All posts by Dr. Jim Taylor
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If you or your child dreams of a college athletic scholarship, you better think again. According to this article, the chances are exceedingly slim (see the chart with all of the collegiate sports).
For the vast majority of young athletes, an athletic scholarship is a pipe dream. Now consider how many thousands of dollars parents invest in their children’s high school sports experience (e.g., sports academies, private coaching, camps, equipment, travel to competitions), all with the purpose of securing that vaunted athletic scholarship to the school of their choice.
Even if a young athlete gets that elusive scholarship, it isn’t as much as you may think. Very few athletes get “free rides” (which don’t actually even cover all college expenses). The average scholarship for an NCAA Division I school is under $15,000 a year and DII schools offer even less. That amount is far less than many families pay for their children’s competitive high school sports experience.
So, do the math. If a college athletic scholarship is your “holy grail,” you may want to reconsider where you invest your money. That athletic scholarship doesn’t offer a very good financial ROI (though it may certainly offer wonderful experiences and life lessons).
alpine ski racingfailuregoalsmental preparationMikaela Shiffrinsport psychologysuccessTed Ligetyvictory
Defining success in ski racing is a difficult task. When I ask most racers and coaches how they define success, it is usually in terms of results, whether place, points, rankings, or qualifying quotas. Though, admittedly, results are the ultimate determinant of success, I have found that a preoccupation with them can both interfere with achieving those results and can produce feelings of disappointment and frustration (or worse).
One problem is that focusing on results can actually prevent you from getting the results you want for two reasons. First, if you’re focusing on results before a race, you’re not focusing on what you need to do to get those results. Second, focusing on results, specifically, the possibility of bad results, is what causes you to get nervous before races which will only hurt your skiing.
Another problem with ski racing is that your efforts don’t always lead directly to the results you want because you can’t control everything in a race. In other words, “S&%# Happens” in ski racing that can derail your best efforts.
To help demonstrate this point, let’s compare success and failure in our sport to success and failure in school. Let’s say you have an exam coming up. If you study hard and are well prepared, assuming the test is fair, the chances of your doing well are very high, say, over 95%. Why? Because there are few external variables that can prevent you from doing well.
Ski racing, however, is very different. You can be completely ready to have a great race, but things don’t work out in your favor. For example, you experience bad weather, such as fog or high wind, or make a mistake due to rough course conditions. Those odds of doing well in a race are, if you are really prepared, I would say, around 80%.
Given the uncertainty of ski racing, basing how you feel about your skiing (and yourself) solely on your results is a recipe for experiencing the very thing you want to avoid—failure—and some pretty bad feelings.
I prefer to define success in terms that are controllable.
Goal #1: In the Gate: Total Preparation
On race day, all you can control is yourself, which means your preparations. When I work with racers, I tell them that when they’re in the gate, I want them to be able to say, “I’m as prepared as I can be to achieve my goals today.” Ultimately, that’s all you can do.
I have three thoughts about preparation. First, being as prepared as you can be doesn’t always mean being totally prepared. As I noted above, “S&%# happens” in ski racing, meaning there are so many things outside of your control. It may not be possible to be totally prepared due to the circumstances on race day. But, you can adapt to those conditions and get as prepared as possible.
Second, being totally prepared is the only chance you have to get the results you want. If you aren’t completely prepared, you have zero chance because there are going to be many other racers in the field who are just as good as you or better and who are really prepared. If you are totally prepared, you don’t, as I indicated above, have a 100% chance of success, but your chances are pretty darned good.
Third , if you aren’t totally prepared to ski your best, I have no sympathy for you because, as I just noted, you can control your preparations. If you’re not completely ready to ski your best, you have nobody to blame but yourself. On the other hand, a tough break while on course, for example, a rough course, is worthy of some sympathy (though not too much because that’s the unpredictable nature of our sport).
Total preparation involves looking at everything within your control that can impact your skiing and taking steps to maximize all of those areas. These areas include your sleep, nutrition, equipment, skiing warm-up, and inspection. In the start area, they include a comprehensive pre-race routine that is comprised of final equipment preparations (e.g., edges, bases, bindings, armor) and getting physically (e.g., warm-up, breathing, and reaching your ideal intensity) and mentally (e.g., imagery, mindset) ready. So, when you get into the starting gate, you feel totally prepared and confident you can ski your fastest.
