Optimal Fraternity Experience

Cornerstones 2.0 reflects a rethinking of how we interact with the program.  Along with Cornerstones 2.0 comes a revised mission statement to guide our activities.

A mission statement answers the questions: “What do we do?” “For whom do we do it?” “What is the impact?”

The re-written Mission Statement of Cornerstones is:
To create & foster the optimal fraternity experience* for every individual member of Acacia Fraternity by providing an environment that promotes continual self-development, accountability to shared goals, and standards for personal conduct. The resulting outcome is graduating seniors who are able to articulate the positive impact of Acacia Fraternity in their lives, as well as their plans for staying involved as an alumni member.

* “Optimal Fraternity Experience 

The idea of the “optimal fraternity experience” is a combination of two ideas.

1. from a question that Darold Larson likes to ask undergraduates – “Are you having a good fraternity experience?”

  • Generally speaking, if you have a “good fraternity experience”, it is much more likely that you will stay involved as an alumni in some manner at some point.  This is what we’re going for.
  • If you have a “bad fraternity experience”, it is likely that you will not want to be involved as an alumni, and therefore might never get to fully realize the positive impact that the fraternity could have in your life.

2. from the book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

In the book, optimal experience, or “flow” is defined as:

the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it”.

“Flow” is also described in the book as being the same phenomenon as when athletes are “in the Zone”.

One of the characteristics of Flow is that you lose a sense of time passing – or in other words, you are so engaged in doing whatever you’re doing that a 2-hour timeframe seems to pass by in 20 minutes.

How Flow Theory Relates to Cornerstones & Your Goals / Ambitions / Objectives

The Cornerstones Personal Development Plan document is intended to help you define & refine your own ideas & beliefs about what is most important to you in your life.

This is the first substantive step recommended for any pledge or member (& even for alumni!)

This first step is so vital because ultimately it is best for you to be working towards goals or objectives that are personally meaningful to you.

Flow Theory

(description copied verbatim from Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Harper Perennial Modern Classics; 1ST edition – July 1, 2008)

The essential steps to get into Flow are:

  1. to set an overall goal, and as many  subgoals as are realistically feasible;
  2. to find ways of  measuring progress in terms of the goals chosen;
  3. to keep  concentrating on what one is doing, and to keep making  finer and finer distinctions in the challenges involved in the  activity;
  4. to develop the skills necessary to interact with  the opportunities available; and
  5. to keep raising the stakes  if the activity becomes boring (or if you reach your goal)

So What? 

Glad you asked.  The goal is to get to a place where every member of your chapter could answer positively to Brother Larson’s question: “Are you having a good fraternity experience?”  
There are, of course, a number of elements that contribute to the answer of this question – but I would humbly suggest that if every member of your chapter were to complete the Cornerstones Personal Development Plan, do all of the exercises within, every one would be that much closer to living their ideal life.  At the very least, each member would know what they are intending to do in their life.
The idea is that once you have completed your Cornerstones Personal Development Plan all you would need to do each semester is review your values, visionmission / purpose statment, strengths, then re-define your goals & action plans for the upcoming semester.

Questions for You – Leave a Comment

What do you think of this idea of “optimal fraternity experience?”   Is it attainable?  What would it take to attain it?

Response-Ability Determines Growth

It is not what happens to you, but how you react that matters.” – Epictetus

The Inner Gate of Change

You are ultimately responsible for your own growth & development.

You are the only person who can make the decision, for you, to choose to participate in the Cornerstones Program.

Here are a couple of quotes that are relevant to everyone’s personal development:

No one can persuade another to change.  Each of us guards a gate of change that can only be opened from the inside.  We cannot open the gate of another, either by argument or emotional appeal.” – Marilyn Ferguson, American author, educator, & public speaker

I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestioned ability of a man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor.” – Henry David Thoreau – US Transcendentalist author (1817 – 1862)

The quote above reflects a mindset (or paradigm or perspective) that believes in the ability of every human to choose their response to the events that happen in their lives, regardless of what those events are.

