OUR BEST KEPT SECRET

Part Nine

I mentioned last time that while I am still in development, I did finish a book entitled, “Why Normal Isn’t Healthy.”  Part of normal not being healthy is that we all share a secret that we don’t discuss.  That secret being that we all have feelings of inadequacy and insecurity we don’t want others to know about.  The part of us that carries those feelings I have named the “scared one.”

Last time, I discussed a personal example of the “scared one’s” effect on the book project.  I’d like to continue to explore how our secret affects our development.  Or, another way to say it, how our “scared one” hinders our growth toward emotional maturity, health and wholeness.

First, a question: how many of you have tried to juggle?  I’m not talking schedules or “the books” but objects.  How many of you have tried, at some point in your life, to juggle 3 balls or other like objects in the air?  When I ask this question to groups of people, about 80% to 90% of folks acknowledge such attempts.  But when I ask, “How many of you have learned how to juggle?” Only a small per cent mastered the skill. 

 

            When I ask why, respondents tell me things like:

            “Poor hand-eye coordination…”

            “I don’t know.  I tried it and I just can’t do it…”

            “I’ve never been good at sports…”

            “It wasn’t that important…”

            “No one taught me…”

            “It’s a kid thing…and I’m an adult…”

Let me tell you what I think.  The people that try to juggle and don’t learn the skill, approach the learning from a normal, but not healthy perspective.  They attempt the new behavior because something about it interests them.  They think, “Gee, I wonder if I can do that?  It looks like fun.”

They try for a brief time to see if they can do it.  And they fail.  How does it feel trying and failing at any task?  It doesn’t feel very good.  Why?  To begin with, we learned, “If you can’t do it right, don’t do it at all.”  And we're obviously not doing it right!

It doesn’t feel good for two related reasons.  First, we are not doing it right and second, the “scared one” risks being seen as inadequate when we fail.  So when we try something new and we’re not a “natural,” we don’t “get it” right away, it reinforces our feelings of inadequacy.

We try, fail, and feel bad failing.  So, how can we stop feeling bad?  Easy.  Stop trying the thing that causes the bad feelings.  We don’t persist because there is no pay-off in dropping the balls over and over and over.  We tried and learned, “I can’t juggle.”  Why continue when we already know, “I just can’t do it?”

It’s interesting how we use the word can’t.  The contraction of ‘can not’ almost implies no fault, no accountability, no responsibility.  I wonder if we often use that word in the place of “won’t.”  This contraction carries a different quality of energy, a quality of ownership, of responsibility.

To me, it says I’m not willing to (will not) suffer through the learning that is required to have the skill.  It isn’t that I “can’t” (can not), it’s actually that I “won’t” (will not) pay the price to earn the learning.

This brings me to juggling.  Juggling is a wonderful metaphor for learning and for a life of learning. 

What is the secret of juggling?  You don’t earn the right to have the skill unless you sustain your effort and fail enough to “get it!”

How long do you have to drop the balls before you learn to keep them in the air?  Just long enough.  When you’ve dropped them enough you don’t drop them any more!  You “get it.” 

Our problem is that we compare ourselves with others, and see how quickly they “get it.”  And in comparison to them, we feel uncoordinated and inadequate.  That feels bad.  The “scared one” risks exposure as an inadequate person, simply because it takes some people longer to “get it.”

Well, what if we change the game?  What if we decide that it isn’t important how fast we learn something?  What if we slow down?  What if we quit comparing and competing with others?  What would change? 

There would be a conservation of our energy making more energy available for learning.  Why?  Energy follows attention.  If you are attending to the other jugglers, and wanna-be jugglers, while you are attempting to learn, your energy is invested unwisely.  STOP for a moment.  Put down the balls.  Multitasking drains energy and slows down learning. 

Shine the flashlight of your attention on someone who has learned.  Watch to see what they are doing.  Then pick up the balls anew and try what you saw them do.  You get a much better return on your energy investment.  Energy expended on what they are doing while you are trying, splits your attention and your energy. So less is available for you to use to learn the new skill. 

Having less energy to utilize, you quickly get tired and frustrated.  Saying, “I quit!  I just can’t do it!” 

Whoa, slow down.  We’ve all been there.  It’s OK.  And, don’t quit.  Just take a break.  Change your mindset by adding “yet” at the end of the sentence.    I just can’t do it yet!

The best way to conserve energy is to focus on your own process.  Make the competition ‘you with you.’  Eliminate the external reference by attending to the task at hand.  And when the “scared one” starts to say self defeating phrases, stop the chatter.

Because we have feelings of inadequacy, doesn’t mean we’re inadequate.

By attending to my own negative internal dialogue, I have the energy to stop the noise that creates interference in the learning process.  Then I can change the conversation.  For example:

“I know you.  You’re scared because that’s your nature.  You bought the standard line.  ‘If you can’t do it right, don’t do it at all.’  It’s normal, but not healthy to feel that way.  It’s not healthy because you’ll never try anything new if you have to do it right the first time.

“Let me assure you that failing doesn’t mean you are a failure.  I know you have trouble with this concept.  That’s your nature.  Although I honor your need to see the world as you do, I cannot, and I will not let it hinder my learning.”

By dealing directly with the “scared one,” we keep him/her in check so that we can drop the balls as much as we need to learn to juggle.   Remember it isn’t so important how quickly we learn.  What is important is what we do with what we learn and to know that we can learn anything.

I learned to juggle in medical school.  It was one of the things I did to de-stress, to relax.  As you might guess, medical school puts a huge emphasis on ‘doing it right.’  The pressure is continuous.  Competition fierce.  There are multiple opportunities daily to have your feelings of inadequacy reinforced.  It’s not exactly a healthy environment for learning.

I learned to juggle three balls.  Then I learned to pass.  That’s what it’s called when jugglers play catch or juggle back and forth to each other.  Anyway, I had a lot of fun alone as well as juggling with others.

Then my wife got me juggling clubs.  Imagine the scene.  It’s Christmas.  All four daughters watch as I open the special present.

“Oh, boy.  New toy!”  And I immediately begin to throw the juggling clubs.  Guess what?  I couldn’t juggle them.  It’s always fun failing in front of the little ones, isn’t it?   Guess how I felt?  Could it be . . . inadequate?  Yep, I was pretty embarrassed and went off to practice. 

Was I going to practice in public or private?  Right, in private.  Why in private?  Because no one would see me failing over and over.

So, I went limping off to practice in private when I had an ‘ah ha’ experience.   I remembered my own BLEF system.  BLEF (I never was much of a speller.)

[B]  I believe that anything I do, I can do Better.  Myself, all of us are underachievers relative to what we are capable of doing.

[L]  If I am willing to Learn, there isn’t anything I can’t do better.  And there isn’t anything I can’t learn.

[E]  But I Earn my learning the old fashioned way by . . .

[FFailing enough to “get it.”  The final common pathway of learning is mistake making.  We earn our learning one mistake at a time.

No, I didn’t want to practice in private.  I wanted to practice in public.  I wanted my kids to see me fail over and over and not quit.  I wanted them to see me get frustrated, but persist until I finally learned how to juggle the clubs.  And that’s what I did.

Remember my line, “I’m slow, but trainable.” Others may be quicker on the uptake.  But, there’s nothing I can’t learn if I’m willing to fail enough to eventually “get it.”

How about you?  What is it you’ve decided you can’t do?  What is it you tried and failed at, that caused you to lose belief in yourself?  Perhaps you might revisit that experience and see if it looks different from a juggler’s perspective.

 

 

 

 

 

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