Appreciative Inquiry and the Constructionist Principle: Give Your Brain a Workout by Alexandra Arnold
Just like we keep our bodies healthy with regular exercise, why not get our brain in shape? You may be familiar with self-fulling prophecies, the Placebo effect, or the Halo effect. All are well researched tricks that our brain plays on us such that our beliefs directly impact our reality. Appreciative Inquiry (AI) - a philosophy, a methodology, and truly, a way of life - builds on the plasticity of our brain to do just that: develop positive mind muscles. AI is made of 5 core principles: The Constructionist Principle, the Poetic Principle, the Simultaneity Principle, the Anticipatory Principle, and the Positive Principle. In this blog, we’ll delve into the fundamentals of The Constructionist Principle.
The Constructionist Principle is the foundation of Appreciative Inquiry that states that the way we know is fateful. In other words, we create our own reality and see the world through our unique lenses based on our experience, beliefs, values, traditions, and assumptions.The way we interpret situations and conversations for example, determines our response, either positive or negative, constructive or destructive. With our reactions, we shape our future, immediate and long term.
Reality is co-created. What changes our views are our interactions with others, as well as the conversations we have with ourselves. We are constantly influenced by others, whether we like it or not. This is not only true about family members, teachers, or colleagues, but also anyone we make eye contact with (or not), exchange a smile with (or not), or hold the door for (or not). Communication, verbal and nonverbal, plays a major role in the reality that we create for ourselves. The good news is that since we construct our reality, we have a choice to construct it the way we want it. We are active players in our life stories.
Words create worlds. According to the Constructionist Principle, not only do we construct our reality, but we can reconstruct it: by using different words to tell our stories, we have the power to change the past. There are endless possibilities to create new understanding and meaning of events long gone. How we modify our interpretation of the past will set in motions changes in who we are and what we believe in the present. This principle reminds us that nothing is fixed and that everything, including ourselves, continuously changes as we interact with others in the world, even if those shifts are so subtle that we don’t notice them.
Truth is local. It’s easy to forget that we are all connected and that we have that much control. It’s easy to stop questioning our reality and start believing that our truth is THE truth, which can be dangerous. It is tempting to believe that experts hold THE truth or that numbers don’t lie. But science is not perfect. Even data needs to be selected, gathered, and interpreted. This is not to say that our beliefs and those shared by our communities are not valid. They are actually necessary pillars of our society - and keeping us sane. But it does mean that they are not absolute, and that everyone’s unique view deserves consideration. The thought of an infinite number of opinions is quite overwhelming, but not if we choose to see others and their differences as opportunities for learning and growth instead of threats.
The Constructionist Principle invites us to grow self-awareness instead of living on autopilot. It empowers us with the realization that every moment, every word, intonation, and body language can change the direction of our future. It reminds us that questioning our assumptions is a way to expand our knowledge. It suggests that being genuinely open to another’s reality is what makes us better listeners and builds deeper relationships. It challenges us to regain the curiosity of children.
Ready to go to the brain gym? Short and easy exercises to incorporate these principles into our personal and professional lives are available in Jackie Kelm’s book The Joy of Appreciative Living. Jacqueline Stavros and Cheri Torres also offer practical advice in Dynamic Relationships: Unleashing the Power of Appreciative Inquiry in Daily Living. Check out VT Chapter ATD’s blog again for future blogs on the four other AI principles.