Encouragement

We appreciate what a person does, but we affirm who a person is. Appreciation comes and goes because it is usually related to something someone accomplishes. Affirmation goes deeper. It is directed to the person himself or herself. While encouragement would encompass both, the rarer of the two is affirmation. To be appreciated, we get the distinct impression that we must earn it by some accomplishment. But affirmation requires no such prerequisite. This mean that even when we don’t earn the right to be appreciated (because we failed to succeed or because we lacked the accomplishment of some goal), we can still be affirmed – indeed, we need it then more than ever. I do not care how influential or secure or mature a person may appear to be, genuine encouragement never fails to help. Most of us need massive doses as we slug it out in the trenches. 

Charles Swindoll, Strengthening Your Grip

Know your Perfectionist

A study measured three types of perfectionism: self-oriented, or a desire to be perfect; socially prescribed, or a desire to live up to others’ expectations; and other-oriented, or holding others to unrealistic standards. A person living with an other-oriented perfectionist might feel criticized by the perfectionist spouse for not doing household chores exactly the “right” way. Socially prescribed perfectionism is “My self-esteem is contingent on what other people think.”

Perfectionists tend to devalue their accomplishments, so that every time a goal is achieved, the high lasts only a short time, like “a gas tank with a hole in it.” 

There are also different ways perfectionism manifests. Some perfectionists are the sleeping-bag-toting self-flagellants, always pushing themselves forward. But others actually fall behind on work, unable to complete assignments unless they’re, well, perfect. Or they might self-sabotage, handicapping their performance ahead of time. They’re the ones partying until 2 a.m. the night before the final, so that when the C rolls in, there’s a ready excuse. Anything to avoid facing your own imperfections.

Olga Khazan writing in The Atlantic

The Growth Mindset

When people believe that failure is not a barometer of innate characteristics but rather view it as a step to success (a growth mindset), they are far more likely to put in the kinds of effort that will eventually lead to that success. By contrast, those who believe that success or failure is due to innate ability (a fixed mindset) can find that this leads to a fear of failure and a lack of effort.

Carl Hendrick writing in Aeon

Treat Failure like a Scientist

When a scientist runs an experiment, there are all sorts of results that could happen. Some results are positive and some are negative, but all of them are data points. Each result is a piece of data that can ultimately lead to an answer.

And that’s exactly how a scientist treats failure: as another data point.

This is much different than how society often talks about failure. For most of us, failure feels like an indication of who we are as a person.

Failing a test means you’re not smart enough. Failing to get fit means you’re undesirable. Failing in business means you don’t have what it takes. Failing at art means you’re not creative. And so on.

But for the scientist, a negative result is not an indication that they are a bad scientist. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Proving a hypothesis wrong is often just as useful as proving it right because you learned something along the way.

Your failures are simply data points that can help lead you to the right answer.

James Clear 

Being Unmasked as an Imposter

As you might expect, failure isn’t all that popular an activity. And yet, not everyone reacts to it by breaking out in hives. While many of the people (in a recent study) hated tasks that they didn’t do well, some people thrived under the challenge. They positively relished things they weren’t very good at—for precisely the reason that they should have: when they were failing, they were learning.  

For growth people, challenges are an opportunity to deepen their talents, but for “fixed” people, they are just a dipstick that measures how high your ability level is. Finding out that you’re not as good as you thought is not an opportunity to improve; it’s a signal that you should maybe look into a less demanding career, like mopping floors.    

This fear of being unmasked as the incompetent you “really” are is so common that it actually has a clinical name: impostor syndrome. A shocking number of successful people (particularly women), believe that they haven’t really earned their spots, and are at risk of being unmasked as frauds at any moment. Many people deliberately seek out easy tests where they can shine, rather than tackling harder material that isn’t as comfortable.

Megan Mcardle writing in the Atlantic

The Importance of Dumb Mistakes

For all of the supposed liberating power of digital devices, (users) might as well be wearing ankle monitors. Technological connectedness has made it much harder for (college students) to make mistakes and learn from them.

Today’s students live their lives so publicly — through the technology we provide them without training — that much simpler errors than mine earn them the wrath of the entire internet.

I got driven downtown in handcuffs for spray-painting “Corporate Deathburgers” across a McDonald’s.

If a Williams student spray-painted “Corporate Deathburgers” on a local building today (not that they ever would), it wouldn’t be hard to imagine someone posting the security footage online. Then the outraged calls and emails and tweets would pour in, demanding that the college disavow Deathburger values. I’d be writing news releases explaining that at Williams we take Deathburgers very seriously. There would be op-eds about the Deathburger problem on American campuses today. And the video would live on: another student weighed down by the detritus of his or her online life.

