If achieving your ideal life and your wildest dreams was as simple as setting goals, putting in the work, and succeeding, we'd all be over and done with it. We'd be sitting on tropical island beaches, rockin' supermodel bodies and supermodel partners. The weather would be warm enough for a tan and we could wake up to do our most fulfilling work whenever we felt like it. And then, pancakes.
Of course, it's not that simple.
The search is where it all begins.
Somehow we get caught up in thinking that the life of our dreams is only something someone special can start to realize. You think you need to be a prodigy of immense skill or a non-stop working machine or a lucky inventor for Paradise to fall into your sphere of influence. The reality is it can be yours too.
Stumbling back into my copy of Jonah Lehrer's How We Decide, I kept thinking about how this happens, how our world tricks us. Only a few chapters in, Lehrer outlines a study where NYC fifth-graders were split into two groups of test-takers. Students individually took an IQ test of sorts and, with one sentence of recognition, the moderator praised half of them for either their intelligence or their effort when they were done. It was along the lines of "You must be smart" or "You must have worked hard". Of those praised for their efforts, 90% decided on a harder test when given a follow-up choice of difficulty for their next test. And a third and final test, identical to the first in difficulty, showed a significant increase in scores for those praised for their effort, raising the average score by 30%!
Just one small sentence. Just one shift in perspective.
You do not need to see yourself as failing to be automatically intelligent. Or rich or talented or connected or anything. As long as you are putting in the effort and fighting.
Pull back the lens from New York City schools and the big picture makes sense for our chaotic big kid lives. We have to deal with all the troubles of adult life, like debt and dinner and what to do Friday night, and we build up unreasonable expectations that we should just know how to have our dreams arrive at our front door. Or worse, we think the time and place has already passed up by.
All you need to do is acknowledge the search and get on with it. Think of your life as an exercise in effort.
As exhausting as it may sound, doesn't giving up on what you want sound worse? Why wouldn't you fight for and deserve the life you always wanted?
Assuming we have to be innately talented will get us nowhere. As a matter of fact, the kids in the NYC study praised for their "intelligence" ended up choosing the easier option for their second test, and scored significantly less on their final test. The theory is that the pressure of thinking we have to know everything, we have to be smart, we have to be great, right off the bat tumbled them and tumbles us.
Why does personal development strike such a chord, negative or positive, with people? If we can consciously tell ourselves that the life of our dreams will require setting goals, putting in the work, and succeeding, why don't we follow through? Why can the search be overwhelming constructive for some and down-right stupid for others? l'm curious, what do you think is wrong with working hard for everything you want in life?
Until next time...
I explode into space.