Monday, September 15, 2008

You Are What You Think

I’m about to watch a soccer tryout and I’m wondering how these kids can be passed over, lose a game, miss a shot, or otherwise fail in the conventional sense, and still be worthwhile, wonderful, successful people.

Have you ever said the words, “I am a [bipolar, ADD, a failure, a loser, a worthless person]?

What if, instead, you said:

“I have bipolar disorder.”
“I have ADD.”
“I failed the bar exam…didn’t get into my first choice college…”
“I hate it that I’m 50 and I just got divorced.”
“My boy/girlfriend just broke up with me.”
“I didn’t get the contract I wanted…my article accepted...”

See the difference? It’s semantics, but not just that. To say I am ADD implies that ADDness is at the core of my being, the same way it is when I say I’m a woman, or I’m a psychologist. To say I have ADD implies it’s one of many things you might know about me. To say I’m a failure because I failed an exam implies that the exam performance defines me. To say I failed at something says just that; I failed at some one thing.

Why allow a momentary disappointment, or even a bigger failure, to translate into these globally negative pronouncements?

Sometimes we even allow our kids’ or partners’ shortcomings to define us. There’s the parent who feels like a terrible failure because their kid didn’t get into the best college. There’s the person who feels like a failure because their partner doesn’t make enough money for them to have the biggest house or most expensive car.

At times we use these defeatist attitudes to self-handicap. In other words, I already know I’m going to fail because I’m ADD. I couldn’t possibly get an A on this paper because I’m ADD and therefore disorganized and incapable of managing such a complex task successfully. I’ll try but, you know, I’m ADD.

Sometimes it’s a self-fulfilling prophesy. I’m bipolar, so I know that when my roommate moves out I’m going to go into a deep depression. Or, I can’t meet someone really exciting and interesting because I’m a loser and they’ll know it as soon as I open my mouth. Yeah, that attitude is going to snag some fascinating dates.

Athletes with a “growth mindset” know they can learn from their failures and misses and become better players. People with growth mindsets know they can do anything they set their minds to, regardless of their ADDish, Bipolarish or OCDish behaviors, and become better people.

So consider that even if you don't make this team, publish this paper or pass the bar exam the first time, there are plenty of other opportunities out there just waiting for someone like you to come along and grab them.

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