Friday, November 21, 2008

Can I Stop the Stumble?

As I've mentioned, I fell the first time I tried to ride the motorcycle across the parking lot. When it came time for my riding exam on the course, my nerves were starting to get the best of me. With this article in mind, I stamped my nice, new black leather boots on the parking lot, and kicked it into high gear.

In high school calculus, they gave us an exam to determine our problem solving ability. It did not cover material from the class. We all knew the score did not count. When it was over and our graded papers were coming back, the teacher hesitated next to my desk, holding my paper. He had read about this, but had never seen such a clear example.

I had the first five answers correct, then hit one I couldn’t do, which led to the next few wrong. Then I found one that was easy and had success on the next few, until I found one I didn’t know again. Without exception, the results were groupings of right and wrong answers. With concern on his face, my teacher advised me to be aware of this tendency to get rattled by wrong answers.

He had put a weight around my neck with no hope of removing it. All I could think about was all those wrong answers.

I call this my “stumble”. The “stumble” occurs when the results don’t matter, the outcome is celebrated, and the situation is beyond my control. These days, I still grapple with it. I “stumble” and can’t seem to get my balance for a while afterwards.

Although not always as obvious as a black-and-white test on a piece of paper, the stumble surfaces in other ways. Last year I didn’t read the agenda. Just before the meeting started, I discovered I was responsible for more than an hour of it. To add to my grief, I couldn’t find my file. I winged it from memory -- but my entire week was put off balance. I felt inadequate for days, as if everything was slipping through my fingers. All my encounters seemed bad.

For the last month, I have been co-hosting an internet radio show about local happenings. During two of the shows my connection filled with static and caused problems. Each time I could dial back in to the show without a problem, but I wasn’t at my best. Feeling frustrated and filled with mistakes, I didn’t perform well. After each show, it takes me days to regain my footing.

I always notice people who can just shrug things off with a “no big deal” attitude. How do they do that? How do you not care that you made a mistake?

In my high school calculus test, I immediately lost confidence, thinking that I wasn’t as smart as the other kids. This is really what magnified and set off my failure. During the no-agenda meeting, I knew I was the best person to organize the event but I wasn’t perfect. Although I had confidence, it didn’t go exactly right. Is it a loss of confidence or a desire for perfectionism that causes me to stumble?

Educators are aware of this effect. I must not be the only one who struggles with it. How does a person recover from the little calamities in life? Distance from the incident often helps, but when it’s happening you don’t have any distance. The effects can be stopped with reason over time, but in order for me to function well, there needs to be an immediate fix. The goal is to let things slide and not feel dreadful. Being aware of the stumble problem helps, but how do we run upright during the short sprints and keep going?

We won’t make changes until we fail and know that we have something to change. Change takes commitment, dedication, and energy. In this case, all three need to occur on the spot. Lately I have been mentally forcing myself to put the problem away, as if in a box, but often I still don’t perform well because I feel bad. Feelings are not as easy to turn off and they only get worse in that box.

So I’ve decided I need to picture myself in boots, with Nancy Sinatra singing “These Boots Are Made For Walking.” I mentally put my foot down and try to shrug it off. Since it’s all in my head, I might as well have the luxury of sturdy, stylish boots. Hopefully, this will speed up time and help me feel better. Whether it works or not, the important part is recognizing the situation and finding a personal way to improve.

Step by step.

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