Goal #2: On Course: Bring It!
In my post from a few weeks ago, I made the distinction between good skiing and fast skiing. Though I received some pushback from this difference, I stand by my statement that solid technical and tactical skiing isn’t enough to get the results you want. If your outcome goals are at all high, your only chance of skiing fast and achieving those goals is to “bring it!,” meaning attack the course and push your limits.
This goal seems pretty obvious given that we all know that holding back just doesn’t work (more on this in Goal #3 below). So, what prevents you from bringing it every run? Well, an inherent danger of bringing it is that the risks you take in the process may not pay off; bringing it may lead to a costly mistake or a DNF. In other words, bringing it may results in failure. And, for most racers, failure is the worst possible thing to experience and to be avoided at all cost. Yet, by not bringing it, you guarantee failure (or, at least, mediocrity).
Goal #3: In the Finish: No Regrets
Have you ever been in the start area and really wanted to finish? Maybe you’ve had a string of DNFs and were afraid of not finishing again? So, you skied cautiously. When you cross the finish line, you’re relieved at finally having completed a course.
But then you look at your time; you were really slow. What’s your immediate emotional reaction? Regret. What’s regret? Wishing that you had done something differently, in other words, you wish you had gone for it (even risking another DNF) rather than skiing so tentatively. You look back up the hill at the course you just ran and wished you had charged more rather than holding back.
Regret is a huge value for me both in my personal life (I want to look back on my life and have as few regrets as possible) and my professional work with racers. I want you to look back on a race day, season, career, whether finish or DNF, success of failure, and be able to say, “I left it all out there. I may not have achieved my greatest goals. But I did everything humanly possible to be the best I could be.” You will certainly be disappointed in not fully achieving your goals, but you will get over that feeling and will likely feel great pride and inspiration in knowing that you did everything you could to accomplish your goals. Regret, by contract, can gnaw at you forever.
The Bottom Line
You want to give yourself every opportunity to achieve your outcome goals. Yet, when you fail to achieve these three goals, you have about a zero chance that you’ll get the results you want. By contrast, I can’t guarantee success today or tomorrow, no matter what you do. But if you commit to and consistently strive toward these goals, I’m willing to bet that good things will happen, in your ski racing and your life.
competitioneffortexcellencefailurefocusmental trainingpressuresport psychologysportssuccesstraining
In this article, I’m going to talk about “mindset,” which I consider to be an essential contributor to athletic success and a mental area that has only come to light in my work with elite athletes during the past three years. This topic is also where professional and Olympic athletes offer wonderful examples in which they use different mindsets to perform at their highest level consistently.
Let me preface this discussion by clarifying that my use of the word mindset is different from the use of mindset popularized by the Stanford University researcher Carol Dweck (a perspective, I might add, that is consistent with my own and one that can also help athletes achieve their competitive goals).
When I talk about mindset, I mean what is going on in your head just before you begin a competition, whether on the field, course, court, track, what-have-you. What happens in your mind during that oh-so-important period sets the stage for whether you perform to the best of your ability.
I have found three mindsets that the best athletes appear to use most. There may be others (and please let me know if you think of any), but I find these three to be the most common.
In an interview after her first World Cup victory of this season, Mikaela Shiffrin, the 19-year-old alpine ski racing prodigy who has already won Olympic and World Championship gold medals, indicated how “I’m trying to take more of an aggressive mindset” that helped her overcome her pattern of relatively sluggish skiing in the first half of race runs.
When I talk about an aggressive mindset, I don’t mean that athletes should try to hurt their opponents. Rather, I think of aggressiveness as a mindset in which athletes are proactive, assertive, and forceful, for example, driving hard to the hoop in basketball, going for a risky shot in golf or tennis, or setting a fast pace in a marathon.
