Back in early summer I was bopping through the house of a Sunday evening and passed the TV, which my husband had tuned to 60 Minutes. Heads of colleges were discussing options for the fall semester in response to COVID-19.
The footage showed a clip of Katherine Rowe, President of William and Mary, high fiving students enthusiastically at matriculation, and then cut to an interview with her. Her calm demeanor, full of equanimity and grace, was utterly arresting, and made me stop in my tracks (laundry basket dangling uselessly, haha).
John Dickerson was interviewing her in the oldest building on an American college campus, and President Rowe said she felt “burdened.” He asked her, “What causes the most weight to that burden?”
Ms. Rowe responded, “One weight comes…sheerly from uncertainty. Human beings loathe it. We will do almost anything not to have it. And we are called to tolerate uncertainty at a really high level right now.”
Man, did she nail it? The old saying (was it Yoda?) goes, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” Ms. Rowe taught me a huge lesson in that quick sound byte – that it is completely natural for our brains to detest the ‘not knowing’…and that means I am not alone in my feelings of anxiety during this global pandemic.
And her statement was broadcast on June 14th – back then I thought for sure we’d have a TON more certainty in our lives by now!
Don’t know about you…but the only thing I currently feel certain about is that the uncertainty will continue for an uncertain amount of time.
And then I found this article about, of all things, uncertainty!
One thing that really struck me, that I see reinforced constantly in my coaching practice – and tutoring, for that matter – is that “practice makes perfect” is one million percent true, at a granular level in our brains.
Dr. Jack Nitschke from the University of Wisconsin says, “Our brains help us get good at what we’re doing.” Whatever actions we are taking or thoughts we are having – and WE CAN CONTROL OUR THOUGHTS – our brains are laying down stronger and stronger neural pathways to reinforce those thoughts.
If you’re practicing soccer, your brain is literally creating new “highways” in your noggin to reinforce the successful muscle memories required for soccer.
Trying to learn Bohemian Rhapsody on the ukulele? (No?….only me…?) The more I practice, the better I get. Drop the uke and walk away for a few days (or weeks) and my brain feels rusty.
It kind of…literally…is.
This neural reinforcement works whether you’re studying vocab for the ACT, trying to follow a Bob Ross painting video on YouTube (surprisingly peaceful, meditative and joyful, by the way), or…letting your little “hamster in the wheel” brain run amok with thoughts of uncertainty and worst case scenarios over things you can’t control (and that will most likely not happen).
Try giving yourself a little Katherine Rowe-type grace. Try to stop the hamsters in the wheel before they get too charged up. Try a Bob Ross video!
And stay well, my friends. Stay well.