sleeping

Comfortably Uncomfortable

It’s the last thought as you step out of the car and into the parking lot. You’re on the way to a new meetup group, one that you’ve never been to, and you’re concerned. You wonder what the group will be like and whether they’ll like you. The fear of rejection is running through your mind like the running of the bulls.

Despite the logical analysis that there’s nothing here to fear, adrenaline pumps through your veins as you make your way slowly – too slowly – towards the gathering group. The awkward question, “Are you here for the same reason?” is met with a moment of confusion, then an awareness that you’re not a part of the group – yet.

This is just one of the millions of interactions that people who are comfortably uncomfortable have every day. They push through into their discomfort and look for the rewards of greater connection with others and the ability to share their passion.

How do we take the first step towards becoming comfortable? Maybe it starts in a hot, smelly, and sweaty gym.

Breaking Down Muscles

The weightlifter strains and struggles to lift the weight bar over his head just one last time. He’s sweating, his heart is pounding, and his lungs feel like they’ve been sanded down with the heavy air in the room. He gets the one last lift in before his muscles give out. During his exercise, he’s been destroying his muscles bit by bit. They held out for the last lift, but there’s a definite need to rebuild.

Over the following day or two, the weightlifter’s body will assess the damage and build muscles that are more capable than they were before the damage. It’s the natural compensation of the muscle tissue that allows growth and improvement through repetition and strain. What started out as painful and literally destructive to the tissues of the weightlifter’s body will make them stronger. (For more on overcompensation, see Antifragile.)

In the weightlifter’s training, they’ve come to accept the pain not as a signal to run away from or a thing to be feared, but rather as a trusted friend that tells them they’re on the path to improving their abilities. Instead of something to shun, they’ve found a reason to invite it in the name of becoming stronger. They’ve become comfortable with their discomfort.

Considering Coaches

Pushy. Always correcting. Never relenting. Coaches are there to drive people to the best performance, and in the service of that goal, they’re often on the backs of the very people who pay them. The executive or athlete being coached keeps asking for it. They want more of it. Each time there’s a correction offered by the coach, it stings a little. Some comments hurt more than others, but every comment has some sort of a barb to it. (See Peak for more about the role of coaches.)

Good coaches may sprinkle in supportive statements. They may try to keep motivating their coachee – but in the end, a coachee’s role is to improve, and to improve you have to change – and change isn’t easy.

What would make people pay others to subject them to pain – without a mental illness? The answer is in the payoff. These peak performers are willing to be uncomfortable with the comments and the drills to get to the results they want. They have become comfortable with the discomfort of receiving coaching comments.

Finding Focus

How do these executives, athletes, and regular scared humans get comfortable with being uncomfortable? The answer lies in their focus. Philip Zimbardo, in The Time Paradox, describes how people view time differently. They view it from a past, present, or future – with the past and present having two different variants each. Of the five views of time, the future view is the most interesting. It’s the most interesting, because it allows us to focus our interests elsewhere.

One of our most powerful capacities is our ability to launch ourselves into the future in our minds. We don’t need a time machine or a rocket ship to escape the bounds of today. All we need is our mind. This capacity is powerful enough to change our physiology as we imagine potentially stressful future events. (See Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers for more.) This capacity drove the physiological responses of the group finder in our opening, as the mind temporarily simulated the possibility that they would be rejected.

Shifting from unconscious to conscious control, the group goer can remind themselves what they are hoping for out of the encounter. (See The Happiness Hypothesis for a model of how the brain vies for control.) The social anxiety is seen as an acceptable moment of uncomfortable in exchange for the potential value. Since we discount our future rewards, the rewards in the future must be powerful enough to outweigh our current or planned discomfort. (See Thinking, Fast and Slow for how we view gains and losses.)

By focusing on the desired end state – what we hope to get – we can amplify the value of the future state and simultaneously reduce the short-term costs. We get the ability to put our thumb on the scale that we use to evaluate what we want to do. We can subtly – or not so subtly – shift the scales for the future gain from the present pain.

Accepting Uncomfortable

Even with the scales tipped, we still must endure the current discomfort to get to the end goal. We’ve got to develop the perseverance to make it to the other side of the pain. Luckily, we can develop this skill just like we can develop our muscles. The more that we are able to tolerate mild pain, the more pain we can tolerate – and the longer that we have our tolerance. (See Willpower for developing our willpower, and Grit for how we can develop perseverance.)

Like anything else, there’s a pain to learning to endure pain. Making small steps, repeatedly, ultimately leads to the ability to be persistently comfortable being uncomfortable.

Treating the Tough Adolescent: A Family-Based, Step-by-Step Guide

Book Review-Treating the Tough Adolescent

Not that counseling is ever an easy job, but some times are harder than others. Sure, you can help find folks find their calling or cope with death and divorce. You can handle the couple who are struggling to hold their marriage together. A good counselor can even help parents learn how to parent with authority and love. However, what happens when the children aren’t easy to get along with? What happens when they’re adolescent – and they’re tough? That’s where Treating the Tough Adolescent is.

Dr. Scott Sells wrote the book as a guide to help professionals know what to do in the uncharted territory of the difficult child. I’ve already reviewed his consumer/parent facing work, Parenting Your Out-of-Control Teenager: 7 Steps to Reestablish Authority and Reclaim Love. While there is substantial overlap between these two titles, the different audiences mean there is still more to glean from Treating the Tough Adolescent.

Before I get there, I need to remind you dear reader, I’m not a professional counselor. I’m a parent and volunteer who continues to seek to make the road easier for parents who are struggling with their teenagers, either because the teens are in trouble themselves, or because they’re trying to take over the family.

