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  • Transcriber:

  • You might have heard that if you drop a frog in a pot of boiling water,

  • it will jump out right away,

  • but if you put it in lukewarm water, and then slowly heat it up,

  • the frog won't survive.

  • The frog's big problem is that it lacks the ability to rethink the situation.

  • It doesn't realize that the warm bath is becoming a death trap --

  • until it's too late.

  • Humans might be smarter than frogs,

  • but our world is full of slow-boiling pots.

  • Think about how slow people were to react to warnings about a pandemic,

  • climate change or a democracy in peril.

  • We fail to recognize the danger

  • because we're reluctant to rethink the situation.

  • We struggle with rethinking in all kinds of situations.

  • We expect our squeaky brakes to keep working,

  • until they finally fail on the freeway.

  • We believe the stock market will keep going up,

  • even after we hear about a real-estate bubble.

  • And we keep watching "Game of Thrones" even after the show jumps the shark.

  • Rethinking isn't a hurdle in every part of our lives.

  • We're happy to refresh our wardrobes and renovate our kitchens.

  • But when it comes to our goals, identities and habits,

  • we tend to stick to our guns.

  • And in a rapidly changing world, that's a huge problem.

  • I'm an organizational psychologist.

  • It's my job to rethink how we work, lead and live.

  • But that hasn't stopped me from getting stuck in slow-boiling pots,

  • so I started studying why.

  • I learned that intelligence doesn't help us escape;

  • sometimes, it traps us longer.

  • Being good at thinking can make you worse at rethinking.

  • There's evidence that the smarter you are,

  • the more likely you are to fall victim to the "I'm not biased" bias.

  • You can always find reasons

  • to convince yourself you're on the right path,

  • which is exactly what my friends and I did on a trip to Panama.

  • I worked my way through college,

  • and by my junior year, I'd finally saved enough money to travel.

  • It was my first time leaving North America.

  • I was excited for my first time climbing a mountain,

  • actually an active volcano, literally a slow-boiling pot.

  • I set a goal to reach the summit and look into the crater.

  • So, we're in Panama,

  • we get off to a late start,

  • but it's only supposed to take about two hours to get to the top.

  • After four hours, we still haven't reached the top.

  • It's a little strange that it's taking so long,

  • but we don't stop to rethink whether we should turn around.

  • We've already come so far.

  • We have to make it to the top.

  • Do not stand between me and my goal.

  • We don't realize we've read the wrong map.

  • We're on Panama's highest mountain,

  • it actually takes six to eight hours to hike to the top.

  • By the time we finally reach the summit,

  • the sun is setting.

  • We're stranded, with no food, no water, no cell phones,

  • and no energy for the hike down.

  • There's a name for this kind of mistake,

  • it's called "escalation of commitment to a losing course of action."

  • It happens when you make an initial investment of time or money,

  • and then you find out it might have been a bad choice,

  • but instead of rethinking it, you double down and invest more.

  • You want to prove to yourself and everyone else

  • that you made a good decision.

  • Escalation of commitment

  • explains so many familiar examples of businesses plummeting.

  • Blockbuster, BlackBerry, Kodak.

  • Leaders just kept simmering in their slow-boiling pots,

  • failing to rethink their strategies.

  • Escalation of commitment

  • explains why you might have stuck around too long in a miserable job,

  • why you've probably waited for a table way too long at a restaurant

  • and why you might have hung on to a bad relationship

  • long after your friends encouraged you to leave.

  • It's hard to admit that we were wrong

  • and that we might have even wasted years of our lives.

  • So we tell ourselves,

  • "If I just try harder, I can turn this around."

  • We live in a culture that worships at the altar of hustle

  • and prays to the high priest of grit.

  • But sometimes, that leads us to keep going

  • when we should stop to think again.

  • Experiments show that gritty people

  • are more likely to overplay their hands in casino games

  • and more likely to keep trying to solve impossible puzzles.

  • My colleagues and I have found

  • that NBA basketball coaches

  • who are determined to develop the potential in rookies

  • keep them around much longer than their performance justifies.

  • And researchers have even suggested

  • that the most tenacious mountaineers are more likely to die on expeditions,

  • because they're determined to do whatever it takes to reach the summit.

  • In Panama, my friends and I got lucky.

  • About an hour into our descent,

  • a lone pickup truck came down the volcano

  • and rescued us from our slow-boiling pot.

  • There's a fine line between heroic persistence and stubborn stupidity.

  • Sometimes the best kind of grit

  • is gritting your teeth and packing your bags.

  • "Never give up" doesn't mean "keep doing the thing that's failing."

  • It means "don't get locked into one narrow path,

  • and stay open to broadening your goals.

  • The ultimate goal is to make it down the mountain,

  • not just to reach the top.

  • Your goals can give you tunnel vision, blinding you to rethinking the situation.

  • And it's not just goals that can cause this kind of shortsightedness,

  • it's your identity too.

  • As a kid, my identity was wrapped up in sports.

  • I spent countless hours shooting hoops on my driveway,

  • and then I got cut from the middle school basketball team, all three years.

  • I spent a decade playing soccer, but I didn't make the high school team.

  • At that point, I shifted my focus to a new sport, diving.

  • I was bad,

  • I walked like Frankenstein, I couldn't jump,

  • I could hardly touch my toes without bending my knees,

  • and I was afraid of heights.

  • But I was determined.

