When my girls were little, I quickly noticed that they based a large percentage of their feelings and reactions on mine. This was most evident when they were learning to walk. Anytime they wobbled, tripped, fell down, or even just startled themselves, they immediately looked to my face for a response.
If I heeded my natural impulse to rush in and begin fussing over them, looking for injuries and cooing, “Oh, poor baby, are you okay? Are you hurt?” they would take that as a cue that something was wrong – or should be. Immediate result: terrified wailing, screaming, and gnashing of what few teeth they had.
It didn’t take me long to see that a better way was needed. Instead of projecting worry, I trained myself to treat every fall like the world’s greatest magic trick. Whenever they took a tumble, I would hold my breath, throw my hands in the air, and exclaim, “Ta-dah!”
To everyone’s great relief, it worked. The girls were distracted, I was at peace, and we were all able to move forward with whatever business had been at hand.
Fast forward to today and the great thorn in my fourteen-year-old’s side: Algebra. Well, it’s not really Algebra that’s the problem; it’s the teacher’s method. He’s a super nice guy and his students love him, but he only teaches to one learning style. He lectures and gives quizzes and tests, and that’s it.
My girl is a visual and kinesthetic learner. She needs graphics and models and most of all, lots of tactile practice. In the absence of those tools, she struggled mightily through the first semester of that class, barely passing by the skin of her teeth. Even though she scored no grades lower than a 98 in every other class, she takes each mistake and under-performance in this one as a personal condemnation. She must just be “bad” at math.
This week, I had the idea to talk to her about this class in terms of a new strategy. Among some other tools that we sought out, I dusted off the old, “Ta-dah!” approach and challenged her to use it herself every time she makes a mistake on a problem in this class.
As always, my words to my daughter immediately took on an unexpected resonance for myself. I get enveloped in self-defeating cycles in my work and aspirations every day. Each time I miss a task, break my diet, or even just oversleep, I face the choice of whether to pick up and and move on, or take it as a “sign” of futility and an excuse not to try again.
I read just this week in the Harvard Business Review that cultivating a positive attitude toward failure is a great contributor to ultimate success. “In fact, evidence suggests venture capitalists often see failure as an asset—not a liability—in an entrepreneur’s record. Why? Because failure suggests a tolerance for risk, a perseverance to succeed and, most important, a passion to push the envelope.”
What works for babies and pioneers can surely work for me too, right?
Forgot to put an important date on the calendar? Ta-dah!
Procrastinated through two-thirds of my writing time this morning? Ta-dah!
Snapped at my mom, put my socks on backwards, and dropped everything I touched today? Ta-freaking-dah! (Also maybe some chamomile tea at that point. Or a cocktail.)
And now, for my next trick…