Family Systems

Every family operates together as a system. Sometimes the influences that one member of the family has on another are very large, and other times, not so much. However, families operate in relationship to one another. They’re like planets orbiting in a solar system with two (or more) stars. As one person moves and changes, so do the others. Everyone in a family system reacts to the gravitational pull of the other members of the system.

Family systems are particularly important when considering the impacts of a tough adolescent, because they were created somehow. It’s interesting to consider what the root causes are that created the tough adolescent in the first place. Was it dad’s addiction? Was it the mother’s mental illness? While there’s no point in assigning blame, looking for the root cause can sometimes melt the ice-cold heart of the struggling adolescent, whose only way of changing the system is to become “tough.”

No matter who or what caused the hurt, the teenager – and everyone in the family – must take responsibility for healing themselves. If the root cause hasn’t worked itself out and still lingers or is still a painful secret, then somewhere during the treatment of the adolescent, it will become necessary to address that root cause making it hard to recover.

Inversion of Control

One of the common dynamics that Sells identifies is that the adolescent has grabbed the reigns and is running the family. While this may seem impossible, it is the case all too often. Mom and dad may decide which house and which car, but the teenager controls the schedule and the emotional tenor of the house. They’re pulling the puppet strings of the parents, who feel powerless to resist the pull of their troubled and tough teen.

One of the continuous themes is the reestablishment of parental authority over the adolescent. This comes in two basic forms. The first form is obvious – that is, to take control back from the adolescent and control more aspects of the home. The second form is subtler and more subversively influences the system. By the time that an adolescent has been labeled as “tough” or “troubled,” it’s likely that they’ve already engaged other professionals, who left the parents less powerful than when they started. This, too, must be corrected.

When Helping Hurts

When you reach out for help in an out-of-control situation, you expect to find competent help that will help you put your problems behind you. However, as I’ve brought up a few times, clinical psychology isn’t always doing its best work. (See Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology, The Heart and Soul of Change: Delivering what Works in Therapy, and The Cult of Personality Testing for more on some of the challenges in the profession.) The result of the engagement of external parties, whether it’s professional counselors, church, community, or law enforcement, wasn’t that the problem was stopped. Though for some, perhaps even many, these resources are able to halt the progression towards being a tough adolescent, in other cases, it isn’t enough.

It’s scary. Instead of worrying about the temper tantrums of a two year old, you’re worrying about oppositional defiance disorder and what harm the adolescent may inflict on themselves or on others. It’s no wonder that parents are desperate to get the help they need.

However, too often, the deferral to a professional causes the parent to lose ground in the eyes of the adolescent, because they are able to manipulate the professional into backing parents off from their stance, or the adolescent recognizes that the parent or parents aren’t able to manage them without help. If they can separate the parent from the help, they can win. It’s these cases where “helping” creates greater issues down the road.

This isn’t to say that parents shouldn’t seek help – they should. They should interview the helper and ensure they’re on the same page as the parents. If they can’t support the parents – both in their growth and in their ability to regain control – then they’re not the right fit.

Enforcing Rules

Anyone who has had an adolescent – tough or not – knows that they’re really good at bending the rules, negotiating, and trying to “pull one over” on mom and dad. It’s a part of the way that things are supposed to be. Adolescents are supposed to try to see what they can get away with – to test their boundaries – and parents are supposed to be there to help them be aware that the boundaries still exist.

Many times, tough teenagers didn’t have parents who could maintain these rules and enforce them. The cause – whether it’s a struggling marriage, a personal problem, or financial difficulties – is immaterial. The results are the same. Adolescents don’t know where the rules are. Without a clear definition of the rules and the consequences, there is no roadmap for how to behave, and testing the boundaries gets wilder and wilder.

Sells recommends a written contract with an adolescent so that they’re clear on what the rules are, how they’ll be interpreted, and what the consequences for violation are. His process includes a troubleshooting step specifically designed to help locate the loopholes that adolescents will undoubtedly attempt to try to wiggle through.

Marshmallow Malfunction

Walter Mischel tortured children with the thought of a marshmallow in the middle of the table. They were told to wait until the researcher returned without eating the marshmallow, and they’d be rewarded with two marshmallows. A pretty good return on the sweet tooth investment of a pre-kindergarten child. Some took the bait and ate the marshmallow before the researcher returned. Others didn’t. Those that ate it just couldn’t fight the feeling. They couldn’t muster the willpower. (See Willpower for more.) That’s not the interesting bit. Self-control is hard to come by whether you are two, ten, or fifty. The interesting part was the follow up. Those children who got two marshmallows were better off in life.

Tough adolescents are described as living the hedonistic life. They live for today and not for tomorrow. They can’t wait for tomorrow if they want it today.

Relapse and Follow Up

One important point that Dr. Sells is able to reinforce is that even if tough adolescents can be brought back into control – and their behaviors kept to acceptable social norms for a while – there is a high probability of relapse. That is, the old behaviors will not want to be extinguished quickly. They may come up once in a while to see if the environment has changed and whether they can stick around. The recurrence of old, undesirable behaviors isn’t an indication of failure. It’s a normal situation, even if it’s not one that is welcomed.

Because of the potential for relapse (or the expectation of relapse), Sells recommends follow up to make sure that the hard-fought new interactions stick.

Consequences

Sells’ work is more prescriptive than most books. He provides many excellent ideas for consequences that are both unexpected and potentially quite effective. There are bathroom lock-ins for those children who run away. For those who are absent or tardy at school, Sells provides a model for the parent attending school with the child. These creative consequences work, because they strike at the heart of the things that are important to the adolescent.

If your tough adolescent is important to you – or to one of your clients – perhaps the answer is to read Treating the Tough Adolescent.