Thirty years ago, college students could have tried out radical ideas (in the student newspaper). But readership would have been largely restricted to campus, and the paper would have been in circulation for only a day or two. In this climate, there is little room for students to experiment and screw up.

My worry is that we’ve become unwilling to tolerate innocent mistakes — either that or we have drastically shrunk our vision of innocence.

In my own life I made bad choices that went far beyond spray paint. I flunked out of college and at various points narrowly dodged jail time. When I think back to those mistakes, I’m horrified and chastened. I feel fortunate to have survived, to have had the privilege to make amends.

Jim Reische writing in the New York Times

Why you make terrible life choices

In a classic experiment, Princeton and Dartmouth students were shown a game between the two schools. At the end, Princeton students remembered more fouls committed by Dartmouth, and Dartmouth students remembered more fouls committed by Princeton.

You seek evidence that confirms your beliefs because being wrong sucks. Being wrong means you’re not as smart as you thought. So you end up seeking information that confirms what you already know.

When you walk into every interaction trying to prove yourself right, you’re going to succumb to confirmation bias-the human tendency to seek, interpret and remember information that confirms your own pre-existing beliefs.

Researchers studied two groups of children in school. The first group avoided challenging problems because it came with a high risk of being wrong. The second group actively sought out challenging problems for the learning opportunity, even though they might be wrong. They found that the second group consistently outperformed the first.

Focus less on being right and more on experiencing life with curiosity and wonder. When you’re willing to be wrong, you open yourself up to new insights.

Lakshmi Mani

the red marks

A news story I wrote in a graduate class is covered with the professor’s red marks. I show it to first-year students in writing classes and tell them that I could have had one of two reactions: I could have said to myself, "Well, I can't do this." I could have thrown up my hands, given up, and moved on to something else. The assumption being that either I could write well or I couldn't write well.  But those aren't the only options.

There is another way to react: I could have decided to adjust, change my strategy, and learn from the professor's feedback. This second attitude assumes learning is a matter of persistence. This pathway requires students to humble themselves.. revealing weaknesses Asking questions. Struggling is an essential component of learning.

This process is especially difficult to accept if your ego is riding on whether you can perform new tasks effortlessly. Ultimately, we have to see ourselves as someone of value and worth, regardless of our performance. Of course, if God declares you of value, simply because of who you are, who are you to argue?

Stephen Goforth

Looking back on failure

When you look back on your choices from a year ago, you should always hope to find a few decisions that seem stupid now because that means you are growing. If you only live in the safety zone where you know you can’t mess up, then you’ll never unleash your true potential. If you know enough about something to make the optimal decision on the first try, then you’re not challenging yourself.

James Clear

Open Arms

Perhaps because your father questioned you for so long, you question yourself.. just out of habit. Despite the fact there's plenty of evidence to show that you are usually on the right track, a vague nagging feeling persists.  You may not measure up to your father's ideals.

Compare these expectations to those who love you; They don't ignore your inadequacies. Instead, they are willing to pitch in. They cheer for you. They don't run away when you fail. Their arms remain outstretched in acceptance.

Stephen Goforth

We're all a Mess

I have spent the past five years peeking into people’s insides. I have been studying aggregate Google search data. Alone with a screen and anonymous, people tend to tell Google things they don’t reveal to social media.

While spending five years staring at a computer screen learning about some of human beings’ strangest and darkest thoughts may not strike most people as a good time, I have found the honest data surprisingly comforting. I have consistently felt less alone in my insecurities, anxieties, struggles and desires.

Once you’ve looked at enough aggregate search data, it’s hard to take the curated selves we see on social media too seriously. Or, as I like to sum up what Google data has taught me: We’re all a mess.

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz writing in the New York Times

Regret is overrated

Regret is an emotion, and it is also a punishment that we administer to ourselves. The fear of regret is a factor in many of the decisions that people make (‘Don’t do this, you will regret it’ is a common warning), and the actual experience of regret is familiar. The emotional state has been well described by two Dutch psychologists, who noted that regret is “accompanied by feelings that one should have known better, by a sinking feeling, by thoughts about the mistake one has made and the opportunities lost, by a tendency to kick oneself and to correct one’s mistake, and by wanting to undo the event and to get a second chance.” Intense regret is what you experience when you can most easily imagine yourself doing something other than what you did.

Decision makers know that they are prone to regret, and the anticipation of that painful emotion plays a part in many decisions.

We spend much of our day anticipating, and trying to avoid, the emotional pains we inflict on ourselves. Susceptibility regret, like susceptibility to fainting spells, is a fact of life to which one must adjust.

