There is a vast psychological distance between the notions of “I’m just not good at this” and “I’m just not good at this yet.” Since most of us will initially struggle in some areas in which we are expected to compete, the “yet” factor can be the difference between a half-hearted try and success.
Unfortunately, too many Americans are infatuated with the innate failure argument. We either won or lost the DNA lottery when it comes to [insert skill]. Yet cognitive psychology experimentation has proven that talented wizards aren’t necessarily born with an innate gift. They more likely, as illustrated by Malcom Gladwell, have practiced 10,000 hours, taken advantage of real-world and time opportunities, or realized a better strategy for connecting dots.
Most human beings start out on a level playing field with you and me – with some fat genes, a propensity to prefer the easiest, quickest way to get something done, and with a tendency toward indulgent or crippling self-doubt when things get tough. It’s heartening to realize, then, that many of the slender people we know were born with a lot of “fat genes”, yet they employ the right strategies to accomplish healthy weight maintenance. They exemplify commitment, control, concentration, and confidence.
If your default DNA excuse isn’t moving you any further to a goal, you too can improve the odds of success by considering these “yet” questions:
- Commitment: How married am I to a successful outcome?
Motivation is your best friend. Are you enthusiastic or ambivalent? List every possible reward you might realize for overcoming your challenge or attaining your dream; the more plusses, the greater your buy-in. If you are engaged just to please others, can you reframe the situation in a more favorable light, or identify hidden rewards — like being in the good graces of someone you admire or truly want to please?
- Control: How good am I at recognizing temptations?
Do you know how to deal effectively with intrusive thoughts or avoid temptation triggers? As Victor Frankl noted, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Can you turn a temptation into an opportunity to practice self-control, and recognize and reward yourself for that accomplishment?
- Am I planning ahead? If you don’t have a deadline for learning Spanish, you will never do it. Frame your goal and then break down the steps required to master it, gathering whatever tools or help you need.
- Concentration: Am I monitoring my progress?
Avoid activity traps, suggested Peter Drucker, and that’s even more profound advice today. After you break down your goal into objectives, focus on results and monitor both progress and setbacks. It’s a very effective tool to actually state your intended goal to someone willing to test you against your objectives; someone who will encourage you toward success rather than help you apply excuses.
- Confidence: How confident/persistent am I when the going gets tough?
When does “hard” become “too hard” to continue? What emotional pain threshold have you set for this challenge? Do I really believe I can improve? A group of college freshmen at risk for flunking out were assembled and told that having academic trouble during the freshman year was a common occurrence – backed by testimonials offered by junior/senior students. They were then encouraged to persevere with hope instead of plod on with a sense of desperation. A wonderful result followed: the group’s collective GPA rose and the drop-out rate plummeted compared to a control group of similar students who were not offered group encouragement. Who is encouraging you? Can you inspire yourself?
[Side comment for managers: it follows that your key functions are (1) explaining the importance and the benefits of the work your team is asked to produce; (2) assigning a deadline with identified steps or a flow process; (3) actively monitoring progress; and (4) providing encouragement to build individual and team confidence levels.]
The next time you find yourself thinking, “I’m just not good at this,” remember that you’re just not good at it yet. With a “yet” attitude and with reasonable diligence and monitoring, you can do it.