How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk

Book Review-How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk

Anyone who has a teenager knows that they speak a different language. In fact, they often seem like they’re a different species all together. They don’t seem to act like their younger versions of themselves – and you wonder how they’ll survive to be older with the coping strategies they’re using. However, these same teenagers were once precious babies. So how is it that the transformation happened, and how do you develop some rapport so that you can keep the lines of communication open to this alien race? That’s the question that How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk seeks to answer.

In the Cards

Before I get into the meat of the book, I need to pause and say that Terri and I believe in conversation. We believe in hard conversations (see Crucial Conversations). We believe in happy conversations. One of the things that she saw was parents (or guardians) and children in a hospital not talking to one another. That’s why we created the Kin-to-Kid Connection Child Safety Cards. It was our way of encouraging conversations by creating opportunities to play games together. We moved from there to trying to help prevent kids from ending up in the hospital in the first place; however, the genesis was the need for conversations between parents and kids.

Plethora of Poor Responses

We’ve all had a bad day and tried to share with a friend, only to be shutdown or rejected. At least to us, their response felt like a rejection. They didn’t seem to want to accept our world as our world. (See Choice Theory for more on our inner worlds.) There are, according to How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, eight different categories of responses, seven of which are bad:

  • Denial of Feelings – Essentially, you don’t or shouldn’t feel what you feel. The response leaves you deflated and feeling that even your feelings are wrong. (Hint: feelings aren’t wrong, only actions can be.)
  • Philosophical Response – “Life can be like that.” The empty response does nothing to connect with the other person and trivializes their having brought it up.
  • Advice – “You know what I think you should do?” can turn people off. They may have been coming only to connect, and advice attempts to solve their problem. Even for those seeking a resolution, a simple answer can seem trite or like they’re stupid for not thinking about the solution. (See Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus for more on empathetic listening vs. problem solving.)
  • [Judgmental] Questions – “Why did you do that?” While questions can be a valuable tool for validating and improving understanding, they can also be a weapon of shame and judgement. (See Parent Effectiveness Training and Motivational Interviewing for ways to effectively use questions and His Needs, Her Needs for disrespectful judgement.) The book describes these as only questions, but the examples are all examples of judgmental questions.
  • Defense of the Other Person – It’s as if the person you’re talking to, the person you shared with, instantly starts taking the other person’s side of the story. They say that they can’t identify with you – but rather identify with the other person in your story. Here, they’ve actively rejected your bid for connection and instead have seemingly gone to side with the other person. (See The Science of Trust for more on bids for connection.)
  • Pity – “Oh you poor thing.” No one wants to be pitied. People want connection and understanding, not pity. By pitying someone, you’re saying that they’re somehow less than you are.
  • Amateur Psychoanalysis – This is a sleight of hand trick. The response encourages the person to question their feelings – but by suggesting that they might be projecting their feelings about one person onto another. The problem is the response can lead the person sharing to feel as if they’ve been tricked.
  • An Empathetic Response – The response creates a connection and says, “I understand this about you.” Even if the response isn’t exactly correct, the person seeking connection will typically correct and adjust the understanding. Out of the eight types of responses, this is the only one that builds connection and affirms the relationship.

In a book about talking to your children, why is understanding these eight responses so important? In our parent-child, relationship the one-up/one-down power differential is appropriate and necessary, but it also creates the tendency to use more forceful approaches in conversations. It takes more work to ensure that we are not just directing our children but are trying to connect with them as well. Too often we fall into a quick and convenient trap that we’re in a hurry and don’t have time to really talk things through with our children, and that can lead to challenges.

Teaching About Feelings

Certainly, parents are expected to educate their children. They’re expected to help them be prepared to enter kindergarten and help them learn in school. The explicit knowledge they gain through their childhood is designed to give them the foundation for study in their chosen career. However, there’s more to teaching and learning than multiplication tables. There are many things that require tacit knowledge – having experienced something – rather than just having learned it. (See Lost Knowledge for more on tacit knowledge.)

Understanding oneself is perhaps the greatest gift that any parent can help their child to achieving. (See Beyond Boundaries for more on what an integrated self-image is.) Developing this integrated image is, in part, recognizing our internal incongruencies – our good and evil natures that are both within us. In part, an integrated self-image is an awareness and acceptance of our feelings. Here, the book suggests four things:

  1. Listen with Full Attention – In our hectic world, it’s too easy to be watching TV or playing on our phones while listening. This sends a subtle message that what the person is talking about isn’t worth our whole attention – and by extension, neither are they.
  2. Acknowledge Their Feelings in a Word – While sharing, we as humans use a great deal of resources to measure the response of the person we’re sharing with. Simple, one-word responses (or utterances) helps the other person understand that we’re still “with them.” (See Mindreading for more on how we assess other people’s mental state.)
  3. Give Their Feelings a Name – I’ve purchased a collection of literally tens of thousands of feeling words. It’s a rich collection of every word in the English language used to describe how someone feels. However, all too frequently, we settle for the fast food version of feeling words: happy, sad, or angry. By giving feelings names, a person can start to identify when they feel the same – or similar – feelings the next time.
  4. Give Them Their Wishes in Fantasy – It’s hard to believe that just the idea of having something you want can fulfil the need. However, because of the Zeigarnik effect, incomplete thoughts are held more strongly. (See The Science of Trust for more on the Zeigarnik effect.) By allowing people the opportunity to fully experience their wish – only as a fantasy – you relieve the pressure to maintain that thought.

Though we all seek validation in many ways, there is probably no greater area where we seek validation than in our feelings. When someone is sharing their feelings, they’ve being vulnerable and are trying to connect. When we validate those feelings, we create a deeper connection.

Understanding, Accepting, and Agreeing

An important aspect of any part of relating to your children is to help them understand the difference between understanding, accepting, and agreeing. This distinction isn’t hard for me, but for many of our children, it has been. Understanding is awareness of the other person’s perspective and values and how they came to them. Accepting is acknowledging the other person’s point of view is OK – at least for them. Agreement is agreeing with those perspectives and values.

