10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1
power clean (185/125)
1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10
handstand push-up

Struggle.

In this NPR podcast, Alix Spiegel interviews UCLA professor Jim Stigler and Brown professor Jin Li about the differences between Eastern and Western school children and their actions toward struggle.

As I listened to the observations and studies about Western children and their quickness to give up, I couldn’t help but think of my own struggles and my actions.  Stigler spoke about a specific study done with Western and Eastern children that struck a chord.

“We did a study many years ago with first-grade students,” he tells me. “We decided to go out and give the students an impossible math problem to work on, and then we would measure how long they worked on it before they gave up.”

The American students “worked on it less than 30 seconds on average and then they basically looked at us and said, ‘We haven’t had this,’ ” he says.

But the Japanese students worked for the entire hour on the impossible problem. “And finally we had to stop the session because the hour was up. And then we had to debrief them and say, ‘Oh, that was not a possible problem; that was an impossible problem!’ and they looked at us like, ‘What kind of animals are we?’ ” Stigler recalls.

“Think about that [kind of behavior] spread over a lifetime,” he says. “That’s a big difference.”

That is a big difference!  And if Western school children act that way, do Western adults do the same, do I do the same?  I thought about this for a long time.  Yes, I think many Western adults do, including myself.  Although, I do know of one arena where they don’t – CrossFit.  In CrossFit, athletes drive, obsess, practice, and tackle the workouts and movements to the point of stubborn relentless pursuit of their goal.

How freaking cool is that?!  And if they do it in one arena, then surely it translates to other areas of their lives.

Stigler further comments, “I think that from very early ages we [in America] see struggle as an indicator that you’re just not very smart,” Stigler says. “It’s a sign of low ability — people who are smart don’t struggle, they just naturally get it, that’s our folk theory. Whereas in Asian cultures they tend to see struggle more as an opportunity.”

Yes, this statement is in the realm of academics but it also translates to that of athleticism.  Many athletes see struggle as an embarassing element of their training.  They see being the last one to finish as a bad thing, the inability to do a kipping handstand push-up as a sign of weakness, and the imperfect practice of a skill as one to be avoided at all costs – even at the expense of one day being able to accomplish the task.

As an athletic community, we at Roots, should change our own views of what it means to struggle.  We should push through, learn from our mistakes, relish in our failed attempts, embrace the struggle knowing it will bring growth, success, and achievement – and admire the folks around us who do the same.

Spiegel and Li point out:

This is not to imply that the Eastern way of interpreting struggle — or anything else — is better than the Western way, or vice versa. Each have their strengths and weaknesses, which both sides know. Westerns tend to worry that their kids won’t be able to compete against Asian kids who excel in many areas but especially in math and science. Li says that educators from Asian countries have their own set of worries.

” ‘Our children are not creative. Our children do not have individuality. They’re just robots.’ You hear the educators from Asian countries express that concern, a lot,” she notes.

The first time I attempted 30 muscle-ups for time it took me 48 minutes and it was ugly.  Recently I did it in 8:00.

Struggle pays off and if not for the creative assembly of muscle-up skill work, I probably would still be at 48 minutes.

Find the balance between struggle and creativity.