The Good Life

Julie & JuliaThe difficulty kids have with goal setting is their short life experience. Without knowing enough about cause and effect, kids focus on having fun right now. Spending any amount of effort on a reward they may or may not get in the future is just not something they do.

In the famous 1972 “Stanford marshmallow experiment”, psychologist Walter Mischel put kids in an empty room and put a treat next to them. He told them they could eat their treat, but if they waited 15 minutes, he would give them another. Of 600 children, a third waited long enough for their reward, some snatched the treat and ate it as soon as he left the room and most of the kids did their best to avoid eating the treat by distracting themselves (moving, playing with their hair, etc).

Mischel’s original conclusion was that older kids can wait longer and deferred gratification is related to age. However, years later, he followed up with some of the children in his experiment and discovered that those who waited longer were also more successful in life.

In 1988, Mischel found that “preschool children who delayed gratification longer in the self-imposed delay paradigm were described more than 10 years later by their parents as adolescents who were significantly more competent”. In 1990, he found a correlation between the ability to delay gratification and higher Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores.

This is where we (parents) come in. If we teach our kids to set goals and achieve them, their life will be so much better. So how do we do it?

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Beautiful Kids vs. Brutal Honesty

Smart little kidLast week, I ran 3 parenting workshops and there was one topic that came up over and over again – the truth about your kids. While I was describing research, education methods, philosophy and personal development techniques to raise happy and successful kids, some people were very concerned about telling kids the truth.

I find the concept of “the truth” very problematic and the seed of many difficulties in life. Every small problem in life just makes this seed grow poisonous roots of inadequacy, self-doubt and fear.

At the workshop, I talked about the importance of raising kids to think they are capable, talented, smart, friendly, flexible, courageous, wise, trustworthy, etc (the list can be adapted to each parent’s needs) so they will have good beliefs about themselves, their skills and their abilities. I always say that overcoming kids’ learning difficulties is easier than overcoming their belief that something is wrong with them and that therefore, it is parents’ job to make sure their kids have positive, empowered beliefs about themselves.

The parents and I examined beliefs that are very good for kids to have. Let me ask you, if your son thinks he is smart, is that good for him or not? If your daughter thinks she is friendly, is it good for her or not? If your kids think they are good siblings, is it good for them or not?

Is it good for the parents too?

Well, apparently, for some people it is not good. To them, the truth is more important.

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Who Knows?

Little dog, big dogMotivation can be external or internal. That is, a person can be prompted, encouraged or coerced to do something by somebody else, or they can do it for their own reasons.

Kids, being so young and dependent, begin their life by mimicking their parents and other carers and by following their instructions. “Those big, loving, all-knowing creatures that take care of me must be right, so it’s best to be guided by them”, they reason.

This quickly develops into obedience, even when following the instructions might cause discomfort to the child. “It’s a small price to pay for the big person’s love and besides, maybe the big person is right and this is good for me?”

I find with my kids that their principals, teachers, coaches and other instructors tend to encourage conformity and submission to authority and I have to deal with it sometimes and help them strengthen their internal motivation. You will recognize this has happened to your children when they start talking about getting away with things, instead of whether or not those things should be done in the first place.

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Acceptance (3)

Serenity prayer This is the second part of a series of posts about acceptance through the story of Mel, a fascinating client of mine. To know a bit about Mel and how this story started, read Monday’s post, Acceptance (1). For a description of Mel’s views on life that made her miserable, read Wednesday’s post, Acceptance (2).

Today, I would like to introduce a solution, a cure, a way out of this endless search for the right and only-sensible thing to do, to think or to be. If you are like Mel in some way, I hope this will help you find peace, just as she did. If you know others like Mel, I hope you will share this series of posts with them so they may find their own peace.

The first step toward change is awareness.
The second step is acceptance
– Nathaniel Branden

Every time Mel left, I wrote my reflections on the session, as I always do after a session. In the Strategies section, I wrote, “Teach acceptance”. For me, acceptance was a peaceful place, where I acknowledge things around me without resistance (every time I think of the word “resistance”, I remember The Borg from Star Trek saying, “Resistance is futile”. Sometimes it is useless and ends only in sorrow).

Mel thought acceptance was a form of giving up. “Do you accept wars?” she asked me (she knew how to press my buttons).

I said, “I do. I acknowledge the fact that there are wars. It does not mean I am happy about them, but they are part of life”.

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Acceptance (2)

image[3]This is the second part of a series of posts about acceptance through the story of Mel, a fascinating client of mine. To know a bit about Mel and how this story started, read Monday’s post, Acceptance (1).

Mel thought there was such a thing as Ultimate Justice that all people must follow. She had a very strict concept of Right and Wrong. Fairness was always examined from her point of view and her point of view was the center of the universe. Mel never thought fairness was relative and influenced by culture or upbringing.

When I described to her how the Thai people charged tourists and locals differently at temples or for food, she could not understand how that could be fair. When I gave her an example of a clash between different people’s definition of fairness, she had a “system failure” in her mind.

I remember myself writing protest poems at the age of 14. My notion of fairness was very clear and naïve then. When I was 27, my youngest sister came back from a trip to India and showed me her journal, where she had written, “Is it fair to make your child blind so he can be a better beggar and bring home more money to feed the whole family?” I experience that same “system failure” about fairness at the age of 27, when I tried to answer that question. My immediate reply was, “No, of course it’s not fair!”

But as I thought about it some more, I realized it is not that simple and there is no single right way of doing things. I was already a mother and I was pregnant, which made this realization more difficult, but I understood one big lesson about acceptance: what is fair for one is not necessary fair for another. There is no ultimate fairness. Fairness is totally subjective and we cannot judge others for having a different definition of fairness to ours.

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Acceptance (1)

All seasons are beautiful fo the person who carries happiness within I chose to tell you about Mel because she was generally miserable. On the surface, she ticked all the boxes of a wonderful life – she was a college profession, she had the cutest kids and she loved them very much, she was married and loved her husband deeply and she was financially secure. Yet, nothing made her happy – thoughts were her allies, but she found people most unreasonable. She was unhappy with the way they behaved and kept saying they did not make any sense.
Although I am not convinced there is a formula for being happy, I think there is formula for being miserable. Mel had that formula and lived by it every day of her life. Through clients like Mel, I have seen how the mind can create this suffering. As a very smart, curious person, Mel had some beliefs, thoughts and ideas that made her miserable and caused her to think she did not understand the world and could not make sense of it. What Mel missed was the understanding of acceptance. She confused acceptance with having low standards, with compromising on mediocrity and with giving up.

Mel was an amazingly smart woman, but she could not understand why others did not understand what she did. She did not understand why people did things that hurt others. She did not know how to relate to people without knowing their motives. She did not understand emotional (she called them “illogical”) decisions. When I told her that I never make logical decisions, because I am kinesthetic, she looked at me shocked. “What else is there?” she asked.

For me, 6 things summed up Mel’s thoughts and ideas and contributed to her self-torture.

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I Believe in You (4): The letters

Kids reading lettersThis is the last post in a series about a leadership camp activity where I asked parents to write their kids a letter of confidence, trust and encouragement and a promise to be there for them always.

I ran this camp for 2 years in a row. Each time, there were about 30 students from 5 different schools. This leadership camp was run by an organization for which I am the QLD State Coordinator, called Together for Humanity. In this camp, we wanted the kids to recognize their strengths, develop their leadership skills, identify their support structure and learn how to take a social stand in their school, community and one day, in leading social change.

First, I wrote about what happened when I asked the parents to write a letter to their kids. Then, I wrote about what happened to the kids when they opened their letters and how hard it was for them to believe they had been genuinely written by their parents. Last week, I wrote about how the kids confused being proud – recognizing and sharing your strengths and achievements – with bragging – being arrogant and full of yourself, and how 12 hours and a letter helped me take them to a different place.

Today, I want to show you some of the letters parents wrote to their kids. I have left them intact, other than names and other personal details. These parents only had my sample letter to help them with ideas, but I hope you will be in a better position after reading more letters and knowing how kids responded and how meaningful it was for each of them to receive such a letter.

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I believe in you (3): Being Proud

Happy kidsDuring the camp, I noticed the kids did not display a sense of pride in themselves. They talked freely about being proud of a team they admired in sport, but had quite a different attitude towards being proud of themselves, their family or their class.

I discovered the difficulty of the “pride” feeling at a very early stage, when I asked each of the kids to introduce themselves and then to tell the group something about themselves they were proud of. Everyone, kids and adults, looked at me in surprise.

Recognizing my own feelings is the basic level of emotional intelligence, so I thought that when we address leadership, recognizing things I am good at as a starter would be a good way for the kids to start appreciating their strengths. I was not surprised to see how much easier it was for kids (and grownups) to talk about things they were not proud of, as if they had practiced those so much they came to them naturally.

Most of the kids struggled with the idea of being proud. I pushed them by giving an example. I said, “I’m Ronit (we were still getting to know one another) and I’m very proud of myself for organizing this camp”. Some shy kids said hesitantly they were proud of themselves for having been chosen to be in this camp, but most of them said they did not know what to say. They used words like “boasting” and “bragging”, being “full of themselves” and “arrogant” as the reasons they could not find anything they were proud of.

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Humble Beginnings

A nerdThis week was the first week of tutorials at my university and we got to meet our tutor. You will be glad to know that my tutor is a bright young man in his mid 20’s with quite a bit of knowledge. From his introductory spiel, I gathered he had finished his honors year and is now in the process of applying for a PhD. As you may have noticed, he seems to have skipped some years, which should have been dedicated to his Master’s degree, but it seems this young man is quite smart.

As the tutor went through his slides, he kept putting himself down. He was using these slides to let us know we should criticize him if we discovered he was wrong, because that would be “his fault” and we should call him up if we do not understand, because sometimes “he” is unclear, and other quite harsh comments about his lack of knowledge being due to his nature and his inabilities. This was a bit of a shock for me, because he seemed quite nice and knowledgeable and he really had not taught us anything which could possibly have been wrong.

If the tutor was simply being humble about being smart or being nice or knowledgeable, I think that would have been OK. But there is a point at which this self criticism becomes a little bit more internal and that is where problems start.

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Fear of Success

clip_image002_thumb[1]I have written a lot about the fear of failure, but I think many people are not aware this fear has a twin brother – the fear of success.

Fear of failure will make you try to fit into a standard (usually external), but fear of success will make you do anything to avoid reaching that standard.

While fear of failure is out there and everybody knows about it, fear of success is hidden so deep in our identity we may not recognize it, but it can be much worse for us.

Fear of failure is associated with making mistakes and not getting approval, while fear of success is the fear of doing things right and therefore not being accepted, not being appreciated and not being able to maintain the level of achievement and success.

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