So, there was an old blog post on the Huffington Post by Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D that references Carol Dweck’s studies in the 1980s on how smart girls and smart boys dealt with material that was new and challenging.
She found that Bright Girls, when given something to learn that was particularly foreign or complex, were quick to give up; the higher the girls’ IQ, the more likely they were to throw in the towel. In fact, the straight-A girls showed the most helpless responses. Bright boys, on the other hand, saw the difficult material as a challenge, and found it energizing. They were more likely to redouble their efforts rather than give up.
Why does this happen? What makes smart girls more vulnerable and less confident when they should be the most confident kids in the room? At the 5th grade level, girls routinely outperform boys in every subject, including math and science. So there were no differences between these boys and girls in ability, nor in past history of success. The only difference was how bright boys and girls interpreted difficulty — what it meant to them when material seemed hard to learn. Bright Girls were much quicker to doubt their ability, to lose confidence, and to become less effective learners as a result.
She thought it was about how parents deal with their kids. She wrote:
More often than not, Bright Girls believe that their abilities are innate and unchangeable, while bright boys believe that they can develop ability through effort and practice.
How do girls and boys develop these different views? Most likely, it has to do with the kinds of feedback we get from parents and teachers as young children. Girls, who develop self-control earlier and are better able to follow instructions, are often praised for their “goodness.” When we do well in school, we are told that we are “so smart,” “so clever, ” or “such a good student.” This kind of praise implies that traits like smartness, cleverness and goodness are qualities you either have or you don’t.
Boys, on the other hand, are a handful. Just trying to get boys to sit still and pay attention is a real challenge for any parent or teacher. As a result, boys are given a lot more feedback that emphasizes effort (e.g., “If you would just pay attention you could learn this,” “If you would just try a little harder you could get it right.”) The net result: When learning something new is truly difficult, girls take it as sign that they aren’t “good” and “smart,” and boys take it as a sign to pay attention and try harder.
I was thinking about this specifically as an author. You hear a lot of horror stories about people trying for decades to get published, and you hear a lot of stories about how authors even when they are published don’t feel like they are good enough, or are afraid to go for big author goals. You hear and read a lot of blog posts about people who just don’t think they are good enough and they give up sometimes.
When I get fan letters from yet-to-be-published writers, a lot of it asks for writing advice and I usually tell them this:
Don’t just expect to be amazing. Writing is a craft. The more you do it, the better you get at it. People don’t expect to be brilliant guitar players or sculptors the first time they tackle a guitar or a piece of marble. But writers expect to be stunning with their very first story.
In a way, I think that’s kind of like to what Halvorson and Dweck were saying. To succeed in anything, you have to be willing to think that it’s cool to overcome challenges (in plot, or character development) and BELIEVE that you can. You sort of have to look at life and writing and problems as something that’s a cool adventure, and not think you are a miserable and total failure if you don’t get it perfect the first time.
It’s time to stop being hard on ourselves.
You are allowed to stink.
If you fail 8,000 times it doesn’t mean you are dumb or not worthy. It just means you are on an adventure. But you have to chose to allow yourself to be on that adventure, chose to not think you are the epitome of suckitude every time you get rejected or a bad review, or don’t instantly understand AP Computer Science or some new grammatical construction in a language you’re learning. It doesn’t mean you are any less worthy, any less awesome.
What do you think? Are these researchers onto something? Are you female and do you think you give up on tasks too easily? Are you a guy and you do the same thing? Do you think people in the arts (no matter what his/her gender) do this more than people do in other fields?
So How Do You Not Give Up. How Do You Cultivate Your Shiny?
Give yourself room to not be perfect.
Realize that perfection isn’t attainable, but being better/doing better? That is.
Let Your Goal Motivate You
Whatever you want? Want it really, really bad.
Cultivate Your Inner Cheerleader
Let the voice inside you lift you up the way you want to lift up others. Be as encouraging to yourself as you are to your partner, your kids, your students, your friends.
Give Yourself Time
Things that are worth it can take awhile? Think about the writing of Harry Potter, the making of a bouillabaisse, of sculpture. Skills have to be worked on. Thoughts have to be thought. Actions have to occur in order to get to what you want to understand or create or be. So, allow yourself the time to make it happen.
Yep, it’s the part of the blog where I talk about my books and projects because I am a writer for a living, which means I need people to review and buy my books or at least spread the word about them.
So, please buy one of my books. 🙂 The links about them are all up there in the header on top of the page. There are young adult series, middle grade fantasy series, stand-alones for young adults and even picture book biographies.
I’ll be at Book Expo America in NYC on June 1 at 11:30 – 12 at the Lerner booth signing copies of the Spy Who Played Baseball. A week before that,
I’ll also be in NYC presenting to the Jewish Book Council . Come hang out with me!
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