These wise words from a yoga teacher of mine recently softened my personal experience of everyday challenges, the process of learning something new, and even perceived failures. For many years, I’d understood that “what challenges changes us” from a physical standpoint (pushing myself a little harder in spin class, lifting heavier weights in the gym), but I’d never considered my mental and emotional confusion as a sign of getting stronger as well.
Turns out there’s a lot of research and science to back this theory up, particularly when it comes to intellectual struggle. Think of “productive failure” as the learning equivalent to “productive discomfort” that you experience when rolling on therapy balls. NPR Science Reporter Alix Spiegel puts it like this. “Obviously if struggle indicates weakness — a lack of intelligence — it makes you feel bad, and so you're less likely to put up with it. But if struggle indicates strength — an ability to face down the challenges that inevitably occur when you are trying to learn something — you're more willing to accept it.”
'What kind of animals are we?'
Jim Stigler, a professor of psychology at UCLA, studies how different cultures tackle learning. "We decided to go out and give the students an impossible math problem to work on, and then we would measure how long they worked on it before they gave up."
The American first-graders "worked on it less than 30 seconds on average and then they basically looked at us and said, 'We haven't had this.’” But the Japanese first-graders kept at it. "And finally we had to stop the session because the hour was up. And then we had to debrief them and say, 'Oh, that was not a possible problem; that was an impossible problem!' and they looked at us like, 'What kind of animals are we?' " Stigler recalls.
Moderation Moderation Moderation
In self-massage class, we navigate the therapy balls around the body to avoid sensations that spike into the red zone (lest you injure yourself or never return to class because it was so painful). The same idea can be applied to learning. Where East meets West is the sweet spot. James Clear says, "The Goldilocks Rule states that humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of their current abilities. Not too hard. Not too easy. Just right."
Now that’s a fairytale I believe in.
- Why Floundering Is Good
- Struggle For Smarts? How Eastern And Western Cultures Tackle Learning
- This 1 Science-Backed Rule Is All You Need to Stay Motivated