Children wrongly assume – wrongly – that you must agree with each other. What is needed and required is understanding, not necessarily agreement. When you have understanding and can accept the other person’s point of view, you can talk through conflicts and reach resolutions.

Accepting the world as it is – and understanding that we can’t change other people – makes interactions easier, because there are fewer attempts at coercive control. (See Choice Theory and Compelled to Control for more on control.)

Play

A multi-purpose tool in the toolbox of talking and listening is play. Play is a necessary evolutionary tool for teaching important life skills. (See Play for more.) Humor and jokes create important social connections. (See Inside Jokes for more.) Play – or humor – can lighten the mood and remove the tone of seriousness that can sometimes pervade a conversation. This can often serve as a lubricant to make difficult conversations easier. (See Crucial Conversations for more on difficult conversations.)

Creating Separation and Autonomy

Job #1 for every parent is to help their children to be independent. The job is to encourage their autonomy and, ultimately, help them to separate from the parent. (See Drive for more on the power and necessity of autonomy.) While this may be painful to some people, it’s a necessary part of life – just like dying is a part of life. We don’t have to like death, but we do have to accept that it’s a part of the package. Here the book suggests six strategies:

  1. Let children make choices – Rather than saying you must do X then Y, you offer the choice between X or Y first. This may seem like giving the child power, but in truth, they’re still going to do everything, it’s just a matter of order.
  2. Show respect for a child’s struggle – As parents, we have the curse of knowledge; we already know the answers. However, children need the struggle to be able to learn. (See The Art of Explanation for the curse of knowledge and How We Learn for necessary difficulty – i.e. the need to struggle.)
  3. Don’t ask too many questions – By asking too many questions, we disrupt and minimize the learning process and can negatively impact emotion. (See The Paradox of Choice for more on too many questions.)
  4. Don’t rush to answer questions – Feedback is a curious thing in education. Feedback is nearly essential for learning. Feedback that occurs too fast prevents learning. Learning to give feedback and answer questions when necessary (and not before) is a powerful tool for helping children learn.
  5. Encourage children to use sources outside the home – Knowing how to find answers and work through problems is key. If every answer comes from the fount of mom or dad, they’ll never learn how to learn on their own.
  6. Don’t take away hope – I firmly believe that hope is the most powerful thing in the universe. Without hope, there’s no reason to try. You have learned helplessness. Hope is the engine that allows us to continue forward (see The Psychology of Hope for more).

Whether we’re talking about a child that we’re trying to help grow or the person who has an unhealthy attachment to us, these are good techniques to create separation.

Parents and Kids or Person to Person

In the end, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk is as much about how any two people should relate as it is about parents and children. It’s solid practical advice for the things to do in your relationship with your children to help put them on positive footing for life. So won’t you learn How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk?

wind up car

Where Are You, Where Are You Going, But More Importantly, How Fast Are You Moving?

In our consumerist, status-oriented culture, we all too often measure our worth based on the things we have and the vacations we take. It seems that we evaluate our selves and others based on what level of status we’ve achieved and the level of status that the others around us have achieved. (See Who Am I? for more on being motivated by status.)

Sometimes we take a step back and reflect on where we’re going. We ponder the legacy that we’re leaving behind. We make hard decisions about whether to accept a new position or continue our financially stable, but not excessively rewarding, job because of the impact we can make. We refine our understanding of the path that we’re going to take – or try to take.

However, except in times of depression and sorrow, we rarely evaluate how fast that we’re reaching our goals. Only when we wish to be down on our progress do we consider whether we’re sauntering through life, walking briskly, or sprinting for all we’re worth.

It’s important to know where you are – perhaps not from a status-oriented perspective – and where you’re going. However, your velocity will indicate how far you will get towards your goals and in life. Velocity isn’t a sprint – it’s a marathon. It’s a marathon that you have to know you’re running.

Where are You?

While measuring our worth against our bank accounts, the car we drive, the house we live in, and the watch on our wrist may not enrich our lives, knowing where we are is critical. If you don’t know where you are, you won’t know how to get to where you want to get.

If you can’t measure your position based on your “things,” how do you measure your position? Today, most of us measure our physical location based on a GPS receiver. Embedded into our phones and cars, these receivers help us know our position based on signals from up to 12 orbiting satellites. It’s not that any single satellite can tell you where you are – or that the satellites are always in the same position themselves. By comparing the signals from the different satellites, the receiver begins to understand your position.

On startup and with only a few satellite signals being received, the GPS receiver begins to develop a picture of where you are – but it has a very large margin of error. When receiving signals from many satellites, the picture of where you are has a very high degree of precision – within just a few feet. However, with only four satellites locked, your position – particularly altitude – can be off by hundreds of feet.

Too often in our lives, it’s hard to see where we are by ourselves. We look out on the terrain, and if we’re not in a city of environment with a clear landmark, we’re unlikely to be able to figure out where we are at all – much less within a precision of feet. The fact of the matter is that we need other – trusted – people to help us know where we are.

It’s important to note that, when we’re trying to figure out where we are, we’re not comparing ourselves to others, but we’re receiving signals from them that help us understand where we are. Also, it’s important we understand that the people we use to help us understand our position must be reliable. The GPS system works because the GPS satellites have very precise clocks onboard. We can trust the time signal they send out was accurate when it was sent. Based on knowing where the satellite was supposed to be when it sent out the time signal and the device’s own sense of what time it is, you can measure the distance from a satellite when you do this. With enough satellites, you get an intersection area. (The clock in the receiver isn’t nearly as accurate as the ones in the satellites – but by using multiple satellite time signals, the device can continuously calibrate its own sense of time.)

