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!

Jumpstart Cornerstones at Your Chapter

10 Actions to Jumpstart Cornerstones at Your Chapter (Active Members)

1 ) Have every member complete the Cornerstones Personal Development Plan. Schedule a time for the members of your chapter (& pledges if applicable) to complete the personal development plan template provided by Acacia HQ.  Or just share the url with all of your members & set a timeframe within which it is to be completed.

2 ) Post everyone’s personal goals in a public location, whether that be in your chapter house, or online through GoogleDocs, or ACACIAconnect.org, or individual blog sites for each member.   Knowing each other’s goals will make it easier to support each other, as well as reveal to each other what we consider to be the most important aspects of our lives.  Some may hesitate to make their goals public, and that’s ok.  Some may want to keep some goals private, and that’s ok also.  If members are not willing to share their goals, at least ask that they share their Values, as written out in the Values Clarification exercise in the Cornerstones Personal Development Plan.

3) Implement weekly Accountability Group meetings. Schedule times for 5 – 6  members with similar goals (or similar grade levels) to have a brief meeting, during which everyone has a chance to discuss their progress on their current goals.  In the book The Success Principles, author Jack Canfield calls this a “MasterMind meeting”, and recommends the following 7 steps.

Group at ALA '11

  1. Ask for Spiritual Guidance by Delivering an Invocation (use Bless Now Acacia, or this book suggests something along these lines: “We ask now to be filled & surrounded with light, and our hearts be open to receive guidance from the higher power.”)
  2. Share What’s New & Good (in terms of making progress toward your goals)
  3. Negotiate for Time (determine how much time each group member will have for the focus to be on them)
  4. Individual Members Speak While the Group Listens & Brainstorms Solutions (remember – in brainstorming there are no “bad ideas” – keep your mind open)
  5. Make a Commitment to Stretch (once each member gains feedback, ask each member to verbally commit to a next action to move him forward & the commitment should be a stretch)
  6. End with a Moment of Gratitude (go around and have each member express one thing he appreciates about each other person in the group)
  7. Be Accountable (at next meeting, simply ask “Did each member take action?  Did they achieve their goal?”).
  • (this content was paraphrased from pages 310 – 312 in The Success Principles by Jack Canfield, published by Harper Collins Publishers, 2005)

4 ) Implement an Accountability Partner system by which each member (that is interested in participating) has a partner with whom they “check in” each day simply to talk about successes they have had in reaching their goals and their plans for next action steps to continue to move toward their goals.  Also in The Success Principles, author Jack Canfield suggests that “The key to a successful accountability relationship is choosing someone who is as excited about reaching his or her goal as you are about reaching yours – someone who is committed to your success and theirs.” (from page 313 of The Success Principles, published by Harper Collins Publishers, 2005)

5 ) Survey the entire chapter to discover topics of interest for “educational/developmental presentations”, compile the results, then use all of your resources to schedule presentations that are relevant to the topics of interest.  You can use the Survey or Poll functions through your ACACIAconnect.org account for this purpose.  Simply navigate to the Tools menu from your ACACIAconnect.org Dashboard, select Survey or Polls, follow the instructions & share with your chapter members.

6 ) Discover opportunities hosted by university community.  Find out if your university (or the Student Union Board, or the Student Body, or the Campus Activities office, or the Career Center) schedules & hosts any expert speakers that would fulfill any of the above-mentioned topics of interest. If so, publicize the event to the chapter and encourage members to go.  Hold a brief discussion afterwards to hone in on key points made during presentation, by asking these basic questions that could be used to reflect on any development activity:

  1. “What?” – as in “What experience did you just have?”
  2. “So What?” – as in “How is this experience relevant to you?”
  3. “Now What?” – as in “What will you do now that you have this new knowledge, experience, mindset, or perspective?”

eNewsletter example

7 ) Publish an eNewsletter to send out to alumni in which you provide brief bios of each of the members of your chapter, including which of the members are currently looking for internship or employment opportunities.  Each chapter is encouraged to work with Acacia Headquarters to create eNewsletters to be sent out to you alumni – or you can take this into your own hands & just get it done.  If you are interested in creating & distributing eNewsletters, please contact Keith Bushey at kbushey@acacia.org

8 ) Use your alumni as resources.  Use the results of your earlier survey to discover topics of interest for “educational/developmental presentations”, and publish a list of topics in your eNewsletter (or on your chapter website) that the chapter is interested in.  Once you get this list published, recruit alumni members to deliver educational presentations on one of the following topics (or any other you’re interested in):

  • Time Management
  • Goal Setting
  • Job Search
  • How to Find a Mentor
  • Things I Wish I Knew When I Was in College
  • Financial Management
  • or any other topic that the chapter is interested in

9 ) Build your “Cornerstones Library”.  Create a “wish list for a Cornerstones Library”, then do whatever you have to do to bring it to life, and use the contents of the Cornerstones library for the personal development of chapter members. Do some research to find out about any books or training materials that meet the topics of interest (mentioned above) in terms of utilizing them for Cornerstones discussions/activities. If you’re having trouble deciding which books to select, take a look at a previous post for some ideas.  For example, let’s say you wanted to purchase copies of The Success Principles for all members of your chapter, and that you were able to do that.  Those books could then be used in the Accountability Group structure, by assigning the reading of sections of the book to Accountability Group members, then focusing on those sections during your meetings.  All you would need to do is ask yourself: “What did everyone discover in the assigned section?”, “How is that relevant to your life situation?”, and “What will you do now that you have this new knowledge?”

