Change is hard. For every person who manages to drop a bad habit, there are hundreds, nay thousands, who don’t. And even for many successful habit changers, success often comes after many, many failures.
Our poor library group has suffered its shares of failures and setbacks this month. One person has dropped out. Our vegetarian went for a weekend visit to her mom’s, where meat was on the table for almost every meal. And she ate it. And the Jolly Librarian? It is spotty progress at best. One morning, I get up with the alarm. The next, I somehow manage to sleep through three. Of the four of us who started the month, only one has managed to completely follow through so far: our spender.
Now while not great for us, this is not necessarily a bad lesson for others to learn. One college research study found one small change made a significant difference in the persistence and success of students in a science class. The researchers sent students information about successful scientists, but only those who had struggled and sometimes failed in their careers.
At first, that may seem counter-intuitive: who wants to know about failure? We want to celebrate the successful. But it is a smart approach. Years ago, a math teacher friend of mine would start each semester by saying something like, “Math is hard. There’s no way to get around that. But if you’ll come to class, do the homework, and stick with me, you will learn this.”
Think about it: Imagine coming into a math class. You’re scared to death. You don’t how to do math; it’s always been hard for you. Then someone looks at you and says, “Hey, don’t be scared. Math is easy.” Suddenly, you’re not only scared, but you feel like a failure already. If math is easy and you can’t do it, what does that say about you?
But if the instructor is realistic and says that a course is tough, then there is a reassurance there. It’s okay to have to work hard and struggle. The same was true with the students in the college study. By knowing that other people had found science difficult and still managed to succeed, they understood the path might be tough but could be traversed. And they learned that it was the skill that was challenging, not that they were dumb.
So, like many things, failure is all in the way you look at it. And I’m not giving up on getting up on time.