Self-expansion theory says that satisfaction with life is greatly increased by engaging in the activities, environments, and relationships where our sense of self expands. (This kind of self-expansion has nothing to do with holiday eating patterns, which lead to self-expansion of a different kind!). The key point is that “people really enjoy the feeling of self-expansion, and, as a result, they try very hard to look for self-expansive opportunities.” (see Self Expansion Theory, Encyclopedia of Social Psychology)
What are self-expansive opportunities? Experiences that help grow an existing talent or acquire a new desired skill are high on the list—like taking a master class in guitar, learning to paint or knit for the first time, participating in a new group or solo activity, expanding your mind, advancing your existing talents and skills, and more.
Can you give the gift of self-expansion to others? Of course you can. Gifting experiences that enable people to grow may not deliver the immediate sugar rush of jelly beans but do show that you know your gift recipient’s real values, desires, and unmet needs.
How do you know gifts hit the mark? It’s all in the recipient response. As the person at Karen Pryor Clicker Training ultimately responsible for the experience students, attendees, and customers have with the company, I look for responses that signal that we have made a self-expansive difference in people’s lives. For example, feedback like the following lets me be confident that for a particular student or attendee we delivered an experience that kept its promise—and then some!
“This has been without doubt the most rewarding achievement of my life. Really life-changing.”
- Graduate, KPA Dog Trainer Professional program
“It lights me up on every level intellectually and emotionally!”
- Attendee ClickerExpo
“Yesterday I completed my Dog Trainer Foundations course.... It was a marvelous experience—a life-changer really.”
- Student, KPA Dog Trainer Foundations
For clicker trainers, the choice to reinforce ourselves should be an easy one because it’s a natural outgrowth of our approach to training. We know that behavior is always occurring and always either being strengthened or weakened by contingencies. To keep training and teaching in energized and smart ways, we must keep growing. Somehow, though, like the shoemaker’s kids with worn-out shoes, some positive trainers end up threadbare.
But we don’t have to miss out.
No matter where you are in your training journey, there are numerous and delightful self-expansive opportunities in the world that elicit exactly the “right” response. Give yourself (or someone you care about) a self-expansive gift this year. Take a course, listen to a lecture, sing in a chorus, discover a new sense of spirituality, find a new community, work to help others, or even explore a new career path. We all deserve it.
If you’d like to “self-expand” with Karen Pryor Clicker Training, check out these self-expansive educational and experiential gifts: