All summer long, my eight-year-old son has been struggling to complete a five-minute math quiz sheet, thinking that he would never be able to complete the 100 subtraction questions in the time allowed. All summer, he’s inched up from 60 questions out of 100 all the way to completing 90 within five minutes. But he was frustrated that he would not be able to complete all 100, without even bothering to try, he’d utter the classic phrase “I’ll never be able to do that!”
I explained to my son that he could do it, as he had overcome “incredible odds” (at least in his mind) when tackling addition at the beginning of the school year. “If you believe you can do it, you just might surprise yourself and find that you can do it.”
As we discussed the quiz sheet, I thought about Roger von Oech’s creative thinking books, “A Whack on the Side of the Head” and “A Kick in the Seat of the Pants.” In particular, this pane from his web site on believing in yourself:
“What concerns me,” remarked the philosopher Epictetus, “is not the way things are, but rather the way people think things are.”
If you think you’re creative, you’ll act that way — and vice versa. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. As you think, so you are.
In what ways are you creative?
What strengths do you have that you can apply to your issue?
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
So I explained that if you think you’re going to complete the sheet, you’ll go ahead and do it. “As you think, so you are.”
Still unmoved, with lots of excuses, lots of delays… classic eight-year-old procrastination. I explained that he would just have to do it.
Nothing. Classic dog-staring-into-a fan-moment.
Finally, I explained in terms that he could understand, in the immortal words of Yoda: “Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.”
This evening, he completed the sheet, with nearly half a minute to spare. And he did it a second time as well, just to show that he could. Sometimes, you just need to take a whack at it: the results may surprise you.