Part Two of Aaron Swartz’s Raw Nerve series, and this one is a doozy:
Believe you can change (Aaron Swartz’s Raw Thought)
Carol Dweck was obsessed with failure. You know how some people just seem to succeed at everything they do, while others seem helpless, doomed to a life of constant failure? Dweck noticed that too — and she was determined to figure out why. So she began watching kids, trying to see if she could spot the difference between the two groups.
In a 1978 study with Carol Diener, she gave kids various puzzles and recorded what they said as they tried to solve them. Very quickly, the helpless kids started blaming themselves: “I’m getting confused,” one said; “I never did have a good rememory,” another explained.
But the puzzles kept coming — and they kept getting harder. “This isn’t fun anymore,” the kids cried. But still, there were more puzzles.
The kids couldn’t take it anymore. “I give up,” they insisted. They started talking about other things, trying to take their mind off the onslaught of tricky puzzles. “There is a talent show this weekend, and I am going to be Shirley Temple,” one girl said. Dweck just gave them even harder puzzles.
Now the kids started getting silly, almost as if they could hide their failure by making it clear they weren’t trying in the first place. Despite repeatedly being told it was incorrect, one boy just kept choosing brown as his answer, saying “Chocolate cake, chocolate cake.”1
Maybe these results aren’t surprising. If you’ve ever tried to play a board game with kids, you’ve probably seen them say all these things and more (Dweck appears to be missing the part where they pick up the game board and throw all the pieces on the floor, then run away screaming).
But what shocked her — and changed the course of her career — was the behavior of the successful kids. “Everyone has a role model, someone who pointed the way at a critical moment in their lives,” she later wrote. “These children were my role models. They obviously knew something I didn’t and I was determined to figure it out.”2
Dweck, like many adults, had learned to hide her frustration and anger, to politely say “I’m not sure I want to play this anymore” instead of knocking over the board. She figured the successful kids would be the same — they’d have tactics for coping with failure instead of getting beaten down by it.
But what she found was radically different. The successful kids didn’t just live with failure, they loved it! When the going got tough, they didn’t start blaming themselves; they licked their lips and said “I love a challenge.” They’d say stuff like “The harder it gets the harder I need to try.”
Instead of complaining it wasn’t fun when the puzzles got harder, they’d psych themselves up, saying “I’ve almost got it now” or “I did it before, I can do it again.” One kid, upon being a given a really hard puzzle, one that was supposed to be obviously impossible to solve, just looked up at the experimenter with a smile and said, “You know, I was hoping this would be informative.”3
What was wrong with them?
And that’s only the beginning, read the rest of it.
Believe you can change (Aaron Swartz’s Raw Thought)… it gets a lot better.
As a personal aside, one thing I’ve noted throughout my life was that when there was something I really, really wanted to do, nothing would stop me, no negative words, no warnings of failure… if I was fascinated by something, I dug into it and learned as much as I could the hard way. The problem was that I only did that with the things I was fascinated in, and the other things, if they were hard I gave up real fast.
After reading this article, I wish that I’d applied that same mindset to everything.
An example is the martial arts, when I started training, I was far from the best one in the group I began with, in fact, I was probably one of the worst. But I just LOVED the idea of the martial arts, I loved the gi, the training, I loved it all. I bought into the whole karate kid thing that, if I just worked hard enough, I’d get better.
And you know what? That was exactly right. In fact, of the group I initially started with (and this is a long time ago, when I was in college) after a year I was the only one left doing it (everyone else stopped training for one reason or another) and was much, much better than most. And I kept on.
And what was interesting is that sometimes someone insanely talented would join, get by on their talent but get bored and move onto other things… then come back and people they used to regularly beat up on would kick the hell outa them. Because those less-talented but harder workers kept at it, learned from their failures, while oftentimes the talented ones didn’t like losing and avoided it by not doing it anymore.
They didn’t learn from failure.
The ones that got crushed but vowed to come back from it, they’re the ones who reached great heights.
It’s oft been noted, but Micheal Jordan didn’t make his varsity team on his first run at it in high school, and it burned on him, burned on him for a long time. He vowed it would never happen again, and worked and worked to reach great heights.
Nobody likes failure, I certainly don’t… but it’s true that if you learn a lot more about success by failing.
And this is something I wish I’d known when I was a boy…
Read the rest of the article here:
Believe you can change (Aaron Swartz’s Raw Thought)
And thank the universe Aaron was with us, even for as short of a time that he was.