In this model, the GPS satellites are reliable and trustworthy. They will continue to be what they are for as long as they’re operational. People can’t be as reliable as an atomic clock, but some people are more able to provide consistently accurate and useful feedback – and others less so.

Of course, the question “Where are you?” isn’t referring to your place on the planet. The question is about where you are relative to where you want to be. This can be measured in terms of your personal development, your relationships, or how you want to give back to the world. How Will You Measure Your Life shifts the conversation from where you are to where you are going by asking the critical question about where you want to end up.

Where Are You Going?

In our instant-access, explore from the internet world, we’re given the opportunity to evaluate where we want to go in ways that we couldn’t imagine even two decades ago. Picking where we’re going no longer requires writing to the travel and tourism bureaus at the various states. We don’t have to call to request mailed information about where we want to go. Instead, the world of physical exploration is open to us.

Similarly, where we want to go with our lives is open to us as well. Many of us can pursue any vocation or avocation that we choose. We’re able to access seemingly limitless resources to better and shape ourselves.

While we’ve removed the barriers to our personal growth and evolution like we’ve removed the barriers to travel planning, we’re often faced with the dilemma of knowing where we want to be in the end. In The Paradox of Choice, Swartz makes the point that more options can create stress – and inactivity.

How Fast Are You Moving?

Fight, flight, or freeze has been used to describe our reactions in the face of fear. Our amygdala dumps a chemical wash on us that most notably contains adrenaline. That cascades into a set of physiological changes that transfer biological priorities to defense. Sometimes that causes us to lash out or run. Sometimes, we’re frozen with our fear.

While we’ve all heard of the proverbial deer in headlights who freezes, we fail to recognize how our circumstances may freeze our growth and development towards our goals. In our quest to become the best, we may become unwilling to admit our weakness and desire to get help in our growth. There’s no shame in professional athletes or those at the very top of their professions having coaches, but we somehow get stuck in the middle in our desire to not admit that we can’t do it alone. (See The Art of Learning and Peak for more about coaching and peak performance.)

Even if we’re not paralyzed by fear or immobilized by choice, we aren’t necessarily moving at our fastest, sustainable pace towards our ultimate goal. While there must be some allowances for the reality that we live in a world where we don’t have control of our path towards our destination – we only have influence over it – we can seek a sustainable pace for growth. (See Extreme Productivity for more on our cow path.)

The best way to know we’re making progress is to ask what we’re doing each week to develop ourselves into the people that we want to become. It’s too easy to let week after week squeak by without progress. Consider that glaciers move imperceptibly slow to the naked eye, but they are powerful forces that shape the landscape.

In the end, the best way to know where we end up is to know where we are today, where we want to go, and the velocity with which we’re moving towards or beyond our goals.

Parenting Your Out-of-Control Teenager

Book Review-Parenting Your Out-of-Control Teenager: 7 Steps to Reestablish Authority and Reclaim Love

Parents pour so much time and energy into their children. They become the focus of their lives. From an evolutionary sense, it makes sense to have humans wired to take care of their children. It increases survival of the species. It might even explain the crazy cat lady who has 27 cats – and no children. Imagine the pain of a parent who has an out-of-control teenager. A child that you’ve poured resources in time, money, and emotion into for thirteen or more years who is out of control. This is the situation that sits square in the sights of Dr. Scott Sells’ work, Parenting Your Out of Control Teenager: 7 Steps to Reestablish Authority and Reclaim Love.

Out-of-Control

A key component of the title is the aspect of “out-of-control.” A key reality is that, over time, we must trade our control of our children for influence. We can put them in a play pen they can’t get out of when they’re young. It’s harder to keep control of them as they age. However, here Sells means something slightly different. He’s speaking of teenagers who struggle to fit into social norms, obey parents, and “make it” in life.

He’s talking about children where something has gone wrong in the development process, and something needs to be done to correct their course of action. This is a troubling situation. Judith Rich Harris speaks of the limitation of a parent’s ability to influence a child in The Nurture Assumption and No Two Alike. She holds out little hope for any parent’s ability to substantially shape their children’s path once the genetics have been set. While there are books designed with general parenting advice, they’re targeted towards those children who fall in the normal range. Parent Effectiveness Training and The Available Parent are both designed to tune up a parent’s skills when there’s a child with challenges – not necessarily one that is out of control. Similarly, Saving Our Sons and Raising a Modern-Day Knight are about how to raise boys with a greater connection and greater purpose.

Sells is dealing with different animal.

What Works When What Normally Works Doesn’t

Sells’ work started with teens for whom regular counseling solutions weren’t working. He studied eighty-two teens over a four-year period to develop a professional book, Treating the Tough Adolescent: A Family-Based, Step-by-Step Guide. He was looking to find a way to help save children who needed something they weren’t getting.

Love and Limits

Like “normal” children, even out-of-control teenagers need both love and limits. It cannot be one without the other. Both ingredients are essential to the healthy development of a teenager. In today’s “friend first” culture of parenting, we often neglect the limits that are necessary for teens to learn the hard life lessons.

Conversely, in overly authoritarian environments without love, children struggle to understand that the world is really a helpful place and can become bitter and negative.

Sells recognizes that out-of-control teens need limits, but also recognizes that this can’t be done without love as well.

Seven Reasons for Teen Misbehavior

Sells believes there are seven top reasons for teen misbehavior:

  • Unclear Rules – You can hardly expect a teen to follow the rules if they honestly can’t understand them.
  • Not Keeping Up with Your Teens Thinking – Parents need to be one step ahead, but often fall behind the teen’s thinking.
  • Button Pushing – Teens and parents spend time pushing one another’s buttons so that nothing productive happens.
  • Teenager Drunk with Power – Teenagers find new freedom and power, and they get addicted to the experience.
  • The Pleasure Principle – Teenagers believe that if it feels right, it must be right, without the understanding of the long-term consequences.
  • Peer Power – The peers of the teen are guiding them in the wrong direction. (It is here that No Two Alike and The Nurture Assumption are focused.)
  • Misuse of Outside Forces – Outside forces are used instead of parents taking positive control of their children. (See The Psychology of Not Holding Children Accountable for more on why parents may not handle things themselves.)

