Why Do We Tell People It's All In Their Heads? [Discussion/Rant]

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Post by eselle28 on Fri Nov 21, 2014 2:32 pm

reboundstudent wrote:
ElizaJane wrote: Seconding what Mel said about this, I think part of where we get disconnect is when you take this to the level that says, "And I can't get better at math, so I'll never be successful," whereas maybe the real answer is to try to go from average to fantastic somewhere else.

Maybe this is a subject for a different thread, but why is there an assumption that you can get fantastic somewhere else? Building off the "all in your head," that often comes coupled with "well the improve these other things!" Which isn't illogical, but I'm always curious why there's a belief that things can be improved. Is it just that people feel pressured to give some kind of advice, regardless of its practicality? Is it the belief that literally anything can be improved, by anyone (and if it doesn't improve, you just haven't found the right method)? Is it discomfort over the idea that all-over mediocrity may be the realistic ceiling for some folks?

I ask that last one because I don't think anyone will deny that we live in a society drenched with the idea that we are each special and unique, and anything can be accomplished by pulling up our bootstraps, and I wonder if/how those social messages contribute to this experience.    

I don't think the belief is that everything can be improved. I think it's that some things can be improved. I think for most people, that is true. I mean, I'm certainly not my very best self. I don't think many people who I know are their best selves all the time, either.
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Post by reboot on Fri Nov 21, 2014 3:07 pm

Hell, I do not know if I am my best self even 1% of the time.

RBS, correct me if I am wrong, but I have a sense that you are extremely frustrated by (to extend your ACT analogy - which I think is awesome by the by) is that your math was not good enough and you do not feel like you can raise your other scores high enough to get into school A, no matter how hard you try or how many times you take the test. Then, to top it off, you feel like people do not see your math scores as the problem or they tell you to improve your other scores when you know that it is beyond your abilities to improve them enough.

Am I close or am I still missing something?
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Post by Guest on Fri Nov 21, 2014 3:29 pm

reboundstudent wrote:
ElizaJane wrote: Seconding what Mel said about this, I think part of where we get disconnect is when you take this to the level that says, "And I can't get better at math, so I'll never be successful," whereas maybe the real answer is to try to go from average to fantastic somewhere else.

Maybe this is a subject for a different thread, but why is there an assumption that you can get fantastic somewhere else? Building off the "all in your head," that often comes coupled with "well the improve these other things!" Which isn't illogical, but I'm always curious why there's a belief that things can be improved. Is it just that people feel pressured to give some kind of advice, regardless of its practicality? Is it the belief that literally anything can be improved, by anyone (and if it doesn't improve, you just haven't found the right method)? Is it discomfort over the idea that all-over mediocrity may be the realistic ceiling for some folks?

I ask that last one because I don't think anyone will deny that we live in a society drenched with the idea that we are each special and unique, and anything can be accomplished by pulling up our bootstraps, and I wonder if/how those social messages contribute to this experience.    

Well, I think the idea that any human being has reached the absolute pinnacle of their human potential is against my religion. :-/ I think we're all works in progress, we're all growing, and everyone has something they can give to the world and to those around them. Maybe this is naive? I think you're pretty cool, though, and I worry that you are making yourself unhappy by focusing on one weak area which may be out of your control to change, instead of looking for the coolness inside of you for places where you can get even better.

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Post by reboundstudent on Fri Nov 21, 2014 5:23 pm

reboot wrote: RBS, correct me if I am wrong, but I have a sense that you are extremely frustrated by (to extend your ACT analogy - which I think is awesome by the by) is that your math was not good enough and you do not feel like you can raise your other scores high enough to get into school A, no matter how hard you try or how many times you take the test. Then, to top it off, you feel like people do not see your math scores as the problem or they tell you to improve your other scores when you know that  it is beyond your abilities to improve them enough.

This pretty much nails it.

ElizaJane wrote: Well, I think the idea that any human being has reached the absolute pinnacle of their human potential is against my religion. :-/ I think we're all works in progress, we're all growing, and everyone has something they can give to the world and to those around them.  Maybe this is naive?  I think you're pretty cool, though, and I worry that you are making yourself unhappy by focusing on one weak area which may be out of your control to change, instead of looking for the coolness inside of you for places where you can get even better.

