Taking That “I Can’t” Attitude Out Of Life

In the last post mention was made of a defeatism attitude, that attitude identified when a child says "I can’t."  I wanted to say more about this important subject today and tell you about an experience I had with Sam putting his chain back on his bike.  This will be a longer post, but stay with me.  What follows did not come from the book I am reading, but from my own experience, study, and thought.

Children enter the world with no life skills.  We teach them and they begin to develop, but eventually they come to some wall which leads them to say, "I can’t."  We have all heard Sam say it.  No one wants such an attitude to continue, but we all know it can.  So how can we help Sam over the wall?  As alluded to in the last post we want them to climb over the wall themselves; we want them to ask "What can I learn?" instead of "I can’t."  How do we help children change the question they ask?  How do we get them to take a few steps back and re-approach the wall or problem with a desire to learn instead of defeatism?

The key to this is to develop a curious mind or an inquisitive mind.  Curiosity is the prerequisite to learning.  Einstein was obsessed as a young man with one thing, with wondering what it was like to travel at the speed of light.  That wonder and curiosity led him to an enormous amount of thinking and learning. 

Everyone possesses varying degrees of curiosity, but according to examinations of our brains (brain scans) we all respond the same way when we become curious.  It does not matter if that curiosity is raised by ourselves or if someone helps us raise it; the effect is the same.  All developing children need help here.

So, how do we amplify the curiosity level in Sam?  Well, if you are curious, you can learn more at the following article which has links to even more interesting information on this subject. 

Why Curiosity Enhances Learning

Basically, this article states that brain scans reveal that we get a shot of dopamine (that feel-good chemical) when curiosity levels are raised.  Not only does this positive feeling encourage us to become inquisitive again, but it leads to better memory and additional learning.  What does this mean for us?  Parents who can spike curiosity in their child stand a better chance of seeing them climb over those walls to advance along life’s path. 

What can we do?  We who have more experience and know how to get over the wall can help.  First, we need to step down to Sam’s level and see the obstacle from his point of view.  Next, we need to ask ourselves why we know this is not an obstacle to fuss over.  What knowledge do we have in our heads that convinces our will to not give up?  What experiences have we had to see that this is no obstacle?

We need to play a game in our mind for a moment; we need to play a version of the game of Jeopardy.  Jeopardy is that game where you are given an answer and you have to come up with the question.  When we stand beside Sam when he is saying "I can’t," when we see what he sees, we are looking at an answer.  Next, we need to come up with the question or better, a list of questions. 

These questions we need to pass on to Sam one at a time until one strikes a chord in his mind. 

For example, not long ago Sam’s chain fell off his bike.  He wanted to put it back on.  I could see in his face he was frustrated; he stood before a wall.  I did not expect Sam to know how to put the chain back on but, I did not want him to stand there feeling defeated by this problem either.  So, I began playing the game of Jeopardy in my mind.  I saw his problem; he did not know how to put a bike chain back on.  I was being shown the answer; how to put a chain on a bike.  What are some questions I could ask?

I analyzed my own thought process regarding this I thought of a series of steps.  From that I began to think of some questions.  I said, "Sam, what do we need to do first to put the chain back on?"  As I was saying that I was turning the bike over because this was the first part of the answer – how to put a chain on a bike.  I said, "We need to turn the bike over like this so we can work on it with both hands."  And then, instead of grabbing the chain immediately, I asked, "Now what do we need to do?" I continued, "We need to grab the chain down here and put it on the small sprocket first."  Then I asked, "What are sprockets?" I paused a moment and then pointed out the difference between the small sprocket and the large one calling each by name.  I pointed out the notches to him.  After setting the chain onto some of the notches I asked, "Now what do we need to do?"  We need to turn the crank this way and I showed him that it would only turn one way.  I told him that turning it the other way was applying the brake.  Braking was a new discovery for him.  We spun the wheel and he applied the brake a half dozen times to his amazement.  After the chain was on we cranked the pedals to spin the wheel as fast as we could and he applied the brake.  He was so amused by this. 

That mountain, that stood in his way to defeat him led to a new exciting discovery.  We got there by me seeing the problem from his perspective, identifying the answer, converting the answer into a series of simple questions we subconsciously ask ourselves and then, posing them to Sam while leading him through the answers.  By doing this Sam is slowly getting alternatives to saying "I can’t."  He is starting to learn that he could ask, "How do I?" or "What is this?" or "What do I need to do now?"  Next time Sam’s chain falls off I don’t expect him to put it on by himself, but with practice, practice, practice (and a few pinched fingers), he will get it and soon be putting skid marks on the sidewalks. 

You get the picture? Questions are the key to raising curiosity.  Lead Sam through the same questions you subconsciously ask and relay those questions to him.  He will begin to face problems with more curiosity, with a "What can I learn?" attitude, and be internally motivated to discover answers. The "I can’t" will we dread will become a thing of the past.

One final thought and challenge.  We need to do what God does.  Imagine for a moment that you are God and you want to inspire the people you created to pursue wisdom and knowledge.  How would you do that?  What would you say to them?  How would you motivate them to learn?  Consider how God did this by choosing some choice words that are as potent today as when they were first recorded.

The Proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel: to know wisdom and instruction, to discern the sayings of understanding, to receive instruction in wise behavior, righteousness, justice and equity; to give prudence to the naive, to the youth knowledge and discretion, a wise man will hear and increase in learning, and a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel, to understand a proverb and a figure, the words of the wise and their riddles. Proverbs 1:1-6

God entices us with the promise of knowing secrets and "riddles."  He arouses our curiosity.  Doesn’t He tempt you to read the book to discover these secrets? 

God help us imitate this God like behavior of raising curiosity in Sam, for his good, and for God’s glory.

The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.

Psalm 19

I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth. ~ 3 John 4