Capacity to Try and Emotional Health
The capacity to try is an interesting measure of ability for hard work and therefore success. It is also very much tied into emotional health. Capacity is the product of the right environmental foundation and the right development, even as a muscle in the human body is developed. Ultimately it is having a heart of sonship.
I worked with Joe in prayer ministry. He owned a small painting business. He had good current accounts and new ones calling him, yet he found it difficult to get motivated and seize the day. Things fell through the cracks and his family suffered financially. He was so tired of the self-condemnation. He’d tried everything and felt hopeless.
In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell states that, “Working hard is what successful people do.” Then he presents an interesting study: “Alan Schoenfeld, a math professor at Berkeley, studied average students working through math problems. One student endured twenty-two minutes on a problem and finally found her misconception and solved it. Most students studied asked for the answer after just a few failed attempts. The average student concludes it is too hard to ever solve at the two-minute mark.” (italics mine)
Capacity to try applies to learning all skills. Recently I’ve been into cycling with a group. Some days I can stay with the front of the pack. Yesterday I had trouble staying up with the back of the pack. Do I get discouraged, do I keep practicing? How long will it take to build up my legs and endurance? In learning Spanish on the mission field, I met missionaries who never grew beyond asking where the bathroom was. They felt foolish speaking incorrectly in front of the locals. Of course, not being willing to make a mistake shuts down all learning. This is true with growing in emotional health. It too, has a learning curve and requires persistence.
How long can I go before giving up? “Success is a function of persistence and doggedness and the willingness to work hard for twenty-two minutes to make sense of something that most people would give up on after thirty seconds. Testing how hard someone is willing to work reveals their capacity at success.” Gladwell (2008)
One of the ways exercise intensity is measured is through heart rate. Willingness to try is an interesting measure of emotional health and capacity for forward movement.
As I worked with Joe, he got in touch with an ambivalence his mother often expressed toward him. It was hard and painful to acknowledge this. But as he worked through it he was able to let go of lies that he lacked value and was powerless. He saw his mom had her own pain and that her ambivalence was not about him.
Many of us struggle with deep-rooted lies of powerlessness from where abuse objectified us repeatedly. The capacity to try comes from having lived in a safe environment where parents were loving, kind, patient, available, and encouraging. A place where it was okay to make a mistake, okay not to know something. There was an atmosphere void of absolute thinking, critical comments, and bigotry. In this environment, the child is supported in his efforts, learns from his failures and experiences the payoff from his work thus developing his “try” muscle. If this is not our foundation, we have to resolve any pain remaining from that lack and build it into our lives by knowing that our Heavenly Father is patient, kind, and enduring with us.
Understanding that the foundation of “willingness to try” is based in the Father’s love gives us a map for success rather than a bullet-point formula.
Gladwell, M. (2008). Outliers. NY: Back Bay Books