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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Hit The Reset Button

I've spent a great deal of my adulthood training others how to do their jobs. Whether working as a bank teller, selling skin care and cosmetic products, or doing telephone customer service, I've repeatedly slipped into the same role. I've often remarked that Alice wanted me to be a teacher (because that was what she wanted to do but never did) and that, in my own way, that is what I ended up doing. Of course, I didn't do it because of some desire to please her, because I really didn't give a rip about what she thought of any type of work I might be doing. And she didn't want me to be a teacher because that was what I wanted or might be good at; it was because that was what she thought was a fitting job for a female.

I just seem to have a knack for explaining things to people in ways that make sense to them. I've used everything from running out of gravel to refinish a driveway to cutting a pie into a specific number of slices, only three of which could have whipped cream on top, to explain various financial concepts. I've used bedding and mattresses to describe the layers of human skin. Heck, I've even used very "street" language and situations to get trainees to understand different types of loans. I'm just grateful that I was able to come up with ideas on a moment's notice to help people learn things that enabled them to do their jobs, and to advance their skill sets.

I am also intrigued by the way the human mind behaves in response to various types of pressure. Sometimes our brains are very much like the computing devices we use on a daily basis. When we overwhelm our computers or tablets or cell phones by asking them to do too many things too quickly, they can sometimes freeze up. (I realize that this is not a proper technical term, but I'd like to remind you that the care and feeding of computing devices is not my area of expertise.) At these times, these various computing devices are often brought back to full working order by a simple action, the equivalent of hitting a reset button. You can call it a reboot or powering down the device or whatever other description is appropriate, but it's often a simple solution that sets things to rights.

One day I was working one-on-one with a woman in a new hire class who needed some extra help. She and I were going over some information while the rest of the class was away for lunch. She had told me that she was confused about something, and we began to work on it when her mind hit a stumbling block. She became frustrated and told me that she had the same problem sometimes when we had written tests on the material taught in class. She would have a moment when she drew a blank, and then sort of freak out about drawing that blank. Her mind would freeze up like a computer in the hands of someone typing way too much and way too fast.

I knew that she was of Native American heritage, and had the idea that she had been raised speaking both English and her Native American dialect. Out of nowhere, when she got frustrated and her mind froze up, I asked her a question that had nothing to do with the material we were studying. "Do you speak a language other than English?" I asked her. She looked a bit surprised and told me that she did speak a mixture of Navajo with a few words from other dialects. I asked her to say something, anything, in the language her family had taught her. She thought for a moment and spoke a sentence or two in her beautiful native tongue.

When she finished, I didn't ask her what she had just said. Instead, I asked her what the answer was to the banking question we had been discussing. Without a bit of hesitation, she gave me the correct answer. She was surprised to find that she knew the answer, but I wasn't. I had simply hit her brain's reset button. I explained to her that when she got frustrated by not having the answer right away, she was stopping her brain from finding the answer by getting upset or nervous about it. I told her the simple trick I had used on her. When she got stuck, I had her switch gears by doing or thinking something that she was comfortable with, something that was natural for her.

She had a pleased little smile on her face when I suggested that she use the simple trick when she got stuck with what might be called a brain stutter. I advised her to quit thinking about the test question or whatever the problem might be for a moment. "Think of some words in Navajo, or maybe even whisper a few of them to yourself, and then go back to the question or problem. Try it and see how it works for you." After that day, she passed all of her tests with no problems and did well with her everyday work. She had found her reset button.

By the way, if you're wondering how I came up with this marvelous idea, it's all because I love to read. A character in a book that I had read many years before had been a teacher and was tutoring a teenage student. When the young man got frustrated and said that he was stupid and hopeless, the teacher/tutor asked him a question about an unrelated subject, relaxing the student's brain. When he went back to the subject at hand, the student realized that he had actually learned and understood what he thought he was too stupid to get. After all those years, I remembered the trick and tried it, and found out that it really worked!


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