I was driving to the gym and Kim Hill and some educationist dude were talking huskily about how parents are worried their kids don't know anything any more. Kids are being taught they can just google anything, so why bother being a dogged learner? There was no Google when I was at school. But here is what I wish I had learnt.
To learn any new skill or gain expertise you need to practise. You already knew that, right? But what you might not know is that it's not just doing 10,000 hours, it's doing 10,000 hours of what scientists call "deliberate practice", not simple repetition. It requires effort and is not inherently enjoyable. Research on grit shows you need: 1. A clearly defined "stretch" goal. 2. Full concentration and effort. 3. Immediate and informative feedback. 4. Repetition with reflection and refinement. Over and over.
This is learning how to survive feeling uncomfortable emotions without doing things which make the situation worse. If only we could all learn to tolerate intolerable feelings, no one would need to seek oblivion and numb themselves with alcohol, drugs, food, buzz or whatever. How do you do this? By recognising pain and loss and grief are part of being human; there is no shame in having feelings, even uncomfortable, intense ones that other people think are not commensurate with the circumstances.
Letting feelings have their time, paradoxically, helps them to pass more quickly.
Re-commit after setbacks
Going astray is to be expected. Falling down is part of the process. The road to self- reliance, to achieving anything, really, is slow, arduous and sporadic; we don't accomplish anything perfectly or for once and for all. Most worthwhile things are not a one-time event; it's a process. Speed and perfection are the enemy of difficult learning. So wherever you're at, recommit and "go again", as they say at the gym.
Someone will always disapprove of you
Maybe it is you, reading this column. Why does the Herald publish this rubbish? Well, that's okay. I can cope with your rejection (see item two). I realise judging and demeaning others can give you a self-esteem rush; knock yourself out. On the flip side, rejection can be used to power drive and determination (see item one).
There is no perma-winning
I have been miserable in size 2 leather pants. I've been miserable in a three-star restaurant. I've been miserable anywhere, any time, with anyone. I've also been happy stacking shelves and holding my dying father's hand.
Break out of your trance
Even if you become Someone, with superb image maintenance and financial gain, a superior product which attracts many customers - your life may not be any better if you haven't learned to be awake, alive, now. You can be showered with money or adoration and still feel as if you are separate from all that is good about being alive.
Sometimes it's not you
You are not bad, stigmatised, broken, wrong or crazy for feeling the way you do. You are having normal, reasonable, understandable reactions to unfortunate events. The parents of comedian Bill Hicks took him to a psychoanalyst aged 17. After the first session the therapist took him aside and told him: "You can continue coming if you want to, but it's not you, it's them."
A clever technique for making better decisions. Gary Klein, the psychologist who invented it, called it a "pre-mortem". You imagine yourself in the future, after the thing you are considering doing has ended in spectacular failure. Everything went as terribly as you could imagine. You're screwed. Now, you ask yourself: why? This helps you make better decisions by a measure of 30 per cent, apparently. (But I still forget to do it.)
Being cool is over-rated
Gillian Flynn said: "Men always say that as the defining compliment, don't they? She's a cool girl ... Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don't mind, I'm the Cool Girl." Being the cool girl (or cool guy, it's the same vice-versa) frequently seems to entail loving whatever someone else loves, no matter whether that means abandoning yourself and your own needs and preferences. In my day, I ended up with a record collection full of Slayer. Anyway, it's far, far cooler to stick with yourself.
Forget trying to find your "signature strengths"
Being good at just about anything can give you a sense of confidence. Animal husbandry, decoupage, obscene poetry, pulling concepts out of your butt. Enlightenment is just following one thing through to the end. Even if it's avant garde morris dancing.
Be gentle with yourself
Deprivation, punishment and shame do not lead to change. Have you ever come across anyone who achieved long- lasting change by warring with themselves? Yet we continue to believe with a little more self-disgust, we'll prevail.
• Disclaimer: This was gleaned, not from Google, but from life experience of being an embarrassing twit. And the Auckland Library's excellent online book reservations system.
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