Misdirected Zeal and Why We Keep Trying or Quit
It’s amazing to me just how important our view of reality is! And it is fascinating to me how involved we are in shaping our personal view of reality!
In choice theory-speak, the perceived world represents what we think we HAVE, or what we believe reality to be. (The quality world, on the other hand, represents what we WANT.)
I have read a couple of things recently that reminded me of the significance of our individual perceived worlds. One of the things I read is from Scripture; the other is from a study* out of Rutgers University on perseverance.
The apostle Paul, describing people who want to make themselves good by keeping religious rules, uses a phrase that got my attention. He writes –
I know the enthusiasm they have for God, but it is misdirected zeal. Romans 10:2 NLT
The phrase misdirected zeal conveys our ability as human beings to become convinced about an idea or belief that isn’t true. Our self-created convictions can lead to zealous behavior, but this behavior doesn’t make the conviction any truer. We see extreme examples of misdirected zeal when terrorists blow themselves up or when members of the Westboro Baptist Church put on hateful demonstrations. Their extremism, though, shouldn’t divert our attention to the numerous more common examples of how we create our own reality. That Fox News is now a major media outlet is testimony to the millions of viewers who view reality from a certain perspective.
For choice theorists the Rutgers study will not be earthshaking, yet it is worthy of our attention. The researchers’ goal was to find out what caused some people to quit, while others work harder and push on. The answer they discovered has to do with how much control people perceive they have over the situation.
The student who fails an exam because he feels he didn’t study hard enough will probably study harder, or differently, the next time. On the other hand, the student who fails an exam because he believes the teacher used trick questions on the test that didn’t really cover the content will probably give up studying or even drop the course.
Teachers may need to give students “bad news,” but it should be done in a way that conveys belief in the student’s ability to complete the task. Some possible approaches include –
+ “Let’s think of some ideas that will help you understand this better.”
+ “Would changing the way you study for this kind of test be helpful? Would you like to talk about different study strategies?”
+ Would you like another chance on this assignment? Do you understand it well enough to give it another try?”
+ “I think you’re very capable of doing well on this material. I wonder what is preventing it so far.”
Helping students to perceive that their doing well is within their control is really a key. The Rutgers research recognizes the value of providing constructive feedback that encourages students to persevere and keep on keeping on. We all like that kind of feedback actually. We all persevere with things we feel are in our control.
* An article regarding the Rutgers study can be found here – http://www.medicaldaily.com/whether-you-quit-or-persevere-depends-your-perception-control-what-make-us-try-again-301706
I have found quite a few resources for the idea of “growth mindset” vs “fixed mindset”. We talk about it in class and when I hear talk like “I can’t do it” or “We’re way too far behind the other team, we’ll never win” I remind them that that sounds like a fixed mindset. So far, reminding them of what their mindset is seems to make them aware and they change their thinking (which is in their control!) In PE, for example, we had various teams doing hula hoop bowling (they have to bowl a playground ball into a hula hoop, and each team has 3 hula hoops). A student voiced the above comment about “We’ll never win” and I reminded him about fixed and growth mindset. He immediately changed to cheering his team and rooting for them. They ended up getting two hula hoops in back to back rolls. After the game, I pointed it out to the entire class – how growth mindset (choosing to keep trying, choosing to persevere, choosing to change your thinking) can literally be a game changer! And, it fits very well with Choice Theory and changing your thinking.
Your thoughts and examples really extend what I was trying to say. The idea of a growth mindset vs a fixed mindset is easy to understand and remember as well.
Where and how do you think standardized tests fit in here Jim? Not sure anyone is trying to help anyone really learn with standardized testing so maybe this is an unfair question. But it still may have similar results with children and teachers feeling defeated and discourage. I’d love to hear your thought and ideas about this.
Good to hear from you, Nancy.
Some of my thoughts regarding your good question –
The standardized testing industry hides behind the banner of “Let’s Help Children Learn” but I don’t see that happening. If standardized testing has value, it would be in taking a systemic snapshot of student abilities, which would then influence curriculum and instruction. It shouldn’t be about testing one kid or evaluating one teacher or school. Finland “gets” the best use of such tests, as they apply a kind of dipsticking strategy that helps them stay in touch with how different parts of the country are doing in various content areas. They don’t have this obsession with accountability like we do. For us in the US, accountability is part of our carrot vs stick mentality, which further screws up the whole process.
The NCLB format had unfortunate effects here in Napa County schools, where I live. Schools were almost entirely focused on Language Arts and Math, and in a way that sucked the creativity and relevance out of the instruction. Teachers felt very scripted. The Common Core emphasis is bringing some freedom back into teachers’ lives, although for them it is almost too much creativity. Napa County schools at the moment are among the best in the country, but that is another story.
Anyway, teachers do get discouraged when there is so much focus on a standardized test. I don’t blame them. I would be discouraged, too. Like I said, though, that is changing here.
I think “misdirected zeal” is a perfect new slogan for Fox News, by the way..
Yes, I have to agree.
I would even go further, in that I think the people that Paul was talking about were in some way, to a small extent, seeking truth, and that in the process their enthusiasm became misdirected. I don’t give Fox even that much credit. Maybe I am being too hard on them, but I don’t think so.