I am constantly having an inner struggle with myself about how I raise my kids. I know, we all are. For me, the questions revolve mostly around: am I pushing them enough? Am I pushing them too hard? I grew up amongst a circle of high achieving athletes and they are the ones I often turn to regarding such issues. To be honest, I think if you didn’t complete in a sport professionally, or go to college on a scholarship (academic or athletic) or play an instrument at a high level; you’d say we are tyrants and way too hard on our kids. But those of us conditioned to do more and go the extra mile, we all see the rewards of instilling the drive. I remember the benefits of standing out from the crowd because I was talented at something, and I liked it. Today, I miss it. I see all the positive traits I learned through my sport in action in my every day life. I also see those traits very well carved into lives of my friends who are doing great things in the world.
There’s a big difference between pushing a kid who already likes something and grilling one to do something they’re not interested in. Huge difference! I was the later. My kids, I believe, are the former. Even though they like swimming I am a bit obsessed with finding ways for them to want to do better for themselves vs because I’m telling them it’s the right thing for their future. This isn’t to be applied just to swimming, it’s meant for their academics, their diet, their lifestyle in general. How do I get my kids to make better choices without making it feel like it’s forced.
Why am I obsessed with this topic? I was forced to play my sport. Every day was torture. I started at 4 years old and retired when I was in my mid 20’s. I knew it was my ticket to getting a college education and maybe more. It was drilled into me that sacrifice brought great reward and it’s what you did to stand out. I had no idea many of my peers loved their sport. Sacrifice was a part of their lives but it wasn’t torturous, it was a choice. In raising my kids I’ve become enlightened and now for them I want a life of dedication combined with choice, enjoyment, sacrifice and balance.
I’ve been reading a book for…I am embarrassed to say about 6 months. Ok, maybe even longer. It’s one of those books that gives you good deep information meant to be applied to your life. I read these intellectually loaded books in sections, taking one bit of information at a time. I apply their advice, change my routine until it becomes a new habit, and then read on gathering more information and repeating the process. If I read it all at once half the information gets lost and never fully seeps into my life.
This particular book is amazing (specially with New Year’s resolutions) not just for my own self help but incredibly applicable as a parent. Honestly I think it makes a great guidance and parenting book. The book is The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.
Over the Christmas break I read excerpts of the book to my 10 and 5 year olds. Just phrases here and there that reiterated my own words. The girls were on a break from everything; school, swim, and a little bit from their music lessons. When we went back to it all in January they were different people. We’re on our third week of being back into our routine and I’m still surprise to see their focus and drive. This will be the determining week as it takes three weeks to turn actions into habits.
A concept I brought to their attention from the book was that big changes in life don’t come from big actions. They come from little changes that build upon each other. Little bits of action cause great movement. Little bits of confidence give us big courage. Keystone habits is what they called it. My oldest struggles with reading. She is dyslexic and although very bright I can tell she feels dumb when she has to read. I’ve come to understand a bit better what she is seeing and ultimately that she needs to find the connections in her mind in her own way. She needs to find her own map key or legend so to speak, and the only way to find it is to actually read. When I brought up keystone habits, I asked her what she thought could bring her big change with small actions. She said if she read in little bits, 10 minutes in the morning, another 10 while waiting poolside, another 10 before bed. It’s exactly what she’s done and in a matter of 2.5 weeks those 10 minutes have turned to 20 and sometimes 30 and sometimes back to 10 but the habit has formed. Without feeling obligated, without me yelling or begging or reminding for the twentieth time she is reading on her own. She’s doing her daily reading assignment homework, plus reading ahead in her book for school, and reading to her sister before bed.
I find it fascinating how corporate advice can be applied almost word for word to raising children. The Power of Habit has Howard Schultz, former CEO of Starbucks, as an example and his advice on working with employees is EXACTLY what can be done for children. The book describes the typical applicant for a barista job. They are no different than the person applying for a job at McDonalds, Subway, or any other fast food joint and yet Starbucks seems to have better employees. It’s not that they can spot better people it’s that Schultz has inspired them into better people with some amazing key points. You have to read the book for yourself but some quotes that I am taking to heart are as follows:
- “And I really, genuinely believe that if you tell people that they have what it takes to succeed, they’ll prove you right.” – Howard Schultz
- From an experiment they discovered “Students who had been treated kindly did well on the computer test…They were able to maintain their focus for the entire twelve minutes. Despite ignoring the cookies, they had willpower to spare.”
- And this one!: “When people are asked to do something that takes self-control, if they think they are doing it for personal reasons-if they feel like it’s a choice or something they enjoy because it helps someone else-it’s much less taxing. If they feel like they have no autonomy, if they’re just following orders, their willpower muscles get tired much faster. In both cases, people ignored the cookies. But when students were treated like cogs, rather than people, it took a lot more willpower.”
- I feel this next quote will become specially useful as peer pressure becomes more of an issue in my children’s lives: “This is how willpower becomes a habit: by choosing a certain behavior ahead of time, and then following that routine when an inflection point arrives.”
As you read up above willpower is like any other muscle in our body. The more you use it the stronger it gets. The book pointed this out and it seems to have hit home with my kids, almost as if willpower went from being an inanimate, invisible concept to a real muscle they visually see get stronger. I struggle with the friends my kids have sometimes. They’re all great people but many have no after school routine expect homework and iPads. I’ve never been a fan of idle time and I always intended for my kids to have tight schedules in elementary school. It prepares them for high school, and then college and then life. Plus what’s that saying? Oh yes, “Idle hands are the devil’s tools”. My girls compare their after-school routines with others and they use to complain. Not anymore! Every time they set foot in the pool or in a music room they know they are getting stronger, not just their biceps, fingers, legs, etc but their brain. I can’t pinpoint it but I’ve heard comments that tell me their willpower muscle’s added strength is effective in the classroom….little bits of confidence. The best part is they are choosing to practice. They are choosing to be better. For this I do have a case in point.
We scheduled a play date on a Friday and due to how the week turned out my oldest had to go to swim practice for just one hour in the middle of her play date. She’s committed to swimming four times a week. I organized it so their friends would stay for dinner. It would be a 7 hour play date, with just that one hour break. I fully expected her to moan and complain about having to go to practice. There was nothing but a “yep, not a problem”. She definitely did get it all: playdate, practice and dinner with friends. But never before has she seen the big picture. I’m still in shock.
As I mentioned, I obsessed. The movie “Molly’s Game” about a former pro skier turned host to the most exclusive high stakes poker game in LA and New York, also left me thinking. Her relationship with her father, who she and her brothers turned out to be. There were scenes in the movie that gave me chills and sent me back thirty plus years! It left me wondering if high achievement can be reached without such harsh lessons. These thoughts have been circulating with me for a while. I have no idea. I’m still muddling through all this but I am feeling hopeful and “The Power of Habit” definitely brought us some turning points. I am not getting paid to promote this book. However, it’s made such a difference in our routine, both mine and my kid’s that I have to share it. It’s not top on any parenting list but it’s a book with great advice on how to turn yourself and your kids into high achievers in little baby steps. I just want happy, thriving, high achievers. I feel I almost got there. I’d like for my versions 2.0 to fully get there.