When we say, “Oh, well,” to a failure, we are more likely to repeat the mistake. Instead, correct forward rather than excusing backwards. Quite literally, this is “problem solving.”
There will always be obstacles and difficulties. Success doesn’t happen by itself. It’s all about learning from problems instead of resigning to them — or worse, using them as an excuse to give up on our goals.
It works like this:
Obstacle-minded: “Oh, well, it could have been worse.”
Success-minded: “I can do better.”
And the more specific the positive, forward-looking corrective, the more powerful it will be:
Obstacle-minded: “Well, the teacher didn’t explain it very well.”
Success-minded: “Next time I will see my teacher before the test.”
Students succeed when they focus on corrective behaviors for future progress rather than assigning blame on past choices and outcomes.
How do I do this, then?
- Forgive your past.
- Think about the future.
- Problem solve the past based upon the future you want.
Sounds, easy, eh? Well, If you don’t think about the future, then you’re only abandoning it to your past mistakes.
Future-mindedness is the key to problem finding success.
Let’s get more specific about it:
- Okay, I didn’t do so well on that last English paper.
- My goal is to get at least a B in that class.
- By not reading the book, I got a D on the paper. So if I want a B in the class, maybe I should read the book…
The mistake is repeated when the next paper comes along and the student decides not to do the reading fully. However, if the student keeps in mind that long-term goal of a B in the class, then the student is more likely to actually correct the past mistake and do the reading more fully, which was the problem before.
Goal alignment: keeping long term goals in focus
To dismiss a failure with “oh well” is to reject your own goals. So when facing an obstacle, students who apply a long term objective to the short-term trouble are more likely to not only get past it but to use it as a learning experience to move forward.
One of our jobs at the A+ Club is to help students think about their future goals. The more students think about their futures, the more likely they are to make more productive decisions.
Starting with a simple conversation about a student’s goals, we then review what’s going on academically to see if they are upholding their goals in their daily academic lives.
It sounds ridiculous, but, yes, a student is more likely to do homework if he or she is thinking about a long term goal. “I want straight As” is meaningless unless it is applied daily. So, back to our problem solving conversation:
- I have some homework.
- I have a thousand better things to do.
- None of those things gives me a good grade.
- Okay, I will do my homework first.
When students regularly speak their own goals, they are more likely to act on and own them. And when they are focused on their goals, they will be less likely to excuse their failures by distancing themselves from their own goals.
Just like trouble leads to more trouble, success leads to more success.
How parents can hurt– or help
Parents have a central role in this dynamic. Staying positive on outcomes rather than negative on past mistakes is key.
Sure, when the grades come back short of expectation, we’re not going to be happy. But often times, the worst thing we can do is to excuse it with a reprimand.
A reprimand can be fruitful, but it can just as easily become destructive when it becomes more important than the behaviors we are trying to change. The worst reaction to punishment is that which excuses repetition of the behavior.
The last thing we want is for our child to say, “Oh well, I’ll lose my allowance, anyway, so why bother trying?” Blame is now on the parent or the teacher rather than ownership on the part of the student.
Once we develop the habits of negativity, we are stuck with it, and all we end up doing is reinforcing it. It’s not easy to break, but we’ll never break it if all we are doing is reinforcing trouble with trouble.
So instead of reprimanding the outcome, we parents — and teachers — will do better to focus on the processes that lead to the undesirable outcomes than on those outcomes themselves.
Identify gaps between student choices and student outcomes — as specifically as possible — such as time management or assignment tracking. That means saying, “what could you have done better?” as opposed to saying, “don’t screw up next time.”
Think long term and act on it short term.
Btw, I chose this image in honor of my sister who just ran the Kona “Iron Man” triathlon race. Amazing how hard she pushed herself — serious goal setting there!