10 ) Take responsibility and ownership for your own development, bring along any brothers who are interested, and don’t waste time trying to motivate members who just aren’t motivated to work on their personal development.  This may be difficult to understand, but you cannot change another person.  Change only happens from within that individual.  You can do your best to inform your members of opportunities that are available, and inform them of what you are doing in your own life, and the benefits that you are seeing as a result.  Cornerstones is about commitment, not compliance.  We are interested in working together with other brothers that are committed to their own development.  We are not interested in telling brothers that they “have to” participate in Cornerstones, because that will automatically set up resistance in their mind, which will make it harder for them to commit.  Work on your own sphere of influence – your own thoughts, ideas, and attitudes.  Let your actions speak for you.  Let others see a change in you, and soon they will be asking how you are doing what you’re doing.

The Voice of the Knowledge Worker

Cover of "The 8th Habit: From Effectivene...
Cover via Amazon

One of the most successful books in the area of personal development is The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, as mentioned in my previous post.  Covey published a follow-up book called The 8th Habit, in which he talks about humans in the current Knowledge Worker Age (or Information Age), which has replaced the Industrial Age and all of its now outdated ways of doing things.

The primary assumption is that the world has fundamentally shifted, and the old ways of getting results that worked in the Industrial Age will no longer suffice. For example, companies and organizations can no longer treat employees like “things” and still expect them to be loyal to the company.

In this new paradigm, it is essential that we look at humans in a new way as well.  The Knowledge Worker Age is based on another assumption or perspective called the Whole Person Paradigm, wherein each human is seen as having 4 dimensions: body, mind, heart, & spirit.

Covey states in the book, “I commend to you again this simple way of thinking about life: a whole person (body, mind, heart, & spirit) with four basic needs (to live, to learn, to love, & to leave a legacy), and four intelligences (physical, mental, emotional, & spiritual) and their highest manifestations (discipline, vision, passion, conscience), all of which represent the four dimensions of voice (need, talent, passion, & conscience).”  The table accessible at the following link demonstrates this statement concisely: Whole Person Paradigm table

Voice” is defined by Covey as your “unique, personal significance” or “your calling”.  Covey suggests that “voice lies at the nexus of talent (your natural gifts and strengths), passion (those things that naturally energize, excite, motivate, and inspire you), need (including what the world needs enough to pay you for), and conscience (that still, small voice within that assures you of what is right and that prompts you to actually do it).”

Note that “spiritual” is not necessarily related to any set of religious beliefs.  “Spiritual” refers to an individual feeling a deep sense of purpose or mission about their contribution to their community – wherever that may be.  “Spiritual” refers to “who you are at your very core” and your own interpretation about how you fit into the larger community.

Cornerstones 2.0: Find Your Voice, Tell Your Story

“Finding Your Voice, and Telling Your Story” is what Cornerstones is all about.  The process of “Finding Your Voice” is what fraternities have always been all about, although it may have been articulated in different ways.

Covey suggests that “when you engage in work (professional, community, family) that taps your talent and fuels your passion – that rises out of a great need in the world that you feel drawn by conscience to meet – therein lies your voice, your calling, your soul’s code.”

I am focusing on this idea of “voice” in order to make an important point about the program – which is – that Cornerstones is not about mandating a certain course for each individual members personal development.  It is your responsibility to chart on your own.  Cornerstones is about applying some basic principles of personal development in a way that is personally meaningful to you.

Finding Your Voice” refers to the process of personal development and introspection by which an individual comes to discover or create their “calling”, or their life’s work.  As mentioned above, your “voice” can be found at the intersection of your talent, your passion, the needs of your community, & your conscience.

Telling Your Story” relates to the practice of demonstrating the growth or progress that you are making as an individual.  It includes the casual conversations that you have with your friends, questions that you answer for potential members, writing a reflection after participating in a development activity, as well as being able to explain to a potential employer why your experience in Acacia provided you with a process that made you into the best possible candidate for the job you are going after.

So, again, the first step in our new “Cornerstones 2.0” model is to complete the Cornerstones Personal Development Plan.  Do the introspection, the reflection.  Then, feeling more connected to “who you really are” – go out and take action to realize your dreams & goals!  It’s that simple.

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:

    • 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?