 years longer than those who weren’t smiling!
  • 2013 Smile Challenge: Consciously trigger a smile 5 times a day.

    Show more gratitude

  • You could build a stronger network. People who are more grateful have been found to have more social capital.
  • Gratitude can improve your general wellbeing, from getting better sleep to reducing feelings of anxiety.
  • A little bit can go a long way. Jotting down what you are grateful for every day for 3 weeks can have a lasting and positive effect months later.
  • Even the army is using gratitude to help give mental toughness to their new recruits
  • 2013 Gratitude Challenge: Track your gratitude – 3 times a week, log 3 things you are grateful for, why you deserve them and your role in making them happen.

    Constant Questions: Will you take the challenge to smile more and show more gratitude? What resolutions did you set this year? A few days into the new year, how are you doing with them? What advice do you have for others to help them set and achieve goals and resolutions? Did you know that when you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you? Didn’t the Beatles write a song about a resolution? Well, you know…

    I will leave you with this amazing TED Talk to inspire you about the power of Resolution # 1 – smiling!

    Thanks for reading!