  • I stayed at the pool until it was dark,

  • and my coach kicked me out of practice. (Laughs)

  • I knew that the seeds of greatness are planted in the daily grind,

  • and eventually, my hard work paid off.

  • By my senior year, I made the All-American list,

  • and I qualified for the Junior Olympic Nationals.

  • I was obsessed with diving.

  • It was more than something I did, it became who I was.

  • I had a diving sticker on my car,

  • and my email address wasdiverag at aol.com.”

  • Diving gave me a way to fit in and to stand out.

  • I had a team where I belonged and a rare skill to share.

  • I had people rooting for me and control over my own progress.

  • But when I got to college,

  • the sport that I loved became something I started to dread.

  • At that level,

  • I could not beat more talented divers by outworking them.

  • I was supposed to be doing higher dives,

  • but I was still afraid of heights,

  • and 6am practice was brutal.

  • My mind was awake, but my muscles were still asleep.

  • I did back smacks and belly flops

  • and my slow-boiling pot this time was a freezing pool.

  • There was one question, though, that stopped me from rethinking.

  • "If I'm not a diver, who am I?"

  • In psychology, there's a term for this kind of failure to rethink --

  • it's called "identity foreclosure."

  • It's when you settle prematurely on a sense of who you are

  • and close your mind to alternative selves.

  • You've probably experienced identity foreclosure.

  • Maybe you were too attached

  • to an early idea of what school you'd go to,

  • what kind of person you'd marry,

  • or what career you'd choose.

  • Foreclosing on one identity is like following a GPS

  • that gives you the right directions to the wrong destination.

  • After my freshman year of college, I rethought my identity.

  • I realized that diving was a passion,

  • not a purpose.

  • My values were to grow and excel,

  • and to contribute to helping my teammates grow and excel.

  • Grow, excel, contribute.

  • I didn't have to be a diver to grow, excel and contribute.

  • Research suggests that instead of foreclosing on one identity,

  • we're better off trying on a range of possible selves.

  • Retiring from diving

  • freed me up to spend the summer doing psychology research

  • and working as a diving coach.

  • It also gave me time to concentrate on my dorkiest hobby,

  • performing as a magician.

  • I'm still working on my sleight of hand.

  • Opening my mind to new identities opened new doors.

  • Research showed me that I enjoyed creating knowledge,

  • not just consuming it.

  • Coaching and performing

  • helped me see myself as a teacher and an entertainer.

  • If that hadn't happened,

  • I might not have become a psychologist and a professor,

  • and I probably wouldn't be giving this TED talk.

  • See, I'm an introvert,

  • and when I first started teaching, I was afraid of public speaking.

  • I had a mentor, Jane Dutton,

  • who gave me some invaluable advice.

  • She said, "You have to unleash your inner magician."

  • So I turned my class into a live show.

  • Before the first day, I memorized my students' names and backgrounds,

  • and then, I mastered my routine.

  • Those habits served me well.

  • I started to relax more and I started to get good ratings.

  • But just like with goals and identities,

  • the routines that help us today

  • can become the ruts we get trapped in tomorrow.

  • One day, I taught a class on the importance of rethinking,

  • and afterward, a student came up and said,

  • "You know, you're not following your own principles."

  • They say feedback is a gift,

  • but right then, I wondered, "How do I return this?"

  • (Takes a breath)

  • I was teaching the same material, the same way, year after year.

  • I didn't want to give up on a performance that was working.

  • I had my act down.

  • Even good habits can stand in the way of rethinking.

  • There's a name for that too.

  • It's called "cognitive entrenchment,"

  • where you get stuck in the way you've always done things.

  • Just thinking about rethinking made me defensive.

  • And then, I went through the stages of grief.

  • I happened to be doing some research on emotion regulation at the time,

  • and it came in handy.

  • Although you don't always get to choose the emotions you feel,

  • you do get to pick which ones you internalize

  • and which ones you express.

  • I started to see emotions as works in progress,

  • kind of like art.

  • If you were a painter,

  • you probably wouldn't frame your first sketch.

  • Your initial feelings are just a rough draft.

  • As you gain perspective, you can rethink and revise what you feel.

  • So that's what I did.

  • Instead of defensiveness, I tried curiosity.

  • I wondered, "What would happen if I became the student?"

  • I threw out my plan for one day of class,

  • and I invited the students to design their own session.

  • The first year, they wrote letters to their freshman selves,

  • about what they wish they'd rethought or known sooner.

  • The next year, they gave passion talks.

  • They each had one minute to share

  • something they loved or cared about deeply.

  • And now, all my students give passion talks

  • to introduce themselves to the class.

  • I believe that good teachers introduce new thoughts

  • but great teachers introduce new ways of thinking.

  • But it wasn't until I ceded control that I truly understood

  • how much my students had to teach one another,

  • and me.

  • Ever since then,

  • I put an annual reminder in my calendar to rethink what and how I teach.

  • It's a checkup.

  • Just when you go to the doctor for an annual checkup

  • when nothing seems to be wrong,

  • you can do the same thing in the important parts of your life.

  • A career checkup to consider how your goals are shifting.

  • A relationship checkup to re-examine your habits.

  • An identity checkup to consider how your values are evolving.

  • Rethinking does not have to change your mind --

  • it just means taking time to reflect

  • and staying open to reconsidering.

  • A hallmark of wisdom

  • is knowing when to grit and when to quit,

  • when to throw in the towel on an old identity

  • and dive into a new one,

  • when to walk away from some old habits and start scaling a new mountain.