Authority Confusion

As Sells is quick to point out, if you’re unwilling or unable to take charge, one of five things will happen; however, two of these are causes, and three are results. The causes are:

  1. Spousal Fighting – Disagreements with your spouse, ex-spouse, or significant other will freeze or stall your efforts to take control of the situation
  2. Button Pushing – Button-pushing and constant conflict will drain all the nurturance and softness from the relationship.

The results are:

  1. Teen in Charge – In the absence of someone else being in charge, they’ll take on the role.
  2. Transfer of Parental Authority – Outside forces like hospitals, group homes, etc. will be called upon to take on the parenting role, with varying degrees of reliance on the outside forces decisions and not the parents decision.
  3. Family of Peers – The teen’s family of peers will take on the role of shaping and “parenting” your teen.

The Teenager’s Seven Aces

Sells believes that there are seven aces that teens attempt to play with parents to get their way. They are:

  • Running away
  • Disrespect
  • Ditching school
  • Teen pregnancy
  • Threats or acts of violence
  • Threats of suicide
  • Alcohol or drug abuse

These aces are designed to cause the parent to back down and allow the teenager to retain their control. (You can learn more about the dynamics of control from Compelled to Control.)

It’s Getting Worse

One of the fears of a parent dealing with an out-of-control teen is that it’s getting worse. In a strange twist, it might get worse before it goes away. Behaviors are sometimes stronger before they’re extinguished. Here are the seven signs that Sells believes means it’s getting worse:

  1. A lack of remorse for any hurtful acts on others
  2. Blaming others for their problems
  3. Persistent lying
  4. Repeated acts of drunkenness or use of drugs
  5. Repeated fighting
  6. Repeated suspension from school
  7. Inability to hold a job

Experimentation

Sells is quick to point out that it’s possible to overreact to singular cases of experimentation that are normal teenage behavior. Note that it’s normal – but not necessarily desirable – teenage behavior. Teenagers often experiment with drugs, alcohol, and sex. Sells does suggest that it may be helpful to share your experimentation with your teen – though I personally disagree with this perspective.

I believe that sharing stories about your experimentation can be helpful – but only in so much as they can establish some common ground. I believe it’s very easy for unskilled parents to go too far and share more information than is useful. They move from building common ground to establishing that, no matter what the teen does, it won’t be as bad as what the parents did during their experimentation. Also, it creates another potential opportunity for a teenager to use this information against the parent during a button-pushing competition.

So normal teenage experimentation is something to be met with understanding and conversations, not grounding for the rest of their lives.

Getting Clear and Getting Concrete

There are two major factors that allow out-of-control teens to operate. The first is the lack of clarity in what is expected of the teenager. The lack of clarity makes it hard for the teen to understand what to expect. The other issue is that the rules change. The parent doesn’t consistently enforce the consequences. This can be due to the parent forgetting the consequence that was associated with a behavior, a lack of willpower to follow through, or a lack of a practical way to implement the consequence.

Consider for a moment the idea that the teen would be denied access to their electronics. If they’re a latch key kid – coming home before their parents – how would you possibly prevent them from being on their phone or computer? There are answers to this, but they may be out of reach for some parents. Having an IT background means that I can snipe individual children’s devices off the network here and establish acceptable use times – but that may be beyond the technical capabilities of some parents. If you can’t enforce the consequence – if it moves – then it shouldn’t be a consequence. Teens will learn that consequences aren’t really consequences. They’re just a starting point for negotiation.

Both tendencies, to be unclear and to move consequences, are why Sells recommends having a written contract with your teen. Things should be as clear as possible – and there should be a sense of definitiveness about what the consequences are.

It’s important to realize that consequences really need to be harder on your teenager than they are on you. If you can’t sustain the consequence, then the teen will just wait you out – and know that they can do it again.

Trouble in Paradise

A teen’s behavior is just a part of the family system. It happens that teens act out as a result of unresolved issues in the family system that have nothing to do with the child. It might be parents that don’t get along – whether married or divorced. Attempting to get control of a teenager when the family system itself is broken doesn’t work.

(Sidebar: This was part of the reason that Terri and I worked with parents of troubled teens while others worked with the teens. You can see more about this in the Kin-to-Kid series of posts.)

Crucial Conversation Skills

It’s obvious that, when things aren’t going well, conversation skills are essential to try to improve understanding and reduce negative emotions. Sells spends a lot of time walking parents through the skills to navigate these crucial conversations. (See Crucial Conversations for complete coverage on crucial conversation skills.)

In practice, the skills needed to navigate the turbulent waters of a conversation with an out-of-control teen may take more than any parent could reasonably be asked to develop. I’ve written about communication, conversation, and dialogue repeatedly, and I’m still out-matched with some of the conversations that we enter with our teenagers. (See Dialogue and Conversational Intelligence as starting point for more resources on effectively communicating.)

One specific skill that Sells shares is the use of the words he calls “reflectors.” These are words and phrases like nevertheless, regardless, that is the rule, or no exception. These are reflectors, because they get the conversation back to the issue at hand. For instance, if you told your son to sit up for a conversation, he might say that he’s tired. “Nevertheless, that is the rule,” can help him to recognize that his being tired doesn’t change the rule. (This presumes that this was a known rule.)