This aggressive mindset is often needed for athletes to shift from solid performance to exceptional performance because it allows them to take their performances to the next level, particularly for those who aren’t naturally aggressive in how they perform. For example, I worked with a top NFL draft pick at linebacker who was so gentle off the field that he wasn’t able to naturally “take it to” the offense while playing. For him to be successful in the NFL, he needed to adopt an aggressive mindset.
An aggressive mindset can be so valuable because many sports these days have become “combat sport,” meaning that opponents or competitive conditions are trying to literally or figuratively beat athletes. Athletes do battle not only with opposing teams and players, but also weather and field court, or course conditions. Only by assuming an aggressive mindset do some athletes have a chance to vanquish those enemies.
An aggressive mindset can be developed in several ways. First, you’re more likely to perform aggressively if your body is amped up a bit more than usual. You can raise your physical intensity with more movement during practice, in your pre-competitive routines, and just before you begin to compete. Simply moving more and being more dynamic in your movements will help you shift to a more aggressive mindset.
Second, you can use high-energy self-talk to instill that aggressive mindset. You can see this practice used regularly in football locker rooms and before weightlifting competitions. Examples include: “Let’s go! Attack! Charge! Bring it!” What you notice is not only what you say, but how you say it. So, your aggressive self-talk should sound, well, aggressive. No pussy cats here; only tigers, lions, and panthers allowed.
Third, you can incorporate an aggressive mindset into mental imagery in which you see and feel yourself competing aggressively which, in turn, helps create more attacking thinking, focus, and feeling.
A calm mindset is typically best for athletes who get nervous before they compete. Throughout your pre-competitive preparations and when about to begin a competition, your primary goal is to settle down and relax, thus allowing your mind to let go of doubt and worry and your body to be free of nerves and tension. Additionally, a calm mindset can be valuable for athletes who are naturally aggressive and don’t need to take active steps to get into attack mode.
A calm mindset can be created in several ways. First, it’s difficult to have a calm mind if your body is anxious, so focusing on relaxing your body is a good start. Deep breathing and muscle relaxation are two good tools you can use to calm your body.
Second, you can use mental imagery in which you see and feel yourself being calm before a competition. This imagery has a direct physiologically relaxing effect on both your body and mind.
Third, calming and reassuring self-talk can ease your tension, for example, “Easy does it. Cool, calm, and collected. Chillin’ before I’m thrillin’” (I just made that up!). Relaxing self-talk can take the edge off of your nerves giving you the comfort and confidence to perform your best.
A clear mind involves having basically nothing related to performing going on in your mind before a competition. The athletes who use a clear mindset are those you see before a competition talking to coaches, teammates, or even their competition. They are often smiling, dancing around, chatting it up, or singing to themselves. These athletes can use a clear mindset because they are incredibly talented natural athletes and have years of experience that allow them to trust their bodies completely to perform their best without any interference from their minds.
A clear mind is most suited for athletes who are intuitive (meaning they don’t have to think about their sport very much to perform their best), free spirited (meaning they go with the flow rather than being really structured in their approach to their sport), and experienced (meaning they have a lot of confidence and trust in their capabilities from many years and successes).
You create a calm mindset by thinking about anything except your sport. Talking to others around you, thinking about someone or something that makes you feel good, and listening to music in your head are several ways you can keep your mind clear, thus preventing it from getting in the way of your body performing its best.
Mindset, like all mental states, requires several steps to instill and master. First, you have to experiment to figure out which mindset will work best for you. Second, you need to make a commitment to adopting an ideal mindset. Third, you must focus on your desired mindset in practice and competitions to create that mindset. And, finally, you need repetition in practice and competitions to ingrain your ideal mindset so deeply that, when you begin the most important competition of your life, that mindset just clicks on and it enables you to perform your very best.
Chicago BearsChicago BillsChicago CubsDerrick RoseJay CutlerleadershipMLBmotivationNBANFLteam
I was interviewed recently by WGN Radio Chicago about the city’s pro sports teams and its fans. Address topics including leadership, injury, and the diehard nature of Cubs fans.
Here’s the link.
I’m the co-founder of Beyond, a tech start-up that is using wearable technology (e.g., smartwatches) and biometric data (e.g., heart rate) to recognize and reduce stress in real-time (meaning in the moment when you experience the stress).
We’re in the Alpha testing phase of product development (meaning early stage) and are looking for people who experience stress on a regular basis to help us evaluate v1.0 of the product. Testing would require and involve the following:
- An iPhone 5 or 6 onto which you will download the Beyond app.
- A heart rate chest strap with Bluetooth capabilities. If you don’t have one, you can buy a wahoo chest strap ($60). You can return it for a full refund (no questions asked) within 30 days of purchase after using it for the testing.
- Complete a brief pre-test survey about your experiences with stress.
- The testing phase will last 7 days during which you would wear the chest strap and use the Beyond app to recognized and reduce stress during your daily life.
- Complete a post-test survey in which you assess your experience with the Beyond app.
If you are interested in participating, please visit the Beyond website and submit your email address. You will be contacted with further instructions when we are ready to begin Alpha testing.
businesscognitive biasescorporatedecision makingdecisionssenior management
Is there anything more important to the success of a company than decision making? And is there any other process that occurs so often in a company that is accomplished so haphazardly?
The decisions that are made, from the boardroom and the corner office on down, dictate the direction that the company goes. Yet, decision making may be the only area of a company that doesn’t have a clear structure or process for maximizing quality. Think about it. Sales, marketing, finance, and research and development all have formal procedures in place to ensure that their outputs are both effective and efficient. There is, however, rarely such processes in place to ensure uniformity in the quality of a company’s decision making. And this absence can lead to some horrendous and potentially catastrophic decisions.
In my consulting work in the corporate world, I have found that business people have considerable confidence in their decision-making capabilities. I have also found that their confidence is often unjustified and sometimes based more in fantasy than reality. Research has also found that decision making is rife with cognitive biases that make objective and rational decisions incredibly difficult. Yet, little attention and time is devoted to creating a structure and process that will help develop that which facilitates good decision making and mitigates those factors that lead to poor decision making.
Precision Decision Model
Like any system, decision making is most effective when it is structured and organized. A decision-making system provides companies with a consistent process that can be adhered to and, after decisions have been made, evaluated and adjusted for the quality of their outputs.
Through my work in the business world, I have developed what I call the Precision Decision model of decision making (see image below).
The Precision Decision model provides companies with a framework for quality decisions while allowing for flexibility in its implementation. My Precision Decision model is comprised of six stages that progressively guide you through the decision making process. Within the six stages are a series of specific questions and a key recommendation to avoid common pitfalls at the different points in the decision-making process.
Stage 1: Frame the Issue
This stage involves understanding with absolute clarity what the issue is and what type of decision is going to be made. Essential questions to ask include:
- What is the issue we are presented with?
- What is some essential background to the issue?
- What has been done so far including what has been considered and not pursued?
- What is a simple and clear statement that best describes the current decision (i.e., “The decision to be made is…”)?
The best decisions most often come from a collaboration between people with the ideal combination of knowledge, skill sets, perspectives, and experience. A common pitfall in this initial stage of decision making is not getting the right people involved. You can avoid this trap by identifying the areas of expertise that need to be included and carefully selecting a group of people who can provide a broad and deep perspective on the presenting issue.
Stage 2: Analyze the Issue
Once the issue has been clearly articulated and a decision statement has been created, it’s now time to do an extensive analysis of the issue and really delve into its many facets. Key areas to examine include:
- Explore the issue from different perspectives (e.g., using the diverse expertise of your decision-making team).
- Ask what, why, when, who, where, and how questions so the issue is fully revealed.
- Refine the decision statement based on this analysis.
At this stage, one of the most common pitfalls is to assume that you have your arms fully wrapped around the issue and are ready to make the decision. The best way to mitigate this pitfall is to ensure that you are collecting all of the relevant information that will contribute to a quality decision. This can be accomplished by asking the decision team members to leverage their knowledge and experience to bring forward any information that they deem germane, however esoteric it may seem.
Stage 3: Deepen Your Understanding
When your team feels that it has done a thorough analysis of the issue at hand and has a firm grasp of the decision that needs to be made, it’s ready to do a “deep dive” and plumb the depths of the decision. Important issues to consider include:
- What hat has changed since the issue arose: what, where, when, how.
