Beyond Giving Up

What you do after giving in is a true window into character. If you think you’re going to get back on track, here’s a few thoughts from different books I’ve read over the past year that will help you on your way.

Do you know why you’re giving in? The key is to know the difference between a temporary setback from one that’s permanent. Often this clarity is elusive when unexpectedly overwhelmed.

Daniel Kahneman’s book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” describes an experiment where researchers gave guests puzzles to solve while measuring the dilation of pupils, heart rate. As the challenge level rose, they’d watch the pupils dilate as much as 50% and the heart rate go up by as much as 7 beats per minute. These physiological indicators were reliable enough to tell when the guest has given up,

During a mental multiplication, the pupil normally dilated to a large size within a few seconds and stayed large as long as the individual kept working on the problem; it contracted immediately when she found a solution or gave up. As we watched from the corridor, we would sometimes surprise both the owner of the pupil and our guests by asking, “Why did you stop working just now?” The answer from inside the lab was often, “How did you know?” to which we would reply, “We have a window to your soul.”

– Daniel Kahneman. Thinking, Fast and Slow (Get the Kindle edition on Amazon).

Did you get the challenge-level right? If it is a temporary setback and you’re keen on getting back on – revisit the challenge level. Think about what might make it easier for you to get into the flow of things.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s work on happiness describes a spontaneous process of immersion in  work that can only be achieved if you’re able to balance the challenge and skill level. Too great a challenge and your likely to be disillusioned. Too little and you’ll be bored.

flow model

Flow Model, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

– from Mihaly’s talk and book “Flow”, (Kindle Edition on Amazon).

Slow things down. One way to reduce the challenge level without compromising on the opportunity to learn and fix is to slow things down. Deliberately practice your steps so that you can do them correctly. With the help of repetition and stress on smaller steps you’re more likely to figure out what you need to do correctly.

In “Talent Code”, Daniel Coyle refers to deliberate practice as ‘deep practice’, breaking down a complex skill in order to learn it. He relates how students in various talent hotbeds first watch the skill in action as a coherent entity; slowing your own practice down to break down the moves into its component steps and imitating each one correctly over and over again.

At Spartak it’s called imitatsiya—rallying in slow motion with an imaginary ball. All Spartak’s players do it, from the five-year-olds to the pros. Their coach, a twinkly, weathered seventy-seven-year-old woman named Larisa Preobrazhenskaya, roamed the court like a garage mechanic tuning an oversize engine. She grasped arms and piloted small limbs slowly through the stroke. When they finally hit balls—one by one, in a line (there are no private lessons at Spartak), Preobrazhenskaya frequently stopped them in their tracks and had them go through the motion again slowly, then once more. And again. And perhaps one more time.

Daniel Coyle. The Talent Code: Greatness isn’t born. It’s grown (Get the Kindle Edition on Amazon).

The questions these excerpts will raise ought to be valuable for anyone who’s experienced the frustration of giving up on any objective. Fail and fail smart!