Formula for Taking Response-Ability

In a book that I have frequently mentioned, The Success Principles, author Jack Canfield puts this principle first and foremost of all of the 64 principles discussed in that book.  He calls it “Take 100% Responsibility for Your Life”, and he provides a simple formula to help illustrate this point.

E + R = O (or Event + Response = Outcome)

The explanation from the book follows:

“The basic idea is that every outcome you experience in life (whether it is success or failure, joy or frustration) is the result of how you have responded to an earlier event or events in your life.  If you don’t like the outcomes you are currently getting, there are two basic choices you can make:

  1. You can blame the event (E) for your lack of results (O).  In other words, you can blame the economy, the weather, the lack of money, your lack of education, the current administration in Washington, your bosses attitude, and so on…  No doubt all of these factors do exist, but if they were the deciding factor, nobody would ever succeed.
  2. You can instead simply change your responses (R) to the events (E) – the way things are – until you get the outcomes (O) you want.  You can change your thinking, change your communication, change the pictures you hold in your head (your images of yourself & the world) – and you can change your behavior – the things you do.  That is all you really have control over anyway… Everything you think, say & do needs to become intentional & aligned with your purpose, your values, & your goals.”

What will your choice be? 

No one is going to hold you accountable for your own growth & development if you don’t hold yourself accountable first.  You must make the choice and say,

  • “You know what?  I’m going to work on my time management skills so that I can achieve at a higher level”, or
  • “Alright that’s it, I’m going to learn about the best way to run a group meeting so that I don’t have to waste so much time just trying to make a decision”, or
  • “There’s just got to be a better way to give a speech than the way I’ve been doing it – I’m going to do some research & incorporate what I learn.”

That’s all that Cornerstones represents.  As I mentioned in a previous post – if your response to Cornerstones is something along the lines of “Man that s^%# isn’t gonna make a difference in my life”, then you are exactly right.

And likewise if your response to Cornerstones is “Hmmm, there might be something here for me, I’m going to just try it out by completing the Cornerstones Personal Development Plan, and see what happens…”  You will get a different Outcome or result than the member in the first example.

Take responsibility to achieve the outcomes that you want by refusing to resort to blaming or complaining.  Anytime you feel like blaming or complaining, stop & ask yourself : “What kind of response from me would lead me in the direction of the outcome I’m shooting for?”  Listen to your inner voice, and do what that voice says!

Get Wisdom Book List

Get Wisdom Book List –

At the 2011 Acacia Leadership Academy, I spoke on the subject of  Cornerstones 2.0.  In another post, I explain Cornerstones 2.0.

At the request of several of the ALA participants, I am publishing a list of a few of the books that I have read over the past few years, in my own search for knowledge, wisdom & understanding.  I’ve listed what I consider to be the “Top 7”.  I’ll continue to add to this list as time goes on & I read more.

Now, I should mention that I am one of those individuals who enjoys reading text.  If reading is not your thing, most (if not all) of these are available on audiobook, so you could listen to them while you work out, walk to class, etc.

Without further ado, here is the list of books, ranked according to what I consider to be their relevance to Cornerstones:

1) The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Restoring the Character Ethic by Stephen Covey & The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness by Stephen Covey.  The first book is probably the most influential & widely-read personal development book of the past half-century (at least).  Both books are mentioned here because they flow together.  Many of the exercises or ideas used in Cornerstones 2.0 were discovered in one or both of these books.

2) The Success Principles: How to Get From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be by Jack Canfield.  Compiled & written by one of the biggest success stories in the current age, this book is packed full of nuggets of wisdom that have the potential to help anyone along their path to realizing their dreams.  Canfield is also one of the most widely-respected personalities in the field of personal development, having co-authored the hugely successful Chicken Soup for the Soul series.

