Growing from Our Truth
A lesson in positivity, practice, and permanence by Ms. Huber.
When we lose a soccer match, fail to receive the teacher’s accolade in ballet class, or perform poorly on a test although we studied, defeat is a natural response. While it’s important to process the disappointment of defeat, it’s equally, if not more important, to acknowledge what we did accomplish.
Telling ourselves, “I didn’t win the soccer match, but I tried my hardest and made three more goal attempts than in the previous game.” Recognizing, “I didn’t get selected to demonstrate the assemble in front of the entire ballet class, but I nailed my double pirouettes today.” In terms of exams, “I didn’t pass my biology exam, but I answered every question including the short answer responses with 2-3 complete sentences, which was an improvement over my last test when I left those questions blank.”
Determining what we did positively in today’s ultra competitive world is a challenge in itself. Yet, it is an important one to master. Comparing yourself to others is a recipe for disaster and if nothing else, simply doesn’t feel good. Granted, it’s easy to write this and harder to put into practice. Despite my age, education, and life experience, I still find myself falling into the comparison trap now and then. But the more I practice being mindful — the art of what Carole Dweck from Stanford University coined as “Growth Mindset,” the better I become at it, and consequently, the happier too.
This morning, my twelve-year-old daughter declared with delight, “Let’s make Mickey Mouse pancakes.” It was a weekend morning, and while we had the time, the thought of cooking (one of my least favorite activities) was not how I envisioned my Saturday beginning. I groaned, to which she responded with a magical smile that filled the room, “It will be fun!”
“Fun,” I thought. I have never excelled at cooking and that self-defeated feeling ran through my body with merely the thought of being in the kitchen. Neither Rachael Ray nor Giada de Laurentiis was I. While I was always filled with awe watching cooking shows, I certainly didn’t think of myself as competent in that department. I scowled again, “You know me. Every time I cook it’s a disaster.”
Her wise response: “Yeah, but you get better each time you try.”
Hmm… she was right. The more I tried, the more I practiced, the better I became.
I remember when I was younger studying ballet. While I loved learning routines and performing, the bar exercises and movement across the floor were tasks I loathed. I found the exercises redundant and boring. I had a teacher that would say three words I still haven’t forgotten.
“Practice makes permanent.”
Not perfect, but permanent. Dancers have to practice the same moves over and over before they perform. It’s similar to the baseball pitcher who practices his pitches repeatedly or the singer who practices her notes over and over. And perhaps, the chef who practices her dishes again and again.
The goal is permanence not perfection — to create, as my yoga teacher says, “Muscle memory.” That is, to ingrain something in your body so it’s automatic.
Take for example a toddler learning to walk. How do they learn? Though practice. They get up when they fall and they keep trying until bam, it’s second nature.
This practice principle translates to education. School, just like sports, dancing, cooking, and walking is all about practice.
My daughter has dyslexia, a learning disability characterized by difficulty in reading and spelling. She struggles with the most fundamental component of learning in our educational system — reading. When she was younger, she would pretend to read chapter books that other kids in her class could read. She would guess at words and when I would try to help her sound words out or even suggest an easier book, she would immediately shut down, get frustrated, and cry.
As a teacher, I knew what to do, but as a mother, I couldn’t help but be angry at a system that I, myself was a part of — a system that compared my daughter to everyone else, and worse yet, that she and I compared her to as well.
When you’re learning to read and that is the focus of class, how can you not compare yourself to others? I could see the pain in her teary eyes because the letters that formed the words didn’t make sense. I remember one evening when she was in second grade and trying to read a book, she said, “I want to read so badly.”
In that moment, my heart broke. Those words still haunt me. I felt her pain of wanting to do something that was so easy for everyone else. I wanted to scream at the world. Why was this happening happening to my child and to me?
Instead, I uttered confidently to her, “You can’t read YET, but you will.”
In that moment, I accepted her disability and knew that she had to do so too. It was important for both of us to acknowledge and feel the defeat of not being able to read. Once she and I processed that pain, we could move forward and focus on the positive, her accomplishments, her strengths, and gifts. (Side note: She is one of the most creative and imaginative people I know.)
My daughter has made a lot of progress with her reading and we focus on her daily accomplishments and commitments to learning. She has to practice reading daily. She works at getting that muscle memory in her brain — in her long-term memory so that reading becomes automatic. She practices to make permanent.
Yes, there are days she struggles to do her exercises and practice her reading, days she melts down with frustration, but she persists knowing how far she has come, and how hard she has worked, and knowing she will get there.
Get there she will, just like I will get there with my cooking. I choose to focus on the positive and my accomplishments as small as they may be. This time, the pancakes didn’t burn and Mickey had both his ears. Plus I had a lot of fun!
From more information:
General Information on Growth Mindset:
Growth Mindset for Parents:
Ted Talks - The Power of Yet: