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Accepting and Advancing Change

January 12, 2015

I have tried to make sense of why there is significant resistance to new knowledge that has great potential for improving our lives. When I became aware of the ACE Study in 2008, it changed my worldview. As a child growing up with trauma, I could see the impact on my family and, as I began talking to others about trauma, many other families. I spent a considerable amount of time reading, researching and talking about ACE’s. I also began trying to convince others about the importance of understanding ACE’s and developing new approaches for responding to the new knowledge. This is a small part of what I have learned in my quest to understand resistance to change and how to advance new knowledge.

Dr. Anders K. Ericsson, a Professor at Florida State University, wrote in a 1993 scholarly article, “Many characteristics once believed to reflect innate talent are actually the result of intense practice extended for a minimum of 10 years.” [i] Dr. Ericsson,[ii] Malcolm Gladwell,[iii] and Matthew Syed,[iv] among others, have discussed this concept in the lives and achievement of many notable scientists, athletes and performers. Two significant parts of the concept of achievement discussed is “deliberate practice” and “purposeful effort.” We must take time to practice, and we must practice with a purpose. Every time we achieve, we need to increase the bar, to use a pole-vaulting analogy. Too many people believe that performance is because of talent, not practice, and choose not to put in the time and effort to learn and practice. They choose to live in the comfort of the knowledge they have because it is familiar and they are not challenged by it. There is very little opportunity for failure.

Dr. Carol Dweck[v] has identified another theory that makes a lot of sense to me. Individuals have either a fixed or a growth mindset. In a brilliant experiment, Dr. Dweck tested 2 groups of kids and for those with good grades on the test, told them either that they must be really smart, or they must work really hard. Those who were told that they must be really smart stopped, for the most part, accepting challenging work. Those told that they must work really hard continued to accept challenging work. A fear of failure stopped the “smart” group from accepting challenges and further achievement.

If we look at both theories working in concert, being told you are smart stops many from the deliberate practice and purposeful effort required for achieving. Being told that you are hard working encourages you to take on more difficult tasks, and fail enough times to train yourself to become proficient. As a pitching coach for baseball players, I have watched the joy of a “hard work” kid, making mistake after mistake, as they learn the skills required to become a successful pitcher. So many kids don’t meet with immediate success, are criticized, and don’t practice or make the mistakes required to become good. The best are those who accept new theories, try them and become proficient through their use. The same is true for developing new knowledge. You are going to fail, but the faster you move into acceptance and practice mode, the more proficient you are going to become.

When horses were brought to North America, American Indians who tamed and trained on use of horses gained a considerable economic advantage over those who did not. They were able to travel and hunt over a greater range, chase down game and haul big loads. They had a substantial competitive advantage over those who did not.

The numbers of people who don’t accept new knowledge and challenges are overwhelming. They have not developed skills necessary to thrive because of their “fixed mindset.” They are comfortable where they are. Resistance is substantial when it comes to accepting new knowledge. If we are doing well with the knowledge we have and use, we will do all we can to protect it. The excuses I encounter include: that’s not true opinions (based on old science and existing culture); we are different; we have already tried that; it’s not my idea so I am not interested; we need experts to help us; we can’t afford to fail; and we don’t have enough money. I am sure you can add more excuses.

The findings of the Adverse Childhood Experience Study have been available for about 20 years. Longer if you consider that some outliers were very aware of the impact of developmental trauma on behaviors long before ACES. Yet the American Academy of Pediatrics did not implement a Policy on developmental trauma until 2012. It takes a long time for new knowledge or understanding to permeate culture. Knowledge is not leading to a change in treatment requirements. This is not unusual. It’s the nature of the human brain. Dr. Abram Hoffer once postulated that we will not change until 50% of the general population, and 10% of the professional population, that uses the old knowledge accepts the new knowledge.

So we have a number of hurdles to overcome. First, we have to continue to disseminate good knowledge about the impact of ACE’s in our tribal communities. ACE’s Too High and ACE’s Connection help with this goal. When we reach a “tipping point,” knowledge will flood through our communities and become common knowledge, and become a part of our cultural knowledge. When people start looking for solutions, there will be many proposed solutions that are not based on solid science. The reason I write about knowledge, nutrition, trauma release exercise and other self directed healing methods like mindfulness and emotional freedom technique is because each has been acknowledge, in part, as a solution to healing from developmental trauma.

As we look for healing methods, we will also encounter entrenched ideas about healing. Advocates and those who earn their living from established methods will continue to push established methods, even if the science shows they are inefficient. We have to be prepared to meet the counter arguments that are being advanced, not in a hostile manner, but in a reasoned debate.

In the meantime, outlying theories of healing should continue development. They will, at some point in time, demonstrate success and more individuals will use them. We need to have “hard workers” who are willing to “practice deliberately” in new areas, make plenty of mistakes and through purposeful effort, advance our knowledge in this new and fruitful area. We cannot afford to have others treat it as a fad. The science demonstrates that developmental trauma is real, and there are emerging theories for addressing the issues caused by this trauma.

We need deep thinker and doers at this stage of preparing our Tribal Communities for healing. I hope all of you encourage deep thinking and doing. Don’t adopt ready excuses. Listen (or read) to the ideas proposed by others. Spend the time necessary to become proficient. We all benefit from realizing that we can make mistakes, learn from them, and advance the state of knowledge we have.

[i] Ericsson, K.A. “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance,” Psychological Review, 1993, Vol. 100. No. 3, 363-406

[ii] K. A. Ericsson, ed. Mahwah, The Road to Excellence: The Acquisition of Expert Performance in the Arts and Sciences, Sports, and Games, NJ: Erlbaum, 1996.

[iii] Gladwell, Malcolm. “Outliers: the story of success,” New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2008

[iv] Matthew Syed,Bounce: Mozart, Federer, Picasso, Beckham, and the science of success,” New York: Harper, 2010

[v] Dweck, Carol S., “Mindset: the new psychology of success,” New York: Random House, 2006

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