Several weeks ago, my wife and I were visiting our daughter and her family in Southern California. Wrestling with a latch on my 2-year-old granddaughter’s car seat, I couldn’t figure out how to open it. Our perky granddaughter, Layla, looked me in the eye, with her million-dollar smile and declared, “Don’t worry, Grandpa, you can do it.”
After trying different strategies to open it, she repeated her refrain. By then I was frustrated, but I didn’t give up until I figured it out. After all, I wanted her to be right. Free at last, she said, still smiling — “I knew you could do it, Grandpa.”
Layla reminded me of something that adults can easily forget — be confident, persistent and tolerate frustration. Without her cheerleading, I’m sure I would have given up after a few minutes and asked my daughter to help me.
When it comes to mechanical aptitude, my IQ points plummet. I have no natural ability when it comes to the physical world. I get easily frustrated and give up quickly. The net effect is I have little confidence or skill in that area.
So, what is our 2-year-old friend teaching us?
Set your mind. Many adults train for and run a marathon to demonstrate to themselves that they can accomplish a difficult goal, running 26.6 miles. They don’t care how long it takes them. They just want to cross the finish line. This takes commitment, because it’s a painful experience, both in preparing for and finishing the race. In 2015, in the United States, more than 500,000 people completed the 26-mile run. You don’t have to run a marathon to set your mind to complete a challenging task. But you do have to commit.
Perform with confidence. In my years of aikido training, the chief instructor, Koichi Tohei, reminded students to “perform with confidence.” What does that mean? Believe that you can do it when you are executing a task. It means set self-doubt aside when you are doing something. Be 100% present in your intention and your action. This is easier said than done, especially when self-doubt is your next-door neighbor.
Tolerate frustration. I wasn’t cursing when I grappled with the latch, but my blood pressure was going up. When something doesn’t come easily or quickly, we get frustrated. Our blood pressure, heart rate and respiration notch up, and it’s just plain uncomfortable. Step back and breathe slowly and deeply. Let your nervous system settle down enough to approach the task calmly. Staying upset doesn’t improve performance.
Don’t give up. Facing frustration and lack of confidence, it’s easy to throw in the towel too soon. Persistence requires patience. When approaching a task that’s a challenge, give yourself more time. I write this column every week, and writing doesn’t come easily to me. I struggle to find the words that will convey my meaning, my hopes and my dreams to readers. I make sure to dedicate enough time to find my voice.
Don’t be a perfectionist. For some tasks, good enough is just fine. Do you have to get a high mark in everything? Or is just OK enough for the task at hand. Setting the bar too high may be a recipe for frustration and failure.
I look forward to reminding Layla, when she gets older, that she can accomplish her goals.
Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist at The Everett Clinic. His Family Talk blog can be found at www.everettclinic.com/family-talk-blog.