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Sunday, January 12, 2014

Shut Up and Let Others Figure Things Out

"Never miss a good chance to shut up."  Will Rogers

I know you're wise, but what am I?

Test Yourself:

💟Your 8 year old son is up to bat. Are you likely to yell helpful comments to him like 'keep your eye on the ball' and 'wait for the swing'-- or do you allow him a moment of quiet to center himself?

💟Your 20-something daughter says she hates her current job. Are you more inclined to tell her 'stick it out until you get another job' or 'trust yourself--you're smart. You'll figure it out'

💟An employee practices a new skill as you watch. When he makes a mistake are you more inclined to let him work it out with a little coaching or do you step in and say 'No--this is how you do it'?

Shut up 
So I can hear myself think

Is your only vice 'ad-vice'? Listen up!

While you may have the best of intentions when giving advice to your child or colleague, when you over-advise or support others they learn to second guess their decisions and abilities instead of learning to trust themselves. 

Dr. Sian Beilock, the author of Choke--what the secrets of the brain reveal about getting it right when you have to--is a human performance researcher intent on figuring out why people choke under pressure. Her own failures led her to study why our brains fail to perform at their best when we're under the gun.

I was struck by one aspect of her research that provides insight into why we should shut up and let others figure things out for themselves:
"If we are to become competent people able to perform at our best--especially under pressure-- we need to learn to trust ourselves--our muscle memory, our instincts, our intuition and our problem-solving abilities without over-thinking. We can't do this if others are always telling us what to think and what to do."


Prefrontal cortex over-thinking 

The problem with well-meaning advice is all that chatter from you takes others out of the area of their brain that lets them 'do what comes naturally' and moves them into their prefrontal cortex--the area of the brain that over-thinks. This ultimately leads to freezing and messing up as they second guess their decisions and abilities.

Looking at it from a personal perspective, the last thing you want to do when you're performing under pressure is to become self-conscious--i.e. hyper-aware of yourself and analyzing your thoughts and actions. Others' well-meaning comments at that moment get in the way of you trusting your instincts and swiftly executing an action.

Elevated expectations lowers performance

Beilock also points out that too much support can become an unnecessary burden that lowers performance.
"When we encourage others to shoot high, we may unwittingly cause them to feel an unnecessary burden of expectation which in turn can make the goal or task more difficult than it is. The energy that should be going into mastering the activity and performing it well goes into worry about not meeting an expectation."

Learning to trust our own advice

We all need time to let the learning sequence get processed through the correct parts of our brain. When other people do the thinking we fail to learn for ourselves and learn to trust others instead of ourselves.

In the not too distant past, I had to let go of worrying about my adult children--and let them learn to trust their own decision-making. 

When these young adults come to me for advice it is always tempting to give it, but I've learned the more I practice asking them how they're going to handle a situation, the better they get at figuring things out themselves.

Young children talk to themselves as they learn a skill--then suddenly the self-talk disappears as the skill becomes fully integrated. Adults do the same. Sometimes all we need is someone to listen to us as we figure things out ourselves.

So the next time you start to open your mouth to give a little friendly advice, close it and listen a moment more. You just might be helping to create a more confident, competent person.

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For more than 35 years, Susan Meyerott has been helping people lighten up and step over invisible barriers to change one step at a time. She speaks to your heart, puts you at ease, and makes changing easier than ever before.

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Jean | Delightful Repast said...

Sue, this is brilliant and addresses a problem so common that this post could help countless people! How wise you are to hold back with your adult children, helping them develop their own decision-making skills.

Molly Hamilton said...

Thank you Sue. I really like this concept. And your hearts. Mine are pinned to the ceiling of my car! xoxoxoxo, Molly

Susan J Meyerott, M.S. said...

Well, Jean, I must be doing something right since my daughter wrote to say she liked this post! Sue

Susan J Meyerott, M.S. said...

Molly Girl!

So glad you liked this one--and your hearts! I love that you have yours pinned to the ceiling of your car!

Hugs Sue