I heard a story this week about a young man who makes unusual life choices, such as becoming a monk, deciding to quit the monkhood and ride his bicycle back to Indiana from Arizona with no plan or map, and waking up one morning and running a half-marathon. This is amazing and all, but what the storyteller said last struck me the most: “He did these things because no one ever told him he couldn’t.”
How many times do I tell Story she can’t do something? All the times.
“You can’t be a dragon at school.”
“You can’t have candy for breakfast.”
“You can’t ride the dog like a horse.”
The list goes on and on. Of course, aside from the dragon transformation, she actually can do these things. It’s just not preferable. So, why then do I tell her she can’t? Why don’t I just explain to her why she shouldn’t do these things instead? I’m familiar with Carol Dweck’s work; I’ve read Mindset, and I know the effects of growth versus fixed mindsets. I also know that if you continuously impart negativity on someone, he or she will likely grow to believe it. I know all of this but still, “Story, you can’t.”
While the things I tell her she can’t do now don’t seem like such a big deal, I don’t want Story to grow up to have an “I can’t” attitude. So I resolved to change my downbeat ways.
My first challenge: Story has decided to fly. She began practicing by jumping from one piece of furniture to another. Once she was successful with this, she graduated to jumping from the deck railing. She kept at it even after quite a few falls, which means she’s serious. After practicing from the middle of the slide and not getting much further with her goal, she decided that she needs wings. She’s reassured me that once she has her wings and flies away, she will find me again by using echolocation like a bat.
And this is where I am. Do I make the wings she wants (and has described to me in detail) and let her figure it out on her own? I have to protect her from harm, of course, so I can’t just let her try to fly from a tree. That takes me back to “can’t.” Do I tell her that humans can’t fly, not on their own anyway? Maybe I should just pretend my resolution hasn’t started yet and tackle the next challenge instead. But who knows what that will be? What do you suggest, friends? What would be your chosen course of action?