- Brainstorm potential causes of the issue.
- Identify the critical contributors to the decision.
A frequent pitfall in this stage is to give up too early when you think that you have a real understanding of the issue. My recommendation is to allow the issue and the potential decision germinate in the relevant stakeholders.
Stage 4: Make the Decision
At some point, of course, a decision must be made. Here, where the rubber meets the road, is when you must take your broad and deep understanding of the issue and begin to identify possible decisions. Essential areas to consider include:
- Create a list of possible decisions that could be made.
- Explore possible outcomes of the decision options (worst and best cases).
- Make the decision.
- Ask yourself: Is the decision consistent with your values?
Jumping to conclusions is the most likely pitfall in this stage. As you filter through possible decisions, each can look very attractive and may cause you to choose one prematurely. It is best to commit to a thorough consideration of each decision option before you return to the one that you think is best.
Stage 5: Take Action
This stage is the scariest because you must “put your money where your mouth is.” It is also the point at which implementation of the idea becomes as important as the decision itself. As you likely know from experience, the best decisions can fail if they are not put into action effectively. As such, the following four steps will help ensure that the implementation maximizes the likelihood that the decision was, in fact, a good one.
- Design a plan to implement decision.
- Assign role and responsibilities.
- Establish a timetable.
- Create accountabilities.
A common pitfall in this stage is to be unrealistic in your expectations of the outcome of the decision. As with most things in business and life, decisions take time to take root and blossom. I suggest that you be patient and allow the decision to slowly reveal its worth.
Stage 6: Debrief
This stage is often one that is overlooked by companies because they are just too busy pursuing the future to take the time to reflect back on the past. This “forensic analysis” provides an evaluation of both the process and outcome of the decision making. Key questions to ask include:
- Were cognitive biases monitored?
- Was the best decision made?
- What you did well and areas for improvement?
Not surprisingly, the greatest pitfall is to not evaluate the decision. The fundamental lessons from the debrief are to identify what worked in the decision-making process (and repeat it) and identify what didn’t work (and jettison it). The result is that, with time and consistent adherence to the Precision Decision model, your company fine tunes and customizes the decision-making process until you have developed a system that works effectively with your unique culture and dynamics.
As I noted in a previous article, cognitive biases are bad for business. Yet, they are also ever present in the business world. An essential part of the Precision Decision model involves constantly checking in at each stage of the process to ensure that cognitive biases have a negligible effect on the decisions that are made.
The ultimate outcome is a series of from-to shifts in decision making (see image below) that reduces the number of poor decisions and dramatically increases the number of sound decisions. And this conclusion can only mean good things for the future of your company.
competitiongold medalMikaela Shiffrinolympicsski racingwinter sportsWorld Cup
As I have noted in past articles, Mikaela is a veritable fount of lessons on how to succeed as a ski racer (regardless of how you define success). In my last post, which I actually began writing before Mikaela’s Soelden victory (her first World Cup GS win), she demonstrated so beautifully what can happen when you shift from a focus on good skiing to a focus on fast skiing.
In this article, I’m going to talk about “mindset,” which I consider to be an essential piece of the “fast skiing” puzzle and a mental area that I have only just been exploring the past three years. This topic is also where Mikaela once again offers a wonderful example of how a change in how you think can lead to a dramatic change from good skiing to fast skiing.
Let me preface this discussion by clarifying that my use of the word mindset is different from the use of mindset popularized by the Stanford University researcher Carol Dweck (a perspective, I might add, that is consistent with my own and one that can also help ski racers achieve their goals).
When I talk about mindset, I mean what is going on in your head when you are in the starting gate just before your training or race run. What happens in your mind during that oh-so-important period sets the stage for how you ski and whether your skiing is good or fast.
I have found three mindsets that the best ski racers appear to use most. There may be others (and please let me know if you think of any), but I find these three to be the most common.
