Sunday, August 29, 2010

Helping Kids to Practice Mediocrity and Still Get Things Done

Mel Levine wrote a book about students, The Myth of Laziness, and you don't have to read it to agree or not (it is a good book, though, so I recommend you do read it.) Think about it for a minute. Do you ever describe yourself or your children or a student or colleague as lazy? If so, and you truly believe it, that these people would rather -xyz- than do what they know they are supposed to do, then you believe laziness exists.

I don't, especially when it comes to kids, but I would extend my belief that laziness is a myth to all of us. Beginning with the belief that we each have impeccable reasons for our behavior (one of my favorite mantras as you may know) we can start to unravel our own, and others, "lazy" behavior.

For those of us who work with kids, it's important to help them see the reasons for their seemingly self-destructive behavior, such as procrastination. There are always reasons. In my first blog entry on this site, I spoke to the pay-off of procrastinating. What about other self-defeating behaviors? Why would a girl stay up so late that she is exhausted in the morning? Well, if she is an adolescent there is some gain to that night time that is more important than avoiding the drudgery of the next morning. Figure out what the gain is, replace it in some other way, and the night owl may be somewhat subdued, if not turned into a lark. Why would a boy refuse to clean out his backpack, locker, desk, room, whatever, even though you know it will help him keep track of his assignments? My guess is, he knows it, too, but there is some pay-off to the chaos and finding it will unlock the mystery. Boys tend to be highly averse to shame beginning in upper elementary school. This boy may feel overwhelmed by the disorganization, ashamed of feeling overwhelmed, and resistant to asking for help. A quiet conversation and some private instructional support for organizing might be the solution.

In addition, having a visceral feeling associated with the consequence of our behavior either reinforces or extinguishes the behavior. Some consequences feel like touching a hot stove, others feel like an uplifting pat on the back. Helping kids to experience and recognize those visceral feelings is a lesson in emotional intelligence and can be a building block for their future accomplishments. We generally need help with initial visceral experiences but, eventually, we'll predict the outcome feeling and guide our behavior toward the outcome we desire. This is not Skinnerian purity but a strong belief in the empowerment that comes with self-reflection and self-determination.

So, what does this have to do with Practicing Mediocrity? Well, for some kids, mediocrity becomes their calling-card, like labeling themselves as lazy. When we recognize the impeccable reasons for our behavior, recognize our potential, and then choose to stop when we have completed a task, rather than scramble toward perfectionism, we have mastered the self-awareness, self-acceptance, and love of our constant core goodness, that underlies truly Practicing Mediocrity.

Until next time...

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