Have you ever heard of Benjamin Zander? No? Until about a week ago, neither had I.
I’m happy to finally be in the know. I enjoy his quirky positivity and joie de vivre, and his commitment to possibility. I’ve been exploring the many resources on his website and the net, and am interested to notice how many of his thoughts and actions are similar to mine.
He has a saying — “How fascinating!” — which is only fully expressed by proclaiming it with raised arms, and a gleefully smiling face. Take a look at a clip from his Poptech 2018 presentation.
“Now, don’t make a face. (Raising his arms …) How fascinating!”
That cracks me up each time I watch it — and I’ve watched it quite a few times!
Benjamin suggests the movement counteracts the tendency to contract our body when we make a mistake. I think — and bet he would agree — that it also counteracts our tendency to contract our brains. “How fascinating!” signals to our brain that something interesting — something positive rather than negative — is occurring. It encourages us to view the moment, and the mistake, as an opportunity to explore and examine, rather than a problem to fret over, hide, and regret.
I fence. I’m taking lessons from my brother (a rather brainy, fantabulous coach). Lots of times our lessons are filled with ambiguity. Hence, being frustrated and making a mistake are quite probable. I know mistakes aren’t a big deal. But boy, do I hate making them!
I’ve been trying to reprogram myself and change my reactions when I make a mistake. My goal is to be a bit more alright with my mistakes, and most importantly, to learn from them. I’ve been doing ok, but it’s still a struggle.
When I heard, and saw, Benjamin’s “How fascinating!” I decided to give it a go in my next lesson — mostly, I think, I found it so amusing. Turns out, that exact fact — that it makes me laugh — may be a large part of the effectiveness of “How fascinating!”
Dr. Barbara Fredrickson — University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Professor, and Director of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Lab — has researched and written a lot about positive emotions and how they affect us.
In a 2004 article, she states that “positive emotions broaden peoples’ momentary thought–action repertoires, widening the array of the thoughts and actions that come to mind.” And in a 2011 article published by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, she credits positive emotions with increased creativity, idea generation, and resilience.
That’s how I experience “How fascinating!” It makes me chuckle, and injects a moment of positive emotion into an otherwise frustration-inducing moment. It suggests there is something valuable in my mistake. It helps me change my frame of mind from judgement to curiosity. “This is fascinating. It’s not an indication that I suck! My mistake — the process — is fascinating! Find out how/why.” I’ve noticed when I use it, I’m more able to think, consider new ideas, see nuances in the process, problem solve, and try again.
My students are a lot like me as a fencer. They really want to do well. Often times they are pretty driven. Mistakes are rarely fascinating. Usually they see mistakes as a reason for negative self judgement or negative emotions, rather than opportunities for positivity and learning.
They need “How fascinating!” So, how do I incorporate it into my classroom culture? How might I increase positive emotions, and curiosity in my student’s learning, and as a response to mistakes ?
I think it will need to be a multi-pronged approach:
- My language and behavior has to suggest and affirm the fascination and possibility inherent in our mistakes.
- My response to mistakes must include curiosity, wonder, and conversation. And, I must share my own “How fascinating!” moments — including how I felt, what I did, what I learned, and how I changed.
- Exploration of our mistakes must become the norm.
- Including “How fascinating!” in a lesson, read aloud, activity might help us begin to embrace it in the classroom.
- A “How fascinating!” partnership with parents will be key. Sharing research that backs it up might help.
It’s funny, I know in some ways it’s a mindset, and “How fascinating!” isn’t completely necessary. And yet, in another way I think there is something very necessary about it. I can remember moments when “How fascinating!” would have really helped my learners by inducing laugher, breath, enhanced posture, and a bit more conversation.
The silliness of “How fascinating!” may really grab my young students. While I want them to fully embrace and use it, I think I must also teach them prudence. Discussing when might or might not be the best time to use it will be helpful. Also, exploring ways to modify it so as to be able to always use it are key.
We shall see. “How fascinating!” is in my toolbox, and will definitely be pulled out this coming school year.
Looking forward to it!