In an interview after her victory in Soelden, Mikaela indicated how “I’m trying to take more of an aggressive mindset” that helped her overcome her pattern of relatively sluggish skiing in the first half of race runs. This aggressive mindset is often needed to go from good skiing to fast skiing for racers who aren’t naturally aggressive (I was one of these). That is, their typical mindset is one that usually produces solid and clean skiing. A great example of an aggressive mindset in action is in a YouTube video of Manfred Pranger, the 2005 World Cup slalom champion. In it, you can watch him actively create an aggressive mindset.
An aggressive mindset can be so valuable because ski racing has become a combat sport, with armor (e.g., helmet and hand, arm, and shin guards) and weapons (e.g., poles in which you stab the snow and sharp edges in which you lacerate the snow). You are doing battle with the terrain, course, and snow conditions. It’s kill or be killed these days (figuratively speaking, of course) where if you allow the terrain, course, and snow conditions to dominate you, you’re done for. Only by skiing aggressively do you have a chance to overcome those enemies.
An aggressive mindset can be developed in several ways. First, you’re more likely to ski aggressively if your body is amped up a bit more than usual. You can raise your physical intensity with more activity during your training and pre-race routines and just before you leave the starting gate. Simply moving more and being more dynamic in your movements will help you shift to a more aggressive mindset.
Second, as exemplified in that Pranger video, you can use high-energy self-talk to instill that aggressive mindset. I don’t speak German, so I don’t know precisely what he’s saying (if anyone does understand, please share it with us). But I’m going to guess it’s something like: “Let’s go! Attack! Charge! Bring it!” Pranger also highlights a key point about self-talk, namely, it’s not just what you say, but how you say it. So, your aggressive self-talk should sound, well, aggressive. No pussy cats here; only tigers, lions, and panthers allowed.
Third, you can ingrain fast skiing by incorporating an aggressive mindset into your mental imagery. Seeing and feeling yourself skiing aggressively helps create more attacking thinking, focus, and feeling. Pranger provides a great example of this use of imagery in another YouTube video of his course inspection.
A calm mindset is typically best for racers who get nervous before they race. Throughout your pre-race preparations and when in the starting gate, your primary goal is to settle down and relax, thus allowing your mind to let go of doubt and worry and your body let go of nerves and tension. Additionally, a calm mindset can be valuable for racers who are naturally aggressive and don’t need to take active steps to get into attack mode.
Based on my observations of Mikaela over the last three years, she appears to use a calm mindset before races in the past. As she readily admits, Mikaela gets anxious on race day and a calm mindset before her race runs in the past helped her overcome her nerves.
A calm mindset can be created in several ways. First, it’s difficult to have a calm mind if your body is anxious, so focusing on relaxing your body is a good start. Deep breathing and muscle relaxation are two good tools you can use to calm your body.
Second, you can use mental imagery in which you see and feel yourself being calm in the start area, before you leave the starting gate, and on course.
Third, calming and reassuring self-talk can ease your tension, for example, “Easy does it. Cool, calm, and collected. Chillin’ before I’m thrillin’” (I just made that up!). Relaxing self-talk can take the edge off of your nerves giving you the comfort and confidence to ski your fastest.
A clear mind involves having basically nothing related to skiing going on in your mind before your race run. Though I don’t know either Bode Miller or Julia Mancuso personally, my observations of them at races and feedback from coaches and racers who know them well suggest that they rely on a clear mindset before they race. Bode can often be seen talking to his coaches or staring blankly into space. Julia is often smiling, dancing around, chatting it up, or singing to herself. These two athletes can use a clear mindset because they are both incredibly talented natural athletes and have years of experience that allow them to trust their bodies completely to ski their best without any interference from their minds.
A clear mind is most suited for racers who are intuitive (meaning they don’t have to think about their skiing very much to ski fast), free spirited (meaning they go with the flow rather than being really structured in their approach to their skiing), and experienced (meaning they have a lot of confidence and trust in their skiing from many miles and successes).
You create a calm mindset by thinking about anything except your skiing. Talking to others around you, thinking about someone or something that makes you feel good, and listening to music in your head are several ways you can keep your mind clear, thus preventing it from getting in the way of your body skiing its best.
