The Power of ‘Not Yet’

The power of not yet

In this blog post, I want to refer to a TED talk I recently watched about ‘The power of Not yet’. In it, the speaker discusses a very powerful way of thinking about who you are, where you are, and where you are going. I hope to reflect on this piece in relation to my MDSI journey so far.

The fundamental thought in this TED talk is about reshaping your thinking away from binary ‘failure’ and ‘success’ (in her example, for school children who fail a test) into ‘not yet’. In essence I believe this can be thought of as changing your mindset from ‘what am I failing at now’ to ‘what am I not yet at the level I want to be at’. The talk discusses in depth the studies that demonstrate how it is important for students to have a growth mindset where there is a belief of possible improvement rather than a belief of failure.

This way of thinking is something that resonates well with myself as the world of data science feels like one in which you need to very quickly have a lot of skills in a lot of different areas (statistics, database management, machine learning, coding, data vis, communication) and for a long time I definitely felt that I was inadequate at a lot of these. Indeed my mind turn this feeling of inadequacy into a feeling of ‘failure’. That is, currently, I was ‘failing’ at one of these areas because I was not good at it.

I have tried hard recently to reframe my thinking into the idea of ‘not yet’. Something which further speaks to me as it sets the particular skill/area into into a task, something incomplete. So rather than having failed at something or being ‘not good’ at something, I am not yet at the level I want to be. But I will be!

Indeed, in my reflections on this I turned to the rather large (and growing!) list of online courses and books and blog posts I have set myself in different areas to continue my self-learning goals for my data science career trajectory. I conducted a mini-survey out to friends in the MDSI slack as well as a few other groups and gathered insights into the best tools and techniques to getting started and for managing this overwhelming amount of free or cheap education we have access to these days. A lot of peers suggested various forms of the ‘Pomodoro technique’ in which a certain amount of hours are set aside each week and within these hours, using this methodology for productive work.

Another great technique is that of peer accountability. I am sure that many of you would similarly find that getting up early, doing extra work or some sort of extending effort is much easier when there is a friend or a peer expecting you to complete it. As noted in one of my other posts, the wonderful learning community we have at MDSI is primed for providing such opportunities. As I am writing this, a number of peers are taking part in the first Sunday afternoon slack study session!

It is interesting to reflect on how many of these recommendations related to something I saw recently in an article called ‘systems thinking’ as an approach. Indeed this advocates for not having goals and there is legitimate debate as to what extent ‘do 2 hours twice a week’ is a goal vs just a ‘system’ but either way, the main thought I took from this was to just dive in. Set aside a certain amount of hours each week, prioritise 1 or (at max) 2 courses to be undertaking at any time. If you can’t decide – just flip a (or many) coins!

I would now return back to this TED talk I mentioned at the beginning of the post as it seems that my anxiety of currently not being where I wanted to be and thus searching for tools to help me build a bridge to the other side of my ‘not yet’ is actually mentioned in the talk. The speaker mentions that one of the main ways to help students be motivated and to achieve (especially those struggling) is ‘process praise’ rather than single goal praise which sounds a lot like systems thinking which sounds a lot like ‘shave off a few hours and do mini-goals within those’ to me!

So where do we end up with this? My key takeaways from reflecting on this idea of failure vs ‘not yet’ and the tools and techniques to help are as follows:

  1. Rephrase your thinking from ‘failure’ or ‘not good at’ to ‘not yet’. An unfinished task to work on rather than a binary, demotivating failure or immovable state of being.
  2. Figure out what courses you would like to do that will take you from ‘not yet’ to the state where you feel confident in your abilities. Prioritise these resources and pick the top two
  3. Undertake process praise rather than single-goal praise. Shave off a few hours, a few times a week to work. Utilise the Pomodoro technique if you like but ensure you are consistently making the time regardless. Ensure you are tracking and rewarding yourself for improvement, for commitment, for consistency, rather than single-value completion (though this can be a big reward at the end!).>>Weave in peer-accountability into this part as well if it works for you. Simply the act of telling a close friend or peer your plan and the words ‘please get upset with me if I don’t do this’ can be the difference between ‘ah…nah not today’ and ‘let’s do it!’

As a further point of self-motivation I will be blogging about my educational goals, systems and the different resources I use along the way. It is going to be a big year ahead – looking forward to it!