Monday, June 18, 2012

Hardwired for Struggle...

Lately I've been hearing a lot about a study that came out about how students who are left to struggle with a math or science problem will end up being better at math and science because they learned how to get the answer, rather than someone telling them how to get the answer. This reminded me of Brene Brown's TED talk a few years ago called The Power of Vulnerability. In it she discusses how we are born "hardwired for struggle" and "worthy of love and belonging".

Now, maybe being worthy of love and belonging isn't going to affect a person's ability to FIO when set a math problem or puzzle, or sciencey-something, but I think the fact that we don't grow up learning this from the start does have an effect on our willingness to wait it out and struggle for the answer; do the work to get the result. It's like that episode of The Simpsons where everyone (even Ralph) understands a visual puzzle before Lisa, and she goes through what amounts to an epic identity crisis for an 8-year-old (including a dream where she grows up and rents movies from "the libarry" for her brood of children). For some reason, a lot of us think that getting the wrong answer makes us less worthy as human beings. It's endemic in our culture and our education system, and I don't know anyone who doesn't struggle with feeling worthy of love and belonging.

Dealing with this struggle wrongly, however, is at the root of a lot of our problems as a culture. Let's start with the fact that our education system lags significantly behind the rest of the developed world when it comes to math and science. Struggle = bad. Being left to FIO = bad. We have to teach kids how to write a perfect paragraph, and take a stupid test, rather than teaching them skills like critical thinking, how language works, and why science is cool (and at least we have the Mythbusters for that last one, but it's still not sufficient). Curiosity is devalued, while absolute expertise is exalted. Consequently, not being an absolute expert in a given area prompts us to give up on that area. Not having immediate and significant success in any given arena, whether it's a high school math class or being a business owner, means "I suck at this forever, might as well give up."

Lately, I've been struggling through some self-sabotage (actually, that an impulse control are two big challenges for me). Namely, when I start seeing some really good success from something, I stop doing that thing. It's weird. I believe in this business. I believe that it can and does work, and I really really really want to be one of those people for whom a Mary Kay business delivers significant successes. So why do I get trapped in "I suck at this forever, might as well give up" mode? Because I have WAY more practice at that way of thinking. And while it is as simple as changing my behavior from one of habit (quitting) to one of discipline (working anyway, even though I don't feel like it or whatever excuse I made up that day), it's not a very easy task.

But we're hardwired for struggle. My challenges are going to be stories to help others overcome their challenges, just like yours will. We exist to connect with one another. Similarly, the challenges, horrors, heartaches, and disappointments we experience while attempting and failing at making those connections and solving those problems have a purpose. Not having to deal with self-sabotage precludes me from being able to teach someone else how to deal with it. Knowing this doesn't make me get over the fact that I am unintentionally doing things that impede my success, but it does make the struggle worthwhile.

Strength is not a trait a person is born with. You're not born strong. You're born imperfect, weak, and helpless. Through struggle, physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual, we gain strength. Not having a certain strength doesn't mean that you never will, it means you need more practice. I heard someone say once "if you are always the smartest person in the room, you need to be in a different room."

Struggle is not the same as failure. Acknowledging that something is difficult for you is not declaring "I suck forever, might as well quit". If a baby-anything refuses to struggle, it dies. That goes equally for baby birds, and burgeoning business owners.

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