Archive | November, 2012

The Secrets to Success Aren’t Secrets at All–Strive and You Will Thrive!

13 Nov

Yup. Here I go again. Doing a running pole vault onto my “you’ve gotta fail to prevail” soapbox.

How can I not go there when research resoundingly and repeatedly supports the concept of goal striving for success. The individuals who “make it” have worked for it.

Striving, by definition, is action oriented! It’s powerful and carries an inertia about it that was brought front and center for me this weekend with so many of my clients competing in some very challenging shows. Some individuals, having dieted for over a year, exemplified what striving truly is: 1. To exert much effort or energy; endeavor. 2. To struggle or fight forcefully; contend. They knew what they wanted and they took the steps necessary to get there. Certainly not always easy, they contended with obstacles that threatened their ability and motivation to continue. Some questioned the reasons they were making the effort. Some were unwavering in their pursuit but acknowledged that they were suffering in some ways. Others dug deep enough each day, each moment, and exerted whatever energy they could to stay positive and mentally tough. No matter how they got to their goal, each of them failed in some way along the course. But they kept going.

What makes the difference between those individuals who decide to throw in the towel, adopt an “I’ll never be able to…” attitude, or believe they “just don’t have what it takes”  and the “all-in” folks?

Who are my weight loss clients who achieve success?

Who are my competitive clients who achieve their personal bests?

Who are the kids in our country who go on to college, graduate from college, and start successful careers DESPITE what would appear all odds being stacked against them– single parent homes, low incomes, poor modeling.

The ones who struggle and keep going.The ones who fall apart, pick up the pieces, look for alternatives, and move forward. And the ones who don’t expect to get something for nothing.

I could continue this blog with a rant about the election and what appears to be a country that is expecting handouts– yes, a lot of the younger population voted for a president who appears to want to increase reliance on the government, and I can only imagine what this might mean for the next generation– but I’ll stick to the facts.

Go all the way back to attachment theory, which states that kids need a nurturing relationship and environment to grow up in, especially in the early stages of development, to learn how to self-soothe, develop a measure of emotional management skills, and delay gratification. Recall Carol Dweck of Stanford who developed the theories of growth and fixed mindsets, and her research demonstrating how children who believe their achievements come from hard work and effort (extrinsic drivers) as opposed to being born with brains or without ( you can reference her studies in her book Mindset and my articles which describe what she found) expect to make mistakes and will try at something repeatedly before giving up. You’ve got the studies done with students who’ve come from various educational systems and socioeconomic backgrounds as well, and no, it’s not the kids who score highest on their SAT’s and ACT’s who are most likely to go to college and actually graduate. It’s the kids who get good grades in high school– the GPA is more indicative of college success than standardized achievement tests. Over and over again we see that it’s the work, time, effort, and perseverance toward the goal that makes the difference.

How come then, do I meet so many people who  1) expect for the journey toward whatever they’ve got their sights set on, to be easy; and 2) believe that something must be wrong if they can’t skate through the process without trips and stumbles?

Ask yourself this too: how often do you end up frustrated and mad, disappointed, or despondent because you can’t figure something out right away? Be honest. I’ve worked with many an individual and the word “breathe” is often one of my first pieces of advice when I see that crazed look in their eyes as if to say, “HELP ME!!!” I’ve also been met with this statement far too many times than I’d like to admit: “You’ve never had to struggle with something like this, Kori.” Or my favorite, “You wouldn’t understand. It’s always been easy for you.”

Ahem! Perhaps it’s not that it has been easy more than it has looked easy because I expect that in order to meet my goals I am going to suffer a bit, squirm around and not get what I want immediately, and wallow in the toil that comes with the minutiae and small steps toward the grand achievement. This is exactly what one researcher from UCLA has shown recently in his studies with children regarding teaching and learning.

As a graduate student Jim Stigler traveled to Japan to learn about the teaching methods there and how they compared to the approaches most often implemented in the U.S. What did he find? While there it became clear just how differently the children themselves took the learning process. They expected to struggle! They understood, because of the teaching style, that struggling was their opportunity to test their mental metal! They knew that solving problems meant being able to withstand the emotional conflict often experienced when you have to persevere as you trudge through the muck.  This is a far cry from the “you either get it or you don’t” mentality, right?
There has been a lot of coverage in the news recently about how far behind U.S. school children are in academics as compared to children in other countries. Teachers start out getting paid a lot more than in other countries. The class sizes are smaller. U.S. children spend more time overall in the classroom per year than most other countries’ kids. And yet they rank 25th in math, 17th in science, and 14th in reading. I’m not writing this to blame teachers. What I am proposing is that this has a lot more to do with the focus being in the wrong place. Academics are important. There is no arguing that point. But if we focus ONLY on academics  and getting the right answer versus what it takes to come by the answer, aren’t we missing the boat?

In his book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, Paul Tough described the differences found between children who acquired their GED versus those who graduated from high school, when their educational path was followed. 46% of high school graduates, at the age of 22 years, were enrolled in a university. Care to guess the percentage of GED recipients? Try 3%.  Factors such as annual income, employment rate, illegal drug use, and even divorce were considered, and GED holders looked just like high school drop outs. AND they are considerably more intelligent than high school dropouts! So what does this mean?

Cognitive ability, while important, did not net these individuals success. So what did? And what traits can you begin to learn to be that steadfast, determined, mentally tough, driven individual? Each one of us knows someone like this– that person we want to emulate and just soak up as much of their energy as we can. Here’s what they’ve got:

Many of these traits and skills are related to one another. For example, an individual who can manage his emotions effectively (i.e. discern stress and calm himself down so he doesn’t become overwhelmed to the point of giving up) can delay gratification in order to focus for a longer period of time on one step toward the bigger goal. Behavioral flexibility would allow the dieter who has been exercising daily but has just gone on a business trip and has no access to a gym to anticipate how she might work out while she’s gone but in a different way, for example, a hotel room workout.

Allow me to repeat. You must learn how to strive in order to thrive. You must learn how to fail if you want to prevail.

Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated failures. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. ~Calvin Coolidge

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