Parenting is Hard Work

At the end of the day, parenting is hard work. Whether your children are two or in their twenties, parenting isn’t for the faint of heart. Having a difficult teenager makes it even harder. Sells shares some inventive and interesting strategies to help your teen understand that you mean business and that they must listen to you.

If you don’t have an out-of-control teenager yet, I’d still recommend that you pick up Parenting Your Out of Control Teenager, because it can help you be prepared when your child decides to test the waters. Maybe you can stop the process before it starts.

The Art of Loving

Book Review-The Art of Loving

Sometimes to move forward, you must move backwards. To understand the future, you must look to the past. While past performance is no guarantee of future performance, looking to the great thinkers of the past can lead you to a better understanding of the present – and a better perspective on the future. I stumbled across Erich Fromm’s book The Art of Loving through a mixture of updates from GoodReads and references to his work in The Road Less Traveled, Coachbook, and Predictably Irrational.

Love Is an Active Verb

Most people see love as an emotion. For most people, to be in love is to be intoxicated with a new relationship. However, Fromm has a different perspective. His perspective is that love is as much – or more – about the giving than the receiving. The view is the same general view as is expressed in Love, Acceptance, and Forgiveness. (It doesn’t reference Fromm’s work, though The Art of Loving was initially published in 1956.) The Road Less Traveled does reference Fromm’s work and conveys the same sentiment that love is in the act of loving someone else.

Give to Get

In evolution’s perverse sense of reverse psychology, we’re most fulfilled when we’re fulfilling others. We feel the most lasting joy when we’re helping others. (See Flourish and The Dalai Lama’s Big Book of Happiness for more.) Somehow, in the expression of our love for others, we recognize the love that others have for us. When we aren’t able to demonstrate our love for others, we believe that others can’t demonstrate their love for us. We get stuck into a negative frame – essentially negative confirmation bias – that we’re unlovable, because we can’t love others. (See Thinking, Fast and Slow for more on negative confirmation bias.)

When we love others, we are more attuned to seeing how others love us. The more that we can see and feel this love, the less separate we feel.

Separateness

Humans have evolved with a biological need for connection. It’s how we compete with ants for the most biomass on the planet. As How We Learn comments, we have the cognitive niche. However, most of our cognition is designed to manage relationships. Haidt in The Righteous Mind calls our ability to work together the “Rubicon crossing” of our species. Mindreading tears apart this critical piece of mental machinery and explains how it works that we practice our mindreading skills. Robin Dunbar has mapped the size of the neocortex of primates to their number of stable social relationships. (See High Orbit – Respecting Grieving for more.)

In short, evolutionary biology, philosophy, learning, psychology, and sociology agree. We need connections to other humans to survive. We’ve got an aversion to being separate from others for good reason. It’s our relationships with others that have kept us alive as a species.

Altruism

Loving one another is, at its core, our willingness to put others ahead of ourselves. Judith Rich Harris in No Two Alike shares the basic functioning of altruism and how evolution got us caught up in a game of sophisticated set of statistics – that we never think about – when it comes to how we help others, including our progeny. It is in our personal genes’ best interest to sometimes sacrifice themselves for the sake of those likely to share the same genes who are closely – and not so closely – related to us.

Altruism may be hardwired into us, but it’s not locked in the “on” position. There’s a sophisticated set of probabilities about whether our genes will be able to see the positive impacts from this personal set of altruism. This isn’t a game played out in one person. The dice are rolled across countless combinations of genes. Those that survive the shuffle have the right balance of altruism to the right people in the right circumstances.

Love in Three Forms

Fromm doesn’t clarify exactly what he is speaking about when he says love. The Greek had three different words, which all translate into what we call love. Eros is romantic love. Philos is brotherly love. Agape is global or God love. Despite the lack of clarity, I think it’s clear that Fromm isn’t trying to explain romantic love. Fromm is trying to explain the platonic love that a human has for another human. In the Buddhist tradition, this might be best translated to compassion – except that compassion is related to the relief of suffering, and love is more focused on removing the disconnect between people.

Empathy and Compassion

It starts with empathy. Our connection to one another starts with understanding. Empathy says, “I understand this about you.” This is a meaningful step. It’s the first step in connection. Compassion extends this understanding further and moves into the desire to alleviate the suffering of another person. This moves from understanding to action.

If love is an active verb, one of its forms is compassion. Compassion always comes after empathy. You cannot feel sorrow until you understand.

Loving Enough for the Hard Conversations

Fromm makes the observation that sometimes the conflicts that people have are not the real conflicts but are instead poor echoes of the real issue. Sometimes, the conflicts that exist between people who have a genuine concern for each other aren’t the real issues. Those real conflicts are the ones that are hidden between pleasantries. This is the key issue faced in Crucial Conversations.

Love and Faith

Love is an act of faith. At first glance, the statement seems to make little sense. What is love faith in, exactly? The answer is a bit difficult to find. In part, it’s faith that a life of loving is worth living. It’s faith that if you love, you’ll be loved. It’s faith that love is what makes life worth living. If you have no faith in these things – or little faith – then how could one extend themselves so much to demonstrate love?

Love is a choice. For all the high moral beliefs that we behave without regard to how we’ll receive something in return, research shows that we give love where we’ll get love in return. It’s hard to choose love when you don’t believe that you’ll get it back.

Mastery of Love

Fromm makes a point that you must be dedicated to something – to the exclusion of all other things – to be come a true master at it. While I understand the intent of indicating that great dedication, grit, is necessary to become truly good at something, I don’t know that you need to have a single-minded focus on love to become good at it. (See Grit for more on what grit is.)

While I do believe you must be interested in getting better at loving, I don’t believe it must be a single-minded focus. (See Peak for more on improving in whatever it is that you’re striving for.) However, decide for yourself. Do you believe, as Fromm does, that to master The Art of Loving, you must dedicate yourself to loving – or simply that you must be mindful in your practice of loving?

