My kids are doing 1-minute meditations now. I think that’s about right for elementary age. They are building the skill of slow. Of self-awareness while stationary. Of being okay and even interested in nothing.
Why should this matter?
Because their brains are different. They are almost a different species from us. Our brains develop according to our experience. And today kids’ brains are subjected to a near constant flow of instantaneous gratification – through TVs with Tivo, smart phones, game consoles, etc.
They never slow. And so they wire themselves to need constant stimulus, constant control, constant pleasure. And the worst possible experience is boredom.
I think we need to slow our kids. I’m doing it with meditation.
Need more convincing and/or info? Check out Phil Zimbardo’s view.
My daughters love to tell me when things are unfair.
I promised ice cream, but then they got in a fight. So I took it away. No fair.
We planned to go to the beach, but then it rained. We didn’t go. No fair.
Once they get an idea in their head of what is to come, they are locked in on it. Changes aren’t allowed.
I think we get into similar mindsets with our jobs. We start a year or a project or a new role with a set of expectations. We know what we need to deliver. Then something changes and we are asked to do something else. Something bigger or additional or both. And we thought we were already at capacity.
The higher ups don’t understand. They are asking for something impossible. No fair.
What can we do besides complain at the injustice of the world?
My daughters would be far better off if they recontracted. Renegotiate what’s possible. We understand we can’t go to the beach in the rain. Can we go bowling instead? We’re sorry we got into a fight. Can we do anything to earn the ice cream back?
Jobs change. We also need to recontract.
I don’t think I can deliver what you originally asked for and this new project as well. Can we redefine the scope of one or both? Can we let go of one or both? Can we recontract?
Better for my kids. Better for us all.
What if you had a piece of advice that you knew, if followed, would greatly improve someone’s happiness, but also knew that delivering the advice would devastate them?
Jennifer Senior of New York Magazine wrote a fascinating piece about parenting and happiness. She laid out the research about how parenting generally leads to a reduction in happiness and greater marital strife. She discussed the philosophical and theoretical ideas behind why parents feel happy or not and why we might choose to have kids despite the research saying we will be less happy as a result. But she misses one key point.
There is a guidance paradox. The very people who could guide you to choose not to have kids are exactly the people who can’t deliver the message.
I want to be like my Dad. I went into a profession tangential to his. I use a shaving brush just like him. I speak and eat and spend money just like he does. When he told me he was drinking lots of red zinfandel wines, red zin became my new favorite. And there is no way he could ever tell me not to have kids. To do so would suggest he regrets having me.
The other people who could (but really can’t) deliver this message are the pack leaders – the people in the circle of friends who are the first to have kids. But they can’t tell you not to have kids either. It would sound too much like the couple returning from their vacation at the 5-star resort in Fiji and telling you you wouldn’t want to go, that the towels weren’t soft enough.
They can’t deliver the message. It would sound pitying and disingenuous.
Sometimes there are messages in life we really want to send, messages that should really help the recipient, but the message would do more harm than good. At those times, our best action is to step aside and allow people to make their own choices, and then be there to support them through all the tough challenges that ensue.
Many life issues are subject to a pendulum effect. The market swings between the bull and the bear. The US swings between left and right, liberal and conservative. And now parenting is experiencing a big swing.
Lisa Belkin’s article, Defining a Successful Parent, argues (in simplest terms) that the parent’s job is to enable the child to become independent. She speaks out against over-parenting, suggesting that today’s parents are too involved with their kids, spend too much time with them, fail to encourage their independence.
My parents subscribed to the philosophy that a parent’s job is to give their child roots and wings.
Independence (wings) is great, but not if the child grows up to be an axe murderer.
Strong values and family connectedness (roots) is also wonderful, but not if the child is still living in your basement at the age of 35.
To argue for either end of this spectrum neglects the power and value of balance. I agree with Belkin that our societal pendulum has swung too far toward the roots. Maybe we need to focus more on the wings. But in doing so, let’s not forget that the roots have equal value.
Novelist Elif Shafak gave a fascinating speech at the TED Conference.
One of her messages: Build walls around anything and it will eventually dry up and die. She then discussed how we all build walls around ourselves.
We build religious walls.
We build political walls.
We build societal walls.
When was the last time you reached out to explore a religious practice (or non-practice)? When was the last time you actively sought evidence of your own political party’s lying tactics? (Most people are pretty good about finding where the other side is lying.) When was the last time you pursued a new friendship with someone outside of your comfortable circles?
Those are a few examples of walls we build, and of course there are more. There are walls at work. There are walls between spouses and between parents and children. There are lots of walls.
Which walls can you tear down in your world to breathe more life into you?
My mother-in-law is a genius. That’s not an easy thing to say, but I have to admit it. My daughters needed to get a shot. My mother-in-law suggested we bring Hershey’s kisses and the moment after the shot went in their arms pop the chocolate into their mouths.
So it became shotchocolate.
Instead of ow! Ooowwwww!!! OOOOOWWWWWWW!!!!!!
The sound was owmmmm.
It worked brilliantly. Afterwards my daughter wanted to know why we did this chocolate thing. So we talked about how the brain can only pay attention to so many things at a time. If you give it other stuff to pay attention to it won’t be as aware of the pain and you won’t feel it as much.
In the same way when you listen to music during a workout you are less aware of the pain of the workout.
And this concept plays out in all aspects of our lives. When you become aggravated, angry, bitter, sad, upset, what is your chocolate equivalent? What do you use to distract your brain?
I’m not saying you shouldn’t process or pay attention to problems in your world. But when you are fixated on the problems and focused on your pain, your brain becomes a super processor of negative emotion. It’s time for you to find some other input for your brain.
Now unfortunately I am stuck, focused on the painful notion that my mother-in-law is a genius. Someone, please, give me some chocolate.
EXTRA: Tomorrow I’ll share a related experience that has dramatically changed my life and eliminated one of my biggest regular fights with my wife.