Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Smiling at Failure

I almost succeeded in my goal of finishing Chip Heath and Dan Heath's book, Switch:  How to Change Things When Change is Hard before yesterday's midnight deadline--which I needed to meet in order to avoid a pesky library fine.  My husband was thoughtful enough to run the book back to the library before turning in last night, and to request another copy from the library, which should reach us in the next couple of days.  (The library prevented me from ordering another copy while I still had one checked out.  Or else there was some other glitch with my overused account.)  When I once again hold this intriguing volume in my hot little hands, I intend to plow through the remaining 34 pages to completion.

I have made a new vow to try to finish at least one book before beginning another--kind of like the buy-one-discard-one rule for household purchases.  It is my hope that this amended reading habit will cut down on mental clutter and chaos in the way that keeping a lid on possessions does with the profusion of belongings.

This small change is representative of some of the wisdom I am gleaning from my temporarily suspended reading of Switch, in at least two ways.  First of all, it is an example of "shrinking the change," which amounts to doing something about a perceived problem that is on a doable scale.  Succeeding with this mini solution should increase confidence, and may inspire continued improvements, resulting in a saner, less intellectually harried me.  But, as my yoga teacher continually instructs her class in building toward difficult poses, "you can stay right there. . . ."  Even this incremental change can be expected to provide some relief.  It will reduce the number of books lying propped open on surfaces around my house; it will probably cut down on library fines; it may help me to keep my head in the stories and arguments I am absorbing in book form; and it will establish an outer limit (the current, admittedly excessive number of books I am partway through) of books-in-progress, to counter my manic reading tendencies. 

Secondly, it illustrates my seemingly eternal belief that I--and others, too--can change, at least at this prosaic level.  And that makes me someone with a "growth mindset."  In their treatise on change, the Heaths present the work of Carol Dweck, Stanford University psychology professor and author of Mindset:  The New Psychology of Success, which they term a "must-read."  Prof. Dweck's contribution builds on her distinction between a "growth mindset" and a "fixed mindset."  The Heaths provide the following four sentences to help us in categorizing our own mindset.
  1. You are a certain kind of person, and there is not much that can be done to really change that.
  2. No matter what kind of person you are, you can always change substantially.
  3. You can do things differently, but the important parts of who you are can't really be changed.
  4. You can always change basic things about the kind of person you are.
Those of us who agree with sentences 1 and 3 display a fixed mindset.  Agreeing with sentences 2 and 4 reveals a growth mindset.  (Anyone who agrees with both sentence 1 and sentence 2 is, according to the Heath brothers, "confused.")

The authors go on to tell us how the growth mindset supports change efforts, in effect "failure-proofing" the would-be changer.
The growth mindset, then, is a buffer against defeatism.  It reframes failure as a natural part of the change process and that's critical, because people will persevere only if they perceive falling down as learning rather than as failing.
And that's one of the things I love about this book that smuggled its way onto my reading pile.  It's so friendly, and heartening.  Like Pema Chödrön's "Smile at Fear," it points to a path I can walk or stumble along, an achievable journey that doesn't ask me to be better than I am.  Or to relinquish failure.

I can hardly wait to get it back.

No comments:

Post a Comment