Appropriate Vulnerability

Kin-to-Kid Connection: Appropriate Vulnerability

When we talk about human connections, it often necessarily involves vulnerability. Our most meaningful relationships are the ones in which we make ourselves vulnerable in front of others, because it means we can trust those people. But how vulnerable should we be? How do we balance sharing too little and not forming a connection with sharing too much and potentially harming our loved ones? In this talk, “Appropriate Vulnerability,” we walk you through the importance of trust, how to temper our vulnerability, and how to form the connections we need as humans.

To learn more about Kin-to-Kid Connection and our mission to get kids and their kin to form meaningful connections, visit www.kin2kid.com.

Understanding Shame and Guilt

Kin-to-Kid Connection: Understanding Shame and Guilt

We’ve been motivated throughout our lives with shame and guilt but too few of us have looked into the heart of what they are — or the scars they leave on our hearts.  Sometimes, we can even get caught up in feelings without really knowing where they come from or what to do about them. In “Understanding Shame and Guilt,” we discuss guilt, shame, judgement, and blame and how these concepts tie together.

To learn more about Kin-to-Kid Connection and our mission to get kids and their kin to form meaningful connections, visit www.kin2kid.com.

The Greatest Generation

Book Review-The Greatest Generation

I’ve heard the stories – or rather I’ve heard the sensationalized stories – about how World War II came to be and how it ended. However, somewhere in the reduction done for history books, I missed the importance of the event. I don’t mean the importance to the world. I mean the importance to the men and women, to the families of those that served in the war. The Greatest Generation is Tom Brokaw’s tribute to a generation that openly faced some of the hardest challenges that our nation has ever seen. Coming out of the Great Depression and into the fire of war, this generation demonstrated what Americans could do.

Generational Context

I was introduced to The Greatest Generation in Chuck Underwood’s book, America’s Generations. It was there that I realized that the challenges faced by my generation and my children’s generation are nothing compared to the struggles that were faced by previous generations. It’s also where I realized that every generation – to be great – must have a test that helps to define them and demonstrates their ability to triumph.

Through story after story – some of them personal – Brokaw paints a picture of the values, commitment, and grit wielded by this great generation. Stories of mothers and daughters swapping roles between caring for young children and working outside of the home. Stories of entire families working to pool enough money to survive. Story after story of people helping each other to survive the harshness of the world.

Values

Personal responsibility and accountability are at the top of the list of the values that were held by this great generation. They didn’t blame others for their success or failures. They didn’t whine that they didn’t have control. Certainly not everyone had the values and personal fortitude of the people that Brokaw interviewed; however, time and again, these great Americans would speak of how they didn’t earn medals, but rather they accepted them on behalf of others. This kind of humility wasn’t an outlier. It was woven into the very heart of how these servant citizens operated.

They were honest when it was difficult and hardworking. There was a sense of being connected to one another through our shared struggles. There was a common enemy so there was less fighting amongst ourselves. Consider the impact of the 2001 terrorist attacks. For a moment, there weren’t any Democrats or Republicans. There were just Americans. The greatest generation were Americans for their lives.

Prosperity

Today, we expect that we’ll be prosperous. This is a new expectation. It’s not one that the greatest generation held. They couldn’t imagine real prosperity. Having come through the Great Depression, they had seen suffering and want. They didn’t believe that they could avoid it. They worked hard to make sure that their basic needs were met.

Imagine choosing your career not because you liked it or it was interesting, but instead because it gave you an opportunity to help support the family. Retrospectively becoming a nurse may look like a conscious choice to be compassionate to the common man, but in the moment – at least in some cases – it was an opportunity to make much needed money for the family. We expect that employment is an option to us, but those who lived through the Great Depression were grateful for any work that they could get.

Segregation

One of the darkest hours in the history of this great nation was when Executive Order 9066 was signed. It stole Japanese-Americans from their homes and interned them in camps. Families who were appalled by the Japanese government’s attack on Pearl Harbor were uprooted from their communities. This was a time of deep divides in American consciousness. In the South, African Americans were treated like second class citizens – but at least they weren’t interned in camps far away from their lives.

However, across the ocean, men fought together as men rather than against each other over their ancestry. No matter what your race or social group, when someone shoots at you, you’re all American. Such is the functioning of the human heart. When the bonds forged in the fires of war came back to the states, they weren’t enough to completely thaw the hearts of those who thought they were superior to others; but the seeds of equality may have been sown on those fields so far away.

Changing Moral Values

Perhaps the most challenging issue faced by returning veterans wasn’t readjusting to a normal life. By all accounts, the men (and women) who came back from the war became the leaders that our communities needed. They became businessmen, community leaders, fathers, and friends. Many wouldn’t trade the lessons learned in war – nor would they give you anything to do it again.

The real challenge was when the morals of the country became more divided. Divorce became more common – and they didn’t know how to cope with it. They supported the services, but struggled with the war in Vietnam. They struggle at the lack of discipline with children these days.

The Atomic Bomb

There’s no way to talk about World War II without talking about the impact of the atomic bomb. One might wonder how a moral and ethical generation would process the use of two atomic bombs. The answer is surprisingly straightforward. They simply consider how many lives were saved – instead of the tragedy of the lives that were lost. That’s a fitting response from The Greatest Generation.

How Do You See God?

Kin-to-Kid Connection: How Do You See God?

Parents of teens often don’t see how their faith or lack of faith shapes what their children see.  Nor do they recognize some of the hidden messages they picked up as children.  How you see God can shape how you and your children interact. In this talk, “How Do You See God?”, we take a look at the biblical definitions of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, so you can see God for what he is.

To learn more about Kin-to-Kid Connection and our mission to get kids and their kin to form meaningful connections, visit www.kin2kid.com.