3) The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal by Jim Loehr & Tony Schwartz.  This book turns the whole idea of “time management” on its head and suggests that the most important aspect of your life to manage is your level of personal energy, while successfully oscillating back & forth between energy expenditure & energy renewal.  The authors use much research from the world of top athletes & top industry leaders who achieve peak performance to provide a template & gameplan for how we can all structure our days to achieve heightened levels of joy & performance.  The Corporate Athlete Training Program & Personal Development Plan template specified in this book are being used by Acacia Fraternity for the purposes of Cornerstones, with permission of the Human Performance Institute.  Check out this video for an explanation of their view of “Energy vs. Time”.

4) How to Get an “A” in Life: The Seven Pillars of Achievement by John Dudeck & Diane Dudeck.  John Dudeck is an Acacia Brother from the Indiana Chapter, who recently presented at the 2011 Acacia Leadership Academy.  John & his wife, Diane, have created a clear framework in The Seven Pillars of Achievement that is an ideal system for making decisions in our life based on Wisdom.  The Seven Pillars (Faith, Integrity, Attitude, Discipline, Relationships, Growth, & Balance) are a relevant framework that our members can use as their “moral compass” while making some of life’s most important decisions.

5) Strengths-Based Leadership by Tom Rath & Barry Conchie.  This book is one of the latest in a series of books that originates from research completed by the Gallup Organization over the past 50 years, and it includes a powerful StrengthsFinder 2.0 assessment that, when completed, will summarize your Top 5 Strengths, as well as provide ideas about how best to put your strengths to work.  There are a number of books in this Strengths-Based series, and all of them could be relevant to you, however this one on Strengths-Based Leadership is particularly relevant to Cornerstones & Acacia Fraternity.

6) Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen (not Acacia’s Dave Allen), here’s a link to his company’s website.    His website does a great job of describing GTD (Getting Things Done).  His model for workflow mastery has redefined how I live my life, how I process information, how I plan to complete projects.  A lot of what he recommends is very logical & will make perfect sense to you – almost as if you already know this information.  I highly recommend this book & the process described within to any member of Acacia, and especially to new executive officers who might feel overwhelmed by all of the various responsibilities associated with your role.

7) The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination & Enjoying Guilt-Free Play by Neil Fiore, Ph.D.  A further description can be found here.   This book has had a huge impact on how I “talk to myself” in order to motivate myself to take action on the following: things that a part of me may not want to do (i.e. “exercise daily”), & large projects with distant, looming deadlines (i.e. “implement Cornerstones”).  The ideas contained in this book were, and continue to be, nothing short of revolutionary for my ability to focus on the most important things in my life, avoid procrastination, and feel a sense of progress on large projects.

How to Apply Any of These Books within the context of Cornerstones: 

Step 1: Set a goal related to reading books on the subject of personal development.  For example, my goal is to read at least 1 hour per day on the subject of personal development.

Step 2: Read the book.

Step 3: Take notes & do the exercises that the authors recommend.  Keep a file folder on your computer (or a notebook/binder) with word processing documents in which you take notes or do the exercises.

Step 4: Get Better at Stuff.  You will undoubtedly improve & develop based on the extend to which you engage with this kind of material.  Sometimes progress will be immediately obvious, sometimes it will be more “slow & steady” – but just the fact that you are continually working on “getting better” will lead you to improvements that you can’t imagine at this point.

Step 5: Repeat.

3 Pillars of Cornerstones

Three pillars

The “Three Pillars” of Cornerstones define “what you must have in place in your life in order to participate fully in the program.”

So we could just as easily call the “Three Pillars” by another name such as:

  • the Three Non-Negotiables of Cornerstones, or
  • the Minimum Standards of Cornerstones, or
  • the Basic Working Parts of Cornerstones
* image used by permission of this license

The “Three Pillars” of Cornerstones as related to an individual member of Acacia are to have :

1. A Growth Mindset (aka growth attitude, growth perspective, or growth paradigm)

2. An Organized Plan

3. A Demonstration of Your Achievement/Efforts (in some form)


  • Pillar One:  A Growth Mindset

In the book Influencer, by Kerry Patterson, he and his co-authors describe the importance of having a growth mindset, as opposed to a fixed mindset.