Mindset, like all mental states, requires several steps to instill and master. First, you have to experiment to figure out which mindset will work best for you. Second, you need commitment to adopting an ideal mindset. Third, an initial focus in training and races to create that mindset. And, finally, repetition in training and races to ingrain your ideal mindset so deeply that, when you’re in the starting gate of your most important race of the season, that mindset just clicks on and it enables you to ski your fastest.
In my last post, I described five messages that parents can send to their children to instill the value and practice of gratitude. In this post, I’ll discuss how kind words can be another means through which you can convey the importance of gratitude to your children.
My family’s ‘catchphrase’ for gratitude is “Mo’ Grat,” short for more gratitude. When my wife, Sarah, or I don’t feel like we are being adequately appreciated, we simply say, “Mo’ Grat” and a “thank you” soon follows. Our daughters, Catie and Gracie, will even catch us with a “Mo’ Grat” when we don’t say our thank yous.
Before Myra and Gene had children, they cringed at the sense of entitlement that so many children they met had. It seemed like kids these days felt they deserved everything they wanted when they wanted it without any appreciation for receiving it. When they had children, they sure weren’t going to allow that attitude to creep into their family. And, one day after pre-school, their four-year-old son, Erik, gave them their catchphrase for gratitude. Their two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Melanie, was whining loudly about not getting the snack she wanted and Erik spouted out, “You get what you get and don’t get upset.” Myra and Gene looked at each other in shock at the clarity of Erik’s message. They asked him where he learned that and he said that it was part of a song that one of his teachers had sung that morning. They then asked him what it meant. He said that kids need to learn that a lot of kids don’t have much and they should be grateful for what they get and not get angry for not getting everything they want. So the family decided to adopt it as their message for gratitude. Admittedly, when their children really, really want something, the catchphrase doesn’t always settle them down, but Myra and Gene believe that just putting it out there will enable the message to sink in sooner or later.
Henry and Anna like to keep things simple. Their catchphrase is “Thank you for…” I add the “…” because they expect their three children to not only say thank you to those who help them, but also to be specific in what the expression of gratitude is for and to name the person who is the recipient of gratitude, for example, “Mom, thank you for dinner.” or “Mrs. Camby, thank you for helping me with my math problems today.” They believe that this specific of act and person helps their children really focus on and mean what they’re saying rather than “thank you” being just knee-jerk and not particularly heartfelt reaction.
Gloria believes that all good actions must come from the heart. So her catchphrase for gratitude is “Have a grateful heart.” Whenever her two children start to take what they have for granted, she invokes “Have a grateful heart.” Plus, she reminds them that there are many children who are less fortunate than they. As she admits, these reminders don’t always placate them (and often irritate them), but, combined with other messages of gratitude, her children slowly came around to appreciating and expressing gratitude for what they have.
Alma believes that gratitude is actually an exchange between the helper and the helpee. Her catchphrase for her family is “Gratitude back and forth.” Alma expects her son, Rex, to solicit help by beginning every request with “Would you please…” in which he specifies the assistance he is asking for. When it is provided, Rex must then, like Henry and Anna urge, give thanks to the specific person and the particular act of helping (e.g., “Daddy, thank you for getting me more milk.”) The recipient of the gratitude must then conclude the exchange with “You are very welcome. I’m happy to help.” Of course, Alma can’t ensure that every person who helps her son will respond this way, but she makes sure she does.
So often, the simplest words and actions have the most powerful influence in children. Choosing your words about gratitude wisely can mean the difference between gratitude being something your children have to express and something they truly want to express.
This blog post is excerpted from my third parenting book, Your Children are Listening: Nine Messages They Need to Hear from You (The Experiment Publishing, 2011).
An interesting New York Times article debunks the power of positive thinking, to a point. The article describes research which found that people who simply think positively feel less energy, have less motivation, and accomplish less than those who don’t think positively (or negatively).
The research indicates that a combination of positive thinking and thinking about the realistic challenges that people will face as they pursue their goals led to more energy and motivation, and better results.
What’s the takeaway? Be positive, but also realize that it will be difficult.
I was recently interviewed by Today’s Parent for an article titled “How to Raise the Next Sidney Crosby” (it’s a Canadian magazine). It’s a good read for sports parents with some great perspectives from elite athletes, parents, coaches, and, yes, yours truly.