You can take precautions that will inoculate you against regret. Perhaps the most useful is to be explicit about the anticipation of regret. If you can remember when things go badly that you considered the possibility of regret carefully before deciding, you are likely to experience less of it. You should also know that regret and hindsight bias will come together, so anything you can do to preclude hindsight is likely to be helpful. You should not put too much weight on regret; even if you have some, it will hurt less than you now think.

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

What sets apart highly successful students

One of the major differences we found between highly successful students and mediocre ones: average students think they can tell right away if they are going to be good at something. If they don't get it immediately, they throw up their hands and say, "I can't do it." Their more accomplished classmates have a completely different attitude-and it is largely a matter of attitude rather than ability. They stick with assignments much longer and are always reluctant to give it up. "I haven't learned it yet," they might say, while others would cry, "I'm not good at history, music, math, writing, or whatever." Traditional schooling rewards quick answers-the person with the hand up first. But an innovative work of the mind, something that lasts and changes the world, demands slow and steady progress. It requires time and devotion. You can't tell what you can do until you struggle with something over and over again.

Ken Bain, What the Best College Students Do

Throwing Good Money after Bad

Imagine a company that has already spent $50 million on a project. The project is now behind schedule and the forecasts of its ultimate returns are less favorable than at the initial planning stage. An additional investment of $60 million is required to give the project a chance. An alternative proposal is to invest the same amount in a new project that currently looks likely to bring higher returns. What will the company do? All too often a company afflicted by sunk costs drives into the blizzard, throwing good money after bad rather than accepting the humiliation of closing the account of a costly failure.

(This) fallacy keeps people for too long in poor jobs, unhappy marriages, and unpromising research projects. I have often observed young scientists struggling to salvage a doomed project when they would be better advised to drop it and start a new one. Fortunately, research suggests that at least in some contexts the fallacy can be overcome. (It) is taught as a mistake in both economics and business courses, apparently to good effect: there is evidence that graduate students in these fields are more willing than others to walk away from a failing project.

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

a Self-Made Man

Occasionally, I’ve seen a man stand up and say, “I’m a self-made man.” So far I’ve never seen the guy or gal who DIDN'T make it, stand up and say, “I’m a self-made failure.” You know what they do? They point the index finger and say, “I’m not successful or happy because of my parents.” Some say, “My wife or husband doesn’t understand me.” Some blame the teacher, the preacher or the boss. Some blame everything from skin color and religious beliefs to lack of education and physical deficiencies. Some say they’re too old or too young, too fat or too slim, too tall or too short, or that they live in the wrong place.

Zig Ziglar, See You at the Top

stop limping!

To utilize the ability you have you must start by getting rid of any loser’s limp you might have. A typical Loser’s Limp is, “I’m not a born salesman, or a born doctor, lawyer, artist, architect, engineer, etc.” In my travels, I have picked up newspapers from the rural villages of Australia, to the bulging metropolises of North American and Europe. I’ve read where women have given birth to boys and girls, but thus far I have never read where a woman has given birth to a salesman, or a doctor, lawyer, artist, engineer, etc. However, I do read where doctors, lawyers, salesman, etc., die. Since they are not “born.” But they do “die,” obviously, somewhere between birth and death, by choice and by training, they become what they wish to become. I’ve never seen where a woman has given birth to a success or to a failure. It’s always either a boy or a girl.

Zig Ziglar, See You at the Top

the Mask of Guilt

The fear of repeating a wrong or a fear of repeating past failures can produce an anxiety that can be mistaken for lingering guilt. Rising to meet even the simplest of expectations can be difficult. We become angry at ourselves and guilt-ridden. The bar is so low. Why can't rise above it?  But guilt isn't the culprit. Fear wears the mask of guilt, fooling us into wearing its chains.

Stephen Goforth

in Pursuit of Failure

When you consider failure, it is important to distinguish between two kinds. There is the failure of giving up, turning around, and walking away. Although this failure holds a certain seductive appeal, you must not let it divert you from the true heart of failure: the triumphant defeat of all your hopes, stratagems, and efforts. This is the ultimate failure that tells you who you are. You want to failure you have to work hard for, failure you put everything into--failure so rich with loss and pain that, even years later, it gives you the basis from which to make yourself anew, the scar tissue that deeply confirms your aliveness. Real failure requires real effort and is its own reward.

Andrew Boyd, Daily Afflictions

The Toll of a Negative self-concept

Your self-evaluations are important because they influence most areas of your behavior, defining the limits of what you will attempt. You avoid an activity if you self-concept predicts you will perform so badly as to humiliate yourself. For instance, if your self-concept includes the belief that you would be a poor ice skater, you might never try it, and will indeed remain a poor ice skater. Often people excuse themselves with “That’s just the way I am.” By using this excuse, they deny themselves opportunities for personal growth.

Sharon and Gordon Bower, Asserting Yourself