  • Growth mindset – to learn how to develop a set of high-level learning skills and techniques, to strive for continual learning
  • Fixed mindset – if one believes they cannot improve, then they won’t even try, and he’ll create a self-fulfilling prophecy, and as a result will not grow
  • these definitions come directly from the book Influencer by Kerry Patterson, which you can check out here.

In our usage here, “mindset” could also be interpreted as: “attitude“, “perspective“, or “paradigm“.

Each member either has a “growth mindset” or a “fixed mindset” when it comes to his own personal development.

To paraphrase the definition of a “growth mindset”, it is “learning how to developlearning skills“.

Brain mechanism
Having a growth mindset is the first step in realizing that there is a whole world of learning & discovery out there for you, but you must have the awareness and the humility to readily accept that fact, then go about the business of learning what you need to learn in order to get where you want to go.

* image used by permission of this license

Here’s a couple of examples of what a “fixed mindset” might sound like:

  • “Dude, I don’t need to do that Cornerstones stuff, I’m already learning as much as I can in my classes.”
  • “No way, I’m not spending even more time learning skills, I’m already totally swamped with academics.”
  • “All that personal development stuff is just fluff.  There’s really nothing for me in those lessons or activities.”

  • Pillar Two:  An Organized Plan

Organized Planning only happens if you already have a Growth Mindset.  You now have the attitude and ability to learn new skills and techniques.  Now it’s time to talk about your Goals and your Plan to reach those goals.

By completing the Cornerstones Personal Development Plan, you will identify and state your personal Strengths, Values, and Life Purpose/Mission/Definition of Success.  Once you have clarified those aspects, it is your responsibility to identify Goals/Objectives to work toward in the short-term and long-term.

There are many methodologies, guidelines, or frameworks within which a person can complete this sort of reflection and planning.  The framework that we are going to use in this document is based on exercises in the following books:

Once you have completed this introspection and reflection, it is your responsibility to transfer your plans into a format that will be useful to you, and that will be helpful to you in pursuing your goals/objectives.  One might consider using:
Atmail6-Calendar

    • a calendar (online or print)
    • a planner
    • an online task manager or to-do list manager
    • a Word document or Excel spreadsheet

Get the point?  Make it your own.  Do it your way, just make sure you do it.


  • Pillar Three:  Demonstration of Your Achievement / Efforts

The mission of Cornerstones states “The resulting outcome (of program participation) is graduating seniors who are able to articulate the positive impact of Acacia Fraternity in their lives, as well as their plans for staying involved as an alumni member.”

The whole point of Cornerstones is to prepare you to be able to articulate, or explain, or demonstrate the journey of personal development that you have been on in your life.

The whole point of Cornerstones is NOT to get you to complete a checklist of activities, but rather to “get you in shape to be the leader whom you are becoming, or the leader that you want to be.”

At some point, you have to demonstrate your participation and engagement with the program by creating something external that other people can experience.

Once you have completed your development activities, it is your responsibility to document your achievement and reflect on your progress in a format that can be communicated to others.  One might consider using:

    • your ACACIAconnect account
    • a Word document or Excel spreadsheet
    • a blog site
    • an ePortfolio

Get the point?  Make it your own.  Do it your way, just make sure you do it.

A Final Word on Reflection – Reflection includes taking some time to reflect on what you’ve just done, and reset for future action.  This could also be described as self-monitoring or self-observation.  This is closely related to tracking your progress in some way (GatesofSamos.org, on paper, on a blog, etc.).  Reflection can be done by simply answering the following questions:

      • “What?” – What did you just do, learn, or experience?
      • “So What?” – What is the relevance to your life?
      • “Now What?” – What will you now do with this new knowledge, awareness, or experience?