For me, there's a difference between "growing" and "reaching the pinnacle." To use the religious analog (and why not, I'm sure the message is imprinted somewhere on my consciousness, having been raised Christian), we can always be kind and compassionate towards our fellow man, but we are also still going to be sinful and greedy and unkind some/most of the time. We are never going to be perfect; that's why we can't save ourselves, and needed Jesus in the first place. The pinnacle may be average imperfect; that doesn't mean you can't keep trying (cue Lutheran sermons about how there is glory in trying and failing) but there's an understanding you are never going to succeed.

Which I can actually appreciate, from a philosophical perspective, but it takes a lot of spoons to say "I am going to keep doing this, and keep trying to improve, even while I know I will never succeed."

I genuinely think I'm up against the ceiling in pretty much all of my traits. I'm far enough along in life that while I may learn more about certain things (I will probably know more about coding than I know today, for example), most of my innate traits and qualities are probably at the height of what they're going to be. Like I genuinely don't think there is any area where I could get "even better"; I don't believe I possess the skill to figure out 1) how to identify which traits I can improve and which are permanently stuck where they are 2) figure out HOW to improve those skills I can change.

For example, I've always longed to be smarter. I try to read more books; I try to do brain teasers and logic puzzles. But I just cannot fully grasp it. The more I study logic reasoning in arguments, the worse I am at it. I mean, how in the world are you supposed to make yourself smarter? More well-informed, sure, more educated, sure, but smarter, something we think of a genetic, more-or-less static trait after a certain point in life? Ya got me!
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Post by LadyLuck on Fri Nov 21, 2014 6:58 pm

Well yeah, you can't improve innate traits, that's why they're called innate. But there are legitimately a lot of areas out there in which how much raw time you've dumped in matters way more then innate stuff. To give a really crazy example - I was a swimmer in high school, and I think we can all agree that athletic success is VERY strongly related to innate genetics. One obvious factor is height; taller swimmers will pretty much always have a big advantage due to being able to pull more water per stroke. Most of my brother's success was almost entirely due to his way above average height. But the swimmers with the best times, at my school were NOT simply all the tallest swimmers. Instead it was a monoculture of people who's parents had paid for them to be in club swimming from age 3. The best breaststroke swimmer on the girl's team was actually quite short, like under 5'. Now, sure, at the absolute top tier (ie Olympics), you'll have people who are genetically superior AND have been swimming for 15+ years. But I don't think you need to be top tier of the whole freaking world to stand out in a smaller context. There were definitely girls who got to stand out on the swim team, who definitely had zero chance of ever being in the Olympics no matter how hard they tried.

And that's what I think a lot of this comes down to - context. No, most people do not get to stand out in a broad context. Standing out on a world, national, even regional level will be somewhat of a talent luck draw (and you still have to do the work). But there are LOTS of opportunities to stand out in more limited spaces. And standing out in those spaces often just requires you being willing to put in more work, and stick with it longer, then the people around you. This is why "follow your passions!" ends up being good advice - if you like the act of working at something, its not going to seem like work to you. So such people will mindlessly dump 15 hours a day into it without a second thought (because fun!) and poof 2 years later they're considered gods of it (because they've clocked 10K hours). But said people still probably aren't necessarily "the best of the best". Having average talents doesn't mean you need to accept that you'll never stand out ever, it means you need to accept living in a smaller pond.

I think a far larger issue is the fact that the more other people seem to care about a particular skill, the more people are willing to work at being good at it. To go back to athletics - part of why lots of parents are willing to pay for their child to do swimming/soccer/whatever from a young age is because of the tangible results that come from their kid doing well. So yeah, its actually quite easy to rate as "fantastic" at something, if you pick something no one else cares about. But the more society cares about a thing, the more people there will be trying to get recognition for being great at it. But again, until you get to the absolute top tiers, all you have to do is outwork them.

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Post by reboot on Fri Nov 21, 2014 8:15 pm

reboundstudent wrote:
reboot wrote: RBS, correct me if I am wrong, but I have a sense that you are extremely frustrated by (to extend your ACT analogy - which I think is awesome by the by) is that your math was not good enough and you do not feel like you can raise your other scores high enough to get into school A, no matter how hard you try or how many times you take the test. Then, to top it off, you feel like people do not see your math scores as the problem or they tell you to improve your other scores when you know that  it is beyond your abilities to improve them enough.

This pretty much nails it.

OK, so starting with this understanding, do you want to figure out how to avoid conversations like this? Or is it more how to come to terms with being not "Harvard material" at anything? Or is it something entirely different?
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