Monday, June 16, 2008

Light Bulb Moment...

The other day I was leafing through the book What Happy People Know by psychologist Dan Baker. He speaks about his work with women with eating disorders and how he learned that focusing on their eating habits didn't work in helping them change their behavior. He found that the greatest thing he could do was to support these women in realizing and playing to their strengths and inevitably the other stuff took care of itself over time. This concept of not focusing on your weaknesses but playing to your strengths struck me with its simplicity. And I almost kicked myself there in the bookstore aisle. How could I not have learned something so simple?

For many reasons, growing up in a "sin"-focused environment being one of them, I learned that weaknesses were to remain the focus until they're overcome. If there's some deficiency, it's my job to make it right. But apparently, the brain doesn't respond so well to this. It puts more stress on an already stressed system and you end up spinning your wheels. Instead, it is better to shift the energy into what you already do well, and nurture that. This improves self-image and a sense of competency which then allows the other "weaknesses" to either disappear or be worked with from a more positive foundation.

To put this in context, I just went to have my first day with the munchkin I've been hired to work with for the Summer. As mentioned, he's 3 and he's "mildly" Autistic. Now, I have worked with Autistic children in the past. And I really wasn't very good at it. But somehow, I thought this was a "weakness" on my part. I thought that I should be able to do this. Just like the other day when I thought that I should be able to do Quadratic Equations. We know how that all turned out. But I digress.

After four hours with this child this morning, corralling him, keeping his attention diverted from getting into mischief, engaging him in constant interaction, attending to shrieking, punching and kicking meltdowns, the mother tells me that this was a "good day". She says, "At least he didn't bolt." Bolt?! Apparently he runs into traffic. You can't take your eyes off him for five seconds.

She must have read the overwhelm on my face. "So, what do you think?" she asked.

"Well, I don't think I'm going to be able to meet your needs here." And that was it. That's all it comes down to. He has needs I'm not going to be able to meet. I have many strengths for working with children, but they aren't going to fit this particular situation. And that's okay.

So, I hugged her, wished her well, told her she's an amazing mother (parents of Autistic children everywhere have my deepest admiration) and said it was okay, she didn't need to pay me. I felt privileged just to have had the learning I had and to meet them. And I was on my way, smiling that life cares enough to give me opportunities to learn about my own ignorance.

I now know it's okay for me to play to my strengths, to focus on the things I do well and to let go of the rest. What a relief!

tall penguin


matt said...

This is a beautiful thought. It seems so strange that we were taught to focus on the weaknesses. I guess it would be common sense. Got a problem? Deal with it!

It's no wonder I buckled down to so much pressure on many occasions.

Interesting, it's moments like these when I realize there always seems to be a better way to go about things.

As I said, sorry it didn't work out with the munchkin. I'm glad you didn't take it with a mind's eye on limitations. Seems the little guy needs someone who can toss cars aside before they hit him. :)

jdbartlett said...

Kudos for the way you handled a very difficult situation. It took guts, even though you made a decision that'll work out best for everyone in the long run.

What about behavior that's just not socially acceptable? Not necessarily something serious, just an odd little quirk like talking with your mouthful or absent-mindedly picking your nose in public. It's not necessarily unhealthy for you personally, but could be socially inhibiting, and I can't see how ignoring it and instead concentrating on your strengths will help you overcome it.

I guess different situations call for different techniques.

zensim said...

Often the simplicity is so obvious we can't believe we haven't been living that truth. And every part of our body is screaming at us "Of course! Don't you get it?!" that it feels like the most obvious thing in the moment of realisation :)

We think we are so clever yet our minds are often the last to catch up to that which the body already knows.

This will interest you:

tall penguin said...

"What about behavior that's just not socially acceptable?"

Of course, what I'm talking about doesn't apply to everything. Life is about sorting out when to apply information and when not to. For me, this realization was about heading in a different direction...towards my strengths and away from my weaknesses. It's a shift in focus. One that will give me some much-needed strength. It uses up a lot of energy beating your head against the wall. ;)

tall penguin said...

p.s. JDBartlett, geez, does every JW male learn to web develop at some point? At least that's a marketable skill, better than the lot of most "sisters". Jealous.

Falterer said...

What?! You mean there aren't any absolute truths I can live by 100% of the time?! This is an outrage! I demand to speak to the manager! This is no way to run an intelligent species!

Or: oh. Yeah. I still keep forgetting that. One day, I may stop craving moral/social absolutism.

PS: I have no idea! Could be that those who build bits of it are less scared of it, so you're more likely to run into them online.

(Speaking of which... whoops! Didn't mean to use my general Google/Blogger identity in comments. Not that it's super-secret or anything, I just usually link to the Falterer wossname or go anon.)

tall penguin said...

"What?! You mean there aren't any absolute truths I can live by 100% of the time?! This is an outrage! I demand to speak to the manager! This is no way to run an intelligent species!"

Ha,ha,ha...ya, I hear ya falterer. This is my ongoing learning in life, trying to sort out what is relevant and when. Contrary to what the JW org taught us, there is no manual for life; we do our best with what we have. Some days better than others.

Great to have you here.