Mind-set Research

STANFORD Magazine: March/April 2007 > Features > Mind-set ResearchMy friend Paul sent me a link to this article and it rang a definite bell. In high school I got by simply because I was smart and very good at taking tests. I got good grades and was a National Merit Scholar. Tons of colleges recruited me. And then I got to college and my social life was more important than studying. Only this time around faking it was so much harder. So I flunked out.Then I decided to return to school. And here was the kicker: no one would let me in! What? I was great in high school. National Merit Scholar. It slowly hit me that frankly none of that mattered, I had flunked out because I hadn’t tried. My innate ability had finally hit a wall. Over the next few years I went to community college and finally got into a four year school and graduated. And it taught me a lesson.No, not the lesson I was supposed to learn that hard work would pay off and you cannot coast on ability alone. Reality is a little different than that. You can coast on ability on some things. And some things aren’t all that important. Golf for example just isn’t that important to me so I can coast by on what very limited ability I have; for others it’s very important so they hone their innate ability with three rounds each week. But for those important things in life you really do need to practice and the practice and effort almost always pay off.I’m actually a lot more proud of the fact that I clawed my way back into school and graduated at all than I think I would have been breezing through in four years. I did something a lot harder. Sure, it’s no computer science degree and it certainly isn’t a PhD. But it caused me to learn something about my own limitations and how to work harder to overcome them. It reminds me of a scene from the movie “Groundhogs Day”. Bill Murray is talking and offers up a line to the effect “what if God isn’t all powerful. Maybe he’s just been doing this for a very long time.” Practice may not make perfect but practice never made someone worseI’ve watched my older son for some time now and never understood why he gets so frustrated about being asked to try something new. Go try soccer. Go try a new, harder math sheet. How about science camp? The answer is always an angry “no, I don’t want to”. But usually when pushed into it he comes home grinning and joyful. He loves to learn new things, he just needs to be pushed over the precipice to try it. We’re going to try to talk with him some about the joy of learning and trying. Not always true. For many elite athletes practice equates to overtraining and overtraining is one of the more destructive things they can do. But that tends to be for endurance athletes at a higher level.