I’m not sure if you’ve ever seen a ‘Rockumentary’ (Rock documentary) called “This is Spinal Tap”. It is a spoof film following a hard rock band and its capers that came out in 1984. It came to mind as we cross into another year – ’11 to be exact – and a scene from the movie pops up for me. Imagine that the band is trying to explain their tools to the journalist – they have shown him their amps and all of them have numbers that go from 1 to 11, instead of the usual 1 to 10. The rock star is explaining that while most others only go to ten, their band can ‘push it over the cliff’ and turn their music up to eleven, one louder. So how does the mind deal with this idea? Let’s turn it up and see…
Taking it up a Notch
The way I see the amp metaphor is from the perspective of performance. And the one thing I like about that scene is the idea of adding to the top. There are several reasons the mind enjoys performance challenges. Despite historic concepts of the mind on being hard-wired, there is more and more evidence that the mind is a living, changing organism that creates new connections when needed (and atrophies connections that are not used). When we contest our own levels of performance, we inspire new connections within the brain, which tend to make us more ‘brain resilient’ over time – people who suffer from strokes who have active and varied interests tend to recover better (because the brain can find alternative routes to process).
Studies have shown that simply understanding that intelligence isn’t innate but flexible and within a person’s power have enhanced outcomes in academic subjects. So even thinking that there’s a higher notch allows the potential for reaching it – how neat is that?
What keeps us at 10 (or 7 or 3)
But what happens when we plateau, or decline? If there are so many benefits for improvement, why would we stay at the same level of performance? Interestingly, there tends to be comfort in ‘normalcy’ – which means that there’s a natural, human tendency to cluster in the ‘norm’ of the bell curve of life. Studies have shown that individuals who have found themselves on either extreme (high or low) have tended to equalize themselves with others – to become more normal (in spite of many cultures’ ideals to the contrary).
Additionally, often where we are is comfortable or familiar – we know what we’ve got even if it isn’t really what we truly want. We know our place in life. Many families have accidental labeling of members – ‘the smart one’, ‘the funny one’ etc – and we tend to abide by these labels even if they don’t feel particularly comfortable any more or don’t really fit. We tend to live up or down to them. Imagine a child who has been told, probably very lovingly, that they are good at humanities but not sciences, why would that child necessarily turn his or her power onto science subjects? Often it’s the fear of working hard, failing and then proving to others that they were right that keeps people in their boxes.
If you weren’t afraid of failing or the discomfort of something new or starting again, what would you do?
Making 10 Louder
Part of the Spinal Tap ‘mockumentary’ scene included the journalist asking the question “why don’t you just make ten to be the top number and make that a little louder?” Good question. This is what elite athletes and performers actually tend to do. They make the extraordinary, ordinary. They take a level above the norm and then practice that peak until it becomes their new baseline. The eleven fades away when it becomes the new ten. Sometimes this is very subtle – I often point out to individuals the steps I see them changing in their lives, unbeknownst to them simply because it feels so natural or happens with the subconscious aligned so there isn’t any internal conflict that makes the shift more noticeable. You are in a process of learning in life and many of the challenges of the past are now simple. Too often we deflate our successes, rather than celebrate our new, higher level of being/doing.
Often times we need someone else to notice for us, so grab a friend and ask them what you’re great at or better at (best find someone who has a bit of a longer-term view of you). You may be surprised. Don’t discount anything that was said (write it down so you have ammunition against any ‘I’m not good at anything’ gremlins). And it might even inspire you to reflect on talents they have missed or are yet in progress.
Translating to 2010, I mean, 2011
Because the mind loves challenges, I challenge you to a few mind resolutions for 2011:
- Question your limits – if a part of your life feels limiting, ask yourself “am I staying at the same level because I’m afraid, comfortable, or frustrated in avoiding taking a risk?” Look back on labels from your past and see if there are limits that may not be relevant any more.
- Fail forward fast – like ripping off a bandaid, sometimes it’s best to know what doesn’t work, so we can discover alternative directions and options. While doing nothing feels safer, breaking a threshold may open up new and exciting possibilities for you in the new year.
- Get a ‘realitoid’ check – it’s like reality but better. Find a friend to focus on your positive traits and assets – this is where you need to notice positive change.
- Work on your Tens – while we might want to focus on our weaknesses, maybe it’s time to work on your strengths. Not only will you have a level of competency that supports you, but you may discover new excellence and mastery in an area of your life that opens new doors.
- Check out ‘This is Spinal Tap’ – or another film that you find funny.