Friday, February 15, 2013

Balancing reward-based vs. threat-based tendencies

This survey comes from the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain.

You a reward-oriented person if the following statements are mostly true for you:
1. When I get something I want, I feel excited and energized.
2. When I want something, I usually go all out to get it.
3. When I see an opportunity for something I like, I get excited right away.
4. When good things happen to me, it affects me strongly.
5. I have very few fears compared to my friends.

You are a threat-oriented person if you agree with the following statements:
1. Criticism or scolding hurts me quite a bit.
2. I feel pretty worried or upset when I think or know somebody is angry at me.
3. If I think something unpleasant is going to happen, I usually get pretty "worked up".
4. I feel worried when I think I have done poorly at something important.
5. I worry about making mistakes.

All 5 statements for threat-oriented traits apply to me. I'm so worried about making mistakes or something bad will happen to me that I don't always dare to pursue something I want. I monitor myself so carefully that I don't dare to try anything that I haven't tried before or that anybody warns me not to do (regardless of how irrelevant the warning is to me).

My personality does not jive well with my upbringing - I went into science because my mother bought me a lot of books on science - biographies of famous scientists such as Einstein, Thomas Edison, and Marie Curie (although she was hoping I would become a medical doctor). I dare to travel to random countries because my mother used to - without explaining to me or reassuring me beforehand - just place me in random summer camps that seemed just as foreign and scary to me as say, Somalia and Afghanistan (although in her mind there's nothing to be fearful about because she actually knew what the camps entailed about and who organized the events. She didn't feel the need to explain anything to me). I was told that I shouldn't touch business and commerce because of my personality, so I actually believed that I am not capable enough to ever try to understand how the business world works. If I weren't pushed to try out an activity (and I got placed into many extracurricular activities without being notified beforehand), I didn't gather up enough courage to sign up for something I really wanted to learn myself because I got the impression that I could not trust my own judgement to decide anything for myself.

It just seems really unfortunate to go through life being warned the whole time that the world is a dangerous place full of people that cannot be trusted, when I already set up so many stops and checks for myself as long as I can remember. What I really needed all along were reassurance, trust, support, and encouragement. I did NOT need more restrictions, rules, notions that led me to believe I am not outgoing enough to try x, or that it's too dangerous for me to attempt y. Now that I look back, I've been raised with contradictory values - I gain critical thinking skills from my education, but I'm only supposed to be as good as the direct knowledge transmitted to me from my classes (ie. my field of major) and I should never step out of line to try something else. I think this has been the source of my inner struggles.

It's a challenge for me right now to feel comfortable in a foreign country, to make new friends and to feel competent at my new position. I need to learn to shift from feeling really nervous and "worked up" about my life to feeling "excited and energized" about the opportunity I've been given. Sounds easy to say, "Just make that mental shift! Right now!" but in reality it hasn't been easy at all. I will keep working on it though.


  1. Very nice post. Thank you for sharing.

    In Sweden, Friday and Saturday nights are good for making friends. ;) I lived in Sweden for about 14 months. I studied at Chalmers University, Gothenburg.

    1. Thanks for the tips Zee! I will try harder I guess.